Tag Archives: Patsy Cline

Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Sara Evans

I was in my early teens when I first discovered Sara Evans… and I thought she was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  The rich, throaty texture of her distinct voice reeled me in, and her entertaining mixture of traditional and contemporary influences had me thoroughly hooked.  Now that I’ve also become familiar with the likes of Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood, and Emmylou Harris, my view of Sara is a little more in-perspective these days, but I do still consider myself a big fan, and she holds a special distinction as one of the first female country artists I really got into.

Radio passed on her when she first emerged as a neotraditionalist in the late nineties, but with future efforts, Sara went on to become a star, thanks to her ability to adapt to changing times while still staying true to herself.  She was one of the dominant female country voices on the radio dial in the early years of the twenty-first century, and after enduring a bit of a dry spell for a few years, she has recently experienced a commercial resurgence.

Though she maintained a fairly consistent quality standard for the better part of her career, recent years have seen that standard slipping thanks to subpar pop-country cuts in the vein of “Feels Just Like a Love Song.”  Nonetheless, Sara still deserves credit for having a solid body of work behind her that’s well worth remembering.  If we’re fortunate, perhaps we may one day see Sara make a return to form, or even delve back into her traditional country and bluegrass roots.

The following list includes many of the songs that best exemplify the qualities that drew me to the music of Sara Evans in the first place.  It’s not meant to be a strict listing of the songs that unquestionably rank as Sara’s “best;” (which would be pretty subjective anyway) It’s merely a list of my own personal favorites.  Let it be an enjoyable look back on some of Sara’s finest moments.  If you would like to share any of your own favorites in the comments section, please feel free to do so.

#25

“A Little Bit Stronger”

Stronger, 2011

Somehow, Sara’s comeback hit finds a way to hit my sweet spot for power ballads. (Yes, I actually do have a sweet spot for power ballads, though few have been able to hit it) What was it about this song that won me over?  Maybe it was the subtle strains of mandolin and steel.  Maybe it’s the build-up nature of the song – the way the progressive nature of the narrator’s healing is mirrored by the production and by Sara’s vocal delivery.  At any rate, the ingredients come together to form a record greater than the sum of its parts.

#24

“New Hometown”

Real Fine Place, 2005

It’s not just a song about how cool small-town life is.  Stylistically, the song even ranks as one of Sara’s most pop-friendly album tracks.  As Sara’s character expresses her desire to escape the hustle-and-bustle of city life, the song becomes a plea for a return to the simple things in life.  Though not all of us intend to make a big old move to a small town, no doubt many among us harbor a similar deep-down yearning just to “find a little earth to stand on.”

#23

“Perfect”

Restless, 2003

The catchy guitar hook is an instant attention-getter, but this number-two hit from Sara’s Restless album has a heart and a simple message at its core:  “Real love and real life doesn’t have to be perfect.”  Add in a few quirky and clever lines such as “If in every wedding picture my daddy looks annoyed, it’s all right,” as well as the fitting conclusion that “All the fairy tales tell a lie,” and you’ve got a real beauty.

#22

“Momma’s Night Out” 

Real Fine Place, 2005

I love this song mainly because it’s a side of Sara that we haven’t seen very often.  She’s rarely been one to record party songs.  But on this track, Sara takes on the role of an overworked mother who throws in the towel, leaves the kids with daddy, and hits the town with the girls.  Sara’s sassy vocal finds her as loose as she’s ever been, while the funky horn-infused production makes it an unforgettable track

#21

“Cupid”

No Place That Far, 1999

The distinct voice of George Jones, even when coming in the form of background vocals, has the ability to make a great song even greater (see Patty Loveless, “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me”).  In this shamelessly twangy steel-infused country rave-up from No Place That Far, the Possum joins Sara in delivering the unshakable hook of “Tell Cupid not to point that thing at me!”

#20

“Restless”

Restless, 2003

I have a bit of a weakness for country music that borrows from Irish and Celtic influences as this track does.  The gorgeous Celtic-harp-laced arrangement makes “Restless” a highlight of one of Sara’s most stylistically-diverse albums.  The lyrics are every bit as beautiful, poetically telling of a restless soul learning to make peace with the fact that she will be a wanderer until the day she dies.

#19

“Low”

Billy: The Early Years (soundtrack), 2008

Sara’s contribution to the Billy soundtrack is nothing short of a pure joy, replete with the sounds of pure country and bluegrass instrumentation.  Though the lyrics invoke religious elements, they don’t sound preachy at all.  It’s not a “You should live your life this way” kind of song;  It’s an “I’m going to live my life this way” kind of song.  It’s a proactive anthem of strength, resolve, and determination – more uplifting than a million Martina McBride power ballads combined.

#18

“I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail”

Three Chords and the Truth, 1997

Fact:  Sara sounds best when singing traditional country music.  Going back and listening to Sara’s shamelessly neotraditional debut album is a joy for any fan of stone cold country.  Here she pays tribute to the vintage Bakersfield sound with a cover of a Buck Owens hit co-written by Harlan Howard.  Besides being a highlight of the Three Chords and the Truth album, this song was instrumental in helping Sara get the chance to snag a record deal and become a star.  It was when the legendary songwriter Harlan Howard himself heard Sara’s performance of his classic song that he threw all his efforts into helping the young talent get discovered.

#17

“Fool, I’m a Woman”

No Place That Far, 1999

This deliciously snarky tune has Matraca Berg’s fingerprints all over it.  In a composition by one of country’s finest songwriters, Sara plays off the age-old stereotype of a woman’s continual habit of changing her mind.  She scoffs at old romantic clichés as she pointedly tells off her soon-to-be-ex-lover – “You used to tell me so many nights/ You don’t deserve me/ Well maybe you were right.”  Ouch!

#16

“A Real Fine Place to Start”

Real Fine Place, 2005

I have a major affinity for songs that can effectively channel the excitement of a newfound romance, and this Radney Foster-penned number-one hit from 2005 squarely hits that target.  Thanks in large part to Sara’s soaring vocal performance, “A Real Fine Place to Start” is a fun, breezy record that bubbles over with energy and exuberance, and begs to be blasted out one’s car windows.  A shining example of pop-country done well.

#15

“Why Should I Care”

Born to Fly, 2000

A sparse pop-country ballad in which a woman struggles to make sense of the feelings of guilt and jealousy that suddenly surface when she finds out that her former lover has found someone new.

#14

“Imagine That”

Three Chords and the Truth, 1997

Sara’s take on this Patsy Cline torch ballad ranks as arguably one of the finest displays of Sara’s vocal talents that can be found on any of her studio albums.

#13

“Bible Song”

Real Fine Place, 2005

This melancholy Lori McKenna song was one of the best tracks on Real Fine Place.  While so many country stars have gleefully sang the praises of small-town living, “Bible Song” echoes the message that life in such idealistic small towns is not always what it’s cracked up to be.  The pace of life may be slower, but this tragic story of a young man’s drug-induced death shows that even small town residents at times fall prey to their own inner demons.

#12

“Rockin’ Horse”

Restless, 2003

A genuine nugget of wisdom is wrapped up in this blazing fiddle-shredder.  The narrator recounts a frightening childhood experience in which a tree falls near her family’s house after being struck by lightning.  Then her father carves the tree’s wood into a rocking horse that becomes one of her most treasured toys.   By showing how this experience shapes the narrator’s outlook on life, “Rockin’ Horse” becomes a colorful testament to the power of positive thinking, with its message summed up in the memorable hook “When it’s pouring down on me/ In my life I see the rockin’ horse inside the tree.”

#11

“As If”

Greatest Hits, 2007

Four new tracks were included on Sara’s 2007 Greatest Hits package, and this almost-Top 10 hit was by far the best.  With cheeky, humorous lyrics, Sara satirically poked fun at the human tendency toward infatuation that blinds one to all a person’s shortcomings.  The catchy melody and energetic performance made for an earworm of a record that was truly unforgettable.

#10

“What That Drink Cost Me”

Stronger, 2011

The new album could have benefited greatly from more songs like this.  This restrained steel guitar weeper is the stuff of a country classic – a heart-wrenching tale of the destructive power of alcohol.  Though the Stronger album as a whole found Sara saddled with an excess of disposable material, the fact that it also included one of the best songs she had written in years is an encouraging sign.  Besides that, “What That Drink Cost Me” is yet another example of one of the qualities that I’ve always appreciated about Sara’s music:  Even after she went in a more pop-flavored musical direction, her traditional country influences were never fully snuffed out.

#9

“If You Ever Want My Lovin’”

Three Chords and the Truth, 1997

This loose, flirty, upbeat little ditty was co-written by Sara along with Billy Yates and Melba Montgomery.  Though the cheeky lyrics can put an instant smile on one’s face, the record’s most endearing trait is Sara’s raw, expressive vocal delivery.  Though Sara’s Missouri twang is toned back on some of her more pop-oriented material, this record allows that twang to stand front and center.

#8

“Unopened”

Three Chords and the Truth, 1997

This was the only original song on Sara’s debut album on which she did not share writing credits, originating from the pen of Leslie Satcher.  As the song’s narrator discovers evidence of a secret love from her man’s past, she views his willingness to leave it behind as evidence of his genuine love for her.  She resolves to return that love by trusting in her man, and allowing his secret to remain a secret.

#7

“No Place That Far”

No Place That Far, 1999

Vince Gill is one of country music’s favorite harmony vocalists (besides being an A-list legend in his own right), and he adds something particularly special to the hauntingly beautiful love song that was Sara’s breakthrough chart-topper.  The song reaches a crescendo in the final chorus as Sara sings “If I had to run, if I had to crawl…” and is answered each time by that distinctive tenor.  It’s as if we’re listening to two lovers singing to one another from afar off, pledging their unwavering determination to be reunited.  Though it’s a great lyric in its own right, the chemistry of the two performers gives the story an extra layer that can’t be seen just by looking at the lyrics on paper.

#6

“I Learned That from You”

Born to Fly, 2000

Though found on one of Sara’s most pop-oriented albums, “I Learned from You” was one of the finest and most country tracks on Sara’s breakthrough album Born to Fly.  A heavy-hearted reflection on the difficult leassons learned from a first love that didn’t last, while also an appreciative recollection of all the happy memories that were made at the time.

#5

“Coalmine”

Real Fine Place, 2005

The timing was unfortunate for the release of this underplayed gem that offered a glimpse of Sara’s mountain bluegrass influences.  A flirty, playful lyric and performance added up to a song that was loads of fun as Sara fawned over her man “walking out of that coalmine, covered with dust, T-shirt tight, all muscled up.”  This is one Sara Evans single that is definitely deserving of a re-release.

#4

“Three Chords and the Truth”

Three Chords and the Truth, 1997

The title track of Sara’s debut is a testament to the power of country music in dredging up deeply held emotions in a listener – emotions that we might have ignored in the past.  It’s the kind of song that always reminds me why I love country music so much.  Sara’s character hears a country song on the radio for the first time, and it not only brings back the emotions, but it moves her to action.  It motivates her to turn the car around and reconcile with the lover she had intended to leave far behind.  “Three Chords” is a beautifully constructed story that effectively pays tribute to country music at its best, demonstrating that there’s so much more to this unique and special genre than what the ugly stereotypes would lead some to believe.

#3

“Suds In the Bucket”

Restless, 2003

Besides being an excellent singalong driving jam, this fiddle-and-steel-laden hit is a humorous glimpse at tongue-wagging small-town culture, sans the chest-pounding backwoods clichés that are common on country radio today.  Fun, playful, and full of personality, this country rave-up was the song that first got me into Sara Evans, and it’s remained a personal favorite of mine ever since.  It never fails to make me feel happy.

#2

“Cheatin’”

Real Fine Place, 2005

This Top Ten hit takes a classic country music theme – infidelity – and puts a distinct and memorable spin on it.  After having parted ways with an unfaithful spouse, Sara’s character gloats over the unpleasant living situation her ex has since found himself in.  But as the lyric progresses, she reveals that she has been genuinely hurt by his actions, and she unashamedly drops the bomb of “Yes, I’ll be glad to take you back just as soon as I stop breathing.”  Amusingly spiteful and achingly emotional at the same time, “Cheatin’” exemplifies the layered organic storytelling that makes for a killer country song, while the traditional-styled arrangement acts as the perfect sonic backdrop to Sara’s bitterly nuanced performance.

#1

“Born to Fly”

Born to Fly, 2000

Sara’s career record remains one of her most enduring and effortlessly charming hits, and with it’s distinctive drumbeat intro and bluegrass-tinged instrumentation, it’s definitely one of her most recognizeable.  “Born to Fly” is an endearing coming-of-age tale of a young woman exploring her potential in life, and seeking to find her place in the world.  It manages to perfect the magic formula of possessing a unique identity of its own, while still being universal such that a wide array of individuals can relate to the feelings it expresses.  Who among us has never gone through this period of life as a young person?  We’ve all been at that crossroads point in life, and felt what it’s like to be “starin’ down the road, just lookin’ for my one chance to run.”

In a way, the song could also be seen as symbolic of the point Sara was at in her career when she recorded it.  Would her third album improve on the moderate success of No Place That Far, or would it be ignored like the commercially-underappreciated Three Chords and the Truth?  It was with this album and single that Sara struck platinum with a style that was just slick enough to be commercially friendly without sacrificing the heart of her earlier work.  The result?  Her career ‘soared away like a blackbird.’

In a career that has included many memorable singles, “Born to Fly” is one of the very finest.

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Filed under Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists

2010 Christmas Albums Extravaganza

Yay! Christmas time is here again!

This year, instead of writing about this year’s crop of Christmas projects individually, I’ve decided to round them up in one post in an effort to make sure I acknowledge all of them. Unless I’ve overlooked one, the only album that will be omitted from this roundup is Shelby Lynne’s Christmas album, which is super good/compelling and funky, so it deserves its own review and it will come as soon as I figure out how to write about it.

Let the fun begin!

Carter’s Chord, Christmas

As Toby Keith’s best discovery so far, Carter’s Chord is a talented sister duo that hasn’t yet gotten the success that they deserve. With only one digitally released studio album that has received criminally little attention, they’ve still managed to deliver a delightful 4-song EP that would be well worth adding to your Christmas collection.

All of the songs are well produced, with very tasteful country arrangements, but the standout track is the warm and bluesy “Snowed In.” Surprisingly, the lead vocal on “Up on the Housetop” could easily be mistaken for a Miranda Lambert performance.

Lady Antebellum, A Merry Little Christmas

Yes, since I typically don’t shop at Target, I made a special trip to purchase this exclusive 6-song EP. It was at least one-third worth the effort. Literally. “Their versions of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, “Blue Christmas” and “Let it Snow” are given nice, if not unremarkable, country leaning treatments while “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and “On This Winter’s Night” lean more toward R&B. “Silver Bells”, however, suffers from the generic pop production that Lady Antebellum all too often utilizes for their regular music.

Point of Grace, Home for the Holidays

For the last couple of years, Contemporary Christian group, Point of Grace, has attempted to make gains in the country market. They haven’t been successful, but they continue to try with the release of their fourth Christmas album (the third being a collection of their first two), Home for the Holidays. Their smooth harmonies are sweet but vibrant enough to stay out of the syrupy territory. The original “Candy Cane Lane” is laced with fiddle and steel guitar and, incidentally, is one of the stand out tracks on the album, along with the gorgeous “Emanuel.” Standards such as “Silver Bells”, “Little Drummer Boy”, and “Holly Jolly Christmas” are also treated to decidedly country arrangements and ably performed on the whole.

Mandy Barnett, Winter Wonderland

Mandy Barnett’s Cracker Barrel exclusive Christmas album is an unapologetic throwback to the Nashville sound of Yesteryear both in production and notable reverb affects. At this point, it’s unoriginal to compare her voice to Patsy Cline, but the similarity is pretty much irrefutable, so it’s no wonder that Barnett aptly capitalizes on the comparison and we, in turn, continue to make the connection. Ultimately, it’s a pleasant album, but more for background than intrigue.

Jason Michael Carroll, Christmas on the Farm

With Jason Michael Carroll’s chart success being somewhat spotty, it’s easy to forget that he possesses one of the top voices among the current country crop as he slips under the radar much of the time. Therefore, it’s the surprise of the season that his Christmas EP is one of the best Christmas projects of 2010. His talent gorgeously shines through most especially on the gently and beautifully sung arranged “Auld Lang Syne”, but on “Silent Night and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as well. “Joy to the World” is a rousing back porch pickin’-type affair that is ridiculously infectious. The title track is also upbeat, but is the lone contemporary produced song on the set. It wouldn’t sound like a typical Christmas song if not for the setting, but it’s fun, if not superfluous, nonetheless. If this EP is representative of Jason Michael Carroll at Christmas Time, more please!

14 Comments

Filed under Album Reviews, Christmas

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #250-#226

A lot of songs from both ends of the charts here, including a husband-and-wife duet that spent six weeks at #1.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #250-#226

#250
I Meant Every Word He Said
Ricky Van Shelton
1990 | Peak: #2

Listen

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

#249
I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying
Toby Keith with Sting
1997 | Peak: #2

Listen

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

#248
You Ain’t Much Fun
Toby Keith
1995 | Peak: #2

Listen

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

#247
Tender Moment
Lee Roy Parnell
1993 | Peak: #2

Listen

Actions speak louder than words. – KC

#246
Go Rest High On That Mountain
Vince Gill
1995 | Peak: #14

Listen

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

#245
Nothing
Dwight Yoakam
1995 | Peak: #20

Listen

Living up to its title, the Yoakam’s barren heart and soul are replicated in the arrangement of the song.  If emptiness has a sound, this is it. – Kevin Coyne

#244
(Who Says) You Can’t Have it All
Alan Jackson
1994 | Peak: #4

Listen

Jackson more than earns his neo-traditional street cred thanks to this song. Just soak up that lonesome steel guitar! – LW

#243
It’s Your Love
Tim McGraw with Faith Hill
1997 | Peak: #1

Listen

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

#242
Grandpa Told Me So
Kenny Chesney
1995 | Peak: #23

Listen

Amidst a collection of country life lessons passed down from two generations back is one to live by: “There’ll be times that you want to hold on but you’ve got to let go.” – KC

#241
Thank God For You
Sawyer Brown
1993 | Peak: #1

Listen

This man has a lot to thank God for, including stereotypical parental figures, but he’s most thankful for his girl. – LW

#240
I Never Knew Love
Doug Stone
1993 | Peak: #2

Listen

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

#239
What She’s Doing Now
Garth Brooks
1992 | Peak: #1

Listen

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

#238
Find My Way Back to My Heart
Alison Krauss & Union Station
1997 | Peak: #73

Listen

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

#237
I Know
Kim Richey
1997 | Peak: #72

Listen

It takes more than self-awareness to mend a broken heart. – KC

#236
Leave Him Out of This
Steve Wariner
1991 | Peak: #6

Listen

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

#235
Just My Luck
Kim Richey
1995 | Peak: #47

Listen

Roba Stanley once sang about the joys of the single life and its simplicities.  Richey is about to leave it behind, and wonders just how lucky that makes her. – KC

#234
What if I Do
Mindy McCready
1997 | Peak: #26

Listen

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

#233
Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow
Alan Jackson
1990 | Peak: #2

Listen

Stories of would-be stars trying to make it big in Nashville are nothing too novel, but Jackson’s plucky earnestness gives this one an accessibility many of the others lack. – DM

#232
Now That’s All Right With Me
Mandy Barnett
1996 | Peak: #43

Listen

The other great Barnett single of the era, fusing Patsy Cline-style vocal class, Pam Tillis-style production and Gloriana-style youthful exuberance. – DM

#231
With You
Lila McCann
1999 | Peak: #9

Listen

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

#230
My Maria
Brooks & Dunn
1996 | Peak: #1

Listen

The rare country cover of a pop song that improves on the original. No offense, B.W. Stephenson. – DM

#229
Boom! It Was Over
Robert Ellis Orrall
1992 | Peak: #19

Listen

How far can an amazing song title carry you? All the way to #229, that’s how far! – DM

#228
Somewhere in My Broken Heart
Billy Dean
1991 | Peak: #3

Listen

So simple and plain in its heartbreak, and so understated and quiet in its delivery.  – KC

#227
I Just Wanted You to Know
Mark Chesnutt
1993 | Peak: #1

Listen

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

#226
I’m Gonna Be Somebody
Travis Tritt
1990 | Peak: #2

Listen

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

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Hank Cochran: 1935-2010

Rest in Peace, Hank Cochran.

Enjoy some of the legendary songwriter’s greatest hits:

Patsy Cline, “I Fall to Pieces”

Eddy Arnold, “Make the World Go Away”

Patsy Cline, “She’s Got You”

George Strait, “Ocean Front Property”

Jeannie Seely, “Don’t Touch Me”

Ray Price, “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me”

Merle Haggard, “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)”

Vern Gosdin, “Is it Raining at Your House”

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Crystal Gayle Starter Kit

Producing primarily pop-flavored country music has rarely been a ticket to immortality for even the biggest artists, particularly the female ones.  Imports like Shania Twain and Olivia Newton-John are labeled impostors.  Faith Hill’s canny song sense is overlooked while hubby Tim McGraw’s is widely praised. Brilliant Dolly Parton records like “Here You Come Again” and “9 to 5″ are cited as being beneath her greatness, rather than prime examples of it.  Only Patsy Cline has been given a free pass, and who wouldn’t want to claim those pipes?

Where does this leave Crystal Gayle, younger sister of Loretta Lynn and owner of 32 top ten hits, 18 of which went #1? As the first female country artist to sell platinum, her impact was quite big back in the day. But aside from her signature classic “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”, her music has been largely forgotten.  Perhaps this is because she peaked during an era that is often looked down upon as too crossover for its own good. Unlike Parton and Cline, there is virtually nothing for traditionalists to celebrate within Gayle’s catalog of hits. But much like Hill and Newton-John, the woman recorded some wonderful songs that deserve rediscovery.  Here are a dozen of the best.

“I’ll Do It All Over Again” from the 1976 album Crystal

Gayle typically avoided purely victim stances in her lyrics. Here, she’s been left but is aware that her heart will mend and that she’ll love again.

“Ready For the Times to Get Better” from the 1976 album Crystal

Country singles recorded in a minor key are quite the rarity, but the arrangement undercuts the misery of the lyric, even as she’s clearly ready to move on to happier times. This just might be her finest moment.

“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” from the 1977 album We Must Believe in Magic

This classic won her a Grammy and the first of two CMA Female Vocalist trophies. If the piano sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same player that powered Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” to similar success on both the country and pop charts.

“Talking In Your Sleep” from the 1978 album When I Dream

Proving that her appeal wasn’t limited to one big hit, this hit launched what would become Gayle’s second consecutive platinum album.

“Why Have You Left the One You Left Me For” from the 1978 album When I Dream

Her first really big uptempo hit defied expectations and broke her out of the ballad mold.  It didn’t hurt that it was ridiculously catchy.

“Half the Way” from the 1979 album Miss the Mississippi

Another hook-laden hit, powered by an infectious string section and quite a bit more wailing than she’s usually known for.

“Too Many Lovers” from the 1980 album These Days

What sounds like a quiet bar ballad in the first few seconds soon turns into an uptempo message of caution to women looking for love in all the wrong places.

“You Never Gave Up On Me” from the 1981 album Hollywood, Tennessee

There aren’t too many anniversary songs that essentially say, “Thanks for loving me even when I didn’t love you.”  Romantic songs like to pretend that both partners are equally kind and loving, when that isn’t always the case. I like ones like this more.

“‘Til I Gain Control Again” from the 1982 album True Love

Crystal Gayle was hardly the predictable vehicle for this intricate Rodney Crowell composition that had been previously cut by Emmylou Harris.  Even she didn’t think she could pull it off. Thankfully, producer Jimmy Bowen coaxed her into it, and the result was a #1 hit that was also among her most sophisticated performances.

“Baby, What About You” from the 1982 album True Love

Not much more to say about this one than it’s a slice of pop-country perfection.

“The Sound of Goodbye” from the 1983 album Cage the Songbird

One of Hugh Prestwood’s first great moments as a writer was this hit. Much like his material later pushed Randy Travis into a more ambitious production approach (“Hard Rock Bottom Of Your Heart”), the sonic landscape of this #1 hit pushed Gayle and country radio into far more interesting territory.

“Cry” from the 1986 album Straight to the Heart

Given that she’s in the grand tradition of those Nashville Sound ladies, it’s no surprise that Gayle not only covered Lynn Anderson’s #3 hit effectively, she even took it two slots higher up the chart.

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A Conversation with Katie Cook

KCookKatie Cook has been a staple on Country Music Television since 2002, hosting various series and specials such as CMT Most Wanted Live, the MWL concert series, MWL Star, MWL Stacked and the popular weekly entertainment magazine show, CMT Insider.

But her experience with country music is actually three-fold: along with being embedded in the industry as a television host and interviewer, she’s also the daughter of Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Roger Cook, and she’s both a singer and songwriter herself – she released an album in 2000 as part of a band called Reno and continues to hone her songwriting skills. Cook took some time to share with Country Universe her opinions on the state of country music, the evolution of CMT and her recent White House visit, among other topics.

Seetharam: You’ve grown up around different cultures and lifestyles, having lived overseas in London. How has that shaped your perspective on country music?

Cook: That’s a good question. I honestly think when I was younger living in Nashville, I didn’t fully understand the appeal of country music until I moved back to England after high school. And then I moved back again in my mid 20s to work on music and I found myself missing Nashville so much, and when I really tried to become a songwriter myself, I realized how difficult it was to write a great, melodic, catchy, hooky, 3-minute song that tells a story, that can wrap an entire interesting story up and make a point in 3 minutes. It’s extraordinarily difficult and it’s something that country is known for, and I don’t feel it exists in such a powerful way in any other musical genre I’ve experienced anywhere else in the world.

I think I had to get away from Nashville and the country music scene to really look back and realize how strong the writers are here, and how incredible the players are. Because very often as a younger person in Nashville, I would listen to stuff from elsewhere. You know, I’d listen to more alternative music coming out of England and stuff, but when I really got into the music scene over there, I was like, “No one plays like they do in Nashville.” The pickers, you know, you don’t get that kind of quality anywhere in the world, I don’t think, so again I think being part of these different cultures helped me look back on Nashville and appreciate it that much more.

I have to ask about your father because he’s really a fantastic songwriter. Between him working with such high profile artists and you interviewing such high profile artists, what kind of conversations do you two have?

You know, we never talk about music. In fact, we’ve tried to write so many songs together, and I suppose we’ve completed a few, but you know, when he and I get together, it seems to turn to any other subject but music. I think because we’re so close and there’s so many other things going on in the family and with friends and stuff that the conversation always leads elsewhere.

We’re both really opinionated, and we don’t necessarily agree on everything musically either. He’ll say, “Oh, I heard this song on the radio the other day by such and such. I couldn’t stand it. I thought it was awful,” and I’m like, “Really? That’s my new favorite song.” So, we just have such different opinions that we’ve just kind of learned to keep our musical lives separate. But that’s not to say he’s not completely supportive, and he watches the shows I do, and I try to listen to all of his new songs. But for the most part, we’re just dad and daughter.

You mentioned you liked some alternative music when you were younger – it seems like your musical taste stretches across many genres, not just country music. What do you think of the current country music that’s infused with other sounds, like rock or pop?

Well, you know, there’s two sides of the argument. Some people say, “Well country’s got to move forward,” and other people would say, “Why is it changing? Keep it traditional.” I really see both sides of it. I probably prefer it when somebody has a real appreciation of traditional country and then mixes it in with things you don’t expect them to. And that can even be an artist like Beck – that doesn’t necessarily even have to be a country artist. I kind of probably lean more to liking that type of thing more than someone who’s just trying to sell me a rock song as a country song. I think that’s just…I don’t know. That’s not my favorite style. It’s almost like bad 80s rock being regurgitated and labeled country music. So you know, I don’t typically have a music collection that reflects that kind of modern country.

But I have absolutely no boundaries as an artist, as a writer, as a music lover. I mean, nothing frightens me at all about loving country music and mixing it with other things or driving it forward, in even bizarre ways. I’m like, “Bring it on!” I love music, period. I personally do really love country music because I think the playing is magnificent. I think the story telling is magnificent. I think there’s just something so romantic about unfortunately an almost lost way of life in America, and I think I’m very drawn to do that, but I wouldn’t necessarily call myself one of those people that would be guarding country against change. I don’t think I’m that person at all. In fact, I think the more people that can discover it, the better.

Absolutely. That’s my philosophy as well. What about all these female artists who are breaking barriers in country music? You’re a female musician yourself – what’s your take on them?

I think it’s fantastic. I really, really love that there are so many young females out there now that play all different kinds of instruments. You know, you’ve always had a few of those in the past, but when I was younger, you had like Sheila E. You had Joan Jett. You definitely had a few artists that played. And of course, you had Barbara Mandrell, who played everything. And she was just a hero because she literally played every instrument: drums, saxophone, keyboard, everything.

But I think more likely now, a young girl’s going to grow up and be like, “Yeah it’s just no big deal to pick up the guitar and learn how to play and write a song. Taylor Swift does it.” It’s just obviously such a more common sight now, and I just think that’s a wonderful thing. Because too often in the past a woman was just supposed to stand at the mic and look pretty. And there’s nothing wrong with that but women take to playing just as easily as men, and I think they’re going to be more encouraged now because of this young crop of lovely ladies that play and sing and write. It’s fantastic.

Let’s talk CMT a bit. Earlier in the decade, CMT played an important role in popularizing roots music, with artists like Alison Krauss and Nickel Creek. What drove that, and why do you think there’s been a shift away from that now?

Yeah. I think everything’s cyclical. Obviously at one point, that kind of sound would be all you would have heard, practically, on the Grand Ole Opry and WSM years ago. And country’s always going to shift in and out of different things. It’ll all come back around. Right now it is kind of more of a maybe rock-edged type of thing. Look at how big Gretchen Wilson was, and now, if anything, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood kind of slid into her position, and they’re more slick in their production. It’ll come back around. You know, it always does.

One thing that I thought was so interesting – the first time I interviewed Loretta Lynn was backstage at the Opry. And we weren’t on camera, and we were just kind of chatting, and I said, “I want to know what your take is on country and where it’s going.” And she said, “Oh you know, it’s always going to be going somewhere different and that’s fine. Back in the day, everyone gave Patsy Cline so much grief for going pop.” And it was so interesting to hear her say that because I would not have labeled her a pop artist, but when I think about it, at the time, what she was doing was very pop for most country ears. And yet now we would look back and consider her such a traditional artist, and anyone who sounds like Patsy Cline now would be considered hard-core, country traditional. It’s just interesting, isn’t it? To get that different perspective.

I think it’ll all come back around. If you get too much of any one thing, you’re going to crave the other. The grass is always greener. Things are a little less acoustic right now but it’ll all come back.

That’s an interesting perspective both you and Loretta have, and I think many people would agree. But it does seem like CMT as a channel has evolved over the years into something different. There’s a little more pop culture on there now, more television shows and movies, and a little less music. Do you think it’s moving in a positive direction?

Well, yes and no. I love some of the programming, but I’m just a music person, so I’m always going to wish that there was more music. It’s very interesting what people watch, what they tune into. Because we can run music programs and get very low ratings, and then run a rerun of Nanny 911 and get massive ratings.

So, although I personally would rather see music and videos all day, I can understand some of the programming decisions because like any business, we want to stay on the air, and we want to be able to afford to do these big award shows and great big music programs like CMT Giants, that honor Alan Jackson and Reba [McEntire] and all these wonderful artists. And you can’t pay for those unless you’ve got people tuning in, and for some strange reason, people will tune in sometimes in very large numbers to programming that’s not always music-related. So, it’s a catch-22. I can see the business side of it, but I personally tune in more to the actual music programs because that’s what I’m interested in.

What’s your favorite music video of the decade? Or do you have one?

Wow. Hmm, there are so many to choose from. I tend to live very much in the moment, so usually what’s on my mind is something that I saw very recently. I can tell you one of my favorite songs of the past decade was probably Little Big Town’s “Boondocks.”

I love that song.

And I thought it was a video that perfectly matched the song. I loved the extras that they had in it. I loved the way it was cut together, the editing. I loved the scenery. I loved how cool the band looked in it. That was a favorite. Gosh, what was that other…why am I going blank…it’s because I’ve just been staining my floor and I’m probably high from the chemicals. That first really big Jason Aldean song. “Hicktown!” Jason Aldean’s “Hicktown” – that’s the one I’m thinking of. It’s kind of similar to the “Boondocks,” Little Big Town kind of vibe. I just thought they were both really fresh videos and those were probably a couple of my favorites.

Is there a single quality that you look for in a good music video?

I think because I’ve been doing TV for awhile now I really look at editing, and I look at how things time out. You know, how a cut or a certain dance moves really times out with the beat of a song. “Pickin’ Wildflowers” by Keith Anderson – that was probably one of my favorite videos of the last decade. I know I’m giving you a few instead of picking just one. I just thought it was really sexy and the way the dancers again moved with the beat. I think you can be a great video director, but a really great music video director to me needs to have a great sense of the music. They need to be really passionate about the song and really feel the beat of it and edit accordingly. That’s just something I personally really like in a song.

When you’re interviewing these artists on the red carpet or on any of the shows you host, you’re essentially a musician interviewing a musician. Does that affect the way you interview? Do you ever wish you could give advice?

Well, I wouldn’t dream of giving advice, but I do think it affects the way I interview people. If anything, it probably – I don’t know, in some way it helps. But I think it probably hinders me more because I know sometimes a question that they might not really want to answer, or something that I know they’ve probably been asked a million times, and you know, I always try to come at it with an understanding of how they might answer something. But sometimes a question just needs to be asked because it makes good television and it’s what the viewers at home want to know. But I might inside be squirming a little bit.

I can’t really think of a perfect example right now. But even something as simple as, “When you did that duet with so and so, what was it like being in the studio with them?” I know there’s a really good chance they weren’t in the studio together. Because when you live in Nashville and you work around music yourself, you have a good understanding of how these things work, and you know that schedule-wise, it’s very rare that duets even happen in the same room with people. But you know, it’s important to ask that because it’s what people at home might be wondering. So, I don’t know, I think sometimes I do see an interview slightly differently.

And I understand Dolly Parton is your favorite artist?

Oh I love her. She’s just my favorite – not just musically, but just…

Your favorite person.

Yes, favorite person to interview, definitely.

Do you have a Dolly interview or quote that stands out for you?

You know, well, yeah, I’ve got a lot. It seems like every single time I’m with her I’m like, “OK, that tops the last one.” She always says something that tops the last one.

She’s just fabulous. And hilarious.

The funniest interview, honestly, was, the very first time I ever met her. I did like a whole half-hour, sit-down live show with her called [CMT] Most Wanted Live, and before we went out, we were comparing outfits. And of course she had on a to-die-for, fabulous outfit. Oh, it was pink and yellow and princess-like and just made her look amazing. And I was kind of joking that my outfit wasn’t very interesting compared to hers, and I must have made some comment like, you know, “Maybe I need to put more of a push-up bra on. I’m going to look like a child sitting next to you.” And she laughed and she said, “Your boobs look great!”

Well later on we were sitting there in front of the audience, the whole crowd, and I think I took like an audience question about, does she ever feel sorry for flat-chested women because she’s so well-endowed or whatever. And she laughed and she said, “No we’re all beautiful,” and then she said to the audience, “Look! Look at her boobs! Don’t you think they’re great?” – pointing to me. “Don’t you think she has lovely boobs?” And you know I just absolutely went bright red.

That’s priceless.

Oh I was fanning myself. I broke a sweat. I was laughing so hard. I could not believe I was on camera with Dolly Parton and she’s commenting on my boobs. It was just one of the funniest moments in my life. I’m not sure anything’s ever going to top Dolly Parton complimenting me on my chest (laughs).

Dolly is clearly a hold-nothing-back kind of person, but have you ever interviewed an artist who you think is misunderstood by the public? Maybe you got a different perspective when you met him or her in person?

Yeah. There are certain artists that I can tell are a little bit shy. I mean, obviously Alan Jackson, Billy Currington – some of the guys are really, painfully shy, and they get on camera and they’re just quiet and, you know, they seem very unsure of themselves. And then the minute the camera goes off, you can have the most normal conversation with them. And I always think, “Oh why can’t you do that when the little red light comes on?” So yeah, there’s definitely artists that seem very different off camera, and I wonder if their real personality comes across, but you know what? They’re doing well and they have fans, so evidently people do understand them. But yeah, some of those shy guys are the ones that really wear me out. I’m like, “Come on, loosen up!”

Shifting gears a little, you were recently at the White House for “An Evening of Country Music.” That must have been an amazing experience. What was it like?

Yeah! It was incredible. It was really exciting to see an entire day at the White House devoted to country music. Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss and Charley Pride were there – all great ambassadors for country music. To actually be in that ballroom and see the President get up and give a wonderful introduction to these country artists and talk about country, and how it’s such an important part of American culture was, you know – I really got the chills. It was a wonderful moment. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to go back to the White House, so I really was kind of absorbing it all.

We got to see the press room, which was tiny. And it’s so interesting because, you know, you see something on television and then you see it in person, how different it is. And we were at the back of the room, so when the show was over, we were actually the first to walk out, and they led us down a hallway and then just kind of left us on our own to find our way out. And I was like, “We’ve been let loose in the White House!”

That’s not something you can say every day!

It was incredible. We weren’t really let loose, of course. It was all under very controlled supervision, but it felt like we were running goofy and loose in the White House, and that was very exciting. But yeah, it was a very proud moment for country.

Did you get to interact at all with the President?

I didn’t get to hang out with Obama and Michelle and the girls, but I did get to see the First Dog. One of the White House workers, I guess — I don’t know what the right term would be– but somebody was walking the dog, and he’s beautiful. He’s big. For some reason I thought he was still a little puppy. But he’s quite large and he’s a good-looking dog. He’s got quite a yard to roam around in.

I hear you’re an expert tweeter – or rather, I see you’re an expert tweeter. What do you enjoy about twitter?

Well I’m actually fairly new to it. I like getting to know people. I like getting very kind of down-to-earth questions from people, and I think what I find refreshing is that I assume the only reason anybody would want to talk to me or hear from me is to get like country music gossip, and that actually doesn’t seem to be the case. A lot of people are like, “Where do you like to eat? How old’s your kid now? Do you like being a mother?”

More personal questions.

Yeah. It seems like people just are more curious about who you really are as a person, and I find that really refreshing. I go to work and put on the false eyelashes and do my hair all fancy and put on the nice outfits and everything, but when I come home, I’m just like anybody else. I’m sitting around in my Old Navy sweats and eating something I shouldn’t be eating and prying my eyeballs on the computer. And we’re all kind of the same when we just get into that mode, and I just like connecting with people on that really normal level. That’s a lot of fun for me.

Do you tweet at other artists? Or mostly fans?

You know, I don’t know who all these people are that read it. I just kind of get on there and send a message out and wonder where it goes. It goes into cyberspace and I don’t really know who’s reading it but people keep signing on, so I guess I’m doing something right.

When you’re not tweeting, what are some of the projects you’re working on that you’re excited about?

Well I have a children’s book called “Little Big Benny,” and that has recently been edited. I kind of have it out with a lot of kids right now. A lot of kids are reading it and giving me their feedback. I’m trying to really nail down exactly what age group it’s for. I’m really hoping by the end of the year to be shopping that around to publishers. So that’s taking up a lot of free time.

I’m a mother and that’s an ongoing project right there. She’s going to be three in a couple of weeks. And we decided to do our kitchen. We just ripped our whole kitchen from the 40s out, which was actually kind of cool looking but had absolutely no storage or work space. So we just completely gutted the middle of our house and decided to pretty much do it ourselves so that we could save money, and at this point I think I maybe would rather just be in debt (laughs).

That sounds extremely chaotic.

It’s been really chaotic. I’ve been making meals in a toaster oven for almost six months. But you know, there are some people in the world who don’t even have a toaster oven, so I’m not going to complain.

But there’s always other stuff going on. I’m always writing. I’m always working on creative stuff. I’m hoping to launch a T-shirt campaign –I’m not going to say anymore about it– but I’m hoping to have something really fun available in the next month. Very creative T-shirt thing. So yeah I’m kind of – I consider myself a creative person. I’m not happy unless I’m working on something. So I never really have a day off, but that’s just the way I like it.

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Linda Ronstadt

linda-ronstadtThe following is a guest contribution from Country Universe reader Erik North.

Sometimes you first find out about your favorite artists not necessarily from your peers but, strangely enough, from either your parents or your relatives. In the case of Linda Ronstadt, I found about her through my aunt, who had a copy of Linda’s 1978 album Living In The U.S.A. that I listened to when I was eight years old back in 1978. Since that time, I have been a very staunch fan of Linda’s, even on those occasions when her excursions into other musical arenas have driven others to distraction. As it is with Elvis or the Beatles, if you have to have Linda Ronstadt explained to you, you may never get it.


Linda is not one of those who confines herself to any single genre; while that does tend to cause people a lot of problems, it’s in Linda’s nature to explore as much as she can, regardless of what the critics, or even her own fans, think. Whether it’s big band pop, Mexican rancheras, Gilbert and Sullivan, traditional, contemporary, and urban folk music, the experimental classical music of composer Philip Glass, rock and roll, blues, R&B or jazz, she just can’t stop exploring musically.

And yet, at the same time, even though she has never put herself in the strict category of being a country singer, her classic country-rock albums and songs have influenced at least three different generations of female country and roots-rock singers. She has an appreciation for and a huge knowledge of the country genre, through and through, having grown up in Arizona on a steady diet of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, the Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana Hayride. The early rockabilly records of Elvis, and later Buddy Holly, were also important factors in her musical growth. And when there was a revival of American folk music as the 1960s dawned, she was into that, too, getting a full dosage of traditional Appalachian folk music and bluegrass. All of those things have factored into how Linda Ronstadt approaches country music. Her approach is just more Sunset Boulevard than Music Row, that’s all.

Although it often gets pointed out that many of Linda’s hits are remakes of long-standing rock, R&B, and country songs that had been hits for others, what often gets overlooked is the complete albums those hits came from, and the songs that surround those hits. Linda was perhaps the first female singer in any genre, country or otherwise, whose career was defined by albums as much as (if not more than) hit singles. And so this is an advocacy of Linda’s great talents within or on the perimeter of the country genre, not only as a hitmaker, but as an album artist par excellence as well.

#25

“The Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line”

Hand Sown, Home Grown, 1969

From Linda’s debut album, arguably the very first alternative-country album by a female artist, comes this feminist take on a song that had been a hit the previous year by Waylon Jennings (as “The Only Daddy…”). Linda’s snarling, almost-spat-out delivery, and a clever change in a lyric at the beginning, are almost a challenge against the stereotype of female country singers of that era. It was the first song she did on the Johnny Cash Show on June 21, 1969, that introduced her to country music audiences.

#24

“I Can’t Get Over You”

Adieu False Heart, 2006

Linda’s duet album with Ann Savoy, though rooted in Celtic and Cajun roots music, goes into very rustic traditional folk/country territory with this ballad written by Julie Miller, whose husband Buddy plays acoustic guitar on this track. Linda’s lead vocals transport one back to that rootsy sound, aided and abetted by Ann’s harmony vocals. It is one of the standout tracks on an album that got a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Music recording in 2006.

#23

“It’s So Easy”

Simple Dreams, 1977

At the height of her success, Linda also fueled a revival of rock and roll legend Buddy Holly’s catalog; and one of the ways she did this was to record this traditional rock and roll number from 1958 and spice it up with clavinets, a cowbell, and pounding drums. The inherent rockabilly twang of the song got a fair amount of country airplay, even though it only charted at No. 81 on the country singles chart. It nevertheless got to No. 5 on the pop singles chart. And at the same time, the album it came from was the No. 1 album on both the pop and country album charts.

#22

“Willing”

Heart Like A Wheel, 1974

Who says women don’t do truck driving songs? Thanks to this number written by her good friend, the late Lowell George (of Little Feat), Linda pulls it off in this dissolute tail of being “robbed by the rain/driven by the snow” and being given “weed, whites, and wine” while journeying “from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah.” This is a defining song in the California country-rock repetoire from a landmark album in the genre.

#21

“New Partner Waltz”

Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’, 2003


This all-star tribute to the country/gospel duo the Louvin Brothers won the 2003 Grammy for Country Album of the Year. Overlooked amidst the contributions made by heavyweights like Vince Gill, Terri Clark, Dierks Bentley, and her Trio pals Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, was this particular track in which Linda returns to her traditional country roots by duetting with the album’s producer and her good friend, bluegrass music master Carl Jackson. The two of them do such a good job, and it showed that Linda always had a lot of business revisiting the country arena.

#20

“That’ll Be The Day”

Hasten Down The Wind, 1976

Having previously done a superb country/folk version of Buddy Holly’s last hit “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” on Heart Like A Wheel, Linda returned to the Holly catalog two years later with this modern rockabilly remake of his and the Cricket’s No. 1 hit from 1957. The use of echo on Linda’s vocals, and the twin guitar breaks provided by her guitarists Waddy Wachtell and Dan Dugmore, propelled this song to No. 11 on the pop singles chart, and No. 27 on the country chart in October 1976, and led to Linda earning her second Grammy award, this one for Best Pop Female Vocal.

#19

“Crazy Arms”

Linda Ronstadt, 1972

Linda’s penchant for understanding the traditions of honky-tonk heartbreak songs, while realizing the timelessness of them, is borne out in this recording of a song that had previously been a hit for, among others, Ray Price in 1956, and has since been more recently covered by Patty Loveless, one of Linda’s many fans and peers. Coming from her self-titled album, which was her first true country breakthrough (it reached No. 35 on the country album chart early in 1972), this song also features contributions from a couple of guys named Glenn Frey and Don Henley. Need I tell anyone what became of them?

#18

“Break My Mind”

Hand Sown, Home Grown, 1969

Another country standard, this one written by John D. Loudermilk (he of “Tobacco Road” and “Indian Reservation” fame, among others), this one was a favorite among the elite of the Los Angeles country-rock movement of the late 1960s; and Linda had the foresight to give it a honky-tonk rock throwdown rendition, complete with an unusually growling lead vocal from her, and a stinging guitar break from the late, great West Coast C&W guitar master Clarence White.

#17

“Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me”

Simple Dreams, 1977

Linda often took a lot of hard knocks from critics for being “self pitying,” so in response, she shocked them by doing this very atypical Warren Zevon-penned hard country-rocker (complete with cowbell and syn-drums). This song revealed a humorous side of Linda, though it’s a brand of humor that is as black as coal. If its chart placement at the time seemed a little low (No. 31 pop, No. 56 C&W), it still remains one of Linda’s all-time best performances, given that it is essentially an ode to gang rape—a point that Terri Clark may have missed when she did this song nineteen years after Linda.

#16

“Long, Long Time”

Silk Purse, 1970

One overlooked fact about this incredibly heartbreaking ballad is that Linda recorded it, and the album it came from, largely with a group of Nashville session musicians known as Area Code 615. The fact gets overlooked because the contributions made by fiddle player Buddy Spicher and pedal steel master Weldon Myrick to the song make it seem more orchestral than pure country. This song was also the only time Linda strongly advocated for its release as a single, over the objections of her then record label Capitol, and it paid off. Not only did it go to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1970 (getting onto country radio later in the decade, when Linda’s crossover popularity was too great to ignore), but it also got Linda her first Grammy nomination, for Best Contemporary Female Vocal.

#15

“Colorado”

Don’t Cry Now, 1973

Much like her version of the Eagles’ “Desperado” on this same album (her first for Elektra/Asylum), this country-rock ballad, written by Rick Roberts of the Flying Burrito Brothers (he replaced Gram Parsons) and later of Firefall, is a tale of homesickness and a desire to come back to the homestead after many long years of being alone. It is a fitting song for Linda, for though she grew up in Arizona and not Colorado, its sentiment and its setting in the Intermountain West are borne out in Linda’s passionate, heartfelt delivery, boosted by a lush string section and surrealistic pedal steel guitar work from the late, great Sneaky Pete Kleinow.

#14

“He Was Mine”

Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, 1999

Linda and her good friend Emmylou Harris are a Mutual Admiration Society of the highest order, and their 1999 collaboration, recorded in Linda’s hometown, was a substantial hit with country and roots-rock fans (No. 73 pop, No. 6 C&W, October 1999). One of the songs on this album that stands out is this track, written by Emmy’s ex, Paul Kennerley, and given a typically passionate delivery by Linda, boosted by Emmy’s harmony vocal and Greg Leisz’s pedal steel solo. This was meant to be heard by a larger core of listeners, but country radio sadly stayed away from it.

#13

“When Will I Be Loved?”

Heart Like A Wheel, 1974

The hard-belting style Linda displays whenever she gets her teeth into a traditional rock and roll number is very much in evidence in this Everly Brothers remake, essentially the Sunset Strip meeting the rockabilly sound of Sun Records, with its twanging guitar break from Linda’s long-time favorite session player Andrew Gold. All that kept it from going to No. 1 on the pop chart was the Captain and Tenille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”; it became Linda’s one solo No. 1 country hit in June 1975.

#12

“Walk On”

Feels Like Home, 1995

Matraca Berg considered it an extreme honor to have one of her songs recorded by one of the female legends who inspired her the most, even asking that those who were listening with her keep silent as she took it in. This hoedown, fueled by Linda’s Southwestern drawl and Allison Krauss’ fiddle, sadly got what amounted to The Shaft from country radio in April 1995, as it charted only at No. 61 on the country singles chart. Nevertheless, it is one of Linda’s strongest, most countrified vocal performances in her stellar career.

#11

“Telling Me Lies”

Trio, 1987

Linda’s 1987 collaboration with good pals Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton was among the best-selling country albums of the pre-Garth, post-Urban Cowboy era; and one of the reasons was this Linda Thompson/Betsy Cook-penned ballad about betraying and deceitful men—perfect for a world-class vocalist like Linda, who sings lead here. “Telling Me Lies” peaked at No. 3 on the country chart on July 15, 1987, when Linda turned 41; and Trio peaked at No. 1 C&W, No. 6 pop, winning a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Duo/Group performance for 1987.

#10

“I Fall To Pieces”

Linda Ronstadt, 1972

It may be considered sacrilege for a non-country singer to tackle a song made immortal by Patsy Cline back in 1961, but Linda takes a cue from Patsy’s relaxed delivery, giving this standard it a modest shuffle sound, rent with pedal steel and fiddle flourishes, and the ambience of a live audience (this was recorded at the legendary Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles in August 1971). Once again, future Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey are there, assisting Linda with good grace.

#9

“I Never Will Marry”

Simple Dreams, 1977

A traditional Appalachian folk ballad popularized first by the Carter Family is given a restrained treatment by Linda, complete with her good friend Dolly Parton’s authentic Appalachian harmony vocals, which makes it appropriate that it should have peaked at No. 9 on the country singles chart in June 1978. What gets overlooked, though, is that Linda plays acoustic guitar on this track as well, helped out by the traditional Dobro shadings of the Seldom Scene’s Mike Auldridge (as an addendum, this song’s A-side, a hard-rocking version of the Stones’ “Tumbling Dice,” was a No. 37 pop hit).

#8

“A River For Him”

Winter Light, 1993

Winter Light, released in late 1993, was one of Linda’s most criminally underrated albums (only getting to No. 92 on the pop album chart); and one of the highlights of it was this tear-inducing, acoustic guitar-and-synthesizer-dominated ballad written by her good pal Emmylou Harris. Linda’s low-key delivery of Emmy’s lyrics is really affecting without being manipulative, and she gets all of the heartbreaking nuances, as she had done twenty-three years before with “Long, Long Time.”

#7

“Crazy”

Hasten Down The Wind, 1976

Once again, Linda isn’t afraid to tackle a classic, as she does here with this Willie Nelson-penned ballad immortalized by Patsy Cline in 1961. Linda’s approach is more bluesy than Patsy’s is, but her delivery, besides paying homage to a legend, also helped coin the phrase “torch rock.” The song, which hit No. 6 on the country chart in February 1977, also made the album it came from a No. 4 hit on the pop album chart, and No. 1 country.

#6

“I Will Always Love You”

Prisoner In Disguise, 1975

There is such a thing as subtlety, something that Linda proved when she became the first artist to cover this Dolly Parton mega-classic, just fourteen months after Dolly’s original. If you think you’ve heard all you need to hear of this song through Whitney Houston’s arguably way-over-the-top 1992 version for the movie The Bodyguard, do yourself a favor and take a listen to Linda’s version, powered by Andrew Gold’s subtle piano, the R&B-tinged backup singers, Dan Dugmore’s pedal steel flourishes, and, above all else, Linda’s dramatic, heartfelt soprano voice. This song helped power the album to No. 4 on the pop album chart, and No. 2 on the country album chart in late 1975.

#5

“Heartbreak Kind”

We Ran, 1998

There is just no way of getting around it: We Ran, released in June 1998, is one of Linda’s greatest latter-day albums and arguably also the single most criminally underappreciated album of her career (it only got as high as #168). And one of the highlights of this album is this track, penned by Paul Kennerley and country maverick Marty Stuart, a return to Linda’s early ’70s C&W-rock roots. It is essentially a duet of sorts, as former Eagle and longtime Ronstadt musician favorite Bernie Leadon harmonizes in a very slithery way with her and also does the twangy Telecaster guitar licks. This one track should have gotten country airplay.

#4

“Silver Threads And Golden Needles”

Don’t Cry Now, 1973

How does this grab you—a remake of a remake. Linda had originally recorded this song, first a hit for Wanda Jackson in 1956, on Hand Sown, Home Grown in 1969, but she was unhappy with the arrangement of the song on that album. Four years later, she redid this country standard as a country-rock hoedown, fueled by the fiddle work of Cajun musician Gib Guilbeau and some piercing steel guitar work from Ed Black. With a No. 20 placement on the country singles chart in May 1974 (the album it came from hit No. 5 on the country album chart, and No. 45 pop), “Silver Threads” began Linda’s crossover dominance, by which she helped reconnect rock and roll with its traditional country roots.

#3

“Blue Bayou”

Simple Dreams, 1977

What had originally been a very modest hit for its writer, the late and legendary Roy Orbison, in 1963 turned into one of Linda’s signature hits, also helping to re-establish Orbison’s place in the rock pantheon. With its bass line, marimba, and lush electric piano backing, in Linda’s hands, “Blue Bayou” is influenced to no small degree by Linda’s Mexican roots (she re-recorded this song again shortly after this had hit, this time in Spanish). Propelled near the climax by Dan Dugmore’s soaring steel solo, “Blue Bayou” got to No. 2 on the country chart in November 1977, and on Christmas Day was at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. With “It’s So Easy” also at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time, Linda had set two records. She became the first female artist to have two top five hits at the same time, and the first act of any kind to pull off such a feat since the Beatles dominated the Top Five in April 1964.

#2

“I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)”

Heart Like A Wheel, 1974

Linda always mentioned Hank Williams as a pivotal musical influence; and on her version of one of Hank’s signature hits, she puts her money where her big voice is. Aided and abetted on harmony vocals by her good pal Emmylou Harris, Linda pulled off a remarkable feat. “I Can’t Help It,” which hit No. 2 on the country singles chart in March 1975, was the B-side of “You’re No Good,” Linda’s No.1 pop hit of one month earlier. The following year, she won the first of (so far) eleven Grammy awards, for Best Female Country Vocal, beating out, among others, Emmylou and her other Trio pal Dolly Parton.

#1

“Love Is A Rose”

Prisoner In Disguise, 1975

One can trace the Dixie Chicks’ approach back to this bluegrass-fueled version of a Neil Young composition that reveals Linda’s approach to country—more Laurel Canyon than the Opry, but still rooted in country, thanks to the contributions of Herb Pederson on banjo, and David Lindley on fiddle. “Love Is A Rose” hit #5 on the country chart, while the A-side, a pounding version of the Motown classic “Heat Wave,” simultaneously hit No. 5 on the pop singles chart in November 1975.

If you are interested in writing a guest post for Country Universe, send an e-mail to kevin@countryuniverse.net

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Review: Doug Stone, “Don’t Tell Mama”

doug-stone-brownThere are some singers you generally shou

ldn’t touch if you don’t want to your rendition to be remembered for second-bestness. You shouldn’t touch Patsy, you shouldn’t touch Connie, you shouldn’t touch Merle, you shouldn’t touch Reba, you shouldn’t touch Wynonna, you shouldn’t touch Trisha, you shouldn’t touch either George. And you shouldn’t touch Gary Allan.

Okay, to his credit, Stone actually has some nice moments in this attempt at the honky-tonk weeper that most notably appeared on Allan’s Smoke Rings in the Dark. He’s always had one of the prettier voices in the business, and the first verse of his reading suggests he might use that quality to offer a different interpretive take on the song than Allan’s appropriately gritty vocal did. Perhaps, you think, Stone will focus on the shocked vulnerability of the drunk driver as he realizes he is near death and utters his empathic last words. Or perhaps he’ll make the whole situation sound more angelic and dreamlike, like it’s such an intensely emotional moment that it doesn’t even seem to be of this world.

But when that crucial phrase comes in the chorus, all the tension just seems to dissipate. Stone’s technical performance is hard to fault, even as he litters it with lots of little slurs that make him sound like he’s practicing to become the male McEntire. But interpretively, forget it. He sings sweetly, like he recognizes this is a sad song, but Allan sang like he actually watched it happen. “Don’t Tell Mama” is the kind of piece that requires a master interpreter to unlock its full sentimental value, and for that, you gotta have Gary.

Written by Buddy Brock, Jerry Laseter & Kim Williams

Grade: B-

Listen: Don’t Tell Mama

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Discussion: Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers

In the most recent edition of Rolling Stone, an esteemed panel of journalists, executives and artists were assembled to name the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. The list is based on a singer’s vocal abilities, along with his or her historic importance. The following country artists were included:

#21: Johnny Cash
#27: Hank Williams
#43: George Jones
#45: Patsy Cline
#77: Dolly Parton
#79: Merle Haggard
#88: Willie Nelson

Who else deserved to make the roll call? And are six entries enough to represent country music? Comment away!

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Patsy Cline, “I Fall to Pieces”

I Fall to Pieces
Patsy Cline
1961

Written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard

“I Fall to Pieces” is a part of country music’s culture due to its heartbreaking content and the lush musical setting that stands as Cline’s signature sound. The tale of a woman’s loss of hope after the end of a love affair connected with a mass audience upon its release in 1961 and continues to be a landmark of the genre.

The song was written by legendary songwriters Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard, who met in California in the early 1960s and soon became writing partners. One night, Cochran came up with a title, and he met up with Howard at his house the next day, where they finished writing the song. The demo version was recorded by Howard’s wife and country singer, Jan Howard. Harlan Howard pitched the song to Decca producer, Owen Bradley, who then attempted to pitch the song across Nashville. “I Fall to Pieces” was turned down numerous times, first by Brenda Lee, who found the song “too country” for her pop style. Bradley then asked Roy Drusky to record it, but he turned it down, believing it to be a woman’s song. Patsy Cline overheard Drusky’s argument with Bradley about the song and asked if she could record it instead.

When Cline began recording the song in November 1960, she felt that a pop-leaning number would not suit her voice or her music, but after several arguments with Bradley, she relented and sang “I Fall to Pieces” in the manner he intended. By August 1961, the sophisticated ballad had peaked at No. 1 on the country chart (her first No. 1) and reached No. 12 on the pop chart. It would be one of several crossover hits for Cline, whose inimitable voice continues to inspire legions of fans.

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Filed under Classic Country Singles