In 1985, four country music rebels/icons came together to form a larger-than-life group that people wouldn’t have even dared dream about before their actual union. Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson formed the country super group, The Highwaymen. The four highly revered friends recorded three albums worth of material, much to the delight of the astonished public. While all of the members were extremely successful in their own rights, their potential egos were set aside to make music as a cohesive unit. They sounded like a polished group, not just some people thrown together as a marketing gimmick.
Then, in 1988, the rock world hit the jackpot when superstars George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne formed The Traveling Wilburys. Again, these immensely famous, talented and respected people formed a super group that still seems too good to be true to this day. Their unbelievable union created two albums that were repackaged in 2007 with bonus material, which sold surprisingly well for a reissue. Like The Highwaymen, their voices blended amazingly well together as if they were meant to be a group.
Dolly Parton has been a part of two dynamic trios: one with Linda Rhonstadt and Emmylou Harris and the other with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Both trios consisted of women equally as talented as the super groups previously discussed, which also provided us with excellent albums as a result.
And of course, anyone who has read anything that I’ve written in the past year or so should instinctively know that my pet super group is The Notorious Cherry Bombs, which was comprised of Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Tony Brown, Hank Devito, Richard Bennett, Michael Rhodes, John Hobbs and Eddie Bayers.
As I think of the competitive climate of the music industry today, I’m discouraged to think that such super groups would be next to impossible to unite anymore. Record label disputes prevented Tracy Lawrence’s collaboration with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw to be officially released to radio. Likewise, Reba McEntire had to replace Kenny Chesney’s vocals with lesser known artist, Skip Ewing, in order to release “Every Other Weekend” to radio. And these were only disputes over single songs, not even an entire album.
In true essay style form: Without considering record company politics, if you were able to create your own super group who could make at least one album, who would be the members? What would you name the group? Explain.
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
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE
INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR
NEW & EMERGING ARTIST
BAND OF HEATHENS
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE
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
KASEY CHAMBERS & SHANE NICHOLSON
Few artists command as much critical acclaim as Dwight Yoakam, yet he was also a stunningly successful commercial act from the start. Nine of his releases have been certified gold or better, and his biggest set to date – This Time – has sold more than three million copies.
His catalog is deep with classic cuts. Here are ten of the best, a solid introduction to one of the genre's greatest talents.
And while it's not represented on the list, I highly recommend his stellar Under the Covers, an excellent covers album that is best heard in its entirety.
“Guitars, Cadillacs” from the 1986 album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.
It's tempting to kick off with “Honky Tonk Man”, Yoakam's effective cover of Johnny Horton's classic that was also his breakthrough hit. But what's missing from that track is Yoakam's signature heartache and pain. In Yoakam's best songs, he's not seeking out the night life because he enjoys it. It's to distract him from the loneliness and rejection that his lover has inflicted upon him.
“Streets of Bakersfield” (featuring Buck Owens) from the 1988 album Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room
Yoakam was instrumental in making the younger generations aware of the importance of Buck Owens, clearly Yoakam's strongest country influence. When he chose to revive an old Owens tune, he invited the man himself to help him out. The end result was a #1 hit that was a comeback for Owens and a signature smash for both of them.
“It Only Hurts When I Cry” from the 1990 album If There Was a Way
Yoakam's albums got considerably more ambitious in the nineties, but it's the beautiful simplicity of this hit, co-penned by Roger Miller, that's made it so timeless.
“Suspicious Minds” from the 1992 album Honeymoon in Vegas
He'd already had a hit with Elvis Presley's “Little Sister”, which he covered faithfully on his second album, Hillbilly Deluxe. But it was his rocking cover of “Suspicious Minds” that, in my mind, well surpassed Presley's original version.
“Ain't That Lonely Yet” from the 1993 album This Time
Co-writer James House had planned on keeping this one for himself, but when Yoakam heard it, he insisted that he get the chance to release it. It was a good move for both men, as the song became a radio smash and the performance earned Yoakam a Grammy.
“A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” from the 1993 album This Time
There's something hypnotic about this particular hit, which was immortalized with a split-screen video that has since become a classic.
“Nothing” from the 1995 album Gone
Gone is Yoakam's most fascinating album of self-penned material, with creative percussion arrangements and unexpected horn sections popping up here and there. There was never anything on country radio quite like it, nor has there been anything since.
“Things Change” from the 1998 album A Long Way Home
One of Yoakam's catchiest hits is also one of his most venomous, as he rejects the lover that has come crawling back to him after sending him packing earlier in the song.
“Thinking About Leaving” from the 1999 album Last Chance For a Thousand Years
Yoakam added new lyrics and changed the arrangement of this Rodney Crowell song, which had originally appeared on Crowell's Jewel of the South. He turned it into the confessional of a man torn between a life on the road and making a home with the woman who finally has him wanting to settle down.
“The Back of Your Hand” from the 2003 album Population: Me
Yoakam knew he had to cut this song when he heard the line, “There's some things that I just know, like you take two sugars with a splash of cream.” I've always been most fond of the way he frames the choice facing the woman who wants to leave: “Pick a number from one to two.”
I’m about to write a sentence that I never thought I would:
I wish this song had been recorded by Montgomery Gentry instead.
Dierks Bentley is a solid songwriter and vocalist, but this is so far out of his normal groove that he doesn’t sound comfortable. Maybe it will work better live, but as a studio recording, it’s dull and lifeless.
“Sideways” reminds me of Rodney Crowell’s efforts later in his career to do mindless ditties. They just didn’t work, perhaps because once your thoughts run deep, it’s no longer fun to wade in the shallow waters of your mind.
Kathy Mattea’s brilliant album released last year, Coal, reminded me of how much I love themed albums. There is something unique and special about an album that addresses a single topic from varied angles or transports the listener on a purposeful ride. It’s not just a random collection of singles with little to coalesce them together. Rather, like great movies, themed albums demand that you listen from the first note to the last, lest you miss something important in between.
Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger is one of the most famous themed albums in country music history. The entire album is based on the conceptual story of a preacher who shoots his cheating wife and her lover before going on the run. However, the theme doesn’t have to be as concrete as the one in Red Headed Stranger or as narrow as the one in Coal, which endeavors to shine a light on the coal-mining industry, to be included in this category. It can be as amorphous as “love” or “heartache.”
Just for fun, I culled through my musical catalog (and all 5 million or so country songs about love, heartache and partying on Friday night) and put together my own themed album very loosely titled: America 2009:
Filthy Rich (Big Kenny, John Rich, Bill McDavid, Freddy Powers, Sonny Thockmorton)
Workingman’s Blues #2 (Bob Dylan)
If We Make It Through December (Merle Haggard)
Dirt (Chris Knight)
What’s A Simple Man To Do? (Steve Earle)
The Ballad of Salvador & Isabelle (Dave Quanbury)
If You Don’t Love Jesus (Billy Joe Shaver)
Ellis Unit One (Steve Earle)
Dress Blues (Jason Isbell)
It’s a Different World Now (Rodney Crowell)
Everybody Knows (Gary Louris, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison)
Up to the Mountain (Patty Griffin)
Reason to Believe (Bruce Springsteen)
If you were to create your own themed album, what would it look like?
The second article in our Grammy Awards series, our personal favorites in the country categories at this year’s ceremony.
Best Country Album
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights (Blake, Leeann)
George Strait, Troubadour
Randy Travis, Around the Bend
Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love (Dan, Kevin, Lynn)
Blake: Strait’s collection is a mixed bag of middlebrow art with the occasional glimpse at his right-as-rain Texas style. Excepting Troubadour, these discs are highwater marks for the genre. Johnson and Loveless finished one-two on my 2008 list, but I’ll root for Loveless to win a long-awaited solo Grammy.
Dan: I actually think Johnson made the best album, but Yearwood’s is my second-favorite, and she’s long overdue.
Kevin: It’s a strong field overall, but Yearwood’s album is the most cohesive. She’s the greatest female album artist since Emmylou Harris, yet she’s never won an album award. It’s time.
Leeann: My choice is Patty Loveless’ album, though Trisha Yearwood’s is a very close second. While Loveless’ is an album of covers, it’s the one I find myself putting in without skipping a track more than Yearwood’s. I really would be happy for either choice, however.
Lynn: Loveless put together my favorite album as a whole, but Yearwood is long overdue and her wonderful album was shamefully ignored. I hope she wins.
In a nod towards diversity, the General Field nominees for the 51st annual Grammy Awards include a shepherd’s pie of musical genres, with Brit soul ingenues (Adele, Duffy) against American pop trios (Jonas Bros., Lady A), Brit pop bands (Coldplay, Radiohead) against American rappers (Ne-Yo, Lil’ Wayne), all with a Brit rock legend (Robert Plant) lording over them. While it’s hard to argue the breadth of recent nominees in these categories, their depth is always up for discussion (see: Herbie Hancock, 2008 Album of the Year; Ray Charles, 2005 Record of the Year).
The country field is filled with critical faves. George Strait enjoys the strongest across-the-board success in his estimable career, newcomer Jamey Johnson is lauded for his neo-outlaw soul, and Randy Travis, Patty Loveless and Trisha Yearwood continue Grammy’s trend of nominating veterans alongside newer artists.
The staff of Country Universe have chosen their personal favorites and predictions for this year’s Grammy ceremony. First up on the docket: our predictions in the country categories.
Best Country Album
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song (Blake, Leeann, Lynn)
Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
George Strait, Troubadour (Dan, Kevin)
Randy Travis, Around the Bend
Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love
Blake: Is Jamey Johnson the savior of modern-day country music? I think by placing his name next to four of the format’s legends, the Grammy voters have already voiced their opinion on the matter. The vociferous critical support surrounding this release suggests that Johnson will surpass the veterans in this race.
Dan: I was totally thinking Johnson until just this morning, but I’m having last-minute doubts about his widespread support – he’s still very new to lots of voters, and I’m not confident that his hype will be sufficient to summon confidence from everyone voting in this category. So I’m siding with Kevin’s prediction on Strait.
Kevin: The only proven vote-getter here is Randy Travis, but I’m doubtful that he’ll be able to triumph with Johnson and Loveless garnering so many of the traditionalist’s votes. Grammy loves its women, which could give Yearwood and Loveless an advantage, but I’m not sure there’s a clear favorite between them. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict George Strait. He’s long overdue for a Grammy, and he has the most commercially successful album of the five. With three of the album’s songs represented in other categories (“Troubadour”, “I Saw God Today, “House of Cash”), this might be his year.
Leeann: I really think Johnson will grab this one. The critics love him and he’s had the most hype in the last year.
Lynn: I agree this will be a tough one for Grammy voters. Yearwood and Loveless both have the sheer talent Grammy voters appreciate and they produced quality albums. However, I think the voters’ penchant and love for multi-talented newcomers with musical integrity will give Johnson his first Grammy.
In his iconic 1985 hit, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” George Jones echoed the concerns of many when he wondered (or more honestly, worried) how the next generation of country singers would compare to the likes of Waylon and Willie. “Who’s gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you?” he asked, with the sound of a lonesome whistle serving as his only answer. Soon, the neotrad movement remodeled Music Row, allaying the fears of country’s elders momentarily.
The prevailing narrative in Nashville usually centers around how the new country crop treats the town’s long-held customs. In the grand Southern tradition, the young’uns are expected to be faithful: to their mamas, to their Maker and to the music that laid the legacy for the format.
Dierks Bentley’s debut, then, was cool comfort for traditionalists, who reveled in his back-to-basics approach. Even as he steered towards a more rock-tinged tone and sheered off his beloved curls (a downer for all those smitten dames), the hosannas rang high from all corners. On Feel That Fire, though, Bentley seems to finally buckle under the weight of contemporary expectations. Always at the mercy of his raw materials, he’s saddled himself with a bushel basket of songs that briefly scratch the surface of his talent. (more…)
While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories. This year, the 45th trophy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance will be awarded.
In a continuation of our Grammy Flashback series, here is a rundown of the Best Country Vocal Performance, Male category. It was first awarded in 1965, and included singles competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.
As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back. Be sure to vote in My Kind of Country’sBest Male Country Vocal Performance poll and let your preference for this year’s race be known!
Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”
Brad Paisley, “Letter to Me”
George Strait, “Troubadour”
As with the album race, this year’s contenders for Best Male Country Vocal Performance are a combination of unrecognized veterans and promising newcomers. In fact, none of this year’s nominees have won in this category, and only one of them – Brad Paisley – has a Grammy at all.
First, the veterans. Paisley has numerous ACM and CMA victories to his credit, including two each for Male Vocalist. Although he’s been nominated for this award twice before, this is the first time he’s contended with a cut that can’t be dismissed as a novelty number. The touching self-penned “Letter to Me” is his best shot yet at taking this home.
Trace Adkins has been at this a bit longer than Paisley, but this is his first Grammy nomination. His crossover exposure from Celebrity Apprentice might help him out here, along with the fact that the song was considered strong enough by voters to earn a nomination of its own.
But the real veteran to watch out for is George Strait. After being nominated only twice for this category in the first 25 years of his career, voters have now given him three consecutive nominations. This is one of four nods he’s earned for the 2009 ceremony, and “Troubadour” is essentially the story of his epic career distilled into a radio-length song. It would be the perfect way to honor the man and his music in one fell swoop.
However, there’s a newcomer that might be a Grammy favorite already. We just haven’t found out yet. Not James Otto, of course, who is nominated for his charming romantic romp “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”, but rather, Jamey Johnson. The recent Nashville Scene critics’ poll further confirmed the depth of his support among tastemakers, and his nominations for Best Country Song and Best Country Album indicate that he’s very much on the academy’s radar. It helps that he has the most substantial track of the five, and it’s the obvious choice for traditionalists, who have little reason to split their votes in this category. If voters aren’t considering legacy when making their selections, he has a great shot at this.
Dierks Bentley, “Long Trip Alone”
Alan Jackson, “A Woman’s Love”
Tim McGraw, “If You’re Reading This”
George Strait, “Give it Away”
Keith Urban, “Stupid Boy”
The often offbeat Grammy voters have been surprisingly mainstream in this category for the past three years, a trend best exemplified by this lineup, which was the first in more than a decade to feature only top ten radio hits. Tim McGraw and Keith Urban were the only two who had won this before, and it was Urban who emerged victorious. ”Stupid Boy” was a highlight of his fourth studio album, and this was the only major award that the impressive collection would win.
Dierks Bentley, “Every Mile a Memory”
Vince Gill, “The Reason Why”
George Strait, “The Seashores of Old Mexico”
Josh Turner, “Would You Go With Me”
Keith Urban, “Once in a Lifetime”
Vince Gill returned to win in this category for a ninth time with “The Reason Why.” Not only is he, by far, the most honored artist in this category, his wins here account for nine of the nineteen Grammys currently on his mantle.
George Jones, “Funny How Time Slips Away”
Toby Keith, “As Good As I Once Was”
Delbert McClinton, “Midnight Communion”
Willie Nelson, “Good Ol’ Boys”
Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
Keith Urban, “You’ll Think of Me”
Urban’s biggest and probably best hit launched his second album to triple platinum and established him as a crossover artist. He gave a killer performance of the song on the show. Toby Keith was a first-time nominee here, and while he publicly groused that the Grammys put too little emphasis on commercial success in picking their nominations, he lost to the only track that was a bigger hit than his own.
The first couplet ofHayes Carll’s Trouble in Mind is a fitting introduction to a common man’s intellectual. On the arresting “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” he croons, “I’ve got a woman, she’s wild as Rome/She likes to lay naked and be gazed upon.” In just a few short strokes, he’s proclaimed his love for women and the wilder side of life; what follows is a colorful assortment of songs, largely based on those desires, from a folk psychologist dressed up as a Texas singer-songwriter.
With Trouble in Mind, his first release with Lost Highway and third album overall, Carll’s music evokes the usual suspects in Lone Star musical lore, from Rodney Crowell to Guy Clark. Whether swallowing back the bitter taste of a romance gone sour, or swearing off bad habits of the past, Carll uses his emotional crises as fuel for a set filled with literate songs. On Trouble in Mind, Carll waxes poetic about hot-blooded women and heavy drinking, restless hearts and dashed hopes. His voice isn’t squeaky clean (much like the man), but just a dollop of Carll’s smoky Southern drawl delivers the goods.