Thursday, December 3rd, 2009
The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 4
Pam Tillis, It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis
By the time she released a tribute to her father Mel, she’d become something of a legend in her own right. So it’s no surprise that she approached Mel’s stellar songwriting catalog as if she was recording any other studio album, taking the best of the bunch and making them her own. Bonus points for preserving the original fiddle breakdown from “Heart Over Mind” while making that classic shuffle a forlorn ballad, and a few more for hitting the archives of the Country Music Hall of Fame until she found a forgotten gem that should’ve been a hit back in the day (“Not Like it Was With You.”) – Kevin Coyne
Recommended Tracks: “Mental Revenge”, “Detroit City”
Dwight Yoakam, dwightyoakamacoustic.net
Yoakam takes a new, inspired spin on the greatest hits album concept, presenting us with a hearty sampling (over 20 songs) of his catalog served acoustic style. It simply works for the country legend. He introduces some delightful new twists and turns to his old classics, and as it should go with acoustic music, the album is driven by unadulterated, raw vocals, coupled with honest storytelling – the purest form of country music. – Tara Seetharam
Recommended Tracks: “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere”, “Things Change”
Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)
Time (The Revelator) is Gillian Welch and David Rawlings with much of their typical production stripped away. Accompanied by acoustic guitar and banjo, Gillian sings with emotions as much as she sings notes that create a surprisingly full sound. – William Ward
Recommended Tracks: “I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll”, “Red Clay Halo”
Reba McEntire, Reba Duets
That McEntire is able to smoothly and effortlessly wrap her voice around eleven other distinctive voices is a tribute to her sheer talent as an artist. With duet partners stretching from Justin Timberlake to Ronnie Dunn, McEntire presents a stunning, layered mix of sounds and styles, demonstrating that when gifted artists come together, no perceived boundaries can stop them from making good music. – TS
Recommended Tracks: “The Only Promise That Remains”, “When You Love Someone Like That”
Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy
Very few country artists can express pain more poignantly than Womack, who taps into a place of tender desperation with her highly-acclaimed 2008 album. The stories are deep and reflective, the sorrow palpable, and the production adeptly sparse – a potent combination. – TS
Recommended Tracks: “Solitary Thinkin’”, “Either Way”
Nickel Creek, Nickel Creek
Nickel Creek has been nominated for Best Bluegrass Album and Best Country Instrumental Performance Grammys and won Best Contemporary Folk Album, yet the group does not easily fit into any of those categories. Produced by Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek’s self-titled album is their most bluegrass-influenced album. – WW
Recommended Tracks: “The Fox”, “The Hand Song”
Sara Watkins, Sara Watkins
Sara Watkins’ self-titled debut holds more than a few surprises, including more country influence than you will hear from any of her former Nickel Creek bandmates’ solo work. Produced by John Paul Jones, pedal steel is prominent on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Any Old Time,” performed as western swing, “All this Time,” and Tom Waits’ “Pony.” – WW
Recommended Tracks: “All This Time”, “Give Me Jesus”
Dierks Bentley, Modern Day Drifter
Rife with accessible melodies, solid lyrics and a penchant for traditional sounds, Dierks Bentley’s sophomore project, Modern Day Drifter, confirmed the promise that was only hinted at on his first album. The title of the album rightly suggests that Bentley will explore the components of breaking the chains of domesticity, which include the freedom (“Lotta Leavin’ Left to Do”, “Modern Day Drifter”, “Domestic Light and Cold”, “the Cab of My Truck”) and the ultimate consequences (“Settle for a Slowdown”, “Down on Easy Street”). Nevertheless, Bentley does not stop with those themes. He also finds room for common themes as love and loss, as demonstrated in the pretty “Good Things Happen”, the smoldering “Come A Little Closer” and heartbreaking “Gonna Get There Someday.” – Leeann Ward
Todd Snider, The Devil You Know
An explosion of righteous anger over poverty with an undercurrent of joyous celebration of America’s underclass. You can never tell for sure if he sees himself as their advocate or their peer, but the songs are so powerful, it doesn’t really matter. – KC
Recommended Tracks: “Just Like Old Times”, “The Devil You Know”
Rodney Crowell, The Houston Kid
After a string of somewhat underwhelming major-label releases in the 90′s, Rodney Crowell rebounded in a big way with this remarkably deep set on celebrated indie label Sugar Hill. Childhood joys and adult insights stand side-by-side in The Houston Kid, producing an emotionally rich and complicated survey of the album’s world. Such is the detail and soul of Crowell’s writing that every second comes across as autobiographical, even the ones that probably aren’t. – Dan Milliken
Recommended Tracks: “The Rock Of My Soul”, “I Walk The Line (Revisited)”
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Category Decade in Review
Tags: Alison Krauss, Dierks Bentley, Dwight Yoakam, Gillian Welch, Jimmie Rodgers, Lee Ann Womack, Mel Tillis, Nickel Creek, Pam Tillis, Reba McEntire, Rodney Crowell, Sara Watkins, Todd Snider
Saturday, November 15th, 2008
The CMA Awards should be the evening every year where country music is shown in the best possible light. However, it’s been many years now since the CMA fully took advantage of the opportunities that prime-time slot presents. Here are ten ways the show can get back on track, and maybe even be better than ever.
1. Expand the Ballot
Limiting the second ballot to only twenty entries per category was a disaster, resulting in some truly lackluster nominees. Take a page from the Grammy playbook and put all eligible submissions on the second ballot, regardless of vote total. Have the CMA voters choose five entries from a wider swath of nominees, and create a more level playing field for all of the labels, major and indie.
2. Limit the Number of Entries per Artist
The CMA can go one step further and improve the Grammy model by eliminating the first ballot entirely, and allowing each artist to submit only one entry, of their choice, for consideration. This will help avoid embarrassments like we saw this year, where Alan Jackson was represented in the Song of the Year category by “Good Time” instead of “Small Town Southern Man.”
3. Tighten up the Categories
Take the long-clamored for step of combining Vocal Duo & Vocal Group into one category. Limit to one the nominations an artist can get in the “New Artist/Horizon” category. Amend the antiquated Song of the Year loophole that allows a song to be nominated two years in a row.
4. Add Live Performance and Songwriter, Artist-Songwriter Categories
Eliminate the confusion caused by the Entertainer category, which has unfortunately morphed into a “biggest tour” award in the post-Garth era, by adding a Live Performance category. This will help focus voter attention on all dimensions of the Entertainer category. Create two new categories for songwriters - Songwriter of the Year and Artist-Songwriter of the Year. With artists and musicians already being honored individually, equivalent recognition for writers is long overdue. Create the separate categories to ensure that high-profile writers like Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley or Taylor Swift don’t overwhelm non-artist songwriters in the same category.
5. Move the Show Back to the Opry House
The scale of an arena is a total mismatch for a televised award show. The CMA Awards always sounded great in the Opry house, and it connects the show back with its own history and that of country music. If the show must be kept downtown, move it to the Ryman.
Category CMA Awards, Miscellaneous Musings
Tags: Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Cindy Walker, Eddy Arnold, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks, Jerry Reed, Keith Urban, Mel Tillis, Ralph Emery, Shania Twain, Statler Brothers, Taylor Swift, Tom T. Hall
Wednesday, May 28th, 2008
100 Greatest Women
She grew up the daughter of a country music icon. As a baby, she’d nap in his guitar case. But Pam Tillis resisted her musical heritage for many years before finally embracing it and producing some of the best country music of the past two decades.
Growing up in Nashville, Tillis lost interest in country music once she discovered the Beatles. She had a taste for the country-rock of the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, but felt no connection to the scene of her father, Mel Tillis. Quite the wild child in her teen years, she was nearly killed in a car crash when she was still in high school, and needed multiple reconstructive surgeries on the road to recovery.
Tillis sang backup sometimes for her dad, but she was more interested in exploring other genres of music. She moved out to San Francisco and performed at jazz clubs around the city. Her talent was soon noticed by pop labels, and in 1981 she released her first single, “Every Home Should Have One.” Around the same time, her songwriting started getting noticed, and she had cuts from pop artists like Chaka Khan and Gloria Gaynor.
Tuesday, August 7th, 2007
Singer-songwriter legends Mel Tillis & Vince Gill will join country media icon
Ralph Emery in the Country Music Hall of Fame later this year. Tillis enters the Hall of Fame in the performer category for artists that received national prominence between World War II and 1975. In addition to being a former CMA Entertainer of the Year, he’s also the writer of classics for other artists, most notably “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, “Detroit City”, “I Ain’t Never”, “Burning Memories” and “Honey (Open That Door.)” Here’s hoping daughter Pam will help induct him, just like she did at the Opry this year!
Gill is the third inductee in the new performer’s category for artists that received national prominence from 1975 to the present day, following Alabama in 2005 and George Strait in 2006. At age 50, Gill might be the youngest living inductee ever, but I have to check to make sure that’s right. Gill had a few radio hits in the eighties, but finally broke through commercially in 1989, with his mega-hit “When I Call Your Name.” He’s won 18 Grammy awards and 18 CMA awards since then.
Ralph Emery is most widely known as the long-time host of TNN shows Nashville Now and On the Record, but also had an illustrious career on radio, including a stint as the announcer for the Grand Ole Opry. You can read more about all of this year’s inductees in the Hall’s official press release.
If I was a betting man, I’d have wagered that Reba McEntire would be going in this year, and I still suspect she’ll be the inductee within the next year or two. Quite frankly, she’s due, as is Emmylou Harris. Maybe next year will be the year of the woman?
Sunday, May 27th, 2007
April 26, 1994
After two successful albums with producers Paul Worley & Ed Seay, Pam Tillis needed a change. She approached her label with a request to co-produce her third country album, and with their full support, she entered the studio with Steve Fischell to create Sweetheart’s Dance, the album that would bring Tillis the most critical and commercial success in her career and earn her the coveted CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award.
Sweetheart’s Dance distinguishes itself among the rest of Tillis’ catalog and the bulk of mainstream country releases during the mid-nineties with its relentless, joyous optimism. The album slows down only three times over ten standout tracks, a ratio of uptempos to ballads that is incredibly rare among female country artists. What’s most impressive is the range of styles those uptempo songs explore, making each one distinctive.