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Daily Top Five: Recommend a Track

Rodney Crowell Tarpaper SkyToday, we combine a classic feature with our latest one.

What are your Top Five Track Recommendations?

They don’t have to be that recent, but should be something that wasn’t a single.

Here are my Top Five:

  1. Reba McEntire, “She Got Drunk Last Night”
  2. Punch Brothers, “Magnet”
  3. Tim McGraw, “Overrated”
  4. Nickel Creek, “You Don’t Know What’s Going On”
  5. Rodney Crowell, “God I’m Missing You”

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Daily Top Five: Strengthen Country Radio

Old Crow Medicine Show RemedyActively writing single reviews again has me also looking at the radio charts again.   What a bleak landscape of interchangeable singers and songs!  I can’t remember things ever being this generic and bland.  We flirted with it back in the Kellie Coffey days, but the bottom didn’t fall out.

Today, is there even a bottom?  An old friend of mine listened to country radio for the first time in presumably years and asked, “Am I crazy, or is everyone getting drunk on country radio?”

He’s not crazy.  What can we do to fix this?

Today’s Top Five asks: What five songs would you immediately put in heavy rotation on country radio?

They can already be singles, or could be unreleased songs that you think should be singles, but they should be current enough to be featured on an artist’s most recent album.

Here’s my top five:

  1. Old Crow Medicine Show, “Mean Enough World”
  2. Trisha Yearwood, “You Can’t Trust the Weatherman”
  3. Jason Isbell, “Songs that She Sang in the Shower”
  4. Nickel Creek, “You Don’t Know What’s Going On”
  5. Reba McEntire, “Just Like Them Horses”

Yours?

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2015 Grammy Awards: Predictions & Personal Picks

57th Grammy AwardsThis year’s Grammy Awards air on Sunday, February 8, and country music will be represented with performances Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, and the tantalizing pairing of Brandy Clark and Dwight Yoakam.   Most of the awards will be handed out before the show, and we will post the relevant winners here, as part of a Grammy Open Thread where CU readers and writers can share their thoughts on this year’s awards.

Four CU writers, including myself, have shared our predictions and personal picks for the general and country-related categories below.  Of course, one of the coolest things about the Grammys is that it celebrates a wide range of music from the past year, and as you’ll see by our varying levels of participation, our tastes here at CU run the gamut.

This year, I’m as excited about the performances by Madonna, Kanye West (twice!), and that Hozier and Annie Lennox duet as I am about any of the country performers, and I’ll be rooting for West and Childish Gambino to sweep the Rap and Hip-Hop categories.

Who do you think will be the big winners on Sunday night, and who are you hoping will win and looking forward to seeing perform?  As always, share your thoughts in the comments!

Meghan Trainor All About That BassRecord of the Year

Will Win:

  • Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX, “Fancy”
  • Sia, “Chandelier”
  • Sam Smith, “Stay With Me” (Darkchild Version) – Kevin, Leeann, Jonathan, Ben
  • Taylor Swift, “Shake it Off”
  • Meghan Trainor, “All About That Bass”

Should Win:

  • Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX, “Fancy”
  • Sia, “Chandelier” – Jonathan
  • Sam Smith, “Stay With Me” (Darkchild Version)
  • Taylor Swift, “Shake it Off”
  • Meghan Trainor, “All About That Bass” – Kevin, Leeann

Kevin: In a decent year for pop music, any one of these records could credibly represent the year.  I think Sam Smith is Grammy catnip, so I expect him to win big.  I think “All About That Bass” was the most creative and interesting record of the five.

Leeann: I’m a fan of the Sam Smith song, but I agree with Kevin that “All About That Bass” is the most creative and interesting, not to mention the catchiest.

Jonathan: I actually thought it was a weak year for mainstream pop, as reflected by this fairly poor slate of nominees. Smith is right in that Adele / Norah Jones adult-pop wheelhouse that Grammy voters love, so he’s the most likely winner.  Sia’s “Chandelier” is the most progressive take on pop music among the five, though, if “Shake it Off” were to win anything, this would probably be the least egregious place to recognize Swift’s hit. I would have gladly rooted for the mash-up between Iggy Azalea’s and Reba’s respective takes on “Fancy.”

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The Best Albums of 2014

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.

Jennifer Nettles That Girl

#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”

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The Best Singles of 2014, Part 2: #20-#1

The countdown concludes with our top twenty singles of 2014.   Check out the first twenty entries here, and look for our countdown of the year’s twenty best albums tomorrow.

Shovels & Rope Swimmin' Time

#20
“The Devil is All Around”
Shovels & Rope

LW #5 | JK #13

The soulful husband-wife duo that comprises Shovels and Rope delivers a no holes barred analysis of trials and temptations, which boils down to the idea that the devil is all around, which means that one must do what he can to push against such a devastating force. – Leeann Ward

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2015 Grammy Nominations

Updated:

Little Big TownBest 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”

Nickel Creek DestinationBest 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”

carrie-underwood-something-in-the-waterBest 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”

 

Brandy Clark StripesBest New Artist includes last year’s actual best new artist!

  • Iggy Azalea
  • Bastille
  • Brandy Clark  (!!!!)
  • HAIM
  • Sam Smith

rosanne-cash_12Best Americana Album

  • Rosanne Cash, The River & The Thread
  • John Haitt, Terms of My Surrender
  • Keb’ Mo’, Bluesamericana
  • Nickel Creek, A Dotted Line
  • Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

glencampbellBest Country Song

  • “American Kids” – Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird, and Shane McAnally
  • “Automatic” – Nicolle Galyon, Natalie Hemby, and Miranda Lambert
  • “Give Me Back My Hometown” – Eric Church and Luke Laird
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” -Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
  • “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” – Tom Douglas, Jaren Johnston, and Jeffrey Steele

The best lineup for Best Country Album that we can remember:

Best Country Album

  • Dierks Bentley, Riser
  • Eric Church, The Outsiders
  • Brandy Clark, 12 Stories
  • Miranda Lambert, Platinum
  • Lee Ann Womack, The Way I’m Livin’

Record of the Year includes a former country artist and a CMA Awards duet partner:

Record of the Year

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Single Review: Nickel Creek, “Destination”

Nickel Creek DestinationUnless the Dixie Chicks suddenly decide to put out some new music, Nickel Creek just nailed down the title for most exciting reunion of the year.  In February.

The progressive bluegrass sound that Nickel Creek pioneered more than a decade ago has surfaced all over mainstream music in recent years, with everyone from Mumford & Sons to the Civil Wars walking through the doors they flew open with their innovative musicianship.   So the coolest thing about “Destination” is that they’re not picking up where they left off.  Rather, this is what one could imagine Nickel Creek doing once everybody else caught up to what they used to be doing: moving on, and pushing forward with fresh new sounds.

“Destination” is the most alive record I’ve heard so far this year. There’s a rush of energy that was always present in their live act, as opposed to their more measured sound on record.   Enjoy it now.  You’re going to be sick of hearing records that sound like this by artists not quite as good for the next few years, where the songwriting won’t be as sharp, the harmonies won’t be as haunting, and the mandolin won’t be as proudly prominent.

The real thing is back.  Accept no substitutes.

Grade: A

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JawK7QcEGKU

 

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CU Roundtable Review: The Band Perry, “All Your Life”

Listen:

All My Life

Leeann Ward:

As wrong as it may be, the consistently gorgeous arrangements and Kimberly Perry’s compelling vocals almost make up for the lyrical deficiencies found on The Band Perry’s debut album. As it has been with all their singles so far, The Band Perry’s story of style being greater than substance continues with this promising group’s latest single as well.

With its acoustic based instrumentation, Kimberly’s pretty vocals and a sing-able melody, “All My Life” sounds like a typical love song on the surface. The girl isn’t asking for everything, just that the object of her obsession (check out the song’s bridge) loves her all his life. As it was with “If I Die Young”, however, the sentiment of the song makes perfect sense, but the nitty gritty of the lyrics are somewhat distorted or, perhaps, too fanciful. While there’s nothing wrong with asking if someone will love you all your life, it’s baffling how jars of sand or fireflies in a lamp delivered by someone in a tux proves anything.    Grade: B

Tara Seetharam:

Not unlike the band’s previous three singles, “All Your Life” has an earthy sparkle that makes it hard to easily dismiss: it feels as earnest as a Taylor Swift song and sounds as charmingly simple as a Dixie Chicks song circa 1999. But the lyrics teeter between sleepy and trite, with Kimberly’s sprightly vocal nuances –at once natural, textured and emotive– serving as the most interesting part of the “love” story.

That is, until the vanilla turns to rocky road two and a half minutes in. Just as the piano-driven breakdown of “You Lie” is enough to keep me from switching the station, “All Your Life” delivers a sucker punch with an eerie, twisted bridge, sonically and lyrically: “You could be the centerpiece of my obsession if you would notice me at all.” In retrospect, the confession gives the rest of the song an intriguing and slightly psychotic undertone – you get the feeling Kimberly wants to follow up benign lyrics like “Would you walk to the end of the ocean just to fill my jar with sand?” with “Well, would you? WOULD YOU?”

And just like that, with a little injection of campiness, the song comes to life.  Grade: B

Jonathan Keefe:

Their singles have really been all over the place, haven’t they? “Hip to My Heart” was just wretched, but “If I Die Young” was a once-in-a-career kind of hit. “You Lie” fell on the wrong side of just all right, and now “All Your Life” is a bit better than average.

The melody, especially in the refrain, is the real selling point here, and the light-handed arrangement and solid vocal harmonies help to make this one a pleasant listen. Still, a couple of nicely turned phrases in each verse aren’t enough to overcome the song’s fundamental cliches, and Kimberly Perry wanders off pitch more than a couple of times.

The bigger issue for me is that the single lacks a strong hook: “All Your Life” needed one standout line or distinctive production flourish to make it something more than just kind-of pretty. Grade: B-

Kevin John Coyne:

There are a lot of things that work about the Band Perry.  I’m not hearing much of them on this particular track.

I love the bridge breakdown that recalls Nickel Creek at their trippiest, and I genuinely appreciate a country single actually sounding country.

But the lyrics and the vocal performances?  Pure amateur hour.    Grade: C-

Dan Milliken:

As others are noting, two things click: 1) The organic arrangement; 2) The cool bridge, which uses minor tonality better than any country single in recent memory.

Otherwise, though, it sounds like something Colbie Caillat would have written as a teenager. The case of Kimberly is a weird matter, too – certainly she’s got range, but you get a lot of ungainly pronunciations like “o-SHUH–hun.” Eh.   Grade: C+

Ben Foster:

I love The Band Perry’s sound and style, as well as Kimberly’s voice, so I would definitely like to be pulling for them.  The lyrics are where they tend to lose me.  In this case, the deficiencies don’t come in the form of the wonky, off-beat “I oughta kill you right now and do the whole wide world a service” Band Perry kind of way.  It’s just kind of blah, and a bit on the cheesy side.  The bridge is more interesting, but I still don’t like how the song lets me sit through two boring verses before it makes any real attempt to engage me in the lyrics.

And yet, I still find the restrained country-bluegrassy arrangement so absorbing.  While Kimberly’s vocal performance is not technically perfect, I still find it compelling and believable in its own way (and preferable to the buzzy, processed auto-tune effects that I hear on other artists’ records).  Overall, the single is good enough that I’ll probably come back to listen periodically, but I would still like to see the band making greater artistic strides with their lyrics on future releases.  Without a solid lyric that’s strong from start to finish, they’re still one base shy of a home run.  Grade:  B-

Written by Brian Henningsen and Clara Henningsen

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The Best Country Albums of 2010, Part 1: #20-#11

Countless albums were released in 2010, in mainstream country music, Americana, bluegrass, and all the other loosely associated sub-genres that make up the country universe.  Of those albums, our writers particularly enjoyed the following twenty.  All four writers submitted top ten lists for the year, and amazingly enough, there were exactly twenty different albums among them.  So if you’re wondering if your favorite album just missed the list…it didn’t.  But we’d love to hear why we were wrong in the comments.

Enjoy part one now, and look for the top ten on Friday.


#20
A Crooked Road
Darrell Scott

Tomorrow’s hits today, should the current crop of hitmakers want something as good on the radio as “Long Time Gone” or “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive,” or just want to have an album cut for the ages like “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” Scott’s a singer’s songwriter, delivering his songs with enough personality to elevate them above demos but leaving enough room for improvisation, so that any singer can put their own spin on it.

This twenty-track collection is stunningly strong, with his observations about politics and religion and history intriguing, but his take on human relationships being downright enlightening.  – Kevin Coyne Continue reading

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The Best Singles of 2010, Part 4: #10-#1

Our look back at the year’s best singles comes to a close, with unprecedented CU consensus at the top of the list.  The top two singles of the year were ranked in that order by three of our four writers, and both appeared in the top ten of the fourth writer.

Here’s our ten best of 2010:

The Best Singles of 2010, Part 4: #10-#1

#10

Draw Me a Map
Dierks Bentley

Bentley is getting a lot of deserved attention for sonically diverging from the mainstream to create a bluegrass-inspired album. It’s an excellent album, but to his credit, “Draw Me A Map” isn’t so far removed from some of the unreleased songs on his first two mainstream projects; It’s just that he gets to shine a finer focus on it for this album, and therefore, this seemingly subversive song for radio gets to be released. The inspired blend of Bentley’s ragged voice with Alison Krauss’ angelic one takes the song to an even sweeter level. – Leeann Ward

#9

Broken
Chely Wright

Robert Louis Stevenson once remarked that “Hope lives on ignorance; open-eyed Faith is built upon a knowledge of our life, of the tyranny of circumstance and the frailty of human resolution.” He was talking, in context, about marriage. The truth is that no one enters a relationship completely free of burden, and only by submitting to the complications of that truth can we avoid being ruled by them. Wright, for her part, manages the task with simple, earnest grace, probably strengthening her relationship through mere acknowledgment of its weaknesses. – Dan Milliken

#8

Drop On By
Laura Bell Bundy

Unlike the year’s other booze-induced lover’s call, “Drop On By” isn’t rooted in emotional dependency; it’s fueled by Bundy’s earthy physical longing – and what a longing that is. Proving her masterful interpretative skills, Bundy churns out a slow-burning performance that’s both deftly controlled and achingly sensual, with just a tinge of playful warmth woven through. The song’s kicker, though, is the smoky throwback arrangement – a delicious mix of blues, jazz and country – that not only fits Bundy like a glove, but pushes the boundaries of what constitutes a great country record. – Tara Seetharam

#7

Giddy On Up
Laura Bell Bundy

The most interesting and surprising debut single that I can remember. So many creative and unexpected choices are made, but it is Bundy’s forceful personality that pulls it all together into something cohesive.  In an era of country music that is little more than dull shades of gray, “Giddy On Up” is a Technicolor marvel. – Kevin Coyne

#6

As She’s Walking Away
Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson

A young man just about chickens out of approaching the radiant girl across the bar, panicking that “my heart won’t tell my mind to tell my mouth what it should say.” Luckily, Wise Older Man At Bar can see exactly what’s going on and nudges Junior into action. A bit silly, but the single radiates such warmth that you gobble it up. And if there was a more motivational moment in 2010 than Alan Jackson’s spoken “Go on, son,” well, I didn’t hear it. – DM

#5

Smoke a Little Smoke
Eric Church

Church finally puts his music where his mouth is, delivering an unapologetic, roguish (for country radio, anyway) ode to escapism by intoxication. The erratic musical flow evokes the very physical sensations the song celebrates, and Church’s swagger makes bumming sound almost appealing. Turns out that if you stop talking about being a badass for long enough, you may just manage to kinda be one. – DM

#4

If I Die Young
The Band Perry

“If I Die Young”  arrives like a gift from an alternate universe, one where the public’s embrace of Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, and O Brother was treated as a road map  for the genre’s future, not just a passing interest that needn’t be cultivated.  – KC

#3

Stuck Like Glue
Sugarland

Every once and awhile, a piece of ear candy comes along that defies the term “ear candy.” That’s what “Stuck Like Glue” is, to be sure: an infectious acoustic-pop morsel, invigorated by Nettles’ insanely joyful performance and a genre-busting breakdown. But there’s something about the song that puts it on another plane. Maybe it’s the organic energy, or maybe it’s the lack of artistic inhibition. Or maybe it’s the simple fact that “Stuck Like Glue” doesn’t try to be anything that it’s not. It just is. And as a result, it’s that rare breed of song that taps into your spirit – that demands you to stop thinking, start feeling and have a damn good time. – TS

#2

Little White Church
Little Big Town

It probably owes some theme to “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” but Little Big Town’s swampy sleeper hit is the coolest-sounding country single of the year all on its own. From handclaps to snarling electric licks, creepy whispers to gospel-esque call-and-response choruses, “Little White Church” is a potent reminder of all the creativity still bubbling under in Music City. – DM

#1

The House That Built Me
Miranda Lambert

Miranda Lambert’s career defining song is also our song of the year. Not much can be said about this gorgeous ode to childhood memories that hasn’t already been said better by countless writers before me, including our very own Dan Milliken, which helps make the case for what’s inevitably the song of the year on many 2010 countdowns.

Its all-acoustic, understated arrangement underscores the story of a woman who tries to find solace in the memories buried in a structure that was more than a house. Its descriptive lyrics move us as they detail memories from turning blueprints into the family dream home to the heartbreak of losing the family dog.

As it is always is with the best songs, “The House that Built Me” does not hit us over the head with its emotional resonance. It’s strong, it’s palpable, but it’s all done with gentleness, which is the most effective way to tug at the heartstrings. – LW

Check out the rest of the list:

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