2014 was a banner year for country music albums. In addition to the predictably solid entries from the Americana, folk, and bluegrass scenes, some excellent albums also surfaced from the unlikeliest of sources: mainstream, radio-friendly contemporary country artists! Here are our twenty favorite albums from 2014. Fingers crossed that 2015 is as good or better than this year has been. #20 Jennifer Nettles That Girl KJC #8 | LW #16 A confident, intelligent solo project that washes away all of the bitter taste left by Sugarland’s preceding studio album, The Incredible Machine. Nettles manages to remind us what was so appealing about the trio-turned-duo in the first place, while also staking out her own musical territory that has room for independence anthems alongside wry, humorous commentary on society and, of course, palpably vulnerable heartbreak numbers. – Kevin John Coyne Recommended Tracks: “Me Without You”, “Know You Wanna Know”, “Jealousy”
Does failure to reach a consensus indicate a year that lacked quality, or a year that had enough interesting singles that subjective taste is enough to prevent a consensus? This was the dilemma faced by the Country Universe staff as we compiled our Best Singles of 2014 feature. We followed our usual routine. Each writer submitted their list of the twenty best singles of the year, and our numbers guru Jonathan Keefe used his time-test algorithm to produce a collective ranking. But this year, there was only one single that appeared on four out of five lists. The rest: three or less. Rather than shorten the list to showcase only those songs chosen by multiple writers, we decided to stick to the usual forty slots, and let quite a few songs embraced only by one writer to have their place in the sun. The result is probably the most diverse Read More
I discovered Country Universe in the spring of 2010 and quickly became a regular reader. At the time, Dan’s review of Miranda Lambert’s much-lauded release “The House That Built Me” was a recent post. Besides making me wish that my own ‘shameless rants’ could come out sounding half as smart and classy as Dan’s, the article raises a series of points that remain valid nearly half a decade later. “The House That Built Me” is a great record, but should it really have stood out so dramatically as such? Dan discussed the single in a way that turned the mirror back on us. Have we developed a tendency to praise or over-praise music, not on its own merits, but in comparison to the weaker material surrounding it? Perhaps it was my recent participation in Country Universe’s Best of 1994 feature which moved me to revisit this article and topic. I think about the great Read More
Updated: Best Country Duo/Group Performance The Band Perry, “Gentle on My Mind” Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, “Somethin’ Bad” Little Big Town, “Day Drinking” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill, “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” Keith Urban featuring Eric Church, “Raise ‘Em Up” Best American Roots Performance Greg Allman & Taj Mahal, “Statesboro Blues” Rosanne Cash, “A Feather’s not a Bird” Billy Childs featuring Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas, “And When I Die” Keb’ Mo’ featuring the California Feet Warmers, “The Old Me Better” Nickel Creek, “Destination” Best Country Solo Performance Eric Church, “Give Me Back My Hometown” Hunter Hayes, “Invisible” Miranda Lambert, “Automatic” Carrie Underwood, “Something in the Water” Keith Urban, “Cop Car” Best New Artist includes last year’s actual best new artist! Iggy Azalea Bastille Brandy Clark (!!!!) HAIM Sam Smith Best Americana Album Rosanne Cash, The River & The Thread John Haitt, Terms of My Surrender Keb’ Mo’, Read More
“Eat Sleep Love You Repeat” Rodney Atkins Written by Ryan Bizarri and Walker Hayes I don’t think anybody does “Aw, Shucks” country better than Rodney Atkins. Whether that’s a compliment or an indictment depends on your level of appreciation for simple-minded sincerity. Personally, I find it endearing when it’s done reasonably well.
Despite the Grammys and even the ACM’s demonstrating more consistent taste over the past few years, the CMA’s remain the most significant industry awards that honor country music. This year’s slate of nominees gives the organization an opportunity to build on the credibility of last year’s George Strait victory. His win for Entertainer saved a dismal show in its closing minutes. Here’s our take on this year’s contenders: Entertainer of the Year Should Win: Luke Bryan Miranda Lambert Blake Shelton George Strait – Kevin, Jonathan, Tara, Ben Keith Urban Will Win: Luke Bryan Miranda Lambert Blake Shelton George Strait – Jonathan, Kevin, Tara, Ben Keith Urban Kevin: I’d settle for a Miranda Lambert victory, as she had an amazing year. But my first choice is George Strait, who deserves a fourth trophy for that record-breaking final concert. The rest of these nominees have either won before or still seem to Read More
This year’s CMA nominees are the best in years, with multiple nominations for Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, and Brandy Clark. Country radio may still be shunning women, but their embrace by CMA voters suggests that the industry knows who is really leading the way in the genre these days. Entertainer of the Year Luke Bryan Miranda Lambert Blake Shelton George Strait Keith Urban Who’s In: Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban Who’s Out: Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift George Strait, a surprise winner last year, is nominated again in a year that includes his record-shattering final concert. Miranda Lambert’s domination of this year’s nominations extends to the big category, where she competes for the first time since 2010.
It’s fun to think of our favorite endearing songs about dads. We’ve even done it here at Country Universe a time or two. But let’s face it, dad’s aren’t always right and they’re not always wise. Here are a few songs that show villainous fathers. While I’m so fond of my dad that I almost feel guilty about writing this Song Talk installment, my guilt is eased by knowing that he would actually be amused by the topic. So, here we go! Feel free to add your selections in the comments. Lefty Frizzell, “Saginaw, Michigan” I was listening to this song the other day and it’s what inspired this list. It’s the classic scenario of the dad thinking that his daughter’s suitor isn’t good enough for her, but the twist at the end takes a hilarious turn!
In 2008, I was finishing up my degree in journalism and trying to understand what it meant to be a professional writer. I wanted to write about music, but the divide between fan and critic felt, at times, insurmountable. That fall, I stumbled onto Country Universe through this post, and it changed my perspective. As both a writer and leader, Kevin was thoughtful, rational and personally invested in the country music genre. He showed a deep respect for the genre’s history, but wrote about new artists with tolerance and curiosity. Best of all, he held readers and writers alike to the highest standards of decency. It’s for that reason that this post shines. Kevin’s ability to take a stand while cultivating constructive dialogue is unmatched. He cut through the divisive hype around Carrie Underwood –an artist who is as special to me now as she was back then—and underlined the Read More
Miranda Lambert Platinum Miranda Lambert’s life experience has caught up with her talent. Platinum is a confident, intelligent record that weaves the themes of nostalgia, femininity, and celebrity together over sixteen tracks. It’s a cohesive set, with lead single “Automatic” making much more sense in the context of the full album. It’s also remarkably, defiantly country, which shows more of a rock-and-roll attitude these days than rocking out does.