Posts Tagged ‘Madonna’

Single Review: Madonna, "Love Spent"

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

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-Spent-150×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”150″ height=”150″ />Thirty years ago, Madonna released her first single. In the years that followed, she dominated radio formats across the dial, but never released a single targeting the country market. Until now.

“Love Spent” opens with a banjo riff that recalls the Dixie Chicks at their twangiest. That countriest of country sounds plays alongside the synthesizers and strings that are more typical of a Madonna record. But much like everyone’s favorite country crossover artist, what’s most revealing are the lyrics that target a past beau. In this case, it’s an ex-husband, not an ex-boyfriend, who made off with her money and

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left the love behind.

“You played with my heart, ’till death do we part, that’s what you said,” she pleads, after wryly noting that “if my name was Benjamin, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.” It fits so neatly into the well-worn themes of love gone wrong that have always defined the genre, making it an instant country classic.

It may seem a stretch to imagine Madonna finding favor at country radio. Not because of her pop sound, of course, but because of her age. At 54, she’s a quarter-century older than the handful of female artists that get country radio airplay, despite being able to run rings around them in terms of talent. Her facing off against those whippersnappers should produce enough drama to make network television scribes green with envy.

I know, I know. It’s a stretch to pretend that Madonna could realistically compete on the country charts. Despite any surface similarities between the throbbing dance beats of “Love Spent” and, say, the current #1 country single, there’s one key difference that’s certain to sink Madonna’s chances in today’s country market.

Her record has a banjo on it.

Written by Madonna, William Orbit, Jean-Baptiste, Priscilla Hamilton, Alain Whyte, Ryan Buenida, and Michael McHenry

Grade: A

Listen: Love Spent

Whitney Houston: 1963-2012

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

On the eve of the Grammy Awards, music lost one of its greatest voices, as Whitney Houston died at age 48.

Her only tangential connection to country was a big one.  Her cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”  is one of the most successful singles in history, spending 14 weeks at #1 and pushing its parent album, The Bodyguard soundtrack, to sales of 44 million worldwide.

When Michael Jackson died in 2009, it was the first time it felt like we lost an icon of our generation.  But Jackson hit the charts with his brothers in 1969.

Whitney Houston was all eighties.  Everyone my age can remember the first time they heard her sing, back when “Greatest Love of All” and “How Will I Know” dominated the airwaves.  There was no matching that voice.

In the years that followed, many superstars would surface who could hit the big notes like Whitney, but not one of them came even close to doing it with her soul and her style.   She’s best known for her eighties pop classics and soundtrack hits from the nineties, but her best work was her underrated studio albums from the latter decade.

For those of you ready to delve into her catalog, don’t overlook 1990′s I’m Your Baby Tonight, which featured the stunning “All The Man That I Need”, the funky title track, and the should’ve been smash “My Name is Not Susan.”   Her best studio album, 1998′s My Love is Your Love, includes the classic title track, the Grammy-winning “It’s Not Right but it’s Okay”, and the tabloid-countering “In My Business.”

Watching the Super Bowl Half Time Show this year, I was again struck by how the eighties icons are surviving the test of time.   Madonna’s still at the top of her game, as are U2 and Bon Jovi.   Prince and Bruce Springsteen aren’t getting a lot of love for their new music, but are still amazing live and are still making excellent music.

But Michael Jackson’s gone, and now Whitney Houston is, too.  There was something so unique about the eighties that produced these larger than life stars.  I don’t know that the various mediums will ever be aligned well enough to create stars that big again.   We’re always going to have ladies with big, booming voices, but there will never be another who makes our collective jaws drop like Whitney Houston did.

The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 1

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Inspired by a recent trend on Facebook, the staff of Country Universe is launching our tweaked version of The 30 Day Song Challenge.

Every day, the staff will share our picks in a different category.  We hope that all of our readers will do the same in the comments!

We’re not limiting ourselves to the country genre. All of us are primarily country fans, but our tastes run wider and deeper than that.

The category for Day 1 is…

Your Favorite Song

Staff Picks

Leeann Ward: “One More Year” – Kacey Chambers & Shane Nicholson

It’s nearly impossible to choose a definitive favorite song, but I can pretty reasonably settle on “One More Year” as one that I haven’t tired of in three years despite my husband’s penchant for playing certain songs repeatedly until I can hardly stand even a great song after a certain saturation point. Such is not the case with “One More Year.” I’m still impressed by its understated devastation every time I hear it.

Dan Milliken: “Days Go By” – Keith Urban

The first time I heard it, on a fuzzy radio station in the background, it sounded like “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me” redux. Within my first proper listens, it had me dancing around my dining room. “Days Go By” takes a sad truth – that time is constantly slipping away from us – and twists it into a joyous, mandolin-clanging celebration of life and the time we do have. Carpe some diem, y’all.

Tara Seetharam: “Bless the Broken Road” – Carrie Underwood

It’s hard to find words that speak to the personal connection I’ve formed with this song, so I’ll let my favorite line sum up its lyrical poignancy: “Now I’m just rolling home into my lover’s arms” is as best a description of the ease of true love as I’ve ever heard. As I said in my very first Country Universe post, I’ll take this song in any form by any artist (literally – I have over ten versions on my iPod), but if I had to choose, the conviction in Underwood’s acoustic version is second to none.

Kevin John Coyne: “Hung Up” - Madonna

No matter how much I like a song, I always go through periods where I’m tired of hearing it, and will skip it from time to time when it pops up on shuffle. That’s true about every song I love except this one, which I never tire of. I don’t know if it’s the way the ABBA-borrowed hook fades in and out, or if it’s the insanely catchy chorus that she sings nine times and it’s still not enough.  It’s the perfect pop song by the perfect pop artist and nothing else sounds as good in comparison, even from her own deep catalog of ear candy hits.


iPod Check: Hidden Treasures

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

This edition of iPod Check is all about those great songs that you love which aren’t that well known.  Put your iPod or favorite playlist on shuffle, then list the first ten songs that come up which weren’t singles or widely heard album cuts.

Bonus  points for a little blurb with each song!

My list is after the jump.

1. Shania Twain, “Whatever You Do! Don’t!”

Only four of the sixteen tracks from Come On Over weren’t released as singles for one market or another.  It features the creative use of fiddles that would become so prominent on Up!

2. Todd Snider, “Maybe You Heard”

From the Kris Kristofferson tribute album The Pilgrim, it’s a powerful challenge to friends who aren’t friends in need: “Don’t you condemn him. Leave it to strangers.  You oughta know to give him a hand if you can.”

3.  Bonnie Tyler, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”

Creedence Clearwater Revival as arranged by Jim Steinman?  As the opener of the album that features “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, it’s surprisingly effective.

4. Willie Nelson, “Rainbow Connection”

A lot of his covers don’t work – “Time After Time”, anyone?  But this one does, taking a Kermit the Frog standard and elevating it to the league of “Imagine.”

5. Bruce Robison, “Can’t Get There From Here”

Why Tim McGraw or Keith Urban haven’t covered this yet is beyond me: “I’m on a road that’s going nowhere, looking for a place that I belong. The wind’s pushing me in all directions, and none of them look like home.”

6.  Tim McGraw, “Tickin’ Away”

Time is running out, and not just because closing time is drawing near.

7. Johnny Cash, “I See a Darkness”

This time the friend in need is there, but that’s not enough to halt his desperation from spiraling out of control.

8. Lorrie Morgan, “Greater Need”

“It seems like I want you around me a little more than you want to be, so I guess I’m the one with a greater need.”  Killer.

9. Joe Diffie, “Good Brown Gravy”

They didn’t call him Joe Ditty for nothing.  But this one’s a riot!

10. Madonna, “‘Til Death Do Us Part”

From her post-divorce classic Like a Prayer, this is one of the most nakedly revealing songs I’ve heard.  “The bruises they will fade away. You hit so hard with the things you say. I will not stay to watch your hate as it grows. You’re not in love with someone else. You don’t even love yourself. Still, I wish you’d ask me not to go.

What are your ten hidden treasures?

Single Review: Carrie Underwood, “Undo It”

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

Much like no pop star has ever been able to learn all of the right lessons from Madonna, no country star has yet to learn all of the right lessons from Shania Twain.

But darn if Carrie Underwood isn’t getting close.  “Undo It” is short, sweet, and undeniably catchy. “Undo It” features both “We Will Rock You” drum riffs and twangy fiddle, as if those two things together are as natural as peanut butter and chocolate.

It even has a chorus of “Na Na Na’s” so infectious that somewhere in the world, Steam is reflexively adding, “Hey Hey, Goodbye.”

And though she’s such a skilled vocalist that it’s hardly worth noting at this point, Underwood sings the dickens out of the song.

But there’s still one lesson that needs to be learned, one that plagues pure pop and pop-flavored country alike: the way too busy production. Go back and study any classic pop hit of Madonna or Shania Twain, and pay attention to how deceptively simple they are.  You can clearly hear every instrument because there’s so few of them, and the lead vocal doesn’t get drowned out by too many backup singers. It’s a problem that plagues even great records like Pink’s most recent hits, which are pure sonic pleasure until the last time through the chorus, when Pink is drowned out by all the bells and whistles.

Now, Carrie Underwood is never in any danger of being drowned out, and she is able to avoid being overpowered without overpowering in return. This is as catchy a piece of ear candy as she’s produced to date, and it’s made me hit repeat the way her best singles tend to do. But she’s really only a tighter production away from inducing Twain-level euphoria, and I can’t wait until she gets there.

Written by Kara DioGuardi, Martin Federiksen, Luke Laird, and Carrie Underwood

Grade: A-

Listen: Undo It


You Say You Want an Evolution

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I found this video recently on YouTube. It’s a chronological collection of all of Madonna’s music videos from the past 26 years. I’ve mentioned a few times that Madonna is one of my favorite artists. She’s definitely the best live performer I’ve ever seen, and she’s one of my favorite songwriters. It’s amazing to watch and listen to her music evolve and change with time:

You may be wondering how this is related to country music, and the answer isn’t the line dancing that she does at the 20:47 mark.

It just has me thinking about how so few country artists actually evolve over time, even some of those who are among the greatest in history. Think about how little Loretta Lynn’s sound changed over the two decades she was a radio staple. Brooks & Dunn have made quite a few albums since 1991,  but you could take just about any track they’ve done and place it on a different album without it sounding out of place.

The same is true for Alan Jackson, who has stepped out of his comfort zone exactly once, and he was crucified for it among traditional country fans. So after the creatively adventurous Like Red For a Rose, he went right back into his old groove with Good Time, and was promptly rewarded for it.

The same thing happened to Lee Ann Womack, who was ostracized for Something Worth Leaving Behind. The material was as solid as anything else that she’s done, but it wasn’t until she went back to hardcore country that she showered with praise.

I tend to prefer artists who try something new with each album. I remember Pam Tillis doing interviews for All of This Love. She talked about “The River and the Highway,” saying that she wouldn’t have put it on Sweetheart’s Dance because it would be out of place, but that on the new album, it was the centerpiece.

I’m always curious to hear what Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris will do next, since it always seems to be different from what they’ve done before. At the very least, I think an artist’s evolution over time should be audibly discernible.

What about all of you? Do you prefer artists who change it up? Which artists make for the most interesting listening when their work is played chronologically?

Discussion: iPod Check

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

This afternoon, it took me seventy minutes to get to my final and fifteen minutes to actually take it.   It was the traffic jam to end all traffic jams, requiring navigations of Brooklyn and Queens that were mind-numbingly convoluted.

What kept me from losing my temper?  My iPod.   Nothing quite like Todd Snider and Rodney Carrington to lighten the mood.

We haven’t had an iPod Check in a long time, so given that it was my sanity-saving device today, it’s as good a night as any.

No funny rules or complicated instructions here.   Just turn on your iPod/mp3 player and hit shuffle.

My first ten songs:

  1. The Offspring, “Why Don’t You Get a Job?”
  2. Restless Heart, “You Can Depend on Me”
  3. Whitney Houston, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)”
  4. Johnny Cash, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”
  5. Madonna, “Act of Contrition”
  6. Iris Dement, “Childhood Memories”
  7. M.C. Hammer, “Pumps and a Bump”
  8. New Radicals, “Jehovah Made This”
  9. Depeche Mode, “Just Can’t Get Enough”
  10. Dolly Parton, “I Hope You’re Never Happy”

First ten country songs:

  1. Restless Heart, “You Can Depend On Me”
  2. Johnny Cash, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”
  3. Iris Dement, “Childhood Memories”
  4. Dolly Parton, “I Hope You’re Never Happy”
  5. Willie Nelson, “Back to Earth”
  6. Jo Dee Messina, “Not Going Down”
  7. Johnny Cash, “I’ve Been Everywhere”
  8. Dwight Yoakam, “Bury Me”
  9. Emmylou Harris, “Easy For You to Say”
  10. Kathy Mattea, “Lonely at the Bottom”

2008 CMA Awards Live Blog

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

2008 CMA Winners

Entertainer: Kenny Chesney

Male Vocalist: Brad Paisley

Female Vocalist: Carrie Underwood

Album: George Strait, Troubadour

Vocal Duo: Sugarland

New Artist: Lady Antebellum

Vocal Group: Rascal Flatts

Song: Jennifer Nettles, “Stay”

Single: George Strait, “I Saw God Today”

Music Video: Brad Paisley feat. Andy Griffith, “Waiting on a Woman”

Musical Event: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, “Gone Gone Gone”

Musician: Mac McAnally

_______

Predict the Winners:

Kevin – 8

Leeann – 7

Blake – 7

Dan – 7

______

Live Blog:

11:03 Thanks again for another great night.  See ya at the Grammys!

11:02ish To Blake and Dan:  A Song For You.

11:02 Blake: Down with our dictator!

11:02 Dan: Kevin sucks.

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.

(more…)

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