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Discussion: Non-Hit Singles of the Decade

November 4, 2009 Dan Milliken 59

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.

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CMA Noms ’09

September 9, 2009 Dan Milliken 78

cma_award

It’s that time of year again! For each category, we’ll look at who’s broken in since last year, who’s been booted out, plus some initial thoughts. As always, we invite you to share your own opinions in the comments. Without further ado:

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Recommend A Religious Album

August 12, 2009 Leeann Ward 32

jesus-thumps-up1Many people may mistake my cynicism regarding, what I perceive as, heavy handed God centric songs in country music as not having appreciation for religious songs as a rule. This, in fact, is not accurate. While I cringe at certain religiously themed songs that feel too forced or contrived, I will admit here that I am easily taken in by religious songs. In fact, Randy Travis’ Worship And Faith is one of my favorite albums from his expansive discography. Likewise, I can’t get enough of Iris Dement’s Lifeline. While I, of course, always recommend those albums to all who haven’t heard it yet, there is somebody else that I urge you to check out if you don’t mind some “ old time religion in your heart.”

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Album Sales Update: July 2009

July 11, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 10

It’s time for an album sales update, our first since May 23. Brad Paisley is off to a strong start with American Saturday Night, selling 130k in its first week. That’s about 70k less than his previous two studio albums – Time Well Wasted and 5th Gear – opened with, but not a terrible drop-off, considering the state of the music market.

Meanwhile, the new studio albums by Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban are slowing down considerably, now being outpaced on a weekly basis by 2008 releases by Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum.

Among younger acts with a new album in 2009, the most impressive sales are coming from Jason Aldean, while 2008 releases from Kellie Pickler, Billy Currington, and Randy Houser are showing new signs of life.

Biggest disappointments? It’s hard not to look in the direction of Martina McBride, who has barely cleared the 100k mark on her new studio set. Lee Ann Womack’s 2008 set just made it over that mark, too. Then again, one only needs to have sold 455 copies to make the chart this week, with the anchor position going to Wynonna with that total. Her covers album Sing – Chapter 1 has sold 41k to date.

Here are the latest totals for albums released over the past three years that are still charting:

2009

  • Rascal Flatts, Unstoppable – 842,000
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity – 452,000
  • Jason Aldean, Wide Open – 384,000
  • Kenny Chesney, Greatest Hits II – 281,000
  • Dierks Bentley, Feel That Fire – 219,000
  • Martina McBride, Shine – 104,000
  • John Rich, Son of a Preacher Man – 103,000
  • Eric Church, Carolina – 94,000
  • Rodney Atkins, It’s America – 88,000
  • Jake Owen, Easy Does It – 81,000
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Traditional Country is a Link in a Long Chain

June 30, 2009 Guest Contributor 23

The following is a guest contribution from Scott O’Brien.

“But someone killed tradition. And for that someone should hang.” –Larry Cordle & Larry Shell, “Murder on Music Row”

Dan Milliken’s recent post got me thinking: The country music I grew up with is nothing like the music on country radio today. If I turned on today’s country radio in 1988, I might not realize it was a country station and keep right on flipping. Back then, Randy Travis and Keith Whitley’s traditional twang ruled the airwaves. Today, they are dominated by the giggly teeny-bopper ditties of Taylor Swift and the boy band sounds of Rascal Flatts. Did they get away with murder on music row? Well, let’s start by briefly uncovering country’s traditional roots.

What is traditional country music? Is it simply anything from the past? That seems too broad; Shania Twain wasn’t traditional. Anything before 1990? Maybe, but that is still a rather wide net. To me, traditional country music is honky-tonk music. It heavily employs steel guitars, fiddles, and forlorn vocals. It moves at a slow pace. There are no drums or electric guitars. The songs typically deal with heavy topics such as heartbreak, cheating, or drinking, with a ballad here and there. In most cases, the goal is to induce pain. Not bad pain, but the therapeutic empathy that tugs your heart and helps you through your personal struggles. The patron saint of traditional country is Hank Williams. Hank’s first disciple is George Jones. Jones’ first disciple is Alan Jackson. The traditional template is supposed to help us decipher what is country and what is not. After all, what makes country music country if not fiddles and cheatin’ songs?

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters: Matraca Berg

June 21, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 33

For a good stretch in the nineties, women were the dominant creative force in country music. Songwriter Matraca Berg was an indispensable component of that dominance, penning many of the biggest hits and best-loved tracks by signature acts like Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, and Martina McBride.

It’s no surprise that this list of Favorite Songs written by Matraca Berg is almost completely composed of female artists. So distinguished is Berg’s catalog that worthy cuts by the Dixie Chicks, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Gretchen Wilson just missed the list. Even Berg herself is only present with one performance, despite releasing several outstanding recordings in her own right.

But the beauty of these lists is that these are my own favorite songs, so I don’t have to force anything on to the list just to make it more well-rounded. Add your own favorites in the comments, and read Matraca’s 100 Greatest Women profile to learn more about this stunning songwriter.

#25
“Wild Angels” – Martina McBride
Wild Angels, 1995

This was meant to be the title cut of an album that Berg never released. Instead, the cut went to Martina McBride. It was McBride’s first #1 single, and listening to it today, it sounds remarkably rough around the edges for an artist who’d eventually become an AC radio staple.

#24
“Fool, I’m a Woman” – Sara Evans
No Place That Far, 1998

Berg’s writing can be effortlessly snarky, as evidenced by this breezy Sara Evans track that was a minor hit in 1999. “Did I say that I’d never leave you behind?” she queries. “Well, just keep treating me unkind. ‘Cause fool, I’m a woman, and I’m bound to change my mind.”

#23
“When a Love Song Sings the Blues” – Trisha Yearwood
Real Live Woman, 2000

Trisha Yearwood is Berg’s finest vessel, the only voice elegant enough to equal Berg’s words. This melancholy closer to Yearwood’s excellent Real Live Woman set finds the protagonist seeking solace in a dusty old piano, playing “Faded Love” and “Born to Lose” so she doesn’t have to cry alone.

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Album Sales Update

May 23, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 20

2009

* Rascal Flatts, Unstoppable – 669,000
* Keith Urban, Defying Gravity – 349,000
* Jason Aldean, Wide Open – 241,000
* Dierks Bentley, Feel That Fire – 189,000
* Martina McBride, Shine – 89,000
* John Rich, Son of a Preacher Man – 89,000
* Rodney Atkins, It’s America – 72,000
* Jake Owen, Easy Does It – 70,000
* Eric Church, Carolina – 66,000
* Randy Travis, I Told You So: Ultimate Hits – 59,000
* Randy Rogers Band, Randy Rogers Band – 57,000
* Pat Green, What I’m For – 54,000
* Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel, Willie & The Wheel – 50,000
* Billy Ray Cyrus, Back to Tennessee – 29,000
* Jason Michael Carroll, Growing Up is Getting Old – 26,000
* Dean Brody, Dean Brody – 5,000

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dan Seals

April 3, 2009 Guest Contributor 16

The following is a guest contribution by Country Universe reader Tad Baierlein.

When Dan Seals died of lymphoma last Wednesday, a great deal of the press coverage centered on his days as “England Dan” in the soft rock duo England Dan and John Ford Coley. Seals’ country career, though more successful for a longer period of time, seemed to be treated as an afterthought.

Many of the obituaries mentioned Seals’ biggest country hit, “Bop”; hardly an accurate representation of his years spent in country. Now, it’s perfectly justifiable to glance at a person’s career highlights for a newspaper obituary, but I think that a great deal more attention should’ve been paid to Seals’ death within the country music community. I would like to contribute this little appreciation to one of my favorite country artists.

“The Banker”
Rebel Heart, 1983

For two years following the split of England Dan and John Ford Coley, nothing seemed to be going right for Seals. First off, he recorded two solo soft rock albums just as that sound was going out of favor. Aside from one single ekeing its way into the Adult Contemporary charts, the albums were considered huge failures. Secondly, Seals had accrued a massive amount of debt to the IRS; almost everything he owned was repossessed to pay it. Seals’ move to Nashville had been planned for quite a while but in 1982 it seemed almost a necessity.

This song that he wrote for Rebel Heart would seem to place his frustrations and hope in the story of a man trying to save his land from an evil, number-crunching banker. Sometimes when it seems like all hope is lost all you can do is work to get yourself out of trouble. Seals could only hope that the oil-rich resolution of “The Banker” came true in his life as well; he wouldn’t have to worry.

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Randy Travis Starter Kit

March 28, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 6

As his recent stint as an American Idol mentor proves, Randy Travis is one of the most widely recognized and respected traditional country artists of the past three decades. After selling millions of albums in the eighties, Travis remained a force on the country charts throughout the nineties. This decade, he has won several Grammy awards for his Christian albums, and even returned to the top of the country charts with “Three Wooden Crosses”, a selection from one of those albums.

A Starter Kit for an artist like Randy Travis can only skim the surface. Those looking to dig deeper should check out Leeann’s Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Randy Travis feature, along with his recent collaboration with Carrie Underwood on “I Told You So”, which resulted in his first-ever top ten pop hit, a full thirty years after he made his first appearance on the country charts with “She’s My Woman” under his real name, Randy Traywick.

“On the Other Hand” from the 1986 album Storms of Life

His first hit single was an instant classic about the consequences of infidelity.

“Diggin’ Up Bones” from the 1986 album Storms of Life

He’ll forever have coolness for scoring a #1 hit with “exhuming” in the chorus.

“Forever and Ever, Amen” from the 1987 album Always & Forever

This instant wedding classic powered his second album to quintuple platinum status.

“I Told You So” from the 1987 album Always & Forever

The original version is mandatory listening for fans of Carrie Underwood and contemporary country music.

“Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart” from the 1989 album No Holdin’ Back

The production was startlingly innovative for the time, and Travis deserves kudos for convincing listeners that it’s the woman who was cheated on who is being unreasonable.

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Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis, “I Told You So”

March 24, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 14

What a fascinating collaboration. Both Randy Travis and Carrie Underwood have recorded distinctly different but equally compelling versions of “I Told You So.”

Travis was all tortured uncertainty in his version, like a nervous inner monologue made public. It was only on the chorus that he truly sang, as the verses were practically spoken.

Underwood chose to sand down those rough edges in her spin on the classic, expanding the hook into a power note and crafting a smooth melody out of the jagged verses.

Each original recording played to its artist’s strengths, but how can such disparate performances come together to make one cohesive record?

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