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Single Review: Joe Nichols, “The Shape I’m In”

July 3, 2010 Kevin John Coyne 6

I remember thinking when I first heard Sara Evans sing “Cheatin'” that it was the best record Reba McEntire hadn’t recorded in a long time.

Listening to the new Joe Nichols single “The Shape I’m In”, I’m thinking the same thing about George Strait.

Perhaps it’s just because “The Breath You Take” is still a fresh disappointment in my mind, but I can’t help thinking Strait would’ve knocked “The Shape I’m In” out of the park.

That being said, Nichols does a good job himself, in a vocal performance that is so inspired by Strait it might as well be an homage.

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ACM Flashback: Album of the Year

March 28, 2010 Kevin John Coyne 16

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:


  • 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.


  • 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.

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Forgotten Hits: George Ducas, “Lipstick Promises”

February 23, 2010 Kevin John Coyne 7

Lipstick Promises
George Ducas
Peak: #9
Written by George Ducas and Tia Sellers

One hit wonders were once an anomaly in country music. The nineties changed that, as the massive commercial success of the genre inspired more labels to get into the game. The result was more artists than country radio could ever play regularly, so even a breakthrough top ten hit was no longer enough to get radio to automatically give the next single a shot.

George Ducas was one of the earliest casualties of this new era. With a voice like Dwight Yoakam with a touch of Raul Malo, Ducas showed tremendous promise as a singer-songwriter. There’s a beautiful melancholy to his performance of “Lipstick Promises.” It’s the tale of a man who has been blinded by beauty and ends up being burned by his unfaithful lover.

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 9: #40-#21

December 23, 2009 Dan Milliken 24

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 9: #40-#21

“This Is Me You’re Talking To”
Trisha Yearwood
Peak: #25

Flawless. Proof positive that the nineties formula at its best is better than anything on naughties radio. Perhaps they can’t play it too much for that reason. It’s not good for business to park a new Lexus in a used car lot of Ford Pintos. – Kevin Coyne

“Famous in a Small Town”
Miranda Lambert
Peak: #14

This is one of those slice-of-life songs that anyone from a small town can easily relate to. What sets it above the pack of songs of that ilk is the witty nugget of truth that “everybody dies famous in a small town.” The Springsteen-esque vibe of the production is pretty cool, too. – Leeann Ward

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 8: #60-#41

December 22, 2009 Dan Milliken 21

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 8: #60-#41

“Long Trip Alone”
Dierks Bentley
Peak: #10

In a perfect world, this would be this decade’s wedding standard. – Kevin Coyne

“Your Man”
Josh Turner
Peak: #1

Lush baritone against an effortlessly charismatic, enticing invitation to let Turner be “your man.” How can you resist? – Tara Seetharam

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 4: #140-#121

December 16, 2009 Dan Milliken 27

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 4: #140-#121

140 Bon Jovi Nice Day

“Who Says You Can’t Go Home”
Bon Jovi featuring Jennifer Nettles
Peak: #1

Packed as country music has been lately with rocked-up little singalongs, perhaps it was only natural that one of the leading bands in rocked-up little singalongs should cross over for a bit to show everybody how it’s done. It was newcomer Nettles, though, who stole this show, driving Bon Jovi’s ditty home with an infectiously joyful performance. – Dan Milliken

139 Johnny Cash V

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down”
Johnny Cash
Peak: Did not chart

The arrangement is cool enough, but it’s Cash’s stoic, slicing vocal performance that makes his version of this song so memorable. – Tara Seetharam

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 2: #180-#161

December 15, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 48

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 2: #180-#161

180 Flatts Melt

“These Days”
Rascal Flatts
Peak: #1

It’s the pairing of aching nostalgia and all the power that comes with a Flatts country-pop ballad that makes this song so potent. – Tara Seetharam

179 Ashton

“Takin’ Off This Pain”
Ashton Shepherd
Peak: #20

Like a fiery-eyed hybrid of Loretta Lynn and Jennifer Nettles, Shepherd burst onto the scene snapping her newly ring-free fingers at the clueless sap not treating her right. Next Decade, please take note: you’ve got a star in waiting. – Dan Milliken

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 1: #201-#181

December 13, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 19

hourglassThis was the decade that brought back the single. Not that it ever fully went away, as radio still played the promotional ones and video outlets the filmed ones. But actual commercial singles had gone the way of the dodo, until the digital revolution suddenly made them practical again. Why buy the whole album when you can just get the song that you want?

The devastation this has brought to record company bottom lines was probably unavoidable anyway, given the realities of post-Napster society. But technology has its perks. Now you can buy the songs on this list with a click of our mouse!

And what a list it is: 201 singles that run the gamut, from genuine hits that topped the charts to songs spun only by renegade DJs working the night shift. Here’s how we compiled it: four Country Universe writers ranked their personal favorite 100 singles, with an inverted point system applied (#1 on a list meant 100 points, while #100 on the list meant 1 point.) The songs were then ranked by number of total points, greatest to least. Ties were broken by the number of lists the song appeared on, then by highest individual ranking.

There was more consensus than usual for CU, and we all agreed on one thing: this list was a heck of a lot of fun to compile. We hope you enjoy it, too!

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 1: #201-#181

201 Lady A

“I Run To You”
Lady Antebellum

There’s a palpable intensity to this song that grips me every time I listen to it. Love isn’t always characterized by peacefulness, and the song’s pulsing production perfectly conveys the urgency, desperation and passion that often accompanies it. – Tara Seetharam

200 Patty Strong

“The Last Thing on My Mind”
Patty Loveless

Given her allegiance to country music’s history and personal association with both Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, you might think this was a cover of that duo’s first top ten hit. Instead, it’s a very modern-sounding song with a modern-day woman who never thinks about the guy she’s left behind until right before she goes to sleep, when “something in my broken heart rewinds” as she lies in an “empty bed as big as Arkansas.” – Kevin Coyne

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100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1: #100-#91

November 29, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 20

Ah, the naughties. The decade began and ended with pop crossover queens, with Shania Twain and Faith Hill at the top of their game in 2000 much like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood reign supreme today. In between, we had the roots music boom, best exemplified by O Brother and the platinum-selling Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss & Union Station; the post-9/11 patriotic explosion, which brought Toby Keith and Darryl Worley to the top of the charts; the near-total banishment of women from the country radio dial for a good part of the decade, which started to fade as redneck pride ascended, thanks to a certain woman trying to make Pocahontas proud; and far too many tributes to country living and island-flavored beach bum songs to count.

All of this made for a fascinating decade to be a country fan. As radio worked its way through all of the above (with the notable exception of roots music), the internet made it far easier for acts to be discovered without ever getting a single spin of traditional radio play. With MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and the explosion of country music blogs, the barriers have been torn down between artist and audience in a way that was never possible before.

The motley crew of Country Universe has a diversity of tastes that fit within the widest boundaries of country music, as reflected our collaborative list of the 100 best albums of the decade. Five of our writers contributed to the list, with all writer’s selections being weighed equally. We’ll reveal ten entries a day until the list is complete. A look back at the greatest singles of the decade will then follow.

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1

Abigail 100

Abigail Washburn, Song of the Traveling Daughter

Song of the Traveling Daughter is the debut album from Uncle Earl claw hammer banjo player Abigail Washburn. Produced by Béla Fleck and featuring Ben Sollee, it is a subdued album filled with intriguing instrumentation and influences. Standout songs include “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” with its interesting Civil War period influence; the upbeat “Coffee’s Cold,” originally performed by Uncle Earl; and “Song of the Traveling Daughter,” based on the classical Chinese poem “Song of the Traveling Son.” – William Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, “Coffee’s Cold”

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Women of the Decade

October 18, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 16

reba-mcentireCountry Universe contributor and reader Cory DeStein flagged this rundown from Billboard regarding women on the charts this decade:

PERFECT 10: On Country Songs, Carrie Underwood ropes her 10th top 10, as “Cowboy Casanova” climbs 11-8. With the advance, Underwood now stands alone in first-place for most top 10s on the chart among solo women this decade.

Here are the solo females with the most top 10s on Country Songs since 2000:

10, Carrie Underwood
9, Faith Hill
9, Martina McBride
8, Taylor Swift
7, Sara Evans
7, Reba McEntire
6, Jo Dee Messina
5, LeAnn Rimes
5, Gretchen Wilson
4, Shania Twain

Notably, the artist who led the category among women last decade did so with almost three times as many top 10s. Reba McEntire ranked first among solo women in the ’90s with 27 top 10s on Country Songs. Trisha Yearwood placed second with 18 between 1990 and 1999, and Faith Hill, Patty Loveless and Tanya Tucker each posted 14 in that span.

The decline in fortune for women at radio this decade is even more pronounced when you compare the above top ten to the previous decade:

1 2 3 4 5 6