In a year that has already brought the deaths of immortal talents like George Jones, Slim Whitman, Patti Page, and Jack Greene, not to mention the untimely loss of Mindy McCready, it is understandable that the recent news regarding Randy Travis is having the country music fans collectively holding their breath with nervousness and dread.
There is something distinctly different about how I am processing the news about Randy Travis. The thought of losing him is inextricably linked with a feeling that we’d be losing an essential core of the country music that I fell in love with more than two decades ago. Now, I remember Randy Travis from when I was a child. What little kid wouldn’t be in love with a catchy song like “Forever and Ever, Amen”?
By the time I was old enough to discover country music on my own, he was already something of an elder statesman, despite his young age. As I delved into the history of the genre I was falling in love with, widely accepted concepts like Travis starting the new traditionalist movement and Storms of Life being one of greatest albums of all time had taken root. The truth is, traditionalism never really went away, and even during the Urban Cowboy years, artists like Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou Harris were having commercial success with roots-based music.
But Randy Travis didn’t just have a bit of success. He sold millions of records in a time where almost no country acts were doing so, and certainly none who didn’t incorporate pop or rock sounds into their work. His massive success was the tipping point that made the nineties boom inevitable, as labels saw new acts like Clint Black and Alan Jackson as being capable of superstar status, instead of just being genre favorites that sold moderately well.
He never really got the credit he deserved for this, with the industry treating him like old news despite him continuing to score hits and sell platinum throughout the nineties and early 2000′s. There are so many great singles that I was around for when they first came out. “Before You Kill Us All.” “Look Heart, No Hands.” “Out of My Bones.” “Whisper My Name.” “If I Didn’t Have You.” “Better Class of Losers.” “The Hole.” “Three Wooden Crosses.” “Dig Two Graves.” The list goes on and on.
He’s also responsible, through no fault of his own, for what I call country music’s Messiah Complex. After he revolutionized the widespread appeal for traditionalism, which led to a solid decade of traditional country artists being signed and succeeding wildly, the sounds began to drift back to pop and rock flavorings. Since this shift, every slightly twangy newbie has been anointed as the savior of country music. Lee Ann Womack, Brad Paisley, Dixie Chicks, Joe Nichols, Josh Turner, Jamey Johnson, and Gretchen Wilson have all been shouldered with the burden of being the next Randy Travis.
This has led to deep disappointment when their second or third album struggled, or even worse, to feelings of betrayal when these selected stewards veered away from traditional country music. All that pressure, and not a one of them even started off with an album in the same league as Storms of Life, though Johnson and the Chicks came remarkably close.
I can’t get my head or my heart around the thought that his contemporary titan might not be with us anymore. I can’t stomach the coverage that focuses more on his personal troubles than his incredible body of work and peerless impact on country music as a whole.
Please use the comments to share your own thoughts and feelings about Randy Travis. Also, I recommend reading the Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists piece that Leeann Ward wrote a few years ago. It’s an excellent place to start for those who are looking to discover the his rich and diverse catalog.
The very sad news that Mindy McCready has taken her own life has been reported by several sources. Our hearts go out to her family and those close to her, especially her two young children.
Rather than focus on her troubled life, it seems most fitting to acknowledge this tragedy by spotlighting the bright spots in her life, particularly her musical talents. While her music career is sparse compared to others who’ve been in the business as long as she has, her out put is noteworthy all the same.
In 2010, she released an album that went largely unnoticed, but I’m Still Here was a strong set of songs that found McCready in fine voice. Included on the well produced project was a cover of Garth Brooks’ “The Dance,” along with some gems such as the regretful “Wrong Again,” the wistful “By Her Side,” and the stormy “I Want a Man.”
Perhaps the most fitting tribute that Country Universe can pay to Mindy is the fact that the origins of our Six Pack series began with her music. Kevin said it best, in May of 2008, when he wrote, “Mindy McCready made some great music back in her day, and I look forward to hearing more from her. Quite frankly, she deserves to be known by her work, not her personal life. Check out these six solid moments from her career and you’ll see what I mean.”
So, may we all follow Kevin’s advice, and know Mindy McCready for her work, not her personal life.
At least the third song on this list about a guy mulling over romantic gestures he wishes he’d made to his former love, and the most traditional among those songs. You could easily imagine this one being a minor classic by a 60′s or 70′s legend, so close is its replication of that style. – Dan Milliken
I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying Toby Keith with Sting
1997 | Peak: #2
My hard-and-fast rule for Toby Keith: The sadder he is, the happier the listening experience tends to be. He’s all kinds of sad in this snapshot of post-divorce melancholia, reflecting on everything from unfair custody protocol to the greater motions of the universe. Even a gratuitous Sting cameo can’t detract from the single’s gloomy grandeur. – DM
You Ain’t Much Fun Toby Keith
1995 | Peak: #2
Toby Keith is also funny, though. What’s a man to do? Sobering up ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be from is perspective. Ever since he’s done so, his wife has been taking advantage of his increased functionality by giving him honey-do lists that he wasn’t ably tackling pre-sobriety. It’s enough to drive a man to drink. – Leeann Ward
Tender Moment Lee Roy Parnell
1993 | Peak: #2
Every once and awhile an artist delivers a song so powerful that it seems to shatter all divides in its genre. A tribute to both the late Keith Whitley and Gill’s late brother, “Go Rest High On That Mountain” pairs deeply spiritual lyrics with a tender, emotion-soaked performance. The combination is magic. – TS
A good power ballad shot to greatness by its artists’ striking chemistry – palpable, fiery and so very genuine. More than just a hit single, “It’s Your Love” represents the moment in country music history at which we were introduced to one of its definitive couples. – TS
Grandpa Told Me So Kenny Chesney
1995 | Peak: #23
An earnest, soulful confession of love. It’s hard to ignore the fact that it leans more in the adult-contemporary direction than that of anything else, but when a song is this moving, it’s also hard to care. – TS
What She’s Doing Now Garth Brooks
1992 | Peak: #1
In an unusual tact for Mr. Brooks, he forgoes melodrama in order to allow the natural drama of pining for a lost love to speak for itself. The dialed down performance works in the service of the song, as the sadness appropriately penetrates through. – LW
Find My Way Back to My Heart Alison Krauss & Union Station
1997 | Peak: #73
Some of the best songs from AKUS play on the home life that’s sacrificed by following the musical dream. Krauss remembers how she used to laugh at songs about the lonely traveling life, but she’s not laughing now. – KC
A man makes a soaring yet understated plea for his lover to let go of her past love. The song is made sadder by the touch of resignation in Wariner’s performance, which suggests the man knows he’s making his plea in vain. – TS
A whole song about deciding whether or not to go all the way with one’s movie date. McCready gives a fantastically entertaining performance, speak-singing her lines with a a bold campiness that most other gals wouldn’t dare. – DM
Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow Alan Jackson
1990 | Peak: #2
Ten years before “You Belong With Me” made its splash, McCann set her sights on the same demographic with a song just as relatable, vibrant and passionate. That the song lacks Taylor Swift’s sharp perspective is perhaps what makes it such a great record: there’s something so pure about McCann’s fully unapologetic, headfirst fall into love. – TS
Chesnutt makes a phone call to an old love that could be construed as creepy, pathetic or terribly sad – take your pick. I’m going with a mixture of all three, with a pinch of selfishness thrown in. Either way, “I Just Wanted You to Know” is a memorable slice of the-one-that-got-away reality.- TS
In the twenty years that passed since the release of this song, the path to success in the music industry has morphed into something that looks very different than it used to. Unlike that of Bobby in the song, these days an artist’s journey can come in all shapes and forms, sometimes abrupt and sometimes completely unprecedented.
Think what you want about this paradigm shift, but here’s what I believe: regardless of how you shoot to the top, the only way you’ll achieve longevity and, most importantly, respect in country music is if you share the fire in Bobby’s eyes. This soul-stirring hunger and unshakable passion is the heart of “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” and the reason it remains a timeless classic. Here’s to hoping – and I’m optimistic – our modern artists are made of the same stuff. – TS
Well, color me surprised. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of personality from That Other Girl From The Wreckers, but Jessica Harp’s debut single as a solo artist is a silly little sugar-pop of a record, the kind of thing we haven’t heard much of since Mindy McCready stopped selling and the Dixie Chicks left their dittying days behind.
Let me see if I can sum it up: Girl secretly wants to Go Wild, Girl finds Boy who is willing to oblige, Girl rejoices with super-hooky, banjo-kissed choruses of “Hallelujah!” and a shamelessly randy “what do you wanna do with me?”
It’s not often you hear reckless premarital sex actually championed in a country radio release, much less by a female singer, but Harp sells it with a charming playfulness that is at once saucy enough to suggest she’s in charge and innocent enough not to intimidate the fellas or alienate her from the good girls. You might roll your eyes within the first thirty seconds, but don’t let your guard down; she’s liable to get you grooving in your seat before you even realize it.
Early last week, I saw the traffic for this blog skyrocket. I was puzzled when I saw that this was due to more than 10,000 views in one day of an old Kellie Pickler single review. Bewildered, I dug a little deeper and found that the visitors had come here after searching for Mindy McCready, who I had mentioned as an aside in the review.
Now, I don’t care for gossip and scandal, and I wish all those visitors were coming here because they were interested in Mindy McCready’s music. So I’m using McCready to kick off a new feature: Six Pack. In each Six Pack, six essential singles or tracks will be featured by an artist or on a particular theme.
Mindy McCready made some great music back in her day, and I look forward to hearing more from her. Quite frankly, she deserves to be known by her work, not her personal life. Check out these six solid moments from her career and you’ll see what I mean.
Guys Do it All The Time
from the 1996 album Ten Thousand Angels
McCready’s signature hit found her channeling the girl power spirit of Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine”, which had been a #1 single the previous year. She turns the double standard on its head, dismissing her annoyed partner’s anger that she’d been out too late. The cheeky record was praised by no less a great than Reba McEntire, who said that she wished she was the one who could sing that song every night.
Maybe He’ll Notice Her Now
from the 1996 album Ten Thousand Angels
Maybe it was a bad omen for the future that this was the only one of four singles from her debut album to miss the top ten. She plays against the young and perky image she’d already established with her first two singles here. Her sincere vocal makes this ballad shine, as she compares herself to a painting in the hallway that goes by unnoticed by her man, just like she feels she is. Richie McDonald from Lonestar contributes harmony vocals.
The Other Side of This Kiss
from the 1997 album If I Don’t Stay the Night
A perfectly crafted pop-country song. It builds steadily, starting with only a hint of instrumentation, gaining momentum during the bridge and exploding into a candy-sweet chorus. It’s one of her most confident and forceful vocal performances. When country radio didn’t embrace this, they missed out on a gem.
If I Don’t Stay the Night
from the 1997 album If I Don’t Stay the Night
McCready earned a strong following among young girls with her debut album, which was perfectly tailored for a youthful market. When recording her second set, she said she was thinking about her responsibilities to that audience, and she wanted to get a message out to those young girls who were listening. She did so with this track, which finds a young girl being pressured into sex before she’s ready, and wondering “will the rain wash our love away if I don’t stay the night?”
All I Want is Everything
from the 1999 album I’m Not So Tough
It’s hard to go wrong with a Matraca Berg song, especially one drenched with fiddles. A wish list of a self-proclaimed greedy girl, McCready turns in a list of demands both emotional and material. After all, she sings, “I don’t need me a big ol’ diamond, but baby I’ll take it if you insist.”
from the 2002 album Mindy McCready
McCready previewed her only Capitol album with this evocative pop-flavored ballad. She practically whispers the verses, as if singing out of the corner of her mouth, before letting out a wail on the chorus. A hit that should have been but wasn’t. Don’t be surprised if Faith Hill or Sara Evans turn it into a smash sometime in the future.