Tag Archives: Sawyer Brown

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #250-#226

A lot of songs from both ends of the charts here, including a husband-and-wife duet that spent six weeks at #1.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #250-#226

#250
I Meant Every Word He Said
Ricky Van Shelton
1990 | Peak: #2

Listen

At least the third song on this list about a guy mulling over romantic gestures he wishes he’d made to his former love, and the most traditional among those songs. You could easily imagine this one being a minor classic by a 60’s or 70’s legend, so close is its replication of that style. – Dan Milliken

#249
I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying
Toby Keith with Sting
1997 | Peak: #2

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My hard-and-fast rule for Toby Keith: The sadder he is, the happier the listening experience tends to be. He’s all kinds of sad in this snapshot of post-divorce melancholia, reflecting on everything from unfair custody protocol to the greater motions of the universe. Even a gratuitous Sting cameo can’t detract from the single’s gloomy grandeur. – DM

#248
You Ain’t Much Fun
Toby Keith
1995 | Peak: #2

Listen

Toby Keith is also funny, though. What’s a man to do? Sobering up ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be from is perspective. Ever since he’s done so, his wife has been taking advantage of his increased functionality by giving him honey-do lists that he wasn’t ably tackling pre-sobriety. It’s enough to drive a man to drink. – Leeann Ward

#247
Tender Moment
Lee Roy Parnell
1993 | Peak: #2

Listen

Actions speak louder than words. – KC

#246
Go Rest High On That Mountain
Vince Gill
1995 | Peak: #14

Listen

Every once and awhile an artist delivers a song so powerful that it seems to shatter all divides in its genre. A tribute to both the late Keith Whitley and Gill’s late brother, “Go Rest High On That Mountain” pairs deeply spiritual lyrics with a tender, emotion-soaked performance. The combination is magic. – TS

#245
Nothing
Dwight Yoakam
1995 | Peak: #20

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Living up to its title, the Yoakam’s barren heart and soul are replicated in the arrangement of the song.  If emptiness has a sound, this is it. – Kevin Coyne

#244
(Who Says) You Can’t Have it All
Alan Jackson
1994 | Peak: #4

Listen

Jackson more than earns his neo-traditional street cred thanks to this song. Just soak up that lonesome steel guitar! – LW

#243
It’s Your Love
Tim McGraw with Faith Hill
1997 | Peak: #1

Listen

A good power ballad shot to greatness by its artists’ striking chemistry – palpable, fiery and so very genuine. More than just a hit single, “It’s Your Love” represents the moment in country music history at which we were introduced to one of its definitive couples. – TS

#242
Grandpa Told Me So
Kenny Chesney
1995 | Peak: #23

Listen

Amidst a collection of country life lessons passed down from two generations back is one to live by: “There’ll be times that you want to hold on but you’ve got to let go.” – KC

#241
Thank God For You
Sawyer Brown
1993 | Peak: #1

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This man has a lot to thank God for, including stereotypical parental figures, but he’s most thankful for his girl. – LW

#240
I Never Knew Love
Doug Stone
1993 | Peak: #2

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An earnest, soulful confession of love. It’s hard to ignore the fact that it leans more in the adult-contemporary direction than that of anything else, but when a song is this moving, it’s also hard to care. – TS

#239
What She’s Doing Now
Garth Brooks
1992 | Peak: #1

Listen

In an unusual tact for Mr. Brooks, he forgoes melodrama in order to allow the natural drama of pining for a lost love to speak for itself. The dialed down performance works in the service of the song, as the sadness appropriately penetrates through. – LW

#238
Find My Way Back to My Heart
Alison Krauss & Union Station
1997 | Peak: #73

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Some of the best songs from AKUS play on the home life that’s sacrificed by following the musical dream. Krauss remembers how she used to laugh at songs about the lonely traveling life, but she’s not laughing now. – KC

#237
I Know
Kim Richey
1997 | Peak: #72

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It takes more than self-awareness to mend a broken heart. – KC

#236
Leave Him Out of This
Steve Wariner
1991 | Peak: #6

Listen

A man makes a soaring yet understated plea for his lover to let go of her past love. The song is made sadder by the touch of resignation in Wariner’s performance, which suggests the man knows he’s making his plea in vain. – TS

#235
Just My Luck
Kim Richey
1995 | Peak: #47

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Roba Stanley once sang about the joys of the single life and its simplicities.  Richey is about to leave it behind, and wonders just how lucky that makes her. – KC

#234
What if I Do
Mindy McCready
1997 | Peak: #26

Listen

A whole song about deciding whether or not to go all the way with one’s movie date. McCready gives a fantastically entertaining performance, speak-singing her lines with a a bold campiness that most other gals wouldn’t dare. – DM

#233
Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow
Alan Jackson
1990 | Peak: #2

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Stories of would-be stars trying to make it big in Nashville are nothing too novel, but Jackson’s plucky earnestness gives this one an accessibility many of the others lack. – DM

#232
Now That’s All Right With Me
Mandy Barnett
1996 | Peak: #43

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The other great Barnett single of the era, fusing Patsy Cline-style vocal class, Pam Tillis-style production and Gloriana-style youthful exuberance. – DM

#231
With You
Lila McCann
1999 | Peak: #9

Listen

Ten years before “You Belong With Me” made its splash, McCann set her sights on the same demographic with a song just as relatable, vibrant and passionate. That the song lacks Taylor Swift’s sharp perspective is perhaps what makes it such a great record: there’s something so pure about McCann’s fully unapologetic, headfirst fall into love. – TS

#230
My Maria
Brooks & Dunn
1996 | Peak: #1

Listen

The rare country cover of a pop song that improves on the original. No offense, B.W. Stephenson. – DM

#229
Boom! It Was Over
Robert Ellis Orrall
1992 | Peak: #19

Listen

How far can an amazing song title carry you? All the way to #229, that’s how far! – DM

#228
Somewhere in My Broken Heart
Billy Dean
1991 | Peak: #3

Listen

So simple and plain in its heartbreak, and so understated and quiet in its delivery.  – KC

#227
I Just Wanted You to Know
Mark Chesnutt
1993 | Peak: #1

Listen

Chesnutt makes a phone call to an old love that could be construed as creepy, pathetic or terribly sad – take your pick. I’m going with a mixture of all three, with a pinch of selfishness thrown in. Either way, “I Just Wanted You to Know” is a memorable slice of the-one-that-got-away reality.- TS

#226
I’m Gonna Be Somebody
Travis Tritt
1990 | Peak: #2

Listen

In the twenty years that passed since the release of this song, the path to success in the music industry has morphed into something that looks very different than it used to. Unlike that of Bobby in the song, these days an artist’s journey can come in all shapes and forms, sometimes abrupt and sometimes completely unprecedented.

Think what you want about this paradigm shift, but here’s what I believe: regardless of how you shoot to the top, the only way you’ll achieve longevity and, most importantly, respect in country music is if you share the fire in Bobby’s eyes. This soul-stirring hunger and unshakable passion is the heart of “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” and the reason it remains a timeless classic. Here’s to hoping – and I’m optimistic – our modern artists are made of the same stuff. – TS

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Filed under Back to the Nineties

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #400-#376

It’s hard to believe that twenty years have passed since the nineties first began.  Perhaps that’s because so many of the artists who broke through during that decade remain relevant on the music scene today, whether they’re still getting major spins at radio or not.

For many of us, it was the nineties when we discovered and fell in love with country music, and it’s the music and artists from that decade that represent the pinnacle of the genre. It may be debatable whether the nineties were the most artistically significant decade in the history of country music, but there’s no debating that country music never had more commercial success or cultural impact than it did in that decade.

It was a time that when the C-list artists could sell gold or platinum on the strength of one or two hits, and that 24-hour video outlets could give wide exposure to songs and artists that radio playlists could not.  When the four writers of this feature got together and combined our favorite singles from the decade, it was clear that this retrospective had to run far deeper than the one we recently completed for the first decade of the 21st century. There were simply far more good singles to choose from.

That being said, this list is a reflection of our personal tastes.  While they often overlapped with what was commercially popular, with nineteen top ten hits and eleven #1 hits among the first 25 entries alone, we didn’t consider radio or retail success in our picks.  So while you’ll see all of the big nineties stars represented on this list, it won’t always be with their biggest hits.  There’s more than a few stars that never quite came to be as well, saved from the dustbins of history and easier to find now than they were back then, thanks to the twin marvels of YouTube and Amazon.

As always, share your thoughts in the comments!

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #400-#376

#400
Little Good-Byes
SHeDaisy
1999  |  Peak: #3

Passive aggression finally got its due representation in modern country with SHeDAISY’s debut single, in which a mistreated protagonist exacts revenge on her ex by ever-so-slightly screwing up his house. Sort of like “Before He Cheats” for sane women. On the other hand – taking all the Beatles records and leaving only Billy Joel? Pretty cold, Osborn sisters. – Dan Milliken

#399
It Wouldn’t Hurt to Have Wings
Mark Chesnutt
1995  |  Peak: #7

Chesnutt is getting over you – promise – but he sure wouldn’t mind being lifted above the memories of your “mind-wrecking” love in this delightfully charming sing-along. – Tara Seetharam

#398
Fool, I’m a Woman
Sara Evans
1999  |  Peak: #32

The age-old stereotype that women can’t make up their minds is cleverly subverted into a threat toward an unkind man. A good combo of Loretta Lynn sass and Diana Ross sha-la-las. – DM

#397
One More Last Chance
Vince Gill
1993  |  Peak: #1

“One More Last Chance” may seem like a song about a man who is begging for just one more last chance to get things right. But under the surface, it’s about a man who is hopelessly addicted to alcohol and partying. Even when his wife takes away his obvious means of transportation by hiding the keys to the car, he resorts to riding his John Deere tractor to the bar instead. It’s a fun song, but one that is inspired by an incident associated with George Jones, who, incidentally, is infamous for his destructive alcohol addiction. – Leeann Ward

#396
The Cheap Seats
Alabama
1994  |  Peak: #13

“The Cheap Seats” aptly captures the spirit of America’s favorite pastime. – LW

#395
Lonely Too Long
Patty Loveless
1996  |  Peak: #1

A tender plea for the morning after to be the beginning of something more, with Loveless delivering both angst and cautious optimism through her vocal. – Kevin Coyne

#394
(If You’re Not in it For Love) I’m Outta Here!
Shania Twain
1995  |  Peak: #1

Look, guys, some of you are so transparent, it’s laughable. And to you I offer Twain’s deliciously audacious, merciless warning: if you’re not in it for love, we’re outta here. – TS

#393
Jenny Come Back
Helen Darling
1995  |  Peak: #69

Darling recalls watching a high school friend sacrifice her intelligence and ambition to please the boy she loves, who outgrows her in the end because she has nothing of her own to offer him. She ends up a high school dropout working at a movie theater. In short, how those fantasy Taylor Swift videos would end in the real world. – KC

#392
Dreaming With My Eyes Open
Clay Walker
1994  |  Peak: #1

Walker puts a clever twist on a fact of life that’s all too hard to grasp – the only thing we can control is the present. His infectious pledge to live in the moment is as effective as country’s finest inspirational ballads because it’s firmly grounded in reality: “I learned that one step forward will take you further on than a thousand back or a million that ain’t your own.” – TS

#391
There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With the Radio
Aaron Tippin
1992  |  Peak: #1

With an addicting guitar riff, Tippin celebrates the radio. It doesn’t matter that the car is falling apart, but at least there’s nothing wrong with the most important part of the vehicle, the souped up radio. – LW

#390
Write This Down
George Strait
1999  |  Peak: #1

One of the dittiest of all George Strait ditties? Sure. But there’s a subtle, maybe accidental wisdom to it, too. So much art is created in moments of unusual passion, when sensations like pain or love feel intense and everlasting. But most life isn’t lived in such moments, and any feeling is subject to fade away without some regular renewal. “Tell yourself ‘I love you and I don’t want you to go'” sounds light and cutesy on the surface, but it’s those little notes – and not grandiose gestures of unusual passion – that keep a relationship chugging along for the long haul.  – DM

#389
Still in Love With You
Travis Tritt
1997  |  Peak: #23

With conspicuous steel guitar work, this minor hit for Tritt is a straight up country romper by today’s standards. – LW

#388
Walking Shoes
Tanya Tucker
1990  |  Peak: #3

She seems a little sad about it, but she’s had enough of being taken for granted and is gearing up to walk right on out of her underappreciating lover’s life. – LW

#387
Big Deal
LeAnn Rimes
1999  |  Peak: #6

A sassy little number that finds a regretful Rimes lashing out at the girl who nabbed her old boyfriend. Brash, spunky and so much fun. – TS

#386
That’s My Story
Collin Raye
1993  |  Peak: #6

What do you think – the grooviest song about a guy trying to craft an alibi out of a backyard hammock ever? – DM

#385
I Like It, I Love It
Tim McGraw
1995  |  Peak: #1

A melody destined for inclusion in Applebee’s commercials. A lyric about a horny guy and his teddy bear-loving girlfriend. I thought about trying to mount a good argument for it, but whatever. I know you sang along the first eight times you heard it. – DM

#384
You Can’t Make a Heart Love Somebody
George Strait
1994  |  Peak: #1

A simply sung, heartbreaking story of a woman who desperately wishes the heart could take orders – and a man who bears the brunt of the reality that it can’t. – TS

#383
Count Me In
Deana Carter
1997  |  Peak: #5

Easily the most understated of the five hit singles from her debut album, “Count Me In” is beautiful because of its innocent vulnerability. – KC

#382
Where Do I Fit in the Picture
Clay Walker
1994  |  Peak: #11

Sure, Walker milks this forlorn ballad for all it’s worth, but his ability to dramatically emote is the success of his trademark tear-soaked voice. – LW

#381
Some Girls Do
Sawyer Brown
1992  |  Peak: #1

Set to a hooky melody: Boy meets girl. Girl acts unimpressed. Boy knows better. Girl hooks up with boy. The end. – LW

#380
I Want to Be Your Girlfriend
Mary Chapin Carpenter
1997  |  Peak: #35

Even in the nineties, Carpenter was mostly known for her introspective lyrics. That’s the best part of her songwriting, but hearing the lighter side of MCC from time to time is fun, too. – LW

#379
Little Bitty
Alan Jackson
1996  |  Peak: #1

Alan Jackson has a knack for dressing up inriguing social themes as fluffy radio bait. Here, he counters the societal fixation on the “big” draws of money and prestige, expressing a peaceful acceptance of the rather small role most of us will ultimately play in the universe. We can’t all be famous or widely influential, but if we can love well and carry our chosen mantles with pride, things aren’t so bad. – DM

#378
Not a Moment Too Soon
Tim McGraw
1994  |  Peak: #1

Some people find the whole “you saved my life” concept melodramatic, but I think if there’s anything in life that calls for melodrama, it’s love. McGraw’s testimony is sweet and believable, and the weighty lyrics are cushioned by a simple yet moving arrangement. – TS

#377
Here in the Real World
Alan Jackson
1990  |  Peak: #3

Jackson’s breakthrough hit lamented that what we see in the movies – cowboy heroes, good winning out in the end, the boy getting the girl – doesn’t always work out that way in the real world. How fitting that he’d end up a real world cowboy hero, one of the good guys making great music for twenty years and counting. – KC

#376
Everybody Knows
Trisha Yearwood
1996  |  Peak: #3

Most of your friends probably found you kind of boring when you were paired off and content. Now you’ve been dumped, and everyone’s got an opinion about what the relationship meant and what you should do next. Trisha is having none of it – just chocolate, a good mag and some much-needed alone time for her. – DM

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– – –

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Jump Around

#400 – #376
#375 – #351
#350 – #326
#325 – #301
#300 – #276
#275 – #251
#250 – #226
#225 – #201
#200 – #176
#175 – #151
#150 – #126
#125 – #101
#100 – #76
#75 – #51
#50 – #26
#25 – #1

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Sawyer Brown Starter Kit

Sawyer BrownMy favorite band of the early and mid-nineties was Sawyer Brown. Former Star Search winners, they had a decent run of hits in the eighties, though their early albums are legendarily awful. But they found their artistic voice when lead singer Mark Miller began writing with Mac McAnally. Many of their biggest and best hits were written by one or both of them.

The end result was that Sawyer Brown became one of the only country acts that broke out in the last few years of the eighties to actually become far more commercially successful in the nineties.

Ten Essential Tracks

“The Race is On”
from the 1989 album The Boys Are Back

So much of their eighties work was disposable, but there’s a surprising charm to this revved up take on the George Jones classic. Even the Possum himself was a vocal fan of it.

“The Walk”
from the 1991 album Buick

This powerful single kicked off a string of five excellent singles that established Sawyer Brown as one of the strongest voices in country music.

“The Dirt Road”
from the 1992 album The Dirt Road

After a single that explored the major milestones of a father-son relationship, they followed with one about the life lessons taught in between those milestones.

“Some Girls Do”
from the 1992 album The Dirt Road

Finally, they find a way to be upbeat and fun without being goofy.

“Café On the Corner”
from the 1992 album Café On the Corner

The band reaches their creative peak, bringing the different faces of the early nineties recession into vivid focus.

“All These Years”
from the 1992 album Café On the Corner

This sparse ballad documents what is perhaps the most awkward conversation ever between husband and wife.

“Thank God For You”
from the 1993 album Outskirts of Town

A tongue-in-cheek list of thank yous aimed toward those responsible for the good life the man is leading.

“Hard to Say”
from the 1994 album Outskirts of Town

Plenty of clever wordplay is neatly embedded into a catchy melody.

“This Time”
from the 1995 album Greatest Hits 1990-1995

The lead single from the band’s second and far stronger hits collection features one of their most rootsy arrangements.

“(This Thing Called) Wantin’ and Havin’ It All”
from the 1995 album This Thing Called Wantin’ and Havin’ it All

A tent revival morality tale that still sounds relevant today.

Two Hidden Treasures

“Outskirts of Town”
From the 1993 album Outskirts of Town

Put this slow and simple portrait of country life up against all of the overblown party anthems that have dominated the radio this decade, and it quickly becomes clear what a parody of itself country music can become.

“Another Side”
From the 1997 album Six Days on the Road

A tale of two brothers on opposing sides of the Civil War. It’s far more poignant than you’d imagine.

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2009's Remaining Release Schedule Comes into Focus

2009Thus far, 2009’s releases have done little to fire up the charts,

with most of this year’s strongest-selling albums being holdovers from 2008. While Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, and Keith Urban have sold strongly, the chart remains dominated by last year’s releases from Taylor Swift, Sugarland, Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, and Jamey Johnson.

So what’s left for 2009? Here’s what we know so far:

New Releases

  • Carrie Underwood will release her third studio album on November 3, with a lead single going to radio this fall. Her previous set, Carnival Ride, is nearing sales of 3 million, and produced four #1 singles and a #2 single, all five of which were certified gold in their own right.
  • George Strait will release Twang on August 11. It’s the follow-up to his 33rd platinum album Troubadour, a set which produced his 43rd #1 single and earned him the first Grammy of his career, along with a pair of CMA trophies (Single and Album)
  • Miranda Lambert is readying Revolution for September 29. Lead single “Dead Flowers” is struggling at radio, but that’s never slowed her down at retail anyway.
  • Reba McEntire’s Valory debut Keep on Lovin’ You arrives August 18. Lead single “Strange” is approaching the top ten.
  • Willie Nelson releases another standards collection called American Classic on August 25.
  • Rosanne Cash will release The List, a covers album, on October 6.
  • Sarah Darling releases Every Monday Morning on July 28.
  • Mac McAnally’s Show Dog debut – Down By the River – comes out on August 4. McAnally recently scored a big hit teaming up with Kenny Chesney on “Down the Road”, and was the co-writer on several classic Sawyer Brown singles like “All These Years” and “Thank God For You.”
  • Mindy Smith releases Stupid Love on August 11.
  • Radney Foster and The Confessions release Revival on September 1, with guest appearances by Dierks Bentley and Darius Rucker.
  • Chris Young releases The Man I Want to Be on September 1.

Reissues and Compilations

  • Brooks & Dunn release the 30-track #1 Hits…and Then Some on September 8. Track listing here. The set is preceded by lead single “Indian Summer.” The duo’s previous set, Cowboy Town, was their first to fall short of gold certification. The new hits compilation is similar in set up to top-selling collections by George Strait, Toby Keith and Reba McEntire in recent years.
  • Wounded Bird just released 2-albums-on-1-CD collections for Kris Kristofferson on July 7. Eight albums are included from his 1972-1981 output
  • A pair of Tommy Cash’s albums from 1970 will combine on one CD on July 21; Tommy is the younger brother of Johnny Cash
  • Hank Snow’s 1958 album When Tragedy Struck is being remastered and reissued on August 11.

I’ll be picking up many of the above releases, but I have to say that I’m most looking forward to picking up all of the remastered Beatles albums and the Madonna anthology this fall.

What releases are you most looking forward to in the second half of 2009?

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Filed under Conversations, News

Aaron Tippin, In Overdrive

Aaron Tippin
In Overdrive

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Amongst the glut of faux traditionalists that populated the country airwaves during the nineties, there was one voice that cut right through the clutter, such was its raw verve and unabashed authenticity. Aaron Tippin sings with pure country conviction about the invisible Americans, giving voice to the working men and women who seem to have vanished from the collective national consciousness.

In truth, Tippin was their last great champion, scoring radio hits with such anthems as “I Got it Honest”, “I Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way” and “Working Man’s Ph.D.” So it seems fitting that he has returned with a concept album that celebrates the American trucker, collecting most of the high-profile road songs in country music history, but also including some low-profile gems that give In Overdrive greater depth and resonance.

One of the reasons the album works so well is that Tippin sounds like he could conceivably be a truck driver. He restores the “little white pills” to “Six Days on the Road” that Sawyer Brown censored on their hit cover,  the distance between the narrator and the character is completely eliminated on his version of Alabama’s “Roll On”, and all the Urban Cowboy sheen is completely decimated when he tears into “Drivin’ My Life Away.”

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2008 CMA Awards Live Blog

2008 CMA Winners

Entertainer: Kenny Chesney

Male Vocalist: Brad Paisley

Female Vocalist: Carrie Underwood

Album: George Strait, Troubadour

Vocal Duo: Sugarland

New Artist: Lady Antebellum

Vocal Group: Rascal Flatts

Song: Jennifer Nettles, “Stay”

Single: George Strait, “I Saw God Today”

Music Video: Brad Paisley feat. Andy Griffith, “Waiting on a Woman”

Musical Event: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, “Gone Gone Gone”

Musician: Mac McAnally

_______

Predict the Winners:

Kevin – 8

Leeann – 7

Blake – 7

Dan – 7

______

Live Blog:

11:03 Thanks again for another great night.  See ya at the Grammys!

11:02ish To Blake and Dan:  A Song For You.

11:02 Blake: Down with our dictator!

11:02 Dan: Kevin sucks.

10:57 If I was a petty man, I’d be gloating about out-predicting all of my co-writers at Country Universe.  Wait a minute.   I am a petty man.   I won! Yes! I won!  This country universe is mine.   Y’all just live in it.  Suckers.  (Except for you Leeann.  You didn’t get all up in my grill, talking smack before the throwdown.  You’re cool.)

10:56 ENTERTAINER – Kenny Chesney

10:54 Standing O for Shania.  Good God, she’s beautiful.   Welcome home.

10:50 So the only artist I see live who charges Eagles prices is Madonna, and I have to say that if she just stood there and growled, I’d feel ripped off.  Come on, guys.  Slap on some heels.  Throw in some synchronized dancing.  Jump some rope.  Rub up against something.   You’re supposed to be legends.

10:49 Dan: Once again, a washed up rock act gives us one of the better performances of the night. I like the Eagles, but that’s sad.

10:48 You know it’s bad when you’re hoping that Shania’s the surprise guest because you want to see some real country stars.

10:46 Paisley’s right about that.  The Eagles have a lot more to do with country music today than most seventies country stars.

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CMA Flashback: Horizon Award (New Artist)

For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.

2010

  • Luke Bryan
  • Easton Corbin
  • Jerrod Neimann
  • Chris Young
  • Zac Brown Band

Usually there isn’t this much turnover in this race unless most of last year’s nominees are ineligible.  This year, only one of the four eligible nominees from last year – Zac Brown Band – earns a nomination.  With their massive success and their multiple nominations, they’ve got an excellent shot at winning. Then again, Easton Corbin is elsewhere on the ballot, too. It could be a horse race.
2009

  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson
  • Jake Owen
  • Darius Rucker
  • Zac Brown Band

Thirteen years after winning the Best New Artist Grammy as part of Hootie & The Blowfish, Darius Rucker won the country music equivalent, adding an exclamation point to the most successful pop-to-country crossover in a generation.

lady-antebellum2008

  • Jason Aldean
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Lady Antebellum
  • James Otto
  • Kellie Pickler

The industry favorites Lady Antebellum became the fourth band in history to win this award, following Rascal Flatts, Dixie Chicks and Sawyer Brown.

2007

  • Jason Aldean
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Little Big Town
  • Kellie Pickler
  • Taylor Swift

In the year since winning the Horizon Award, Swift has solidified her position as the genre’s most successful rising star.  While her debut album hasn’t reached the sales heights of the first discs by previous winners Carire Underwood and Gretchen Wilson, Swift is still one of the genre’s only significant sellers.

2006

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Little Big Town
  • Sugarland
  • Josh Turner
  • Carrie Underwood

I had a sneaking suspicion that Josh Turner was going to take this home, but as I’ve said before, Carrie’s got the best pipes since Trisha Yearwood. That she’ was acknowledged for that at such an early stage of her career is pretty amazing. Somehow I think the thrill of winning Horizon was short-lived, as winning Female Vocalist the same night left that memory in the dust.

2005

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Big & Rich
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Julie Roberts
  • Sugarland

Four of these five were nominees again the following year, and all in categories besides just Horizon, though Lambert got another shot at that as well. I think Big & Rich and Sugarland are making the most interesting music, and they’re moving more units than Bentley, though he’s no slouch himself. The CMA showed good judgment this year.

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Top Twelve Songs about America

We’ve been a bit overwhelmed in country music with patriotic songs since 9/11, and many of them have the stench of expolitation, poor taste, or just plain bad songwriting. In my opinion, the best songs about America tell about Americans, and their experiences. Some of the songs on this list do that; others do talk about America as a whole, but not in your typical flag-waving style. I think they all give Lee Greenwood a run for his money. Here are my 12 favorite songs about America:

12. Sawyer Brown, “Café On The Corner”

The story of 50-year old man who has lost his farm, and is now cleaning tables and washing dishes at a small-town café. The darker side of the American dream, this was released just when the homeless were looking more and more like us. What if you want to work but you can’t find the work? Bashers of welfare and other social safety net programs would do well to listen.

11. Alabama, “Song of the South”

A loving and sentimental celebration of the Depression-era and New Deal south (“We all picked the cotton but we didn’t get rich”) It tells the story of a family that moves from a farm into town, taking advantage of the new federal programs that helped the south so much. It’s ironic that there is such anti-Washington sentiment across the south, since the federal government invested so much to modernize that region and southern states still receive the highest amount of federal aid and benefits, much higher than all other regions of the country.

10. Kathy Mattea, “Beautiful Fool”

A poignant tribute to Martin Luther King that acknowledges the sacrifice he made and the legacy of non-violence that he did not invent, but rather continued: “Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus Christ, history repeats itself so nice, consistently we are resistant to love.”

9. Todd Snider, “This Land Is Our Land”

Is this what those crazy liberals are teaching are kids about America? Pretty much. Snider twists the title of a classic folk song to speak in the voice of America’s pioneers – our earliest capitalists. His history is actually pretty accurate – the take-over of land from the Native Americans was not fueled by racism or a concept of manifest destiny – there was just a lot of money to be made. One line: “There’s a lot of land but we need it all, for slave trade and shopping malls.” The narrator makes the “it’s just business” case in a matter-of-fact tone that suggests “hey, we might as well take the land, they’re not getting any real use out of it.” Smart references to contemporary wonders ranging from paper plates and diet pills to pesticides and oil spills, and suggests that even though the land has long been ours, we’re still finding new ways to waste and abuse its resources.

8. Dixie Chicks, “Travelin’ Soldier”

Many suggest that the reason the popularity for our current war is dwindling is that more and more people know somebody who has died, been injured or is currently in danger in Iraq. The most revealing part of this hit is the indifference of the football crowd: “One name read, and nobody really cared, but a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair.” It’s easy to be unmoved by the casualties of American soldiers, and Iraqis for that matter, if there’s no personal connection. Perhaps the biggest service of this song is to put a name and face on every soldier through telling us the story of one.

7. Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Stones In The Road”

Chapin traces how the children who witnessed the cultural revolution grew up and apparently didn’t learn the right lessons. A rebuke of the concept of success that makes people “climb that ladder rung by rung.” She suggests, however, that deep down, we know this is wrong, as evidenced by our encounters with the homeless – “we give a dollar when we pass, and hope our eyes don’t meet.” She wants Americans who lived through those changes to listen to that voice of conscience today and make a difference, but the cynicism of adulthood makes her think it isn’t going to happen.

6. Garth Brooks, “We Shall Be Free”

In a hopefulness that is quintessentially American, Brooks suggests that once we fully embrace the concept of equal rights in America, we will truly be a free nation, and celebrates this as a goal to work towards. A bit controversial back in 1992 for the line “when we’re free to love anyone we choose,” and implicit endorsement of gay rights, he seems to instinctively understand that institutionalized fear of different races, religions and lifestyles restricts the freedom of all of us. He sees the beauty that the framework already exists for America to be the beacon of freedom for the entire world. All we need is the courage and the leadership.

5. Alan Jackson, “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”

This song captures how Americans across the country all became united for at least a day or two, and how strong the emotional impact of the devastation in New York and Washington was on all Americans. Jackson takes us on a cross-country tour of how Americans from all walks of life responded to the tragedy. Often overlooked is his subtle call for more love in the world as a response to the events. I don’t think anybody’s ever asked him what he means by emphasizing the greatest gift God gave us was love in the chorus, but it suggests that Toby Keith is quite wrong when he says that “everybody” wanted to put a boot in someone’s ass in reponse; we may have been angry Americans, but bloodthirsty is not as universal an emotion as he thinks.

4. Merle Haggard, “Okie From Muskogee”

A classic counter-counterculture hit, this song captures the mid-western resistance to the major social upheavals on the coasts. Characterized as more angry than it really is, Haggard seems to make the point that change is simply unnecessary in Muskogee, where “football is the roughest thing on campus” and “we don’t smoke marijuana” – rather, their illegal drug of choice comes in a jug of White Lightning. Realistically, there probably were many people in Oklahoma smoking pot and “making a party out of lovin’”, but Haggard speaks in the voice of the town, where even if these things do go on behind closed doors, they will not define Muskogee, like the city of San Francisco was defined by the draft-card burning hippie scene.
Certainly, there were people in San Francisco who wished it was more like a small town in Oklahoma, much like many Okies rolled their eyes at Haggard’s white-washed portrait of their towns. The media insistance of diving America into red state vs. blue state is not a new phenomenon, but the way Haggard’s song resonated with Americans from all over proved the dividing lines in America are social and political, not geographical.

3. Johnny Cash, “What Is Truth?”

If Haggard is the dad that doesn’t understand why all the kids are going wild, Cash is the younger uncle who sticks up for them at the dinner table. Cash gives voice to all the frustrations of a generation being sent off to die for a war that isn’t just, and being called cowards by the previous generation who suffered great losses in a war that was very just and necessary. The generation gap is more like a chasm, but Cash tries to bridge it. The most powerful verse captures this struggle:

A boy of three sitting on the floor,
looks up and says, “Daddy, what is war?”
“Why that’s where people fight and die.”
A little boy of three says, “Daddy, why?”

Young man of seventeen in Sunday School
Being taught the Golden Rule
And by the time another year’s gone around
It may be his turn to lay his life down

Can you blame the voice of youth
for asking, “What is truth?”

2. Waylon Jennings, “America”

Forget “God Bless The U.S.A.” This is the 80’s country hit that is the best celebration of America. “I come from down around Tennessee, but the people from California are nice to me; it don’t matter where I may roam, tell your people it’s home sweet home.” He celebrates all of America, his brothers “are all black and white and yellow too.” Who else would have the courage and understanding to celebrate both the soldiers and the draft dodgers in the same verse?

1. Iris Dement, “Wasteland of the Free”

Eerily prescient, this was written in 1995. Every listen gives me chills. Everything that is bringing America down – the corruption of religion by politicians, corporate greed, rampant ignorance, new McCarthyism and war for profit – is exposed in a brilliantly crafted tirade that is overflowing with righteous anger, enough to make you think that if Dement visited the White House, she’d be overturning some tables. Full lyrics here.

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