Tag Archives: Rodney Crowell

The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 13

Today’s category is…

A Leaving Song.

Here are the staff picks:

Leeann Ward: “She’s Crazy For Leavin’” – Rodney Crowell

For me, this song plays out like a movie scene in one of those wacky romantic comedies. The guy is over-the-top trying to convince his girl not to go, saying that “she’s crazy for leaving”, while everyone else at the bus stop pretty much knows he’s the crazy one and tells him to just let her go. I especially love the hook, “You can’t stop a woman when she’s out of control.” Few can write tongue in cheek like Crowell and Guy Clark, I tell ya.

Dan Milliken: “She’ll Remember” – Dwight Yoakam

The zany first minute never gets old for me.

Tara Seetharam: “Let Him Fly” – Patty Griffin

To me, one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It so perfectly captures the equally peaceful and equally crushing “beauty of just letting go.”

Kevin Coyne: “Consider Me Gone” – Reba McEntire

Smart, adult, and even-tempered, this record claims the moral high ground while still managing to get in a subtle dig or two.

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Single Review: Keith Urban, “Without You”

Mr. Urban, you’re trying to trick me.

You’re giving me an achingly sincere vocal performance. You’re giving me a stripped down production that’s genuinely country, fiddle and all.   You’re giving me your life story, from the music to the marriage to the birth of your daughter.

It all adds up to so much goodness that you almost distracted me from the clunky and self-indulgent songwriting.  I can’t even give you a pass on that, because you didn’t write it.

You might have pulled it off if you’d held off on using the line, “Up until you came along, no one ever heard my song, now it’s climbing like a bullet,” until later on, maybe in one of those random breakdowns you like to do at the end to extend album versions from four minutes to twenty.

See, I love it when you get personal.  Remember “Song For Dad” and “You’re Not My God”?  Loved ‘em.  And “Thank You” was basically this song, done more artfully and in a more universally relevant way.

But “Without You” just feels too much like “Keith Urban sings about what it’s like to be in love with Nicole Kidman” to be interesting to me.  It might be an unfair criticism, given that’s what your life is all about these days and it’s made you blissfully happy, but it’s a boring song.

Maybe blissful happiness is hard to write about well when you’re not Rodney Crowell. Perhaps you should go back to covering him when you’re feeling this way?

Written by Dave Pahanish and Joe West

Grade: B-

Listen: Without You

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Premium Label

September has a lot of album releases that I’m really enjoying or looking forward to. In fact, it’s the most lucrative month for music for my taste in quite some time.

Last Tuesday (September 7), Rounder Records released The SteelDrivers’ second album, Reckless (which is pretty spectacular, by the way) and this week, they will be releasing Robert Plant’s follow up to his 2007 collaborative album with Alison Krauss, also on Rounder. From the streaming preview that can be heard on NPR’s website until release day, the album is a wonderfully rootsy project helmed by Plant and Buddy Miller and includes guitar work from Darrell Scott. October will also finally see the release of Joe Diffie’s bluegrass album on the label.

When one learns that an album will be released through Rounder Records (which has recently been sold to Concord Music Group), it’s pretty much automatically expected that the project will be quality. Whether it’s The SteelDrivers, Robert Plant, Joe Diffie, John Mellancamp, Alison Krauss or Willie Nelson, it’s reasonable to assume certain aspects of a Rounder release, including that the album may even stray from a typical artist release to be more rootsy in approach, as is the case with the recent Willie Nelson and John Mellancamp albums, along with the upcoming Diffie project. More often than not, I can count on Rounder Records to please my musical sensibilities, even with unexpected artists, since I never expected that Robert Plant would be recording some of my favorite roots music.

As much as I love and count on Rounder Records to produce great music, my absolute favorite record company is Sugar Hill Records (owned by Vanguard Records). Incidentally, Joey+Rory will be releasing their anticipated second album through Sugar Hill on Tuesday (September 14). Additionally, Marty Stuart’s recent release, the excellent Ghost Train, was released through them as well. Other artist who have been associated with Sugar Hill include, but are not limited to: Nickel Creek, Ricky Skaggs, Guy Clark, Dolly Parton, Darrell Scott, Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, The Duhks, Sarah Jarosz, and the list goes on. As with Rounder Records, many artists seem to release albums with Sugar Hill as a deviation from the music for which they are most popularly associated, as is the case with Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, and even Rodney Crowell, who released his venerable The Houston Kid on the label.

Right now, it seems that my favorite record labels aren’t in the business of releasing music that we hear on mainstream country radio, though Joey+Rory are attempting to crack through. While I don’t have the inside knowledge to say that it doesn’t exist, we don’t hear about the red tape and politics that is ever present with major companies like, lets say, the infamous Curb Records, which has produced some rather publicly disgruntled artists, most notably Tim McGraw and the two Living Hank Williamses.

But when I was a kid, MCA Records was the label that seemed like the powerhouse record company for country music to me. Some of my favorite artists were on that label, including Trisha Yearwood, George Strait, Reba McEntire and, of course, Vince Gill. I admired the country roster of Arista as well, which included Alan Jackson, Diamond Rio, Radney Foster, and Blackhawk.

Along with reminding you about some good releases that have recently been released and will soon be available, this is the very long and self-indulgent way of getting to the question of:

What is the record label that you most admire and can count on to release your favorite music?

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #50-#26

The themes of love and loss have permeated country music for as long as it’s been in existence.  This second-to-last batch of great nineties hits contains songs that are direct descendants of well-known classics like “Can the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, along with a Shania Twain hit that would  have made Roba Stanley smile.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #50-#26

#50
Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)
Travis Tritt
1991 | Peak: #2

Listen

From the first forceful guitar strum on, this kiss-off number somehow manages to seem unusually cool and collected in its own aggression. You get the impression that Tritt’s character has been anticipating this moment, and has already made up his mind that he’s going to relish every second of it. – Dan Milliken

#49
I’ve Come to Expect it From You
George Strait
1990 | Peak: #1

Listen

This is about as dark and bitter as George Strait gets. It’s a coat that he wears well. – Kevin Coyne Continue reading

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #150-#126

Signature hits, breakthrough hits, and why-weren’t-they-hits abound in this entry.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #150-#126

#150
Gone Country
Alan Jackson
1994 | Peak: #1

Listen

A perfect time capsule of the boom times, as Jackson wryly notes all of those genre-hoppers who saw dollar signs in the growing country music scene. Funny how they didn’t arrive on radio until a decade later. – Kevin Coyne

#149
I Want to Be Loved Like That
Shenandoah
1993 | Peak: #3

Listen

Sometimes the deepest understanding of love comes from what you see around you. The narrator in this song won’t settle for anything less than the unwavering love he’s witnessed in his life, and his examples are stunning in the way they slice straight to the core of love, to the bond that can’t be broken by the physical world. This is one of the purest tributes to love I’ve ever heard. – Tara Seetharam Continue reading

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We’ll Drink to That

Today is the 21st birthday of our very own Dan Milliken, who can now indulge in one of country music’s favorite past times without breaking the law.

In honor of this occasion, we’ve decided to dedicate some of our favorite songs on that subject to the birthday guy.

Leeann:

I don’t drink, but I do love me a good drinking song. In fact, I love so many drinking songs that it’s impossible for me to narrow it down to just one favorite. So, I decided to put my iPod on shuffle and discuss/recommend the first one that popped up, which happens to be “I Drink”, recorded by both Blake Shelton and Bill Chambers and co-written and also recorded by Americana favorite, Mary Gauthier.

If people know “I Drink”, it’s likely due to Blake Shelton’s version from Barn and Grill. It’s a good version, but I prefer the versions from Bill Chambers and/or Mary Gauthier, because they provide the grittiness and moroseness that properly conveys the quiet resignation that the song requires. Therefore, this one’s not a party anthem.

From a grown child’s perspective, the act of drinking is passed down like a tradition. Just as “fish swim, birds fly, daddy’s yell, mama’s cry, old men sit and think”, the grown child proclaims, “I drink.” And that’s just that.

Kevin:

I’m going to go all meta and recommend two songs that are as much about getting older as they are about drinking. Kenny Chesney’s “Beer in Mexico”, which has him pondering why he’s not happy with where is in his life so far. And Rodney Crowell’s “Song For the Life”, which finds him not drinking as much as he used to, perhaps because he’s very happy with where he is in his life so far!

Recommend your favorite drinking song for Dan in the comments. Oh, and wish him a happy birthday too, if you like!

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How Very Nineties: George Jones & Friends, and other All Star Jams

New fans of country music in the nineties were hit over the head with the assertion that country music was one big family. Nothing demonstrated this mythos better than the all star jams that cropped up during the boom years.

There were some variants of this approach.  A popular one found a veteran star teaming up with one or more of the boom artists to increase their chances of radio airplay.  George Jones was big on this approach, with the most high profile attempt being “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.”   Seventeen years later, it’s amazing to see how young everyone looks – even Jones himself!

Jones shared the CMA Vocal Event of the Year trophy for that collaboration with Clint Black, Garth Brooks, T. Graham Brown, Mark Chesnutt, Joe Diffie, Vince Gill,  Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, and Travis Tritt.   He’d continue with this approach by teaming up with his vocal chameleon Sammy Kershaw on “Never Bit a Bullet Like This”, and he recorded an entire album of his own songs as duets with mostly younger stars. The Bradley Barn Sessions was represented at radio with “A Good Year For the Roses”, which found him singing one of his best hits with Alan Jackson:

Among the legends, the only other one to be successful with this approach was Dolly Parton, who used collaborations with young stars to score consecutive platinum albums for the first and only time in her career.  Her 1991 set Eagle When She Flies was powered by the #1 single “Rockin’ Years”, co-written by her brother and sung with Ricky Van Shelton:

That album also included a duet with Lorrie Morgan on “Best Woman Wins.”  She upped the bandwagon ante on Slow Dancing With the Moon, bringing a whole caravan of young stars on board with her line dance cash-in “Romeo.”

That’s Mary Chapin Carpenter, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kathy Mattea, and Tanya Tucker in the video. Pam Tillis isn’t in the clip, but she sings on the record with them.  Parton also duets with Billy Dean on that album on “(You Got Me Over a) Heartache Tonight.”

Her next collaboration was with fellow legends Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, but they couldn’t resist the temptation to squeeze in several younger stars in the video for “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”  Alongside veterans like Chet Atkins,  Bill Anderson, and Little Jimmy Dickens, you’ll catch cameos from Mark Collie, Confederate Railroad, Rodney Crowell, Diamond Rio, Sammy Kershaw, Doug Stone, and Marty Stuart.

Parton scored a CMA award when she resurrected “I Will Always Love You” as a duet with Vince Gill:

And while it didn’t burn up the charts, her version of “Just When I Needed You Most” with Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski:

Tammy Wynette made an attempt to connect with the new country audience with her own album of duets, Without Walls.  Her pairing with Wynonna on “Girl Thang” earned some unsolicited airplay:

Perhaps the most endearing project in this vein came from Roy Rogers.  How cool is it to hear him singing with Clint Black?

The new stars liked pairing up with each other, too.  A popular trend was to have other stars pop up in music videos.  There’s the classic “Women of Country” version of “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”, for starters. Mary Chapin Carpenter sounds pretty darn good with Suzy Bogguss, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis, and Trisha Yearwood on backup:

That’s a live collaboration, so at least you hear the voices of the other stars. But Vince Gill put together an all-star band for his “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away” video without getting them to actually play.  That’s Little Jimmy Dickens, Kentucky Headhunters, Patty Loveless, Lee Roy Parnell, Carl Perkins, Pam Tillis, and Kelly Willis behind him, with Reba McEntire reprising her waitress role from her own “Is There Life Out There” clip.

My personal favorite was Tracy Lawrence’s slightly less A-list spin on the above, with “My Second Home” featuring the future superstars Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, and Shania Twain, along with John Anderson, Holly Dunn, Hank Flamingo, Johnny Rodriguez, Tanya Tucker, Clay Walker, and a few people that I just can’t identify.


Humor Videos
Tracy Lawrence – My Second Home

For pure star wattage, it took the bright lights of Hollywood to get a truly amazing group together. The Maverick Choir assembled to cover “Amazing Grace”, and it doesn’t get much better than country gospel delivered in a barn by John Anderson, Clint Black, Suzy Bogguss, Billy Dean, Radney Foster, Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Waylon Jennings, Tracy Lawrence, Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, John Michael Montgomery, Restless Heart, Ricky Van Shelton, Joy Lynn White, and Tammy Wynette.

What’s your favorite of the bunch? Any good ones I missed?

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Album Review: Chely Wright, Lifted Off the Ground

Chely Wright
Lifted Off the Ground

It’s not a hard and fast rule, but oftentimes, the most intriguing albums come from extreme adversity. Such is the case for Chely Wright, whose finest project to date is her latest album, Lifted off the Ground, which comes from a long period of deep depression and subsequent painful self-examination of where she fits in the world. Masterfully produced by Rodney Crowell, the album is mostly a reflection of Wright’s darkest times of tumult, which naturally results in an album of varied emotions.

To set the tone for the project, the album opens with the slow-burning “Broken”, a resignation of lovers who can’t open themselves up enough to let the other person in. “Damn Liar” is an aggressive condemnation to, you guessed it, a no-good liar, while “Like Me” wistfully (and possibly controversially) contemplates the future of a close friend, “Who’s gonna end up holding your hand? / A beautiful woman or a tall, handsome man?” The most clever song on a very solid album, however, is the quirky “Notes to the Coroner”, wherein the protagonist points to her in-depth diary as her notes to the coroner on what caused her death, which simply happens to be a broken heart.

It’s not mainstream country music like she once did, but rather, more folk-tinged with a bit of tasteful pop influence sprinkled throughout, which will likely feel more comfortable with the Americana crowd. As a result, Rodney Crowell’s sympathetic production expertly supports Wright’s clear voice with a crisp, yet soft, foundation. Moreover, by pouring her heart and unfiltered thoughts into this album, we are treated to an introspective collection of songs with unique and accessible melodies and, more importantly, intelligent insights.


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ACM Flashback: Album of the Year

The ACM Awards has traditionally been overshadowed by the CMA Awards, despite its longer existence. This is for several reasons.  First, the ACM originally existed to emphasize the West Coast country music scene, whereas the CMA Awards represented Nashville from the start.  The ACM has also been more commercially-oriented from the beginning, as the history of this category proves.  Eighteen of the last twenty winners in this ACM category are multi-platinum sellers, and the organization allowed greatest hits albums to compete for more than a decade.

Still, the ACM category has bragging rights of its own. Critically-acclaimed albums like Storms of Life, Trio, Killin’ Time and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend won at the ACMs but were overlooked by the CMAs.  Additionally, women have also been far more successful at this ceremony. Only five women have ever won the CMA Album trophy, and one of them was Sissy Spacek!  At the ACMs, women have dominated the category for the past three years, and the category has honored everyone from Loretta Lynn and Donna Fargo to K.T. Oslin and Shania Twain.

A special note about ACM flashbacks. Like the Grammys, the ACMs issue their award for a given year the following year, so the awards for 2009, for example, are given out in 2010.  For the purposes of the flashbacks, Country Universe notes the year the award is presented. While the ACM first presented awards in 1966, the Album category wasn’t introduced until 1968.

As with other flashbacks, we begin with a look at this year’s nominees:

2010

  • Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum
  • Miranda Lambert, Revolution
  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Carrie Underwood, Play On
  • Zac Brown Band, The Foundation

Three previous winners – Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, and Carrie Underwood – compete against the debut albums of two hot bands.  Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band each picked up a Grammy this year and are well represented on the rest of the ACM ballot.  This is a very competitive race. Even the sales-friendly nature of the ACMs doesn’t help much here, as four of these albums are platinum and Lambert’s just went gold.

2009

  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
  • Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew It All
  • George Strait, Troubadour
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless
  • Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride

Taylor Swift became the third consecutive female artist to win in this category, a feat that would’ve seemed unthinkable earlier in the middle part of the decade, when country radio all but exiled women from radio.

2008

  • Rodney Atkins, If You’re Going Through Hell
  • Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates
  • Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
  • Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
  • Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift

A visibly shocked Lambert accepted the trophy for her critically acclaimed sophomore set.  While it did go gold, it remains an anomaly among ACM album winners. You have to go all the way back to 1979 (Oak Ridge Boys) to find another ACM album winner that didn’t sell platinum or higher.

2007

  • Brooks & Dunn, Hillbilly Deluxe
  • Vince Gill, These Days
  • Rascal Flatts, Me and My Gang
  • George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
  • Carrie Underwood, Some Hearts

Carrie Underwood became the first solo female artist to win this award in eleven years with her 7 million-selling Some Hearts.

2006

  • Gary Allan, Tough All Over
  • Brad Paisley, Time Well Wasted
  • Rascal Flatts, Feels Like Today
  • Sugarland, Twice the Speed of Life
  • Lee Ann Womack, There’s More Where That Came From

A strikingly strong lineup, with the victory going to Brad Paisley. Due to differences in eligibility between the two shows, there are two CMA winners in this category. Not only did Paisley repeat his victory the following fall, Womack won the CMA the previous year.

2005

  • Kenny Chesney, When the Sun Goes Down
  • Sara Evans, Restless
  • Tim McGraw, Live Like You Were Dying
  • Keith Urban, Be Here
  • Gretchen Wilson, Here for the Party

Though he’s always been popular with the CMA and Grammy voters, Urban’s only Album award to date came courtesy of the ACMs. Oddly enough, they haven’t nominated him since.

2004

  • Brooks & Dunn, Red Dirt Road
  • Toby Keith, Shock’n Y’All
  • Martina McBride, Martina
  • Brad Paisley, Mud on the Tires
  • George Strait, Honkytonkville

On an evening where he won several major awards, Keith picked up his second Album of the Year trophy from the ACMs for an album that included the #1  hits “American Soldier”, “Whiskey Girl”,  and “I Love This Bar.”

2003

  • Kenny Chesney, No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems
  • Dixie Chicks, Home
  • Alan Jackson, Drive
  • Toby Keith, Unleashed
  • Trick Pony, On a Mission

If you think all of those 2009 nominations for Heidi Newfield were surprising, check out Trick Pony’s presence in this category among four albums that sold more than 4 million copies each.  Alan Jackson picked up his third trophy in this category for the album that included “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”.

2002

  • Brooks & Dunn, Steers & Stripes
  • Toby Keith, Pull My Chain
  • Tim McGraw, Set This Circus Down
  • Soundtrack, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • Travis Tritt, Down the Road I Go

Big comeback albums for Brooks & Dunn and Travis Tritt were nominated, but it was no surprise to see the victory go to the landmark soundtrack that sold more than eight million copies in the end.

2001

  • Johnny Cash, American III: Solitary Man
  • Billy Gilman, One Voice
  • Toby Keith, How Do You Like Me Now?!
  • Brad Paisley, Who Needs Pictures
  • Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance

Even Keith was a veteran in comparison to Gilman and Paisley, who were nominated with their debut albums, but the biggest surprise was the nomination of Cash for his third project with Rick Rubin. Even the CMA didn’t recognize those collaborations until the fourth volume and “Hurt.”

2000

  • Asleep at the Wheel, Ride With Bob
  • Dixie Chicks, Fly
  • Faith Hill, Breathe
  • George Jones, Cold Hard Truth
  • Tim McGraw, A Place in the Sun

An impressively eclectic lineup is unsurprisingly represented by the consensus choice Dixie Chicks, the one act that everybody used to agree on.

1999

  • Garth Brooks, Double Live
  • Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
  • Faith Hill, Faith
  • Jo Dee Messina, I’m Alright
  • George Strait, One Step at a Time

For the fourth time in the nineties, the trophy went to an artist’s breakthrough album.  After their shocking win at the Grammys a few weeks earlier, this Dixie Chicks victory wasn’t quite as surprising.

1998

  • Garth Brooks, Sevens
  • Patty Loveless, Long Stretch of Lonesome
  • Tim McGraw, Everywhere
  • George Strait, Carrying Your Love With Me
  • Shania Twain, Come On Over

Strait’s third victory in this category tied him with Alabama for most wins.  It was also his first album to top the overall Billboard 200, a feat he’s repeated with three additional albums.

1997

  • Brooks & Dunn, Borderline
  • Tracy Lawrence, Time Marches On
  • Patty Loveless, The Trouble With the Truth
  • LeAnn Rimes, Blue
  • George Strait, Blue Clear Sky

Strait’s victory came with an album that featured the #1 hits “Blue Clear Sky” and “Carried Away”, along with the rodeo-themed “I Can Still Make Cheyenne.”

1996

  • Brooks & Dunn, Waitin’ On Sundown
  • Patty Loveless, When Fallen Angels Fly
  • Tim McGraw, All I Want
  • George Strait, Lead On
  • Shania Twain, The Woman in Me

Although Loveless won the CMA award the previous fall, the ACM sided with the Grammy winner for Best Country Album, Shania Twain’s landmark set, The Woman in Me.

1995

  • Garth Brooks, In Pieces
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stones in the Road
  • Vince Gill, When Love Finds You
  • Alan Jackson, Who I Am
  • Tim McGraw, Not a Moment Too Soon

McGraw’s only victory in this category came with his first nomination. This set remains his top-selling to date, thanks to the presence of the massive hits “Don’t Take the Girl”, “Indian Outlaw”, “Down on the Farm”, and the title track.

1994

  • Brooks & Dunn, Hard Workin’ Man
  • Billy Ray Cyrus, It Won’t Be the Last
  • Vince Gill, I Still Believe In You
  • Alan Jackson, A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘Bout Love)
  • Various Artists, Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles
  • Dwight Yoakam, This Time

Alan Jackson picked up his second victory in this category with an album that included “Chattahoochee”, which would remain his biggest hit for nearly a decade.

1993

  • Garth Brooks, The Chase
  • Brooks & Dunn, Brand New Man
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On
  • Billy Ray Cyrus, Some Gave All
  • Wynonna, Wynonna

These are some big selling albums. Wynonna and Mary Chapin Carpenter both sold five million and they are tied for last place among the nominees.  It’s easy to forget how fresh the Brooks & Dunn sound was when it first arrived on the scene.  Five hits, including the classic title track, “Neon Moon”, and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”, helped power them to a win.

1992

  • Garth Brooks, No Fences
  • Garth Brooks, Ropin’ the Wind
  • Alan Jackson, Don’t Rock the Jukebox
  • Ricky Van Shelton, Backroads
  • Travis Tritt, It’s All About to Change

In perhaps the most bizarre moment in this category’s history, Garth Brooks competed again with No Fences, which won the same award last year. Alan Jackson emerged victorious with his sophomore set.

1991

  • Alabama, Pass it On Down
  • Garth Brooks, No Fences
  • Vince Gill, When I Call Your Name
  • Alan Jackson, Here in the Real World
  • Ricky Van Shelton, RVS III

No Fences includes the Garth Brooks classics “Friends in Low Places”, “Unanswered Prayers”, and “The Thunder Rolls”. It remains his highest-selling album to date, and second only to Shania Twain’s Come On Over among all single-disc country albums in history.

1990

  • Clint Black, Killin’ Time
  • Rodney Crowell, Diamonds and Dirt
  • Kathy Mattea, Willow in the Wind
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Vol. II
  • Randy Travis, Old 8×10

The winning album demonstrates why Clint Black was the head of the Class of ’89, even though he’d soon be overshadowed by fellow newbie Garth Brooks.

1989

  • Vern Gosdin, Chiseled in Stone
  • K.T. Oslin, This Woman
  • Ricky Van Shelton, Loving Proof
  • George Strait, If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin’
  • Dwight Yoakam, Buenos Noches From a Lonely Room

K.T. Oslin dominated the awards circuit in 1988 and 1989, with her final victories coming at the ACM Awards.  Her Album of the Year winner included the #1 hit “Hold Me”, along with the top five hits “Hey Bobby” and the title track.

1988

  • The Judds, Heart Land
  • Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris, Trio
  • George Strait, Ocean Front Property
  • Randy Travis, Always and Forever
  • Hank Williams Jr., Born to Boogie

The classic project by legends Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris also won a CMA for Vocal Event and a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

1987

  • The Judds, Rockin’ With the Rhythm
  • Ricky Skaggs, Live in London
  • George Strait, 7
  • Randy Travis, Storms of Life
  • Dwight Yoakam, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

The neo-traditionalist movement at its peak, with a win by its standard-bearing artist with his standard-bearing debut album.

1986

  • Alabama, 40 Hour Week
  • Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, Highwayman
  • The Judds, Why Not Me
  • George Strait, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
  • Hank Williams Jr., Five-O

The only #1 hit from this album was the title track, but “The Fireman” and “The Cowboy Rides Away” have since become signature songs for the legendary artist.

1985

  • Alabama, Roll On
  • Earl Thomas Conley, Don’t Make it Easy On Me
  • Ricky Skaggs, Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown
  • George Strait, Right or Wrong
  • Hank Williams Jr., Man of Steel

Their third victory in four years came on the strength of the hits “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)”, “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)”, “(There’s a) Fire in the Night”, and “When We Make Love.”

1984

  • Alabama, The Closer You Get
  • John Anderson, Wild & Blue
  • Merle Haggard, Going Where the Lonely Go
  • Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson, Pancho & Lefty
  • Ricky Skaggs, Highways & Heartaches

Over a field of traditionalists old and new, the pop-country supergroup Alabama won their second Album award. In addition to the hit title track, The Closer You Get… included the hits “Lady Down on Love” and “Dixieland Delight.”

1983

  • Alabama, Mountain Music
  • Willie Nelson, Always On My Mind
  • Kenny Rogers, Love Will Turn You Around
  • Ricky Skaggs, Waitin’ For the Sun to Shine
  • Don Williams, Listen to the Radio

Nelson’s biggest single powered the album of the same name to victory. It also included a pair of #2 hits: “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning” and “Let it Be Me.”

1982

  • Alabama, Feels So Right
  • Rosanne Cash, Seven Year Ache
  • George Jones, Still the Same Ole Me
  • Oak Ridge Boys, Fancy Free
  • Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs

With the exception of George Jones, all the nominees here enjoyed significant pop success with these projects. Alabama won their first trophy in this category with Feels So Right, which included the hit title track, “Old Flame”, and their biggest crossover hit, “Love in the First Degree.”

1981

  • Charley Pride, There’s a Little Bit of Hank in Me
  • Kenny Rogers, Greatest Hits
  • Soundtrack, Coal Miner’s Daughter
  • Soundtrack, Urban Cowboy
  • Don Williams, I Believe in You

For all that it’s been maligned, the Urban Cowboy soundtrack does have a lot of classic hits on it.  Some of them were recycled, like “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Lyin’ Eyes”, but some were introduced on the soundtrack, most notably Anne Murray’s “Could I Have This Dance” and Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ For Love.”

1980

  • Larry Gatlin, Straight Ahead
  • Emmylou Harris, Blue Kentucky Girl
  • Waylon Jennings, Greatest Hits
  • Willie Nelson, Willie Sings Kristofferson
  • Kenny Rogers, Kenny

Those of you wondering how on earth Larry Gatlin was the winner in this field should know that this was actually a platinum-selling album. Perhaps its big hit, “All the Gold in California”, endeared the project to west coast voters.

1979

  • Ronnie Milsap, It Was Almost Like a Song
  • Anne Murray, Let’s Keep it That Way
  • Willie Nelson, Stardust
  • Oak Ridge Boys, Y’All Come Back Saloon
  • Kenny Rogers & Dottie West, Every Time Two Fools Collide

They had made several albums as gospel stars, but it was their first big country hit that fueled this win for Album of the Year.

1978

  • Waylon Jennings, Ol’ Waylon
  • Dolly Parton, Here You Come Again
  • Elvis Presley, Moody Blue
  • Kenny Rogers, Kenny Rogers
  • Conway Twitty, Greatest Hits Vol. II

This self-titled album was renamed “Lucille” in later pressings to capitalize on its biggest hit.

1977

  • Mickey Gilley, Gilley’s Smokin’
  • Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser, Wanted! The Outlaws
  • Loretta Lynn, Somebody Somewhere
  • Marty Robbins, El Paso City
  • Conway Twitty, Now and Then

Gilley’s winning album features his most well known hit, “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.” It’s the most recent album in the category’s history that hasn’t reached at least gold status.

1976

  • Glen Campbell, Rhinestone Cowboy
  • Freddie Fender, Before the Next Teardrop Falls
  • Merle Haggard, Keep Movin’ On
  • Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, Feelins’
  • Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger

This shared award is the only Album trophy that either Lynn or Twitty won from the ACM or CMA, though Lynn did go on to win Best Country Album three decades later at the Grammys.

1975

  • John Denver, Back Home Again
  • Merle Haggard, Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album
  • Loretta Lynn, They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy
  • Cal Smith, Country Bumpkin
  • Bob Wills, For the Last Time

Denver’s biggest country album, it spent thirteen weeks atop the country album chart. The title track topped the chart, and “Annie’s Song” became a wedding standard.

1974

  • Merle Haggard, I Love Dixie Blues…so I Recorded “Live” in New Orleans
  • Loretta Lynn, Love is the Foundation
  • Charlie Rich, Behind Closed Doors
  • Johnny Rodriguez, Introducing Johnny Rodriguez
  • Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn, Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man

Rich’s classic set has sold four million copies, an unheard of tally for a country album from this time period. It didn’t hurt that the title track and “The Most Beautiful Girl” were crossover hits, with the latter actually topping the pop singles chart.

1973

  • Mac Davis, Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me
  • Donna Fargo, The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.
  • Merle Haggard, The Best of the Best of Merle Haggard
  • Merle Haggard, It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)
  • Merle Haggard, Let Me Tell You About a Song
  • Freddie Hart, Bless Your Heart

Donna Fargo triumphed in a field of six albums, half of which were recorded by Merle Haggard! The Fargo set produced two million-selling singles – the title track and “Funny Face”.

1972

  • Merle Haggard, Hag
  • Merle Haggard, Someday We’ll Look Back
  • Freddie Hart, Easy Loving
  • Ray Price, I Won’t Mention it Again
  • Charley Pride, Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs

The title track was a massive hit, helping Hart’s Easy Loving reach gold status and spend nine weeks atop the country albums chart.

1971

  • Glen Campbell, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Album
  • Merle Haggard, The Fightin’ Side of Me
  • Merle Haggard, A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills)
  • Ray Price, For the Good Times
  • Charley Pride, Charley Pride’s 10th Album

Who knows how many times Haggard could’ve won this award if he wasn’t nominated against himself? This year, Ray Price’s For the Good Times was the victor, thanks to the Kristofferson-penned title track.

1970

  • Glen Campbell, Live
  • Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison
  • Merle Haggard, Okie From Muskogee
  • Charley Pride, Best of Charley Pride
  • Tammy Wynette, Greatest Hits

Haggard’s only victory in this category was for a live album. Incidentally, he won over two other live albums and a pair of greatest hits sets.

1969

  • Glen Campbell, Wichita Lineman
  • Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell, Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell
  • Merle Haggard, The Best of Merle Haggard
  • Merle Haggard, Mama Tried
  • Buck Owens, Best of Buck Owens

Campbell won for the second year in a row, this time sharing the victory with Bobbie Gentry of “Ode to Billie Joe” fame.

1968

  • Glen Campbell, Burning Bridges
  • Glen Campbell, Gentle on My Mind
  • Merle Haggard, Branded Man
  • Merle Haggard, I’m a Lonesome Fugitive
  • Wynn Stewart, It’s Such a Pretty World Today

California favorite Glen Campbell won the first ACM trophy in this category, and he’d remain a favorite of the Academy over the next decade.

Facts & Feats

Multiple Wins:

  • (3) – Alabama, Alan Jackson, George Strait
  • (2) – Glen Campbell, Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith

Most Nominations:

  • (17) – Merle Haggard
  • (12) – George Strait
  • (7) – Garth Brooks, Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson
  • (6) – Alabama, Tim McGraw
  • (5) – Loretta Lynn, Brad Paisley, Kenny Rogers

Most Nominations Without a Win:

  • (4) – Vince Gill, Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, Ricky Skaggs
  • (3) – Johnny Cash, Kenny Chesney, The Judds, Patty Loveless, Ricky Van Shelton, Hank Williams Jr., Dwight Yoakam

Albums that won the ACM Award and the CMA Award:

  • Merle Haggard, Okie From Muskogee
  • Charlie Rich, Behind Closed Doors
  • Willie Nelson, Always on My Mind
  • Alabama, The Closer You Get
  • George Strait, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
  • Garth Brooks, No Fences
  • George Strait, Blue Clear Sky
  • George Strait, Carrying Your Love With Me
  • Dixie Chicks, Fly
  • Soundtrack, O Brother Where Art Thou?
  • Alan Jackson, Drive
  • Brad Paisley, Time Well Wasted
  • George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless

Albums that Won the ACM award and the Grammy for Album of the Year:

  • Soundtrack, O Brother Where Art Thou?
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless

Albums that Won the ACM award and the Grammy for Best Country Album (only presented in 1965-1966 and 1995-present):

  • Shania Twain, The Woman in Me
  • Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
  • Dixie Chicks, Fly
  • George Strait, Troubadour
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless

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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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