Tonight’s topic was last included at Country Universe on Labor Day Weekend, but, considering that much of our lives are spent chasing the almighty dollar, I figured it was one worth revisiting. Songs about the working man (and woman) are a little less common in country music nowadays (Is there still no replacement for George Jones’ “It’s Finally Friday?”.). Quite possibly, the working songs are gone because radio listeners are supposed to forget about work, a necessary evil, altogether. Believe me, some days I dream of buying lotto tickets until my numbers come up (Where are you, Mary Chapin Carpenter? I don’t feel lucky.).
My favorite:“Take This Job and Shove It” by Johnny Paycheck (Please do yourself a favor and check out Paycheck’s catalog. The man is more than one song.)
Building a music collection used to be a far more difficult thing, a dogged hunt through record stores and mail order catalogs, hoping to find what you were looking for. The advent of the internet made things easier, but it wasn’t until music could be downloaded digitally that a deep music collection could be built with far less effort.
However, all of this available music can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to get a handle on the catalog of an established artist. Country Universe is here to help. Our Buyer’s Guides will walk you through the music that is digitally available for a given artist, starting with the essential purchases for new listeners, and working through the entire digital catalog until even the completist fan will be sated. You can also sample each album in its entirety, and purchase any song or album that you like through Amazon’s MP3 store.
Our first Buyer’s Guide is for our artist of the month, Dolly Parton. Look for many more to come in the new year.
Starting Your Collection
Dolly Parton’s catalog is quite the labyrinth. Thankfully, there are several compilations available that are an excellent value, offering twenty tracks each for less than ten dollars. Casual fans can just pick up the first set, but serious country fans should skip the first and buy the other three.
Ultimate Dolly Parton
This collection is all that the casual fan will ever need, with twenty hits included for just under eight bucks. All of her big crossover hits are here, like “Islands in the Stream”, “9 to 5″ and “Here You Come Again.” Also included are her country classics “Jolene”, “Coat of Many Colors” and the original recording of “I Will Always Love You.” It’s a bit too broad for studious fans of country music, but if you just want the big hits, they’re all here.
The Essential Dolly Parton, Volume Two
RCA has yet to issue a definitive box set for Parton, but their three Essential releases in the nineties are collectively effective in covering her tenure with the label. This is the strongest of the three sets, focusing on her sixties and seventies material. In addition to the big hits, including the original recording of “I Will Always Love You”, you also get lesser-known greats like “Touch Your Woman”, “Mule Skinner Blues” and “The Seeker.” Her transformation from mountain singer to pop sensation is captured here, as the set includes the first wave of her pop hits, too.
The Essential Dolly Parton One: I Will Always Love You
Even though it was released first, this set focuses on the latter years of Parton’s tenure, with nearly all of the cuts being released in the eighties. The rest of the big pop hits are here, like “9 to 5″ and “Islands in the Stream”, along with some forgotten gems, most notably “Single Women”, “God Won’t Get You” and “Tennessee Homesick Blues.” Also of note is her recording of “To Daddy”, which she chose not to release when Emmylou Harris expressed interest in recording it instead.
The Essential Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton
Although they both are Hall of Famers, you can’t effectively tell the story of either Porter Wagoner or Dolly Parton without discussing their work together. They are the most successful collaborators in country music history, and nearly all of their hits are collected here. Classics like “Making Plans” and “Just Someone I Used To Know” are essential, as are “Burning the Midnight Oil” and “The Last Thing on My Mind.”
Building Your Collection
For all three women involved – Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris – this was a career landmark, which brought them wide critical acclaim and huge commercial success. The harmonies are exquisite throughout, but the best moments are “The Pain of Loving You”, “Wildflowers” and “Telling Me Lies.”
Mary Chapin Carpenter has been tapped by the Washington Times to write a regular column in the paper’s “Show” section, and her first article appeared on Friday, November 21. A press released last week lauded the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter for her eloquent honesty and unique perspective:
“Mary Chapin Carpenter is a creatively evolving, mold-breaking national artist and beloved regional icon,” said Daniel Wattenberg, Washington Times Assistant Managing Editor for Arts and Features. “We couldn’t be happier to have her contributing to the national and local multimedia platforms of The Washington Times. A column may be a new medium for Mary Chapin, but her voice — intimate, reflective and companionable — will be comfortingly familiar. Our readers are in for a treat.”
This is a deserving honor for a woman known for her sharp, lyrical writing style and a keen eye for the minute details that form our daily lives. So one wonders, who else would provide such relevant creative expression.
Which country artists would you like to see as working journalists?
Feel free to describe what role they would serve, and tell us why your choice would be such a logical candidate.
P.S. Congratulations to readers Kim and Soul Miner’s Daughter, who won our Darius Rucker and Faith Hill album giveaways, respectively. Email me with your shipping address, and we will send out your free copies shortly!
For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.
Zac Brown Band
Usually there isn’t this much turnover in this race unless most of last year’s nominees are ineligible. This year, only one of the four eligible nominees from last year – Zac Brown Band – earns a nomination. With their massive success and their multiple nominations, they’ve got an excellent shot at winning. Then again, Easton Corbin is elsewhere on the ballot, too. It could be a horse race. 2009
Zac Brown Band
Thirteen years after winning the Best New Artist Grammy as part of Hootie & The Blowfish, Darius Rucker won the country music equivalent, adding an exclamation point to the most successful pop-to-country crossover in a generation.
The industry favorites Lady Antebellum became the fourth band in history to win this award, following Rascal Flatts, Dixie Chicks and Sawyer Brown.
Little Big Town
In the year since winning the Horizon Award, Swift has solidified her position as the genre’s most successful rising star. While her debut album hasn’t reached the sales heights of the first discs by previous winners Carire Underwood and Gretchen Wilson, Swift is still one of the genre’s only significant sellers.
Little Big Town
I had a sneaking suspicion that Josh Turner was going to take this home, but as I’ve said before, Carrie’s got the best pipes since Trisha Yearwood. That she’ was acknowledged for that at such an early stage of her career is pretty amazing. Somehow I think the thrill of winning Horizon was short-lived, as winning Female Vocalist the same night left that memory in the dust.
Big & Rich
Four of these five were nominees again the following year, and all in categories besides just Horizon, though Lambert got another shot at that as well.I think Big & Rich and Sugarland are making the most interesting music, and they’re moving more units than Bentley, though he’s no slouch himself.The CMA showed good judgment this year.
In a rare coup for a new artist, Mary Chapin Carpenter earned a coveted performance slot on the 1990 show, and she used it to establish her identity as one of country music’s left-of-center talents. She decided to perform the biting “You Don’t Know Me (I’m the Opening Act),” a cutting dismissal of country star power gone awry. It was a risky move, with the less-than-famous artist taking a stab at the music industry who would determine the fate of her career.
Few songwriters in Nashville have reached the dizzying heights of Don Schlitz. His mantle full of awards and his prominence on the charts for the better part of three decades has made Schlitz an integral part of country music’s rich heritage of storytelling songs.
Don Schlitz was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. He briefly attended Duke University before moving to Nashville in 1973. After his arrival, Schlitz served as a computer operator at Vanderbilt University, but continued to write songs for five years before his big break. With “The Gambler”, Schlitz’ career finally moved forward. The classic tale of a man learning how to “know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em” enraptured country music audiences upon its release in 1978. The story of a young man and a train-traveling sage earned the Grammy for Best Country Song in 1979 and received the CMA honor for Single of the Year later that year.
The pairing of Don Schlitz with fellow writer Paul Overstreet produced many classic songs of the late 1980s, with the two lyrical masterminds writing “On the Other Hand” and “Forever and Ever, Amen” for Randy Travis, and “When You Say Nothing at All” for Keith Whitley (later a hit for Alison Krauss & Union Station). At first, the two men were disappointed that then-newcomer Travis would be the recipient of “On the Other Hand”, intending the song to be recorded by a legend like Haggard or Jones, but Travis’ version impressed them greatly. Travis would soon become a constant source of success in their careers. Both the CMA and the ACM named “On the Other Hand” as Song of the Year in 1986, and “Forever and Ever, Amen” took the trophy at the CMAs in 1987. Schlitz was granted the award of ASCAP Songwriter of the Year an unprecedented four consecutive years from 1988-1991.
I believe the essence of God is reflected in the very best art. By that standard, Stones in the Road has been my gospel, the defining record that I have turned to at every stage of my life and learned something new from it, a truth that had already been revealed to me but I wasn’t ready to understand at an earlier time.
What Carpenter achieves here, through a journey of thirteen songs, is both an honest look at the weaknesses present in the human experience, and a hopeful optimism that they can be transcended. I’m amazed, listening to this album again, just how much of my own worldview has been shaped and later validated by the words of wisdom Carpenter communicated. I truly believe, for example, that “in this world you’ve a soul for a compass and a heart for a pair of wings,” as she implores in the gospel-flavored opening track, “Why Walk When You Can Fly.” She captured an essential truth of a small community in “House of Cards” that verbalized my biggest issue with the suburban area I grew up in: “I grew up in a town like this, you knew the names of every street. On the surface it looked so safe, but it was perilous underneath.”
Her unflinching look at how we fail ourselves and the ones we love cut deep. On “A Keeper For Every Flame,” she tells of a man who “just misses what he can’t forget. It’ s just an empty space where something used to be, now he guards the gate but he’s lost the key, so no one enters but no one leaves.” “The Last Word” never directly refers to the title, obliquely referring to it as “it,” but captures in song the empty victory of winning the battle of words but losing love in the process: “Some words will cut you down like you’re only in the way. Why should I stand this ground?” leads to “Sometimes we’re blinded by the very thing we need to see. I finally realized that you need it more than you need me.”
She once said that her goal is to create music that won’t make Emmylou Harris want to avoid her if she saw her coming down the street. For nearly two decades, Trisha Yearwood has certainly achieved that goal, as she has been the genre’s most consistently excellent recording artist, with a stronger ear for material than any of her contemporaries and nuanced performances that draw on her vocal power without exploiting it.
She was born and raised in Monticello, Georgia, the daughter of a banker father and schoolteacher mother. She was a big fan of Elvis Presley when she was young, but her passion for music really developed when she first heard Linda Ronstadt. She later said that it was the first time she heard a singer with real emotion in her voice, and when she met with her producer years later, she brought Ronstadt’s Prisoner in Disguise album with her and said, “This is the kind of music that I want to make.” Another pivotal moment in her musical development was hearing Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache”, which she later called the first country record that seemed relevant to her generation, rather than being her parents’ country music.
Yearwood loved singing publicly, but she was also sensible, and she pursued a business degree at a junior college. She moved to Nashville to complete her education, studying at Belmont University as a Music Business major. This led to her first industry job, as an internship at MTM Records became a full-time job after graduation. Her vocal talent did not go unnoticed, and she soon became an in-demand demo singer. She built a solid reputation for learning songs quickly, so those that hired her could save on studio time by having her sing the demos. Legend has it that she was so fast that she could double-park her car and be in and out before she’d get a ticket.
The list of intelligent female singer-songwriters that have made it big in country music is fairly short. Brown-educated and world-traveled by the time she performed publicly, Mary Chapin Carpenter brought a sophistication to country music that was eagerly embraced by the industry and fans alike.
Carpenter began singing the folks songs that she loved when still in high school. Reportedly, classmates threatened to cut her guitar strings if she sang “Leavin’ On a Jet Plane” one more time. The divorce of her parents contributed to her introversion, and she was a reluctant public performer. After attending Brown, earning a degree in American Civilization, she attempted to pursue her musical ambitions.
Fate intervened when she met John Jennings, who would become her primary collaborator. At the time they met, she still considered music a hobby and was determined to “get a real job.” He pushed her to start performing original material, and she demonstrated her sense of humor early on by dubbing her own publishing company “Get a Real Job.” Her demo caught the attention of Columbia Records, who released it as is in 1987, under the title Hometown Girl. It became a popular record on college radio, and the label felt she could reach a larger audience if she pursued a country career.
When Time dubbed Lucinda Williams “America’s Greatest Songwriter” in 2001, it wasn’t exactly a news bulletin to those who had followed her career for the previous two decades. She became known as a songwriter first, despite a stunning recorded catalog of her self-written work. But the fledgling Americana format soon became her home, and she returned the favor by becoming its first big star.
She cut her teeth on the folk music of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. A native of Louisiana, she spent the late sixties and early seventies playing the local clubs in New Orleans, before moving to Austin, TX in 1974. There was a burgeoning country-rock scene in that city, and she fit in perfectly. She created a demo tape that caught the attention of Folkways Records, who signed her to a deal. In 1978, she released her first album, Ramblin’, which featured her take on various country, folk and blues standards.
It wasn’t until 1980 that the world was introduced to Lucinda Williams the songwriter on a formal basis. Her second album, Happy Woman Blues, was her first to feature self-written material. It was a polite collection that didn’t push any musical boundaries, but it established her as a singer-songwriter. In what would become a maddening trend for her followers, it would take another eight years before she’d release another album, as a development deal with CBS Records ended without any commercial releases, slowing down her momentum as a recording artist.