Tag Archives: Mary Chapin Carpenter

How Very Nineties: George Jones & Friends, and other All Star Jams

New fans of country music in the nineties were hit over the head with the assertion that country music was one big family. Nothing demonstrated this mythos better than the all star jams that cropped up during the boom years.

There were some variants of this approach.  A popular one found a veteran star teaming up with one or more of the boom artists to increase their chances of radio airplay.  George Jones was big on this approach, with the most high profile attempt being “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.”   Seventeen years later, it’s amazing to see how young everyone looks – even Jones himself!

Jones shared the CMA Vocal Event of the Year trophy for that collaboration with Clint Black, Garth Brooks, T. Graham Brown, Mark Chesnutt, Joe Diffie, Vince Gill,  Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, and Travis Tritt.   He’d continue with this approach by teaming up with his vocal chameleon Sammy Kershaw on “Never Bit a Bullet Like This”, and he recorded an entire album of his own songs as duets with mostly younger stars. The Bradley Barn Sessions was represented at radio with “A Good Year For the Roses”, which found him singing one of his best hits with Alan Jackson:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzQrAPoTI58

Among the legends, the only other one to be successful with this approach was Dolly Parton, who used collaborations with young stars to score consecutive platinum albums for the first and only time in her career.  Her 1991 set Eagle When She Flies was powered by the #1 single “Rockin’ Years”, co-written by her brother and sung with Ricky Van Shelton:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqN7N9-AHXs

That album also included a duet with Lorrie Morgan on “Best Woman Wins.”  She upped the bandwagon ante on Slow Dancing With the Moon, bringing a whole caravan of young stars on board with her line dance cash-in “Romeo.”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afF3XHW7mZ4

That’s Mary Chapin Carpenter, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kathy Mattea, and Tanya Tucker in the video. Pam Tillis isn’t in the clip, but she sings on the record with them.  Parton also duets with Billy Dean on that album on “(You Got Me Over a) Heartache Tonight.”

Her next collaboration was with fellow legends Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, but they couldn’t resist the temptation to squeeze in several younger stars in the video for “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”  Alongside veterans like Chet Atkins,  Bill Anderson, and Little Jimmy Dickens, you’ll catch cameos from Mark Collie, Confederate Railroad, Rodney Crowell, Diamond Rio, Sammy Kershaw, Doug Stone, and Marty Stuart.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbFpsKwywWU

Parton scored a CMA award when she resurrected “I Will Always Love You” as a duet with Vince Gill:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XafBLDVtF7Y

And while it didn’t burn up the charts, her version of “Just When I Needed You Most” with Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeeMDGq1FMI

Tammy Wynette made an attempt to connect with the new country audience with her own album of duets, Without Walls.  Her pairing with Wynonna on “Girl Thang” earned some unsolicited airplay:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjzFuWhOeG4

Perhaps the most endearing project in this vein came from Roy Rogers.  How cool is it to hear him singing with Clint Black?

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq5FdZgS08g

The new stars liked pairing up with each other, too.  A popular trend was to have other stars pop up in music videos.  There’s the classic “Women of Country” version of “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”, for starters. Mary Chapin Carpenter sounds pretty darn good with Suzy Bogguss, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis, and Trisha Yearwood on backup:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qxU82mNaI8

That’s a live collaboration, so at least you hear the voices of the other stars. But Vince Gill put together an all-star band for his “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away” video without getting them to actually play.  That’s Little Jimmy Dickens, Kentucky Headhunters, Patty Loveless, Lee Roy Parnell, Carl Perkins, Pam Tillis, and Kelly Willis behind him, with Reba McEntire reprising her waitress role from her own “Is There Life Out There” clip.

My personal favorite was Tracy Lawrence’s slightly less A-list spin on the above, with “My Second Home” featuring the future superstars Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, and Shania Twain, along with John Anderson, Holly Dunn, Hank Flamingo, Johnny Rodriguez, Tanya Tucker, Clay Walker, and a few people that I just can’t identify.


Humor Videos
Tracy Lawrence – My Second Home

For pure star wattage, it took the bright lights of Hollywood to get a truly amazing group together. The Maverick Choir assembled to cover “Amazing Grace”, and it doesn’t get much better than country gospel delivered in a barn by John Anderson, Clint Black, Suzy Bogguss, Billy Dean, Radney Foster, Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Waylon Jennings, Tracy Lawrence, Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, John Michael Montgomery, Restless Heart, Ricky Van Shelton, Joy Lynn White, and Tammy Wynette.

What’s your favorite of the bunch? Any good ones I missed?

11 Comments

Filed under Back to the Nineties

Searching For Bobbie Cryner

I’ve been wanting to write about Bobbie Cryner for a long time. Thanks to some kind folks uploading her music on to YouTube, I can finally do so.  (For whatever reason, her two fantastic albums – Bobbie Cryner and Girl o f Your Dreams – have yet to see digital release.)

This woman was good. Real good.  Possibly the best unheralded singer-songwriter of her time, with a sultry voice formed at the crossroads of Bobbie Gentry and Dottie West.  She first surfaced on Sony, releasing her self-titled debut in 1993. It was previewed by the autobiographical “Daddy Laid the Blues on Me.”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgrlSTmCygA

It could’ve been the start of a legendary career, but the single stalled at #63.  Next up was the haunting “He Feels Guilty”, which went to #68. It has an amazing guitar intro. That video can be viewed here.  Her debut album produced a third single, the #72 “You Could Steal Me.”  This one’s heartbreakingly gorgeous, but I can’t find an online way of sharing it with you.

The rest of that first album includes a duet with Dwight Yoakam on “I Don’t Care”, the Buck Owens classic. Another stellar cover is “The One I Love the Most”, which could’ve been a George Jones classic back in the early seventies.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpzB_Cb3LAo

But the best material comes from her own pen. Check out “I Think It’s Over Now”, which features the lyric, “You don’t have to say you love me if you think there’s any doubt. But if you have to think it over, well, I think it’s over now.”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nL4hGWwFwUQ

Also worth seeking out is the closing track from that album, “This Heart Speaks For Itself,” which has every part of her body fooling others that she’s over the man who let her down.

In one of those glorious second chances that the music business rarely doles out, Cryner resurfaced on MCA three years later, sporting a more cosmopolitan sound and look. On Girl of Your Dreams, Cryner penned all five of the strongest tracks, while also credibly covering Dusty Springfield and Dottie West.  The lead single was “I Just Can’t Stand to Be Unhappy”, a kiss-off anthem that was too smart for country radio, stopping at #63:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDQrKObmrY0

What followed was an absolute masterpiece, one that still only reached #56 (and only #66 when Lorrie Morgan revived it two years later.)  “You’d Think He’d Know Me Better” is shockingly good, managing to tell the story of a selfish and cold woman by having her talk about how inconsiderate her man is. She’s the only one left in the dark at the end, as the listeners all realize who’s really to blame for this broken home:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ED7KixyVwU

Her final MCA single was “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”, which chronicled Cryner’s battle with alcoholism. It didn’t chart.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Cnoz8slwRg

Again, the album had gems beyond what went to radio.  “Vision of Loneliness” is amazing, a song that gained new resonance with me when my mother related to it so well during her bereavement:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQvSv6iQYGw

The title track should’ve been a single, though it’s hard to imagine radio playing it after passing on her earlier work.  I’d argue that “The Girl of Your Dreams” isn’t just Cryner’s finest piece of writing, but that it rivals the very best of Matraca Berg, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Rosanne Cash. It begs for Trisha Yearwood to cover it:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qU4XIxOTxmg

So what happened after that second album faded into obscurity?  How could a songwriting talent like this get lost in the shuffle? Well, it didn’t happen right away.  After Morgan covered “You’d Think He’d Know Me Better”, Cryner surfaced as a writer on albums by top-tier female artists.

The most high profile of these three came after Cryner left a demo in Yearwood’s mailbox that simply had the title, “Real Live Woman.”  Yearwood later commented that she prayed before listening to it that it would live up to that title. It did, and ended up being Cryner’s biggest hit when Yearwood took it into the top twenty:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUYvNSnKW8o

Suzy Bogguss took the compelling story song “Nobody Love, Nobody Gets Hurt” to #63 in 1998, titling her album after it as Yearwood did with “Real Live Woman” in 2000.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M07iYZyUJCU

Finally, Lee Ann Womack included “Stronger Than I Am” on her smash album I Hope You Dance.  It finds a woman in awe of her young daughter who seems so much stronger than she is.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=977Z7n-SotM

After that, I have no idea what happened to this woman. Do you?  In an era when country music isn’t made for adults, or even by adults, this woman’s contributions are desperately needed.

23 Comments

Filed under Miscellaneous Musings

Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters: Gary Burr

Written by Music & More blogger Bob Losche.

Connecticut born songwriter Gary Burr got his first break when he broke his leg in a high school soccer game. With time on his hands, he taught himself to play the guitar and began writing songs. His second break came in 1982 when, without a co-writer, he penned Juice Newton’s “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me”. That same year, he became the lead singer for Pure Prairie League after Vince Gill left the group to pursue a solo career. Gary remained with PPL until 1985 and headed to Nashville in the late 1980’s. He has since been awarded ‘Songwriter of the Year’ on three separate occasions by three different organizations: Billboard, Nashville Songwriter’s Association International, and ASCAP. He has also received over twenty of ASCAP’s recognition awards for radio play activity, and cds featuring his songs have sold more than 50 million units world-wide. He’s currently affiliated with SESAC. Most recently, he was Carole King’s guitarist on her “Living Room Tour”, performing some of his own songs as well.

If you go to Gary’s website and click on Discography you’ll see a Short List of 35 of his best known songs, in alphabetical order by recording artist. If you click on Full List, you see the names of about 170 songs. You’ll find hits and albums track (“hidden treasures” to some) by country artists such as Hal Ketchum, Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Tanya Tucker, Ty Herndon, Faith Hill, Leann Rimes, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gary Allan, Andy Griggs, Kathy Mattea, Lorrie Morgan, Terri Clark, Collin Raye, Doug Stone, Ricky Van Shelton, Diamond Rio, Conway Twitty, Chely Wright and many others plus pop artists Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, etc . The website list does not include the current Sarah Buxton hit “Outside My Window”.

Gary appears quite frequently at Nashville’s famous Bluebird Cafe, appearing in the round with singer/songwriters like Mike Reid, Georgia Middleman, J.D. Souther and others. In addition, he performs as part of the group MelDiBurPho which is composed of songwriters Vince Melamed, Bob DiPiero, Gary and Jim Photoglo.These shows are performed on the Bluebird’s small stage and, unlike the shows in the round, includes a drummer in addition to the usual guitars and a keyboard. Gary and the Guys have been doing these great shows for about 12 years. They call themselves the oldest boy band in America and the best band you can see for $12. They really seem to be having a great time together and they can be very funny, much of the humor either self-deprecating or at the expense of one of the other guys. For the February show, the guys performed in their pj’s, an annual event closely coinciding with three of their birthdays. Supposedly Faith Hill once showed up in pj’s and bunny slippers. She was discovered while singing back-up for Gary at the Bluebird.

After seeing Mr. Burr perform twice at the Bluebird, I purchased his two cd’s from the Bluebird on-line store. Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before …, released in 1997, includes 18 of his best songs performed and recorded live at the Bluebird. Mariane’s includes 11 songs and was released in 2004. The list of my favorite Gary Burr written songs that follows indicates the artist and cd it appeared on and his co-writer. Many of these favorites are from his Stop Me … cd and a few from Marianne’s. (Songs that can also be found on Gary’s cds have an asterisk next to the title.)

Should you already have or decide to purchase these cds, you may find, as I did, that you prefer Gary’s version for quite a few of them. A lot of his songs are about lost love, some because the guy was clueless, others about love that just didn’t work out and the difficulty in leaving memories behind. At his shows, Gary refers to himself as the “sensitive one” when he sings one of his ballads. Check out the songs listed on Gary’s website and let us know your favorites. Obviously, differing tastes will result in a very different list by many readers.

#25
“I Wear Your Love” – Kathy Mattea
Time Passes By, 1991
co-writer – None

An album track for Kathy Mattea from a cd chock full of great songs in addition to the three chosen for release as singles. The chorus concludes, “on the chillest night though I travel light, it is always enough for I wear your love”. Mattea is still one of the best female vocalists in country music.

#24
“A Man Ain’t Made of Stone” – Randy Travis
A Man Ain’t Made of Stone,  1999
co-writers – Frannie Golde and Robin Lerner

About this song, Leeann wrote, “I love Travis’ vulnerable, yet passionate, vocal delivery in this song. This man thought it was important to seem strong and unflappable, but realizes that she needed to see the softer side of him at times. Unfortunately, he reached this conclusion too late. Her leaving unearths his emotions and he abruptly learns that ‘a man ain’t made of stone/A man ain’t made of steel.’” The song peaked at #16.

#23
“What’s In It For Me” – John Berry
John Berry, 1993
co-writer – John Jarrard

This up tempo song is about a guy asking a girl who dumped him but has changed her mind and wants him back, ” What’s in it for me?” He’s glad she’s back and wants her but are things going to be different this time? “If it’s only more tears, then I’ll have to pass.” The song reached #5 on the charts for John Berry.

#22
“Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard On Me” – Juice Newton
Quiet Lies, 1982
co-writer – None

The young lady is a bit skittish about love after being burned in this up tempo tune. Calls to her inner romantic self can’t convince her to try again yet. “I’ll be back when I calm my fears … See you around in a thousand years.” This did better on the pop charts (# 7) than country (#30).

#21
“A Thousand Times a Day” – Patty Loveless (1995); George Jones (1993)
The Trouble With The Truth, 1995;  High Tech Redneck, 1993
co-writer – Gary Nicholson

Another song about trying to forget someone. Giving up booze and smokes was difficult but “Forgetting you is not that hard to do, I’ve done it a thousand times a day”. The song reached #13 for Patty and was an album track for George. I prefer Patty’s version.

#20
“In a Week or Two” – Diamond Rio
Close To The Edge, 1992
co-writer – James House

A song of warning for procrastinators from a group known for their great harmony. “These words in my heart never had a chance to be heard”. The guy waited too long to tell her he loved her so he came out second. The song nearly reached the top of the charts but, as Trent Summar once reminded us, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

#19
“I Try to Think About Elvis” – Patty Loveless
When Fallen Angels Fly, 1994
co-writer – None
I recall seeing Patty sing this in a concert about 10 years ago. I would think that “list songs” like this would present a challenge remembering all the lyrics but she nailed it. A fun song that made it to #3.

#18
“Heart Half Empty” – Ty Herndon with Stephanie Bentley
What Mattered Most, 1995
co-writer – Desmond Child
“Is my heart half full of the love you gave me, or my heart half empty ’cause your love is gone?” While the half full, half empty metaphor is obviously not new and the song is a bit schmaltzy, I still love it. I add a star for true duets – equal contributions by the duet partners. Although Ty’s recent comeback attempt appears to have come up short, he still has a great voice and was well complemented here by Stephanie Bentley.

#17
“Blue Sky” – Emily West
Emily West, 2007 (EP)
co-writer – Emily West

The original version was from her EP. The current single includes background vocals by Keith Urban and online reviews have been very favorable but it hasn’t cracked the top 40 yet. The girl is saddened by her lover’s behavior but resolved not to be hurt by him again. “So you made a list of shoulders that you’d be needing, well mine aren’t yours anymore, come on show me your temper, be the man I remember, so I won’t forget what you’ve done.”

#16
“Out of My Bones” – Randy Travis
You and You Alone 1998
co-writers – Sharon Vaughn and Robin Lerner

Randy sings “I’m in need of a remedy, to cure me from loving you”. His remedy is walking in the first verse and talking in the second til she’s “out of my bones”. While his 1986 song “Diggin’ Up Bones” made it to the top, “Out of My Bones” stalled at #2. The album also included the late Patrick Swayze singing background on one of the tracks.

#15
“Rockin’ the Rock” – Larry Stewart (Restless Heart)
Heart Like a Hurricane, 1994
co-writer – None

A rollicking song about a girl who rocks his world but didn’t rock the charts peaking at #56. “I had a wonderful sense of balance, everything under control, til the day she came along and started rockin’ the rock that I’m standing on.” If you have a multiple tissues tune on your playlist, play this next. Larry Stewart’s solo career after leaving Restless Heart was not a huge success. He’s been back with them since 2004.

#14
“That’s My Job” – Conway Twitty
Borderline, 1987
co-writer – None

The relationship between a son and his father is portrayed in three vignettes. In the first, the father comforts his young son, calming his fears. Conflict and doubts occur in the second while the final scene finds the son, who makes his living with words and rhyme, trying to deal with the death of his father, asking himself how can I come up with a song to say I love you. The song made it to #6. (I remember liking “It’s Only Make Believe” as a kid but shortly after Conway disappeared from the pop charts. I didn’t know til much later that he had become a country star.)

#13
“The One You Love” – Terri Clark with Vince Gill
The Long Way Home, 2009; Pain to Kill, 2003
co-writer – Terri Clark

While Terri’s new cd did not include lyrics, they can be found with comments for each song on her website. She said that she hesitated to re-cut this song but her mother’s recent bout with cancer inspired her because it put the lyrics in a whole different light. “when someone’s slippin’ away, right before your eyes, how useless we are is a painful surprise”. Although Vince Gill singing harmony is always a plus, the original version on Pain to Kill was still excellent.

#12
“West of Crazy” – Lisa Brokop
Lisa Brokop, 1996
co-writer – Vince Melamed

An up tempo tune which reflects a woman’s state of mind after a breakup. “Just a few miles west of crazy, a stone’s throw away from tears, oh, so close to normal, but I can’t get there from here”. Love the song although it didn’t even chart in Canada. Lisa Brokop has become one of my favorite country music singers.

#11
“One Night a Day” – Garth Brooks
In Pieces, 1993
co-writer – Pete Wasner

The piano is the star in this song about a guy trying to leave a girl’s memory behind. He tells of the things he’s doing to get through the breakup, including “calling every friend I had, wake ’em up, make ’em mad, to let them know I’m okay”. Garth’s version, which reached #7 on the charts, also features a sax while in Gary’s, a steel guitar complements the piano.

#10
“Time Machine” – Collin Raye
I Think About You, 1995
co-writer – None

Although it was never a single, it’s one of my favorite Collin Raye songs. The songs tells of a lonely man who knows things won’t be any better tomorrow so he wants to go back in time. “To the casual eye it’s a barstool, but it’s really much more than it seems, a few drinks and then, she’ll be with him again, as he sits on the time machine”.

#9
“Up and Flying” – Reba McEntire
If You See Him, 1998
co-writer – Patty Griffin

Her ex-love is doing fine but she’s still doing time. “You make it look so easy, it doesn’t seem quite fair, baby I’m still tryin’, to get up and flying”. An album track for Reba. Should this song have been a single? Love Gary’s take on it.

#8
“You Tell Me” – Terri Clark with Johnnie Reed
The Long Way Home, 2009
co-writer – Terri Clark

As noted above, I love duets and on this album track, Terri is joined by Scotland born, Canadian country music artist, Johnny Reid. On her website, she describes it as a grown up song about a relationship in trouble that she wrote with Gary about 10 years ago. The conversational quality of the lyrics made it feel as a natural duet.

#7
“Sure Love” – Hal Ketchum
Sure Love, 1992
co-writer – Hal Ketchum

Hal sings of what he would do to find “Sure Love”. “I would chase all ghosts and watch them scatter, drop old dreams and watch them shatter, lose myself and all I own, to find sure love.” This up tempo song reached #3.

#6
“Silence Is King” – Tanya Tucker
Soon, 1993
co-writer – Jim Photoglo

This sad tune is about a couple who have reached the point where they don’t communicate any more. The chorus begins “We live in a land where silence is king, whispers have all disappeared”. In the last verse, there’s no let-up, “desperate measures come from desperate times, I don’t regret what I’ve done, if my actions made you speak your mind, angry words are better than none”. An album track for Tanya. On the live “Stop Me …” cd you hear Gary saying “so depressing” after he finishes singing. Probably too serious for country radio.

#5
“I Will Not Be a Mistake” – Cliff Richard
Something’s Goin’ On, 2004
co-writers – Helen Darling and Will Robinson

While Cliff is not a country singer, I could easily see someone like Collin Raye covering this song. It’s about a guy who assures the girl he’s about to get together with that while it may not come to anything it won’t be something she’ll regret. “I’ll be a chance you had to take, a heart you had to break, but I will not be a mistake”.



#4

“Can’t Be Really Gone” – Tim McGraw
All I Want, 1995
co-writer – None

A man tries to convince himself that his girl must be coming back when he mends his ways because “so much of her remains”. “The shoes she bought on Christmas day, she laughed and said they called her name”. “Her book is lying on the bed, the two of hearts to mark the page, now who would ever walk away at chapter twenty-one.” Just missed the top peaking at #2.

#3
“Station on the Line”
Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before …
co-writer – None

A haunting melody about a guy who falls for a girl who can’t commit. The chorus goes “and her type never does linger, she leaves all could and might-have-beens behind, she rode from New York to California, and I was just a station on that line”. As far as I can tell, no one else has covered this song.

#2
“What Mattered Most” – Ty Herndon
What Mattered Most, 1995
co-writer – Vince Melamed

A lament by a clueless guy who knew all the trivial stuff but missed what mattered most. “I never asked…she never said,and when she cried I turned my head, she dreamed her dreams behind closed doors, and that made them easy to ignore”. A #1 song for Ty in his successful stretch during the 90’s.

#1
“In Front of the Alamo” – Hal Ketchum with LeAnn Rimes
One More Midnight (no U.S. release)
co-writer – None

Allusions to one of the most famous battles in American history are combined with the story of a woman’s love gone bad because of her husband’s infidelity. The couple met as tourists in front of the Alamo. The second verse ends “she wanted trust, she wanted truth, the two things he found hard to do. So forever was shorter than she planned”. (The lives of the defenders of the Alamo were shorter than they planned.) She returns to the Alamo so that she can move on. The bridge begins “she didn’t come for inspiration or to breathe the mighty dust of heroes lost” and concludes “She just felt the time was right, at this random traffic light, to say ‘enough is enough’ and move on”. The third verse ends “maybe something in the air makes the timid braver there, to cross the line that they’ve drawn in the sand”. The tag chorus completes the analogy “they held on she lets go” (they were brave by holding on she by letting go) and concludes “in front of the Alamo, that’s a pretty good place to make a stand”.

While I do recall hearing the song on the radio, it failed to crack the top 40.

Kevin Coyne wrote here in 2007, “… a beautifully sympathetic portrait of a woman leaving a bad relationship behind. After all, what better a place to make a stand than in front of the Alamo? Before you worry that this is one of those over-the-top country numbers with a tortured metaphor, it’s actually wonderfully understated. The character is so believable that it seems just a happy accident that she makes a tough choice in front of a historical landmark.”

Also in 2007, Jim Malec of the 9513 wrote about the Ketchum song, “if you ask me, his latest, “In Front Of The Alamo,” is the best single I’ve heard so far this year. Featuring a brilliant support vocal from LeAnn Rimes, this song does everything right. Lyrically, it is a lesson in excellence, accomplishing in just over three minutes what most songs never do. On the production side it’s damn near perfect, even down to the mix (the short but fitting instrumental parts are well-played and perfectly placed).
It just doesn’t get much better than this.”

I agree.

8 Comments

Filed under Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters, Features

Single Review/Shameless Rant: Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”

Let’s be real: to most core readers of this blog, it’s probably old news that Miranda Lambert is releasing this unusually good song to radio. And it’s probably old opinion for me to proclaim that she’s playing a more sophisticated game than just about any mainstream artist out there. You know: “she’s real, everyone else is a phony!” Is there some amount of truth in that? Sure. But you don’t need another country music Caulfield to tell you. You just have to listen to the song. The difference between this record and most of the others at radio can be felt within seconds.

So blah blah, it’s very good. Maybe great. The best on the album, which is itself quite good. She’s all that. Know what I find myself thinking? It shouldn’t be like this.

Meaning, it shouldn’t come as a pleasant shock when a major label sends out the best track on the album. Or when the track has that distinction because of its grace and intelligence, not because it happens to be more disposably catchy than the others surrounding it. We shouldn’t feel so tempted to put Miranda Lambert on a pedestal just because she’s one of the only acts who bothers (or, perhaps, gets away with) picking music with a few brain cells. We should feel better about noticing that “The House That Built Me” has a few hackneyed turns of phrase, that the second verse seems underdeveloped compared to the first.

I’d like to tell you about the beautiful craft, depth and delivery that make this single worthy of its almost-certain coronation as the best of the year. But all I can think is that that coronation shouldn’t be so almost-certain. Miranda Lambert is a great young artist; she deserves to compete with other great artists, ones who will elicit her admiration and secret envy and drive her to seek yet better songs, better ideas. It infuriates me that this single sticks out so plainly on the Billboard charts. It infuriates me that it’s such a fluke, that mediocrity is so dominant now that I have to focus all my country-music-fan energy on hoping this one really strong release will hit the Top Ten.

Because we used to have a genre full of this stuff, you guys. We used to have a bunch of of artists at once trying to find or write songs like this in between the standard fluff of the day. Hank, George, Emmylou, Dwight, Mary Chapin, whoever – even a lot of less consistent, less celebrated artists. They didn’t all sound the same, but there was a common thread: they tried to be great.

I don’t know all the political intricacies of country music’s current problem. I’m some guy on the internet blogging from an on-campus apartment. But I know that a lot of problems get fixed when individuals stop trying to please everyone and simply try to be great at what they do. Miranda Lambert has been trying to be great from Day One. And what a pleasure it is when her end result is worthy of the same grade as her effort:

Grade: A

Now, what do the rest of you have to say for yourselves?

Written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin

Listen: The House That Built Me

Buy:

37 Comments

Filed under Single Reviews

ACM Flashback: Album of the Year

The ACM Awards has traditionally been overshadowed by the CMA Awards, despite its longer existence. This is for several reasons.  First, the ACM originally existed to emphasize the West Coast country music scene, whereas the CMA Awards represented Nashville from the start.  The ACM has also been more commercially-oriented from the beginning, as the history of this category proves.  Eighteen of the last twenty winners in this ACM category are multi-platinum sellers, and the organization allowed greatest hits albums to compete for more than a decade.

Still, the ACM category has bragging rights of its own. Critically-acclaimed albums like Storms of Life, Trio, Killin’ Time and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend won at the ACMs but were overlooked by the CMAs.  Additionally, women have also been far more successful at this ceremony. Only five women have ever won the CMA Album trophy, and one of them was Sissy Spacek!  At the ACMs, women have dominated the category for the past three years, and the category has honored everyone from Loretta Lynn and Donna Fargo to K.T. Oslin and Shania Twain.

A special note about ACM flashbacks. Like the Grammys, the ACMs issue their award for a given year the following year, so the awards for 2009, for example, are given out in 2010.  For the purposes of the flashbacks, Country Universe notes the year the award is presented. While the ACM first presented awards in 1966, the Album category wasn’t introduced until 1968.

As with other flashbacks, we begin with a look at this year’s nominees:

2010

  • Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum
  • Miranda Lambert, Revolution
  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Carrie Underwood, Play On
  • Zac Brown Band, The Foundation

Three previous winners – Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, and Carrie Underwood – compete against the debut albums of two hot bands.  Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band each picked up a Grammy this year and are well represented on the rest of the ACM ballot.  This is a very competitive race. Even the sales-friendly nature of the ACMs doesn’t help much here, as four of these albums are platinum and Lambert’s just went gold.

2009

  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
  • Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew It All
  • George Strait, Troubadour
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless
  • Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride

Taylor Swift became the third consecutive female artist to win in this category, a feat that would’ve seemed unthinkable earlier in the middle part of the decade, when country radio all but exiled women from radio.

2008

  • Rodney Atkins, If You’re Going Through Hell
  • Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates
  • Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
  • Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
  • Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift

A visibly shocked Lambert accepted the trophy for her critically acclaimed sophomore set.  While it did go gold, it remains an anomaly among ACM album winners. You have to go all the way back to 1979 (Oak Ridge Boys) to find another ACM album winner that didn’t sell platinum or higher.

2007

  • Brooks & Dunn, Hillbilly Deluxe
  • Vince Gill, These Days
  • Rascal Flatts, Me and My Gang
  • George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
  • Carrie Underwood, Some Hearts

Carrie Underwood became the first solo female artist to win this award in eleven years with her 7 million-selling Some Hearts.

2006

  • Gary Allan, Tough All Over
  • Brad Paisley, Time Well Wasted
  • Rascal Flatts, Feels Like Today
  • Sugarland, Twice the Speed of Life
  • Lee Ann Womack, There’s More Where That Came From

A strikingly strong lineup, with the victory going to Brad Paisley. Due to differences in eligibility between the two shows, there are two CMA winners in this category. Not only did Paisley repeat his victory the following fall, Womack won the CMA the previous year.

2005

  • Kenny Chesney, When the Sun Goes Down
  • Sara Evans, Restless
  • Tim McGraw, Live Like You Were Dying
  • Keith Urban, Be Here
  • Gretchen Wilson, Here for the Party

Though he’s always been popular with the CMA and Grammy voters, Urban’s only Album award to date came courtesy of the ACMs. Oddly enough, they haven’t nominated him since.

2004

  • Brooks & Dunn, Red Dirt Road
  • Toby Keith, Shock’n Y’All
  • Martina McBride, Martina
  • Brad Paisley, Mud on the Tires
  • George Strait, Honkytonkville

On an evening where he won several major awards, Keith picked up his second Album of the Year trophy from the ACMs for an album that included the #1  hits “American Soldier”, “Whiskey Girl”,  and “I Love This Bar.”

2003

  • Kenny Chesney, No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems
  • Dixie Chicks, Home
  • Alan Jackson, Drive
  • Toby Keith, Unleashed
  • Trick Pony, On a Mission

If you think all of those 2009 nominations for Heidi Newfield were surprising, check out Trick Pony’s presence in this category among four albums that sold more than 4 million copies each.  Alan Jackson picked up his third trophy in this category for the album that included “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”.

2002

  • Brooks & Dunn, Steers & Stripes
  • Toby Keith, Pull My Chain
  • Tim McGraw, Set This Circus Down
  • Soundtrack, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • Travis Tritt, Down the Road I Go

Big comeback albums for Brooks & Dunn and Travis Tritt were nominated, but it was no surprise to see the victory go to the landmark soundtrack that sold more than eight million copies in the end.

2001

  • Johnny Cash, American III: Solitary Man
  • Billy Gilman, One Voice
  • Toby Keith, How Do You Like Me Now?!
  • Brad Paisley, Who Needs Pictures
  • Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance

Even Keith was a veteran in comparison to Gilman and Paisley, who were nominated with their debut albums, but the biggest surprise was the nomination of Cash for his third project with Rick Rubin. Even the CMA didn’t recognize those collaborations until the fourth volume and “Hurt.”

2000

  • Asleep at the Wheel, Ride With Bob
  • Dixie Chicks, Fly
  • Faith Hill, Breathe
  • George Jones, Cold Hard Truth
  • Tim McGraw, A Place in the Sun

An impressively eclectic lineup is unsurprisingly represented by the consensus choice Dixie Chicks, the one act that everybody used to agree on.

1999

  • Garth Brooks, Double Live
  • Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
  • Faith Hill, Faith
  • Jo Dee Messina, I’m Alright
  • George Strait, One Step at a Time

For the fourth time in the nineties, the trophy went to an artist’s breakthrough album.  After their shocking win at the Grammys a few weeks earlier, this Dixie Chicks victory wasn’t quite as surprising.

1998

  • Garth Brooks, Sevens
  • Patty Loveless, Long Stretch of Lonesome
  • Tim McGraw, Everywhere
  • George Strait, Carrying Your Love With Me
  • Shania Twain, Come On Over

Strait’s third victory in this category tied him with Alabama for most wins.  It was also his first album to top the overall Billboard 200, a feat he’s repeated with three additional albums.

1997

  • Brooks & Dunn, Borderline
  • Tracy Lawrence, Time Marches On
  • Patty Loveless, The Trouble With the Truth
  • LeAnn Rimes, Blue
  • George Strait, Blue Clear Sky

Strait’s victory came with an album that featured the #1 hits “Blue Clear Sky” and “Carried Away”, along with the rodeo-themed “I Can Still Make Cheyenne.”

1996

  • Brooks & Dunn, Waitin’ On Sundown
  • Patty Loveless, When Fallen Angels Fly
  • Tim McGraw, All I Want
  • George Strait, Lead On
  • Shania Twain, The Woman in Me

Although Loveless won the CMA award the previous fall, the ACM sided with the Grammy winner for Best Country Album, Shania Twain’s landmark set, The Woman in Me.

1995

  • Garth Brooks, In Pieces
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stones in the Road
  • Vince Gill, When Love Finds You
  • Alan Jackson, Who I Am
  • Tim McGraw, Not a Moment Too Soon

McGraw’s only victory in this category came with his first nomination. This set remains his top-selling to date, thanks to the presence of the massive hits “Don’t Take the Girl”, “Indian Outlaw”, “Down on the Farm”, and the title track.

1994

  • Brooks & Dunn, Hard Workin’ Man
  • Billy Ray Cyrus, It Won’t Be the Last
  • Vince Gill, I Still Believe In You
  • Alan Jackson, A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘Bout Love)
  • Various Artists, Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles
  • Dwight Yoakam, This Time

Alan Jackson picked up his second victory in this category with an album that included “Chattahoochee”, which would remain his biggest hit for nearly a decade.

1993

  • Garth Brooks, The Chase
  • Brooks & Dunn, Brand New Man
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On
  • Billy Ray Cyrus, Some Gave All
  • Wynonna, Wynonna

These are some big selling albums. Wynonna and Mary Chapin Carpenter both sold five million and they are tied for last place among the nominees.  It’s easy to forget how fresh the Brooks & Dunn sound was when it first arrived on the scene.  Five hits, including the classic title track, “Neon Moon”, and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”, helped power them to a win.

1992

  • Garth Brooks, No Fences
  • Garth Brooks, Ropin’ the Wind
  • Alan Jackson, Don’t Rock the Jukebox
  • Ricky Van Shelton, Backroads
  • Travis Tritt, It’s All About to Change

In perhaps the most bizarre moment in this category’s history, Garth Brooks competed again with No Fences, which won the same award last year. Alan Jackson emerged victorious with his sophomore set.

1991

  • Alabama, Pass it On Down
  • Garth Brooks, No Fences
  • Vince Gill, When I Call Your Name
  • Alan Jackson, Here in the Real World
  • Ricky Van Shelton, RVS III

No Fences includes the Garth Brooks classics “Friends in Low Places”, “Unanswered Prayers”, and “The Thunder Rolls”. It remains his highest-selling album to date, and second only to Shania Twain’s Come On Over among all single-disc country albums in history.

1990

  • Clint Black, Killin’ Time
  • Rodney Crowell, Diamonds and Dirt
  • Kathy Mattea, Willow in the Wind
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Vol. II
  • Randy Travis, Old 8×10

The winning album demonstrates why Clint Black was the head of the Class of ’89, even though he’d soon be overshadowed by fellow newbie Garth Brooks.

1989

  • Vern Gosdin, Chiseled in Stone
  • K.T. Oslin, This Woman
  • Ricky Van Shelton, Loving Proof
  • George Strait, If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin’
  • Dwight Yoakam, Buenos Noches From a Lonely Room

K.T. Oslin dominated the awards circuit in 1988 and 1989, with her final victories coming at the ACM Awards.  Her Album of the Year winner included the #1 hit “Hold Me”, along with the top five hits “Hey Bobby” and the title track.

1988

  • The Judds, Heart Land
  • Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris, Trio
  • George Strait, Ocean Front Property
  • Randy Travis, Always and Forever
  • Hank Williams Jr., Born to Boogie

The classic project by legends Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris also won a CMA for Vocal Event and a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

1987

  • The Judds, Rockin’ With the Rhythm
  • Ricky Skaggs, Live in London
  • George Strait, 7
  • Randy Travis, Storms of Life
  • Dwight Yoakam, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

The neo-traditionalist movement at its peak, with a win by its standard-bearing artist with his standard-bearing debut album.

1986

  • Alabama, 40 Hour Week
  • Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, Highwayman
  • The Judds, Why Not Me
  • George Strait, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
  • Hank Williams Jr., Five-O

The only #1 hit from this album was the title track, but “The Fireman” and “The Cowboy Rides Away” have since become signature songs for the legendary artist.

1985

  • Alabama, Roll On
  • Earl Thomas Conley, Don’t Make it Easy On Me
  • Ricky Skaggs, Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown
  • George Strait, Right or Wrong
  • Hank Williams Jr., Man of Steel

Their third victory in four years came on the strength of the hits “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)”, “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)”, “(There’s a) Fire in the Night”, and “When We Make Love.”

1984

  • Alabama, The Closer You Get
  • John Anderson, Wild & Blue
  • Merle Haggard, Going Where the Lonely Go
  • Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson, Pancho & Lefty
  • Ricky Skaggs, Highways & Heartaches

Over a field of traditionalists old and new, the pop-country supergroup Alabama won their second Album award. In addition to the hit title track, The Closer You Get… included the hits “Lady Down on Love” and “Dixieland Delight.”

1983

  • Alabama, Mountain Music
  • Willie Nelson, Always On My Mind
  • Kenny Rogers, Love Will Turn You Around
  • Ricky Skaggs, Waitin’ For the Sun to Shine
  • Don Williams, Listen to the Radio

Nelson’s biggest single powered the album of the same name to victory. It also included a pair of #2 hits: “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning” and “Let it Be Me.”

1982

  • Alabama, Feels So Right
  • Rosanne Cash, Seven Year Ache
  • George Jones, Still the Same Ole Me
  • Oak Ridge Boys, Fancy Free
  • Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs

With the exception of George Jones, all the nominees here enjoyed significant pop success with these projects. Alabama won their first trophy in this category with Feels So Right, which included the hit title track, “Old Flame”, and their biggest crossover hit, “Love in the First Degree.”

1981

  • Charley Pride, There’s a Little Bit of Hank in Me
  • Kenny Rogers, Greatest Hits
  • Soundtrack, Coal Miner’s Daughter
  • Soundtrack, Urban Cowboy
  • Don Williams, I Believe in You

For all that it’s been maligned, the Urban Cowboy soundtrack does have a lot of classic hits on it.  Some of them were recycled, like “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Lyin’ Eyes”, but some were introduced on the soundtrack, most notably Anne Murray’s “Could I Have This Dance” and Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ For Love.”

1980

  • Larry Gatlin, Straight Ahead
  • Emmylou Harris, Blue Kentucky Girl
  • Waylon Jennings, Greatest Hits
  • Willie Nelson, Willie Sings Kristofferson
  • Kenny Rogers, Kenny

Those of you wondering how on earth Larry Gatlin was the winner in this field should know that this was actually a platinum-selling album. Perhaps its big hit, “All the Gold in California”, endeared the project to west coast voters.

1979

  • Ronnie Milsap, It Was Almost Like a Song
  • Anne Murray, Let’s Keep it That Way
  • Willie Nelson, Stardust
  • Oak Ridge Boys, Y’All Come Back Saloon
  • Kenny Rogers & Dottie West, Every Time Two Fools Collide

They had made several albums as gospel stars, but it was their first big country hit that fueled this win for Album of the Year.

1978

  • Waylon Jennings, Ol’ Waylon
  • Dolly Parton, Here You Come Again
  • Elvis Presley, Moody Blue
  • Kenny Rogers, Kenny Rogers
  • Conway Twitty, Greatest Hits Vol. II

This self-titled album was renamed “Lucille” in later pressings to capitalize on its biggest hit.

1977

  • Mickey Gilley, Gilley’s Smokin’
  • Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser, Wanted! The Outlaws
  • Loretta Lynn, Somebody Somewhere
  • Marty Robbins, El Paso City
  • Conway Twitty, Now and Then

Gilley’s winning album features his most well known hit, “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.” It’s the most recent album in the category’s history that hasn’t reached at least gold status.

1976

  • Glen Campbell, Rhinestone Cowboy
  • Freddie Fender, Before the Next Teardrop Falls
  • Merle Haggard, Keep Movin’ On
  • Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, Feelins’
  • Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger

This shared award is the only Album trophy that either Lynn or Twitty won from the ACM or CMA, though Lynn did go on to win Best Country Album three decades later at the Grammys.

1975

  • John Denver, Back Home Again
  • Merle Haggard, Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album
  • Loretta Lynn, They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy
  • Cal Smith, Country Bumpkin
  • Bob Wills, For the Last Time

Denver’s biggest country album, it spent thirteen weeks atop the country album chart. The title track topped the chart, and “Annie’s Song” became a wedding standard.

1974

  • Merle Haggard, I Love Dixie Blues…so I Recorded “Live” in New Orleans
  • Loretta Lynn, Love is the Foundation
  • Charlie Rich, Behind Closed Doors
  • Johnny Rodriguez, Introducing Johnny Rodriguez
  • Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn, Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man

Rich’s classic set has sold four million copies, an unheard of tally for a country album from this time period. It didn’t hurt that the title track and “The Most Beautiful Girl” were crossover hits, with the latter actually topping the pop singles chart.

1973

  • Mac Davis, Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me
  • Donna Fargo, The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.
  • Merle Haggard, The Best of the Best of Merle Haggard
  • Merle Haggard, It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)
  • Merle Haggard, Let Me Tell You About a Song
  • Freddie Hart, Bless Your Heart

Donna Fargo triumphed in a field of six albums, half of which were recorded by Merle Haggard! The Fargo set produced two million-selling singles – the title track and “Funny Face”.

1972

  • Merle Haggard, Hag
  • Merle Haggard, Someday We’ll Look Back
  • Freddie Hart, Easy Loving
  • Ray Price, I Won’t Mention it Again
  • Charley Pride, Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs

The title track was a massive hit, helping Hart’s Easy Loving reach gold status and spend nine weeks atop the country albums chart.

1971

  • Glen Campbell, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Album
  • Merle Haggard, The Fightin’ Side of Me
  • Merle Haggard, A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills)
  • Ray Price, For the Good Times
  • Charley Pride, Charley Pride’s 10th Album

Who knows how many times Haggard could’ve won this award if he wasn’t nominated against himself? This year, Ray Price’s For the Good Times was the victor, thanks to the Kristofferson-penned title track.

1970

  • Glen Campbell, Live
  • Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison
  • Merle Haggard, Okie From Muskogee
  • Charley Pride, Best of Charley Pride
  • Tammy Wynette, Greatest Hits

Haggard’s only victory in this category was for a live album. Incidentally, he won over two other live albums and a pair of greatest hits sets.

1969

  • Glen Campbell, Wichita Lineman
  • Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell, Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell
  • Merle Haggard, The Best of Merle Haggard
  • Merle Haggard, Mama Tried
  • Buck Owens, Best of Buck Owens

Campbell won for the second year in a row, this time sharing the victory with Bobbie Gentry of “Ode to Billie Joe” fame.

1968

  • Glen Campbell, Burning Bridges
  • Glen Campbell, Gentle on My Mind
  • Merle Haggard, Branded Man
  • Merle Haggard, I’m a Lonesome Fugitive
  • Wynn Stewart, It’s Such a Pretty World Today

California favorite Glen Campbell won the first ACM trophy in this category, and he’d remain a favorite of the Academy over the next decade.

Facts & Feats

Multiple Wins:

  • (3) – Alabama, Alan Jackson, George Strait
  • (2) – Glen Campbell, Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith

Most Nominations:

  • (17) – Merle Haggard
  • (12) – George Strait
  • (7) – Garth Brooks, Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson
  • (6) – Alabama, Tim McGraw
  • (5) – Loretta Lynn, Brad Paisley, Kenny Rogers

Most Nominations Without a Win:

  • (4) – Vince Gill, Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, Ricky Skaggs
  • (3) – Johnny Cash, Kenny Chesney, The Judds, Patty Loveless, Ricky Van Shelton, Hank Williams Jr., Dwight Yoakam

Albums that won the ACM Award and the CMA Award:

  • Merle Haggard, Okie From Muskogee
  • Charlie Rich, Behind Closed Doors
  • Willie Nelson, Always on My Mind
  • Alabama, The Closer You Get
  • George Strait, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
  • Garth Brooks, No Fences
  • George Strait, Blue Clear Sky
  • George Strait, Carrying Your Love With Me
  • Dixie Chicks, Fly
  • Soundtrack, O Brother Where Art Thou?
  • Alan Jackson, Drive
  • Brad Paisley, Time Well Wasted
  • George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless

Albums that Won the ACM award and the Grammy for Album of the Year:

  • Soundtrack, O Brother Where Art Thou?
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless

Albums that Won the ACM award and the Grammy for Best Country Album (only presented in 1965-1966 and 1995-present):

  • Shania Twain, The Woman in Me
  • Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
  • Dixie Chicks, Fly
  • George Strait, Troubadour
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless

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Forgotten Hits: Suzy Bogguss, “Hey Cinderella”

Hey Cinderella
Suzy Bogguss
#5
1994
Written by Matraca Berg, Suzy Bogguss, and Gary Harrison

There’s a term that has gathered strength over the past decade: the quarter-life crisis. It describes that phase in life where the idealism of what you thought your life would be collides with what reality has in store for you. Reconciling the two is needed to get beyond this point of life, and adulthood completely sets in once such reconciliation has been accomplished.

A significant difference between the major female artists of the early nineties and those of today is that they’re on opposite sides of that quarter-life marker.  Take at the ages in which today’s newer female stars enjoyed their first top twenty hit: Carrie Underwood, 22; Miranda Lambert, 22; Kellie Pickler, 20; Taylor Swift, 17.

Now compare that to the women who broke through from 1989-1992: Suzy Bogguss, 34; Pam Tillis, 33;   Mary Chapin Carpenter, 31; Wynonna, 27; Trisha Yearwood, 26.  Unlike today, there were also several additional female artists who were also on the radio – Reba McEntire, Kathy Mattea, Patty Loveless, and Tanya Tucker – all of whom were in their thirties.

“Age ain’t nothin’ but a number,” Aaliyah once sang, but the musical output of these two crops of artists suggest otherwise.  “Hey Cinderella” was a top five hit for Bogguss in 1994, and perhaps best exemplifies the different perspectives of these two generations of women.

“We believed in fairy tales that day,” Bogguss sings as she reminisces with her friend about the day her friend got married. “I watched your father give you away. Your aim was true when the pink bouquet fell right into my hands.”  It sounds like the beginning of the latest Taylor Swift song, perhaps a duet with Kellie Pickler.

But as life goes on, “through the years, and the kids, and the jobs, and the dreams that lost their way,” these grown women are wondering about those fairy tales. “I’ve got a funny feeling we missed a page or two somehow”, and find themselves wanting to question the legendary princess: “Cinderella, maybe you can help us out?” they ask. “Does the shoe fit you now?”

While the perspective of youth is honestly preserved, these are clear-eyed adults with a wealth of life experiences informing their feelings today. It doesn’t get more honest than the line “We’re good now ’cause we have to be.” It’s not so much we grow up because we want to, but rather because we have to.

I’ve written many times that I don’t find Taylor Swift’s music offensive so much as irrelevant.  When I was a teenager, I could listen to country music and not fully understand the intricacies of what the songs were about, but I knew I’d eventually grow into an understanding.  Over the past fifteen years, I’ve done just that.  What I can’t do is regress back into the state of development needed to find Taylor Swift’s music relevant to me.

Honestly, I don’t think that the world looked like what’s described in “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” at any period of my life. I’ve just never known girls who saw the world that way. The ones I knew have grown up to be women quite a bit like those that Bogguss and her contemporaries sang about. Here’s hoping that this generation is able to do the same. In the meantime, if you like country music by and for adults, this forgotten hit is a great starting point.

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Say What? – Terri Clark

In an interview with Gibson.com , Terri Clark reflects on her hit-making days:

Country radio was good to me for many years, but it also pigeonholed me. After my first album, I was expected to fill the slot on their playlist for ‘fun, up-tempo female.’ That provided me with a space to fill on that playlist, and a string of turntable hits, but in my entire career I had only two ballads that broke the Top 10.

There have been quite a few songs, songs that never got released as singles, that I felt were stronger than a lot of the singles that came out.

Lamenting the restraints that their former labels placed on their artistic freedom is a common refrain of country artists once they go indie. But in Clark’s case, I see her point. Her first wave of hits included two ballads, but most of the biggest hits were uptempo rockers like “You’re Easy On the Eyes” and “Better Things To Do.”  Her second wave was only three hits deep, a trio of upbeat numbers that all reached the top two.  Radio essentially walked away when she took a turn for the serious.

Interestingly enough, she fell out of favor during Gretchen Wilson’s meteoric rise, who essentially filled that “fun, up-tempo female” slot.  Radio embraced Wilson more than they ever embraced Clark, but also tired of her quickly.  Radio has since backed more female artists than it did in the early part of the decade, with Carrie Underwood,  Taylor Swift and Sugarland regularly topping the charts.  But it could be argued that Clark’s niche has never been filled again, much like Mary Chapin Carpenter and Patty Loveless were never succeeded by a younger counterpart.

Do you agree with Clark that radio pigeonholds its artists to the detriment of their music?  If so, what artists are currently being the most limited by this mindset?

H/T: GAC

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 7: #80-#61

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 7: #80-#61


#80

“When Somebody Loves You”
Alan Jackson
2001
Peak: #5

A treasure of a love song. Contrasted stunningly with modest accompaniment and vocals, the song’s message is that of love’s sublime ability to transform one’s life and bring light to dark. – Tara Seetharam


#79
“Separate Ways”
Rick Trevino
2007
Peak: #59

“Separate Ways” is an instructive narrative of a couple who did everything together, but “the last thing they did together was go their separate ways.” Fortunately, the song’s narrator learns from his parents’ divorce and wisely applies its valuable lesson to his own relationship. – Leeann Ward Continue reading

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The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 3: #30-#21

It Stinks!After  and , we’re wading further into the sea of mediocrity.

The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 3: #30-#21

#30
Terri Clark, “Dirty Girl”

Double entendres are a lot more enjoyable when the naughty meaning is the real one.

#29
Jamey Johnson, “The Dollar”

Real kids don’t talk like this.

#28
Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Love Will Always Win”

This treacly ballad is the nadir of Trisha’s career and one “It’s Midnight Cinderella” away from being Garth’s as well.

#27
Darryl Worley, “Have You Forgotten?”

Featuring more straw men than a Wizard of Oz audition.

#26
Clint Black, “I Raq and Roll”

“Have You Forgotten?” without all the nuance and subtlety.

#25
Shania Twain and Billy Currington, “Party For Two”

Proof positive that spoken dialogue can ruin a song before it even begins.

#24
Martina McBride, “God’s Will”
He was dressed as a bag of leaves? That’s his costume? Hey, at least she didn’t kill him off in the last verse.

#23
Brooks & Dunn, “Play Something Country”

There are so many poorly written female characters in Brooks & Dunn songs, it’s hard to pick just one to represent them all. But I’ll give the nod to this one, simply because it has her howling the title to a melodic hook that’s a blatant rip-off of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Shut Up and Kiss Me.”

#22
Jason Aldean, “Johnny Cash”

The “country star as song name” trend hasn’t yielded anything worthwhile, but at least “Tim McGraw” and “Kristofferson” have some tenuous connection to their titular song. “Johnny Cash” is just shameless name-dropping.

#21
Gretchen Wilson, “Red Bird Fever”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Haxd6g2Mux8

In retrospect, this should’ve been a huge red flag that Wilson wasn’t built to last.  My personal favorite moment of this St. Louis Cardinals shout-out comes in the chorus, when she sings “Let me get a big ‘Go Cards!’ from the Red Bird fans like me. Go Cards!” and the backup singers answer back, “Hell yeah!”  because they couldn’t be bothered to change the “Redneck Woman” backing track.

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Filed under Decade in Review

Perfect 10

tenAs April is one of the odd months that has five Wednesdays, I thought I'd take a break from Country Quizzin' for this week and try out a new discussion-thing.

Given the current mainstream climate, it's been a while since I've felt able to heap unfettered praise on a piece of country music here, and that frankly bums me out a bit. So in the spirit of un-bumming, I'm going to share ten country songs from the 70's on that I find absolutely flawless – my “Perfect 10″ – and I invite you to do the same. It's a simple enough concept – you could just think of it as Recommend a Track times 10 plus a punny name.

Still, I suspect the outcome could be really interesting if everybody puts in the effort to pick ten songs that they consider the absolute cream of the crop. We're talking all-time best material here, whatever “all-time” happens to mean to you. You don't have to rank them, and they don't have to be your definitive top ten; I sure wouldn't be able to produce that list without a lot more thought. They just have to be up there – the kind of songs that you love fully and deeply, that still engage and surprise you after countless listens.

Most of the ten I've picked below are pretty well-known. Feel free to go as popular or as obscure as you like – great music is great music!

In chronological order:

Bobbie Gentry, “Ode to Billie Joe”

I've never heard anything else like this. Even if you ignore the compelling Southern Gothic mystery the song serves up in just over four minutes, there's so much magic in the writing itself. The intense attention to detail doesn't just paint a vivid picture; it serves an actual literary kind of purpose, illustrating the insensitivity of the narrator's family. I miss songs with subtexts.

Loretta Lynn, “Fist City”

“Fist City” is in the inner circle of big Loretta hits, but it usually has its spotlight stolen by more topically revolutionary numbers like “Don't Come Home A Drinkin'” or “The Pill.” But no longer! This saucy prelude to a catfight could be her most tightly-written anthem ever, with a killer hook and excellent one-liners all around. “The man I love, when he picks up trash, he puts it in a garbage can. And that's what you look like to me.” Damn!

John Denver, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

Call it musical comfort food. Denver's stuff was never good for extremists: the hardcore folkies found it too simplistic and starry-eyed to be intellectually palatable, while the hardcore country fans found it too poppy to have any hillbilly integrity. If you ask me, those arguments were more about context than substance. This single seamlessly blends its folk, pop and country sensibilities, and Denver's soaring voice can sell this kind of romanticized lyric all day.

Jerry Jeff Walker, “Gettin' By”

Another helping of comfort food. This here's a take-it-easy anthem with a similar vibe to “Don't Worry, Be Happy,” but with less potential to annoy you.

Merle Haggard, “If We Make It Through December”

The kind of understated song that speaks for itself and doesn't try to sound more important than it really is, which is charming, since this song's sentiment is actually more significant than a lot of songs which employ a more dramatic approach. Haggard's writing here is also proof that specificity of storytelling often makes a song that much more relatable.

Alabama, “Dixieland Delight”

What can I say; I love the feel-good anthems. I have to admit that I mostly included this because I wanted to give the 80's at least one song and it was the first thing that came to mind, so it may be a tier lower than some of the others in terms of my love. But I don't think these guys get enough credit for the legitimately good country-rock stuff they did.

Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Why Walk When You Can Fly”

Easily the most obscure thing on this list, this gorgeous album opener

was released as a single and peaked at #45. I first heard this while driving to Kroger at night and just about pulled over so I could listen properly.

Dixie Chicks, “Long Time Gone”

If there is any justice whatsoever in the country music world, historians will remind the public hung up on “the incident” that the Chicks also produced some of the best singles of their time, especially with this Darrell Scott-penned beaut. What a masterwork.

Josh Turner, “Long Black Train”

I reached a point in life last year where my religious beliefs just seemed to fall out from underneath me, and I've been pretty much undecided on that front since. Incredibly, it's only made me appreciate Turner's spiritual beckon even more, which is a testament, I think, to how substantially it presents its point-of-view. And gosh, does it ever sound good. Josh oughta crack open that Hank Williams box set more often.

Nickel Creek, “This Side”

This was one of the key songs that hooked me for good into country music, so I had to include it. The writing is more abstract pop-rock than anything else, but the pulsating instrumentation is so sweet that you're a fool if you care one way or the other. Listen to this with a good pair of headphones and hear the world unfold.

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Filed under Conversations, Recommend a Track