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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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2009 Americana Music Association Awards Nominees Announced

The nominations for the 8th Annual Americana Music Association Awards have  been announced:

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Real Animal, by ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO
Written in Chalk, by BUDDY & JULIE MILLER
Jason Isbell & The 40 Unit, by JASON ISBELL & THE 40 UNIT
Midnight At The Movies, by JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE

ARTIST OF THE YEAR
ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO
BUDDY MILLER
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE
RAUL MALO

INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR
BUDDY MILLER
GURF MORLIX
JERRY DOUGLAS
SAM BUSH

NEW & EMERGING ARTIST
BAND OF HEATHENS
BELLEVILLE OUTFIT
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE
SARAH BORGES

SONG OF THE YEAR
“Chalk,” written by JULIE MILLER, performed by BUDDY MILLER & PATTY GRIFFIN
“Country Love” by the GOURDS
“Homeland Refugee,” by JOE ELY, JIMMIE DALE GILMORE, and BUTCH HANCOCK, performed by the FLATLANDERS
“Rattlin’ Bones” by KASEY CHAMBERS & SHANE NICHOLSON, performed by KASEY CHAMBERS & SHANE NICHOLSON
“Sex And Gasoline,” by RODNEY CROWELL, performed by RODNEY CROWELL

DUO GROUP OF THE YEAR
BUDDY & JULIE MILLER
FLATLANDERS
KASEY CHAMBERS & SHANE NICHOLSON
RECKLESS KELLY

The awards will be given out at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on September 17. Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale will serve as hosts.

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Independent Suggestions

emusicIn one of last summer’s discussion threads, Matt B., from Roughstock, mentioned a great place to buy music. As a compulsive music buyer, I was easily compelled to check it out.

For those who aren’t aware of it, E-music has a wide variety of independent digital music, including plenty of our favorite kind, country music. However, as an independent digital retailer, they don’t necessarily have the big, recognizable names. For me, this is refreshing because it forces me to do some serious searching on their site in order to purchase music from artists that I might otherwise inadvertently overlook.

I’ve found a ton of great music so far, including albums from Darrell Scott, Jason Boland, Reckless Kelly, The Be Good Tanyas, Chris Knight, etc. My favorite find, however, was the two bonus tracks on Kathy Mattea’s Coal.

My question to you tonight is in every way self-serving, but I’d like to have your help so that I can continue to expand my independent music collection. So, I come to you, our wise readers, with this question:

What lesser-known artists would you suggest who can be found on E-music or other independent outlets?

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Leeann Ward’s Top Ten Albums of 2008

steel-drivers#10

The SteelDrivers, The SteelDrivers

Chris Stapleton’s voice just blows me away. As Lee Ann Womack has recently observed, he sings like a real man. He takes Travis Tritt’s soulfulness to a whole new level. With incredible harmonies and terrific songs not limited to “Blue Side of the Mountain” and “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey”, this is a strong project that certainly stood out in 2008.

#9

Jason Boland & The Stragglers, Comal County Blue

I love Boland’s folk-tinged country voice, which sings these memorable fiddle laden melodies to great affect. While the lyrics can be abstract at times, they still manage to feel meaningful. I’ve come to realize that what ultimately appeals to me about this album is the fact that it reminds me of good nineties country music, which is the era that drew me to this genre in the first place.

#8

Darrell Scott, Modern Hymns

My admiration for Darrell Scott is unending. I, of course, love his voice, but I especially love his thoughtful songwriting. “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” just floors me every time I hear it. In this project, however, he chose to cover some of his favorite songs that he classifies as modern hymns. Unsurprisingly, these choices turn out to be as interesting as his own compositions, which simply confirms that his talent is inspired by tasteful writing equal to his own.

#7

Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song

Admittedly, nothing about this album is warm or pretty. Johnson’s vocals are harsh and the songs are mostly darker than we’re accustomed to hearing in country music these days. Along with the outlaw tinged productions, these factors are the fundamental elements of this great album.

peter-cooper-mission-door#6

Peter Cooper, Mission Door

While the melodies on his first album, Mission Door, are enough to draw you in, it is Peter Cooper’s provocative and insightful lyrics which catch you by surprise on this folk infused, steel guitar laden album. Cooper either wrote or co-wrote ten out of the twelve tracks that explores such weighty topics as racism and poverty. He enlists the help of Nanci Griffith and Todd Snider, his two favorite singers, on the album’s stand out title track, along with recording his own mellower version of “Thin Wild Mercury”, which he co-wrote with Todd Snider for Snider’s The Devil You Know album.

The best and most powerful song on the album, however, is “715 (For Hank Aaron), a song that discusses the duality of Aaron being a revered baseball player and an oppressed black man. This grossly ignored album that sounds like a mix of Darrell Scott and Todd Snider, with lots of steel guitar thrown in for good measure, is one of the year’s most intriguing albums.

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Leeann Ward’s Top Singles of 2008

Here are my favorite singles of 2008. As Dan has done, I lifted the entries that I had already written from our collective list for this article.

#20: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, “Please Read The Letter”
The album from which this song comes seems like an unlikely collaboration. It, however, somehow works as one of the best albums of the decade and any song from it would make my top twenty singles list this year.

hank-iii#19: Hank Williams III, “Six Pack of Beer”

Hank Williams III is known for relishing a rebel persona and this attitude is often reflected in his music. More often than not, his songs contain observations wrapped in harsh lyrics that cause me to wince, but his production and voice, which are both more comparable to Hank Sr. than Hank III’s father, still draws me to his music, nonetheless. This song, however, is simply pure ear candy. There’s nothing in it that makes me feel like I have to turn it down in mixed company as is the case with so many other Hank III songs. It’s nice sometimes.

#18: Jason Michael Carroll, “I Can Sleep When I’m Dead”

I’m not much of a Jason Michael Carroll fan, but there’s just something about this song that is infectious. The rapid and frenzied production matches its premise, “I can sleep when I’m dead.”

#17: Gary Allan, “Learning How To Bend”

As Dan has pointed out, these aren’t words that most men would say without feeling extremely awkward. The intriguing thing about Gary Allan is that he can get away with it without anyone unfairly questioning his masculinity. He sings this song with fine vocal execution and hits those falsetto notes with incredible ease.

#16: Carrie Underwood, “Just A Dream”

While I could live with a more understated melody that sounded less like it was written by Diane Warren, I can’t help recognize that Underwood’s performance is just right for this intense song. I can only imagine that it aptly captures both the hazy confusion and blunt pain that accompanies the sudden loss of a significant other. I know it’s how I would feel.

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Dan Milliken’s Top 10 Albums of 2008

squintydan-christmas_avatarHappy holidays, everybody! I’m back with my personal top ten albums of the year, a list that took a stupid-long time to put together but is very nice to have done. All I would say as a note is that I like all of these albums very much and don’t think the rankings should be scrutinized to death, because my tastes certainly change frequently enough.

Okay, you get it. Let’s do this. Va-VOOM!

dailey-vincent-c#10

Dailey and Vincent, Dailey and Vincent

I typically lean progressive in my bluegrass tastes, but there’s simply no arguing with this dynamic twosome, whose debut finds them ripping into a straight-ahead traditional style with such crazy-polished singing, playing and writing that they practically become the new standard. Excellent.

kathy-mattea-coal#9

Kathy Mattea, Coal

Confession: I wasn’t quite sure how to take this one. Although I like Kathy Mattea’s voice and generally love concept albums, I had trouble getting into this set of mining-related songs as a whole, which may be because I personally have trouble digesting so many bare-bones story songs in one sitting, or may be because the album itself becomes a bit monotonous after a while. It’s kind of hard to say, and I finally decided that it’s just the sort of thing I personally have to be in the right mood for. Objectively speaking, though, I think what Mattea and producer Marty Stuart have achieved here is easily one of the most fully realized artistic expressions of 2008, and it’s pretty hard to gripe about on a song-by-song or sonic basis. So #9 feels about right for me.

reckless-kelly#8

Reckless Kelly, Bulletproof

Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen and Cody Canada take note: Reckless Kelly’s latest set showcases just how tersely effective the whole “country-nodding Texas rock” shtick can be when you pay the same attention to developing compelling lyrical ideas that you do to ‘tude (and I say that with love, because I enjoy work from all of the acts mentioned above). Bonus points for the year’s best album cover.

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Dan Milliken’s Top 20 Singles of 2008

Let’s do this, y’all. You’ll recognize some of these write-ups from our collective list, but others weren’t posted there or were cut down for that list. This is my “Director’s Cut” version, you might say – or maybe the “UNRATED!!” version, depending on your taste in films.

In any case, here are my favorite 20 things designated as country music singles in 2008 (that I picked up on, anyhoo):

elizabeth-cook-balls#20

Elizabeth Cook, “Sunday Morning”

Cook mines an abstract Velvet Underground song and halfway convinces you it was always meant to be a quiet country reflection. The production and vocal are a bit too buoyant to fully convey the song’s weariness, but they do flesh out its gentle message of hope, and that’s not too bad, either.

hank-iii-rebel-proud#19

Hank Williams III, “Six Pack of Beer”

Silly and shallow it may be, but III’s turbo-campy lament of hard times + booze was also this year’s sweetest piece of hillbilly ear candy. I think it sounds like the fastest, most frivolous thing Johnny Cash never recorded, but maybe that’s just me.

james-otto-sunset#18

James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”

What’s this? A contemporary country single with a traditional structure that skips on big choruses? A distinctive voice at the helm? Oh? It was the most played song of the year? Huh. So country music fans want to hear unique-sounding singers singing some semblance of actual country music on the radio? How perplexing.

In all seriousness, this smash really is a fine example of feel-good radio fluff that still manages to sound human. It’s impossible to evaluate honestly without the requisite (and very valid) comparison to Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” but honestly, I think Otto out-sexed his predecessor by a good margin. Turner gave a fine performance with his standard sweetness, but Otto opted for randy, slightly jagged cooing that ultimately sounds much more convincing coming from a man in this particular situation.

joey-rory#17

Joey + Rory, “Cheater, Cheater”

My soft spot for frivolity shows itself again. This tell-off ditty has a cute bite, and its malicious irrationality is delivered with a knowing wink that has been regrettably absent in many recent, like-minded harangues (cough cough, “Picture to Burn”). Still, it’s the frenetic bluegrass production and the couple’s palpable chemistry that ultimately sell the thing.

josh-turner-everything#16

Josh Turner featuring Trisha Yearwood, “Another Try”

I’m always game for more regret on country radio, particularly when you’ve got two of the best singers in the biz on the job. The only thing holding it back for me is the melody, which is a bit too “Peabo Bryson goes country” for my taste.

sugarland-love-on-the-inside#15

Sugarland, Little Big Town & Jake Owen, “Life in a Northern Town”

There is a certain kind of song whose impact simply defies logical explanation, which seems to tap something so primal in the human spirit that you don’t even want to try explaining it for fear you might belittle it somehow. You couldn’t ask for a better example of that phenomenon than this cover of Dream Academy’s surreal ode to singer-songwriter Nick Drake, which resolves into a chorus of tribal “hey ma ma ma ma”s that somehow manage to say more (to me) than most actual words ever do.

It’s much more “Lion King soundtrack” than “country,” of course, but the union of all of these unique individual voices evokes the sort of grand communal warmth that you can normally only find in church or around a campfire. Personal favorite moment: Jake Owen’s solo, which he sings with such silky ease that it makes you pissed he hasn’t found better material for himself yet.

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Lynn’s Favorite Songs of 2008

Country Universe has presented you with its top 40 singles of 2008, but as you know, singles rarely scratch the surface of a great album. Over the course of the past year, while listening to various albums, I made note of songs that stuck out for one reason or another. Although this isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, here are some of my favorite songs of 2008:

hayes-carll

#1 “She Left Me For Jesus” (Hayes Carll, Trouble in Mind)

Honestly, when is the last time you heard a song this slyly clever? This laugh-out-loud engaging? But not just anyone could pull off this song. Carll’s slow laughing drawl is absolutely perfect and he nails every punch line. He not only gets the joke, he assumes you do as well. Carll readily acknowledges that this song isn’t for everyone, but in my book, it’s an instant classic.

#2 “Red River Shore” (Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol. 8)

Bob Dylan, that enigmatic icon, continues to raise the bar for singer-songwriters. It’s nearly ridiculous at this point. This year, Dylan treated us to a grand smorgasbord of songs with the latest in his bootleg series. “Red River Shore” was one of the few previously unreleased songs on the set, and it’s perhaps the best on the album. I could spend hours ruminating over what Dylan intended with his lyrics about star-crossed lovers, but instead I’ll leave you with his opening lines: “Some of us turn off the lights and we live / In the moonlight shooting by / Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark / To be where the angels fly.” This is, as the album booklet suggests, an elegant summation of Dylan’s artistic credo. If only others took note.

#3 “I’ve Done Everything I Can” (Rodney Crowell, Sex and Gasoline)

On “I’ve Done Everything I Can,” Crowell acknowledges that incredibly delicate interplay between father and daughter; that difficult line a father must walk between wanting to protect his little girl, and preparing her for the real world. He sings: “The sun comes up tomorrow / But there are no guarantees / It can rock you like a baby / It can knock you to your knees / The path that lies between us / Is a rough and rocky rue / I’ve done everything I can / There’s nothing I can do.” This song reminds me rather poignantly of my own father, who occasionally walked that fine line with grace, but usually just blundered over it with good intentions.

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Best Country Singles of 2008, Part 3: #20-#11

The consensus builds with the next set of ten singles. While there is still some lesser known singles and artists in the mix, more than half of these entries come from top-selling albums. Of course, radio still didn’t play all of those, either, but record buyers heard them anyway.

emily-west#20

Emily West, “Rocks in Your Shoes”

A burst of country-poptimism that manages to sound both sunny and smart. Eat your heart out, “Red Umbrella.”  – DM

sugarland-love#19

Sugarland, “Already Gone”

Perhaps leaving takes place in two stages.   The heart and mind go first, then the body catches up with them later on.   “Already Gone” explores this concept thoroughly, with keen attention to detail.   “Pictures, dishes and socks.  It’s our whole life down to one box.”   Months after my first listen, I still find myself playing that final verse over and over again. – KJC

reba-duets#18

Reba McEntire and Kenny Chesney or Skip Ewing, “Every Other Weekend”

Two divorced parents contemplate the unfulfilling aftermath of their split and the lingering feelings they have for one another in intimate detail (“First thing in the morning / I turn the T.V. on to make the quiet go away”). Neither Chesney nor co-writer Skip Ewing was able to match McEntire’s combination of technical and interpretive skill, but you don’t get this kind of song everyday.  – DM

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