Tag Archives: Linda Ronstadt

ACM Flashback: Single Record of the Year

As with the similar CMA category of Single of the Year, looking over the history of this category is the quickest way to get a snapshot of country music in a given year.  There is a quite a bt of consensus among the two organizations here, and it is very rare for the winner at one show to not at least be nominated at the other. The winners list here would make a great 2-disc set of country classics, at least for those who don’t mind a little pop in their country. The ACM definitely has more of a taste for crossover than its CMA counterpart, and the organizations have only agreed on 17 singles in the past four decades and change.

As always, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back to 1968.

2010

  • Zac Brown Band, “Toes”
  • Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”
  • David Nail, “Red Light”

There’s usually a “Huh?” nominee among the ACM list in recent years.  This year, it’s David Nail.  Good for him!  Currington hasn’t won yet for this hit, even though he got himself a Grammy nomination for it.  With Lady Antebellum reaching the upper ranks of the country and pop charts with “Need You Now”, my guess is that they’re the presumptive favorites. Then again, Miranda Lambert is a nominee for the third straight year, and she’s up for her biggest radio hit.

2009

  • Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
  • Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
  • Miranda Lambert, “Gunpowder & Lead”
  • Heidi Newfield, “Johnny and June”
  • Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ On a Woman”

Adkins has been a fairly regular fixture on country radio since 1996, but this was his first major industry award.  He also won the ACM for Top New Male Vocalist in 1997.

2008

  • Gary Allan, “Watching Airplanes”
  • Big & Rich, “Lost in This Moment”
  • Kenny Chesney, “Don’t Blink”
  • Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
  • Sugarland, “Stay”

“Stay” swept the Song of the Year categories at all three industry shows, along with winning the ACM for Single Record.  Allan’s presence here shows that being a little West Coast can still help a guy at the ACMs.

2007

  • Heartland, “I Loved Her First”
  • Rascal Flatts, “What Hurts the Most”
  • George Strait, “Give it Away”
  • Josh Turner, “Would You Go With Me”
  • Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”

George Strait earned his second ACM Single Record award a decade after his first (“Check Yes or No”) and two and a half decades after having his first radio hit.  Underwood won at the CMAs later that year.  “Give it Away” is one of a small group of ACM winners to not receive a nomination at the CMA ceremony.

2006

  • Gary Allan, “Best I Ever Had”
  • Brooks & Dunn, “Believe”
  • Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
  • Sugarland, “Baby Girl”
  • Carrie Underwood, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”

In the battle of biblical hits, the CMA picked Brooks & Dunn but the ACM picked Carrie Underwood.  Much like George Strait would later win a CMA trophy for a different single (“I Saw God Today”), Underwood later triumphed at the CMA with “Before He Cheats.”

2005

  • Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Were Dying”
  • Brad Paisley with Alison Krauss, “Whiskey Lullaby”
  • Rascal Flatts, “Bless the Broken Road”
  • Keith Urban, “Days Go By”
  • Gretchen Wilson, “Redneck Woman”
  • Lee Ann Womack, “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”

Because McGraw picked up the trophy at the CMAs in 2004, the field was cleared for Womack to win the CMA later in 2005.  McGraw had won the ACM before for “It’s Your Love.”

2004

  • Brooks & Dunn, “Red Dirt Road”
  • Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett, “It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere”
  • Alan Jackson, “Remember When”
  • Toby Keith, “American Soldier”
  • Randy Travis, “Three Wooden Crosses”

Among all the lead nominees, only Toby Keith wasn’t a previous winner. Still, the award went to the new alcoholic’s creed, winning over a more pensive Jackson track and a big comeback hit for Randy Travis.

2003

  • Kenny Chesney, “The Good Stuff”
  • Toby Keith, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)”
  • Trick Pony, “Just What I Do”
  • Keith Urban, “Somebody Like You”
  • Mark Wills, “19 Somethin’”

Chesney spent nearly two months at #1 with this hit, perhaps giving him the edge over the other mega-hits at radio from Keith, Urban, and Wills. As for the Trick Pony nomination, somebody really should find out what Heidi Newfield has on those ACM voters.

2002

  • Brooks & Dunn, “Ain’t Nothin’ ‘Bout You”
  • Diamond Rio, “One More Day”
  • Alan Jackson, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”
  • Toby Keith, “I Wanna Talk About Me”
  • Travis Tritt, “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive”

Jackson’s powerful 9/11 reflection stands out as the only ballad among his four ACM Single Record victories.

2001

  • Toby Keith, “How Do You Like Me Now?!”
  • John Michael Montgomery, “The Little Girl”
  • Jamie O’Neal, “There is No Arizona”
  • Aaron Tippin, “Kiss This”
  • Lee Ann Womack with Sons of the Desert, “I Hope You Dance”

Toby Keith’s run of four consecutive nominations began this year. His album of the same name proved victorious that evening.  Womack’s massive hit became an instant standard, and is incidentally the most recent winner to also be a genuine crossover hit.

2000

  • Dixie Chicks, “Ready to Run”
  • Lonestar, “Amazed”
  • Tim McGraw, “Please Remember Me”
  • Brad Paisley, “He Didn’t Have to Be”
  • George Strait, “Write This Down”

As pop hits go, this one was a monster. “Amazed” even topped the Hot 100, the first country single to do so since “Islands in the Stream.”

1999

  • Faith Hill, “This Kiss”
  • Martina McBride, “A Broken Wing”
  • Shania Twain, “You’re Still the One”
  • Steve Wariner, “Holes in the Floor of Heaven”
  • The Wilkinsons, “26 Cents”

Hill and hubby Tim McGraw each have two ACM trophies in this category, one solo and one shared.

1998

  • Diamond Rio, “How Your Love Makes Me Feel”
  • Tim McGraw with Faith Hill, “It’s Your Love”
  • LeAnn Rimes, “How Do I Live”
  • George Strait, “Carrying Your Love With Me”
  • Trisha Yearwood, “How Do I Live (from “Con Air”)”

While Yearwood had won over Rimes at the Grammys a few weeks earlier, the ACM sidestepped the big controversy of the year and gave the trophy to the biggest hit in the bunch.

1997

  • Brooks & Dunn, “My Maria”
  • Deana Carter, “Strawberry Wine”
  • Tracy Lawrence, “Time Marches On”
  • LeAnn Rimes, “Blue”
  • George Strait, “Carried Away”

It’s rare that the ACM goes with the song that was least successful at radio, but don’t let that #10 peak of “Blue” fool you.  That hit was responsible for millions of record sales.

1996

  • Brooks & Dunn, “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone”
  • Faith Hill, “It Matters to Me”
  • Tim McGraw, “I Like It, I Love It”
  • George Strait, “Check Yes or No”
  • Shania Twain, “Any Man of Mine”

It was a stroke of marketing brilliance: add two singles to a box set of a genre superstar. When the first single became one of his biggest hits, the box set quickly became the top selling in country music history.

1995

  • Joe Diffie, “Third Rock From the Sun”
  • Vince Gill, “Tryin’ to Get Over You”
  • Alan Jackson, “Livin’ On Love”
  • Tim McGraw, “Don’t Take the Girl”
  • John Michael Montgomery, “I Swear”

There have been a few wedding standards to win this award, though Montgomery’s hit didn’t cross over in its original form.

1994

  • Clint Black with Wynonna, “A Bad Goodbye”
  • Garth Brooks, “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)”
  • Alan Jackson, “Chattahoochee”
  • Reba McEntire with Linda Davis, “Does He Love You”
  • Dwight Yoakam, “Ain’t That Lonely Yet”

Jackson won the ACM with his massive hit, but the McEntire/Davis duet and the Yoakam track were Grammy winners.

1993

  • John Anderson, “Straight Tequila Night”
  • Brooks & Dunn, “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”
  • Billy Ray Cyrus, “Achy Breaky Heart”
  • Collin Raye, “Love, Me”
  • Tanya Tucker, “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane”

Brooks & Dunn are among the most nominated artists in this category’s history, but this is their only victory.

1992

  • Clint Black, “Where Are You Now”
  • Garth Brooks, “Shameless”
  • Alan Jackson, “Don’t Rock the Jukebox”
  • Travis Tritt, “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)”
  • Trisha Yearwood, “She’s in Love With the Boy”

This was Jackson’s first major industry award.

1991

  • Alabama, “Jukebox in My Mind”
  • Garth Brooks, “Friends in Low Places”
  • Vince Gill, “When I Call Your Name”
  • Alan Jackson, “Here in the Real World”
  • Shenandoah, “Next to You, Next to Me”

Garth-mania was beginning to peak in 1991. He swept the ACMs that  year.

1990

  • Clint Black, “Better Man”
  • Garth Brooks, “If Tomorrow Never Comes”
  • Patty Loveless, “Timber I’m Falling in Love”
  • Keith Whitley, “I’m No Stranger to the Rain”
  • Hank Williams & Hank Williams Jr., “There’s a Tear in My Beer”

Clint Black is one of only three artists in the last twenty years to win for their first proper single, with Carrie Underwood and LeAnn Rimes being the other two.

1989

  • Kathy Mattea, “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”
  • K.T. Oslin, “I’ll Always Come Back”
  • Ricky Van Shelton, “I’ll Leave This World Loving You”
  • Randy Travis, “I Told You So”
  • Keith Whitley, “Don’t Close Your Eyes”

Mattea’s award-winning hit had such a high profile that it was even referenced in the dialog of the hit movie Rain Man.

1988

  • Restless Heart, “I’ll Still Be Loving You”
  • Ricky Van Shelton, “Somebody Lied”
  • George Strait, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas”
  • Randy Travis, “Forever and Ever, Amen”
  • Hank Williams Jr., “Born to Boogie”

Travis won for the second year in a row with what would become his signature hit.

1987

  • Alabama, “Touch Me When We’re Dancing”
  • Janie Fricke, “Always Have, Always Will”
  • The Judds, “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain”
  • Reba McEntire, “Whoever’s in New England”
  • Randy Travis, “On the Other Hand”

This was technically his first single, but when released under the name Randy Traywick, it bombed. Warner Bros. then released “1982″ under Randy Travis, and it went top ten. They then re-released this song, and it became his first #1 hit.

1986

  • Lee Greenwood, “Dixie Road”
  • Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, “Highwayman”
  • The Judds, “Love is Alive”
  • Mel McDaniel, “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On”
  • Hank Williams Jr., “I’m For Love”

So successful was this winning single that the four legends would go on to release future collaborations as the Highwaymen.

1985

  • Alabama, “When We Make Love”
  • Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”
  • The Judds, “Why Not Me”
  • John Schneider, “I’ve Been Around Enough to Know”
  • Conway Twitty, “I Don’t Know a Thing About Love (The Moon Song)”

Say what you want about this winner, but it was popular enough to sell two million 45s.

1984

  • John Anderson, “Swingin’”
  • Anne Murray, “A Little Good News”
  • Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, “Pancho  and Lefty”
  • Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream”
  • Shelly West, “José Cuervo”

Another pop smash that moved two million 45s. Is there anybody over 30 who can’t sing along to the chorus?

1983

  • David Frizzell, “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home”
  • Willie Nelson, “Always on My Mind”
  • Kenny Rogers, “Love Will Turn You Around”
  • Ricky Skaggs, “Crying My Heart Out Over You”
  • Sylvia, “Nobody”

Nelson’s had quite a few signature hits, but none bigger than this one.

1982

  • Rosanne Cash, “Seven Year Ache”
  • David Frizzell & Shelly West, “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma”
  • Barbara Mandrell, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”
  • Ronnie Milsap, “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me”
  • Oak Ridge Boys, “Elvira”

This might be the most pop-flavored lineup in category’s history. Even the Mandrell hit doth protest too much.

1981

  • George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
  • Johnny Lee, “Lookin’ For Love”
  • Dolly Parton, “9 to 5″
  • Eddie Rabbitt, “Drivin’ My Life Away”
  • Don Williams, “I Believe in You”

Jones capped his biggest comeback in a career defined by them with several awards for this classic hit.

1980

  • Charlie Daniels Band, “Devil Went Down to Georgia”
  • Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers Band, “All the Gold in California”
  • Crystal Gayle, “Half the Way”
  • Waylon Jennings, “Amanda”
  • Kenny Rogers, “Coward of the County”

West Coast represent!

1979

  • Crystal Gayle, “Talking in Your Sleep”
  • Loretta Lynn, “Out of My Head and Back in My Bed”
  • Willie Nelson, “Georgia On My Mind”
  • Waylon & Willie, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys”
  • Don Williams, “Tulsa Time”

In a category of superstars, the Gentle Giant of Country Music was the victor.

1978

  • Debby Boone, “You Light Up My Life”
  • Crystal Gayle, “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue”
  • Waylon Jennings, “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”
  • Kenny Rogers, “Lucille”
  • Linda Ronstadt, “Blue Bayou”

All of these records made a big impact on both the country and the pop chart.

1977

  • Mickey Gilley, “Bring it On Home to Me”
  • Loretta Lynn, “Somebody Somewhere (Don’t Know What He’s Missin’ Tonight)”
  • Marty Robbins, “El Paso City”
  • Red Sovine, “Teddy Bear”
  • Waylon & Willie, “Good Hearted Woman”

A surprising win, perhaps fueled by the momentum of Gilley’s previous single, “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.”

1976

  • Glen Campbell, “Rhinestone Cowboy”
  • Freddie Fender, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”
  • Mickey Gilley, “Overnight Sensation”
  • Willie Nelson, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”
  • Kenny Starr, “The Blind Man in the Bleachers”

Campbell made quite the comeback with this one, and it later inspired the Dolly Parton film vehicle Rhinestone, which earned an ACM nomination of its own for the Tex Ritter Award.

1975

  • John Denver, “Back Home Again”
  • Merle Haggard, “Things Aren’t Funny Anymore”
  • Ronnie Milsap, “(I’d Be) A Legend in My Time”
  • Cal Smith, “Country Bumpkin”
  • Billy Swan, “I Can Help”

Smith may not have gotten all the recognition that his talent warranted, but he made two undeniable classics: “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking”, and his winner here.

1974

  • Merle Haggard, “If We Make it Through December”
  • Byron MacGregor, “The Americans”
  • Jeanne Pruett, “Satin Sheets”
  • Charlie Rich, “Behind Closed Doors”
  • Charlie Rich, “The Most Beautiful Girl”

Rich’s two hits were so big that even with vote-splitting, he still emerged the winner.

1973

  • Donna Fargo, “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”
  • Merle Haggard, “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)”
  • Johnny Rodriguez, “Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)”
  • Jerry Wallace, “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry”
  • Faron Young, “Four in the Morning”

Fargo was a local star on the West Coast before she broke through nationwide with this hit, dominating the 1973 ACM Awards as a result.

1972

  • Merle Haggard, “Carolyn”
  • Freddie Hart, “Easy Loving”
  • Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, “Lead Me On”
  • Loretta Lynn, “One’s On the Way”
  • Charley Pride, “Kiss an Angel Good Morning”

This gold-selling classic helped Hart triumph over the superstars of his day.

1971

  • Lynn Anderson, “Rose Garden”
  • Merle Haggard, “The Fightin’ Side of Me”
  • Anne Murray, “Snowbird”
  • Ray Price, “For the Good Times”
  • Sammi Smith, “Help Me Make it Through the Night”

Each one of these is a classic in its own right. In a battle of Kristofferson-penned hits, Price emerged victorious, though Smith won the CMA later that year.

1970

  • Glen Campbell, “Try a Little Kindness”
  • Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue”
  • Merle Haggard, “Okie From Muskogee”
  • Billy Mize, “Make it Rain”
  • Elvis Presley, “Don’t Cry Daddy”
  • Freddy Weller, “Games People Play”
  • Tammy Wynette, “Stand By Your Man”

Haggard’s only victory in this category came on a night where he also won Album of the Year for the only time in several nominations.

1969

  • Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman”
  • Merle Haggard, “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am”
  • Merle Haggard, “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde”
  • Merle Haggard, “Mama Tried”
  • Roger Miller, “Little Green Apples”

Miller’s known for his legendary songwriting, but his winning hit here was penned by Bobby Russell.

1968

  • Glen Campbell, “Burning Bridges”
  • Glen Campbell, “Gentle on My Mind”
  • The Gosdin Bros., “Hangin’ On”
  • Bobbie Gentry, “Ode to Billy Joe”
  • Merle Haggard, “Branded Man”
  • Merle Haggard, “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive”

A young Vern Gosdin made up half of the nominated Gosdin Bros., a nice historical footnote to the first year of this category. Glen Campbell’s victory was appropriately West Coast for the ACMs first attempt at honoring the national country music scene.

Facts & Feats:

Most Wins

  • (4) – Alan Jackson
  • (3) – Willie Nelson
  • (2) – Glen Campbell, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Kenny Rogers, George Strait, Randy Travis

Most Nominations

  • (12) – Merle Haggard
  • (8) – Willie Nelson
  • (6) – Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, George Strait
  • (5) – Glen Campbell, Waylon Jennings, Tim McGraw
  • (4) – Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, Loretta Lynn, Brad Paisley, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis

Most Nominations Without a Win

  • (4) – Toby Keith, Loretta Lynn, Brad Paisley
  • (3) – Alabama, Crystal Gayle, The Judds, Miranda Lambert, Hank Williams Jr.

Singles that Won Both the ACM and CMA Award:

  • Merle Haggard, “Okie From Muskogee”
  • Donna Fargo, “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”
  • Charlie Rich, “Behind Closed Doors”
  • Cal Smith, ‘Country Bumpkin”
  • Kenny Rogers, “Lucille”
  • George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
  • Oak Ridge Boys, “Elvira”
  • Willie Nelson, “Always On My Mind”
  • Randy Travis, “Forever and Ever, Amen”
  • Kathy Mattea, “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”
  • Garth Brooks, “Friends in Low Places”
  • Alan Jackson, “Chattahoochee”
  • John Michael Montgomery, “I Swear”
  • George Strait, “Check Yes or No”
  • Lee Ann Womack with Sons of the Desert, “I Hope You Dance”
  • Alan Jackson, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”
  • Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Were Dying”

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 5: #120-#101

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 5: #120-#101

120 Keith Urban Be Here

#120
“Tonight I Wanna Cry”
Keith Urban
2005
Peak: #2

A chillingly frank portrait of loneliness, awkward reference to “All By Myself” notwithstanding. Few mainstream vocalists today could pull off something this intense. – Dan Milliken

119 Loretta Van Lear Rose

#119
“Portland, Oregon”
Loretta Lynn with Jack White
2004
Peak: Did not chart

If you can take a healthy dose of dirty rock ‘n’ roll in your country, this is one of the coolest-sounding records of the decade, a classic one-night-stand duet. That it’s a very cross-generational pairing singing it would be creepy if not for the goofy smiles shining through Lynn’s and White’s performances. – DM Continue reading

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The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 6: #50-#41

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 6

    50 Mattea

    #50
    Kathy Mattea, Right Out of Nowhere

    Kathy Mattea has rarely sounded more open and warm than on this set of innovative folk-tinged songs. Topics of peace, love, resignation and heartache are sensitively explored in songs both written by Mattea and other well-known names, including captivating interpretations of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Me Shelter” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down on the Corner.” It’s a rich album with a decisively vibrant feel. – Leeann Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “Gimme Shelter”, “Down on the Corner”, “Give It Away”

    49 Cash

    #49
    Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around

    American IV: The Man Comes Around was the last Cash album released in his lifetime; the bulk of its tracks are covers performed by the then ailing singer. Amazingly enough, the album seems almost biographical despite the limited material written by Cash. Still, American IV is not limited to “Hurt” (written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails), as other well-interpreted covers and Cash’s own “The Man Comes Around” help cement the depth of the album. – William Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “The Man Comes Around”, “Hurt”, “Sam Hall”

    48 Johnson

    #48
    Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song

    The media hype machine had a field day with Johnson’s breakthrough sophomore album, showering it with the kind of superlatives usually reserved for miracle cures and immaculate conceptions (see also: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). Most of the attention went to the album’s counterculturism within the increasingly safe and watered-down Music Row, with numerous nods to its Outlaw aesthetic and “cocaine and a whore” business. But That Lonesome Song‘s greatness was always more than contextual, and certainly more than attitudinal; this is an album with a genuine story to tell, filled with a slow-burning sorrow that pervades every track and doesn’t rest until the wife finally walks away and the husband resigns himself to playing seedy bars and trying to convince you he’s worthy of comparison to the greats. – Dan Milliken

    Recommended Tracks: “High Cost Of Living”, “Angel”, “Dreaming My Dreams With You”

    *Credit for linked parody cover: Farce the Music.

    47 Hill

    #47
    Faith Hill, Fireflies

    For all of the attention given to her power ballads and catchy pop numbers, Faith Hill has always included more offbeat material from lesser known songwriters. This album had some great power ballads and catchy pop numbers, but its heart and soul comes from the trio of Lori McKenna songs that make up its core. “Stealing Kisses” just might be Hill’s finest moment to date, and the other two McKenna songs – “If You Ask” and the title track – are nearly as good.  – Kevin Coyne

    Recommended Tracks: “Dearly Beloved”, “Stealing Kisses”, “Wish For You”

    46 Gill

    #46
    Vince Gill, Next Big Thing

    Gill dips into a wider range of styles and subjects on his first self-produced album, but it all seems to thoughtfully tie back to his classically sweet sound – a tricky thing to do in country music. Next Big Thing is mature, clever and vocally spot-on, and features some killer guest vocals from Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack and others. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “Without You”, “Two Hearts”, “These Broken Hearts”

    45 Underwood

    #45
    Carrie Underwood, Play On

    Easily one of the most versatile artists in country music, Underwood is capable of tackling almost any musical style, and she makes a solid case for this on her third album. The kicker, though, is that rather than signaling a lack of identity, each style feels like a natural extension of herself as an artist. She’s mournful on a haunting country standard in one breath, and commanding on a rock-charged up-tempo in the next – all without compromising her authenticity. Most significantly, Underwood finally digs a little deeper on Play On, marrying her extraordinary vocal proficiency with a higher level of tangible, sincere conviction than ever before. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “Someday When I Stop Loving You”, “Songs Like This”, “What Can I Say”

    44 Crowell

    #44
    Rodney Crowell, The Outsider

    Crowell’s take on mid-decade politics avoids heavy-handedness, perhaps because what he’s appealing to is not so much partisanship as patriotism in its purest form: “Democracy won’t work if we’re asleep. That kind of freedom is a vigil you must keep.”  Bonus points for not one, but two guest turns from Emmylou Harris, the highlight being their stunning duet of Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm.” – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “Dancin’ Circles ‘Round the Sun (Epictetus Speaks)”, “Don’t Get Me Started”, “Shelter From the Storm”

    43 Little

    #43
    The Little Willies, The Little Willies

    Norah Jones pet country side project with four of her New York City friends, including former boyfriend bassist Lee Alexander, results inn an inextricably fun album named after Willie Nelson who is covered twice on the project (“Gotta Get Drunk” and “Night Life”). The productions, including jaunty piano and prominent bass, along with Jones’ atypically loose vocals, make this disc a thrilling listening experience. While The Little Willie’s self titled album is not tight in technical terms, the album is all the better for it. – LW

    Recommended Tracks: “Roll On”, “Gotta Get Drunk”, “Tennessee Stud”

    42 Yearwood

    #42
    Trisha Yearwood, Real Live Woman

    Upon its release, the artist declared that she’d finally made her dream album. It’s easy to understand why, as Real Live Woman is Trisha Yearwood’s most cohesive album to date. It has a warmth and depth that makes it more than just reminiscent of Linda Ronstadt’s classic L.A. country albums from the mid-seventies. It’s actually on par with them. – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “Where Are You Now”, “Try Me Again”, “When a Love Song Sings the Blues”

    41 Kristofferson

    #41
    Kris Kristofferson, Broken Freedom Song: Live From San Francisco

    For each unequivocal success like At Folsom Prison and Nirvana Unplugged, there are a dozen uninspired live albums that simply exist to capitalize on old material. Kris Kristofferson’s Broken Freedom Songs, with his extended introductions and banter, is an unequivocal success. Along with its friendly and almost conversational tone, Broken Freedom Songs focuses on unexpected compositions and makes a nice addition to other historically strong live albums. – WW

    Recommended Tracks: “The Circle”, “Here Comes that Rainbow Again”, “Moment of Forever”

    - – -

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    100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1: #100-#91

    Ah, the naughties. The decade began and ended with pop crossover queens, with Shania Twain and Faith Hill at the top of their game in 2000 much like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood reign supreme today. In between, we had the roots music boom, best exemplified by O Brother and the platinum-selling Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss & Union Station; the post-9/11 patriotic explosion, which brought Toby Keith and Darryl Worley to the top of the charts; the near-total banishment of women from the country radio dial for a good part of the decade, which started to fade as redneck pride ascended, thanks to a certain woman trying to make Pocahontas proud; and far too many tributes to country living and island-flavored beach bum songs to count.

    All of this made for a fascinating decade to be a country fan. As radio worked its way through all of the above (with the notable exception of roots music), the internet made it far easier for acts to be discovered without ever getting a single spin of traditional radio play.  With MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and the explosion of country music blogs, the barriers have been torn down between artist and audience in a way that was never possible before.

    The motley crew of Country Universe has a diversity of tastes that fit within the widest boundaries of country music, as reflected our collaborative list of the 100 best albums of the decade.  Five of our writers contributed to the list, with all writer’s selections being weighed equally.  We’ll reveal ten entries a day until the list is complete. A look back at the greatest singles of the decade will then follow.

      The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1

      Abigail 100

      #100
      Abigail Washburn, Song of the Traveling Daughter

      Song of the Traveling Daughter is the debut album from Uncle Earl claw hammer banjo player Abigail Washburn. Produced by Béla Fleck and featuring Ben Sollee, it is a subdued album filled with intriguing instrumentation and influences.  Standout songs include “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” with its interesting Civil War period influence; the upbeat “Coffee’s Cold,” originally performed by Uncle Earl; and “Song of the Traveling Daughter,” based on the classical Chinese poem “Song of the Traveling Son.” – William Ward

      Recommended Tracks: “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, “Coffee’s Cold”

      Kim Richey 99

      #99
      Kim Richey, Rise

      Her ambitious swan song for Mercury Records was perhaps her least accessible record, with an emphasis on eclectic arrangements instead of hook-laden melodies. It’s also her most deeply rewarding record, one that is remarkably introspective and fully delves into themes of faith and mortality that her earlier work had only hinted at before. – Kevin Coyne

      Recommended Tracks: “A Place Called Home”, “No Judges”

      Little Big Town 98

      #98
      Little Big Town, The Road to Here

      The quartet’s second album catapulted them to the forefront thanks to the swampy anthem, “Boondocks,” and was a breath of fresh, earthy air to mainstream country music. Packed with tight harmonies and songs ranging in style from bluegrass-leaning to Fleetwood Mac-inspired, the album served as a window into the raw talent and potential of one of the best groups to hit country music in quite some time. – Tara Seetharam

      Recommended Tracks: “Boondocks”, “Live With Lonesome”

      Dolly 97

      #97
      Dolly Parton, Halos & Horns

      A gorgeous, gospel-heavy album, with tasteful bluegrass elements. Parton is effervescent as usual, and rid of any self-consciousness, which makes “Hello God” overwhelmingly stirring. A response to the September 11 tragedies, the song has Parton pleading and philosophically wrestling with God, in the sincerest of ways. – TS

      Recommended Tracks: “Hello God”, “John Daniel”

      Brad 96

      #96
      Brad Paisley, Part II

      Sometime back before the Future, before the smirking social commentary and the endless odes to his wife, Brad Paisley was just a silly little neotraditionalist writing silly little neotraditional songs about the twists of everyday life and love. Part II captures him at his most unassuming and tuneful, waxing breezily about courtships and feeling out his new place as a neotrad spokesperson with a few classic roots songs, plus a cute Bill Anderson/Chuck Cannon co-write (“Too Country”). – Dan Milliken

      Recommended Tracks: “Wrapped Around”, “Come On Over Tonight”

      Patty 95

      #95
      Patty Loveless, Strong Heart

      More so than any Loveless album since leaving MCA, Strong Heart draws on her pop and rock influences, with a healthy dose of Ronstadt thrown in for good measure. The contrast between her hillbilly wail and the pop-leaning arrangements of several songs manages to make her sound even more rural than she normally does. Arguably her last mainstream project, she proved that she can sound just as good chasing radio as she does ignoring it. – KC

      Recommended Tracks: “The Last Thing On My Mind”, “My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again”

      Sara 94

      #94
      Sara Evans, Real Fine Place

      One of the finer female vocalists in the genre, Evans is a fantastic interpreter on her fifth album, carefully treading both traditional and pop country waters. The warmth and purity to her tone is prominent on this album, and this is particularly true of the songs with more traditional arrangements, on which she shines the brightest. – TS

      Recommended Tracks: “Cheatin’”, “These Four Walls”

      Sara J 93

      #93
      Sarah Jarosz, Song Up in Her Head

      Sarah Jarosz’ much hyped debut with Sugar Hill Records features Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Aofie O’Donavan, and Abigail Washburn.  Notable tracks include “Shankill Butchers,” a Decemberists cover that outperforms the original; the progressive acoustic “Song up in Her Head,” reminiscent of Nickel Creek; and “Come on Up to the House,” an impressive Tom Waits cover. – WW

      Recommended Tracks: “Shankill Butchers”, “Come On Up to the House”

      Terri 92

      #92
      Terri Clark, Pain to Kill

      This album made Clark a serious contender for Female Vocalist, the only time in her career that she reached that level of success. It’s as radio-friendly as her first two albums, but the material is substantive. This is the best collection of songs that she ever assembled, and by a healthy margin. When Trisha Yearwood finds something to cover from a record, you’ve done a great job picking songs. – KC

      Recommended Tracks: “I Just Called to Say Goodbye”, “Not a Bad Thing”

      Dwight 91

      #91
      Dwight Yoakam, Population: Me

      Genre superhero Yoakam stretched his habit of excellence into a third decade, beginning with the quirky South of Heaven, West of Hell soundtrack and continuing with this solid set. The album is notable for distilling a wide assortment of Yoakam’s mastered sounds into about half an hour, from the Eaglesy (“The Late Great Golden State”) to the Owensy (“No Such Thing”) to the Elvisy (“I’d Avoid Me Too”), all united by the singer’s uniquely buoyant brand of fatalism. – DM

      Recommended Tracks: “I’d Avoid Me Too”, “The Back Of Your Hand”

      - – -

      20 Comments

      Filed under Decade in Review

      Lorrie Morgan Starter Kit

      Lorrie MorganAmidst her generation of successful female country artists, Lorrie Morgan was the only one who was clearly from the tradition of heartbreak queen Tammy Wynette, with a healthy dose of Jeannie Seely in the mix.  With her contemporaries far more shaped by the work of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, Morgan was instrumental in keeping the sound of female country from the sixties still relevant in the nineties.

      While Morgan never earned the critical acclaim or industry accolades of peers like Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis, she was immensely popular with country fans, able to sell gold with albums that radio largely ignored. She was the first female country artist to have her first three studio albums go platinum, with three additional albums going gold and a hits collection selling double platinum.

      Many of Morgan’s best recordings were never sent to radio, and those interested in discovering her in depth should seek out her finest studio albums, Greater Need and Show Me How.

      But her singles were pretty good too, with these being the most essential.

      Ten Essential Tracks:

      “Dear Me”
      from the 1989 album Leave the Light On

      This song broke through just as news of the death of Keith Whitley, Morgan’s husband, became known. She was unfairly accused of capitalizing on his death with this release, as people both misinterpreted the song’s meaning and apparently ignored the fact that it had gone to radio weeks before his death.

      “We Both Walk”
      from the 1991 album Something in Red

      One of her more cutting performances. She refuses to let her roving man come back home, because when he leaves, he walks away and she walks the floor.

      “Something in Red”
      from the 1991 album Something in Red

      Her signature hit is the tale of a woman’s life through conversations while shopping for clothes. Amazingly poignant, especially given the conceit of the song.

      “What Part of No”
      from the 1992 album Watch Me

      “Back off, buddy,” is the message of Morgan’s biggest chart hit, which topped the charts for three weeks.

      “I Guess You Had to Be There”
      from the 1992 album Watch Me

      Buy on iTunes

      In my opinion, Morgan’s finest performance from her platinum years. When this was on the radio at the same time as Pam Tillis’ “Do You Know Where Your Man Is”, it was the next best thing to having Tammy Wynette back in heavy rotation.

      “If You Came Back From Heaven”
      from the 1994 album War Paint

      Buy on iTunes

      Morgan finally addressed Whitley’s death in song with this self-penned ballad.

      “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”
      from the 1995 album Greatest Hits

      Buy on iTunes

      Her third and final #1 hit was an empowering anthem that topped the charts just as women were becoming the dominant commercial force in country music.

      “I Just Might Be”
      from the 1996 album Greater Need

      This breezy single is cutting with its casual indifference.

      “Good As I Was to You”
      from the 1996 album Greater Need

      The best of her power ballads finds her confronting her cheating husband as he dines with his mistress.

      “Do You Still Want to Buy Me That Drink (Frank)”
      from the 2004 album Show Me How

      This single mom finally gets a night out, but before she moves forward with the man who is looking to hook up with her, she makes clear she’s part of a package deal.

      Two Hidden Treasures:

      “Greater Need”
      from the 1996 album Greater Need

      The title track of her finest RCA album is painfully vulnerable, as she realizes that she’s always the one with the greater need in her relationships.

      “Don’t Worry Baby”
      from the 1996 Beach Boys album Stars and Stripes Vol. 1

      Buy on iTunes

      Morgan’s take on this Beach Boys classic completely changes the point of view of the song, giving it an added passion along with greater desperation.

      Amazon Bonus Tracks:

      Since the Amazon store doesn’t carry a handful of Morgan’s key hits, a few extra cuts are included to help round out the Starter Kit for those who don’t care for the iTunes store:

      “Out of Your Shoes”
      from the 1989 album Leave the Light On

      A sad but sweet #2 hit which finds a woman looking on as he best friend goes home with the man that she wants for her own.

      “Except For Monday”
      from the 1991 album Something in Red

      One of those catchy little numbers that can make any young kid a country fan in three minutes. Play Alan Jackson’s “Little Bitty” right after and they’ll be hooked for life.

      “By My Side” (with Jon Randall)
      from the 1996 album Greater Need

      Her duet with then-husband was a top twenty hit. They sounded great together.

      “I Can Count On You”
      from the 2004 album Show Me How

      The contrast between the pure tone of Pam’s voice makes Johnny’s spoken bridge sound all the more authoritative. It’s like a singing angel surrounding the voice of God.


      13 Comments

      Filed under Back to the Nineties, Starter Kits

      Carrie Underwood, “Home Sweet Home”

      carrie-underwood-home-sweet-homeOkay, I have an idea. Carrie Underwood should take another year or two to look for strong new material for her next proper studio album. In the meantime, she can release a 2-CD set of cover songs.

      The first disc: country hits of days gone by, in the same vein as “I Told You So.” The second disc: pop/rock power ballads.  I’m not going to front. I’d probably listen to the second disc more.

      I don’t know what it is about American Idol that leads Underwood down this road so many times, but good Lord, it works. Every. Single. Time.  “Alone” made her the front-runner when she was still on the show. “I’ll Stand By You” and “Praying For Time” were better than her current radio singles when they were released. And now, Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home.”

      She sings material like this so naturally that it’s easy to forget that she’s a solid country singer, too. I’ve made countless comparisons of Underwood’s vocal gifts to Trisha Yearwood’s, but I have to say that I’m starting to think of Underwood as more of a modern-day Ronstadt. She doesn’t have Yearwood’s impeccable taste in material, but she certainly has Ronstadt’s fearless song choice.

      And just like with Ronstadt, when it works, it works. “Home Sweet Home” works. I’m sure that fans of the Motley Crue original may wince at the rough edges that have been sanded down, but what do you expect? Underwood’s a pure vocalist, not a rock singer. I prefer the former over the latter, so this is yet another Idol exclusive of Underwood’s that will be in my heavy rotation.

      Written by Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, and Nikki Sixx

      Grade: B+

      Listen: Home Sweet Home

      Buy: Home Sweet Home (iTunes Exclusive)

      30 Comments

      Filed under Single Reviews

      Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Linda Ronstadt

      linda-ronstadtThe following is a guest contribution from Country Universe reader Erik North.

      Sometimes you first find out about your favorite artists not necessarily from your peers but, strangely enough, from either your parents or your relatives. In the case of Linda Ronstadt, I found about her through my aunt, who had a copy of Linda’s 1978 album Living In The U.S.A. that I listened to when I was eight years old back in 1978. Since that time, I have been a very staunch fan of Linda’s, even on those occasions when her excursions into other musical arenas have driven others to distraction. As it is with Elvis or the Beatles, if you have to have Linda Ronstadt explained to you, you may never get it.


      Linda is not one of those who confines herself to any single genre; while that does tend to cause people a lot of problems, it’s in Linda’s nature to explore as much as she can, regardless of what the critics, or even her own fans, think. Whether it’s big band pop, Mexican rancheras, Gilbert and Sullivan, traditional, contemporary, and urban folk music, the experimental classical music of composer Philip Glass, rock and roll, blues, R&B or jazz, she just can’t stop exploring musically.

      And yet, at the same time, even though she has never put herself in the strict category of being a country singer, her classic country-rock albums and songs have influenced at least three different generations of female country and roots-rock singers. She has an appreciation for and a huge knowledge of the country genre, through and through, having grown up in Arizona on a steady diet of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, the Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana Hayride. The early rockabilly records of Elvis, and later Buddy Holly, were also important factors in her musical growth. And when there was a revival of American folk music as the 1960s dawned, she was into that, too, getting a full dosage of traditional Appalachian folk music and bluegrass. All of those things have factored into how Linda Ronstadt approaches country music. Her approach is just more Sunset Boulevard than Music Row, that’s all.

      Although it often gets pointed out that many of Linda’s hits are remakes of long-standing rock, R&B, and country songs that had been hits for others, what often gets overlooked is the complete albums those hits came from, and the songs that surround those hits. Linda was perhaps the first female singer in any genre, country or otherwise, whose career was defined by albums as much as (if not more than) hit singles. And so this is an advocacy of Linda’s great talents within or on the perimeter of the country genre, not only as a hitmaker, but as an album artist par excellence as well.

      #25

      “The Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line”

      Hand Sown, Home Grown, 1969

      From Linda’s debut album, arguably the very first alternative-country album by a female artist, comes this feminist take on a song that had been a hit the previous year by Waylon Jennings (as “The Only Daddy…”). Linda’s snarling, almost-spat-out delivery, and a clever change in a lyric at the beginning, are almost a challenge against the stereotype of female country singers of that era. It was the first song she did on the Johnny Cash Show on June 21, 1969, that introduced her to country music audiences.

      #24

      “I Can’t Get Over You”

      Adieu False Heart, 2006

      Linda’s duet album with Ann Savoy, though rooted in Celtic and Cajun roots music, goes into very rustic traditional folk/country territory with this ballad written by Julie Miller, whose husband Buddy plays acoustic guitar on this track. Linda’s lead vocals transport one back to that rootsy sound, aided and abetted by Ann’s harmony vocals. It is one of the standout tracks on an album that got a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Music recording in 2006.

      #23

      “It’s So Easy”

      Simple Dreams, 1977

      At the height of her success, Linda also fueled a revival of rock and roll legend Buddy Holly’s catalog; and one of the ways she did this was to record this traditional rock and roll number from 1958 and spice it up with clavinets, a cowbell, and pounding drums. The inherent rockabilly twang of the song got a fair amount of country airplay, even though it only charted at No. 81 on the country singles chart. It nevertheless got to No. 5 on the pop singles chart. And at the same time, the album it came from was the No. 1 album on both the pop and country album charts.

      #22

      “Willing”

      Heart Like A Wheel, 1974

      Who says women don’t do truck driving songs? Thanks to this number written by her good friend, the late Lowell George (of Little Feat), Linda pulls it off in this dissolute tail of being “robbed by the rain/driven by the snow” and being given “weed, whites, and wine” while journeying “from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah.” This is a defining song in the California country-rock repetoire from a landmark album in the genre.

      #21

      “New Partner Waltz”

      Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’, 2003


      This all-star tribute to the country/gospel duo the Louvin Brothers won the 2003 Grammy for Country Album of the Year. Overlooked amidst the contributions made by heavyweights like Vince Gill, Terri Clark, Dierks Bentley, and her Trio pals Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, was this particular track in which Linda returns to her traditional country roots by duetting with the album’s producer and her good friend, bluegrass music master Carl Jackson. The two of them do such a good job, and it showed that Linda always had a lot of business revisiting the country arena.

      #20

      “That’ll Be The Day”

      Hasten Down The Wind, 1976

      Having previously done a superb country/folk version of Buddy Holly’s last hit “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” on Heart Like A Wheel, Linda returned to the Holly catalog two years later with this modern rockabilly remake of his and the Cricket’s No. 1 hit from 1957. The use of echo on Linda’s vocals, and the twin guitar breaks provided by her guitarists Waddy Wachtell and Dan Dugmore, propelled this song to No. 11 on the pop singles chart, and No. 27 on the country chart in October 1976, and led to Linda earning her second Grammy award, this one for Best Pop Female Vocal.

      #19

      “Crazy Arms”

      Linda Ronstadt, 1972

      Linda’s penchant for understanding the traditions of honky-tonk heartbreak songs, while realizing the timelessness of them, is borne out in this recording of a song that had previously been a hit for, among others, Ray Price in 1956, and has since been more recently covered by Patty Loveless, one of Linda’s many fans and peers. Coming from her self-titled album, which was her first true country breakthrough (it reached No. 35 on the country album chart early in 1972), this song also features contributions from a couple of guys named Glenn Frey and Don Henley. Need I tell anyone what became of them?

      #18

      “Break My Mind”

      Hand Sown, Home Grown, 1969

      Another country standard, this one written by John D. Loudermilk (he of “Tobacco Road” and “Indian Reservation” fame, among others), this one was a favorite among the elite of the Los Angeles country-rock movement of the late 1960s; and Linda had the foresight to give it a honky-tonk rock throwdown rendition, complete with an unusually growling lead vocal from her, and a stinging guitar break from the late, great West Coast C&W guitar master Clarence White.

      #17

      “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me”

      Simple Dreams, 1977

      Linda often took a lot of hard knocks from critics for being “self pitying,” so in response, she shocked them by doing this very atypical Warren Zevon-penned hard country-rocker (complete with cowbell and syn-drums). This song revealed a humorous side of Linda, though it’s a brand of humor that is as black as coal. If its chart placement at the time seemed a little low (No. 31 pop, No. 56 C&W), it still remains one of Linda’s all-time best performances, given that it is essentially an ode to gang rape—a point that Terri Clark may have missed when she did this song nineteen years after Linda.

      #16

      “Long, Long Time”

      Silk Purse, 1970

      One overlooked fact about this incredibly heartbreaking ballad is that Linda recorded it, and the album it came from, largely with a group of Nashville session musicians known as Area Code 615. The fact gets overlooked because the contributions made by fiddle player Buddy Spicher and pedal steel master Weldon Myrick to the song make it seem more orchestral than pure country. This song was also the only time Linda strongly advocated for its release as a single, over the objections of her then record label Capitol, and it paid off. Not only did it go to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1970 (getting onto country radio later in the decade, when Linda’s crossover popularity was too great to ignore), but it also got Linda her first Grammy nomination, for Best Contemporary Female Vocal.

      #15

      “Colorado”

      Don’t Cry Now, 1973

      Much like her version of the Eagles’ “Desperado” on this same album (her first for Elektra/Asylum), this country-rock ballad, written by Rick Roberts of the Flying Burrito Brothers (he replaced Gram Parsons) and later of Firefall, is a tale of homesickness and a desire to come back to the homestead after many long years of being alone. It is a fitting song for Linda, for though she grew up in Arizona and not Colorado, its sentiment and its setting in the Intermountain West are borne out in Linda’s passionate, heartfelt delivery, boosted by a lush string section and surrealistic pedal steel guitar work from the late, great Sneaky Pete Kleinow.

      #14

      “He Was Mine”

      Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, 1999

      Linda and her good friend Emmylou Harris are a Mutual Admiration Society of the highest order, and their 1999 collaboration, recorded in Linda’s hometown, was a substantial hit with country and roots-rock fans (No. 73 pop, No. 6 C&W, October 1999). One of the songs on this album that stands out is this track, written by Emmy’s ex, Paul Kennerley, and given a typically passionate delivery by Linda, boosted by Emmy’s harmony vocal and Greg Leisz’s pedal steel solo. This was meant to be heard by a larger core of listeners, but country radio sadly stayed away from it.

      #13

      “When Will I Be Loved?”

      Heart Like A Wheel, 1974

      The hard-belting style Linda displays whenever she gets her teeth into a traditional rock and roll number is very much in evidence in this Everly Brothers remake, essentially the Sunset Strip meeting the rockabilly sound of Sun Records, with its twanging guitar break from Linda’s long-time favorite session player Andrew Gold. All that kept it from going to No. 1 on the pop chart was the Captain and Tenille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”; it became Linda’s one solo No. 1 country hit in June 1975.

      #12

      “Walk On”

      Feels Like Home, 1995

      Matraca Berg considered it an extreme honor to have one of her songs recorded by one of the female legends who inspired her the most, even asking that those who were listening with her keep silent as she took it in. This hoedown, fueled by Linda’s Southwestern drawl and Allison Krauss’ fiddle, sadly got what amounted to The Shaft from country radio in April 1995, as it charted only at No. 61 on the country singles chart. Nevertheless, it is one of Linda’s strongest, most countrified vocal performances in her stellar career.

      #11

      “Telling Me Lies”

      Trio, 1987

      Linda’s 1987 collaboration with good pals Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton was among the best-selling country albums of the pre-Garth, post-Urban Cowboy era; and one of the reasons was this Linda Thompson/Betsy Cook-penned ballad about betraying and deceitful men—perfect for a world-class vocalist like Linda, who sings lead here. “Telling Me Lies” peaked at No. 3 on the country chart on July 15, 1987, when Linda turned 41; and Trio peaked at No. 1 C&W, No. 6 pop, winning a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Duo/Group performance for 1987.

      #10

      “I Fall To Pieces”

      Linda Ronstadt, 1972

      It may be considered sacrilege for a non-country singer to tackle a song made immortal by Patsy Cline back in 1961, but Linda takes a cue from Patsy’s relaxed delivery, giving this standard it a modest shuffle sound, rent with pedal steel and fiddle flourishes, and the ambience of a live audience (this was recorded at the legendary Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles in August 1971). Once again, future Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey are there, assisting Linda with good grace.

      #9

      “I Never Will Marry”

      Simple Dreams, 1977

      A traditional Appalachian folk ballad popularized first by the Carter Family is given a restrained treatment by Linda, complete with her good friend Dolly Parton’s authentic Appalachian harmony vocals, which makes it appropriate that it should have peaked at No. 9 on the country singles chart in June 1978. What gets overlooked, though, is that Linda plays acoustic guitar on this track as well, helped out by the traditional Dobro shadings of the Seldom Scene’s Mike Auldridge (as an addendum, this song’s A-side, a hard-rocking version of the Stones’ “Tumbling Dice,” was a No. 37 pop hit).

      #8

      “A River For Him”

      Winter Light, 1993

      Winter Light, released in late 1993, was one of Linda’s most criminally underrated albums (only getting to No. 92 on the pop album chart); and one of the highlights of it was this tear-inducing, acoustic guitar-and-synthesizer-dominated ballad written by her good pal Emmylou Harris. Linda’s low-key delivery of Emmy’s lyrics is really affecting without being manipulative, and she gets all of the heartbreaking nuances, as she had done twenty-three years before with “Long, Long Time.”

      #7

      “Crazy”

      Hasten Down The Wind, 1976

      Once again, Linda isn’t afraid to tackle a classic, as she does here with this Willie Nelson-penned ballad immortalized by Patsy Cline in 1961. Linda’s approach is more bluesy than Patsy’s is, but her delivery, besides paying homage to a legend, also helped coin the phrase “torch rock.” The song, which hit No. 6 on the country chart in February 1977, also made the album it came from a No. 4 hit on the pop album chart, and No. 1 country.

      #6

      “I Will Always Love You”

      Prisoner In Disguise, 1975

      There is such a thing as subtlety, something that Linda proved when she became the first artist to cover this Dolly Parton mega-classic, just fourteen months after Dolly’s original. If you think you’ve heard all you need to hear of this song through Whitney Houston’s arguably way-over-the-top 1992 version for the movie The Bodyguard, do yourself a favor and take a listen to Linda’s version, powered by Andrew Gold’s subtle piano, the R&B-tinged backup singers, Dan Dugmore’s pedal steel flourishes, and, above all else, Linda’s dramatic, heartfelt soprano voice. This song helped power the album to No. 4 on the pop album chart, and No. 2 on the country album chart in late 1975.

      #5

      “Heartbreak Kind”

      We Ran, 1998

      There is just no way of getting around it: We Ran, released in June 1998, is one of Linda’s greatest latter-day albums and arguably also the single most criminally underappreciated album of her career (it only got as high as #168). And one of the highlights of this album is this track, penned by Paul Kennerley and country maverick Marty Stuart, a return to Linda’s early ’70s C&W-rock roots. It is essentially a duet of sorts, as former Eagle and longtime Ronstadt musician favorite Bernie Leadon harmonizes in a very slithery way with her and also does the twangy Telecaster guitar licks. This one track should have gotten country airplay.

      #4

      “Silver Threads And Golden Needles”

      Don’t Cry Now, 1973

      How does this grab you—a remake of a remake. Linda had originally recorded this song, first a hit for Wanda Jackson in 1956, on Hand Sown, Home Grown in 1969, but she was unhappy with the arrangement of the song on that album. Four years later, she redid this country standard as a country-rock hoedown, fueled by the fiddle work of Cajun musician Gib Guilbeau and some piercing steel guitar work from Ed Black. With a No. 20 placement on the country singles chart in May 1974 (the album it came from hit No. 5 on the country album chart, and No. 45 pop), “Silver Threads” began Linda’s crossover dominance, by which she helped reconnect rock and roll with its traditional country roots.

      #3

      “Blue Bayou”

      Simple Dreams, 1977

      What had originally been a very modest hit for its writer, the late and legendary Roy Orbison, in 1963 turned into one of Linda’s signature hits, also helping to re-establish Orbison’s place in the rock pantheon. With its bass line, marimba, and lush electric piano backing, in Linda’s hands, “Blue Bayou” is influenced to no small degree by Linda’s Mexican roots (she re-recorded this song again shortly after this had hit, this time in Spanish). Propelled near the climax by Dan Dugmore’s soaring steel solo, “Blue Bayou” got to No. 2 on the country chart in November 1977, and on Christmas Day was at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. With “It’s So Easy” also at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time, Linda had set two records. She became the first female artist to have two top five hits at the same time, and the first act of any kind to pull off such a feat since the Beatles dominated the Top Five in April 1964.

      #2

      “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)”

      Heart Like A Wheel, 1974

      Linda always mentioned Hank Williams as a pivotal musical influence; and on her version of one of Hank’s signature hits, she puts her money where her big voice is. Aided and abetted on harmony vocals by her good pal Emmylou Harris, Linda pulled off a remarkable feat. “I Can’t Help It,” which hit No. 2 on the country singles chart in March 1975, was the B-side of “You’re No Good,” Linda’s No.1 pop hit of one month earlier. The following year, she won the first of (so far) eleven Grammy awards, for Best Female Country Vocal, beating out, among others, Emmylou and her other Trio pal Dolly Parton.

      #1

      “Love Is A Rose”

      Prisoner In Disguise, 1975

      One can trace the Dixie Chicks’ approach back to this bluegrass-fueled version of a Neil Young composition that reveals Linda’s approach to country—more Laurel Canyon than the Opry, but still rooted in country, thanks to the contributions of Herb Pederson on banjo, and David Lindley on fiddle. “Love Is A Rose” hit #5 on the country chart, while the A-side, a pounding version of the Motown classic “Heat Wave,” simultaneously hit No. 5 on the pop singles chart in November 1975.

      If you are interested in writing a guest post for Country Universe, send an e-mail to kevin@countryuniverse.net

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      Grammy Flashback: Best Female Country Vocal Performance

      Revised and Updated for 2009

      While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories.

      This is a look back at the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category. It was first awarded in 1965, an included single competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.

      I’ve often made the case that female artists were making the best music in the 1990s, and the Grammys did a great job nominating songs and albums that were ignored at the CMA and ACM awards, which is not surprising, given that those shows have so few categories that are actually for songs and albums.

      As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back.

      2009

      • Martina McBride, “For These Times”
      • LeAnn Rimes, “What I Cannot Change”
      • Carrie Underwood, “Last Name”
      • Lee Ann Womack, “Last Call”
      • Trisha Yearwood, “This is Me You’re Talking To”

      This year’s lineup includes three former winners and two women looking for their first victory in this category. Martina McBride is in the running for the eighth time in fifteen years, and with one of her more understated performances. Lee Ann Womack returns for a fifth time, having received a nomination for the lead single of her five most recent albums. Both ladies turned in good performances here, but they’ve been overlooked for records bigger and better, so they’re not likely to snap their losing streaks this time around.

      As for the previous winners, LeAnn Rimes earned her third consecutive nod, bringing her total to five in this category. She hasn’t won since 1997, when she took home the award for “Blue.” If enough voters hear “What I Cannot Change,” she might have a shot, though the only version of the song that’s been a legitimate hit has been the dance remix.

      Trisha Yearwood won in 1998 for “How Do I Live,” her only victory to date. But she’s earned her tenth nomination for “This is Me You’re Talking To,” which is arguably her strongest vocal performance of the ten. Like Rimes, the challenge is getting enough voters to listen to it, but she’s never been more deserving of the victory than she is this year.

      Still, the favorite remains Carrie Underwood. She’s quickly become a favorite with Grammy voters, having won this category two years running, along with Best New Artist in 2007. She’s the nominee with the highest profile, and while “Last Name” is nowhere near the same league of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” in terms of artistry or impact, it was a big hit, something that the other four entries cannot claim.

      If Underwood was nominated for “Just a Dream,” she’d have a mortal lock on this one. But the strength of the other nominees will at least keep this race competitive. If Underwood prevails, Grammy queen Alison Krauss better watch her back.

      2008

      • Alison Krauss, “Simple Love”
      • Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
      • LeAnn Rimes, “Nothin’ Better to Do”
      • Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
      • Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love”

      Looking at this lineup, you’d think that it was a golden age of female country artists, something akin to the mid-nineties. In reality, only one of these songs was a big radio hit, though three others managed to go top twenty. In terms of quality, however, this is the most consistent and thoroughly wonderful set of nominees this category has seen this century.  You’d have to go back to exactly 1999 to find a better lineup.

      In a year when any winner would have been deserving, Underwood won for “Before He Cheats,” her second straight win for a signature mega-hit from her debut album.

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      Grammy Flashback: Best Country Album

      A look back at the previous winners and nominees of the Best Country Album Grammy, updated to include the 2009 contenders.

      The Grammys have been doing better in the country categories since they reintroduced the Best Country Album category in 1995, which had only been in existence for two years in the 1960s. Prior to 1995, albums and singles were both eligible in the vocalist categories, so full albums would compete against single tracks in Best Male Country Vocal Performance,  for example.

      Looking over the history of this fairly young category, you can see trends emerge, with certain acts clearly being favorites of NARAS. You see the same trend with the CMAs, just with different people. What is clear with the Grammys is that radio and retail success will only carry you so far. For awards that are supposed to be based on artistic merit, that’s how it should be.

      As with the CMA flashbacks, we’ll begin with a look at this year’s nominees, then discuss previous year’s in reverse chronological order. Winners are in bold.

      Be sure to drop by My Kind of Country and vote in their Best Country Album poll. Let your preference be known!

      trisha12009

      • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
      • Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
      • George Strait, Troubadour
      • Randy Travis, Around the Bend
      • Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love

      Four veterans and one newcomer vie for this year’s Best Country Album, and it’s a wide-open race with no obvious favorite. The critically acclaimed breakthrough album of Jamey Johnson could earn him his first Grammy. The legendary George Strait would like to start a Grammy collection of his own. Like fellow nominee Patty Loveless, this is his third nomination for this award. While Loveless has also yet to win this one, she does have a Grammy already, for her contributions to the multi-artist collaboration “Same Old Train.”

      Randy Travis is a real contender here; five of his previous albums have won Grammys. Two of them (Always & Forever, Old 8×10) won in the Best Male Country Vocal Performance category, back when albums and singles competed with each other in that race. And while this is his first nomination for Best Country Album, he was won Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album three times, for Glory Train (2007), Worship & Faith (2005) and Rise and Shine (2004.)

      While Vince Gill broke the all-female trend in this category last year, he was nominated in an all-male field. If the trend begins again this year, this will be a battle between Loveless and Trisha Yearwood. The latter’s Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love is arguably the strongest album in this category, and while Yearwood won three Grammys in the nineties, she has never won Best Country Album, despite earning more nominations than any other artist in the history of the category – Heartache is her eighth set to contend for the trophy. She’s beyond overdue, but her competition is formidable.

      vince-gill-these-days2008

      • Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone
      • Vince Gill, These Days
      • Tim McGraw, Let it Go
      • Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
      • George Strait, It Just Comes Natural

      With the exception of Shania Twain’s Come On Over, no album that has also been nominated for the general Album of the Year race has failed to win Best Country Album. So it was no surprise when Vince Gill picked up the trophy for his four-disc opus These Days. In his acceptance speech, he good-naturedly ribbed Kanye West, providing one of the evening’s brightest moments.

      2007

      • Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way
      • Alan Jackson, Like Red On a Rose
      • Little Big Town, The Road to Here
      • Willie Nelson, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker
      • Josh Turner, Your Man

      The Chicks became the first artists in Grammy history to win four genre Best Album awards, breaking their tie with Eminem, who has won three Best Rap Album trophies. This was one of five trophies they took home at the February 2007 ceremony, and the album returned to #1 on the country chart and back to the pop top ten on the strength of those victories.

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      Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Trisha Yearwood

      trisha-yearwoodThe following is a guest contribution from Country Universe reader Cory DeStein.

      Throughout my life I have attempted to share my taste in music with those around me. More often than not friends and family will show a interest then kindly move onto the next subject. Only one person in my life has shown me that genuine interest in everything I have ever done. I will never know if we really had that much in common, or if she was just that good at making me happy. That’s a secret I never want to know. Though we shared many interests in music, food, television and in life, there was one topic we both we both enjoyed: the music of Trisha Yearwood.

      Throughout the years, I had chances to meet Trisha backstage and at a book signing. Each time she kindly agreed to personalize a photo for my grandmother. During a 2006 meet and greet, I told Trisha what a fan my grandmother was of “XXX’s and OOO’s.” Just less than 2 years later, Trisha personalized a cookbook “To Thelma, XXXs and OOOs Love, Trisha Yearwood.” I didn’t think she’d remember that. The woman’s personality is as impressive as her voice.

      This past August, my healthy grandmother began to go downhill after complications from minor surgery. I mentioned on Yearwood’s fan site that my absence may be related to that. Sadly my grandmother passed away shortly after that message. It was a sudden and shocking loss that affected me in ways I will never be able to explain. I felt as if I was robbed of any future memories to be made with her, similar to the ones of the past I cherished so much.

      A few weeks after her passing, I received a card in the mail. It was a “get well” card from Trisha Yearwood. She had signed “Thelma, Get Well Soon. Best Wishes, Trisha Yearwood” Just when I thought the doors had closed on us, Trisha gave me one last memory to share with my grandma. Country Universe has given me the chance to write my 25 favorite Trisha Yearwood songs, and I would like to dedicate it to all the years we both shared together enjoying the wonderful entertainer and amazing person’s music.

      #25
      “Georgia Rain”
      Jasper County, 2005

      In 2005, after a 4 year hiatus, Yearwood returned with her version of “Strawberry Wine”….in a truck. She sets the scene perfectly for us. Dark storm clouds looming over the Georgia sky. An old truck parked down on a red dirt road. With lightning illuminating the rusted hood, rain drops begin to penetrate the dried clay. Inside two young lovers embrace in their loss of innocence.

      #24
      “Dreaming Fields”
      Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love, 2007

      I am a city boy; I was raised right outside of Pittsburgh, PA. I can’t exactly understand farming life because I never experienced it. Yearwood narrates this Matraca Berg ballad in a way that places me right on those farmlands, watching modern America taking over the land that families had survived on for generations. Any of us can relate to a song like this, watching the places where we have grown up begin to vanish.

      #23
      “Down on My Knees”
      Hearts in Armor, 1992

      Linda Ronstadt once sang, “Love Has No Pride.” Yearwood proves her idol right as she contemplates the possibility of her beau ever leaving her. She declares to him, “No one matters more in my life. Oh, makes me feel like you make me feel inside. And I’ve come far enough to know love’s worth never letting go of, and love is not a matter of pride.”

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