What are your top five train songs?
Here’s my list:
- Rosanne Cash, “Runaway Train”
- Pam Tillis, “Train Without a Whistle”
- Dwight Yoakam, “Train in Vain”
- Whiskey Falls, “Last Train Running”
- Clint Black, “There Never Was a Train”
He’s such a legendary songwriter that I’m putting up three Top Fives – albums, singles, and songs written by him that were recorded by others!
Share yours in the comments. Here are my lists:
There’s a cool Guy Clark documentary Kickstarter campaign happening right now that I encourage country music lovers to check out and, perhaps, make a pledge toward. Long time publicist, biographer and Guy Clark champion, Tamara Saviano, is in the process of producing and directing a documentary on Clark, a revered songwriter in country music.
The campaign is already almost fully funded, which is a testament to the wide and strong impact of Clark. However, while they’ve almost raised the initial funds, any extra money on top of that modest goal will only allow the documentary to be even better than it already promises to be, not to mention the opportunities for various perks that are offered to backers of the project.
After reading about and pledging to this campaign, I’ve been going down a Guy Clark Rabbit hole for the last couple of days, which has included listening to songs written by Clark that others have recorded and listening to his own excellent albums.
Luminaries such as Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ricky Skaggs, Bobby Bare, John Conlee, The Highwaymen, Rosanne Cash, Kathy Mattea, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley , Ashley Monroe and Kenny Chesney, among many others, have been mentored by and have recorded Guy Clark songs.
With that said, today’s Daily Top Five is : What are your five favorite songs written and/or recorded by one of your favorite songwriters.
Since Guy Clark is one of my favorite songwriters, here are my top favorite songs of his:
1. Guy Clark & Emmylou Harris, “I Don’t Love You Much Do I”
2. Rodney Crowell, “She’s Crazy for Leaving”
3. Jerry Jeff Walker, “L.A. Freeway”
4. The Highwaymen, “Desperados Waiting for a Train”
5. Kathy Mattea, “The Cape”
Best Country Album: Miranda Lambert, Platinum
Album of the Year: Beck, Morning Phase
Best New Artist: Sam Smith
Record of the Year: Sam Smith, “Stay With Me (Darkside Version)”
Song of the Year: “Stay With Me” – James Napier, William Phillips & Sam Smith
Best Country Solo Performance: Carrie Underwood, “Something in the Water”
Best Country Duo/Group Performance: The Band Perry, “Gentle on My Mind”
Best Country Song: “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” – Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
Best American Roots Performance: Rosanne Cash, “A Feather’s Not a Bird”
Best American Roots Song: “A Feather’s Not a Bird” – Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal
Best Americana Album: Rosanne Cash, The River & the Thread
Best Folk Album: Old Crow Medicine Show, Remedy
Best Bluegrass Album: The Earls of Leicester, The Earls of of Leicester
Best Contemporary Instrumental Album: Chris Thile & Edgar Meyer, Bass & Mandolin
Best Historical Album: Hank Williams, The Garden Spot Programs, 1950
This year’s Grammy Awards air on Sunday, February 8, and country music will be represented with performances Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, and the tantalizing pairing of Brandy Clark and Dwight Yoakam. Most of the awards will be handed out before the show, and we will post the relevant winners here, as part of a Grammy Open Thread where CU readers and writers can share their thoughts on this year’s awards.
Four CU writers, including myself, have shared our predictions and personal picks for the general and country-related categories below. Of course, one of the coolest things about the Grammys is that it celebrates a wide range of music from the past year, and as you’ll see by our varying levels of participation, our tastes here at CU run the gamut.
This year, I’m as excited about the performances by Madonna, Kanye West (twice!), and that Hozier and Annie Lennox duet as I am about any of the country performers, and I’ll be rooting for West and Childish Gambino to sweep the Rap and Hip-Hop categories.
Who do you think will be the big winners on Sunday night, and who are you hoping will win and looking forward to seeing perform? As always, share your thoughts in the comments!
Kevin: In a decent year for pop music, any one of these records could credibly represent the year. I think Sam Smith is Grammy catnip, so I expect him to win big. I think “All About That Bass” was the most creative and interesting record of the five.
Leeann: I’m a fan of the Sam Smith song, but I agree with Kevin that “All About That Bass” is the most creative and interesting, not to mention the catchiest.
Jonathan: I actually thought it was a weak year for mainstream pop, as reflected by this fairly poor slate of nominees. Smith is right in that Adele / Norah Jones adult-pop wheelhouse that Grammy voters love, so he’s the most likely winner. Sia’s “Chandelier” is the most progressive take on pop music among the five, though, if “Shake it Off” were to win anything, this would probably be the least egregious place to recognize Swift’s hit. I would have gladly rooted for the mash-up between Iggy Azalea’s and Reba’s respective takes on “Fancy.”
2014 was a banner year for country music albums. In addition to the predictably solid entries from the Americana, folk, and bluegrass scenes, some excellent albums also surfaced from the unlikeliest of sources: mainstream, radio-friendly contemporary country artists!
Here are our twenty favorite albums from 2014. Fingers crossed that 2015 is as good or better than this year has been.
KJC #8 | LW #16
A confident, intelligent solo project that washes away all of the bitter taste left by Sugarland’s preceding studio album, The Incredible Machine. Nettles manages to remind us what was so appealing about the trio-turned-duo in the first place, while also staking out her own musical territory that has room for independence anthems alongside wry, humorous commentary on society and, of course, palpably vulnerable heartbreak numbers. – Kevin John Coyne
Recommended Tracks: “Me Without You”, “Know You Wanna Know”, “Jealousy”
The best lineup for Best Country Album that we can remember:
Record of the Year includes a former country artist and a CMA Awards duet partner:
PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit
PrizeFighter: Hit after Hit includes the first set of new material from Trisha Yearwood in seven years. That new material, six tracks in total, is uniformly excellent and often extraordinary, adding to her already impressive legacy as the genre’s finest singer and interpreter of the last thirty years. What a pity that the rest of the collection cheapens and sullies that legacy.
Let’s start with those wonderful new tracks. The lead single and title cut, “PrizeFighter”, is an inspiring, get back up when you fall power anthem, featuring supporting vocals by Kelly Clarkson. In true Trisha form, the preview track is better than just about anything else on the radio today, yet still only hints at the treasures that await on the rest of the album.
He spent most of the eighties struggling for recognition, but thanks to his smooth ballads and country’s suddenly expanded audience, Vince Gill emerged as one of the biggest superstars of the nineties.
Born and raised in Oklahoma, he followed in the footsteps of his musician father, but while it was a hobby for his dad, it became Vince’s life mission. His ability to play several different instruments and his talent for harmonizing earned him a place in local bands, and he moved to Kentucky and then to Los Angeles seeking out further opportunities. An audition for the Pure Prairie League in 1979 resulted in him becoming their new lead singer, and Gill had his first taste of success when their single, “Let Me Love You Tonight”, topped the adult contemporary charts and cracked the pop top ten.
He left the band to join Rodney Crowell’s backing group, Cherry Bomb, only a few years after he had played a similar backing role for Ricky Skaggs. His time with Cherry Bomb connected him to Tony Brown, the musician and record executive who signed him to RCA in 1981. For the next several years, stardom remained just out of reach for Gill, who managed to score just three top ten hits with the label. He was better known for his session work as a guitarist and as a harmony singer, with his distinctive vocals appearing on #1 hits by Rosanne Cash (“I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”) and Patty Loveless (“Timber I’m Falling in Love.”)
When Brown left RCA for MCA records, Gill followed shortly thereafter. In 1989, he released the dramatic ballad “When I Call Your Name”, featuring harmony vocals from Loveless. The record made him one of the genre’s hottest stars, setting up a decade of dominance at radio and retail. Throughout the nineties, Gill racked up a stunning run of hits and big-selling albums, with I Still Believe in You selling more than five million copies on the strength of four #1 hits.
Gill alternated between rave-ups that featured his guitar prowess and power ballads that brought country’s traditional heartache sound into the late twentieth century. Despite his new popularity, he still did as much session work as ever, happily accepting offers to sing and play on the albums of anyone who requested him to. He became known as the genre’s leading gentleman, and his quick wit led to him hosting the CMA awards for more than a decade. Because of both his talent and his work with other artists, Gill dominated the two award shows voted on by his peers, winning more than a dozen Grammys and CMA awards. He is tied with George Strait for the most CMA Male Vocalist trophies, and holds the record for the most wins in the Song of the Year category.
As radio support slowly dwindled toward the late nineties, Gill focused on making ambitious albums, most notably the four-CD set These Days, which earned him another pair of Grammys and a platinum award. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005, and he was one of the youngest inductees in history to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007. A marriage to fellow singer Amy Grant has kept him focused more on family than music in recent years, but he still tours regularly and remains an Opry staple. His most recent set, Guitar Slinger, hit shelves in 2011 and earned him multiple songwriting nominations for the lead single, “Threaten Me with Heaven.”
Next: #37. The Louvin Brothers
Previous: #39. Faron Young
KIN: Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell
A collection of songs written by industry veteran Rodney Crowell along with bestselling author and poet Mary Karr, recorded by a who’s who of country and Americana music greats. It should be enough to set the mouth of many a roots music aficiando watering.
The very concept behind the album places the emphasis squarely on the songwriting – an approach that is flawlessly adhered to by Joe Henry’s ace production job. The twangy, stripped-down arrangements stay entirely out of the way of the songs, often reverently nodding to the conventions of traditional country music. It doesn’t feel so much as a rote exercise in throwback neotraditionalism, but more so as a style that simply feels timeless and ageless on its own merits, untainted by production trends that might tie it to a particular era.
In large part, what’s impressive about this album is that, despite the eclectic line-up of participating artists, KIN doesn’t feel like a potluck project of songs randomly thrown together. It really does feel like an album, with each track serving as a part of a cohesive whole, bound together by recurring themes of family and rural small town life. Karr’s liner notes reveal that for song inspiration, she and Crowell drew heavily upon their own youthful experiences, having come from very similar upbringings despite not having grown up together. However, the treatment of such topics is hardly lily-white, with family homes often sporting bullet holes and reeking of alcohol.
Crowell himself steps up to the mic on four of the albums ten tracks, sharing it with Kris Kristofferson on the standout duet “My Father’s Advice,” which boasts an infectious melody and fiddle hook. While country radio often favors the proverbial “old man’s advice” song, “My Father’s Advice” rises above the often cliché-laden mainstream treatment of such subject matter by creating a believable, three-dimensional character sketch of the narrator’s father – realistically imperfect, but deeply devoted to rearing his son in the right way, with Kristofferson giving voice to the father figure of Crowell’s narrator. Crowell’s other vocal turns include the noncharting single “I’m a Mess,” along with album opener “Anything But Tame,” a wistful meditation on the course taken by a childhood friendship.
The contributions of the participating artists are no less stellar. Having built a career as a mainstream country artist with a moderate neotraditionalist bent, Lee Ann Womack has never sounded better than when paired with a fiddle-drenched pure country arrangement. A jaunty tempo and dobro hook bely the dark lyric as Womack sings from the perspective of a child witnessing the dissolution of her alcoholic parents’ marriage on album standout “Momma’s On a Roll.” In keeping with the family theme, the camaraderie of sisterhood is explored with “Sister Oh Sister,” which Crowell’s ex-wife Rosanne Cash renders with deep sincerity. Vince Gill’s sweet tenor absolutely soars when paired with the stone cold throwback arrangement of “Just Pleasing You” – a traditional country gem that wouldn’t sound out of the place in the legendary Hank Williams catalog. Lucinda Williams sounds downright desperate in her delivery of the aching ballad “God I’m Missing You,” while Norah Jones turns in a delightfully wry take on “If the Law Don’t Want You” – a witty tune inspired by Mary Karr’s teenage years. Times past have attested to the fact that no Rodney Crowell song can hope for a finer vocal medium than the incomparable Emmylou Harris, who delivers the haunting “Long Time Girl Gone By” in an earthy whisper of a performance.
Crowell closes out the set with “Hungry For Home,” a charming detail-laden lyric that encapsulates the warmth and comfort of one’s home – something that can be found even in a home long beset with family strife. It’s a fitting conclusion to the album as a whole, showing that – despite the hardships Karr and Crowell both dealt with in their respective upbringings on into adult life – they clearly retain a deep appreciation for the experiences that have shaped them as individuals. “It was like we’d grown up next door in a hellacious place – the anus of the universe, my mother always called it,” writes Karr. “But we adored those characters and their language – we’d never choose elsewhere.”
Considering that country music has long been a primarily singles-oriented format, it’s refreshing to see such a fine realization of the album as an art form. Though each individual piece is captivating in itself, KIN remains an album best heard in its entirety, with hardly a weak track to be found. The entire project radiates authenticity, as Karr and Crowell essentially hand over their respective family photo albums for music lovers to leaf through, making KIN feel very much like a memoir set to music. One would certainly hope that Karr and Crowell continue to write excellent songs together, and that the results will be at least half as rewarding as they are on this fine album.