Tag Archives: Nickel Creek

Album Review: Dierks Bentley, Up on the Ridge

Dierks Bentley
Up on the Ridge

As Dan observed in his single review of “Up on the Ridge”, there was a noticeable decline in Dierks Bentley’s music after his well received Long Trip Alone album. It is purely speculative to suggest, but one can’t help but wonder if Bentley himself felt staleness creeping into his music as well. It’s not farfetched for the idea to be true, since Dierks has proven himself to be an astute artist in the past. So, why wouldn’t he notice if there was, indeed, a shift?

Speculation aside, Bentley has taken a break from the routine of his last four albums to create an album that is far removed from what is popular on mainstream country radio and somewhat different than what he’s put on his own previous albums. However, he is still marketing to radio, as his first single, the title track, has been treated like any other Bentley single release. The album is not as adventurous, or as strong, as the Dixie Chicks’ unapologetically acoustic album, but it may be as close to the concept as we have gotten since their targeted mainstream acoustic project, Home.

It has been appropriately publicized that this album is not a pure bluegrass project. Instead, it is close in style to the bluegrass influenced tracks that Bentley has consistently included on each of his studio albums. Yes, mandolin, banjo, dobro and fiddle are ever present, but Bentley is not shy about using drums, exploring subversive melodies (“Up on the Ridge”, “Fallin’ for You”), or deviating from traditional bluegrass rules of engagement along the way. Moreover, Bentley does not possess the high lonesome tenor that is typically associated with bluegrass. He, however, proves himself to be a capable vocalist within the parameters of his unique style of it.

A handful of covers, songs by well respected songwriters, and some of Bentley’s own compositions makes this rootsy album a well rounded set. The best of the covers is bob Dylan’s “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) and Kris Kristofferson’s Bottle to the Bottom”. While the otherwise solid “Bottle to the Bottom” features a somewhat pointless cameo by Kristofferson, the addition of the Punch Brothers on “Senor” is inspired art. A less successful cover is U2’s “Pride (in the Name of Love).” While Del McCoury’s distinctive tenor does well to do the heavy lifting, the over all recording still lacks the etherealness of the original. Ironically, as they are most closely associated with Americana, the Buddy Miller cover is the most mainstream friendly sounding song on the album. Unfortunately, it is also inferior to Miller’s version.

Among the strongest of Bentley’s songs is “Rovin’ Gambler” (once again, with the Punch Brothers), “Draw Me a Map” (featuring Alison Krauss on background vocals), “You’re Dead to Me” (co-written by and featuring Tim O’Brien”, and “Down in the Mine.”

Bentley wisely enlists the help of some of his creative friends such as the Punch Brothers (with Chris Thile of Nickel Creek fame), Del McCoury, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert, Tim O’Brien, and Kris Kristofferson. Complimented by Jon Randall’s organic production sensibilities, this impeccable support adds a welcome texture to the project. However, the collaborations work best when they are more subtle. For instance, while the prospect of Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson collaborating is, indeed, an appealing concept, the result does not rise to the occasion in practice. Both Lambert and Johnson deliver excellent performances with Bentley on “Bad Angel”, with Lambert’s voice being huskier than usual, but the parts together translate as more disjointed than natural. Likewise, the results of Del McCoury’s and Kris Kristofferson’s contributions were not as successful as one would hope for from such revered artists. On the other hand, the Punch Brothers (who played on several tracks), Alison Krauss, Tim O’Brien, Jon Randall, and Vince Gill (“Fiddlin’ Around”) were used less overtly to greater effect.

With expert musicianship by the best in the business, solid songs, and impressive vocal support, Up on the Ridge is a refreshing album from an artist who is taking a chance with this musical detour while still in the throes of a considerably lucrative career. Not only is taking such a chance commendable, Bentley has created a solid album to justify the diversion.

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iPod Check: Playing Favorites

It’s been a long time since we’ve done one of these!

I think that the strongest feature of the iPod is the ability to create playlists.  I currently have over 16,000 songs, so playing it on pure shuffle is interesting but not likely to result in hearing a string of my favorite songs.

I have dozens of playlists, but the one that I visit the most is called “Repeat.” It’s an ever-shifting playlist of songs that I don’t tire of.  Currently, there are 131 songs on the list.

I’m sharing the first ten that play on shuffle from the list. Share your favorite playlist and ten of its tracks in the comments!

Ten Tracks from “Repeat”:

  • Miranda Lambert, “Kerosene”
  • Nickel Creek, “Helena”
  • Roxette, “Spending My Time”
  • Pam Tillis, “When You Walk in the Room”
  • John Conlee, “Rose Colored Glasses”
  • Madonna, “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You”
  • Clint Black, “Burn One Down”
  • Dixie Chicks, “Bitter End”
  • Patty Loveless, “Keep Your Distance”
  • Cyndi Lauper, “Time After Time”


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Best Country Albums of 2009, Part 2: #10-#1

Round 2 – FIGHT!


#10
Play On
Carrie Underwood

World: meet Underwood. She’s fiercely compassionate and endearingly idealistic (the riveting “Change”). She holds her beliefs with a firm but quiet conviction (“Temporary Home”). She’s as comfortable and convincing at tearing down a wrong-doer (the Dixie Chicks-esque “Songs Like This”) as she is nursing an irreparable heartache, whether it’s in the form of a haunting country standard (“Someday When I Stop Loving You”) or a rich pop ballad (“What Can I Say?”). And she’s one of the most gifted vocalists of this generation, possessing an instrument that, when colored and layered with emotion as she’s aptly learned to do on Play On, can have bone-chilling effects.

Like it or leave it, Play On is the most authentic encapsulation of Underwood’s artistry and persona to date, and serves as an exciting glimpse at how far a little growth can carry her. The best is yet to come, but in the meantime, the “good” is pretty damn good. – Tara Seetharam


#9
Sara Watkins
Sara Watkins

As most people know by now, Sara Watkins is the female member of the now-disbanded (hopefully temporarily) New Grass trio, Nickel Creek. While Nickel Creek was difficult to classify in a certain genre (not bluegrass, not country), they were embraced by bluegrass and country music fans alike. Each member of the popular trio has released intriguing projects outside of Nickel Creek, but Watkins’ album  has assumed the most decidedly country direction of them all. As a result, we are treated to a sublime album thanks to Watkins’ sweet voice and a set of impressively solid songs. – Leeann Ward Continue reading

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 6: #100-81

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 6: #100-81

100 Alison Krauss Lonely
#100

“Restless”
Alison Krauss & Union Station
2004
Peak: #36

A shimmering moment of infatuation chased with unease. Krauss is entangled in thoughts of her beloved but at a distance, and temptation lurks for both of them. – Dan Milliken

99 Shania Come On Over

#99
I’m Holdin’ On to Love (To Save My Life)
Shania Twain
2000
Peak: #4

A terribly catchy slice of country-pop that, true to Twain, doesn’t sacrifice authenticity for appeal – Twain simply embodies the snappy energy that pulses through the song. – Tara Seetharam Continue reading

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The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 9: #20-#11

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 9

20 Nickel

#20
Nickel Creek, This Side

With Alison Krauss still in the producer’s chair, This Side begins to drift away from the more pure bluegrass feel of Nickel Creek’s debut album. Containing deliciously funky grooves and even tighter musicianship among the trio, Nickel Creek further proves their inimitable creativity and talent on their sophomore project that ultimately secures their popularity among progressive bluegrass fans and perhaps a few unsuspecting traditionalists along the way as well. – Leeann Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Spit on A Stranger”, “I Should’ve Known Better”, “This Side”, “Sabra Girl”

19 Leeann

#19
Lee Ann Womack, There’s More Where That Came From

It wasn’t quite the radical return to traditional country music that the album cover and subsequent marketing implied, but There’s More Where That Came From had more going for it than twin fiddles and steel, anyway: the strongest collection of songs that Womack had ever assembled. For those who went beyond the album’s one hit and two subsequent singles, the treasures were bountiful, including a cover of “Just Someone I Used to Know” hidden at the end of the disc. – Kevin Coyne

Recommended Tracks: “One’s a Couple”, “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”, “The Last Time”, “Stubborn (Psalm 151)”

18 Bill

#18
Bill Chambers, Sleeping With the Blues

Kasey Chambers’ father, Bill Chambers, shows that the talented apple doesn’t fall far from the proverbial tree. Chambers’ well worn gravel voice sounds as though he is personally all too familiar with the blues, which appropriately helps in service of the album’s general tone. Sleeping with the Blues is wonderfully produced with pure acoustic country instrumentation, which nicely supports this set of songs that contain straight up country music themes with a sly mix of wit and doom. – LW

Recommended Tracks: “I Drink”, “”Sleeping with the Blues”, “Big A** Garage Sale”, “Hold You in My Heart”

17 Caitlin

#17
Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell, Begonias

George and Tammy, Loretta and Conway, Dolly and Porter, Caitlin and Thad. Heresy? Perhaps. However, when Begonias was released in 2005, duet albums seemed like a thing of the past in country music. Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell, once neighbors in North Carolina, succeed in questioning that perception with their harmonies, songwriting, and natural chemistry by producing a timeless folk-country album that reminds us that great duets are not something that only exist as part of country music history. – William Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Something Less than Something More”, “Second Option”, “Conversations About a Friend”, “Waiting on June”

16 AKUS

#16
Alison Krauss & Union Station, Lonely Runs Both Ways

But just what are the two ways that lonely runs? Through the leaver (“Goodbye Is All We Have”) and the left (“Wouldn’t Be So Bad”)? Through the lovestruck (“If I Didn’t Know Any Better”) and the loved (“Crazy As Me”)? Or just through haunting traditional bluegrass (everything the fellas sing lead on here) as well as haunting grass-pop (everything with Krauss)? I say all of the above – and if Krauss and company are the ones running lonely around, I’ll follow them whichever way they decide to take it. – Dan Milliken

Recommended Tracks: “Restless”, “Crazy As Me”, “If I Didn’t Know Any Better”, “A Living Prayer”

15 Be Good

#15
The Be Good Tanyas, Blue Horse

It is true that The Be Good Tanyas are in the periphery of country music’s big tent, but their mellow sound is refreshingly organic. Their unconventional vocal style, delightful harmonies and accessible melodic hooks make this album a joy to hear. Particularly interesting is their meandering interpretation of “Oh Suzanna.” – LW

Recommended Tracks: “The Littlest Birds”, “Dog Song aka. Sleep Dog Lullaby”, “Oh Suzanna”, “Light Enough to Travel”

14 Dwight

#14
Dwight Yoakam, Blame the Vain

Fully self-producing for the first time, Yoakam returned to what he’s always does best: smart, simple heartbreak songs with no-frills production and minimal BS. Except on “She’ll Remember,” where the frills and BS are badly British-accented, bizarrely futuristic and fully awesome. He’s the kind of artist so consistent that it’s easy to take him for granted, but here he tried to one-up himself and damn near succeeded. – DM

Recommended Tracks: “Blame The Vain”, “Just Passin’ Time”, “She’ll Remember”, “The Last Heart In Line”

13 Shania

#13
Shania Twain, Up!

As distinctive and boundary-pushing as they were, Shania Twain’s first two mega-albums were a bit restrained, as if there was a “let’s not push this too far” voice in the back of her head. With Up!, she fully lets loose her creativity, spinning the same nineteen tracks in three different styles over three discs, with the American release featuring the country and pop editions. Rather than split the difference to please both audiences, she shamelessly panders to each one instead, stacking on the fiddle and steel more so than she ever did before on one disc, while venturing into pure Europop on the other. The winner in all of this is the listener, particularly the one who has a taste for both banjo and synthesizer, as Twain’s relentless zest for lyrical escapism finally has the music to match her infectious positivity. – KC

Recommended Tracks: “Nah!”, “Ka-Ching!”, “What a Way to Wanna Be!”, “I Ain’t Goin’ Down”

12 Chicks

#12
Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way

Somewhere between the Bush slam heard around the world and the five-Grammy victory seen around the world came this masterful, refreshingly real album, defined only by its own merits. A raw slice of the album deals with the incident that changed the Chicks’ career – and quite possibly the course of mainstream country music – reflecting a tenacity that’s wrapped in still-tender pain. But the same multi-faceted assuredness rings throughout the rest of Taking The Long Way, found in songs that dive deep, lyrically and sonically, into stories of struggle and doubt. With its bone-chilling depictions of life’s realities, the Chicks’ first fully-written album is a piece of art that pays a brilliant, ironic tribute to the heart of country music. – Tara Seetharam

Recommended Tracks: “Not Ready to Make Nice”, “Silent House”, “I Hope”, “So Hard”

11 Nickel

#11
Nickel Creek, Why Should the Fire Die?

While they have been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album and won IMBA award for Instrumental Group of the Year, Nickel Creek have always insisted that they are not a bluegrass band. With Why Should the Fire Die?, Nickel Creek makes its strongest argument, taking on new producers, introducing more rock and pop influence, and generally going in their own direction. Still, and perhaps most importantly, they have maintained their ability to avoid all things formulaic while pushing beyond the boundaries of youthful talent. – WW

Recommended Tracks: “When in Rome”, “Can’t Complain”, “Anthony”, “Doubting Thomas”

– – –

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The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 4: #70-#61

    The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 4

    70 Tillis

    #70
    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”

    69 Dwight

    #69
    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”

    68 Gillian

    #68
    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”

    67 Reba

    #67
    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”

    law call me

    #66
    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”

    65 Nickel

    #65
    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”

    64 Watkins

    #64
    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”

    63 Dierks

    #63
    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

    Recommended Tracks:

    62 Todd

    #62
    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”

    61 Rodney

    #61
    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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    100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 3: #80-#71

    The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 3

    80 Martina

    #80
    Martina McBride, Timeless

    McBride has a voice that would have been as relevant in country music fifty years ago as it is today, and her album of cover songs exemplifies this. She doesn’t attempt to move any of the songs to a different level, but instead inhabits the artists’ original style with precision and spirit. The result is a pure, respectful homage to the country greats. – Tara Seetharam

    Recommended Tracks: “Make The World Go Away”, “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down”

    79 Felice

    #79
    Felice Brothers, Yonder is the Clock

    The Felice Brothers are the least-known among the members of ‘The Big Surprise Tour’ headlined by Old Crow Medicine Show and featuring Dave Rawlings Machine with Gillian Welch, and Justin Townes Earle. Melding country-rock and folk-rock, they are roots-influenced and made their start playing in the subway. While it may take an extremely big tent to call them “country,” consistent Dylan comparisons make Yonder is the Clock hard to ignore. – William Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “Run, Chicken, Run”, “The Big Surprise”

    78 Big

    #78
    Big & Rich, Horse of a Different Color

    Big Kenny’s and John Rich’s voices and creativity blend to form a richly textured harmony that is only fully realized when they work together, as is most evident on their debut album that took country music by storm in a huge way. While their subsequent projects haven’t even come close to matching the potential of their first, Horse of A Different Coloris an album of refreshing risks and creativity that has been both embraced and criticized as a result of unique production and odd lyrical twists. Songs ranging from ridiculous to philosophical and all points inbetween make this album one of the most memorable, if not controversial, mainstream albums of the decade. – Leeann Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “Holy Water”, “Live This Life”

    77 Dierks

    #77
    Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone

    Bentley takes his road theme all the way, crafting a concept album that both celebrates the loneliness of the road and mourns the resting places left behind by those who choose to stay on it. – Kevin Coyne

    Recommended Tracks: “Long Trip Alone”, “The Heaven I’m Headed To”

    76 Josh

    #76
    Josh Turner, Everything is Fine

    Turner’s third album is an outstanding example of a style that is deeply traditional yet still current, assured yet still vulnerable. His distinctive voice is paired with a well-crafted and charming set of songs on this album, which further solidified him as one of the genre’s leading traditionalists. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “Another Try”, “Nowhere Fast”

    75 Reckless

    #75
    Reckless Kelly, Bulletproof

    Country and power-pop collide in one of Texas’ most memorable albums in years. If Bulletproof has a weakness, it’s that its love songs and road anthems are all so damn hooky that the deeper material has to fight to steal your attention away. – Dan Milliken

    Recommended Tracks: “American Blood”, “Mirage”

    74 Chick

    #74
    Chick Corea & Béla Fleck, The Enchantment

    The Enchantment is a collaboration between jazz pianist Chick Corea and banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck. Full of soaring energy and technical prowess, The Enchantment blends the influences of both Corea and Fleck resulting in jazz compositions infused with bluegrass overtones.- WW

    Recommended Tracks: “Mountain”, “Sunset Road”

    73 Otto

    #73
    James Otto, Sunset Man

    On his breakthrough sophomore album, Otto’s voice is commanding and rich with soul, proving he has one of the most interesting male voices to come out of country music in the past few years. Sunset Man is a solid contemporary country album that has his voice melting just as effectively with bluesy, mid-tempo numbers as it does with muscular power ballads. – TS

    Recommended Tracks: “For You”, “These Are The Good Ole Days”

    72 Jon

    #72
    Jon Randall, Walking Among the Living

    Thanks to his very lucrative songwriting collaboration with Bill Anderson that resulted in a smash hit for Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss with “Whiskey Lullaby”, Jon Randall received a major label deal with Sony. Unfortunately, Randall’s only album with them was not even a blip on most people’s radars, though not due to lack of quality. Randall’s gorgeous tenor, most closely comparable to Vince Gill’s,tastefully blends with rootsy instrumentation and solid compositions to create a humble work of art. – LW

    Recommended Tracks: “I Shouldn’t Do This”, “Lonely for Awhile”

    71 Crooked

    #71
    Crooked Still, Shaken By a Low Sound

    Crooked Still is an alternate bluegrass group led by vocalist Aoife O’Donovan. With haunting vocals and technical prowess Crooked Still pushes acoustic music in a manner similar to Nickel Creek but with a slightly more recognizable traditional bend. – WW

    Recommended Tracks: “Wind and Rain”, “Little Sadie”

    – – –

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    100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1: #100-#91

    Ah, the naughties. The decade began and ended with pop crossover queens, with Shania Twain and Faith Hill at the top of their game in 2000 much like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood reign supreme today. In between, we had the roots music boom, best exemplified by O Brother and the platinum-selling Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss & Union Station; the post-9/11 patriotic explosion, which brought Toby Keith and Darryl Worley to the top of the charts; the near-total banishment of women from the country radio dial for a good part of the decade, which started to fade as redneck pride ascended, thanks to a certain woman trying to make Pocahontas proud; and far too many tributes to country living and island-flavored beach bum songs to count.

    All of this made for a fascinating decade to be a country fan. As radio worked its way through all of the above (with the notable exception of roots music), the internet made it far easier for acts to be discovered without ever getting a single spin of traditional radio play.  With MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and the explosion of country music blogs, the barriers have been torn down between artist and audience in a way that was never possible before.

    The motley crew of Country Universe has a diversity of tastes that fit within the widest boundaries of country music, as reflected our collaborative list of the 100 best albums of the decade.  Five of our writers contributed to the list, with all writer’s selections being weighed equally.  We’ll reveal ten entries a day until the list is complete. A look back at the greatest singles of the decade will then follow.

      The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1

      Abigail 100

      #100
      Abigail Washburn, Song of the Traveling Daughter

      Song of the Traveling Daughter is the debut album from Uncle Earl claw hammer banjo player Abigail Washburn. Produced by Béla Fleck and featuring Ben Sollee, it is a subdued album filled with intriguing instrumentation and influences.  Standout songs include “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” with its interesting Civil War period influence; the upbeat “Coffee’s Cold,” originally performed by Uncle Earl; and “Song of the Traveling Daughter,” based on the classical Chinese poem “Song of the Traveling Son.” – William Ward

      Recommended Tracks: “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, “Coffee’s Cold”

      Kim Richey 99

      #99
      Kim Richey, Rise

      Her ambitious swan song for Mercury Records was perhaps her least accessible record, with an emphasis on eclectic arrangements instead of hook-laden melodies. It’s also her most deeply rewarding record, one that is remarkably introspective and fully delves into themes of faith and mortality that her earlier work had only hinted at before. – Kevin Coyne

      Recommended Tracks: “A Place Called Home”, “No Judges”

      Little Big Town 98

      #98
      Little Big Town, The Road to Here

      The quartet’s second album catapulted them to the forefront thanks to the swampy anthem, “Boondocks,” and was a breath of fresh, earthy air to mainstream country music. Packed with tight harmonies and songs ranging in style from bluegrass-leaning to Fleetwood Mac-inspired, the album served as a window into the raw talent and potential of one of the best groups to hit country music in quite some time. – Tara Seetharam

      Recommended Tracks: “Boondocks”, “Live With Lonesome”

      Dolly 97

      #97
      Dolly Parton, Halos & Horns

      A gorgeous, gospel-heavy album, with tasteful bluegrass elements. Parton is effervescent as usual, and rid of any self-consciousness, which makes “Hello God” overwhelmingly stirring. A response to the September 11 tragedies, the song has Parton pleading and philosophically wrestling with God, in the sincerest of ways. – TS

      Recommended Tracks: “Hello God”, “John Daniel”

      Brad 96

      #96
      Brad Paisley, Part II

      Sometime back before the Future, before the smirking social commentary and the endless odes to his wife, Brad Paisley was just a silly little neotraditionalist writing silly little neotraditional songs about the twists of everyday life and love. Part II captures him at his most unassuming and tuneful, waxing breezily about courtships and feeling out his new place as a neotrad spokesperson with a few classic roots songs, plus a cute Bill Anderson/Chuck Cannon co-write (“Too Country”). – Dan Milliken

      Recommended Tracks: “Wrapped Around”, “Come On Over Tonight”

      Patty 95

      #95
      Patty Loveless, Strong Heart

      More so than any Loveless album since leaving MCA, Strong Heart draws on her pop and rock influences, with a healthy dose of Ronstadt thrown in for good measure. The contrast between her hillbilly wail and the pop-leaning arrangements of several songs manages to make her sound even more rural than she normally does. Arguably her last mainstream project, she proved that she can sound just as good chasing radio as she does ignoring it. – KC

      Recommended Tracks: “The Last Thing On My Mind”, “My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again”

      Sara 94

      #94
      Sara Evans, Real Fine Place

      One of the finer female vocalists in the genre, Evans is a fantastic interpreter on her fifth album, carefully treading both traditional and pop country waters. The warmth and purity to her tone is prominent on this album, and this is particularly true of the songs with more traditional arrangements, on which she shines the brightest. – TS

      Recommended Tracks: “Cheatin'”, “These Four Walls”

      Sara J 93

      #93
      Sarah Jarosz, Song Up in Her Head

      Sarah Jarosz’ much hyped debut with Sugar Hill Records features Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Aofie O’Donavan, and Abigail Washburn.  Notable tracks include “Shankill Butchers,” a Decemberists cover that outperforms the original; the progressive acoustic “Song up in Her Head,” reminiscent of Nickel Creek; and “Come on Up to the House,” an impressive Tom Waits cover. – WW

      Recommended Tracks: “Shankill Butchers”, “Come On Up to the House”

      Terri 92

      #92
      Terri Clark, Pain to Kill

      This album made Clark a serious contender for Female Vocalist, the only time in her career that she reached that level of success. It’s as radio-friendly as her first two albums, but the material is substantive. This is the best collection of songs that she ever assembled, and by a healthy margin. When Trisha Yearwood finds something to cover from a record, you’ve done a great job picking songs. – KC

      Recommended Tracks: “I Just Called to Say Goodbye”, “Not a Bad Thing”

      Dwight 91

      #91
      Dwight Yoakam, Population: Me

      Genre superhero Yoakam stretched his habit of excellence into a third decade, beginning with the quirky South of Heaven, West of Hell soundtrack and continuing with this solid set. The album is notable for distilling a wide assortment of Yoakam’s mastered sounds into about half an hour, from the Eaglesy (“The Late Great Golden State”) to the Owensy (“No Such Thing”) to the Elvisy (“I’d Avoid Me Too”), all united by the singer’s uniquely buoyant brand of fatalism. – DM

      Recommended Tracks: “I’d Avoid Me Too”, “The Back Of Your Hand”

      – – –

      20 Comments

      Filed under Decade in Review

      Discussion: Non-Hit Singles of the Decade

      BillboardPop on those thinking caps; we’ve encountered a dilemma that Wikipedia alone cannot remedy!

      See, like any warm-blooded entertainment blog, CU totally gets off on ranking stuff. So naturally, we’ve been hard at work piecing together our opinions on the decade’s finest albums and singles. The former category has proven easy enough to probe; the latter, however, presents a significant challenge, since singles that aren’t mainstream hits are often swept under the public carpet as the years go by.

      I think it would be a shame to overlook some of the Aughts’ best work just because of our limited recall and research abilities, though, and I know our readers are diverse and knowledgeable enough to help us fill in the gaps. So I’m inviting everyone to name a bunch of their lesser-known favorites to help us broaden our selection pool (and have a little fun while we’re at it).

      For example, my personal list would include:

      • Nickel Creek, “When You Come Back Down”
      • Dolly Parton, “Shine”
      • Alison Krauss & Union Station, “Restless”
      • Alison Krauss & James Taylor, “How’s The World Treating You”
      • Loretta Lynn with Jack White, “Portland, Oregon”
      • Old Crow Medicine Show, “Wagon Wheel”
      • Ryan Adams, “Let It Ride”
      • Pinmonkey, “That Train Don’t Run”
      • Randy Rogers Band, “Somebody Take Me Home”
      • Ashley Monroe, “Satisfied”
      • Bruce Robison, “All Over But the Cryin'”
      • Randy Travis, “Dig Two Graves”

      And those are just some of the easy ones. But I’ll let y’all take over: What are some of your favorite non-hit singles from the past decade? Feel free to include anything from any classification of country – mainstream, Alt-Country/Americana, bluegrass, Texas, independent – and definitely include as many as you like, especially if you have a few that haven’t been mentioned yet. If it didn’t go Top 20 and was shipped to radio, it’s fair game!

      59 Comments

      Filed under Decade in Review

      Beatlemania, Nashville Style

      BeatlesI’ve been working my way through the Beatles Remasters that were released earlier this week, thoroughly enjoying myself in the process. As I listened to Help!, I heard Ringo Starr doing his best Buck Owens imitation as they covered “Act Naturally.”

      It’s pretty darn cool that the Beatles covered Buck Owens, and plenty of country artists have returned the favor ever since.  With the Beatles all over the media these days, it seems as good a time as any to look back on some of country music’s biggest and best takes on the Beatles catalog:

      Rosanne Cash, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” and “I’m Only Sleeping”

      Cash is the only country artist to score a #1 hit with a cover of a Beatles song, as her take on the Beatles For Sale track “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” became her eleventh and final #1 hit in 1989.  An even better listen is her take on “I’m Only Sleeping” from her Retrospective release. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a much better song than “Party”, pulled from Revolver, arguably the best album the Beatles ever made.

      Nickel Creek, “Taxman”

      This progressive bluegrass band sounds great on record, but you don’t really get the full experience of their talent until you’ve seen their live show. Perhaps all of those royalties from their platinum-selling debut album pushed them into a higher tax bracket, as “Taxman” –  another Revolver highlight – soon became a staple of their live shows.

      httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5H7SqXkdKyU

      Emmylou Harris, “For No One” and “Here, There and Everywhere”

      Her first two solo albums included one Revolver cover each. She turns “For No One” into a pensive ballad on her debut set Pieces of the Sky and gives a gorgeous rendering of “Here, There and Everywhere” on her sophomore effort Elite Hotel.

      httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7aIB7sFVdc

      Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, “Yesterday”

      It really does sound like a Haggard and Nelson song when Haggard and Nelson do it.

      httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W64pgAcKbYA

      Anne Murray, “You Won’t See Me”

      Amazingly, John Lennon said this was the best Beatles cover he’d ever heard.

      httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqnUe0vwLPM

      Those are some of the most notable country Beatles covers I could think of. What are your favorites? Least favorites?

      19 Comments

      Filed under Conversations