My favorite band of the early and mid-nineties was Sawyer Brown. Former Star Search winners, they had a decent run of hits in the eighties, though their early albums are legendarily awful. But they found their artistic voice when lead singer Mark Miller began writing with Mac McAnally. Many of their biggest and best hits were written by one or both of them.
The end result was that Sawyer Brown became one of the only country acts that broke out in the last few years of the eighties to actually become far more commercially successful in the nineties.
Ten Essential Tracks
“The Race is On”
from the 1989 album The Boys Are Back
So much of their eighties work was disposable, but there’s a surprising charm to this revved up take on the George Jones classic. Even the Possum himself was a vocal fan of it.
from the 1991 album Buick
This powerful single kicked off a string of five excellent singles that established Sawyer Brown as one of the strongest voices in country music.
“The Dirt Road”
from the 1992 album The Dirt Road
After a single that explored the major milestones of a father-son relationship, they followed with one about the life lessons taught in between those milestones.
“Some Girls Do”
from the 1992 album The Dirt Road
Finally, they find a way to be upbeat and fun without being goofy.
“Café On the Corner”
from the 1992 album Café On the Corner
The band reaches their creative peak, bringing the different faces of the early nineties recession into vivid focus.
“All These Years”
from the 1992 album Café On the Corner
This sparse ballad documents what is perhaps the most awkward conversation ever between husband and wife.
“Thank God For You”
from the 1993 album Outskirts of Town
A tongue-in-cheek list of thank yous aimed toward those responsible for the good life the man is leading.
“Hard to Say”
from the 1994 album Outskirts of Town
Plenty of clever wordplay is neatly embedded into a catchy melody.
from the 1995 album Greatest Hits 1990-1995
The lead single from the band’s second and far stronger hits collection features one of their most rootsy arrangements.
“(This Thing Called) Wantin’ and Havin’ It All”
from the 1995 album This Thing Called Wantin’ and Havin’ it All
A tent revival morality tale that still sounds relevant today.
Two Hidden Treasures
“Outskirts of Town”
From the 1993 album Outskirts of Town
Put this slow and simple portrait of country life up against all of the overblown party anthems that have dominated the radio this decade, and it quickly becomes clear what a parody of itself country music can become.
From the 1997 album Six Days on the Road
A tale of two brothers on opposing sides of the Civil War. It’s far more poignant than you’d imagine.
with most of this year’s strongest-selling albums being holdovers from 2008. While Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, and Keith Urban have sold strongly, the chart remains dominated by last year’s releases from Taylor Swift, Sugarland, Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, and Jamey Johnson.
So what’s left for 2009? Here’s what we know so far:
Carrie Underwood will release her third studio album on November 3, with a lead single going to radio this fall. Her previous set, Carnival Ride, is nearing sales of 3 million, and produced four #1 singles and a #2 single, all five of which were certified gold in their own right.
George Strait will release Twang on August 11. It’s the follow-up to his 33rd platinum album Troubadour, a set which produced his 43rd #1 single and earned him the first Grammy of his career, along with a pair of CMA trophies (Single and Album)
Miranda Lambert is readying Revolution for September 29. Lead single “Dead Flowers” is struggling at radio, but that’s never slowed her down at retail anyway.
Reba McEntire’s Valory debut Keep on Lovin’ You arrives August 18. Lead single “Strange” is approaching the top ten.
Willie Nelson releases another standards collection called American Classic on August 25.
Rosanne Cash will release The List, a covers album, on October 6.
Sarah Darling releases Every Monday Morning on July 28.
Mac McAnally’s Show Dog debut – Down By the River – comes out on August 4. McAnally recently scored a big hit teaming up with Kenny Chesney on “Down the Road”, and was the co-writer on several classic Sawyer Brown singles like “All These Years” and “Thank God For You.”
Mindy Smith releases Stupid Love on August 11.
Radney Foster and The Confessions release Revival on September 1, with guest appearances by Dierks Bentley and Darius Rucker.
Chris Young releases The Man I Want to Be on September 1.
Reissues and Compilations
Brooks & Dunn release the 30-track #1 Hits…and Then Some on September 8. Track listing here. The set is preceded by lead single “Indian Summer.” The duo’s previous set, Cowboy Town, was their first to fall short of gold certification. The new hits compilation is similar in set up to top-selling collections by George Strait, Toby Keith and Reba McEntire in recent years.
Wounded Bird just released 2-albums-on-1-CD collections for Kris Kristofferson on July 7. Eight albums are included from his 1972-1981 output
A pair of Tommy Cash’s albums from 1970 will combine on one CD on July 21; Tommy is the younger brother of Johnny Cash
Hank Snow’s 1958 album When Tragedy Struck is being remastered and reissued on August 11.
I’ll be picking up many of the above releases, but I have to say that I’m most looking forward to picking up all of the remastered Beatles albums and the Madonna anthology this fall.
What releases are you most looking forward to in the second half of 2009?
On Wednesday, February 11, the Academy of Country Music will unveil the nominees for their 44th annual awards ceremony. Last year, the usual suspects prevailed. Brad and Carrie repeated in the Vocalist categories, Brooks & Dunn claimed their 14th Vocal Duo prize and Kenny Chesney earned his fourth consecutive Entertainer of the Year award. As a prelude to the nominations announcement, here’s my projected slate for this year’s ceremony. (Favorites are in bold.)
Entertainer of the Year
Prognosis: The “no girls allowed” edict will likely be lifted. Underwood is the genre’s most prominent ambassador, and Sugarland’s rise to the high ranks has both commercial and critical support.
Note of interest: “The winner shall be determined by a combination of votes from the membership of the ACM and viewer voting.”
It stands to reason that a single that combines the talents of the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year and Musician of the Year would be entertaining to listen to and musically interesting.
But country music doesn’t always bend its will to reason, and this collaboration showcases the weaknesses of both talents, with Chesney’s disinterested vocal matching McAnally’s similarly lifeless accompaniment. The result is as dull a record as you’re likely to hear on country radio today, which is a remarkable feat in itself.
Last night, the CMA stamped its approval on the leading contemporary country stars of today. Congratulations to Kevin for commandeering the most popular live blog in Country Universe history. Here is a series of highlights (according to me) from an otherwise staid ceremony:
Best performance: “More Like Her,” Miranda Lambert; “Just a Dream,” Carrie Underwood. With understated brilliance, Lambert shifted gears by offering her Texas twang on the stripped-down ballad, while Underwood hit all the glory notes on her dramatic tearjerker with style and grace. Often pitted as rivals and polar opposites, the two proved that country music holds plenty of room for these two prodigious talents. Although Underwood ended Lambert’s faint hopes of claiming the Female Vocalist prize, bet on Lambert winning her fair share of CMAs in the near future.
Sound off: Repeatedly an issue, the Sommet Center’s sound system had problems again this year. Also, Nashville is a town of songwriters, but L.A. is a town of scriptwriters, and some intelligent, humorous ones would be welcome at next year’s ceremony.
Nashville’s full of musicians, too: Let’s tip our hats to first-time CMA award winner, Musician of the Year, Mac McAnally.
10:57 If I was a petty man, I’d be gloating about out-predicting all of my co-writers at Country Universe. Wait a minute. I am a petty man. I won! Yes! I won! This country universe is mine. Y’all just live in it. Suckers. (Except for you Leeann. You didn’t get all up in my grill, talking smack before the throwdown. You’re cool.)
10:56 ENTERTAINER – Kenny Chesney
10:54 Standing O for Shania. Good God, she’s beautiful. Welcome home.
10:50 So the only artist I see live who charges Eagles prices is Madonna, and I have to say that if she just stood there and growled, I’d feel ripped off. Come on, guys. Slap on some heels. Throw in some synchronized dancing. Jump some rope. Rub up against something. You’re supposed to be legends.
10:49 Dan:Once again, a washed up rock act gives us one of the better performances of the night. I like the Eagles, but that’s sad.
10:48 You know it’s bad when you’re hoping that Shania’s the surprise guest because you want to see some real country stars.
10:46 Paisley’s right about that. The Eagles have a lot more to do with country music today than most seventies country stars.
This afternoon, the Country Universe staff is following up last night’s personal picks with our actual predictions about who will win tonight. Check back tonight at show time to join the live blog and mock us for our defective divinations. Less
Kevin: BMG has to throw their weight behind either Chesney or Paisley. My hunch is they’ll back Chesney for Entertainer and Paisley for Male Vocalist. _
Leeann: It’s been Chesney all this time and not much has changed to make me think it won’t be Kenny again this year. _
Blake: Chesney remained steady on the concert trail and earned three #1 singles in the past year. This would be his fourth win, tying Garth Brooks for the most ever in the Entertainer lineup. _
Dan: It seems somewhat foolish to bet against a Chesney repeat, but I just have a nagging feeling that the favor will be thrown in Paisley’s direction this year by voters looking to honor someone new. (more…)