The countdown continues. Scroll down to the bottom to hear samples of each song and to share your comments!
Top 40 Singles of 2011, Part Two: #30-#21
Individual Rankings: #5 – Jonathan
It’s not for nothing that Tammy Wynette once claimed that Shelby Lynne had the best voice in country music, but, as Lynne has become increasingly subdued in the latter half of her career, she’s rarely explored the full range of her vocal talent. So when she unleashes that voice for the first time in a decade during the coda of “Revelation Road,” it may not be revelatory, but it sure is a most welcome return. – Jonathan Keefe
My Name is Money
Individual Rankings: Ben – #4
A clever lyrical personification of the Almighty Dollar. Sonia Leigh tears into the song with her gritty, powerful vocals while the snappy, genre-blending arrangement gives the single added spunk and sass. “My Name Is Money” is a delicious sonic confection from one of the 2011’s most dynamic and promising new talents. – Ben Foster
God Only Knows
Individual Rankings: Kevin – #11; Tara – #14
Why? Because she can sing, and she nails a song that’s great to begin with. It’s not quite Lorrie Morgan singing “Don’t Worry Baby”, but it’s close. – Kevin John Coyne
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
Individual Rankings: #3 – Sam
One of the unlikeliest catchy songs of the year came from Jason Isbell. Sure, the content of the song is heartbreaking, but try listening to it and not singing along with “One of my friends is taking her in and giving her codeine.”- Sam Gazdziak
Ghost on the Canvas
Individual Rankings: #10 – Kevin; #12 – Dan
Staring down his mortality, Campbell imparts a final message: Find me again in what I’ve left behind. In Campbell’s case – or Van Gogh’s, whose Wheatfield with Crows is referenced here – the remnants may be works of art. Others will have different sorts of canvases. One thing is universal: though most of the world will never see them, the ghosts will emerge for those who need them. – Dan Milliken
Individual Rankings: #5 – Kevin; #17 – Dan
Why? Because he can sing, and he sounds rejuvenated to be doing it as a solo artist. It’s a great song, but in lesser hands, it would’ve been sappy. – Kevin John Coyne
Mumford & Sons
Individual Rankings: #5- Sam; #16 – Leeann
Pop radio has managed to incorporate Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift singles, to give just a couple examples. So would it kill country radio to add Mumford & Sons to the airwaves? Between Marcus Mumford’s hopeful lyrics (“But I will hold on hope/And I won’t let you choke/On the noose around your neck”) and Country Winston’s banjo, this song begged to be a crossover hit. – Sam Gazdziak
Very few artists could turn a borderline-trite hook into an invigorating anthem fit for the dance hall. Even fewer could do it so accessibly yet commandingly that you want to drop what you’re doing and have a Moonshine in his honor. Bottoms up, King George. – Tara Seetharam
When Wanda Jackson sings, “I’m wonderin’ where in the world could Jerry Lee be,” on her fantastic cover of Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain,” Jack White’s on-point rockabilly arrangement makes it sound like Jerry Lee Lewis himself is playing in Jackson’s ace backing band. Though her voice may have lost some of its punch, Jackson’s delivery on “Thunder on the Mountain” finds the Queen of Rockabilly as feisty as ever. – Jonathan Keefe
You Gonna Fly
Individual Rankings: #8 – Tara; #9 – Jonathan
Urban strips the title phrase of all its pomposity but retains its punch with an assured, coolly confident performance. The song’s kicker, though, is the way it handles love’s ability to “fly us” to another plane, spiritually and emotionally, with matter-of-fact breeziness. “One, two, three / Baby don’t think twice / Just like that you got a brand new life” – how refreshingly uncomplicated. – Tara Seetharam
This year, instead of writing about this year’s crop of Christmas projects individually, I’ve decided to round them up in one post in an effort to make sure I acknowledge all of them. Unless I’ve overlooked one, the only album that will be omitted from this roundup is Shelby Lynne’s Christmas album, which is super good/compelling and funky, so it deserves its own review and it will come as soon as I figure out how to write about it.
Let the fun begin!
Carter’s Chord, Christmas
As Toby Keith’s best discovery so far, Carter’s Chord is a talented sister duo that hasn’t yet gotten the success that they deserve. With only one digitally released studio album that has received criminally little attention, they’ve still managed to deliver a delightful 4-song EP that would be well worth adding to your Christmas collection.
All of the songs are well produced, with very tasteful country arrangements, but the standout track is the warm and bluesy “Snowed In.” Surprisingly, the lead vocal on “Up on the Housetop” could easily be mistaken for a Miranda Lambert performance.
Lady Antebellum, A Merry Little Christmas
Yes, since I typically don’t shop at Target, I made a special trip to purchase this exclusive 6-song EP. It was at least one-third worth the effort. Literally. “Their versions of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, “Blue Christmas” and “Let it Snow” are given nice, if not unremarkable, country leaning treatments while “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and “On This Winter’s Night” lean more toward R&B. “Silver Bells”, however, suffers from the generic pop production that Lady Antebellum all too often utilizes for their regular music.
Point of Grace, Home for the Holidays
For the last couple of years, Contemporary Christian group, Point of Grace, has attempted to make gains in the country market. They haven’t been successful, but they continue to try with the release of their fourth Christmas album (the third being a collection of their first two), Home for the Holidays. Their smooth harmonies are sweet but vibrant enough to stay out of the syrupy territory. The original “Candy Cane Lane” is laced with fiddle and steel guitar and, incidentally, is one of the stand out tracks on the album, along with the gorgeous “Emanuel.” Standards such as “Silver Bells”, “Little Drummer Boy”, and “Holly Jolly Christmas” are also treated to decidedly country arrangements and ably performed on the whole.
Mandy Barnett, Winter Wonderland
Mandy Barnett’s Cracker Barrel exclusive Christmas album is an unapologetic throwback to the Nashville sound of Yesteryear both in production and notable reverb affects. At this point, it’s unoriginal to compare her voice to Patsy Cline, but the similarity is pretty much irrefutable, so it’s no wonder that Barnett aptly capitalizes on the comparison and we, in turn, continue to make the connection. Ultimately, it’s a pleasant album, but more for background than intrigue.
Jason Michael Carroll, Christmas on the Farm
With Jason Michael Carroll’s chart success being somewhat spotty, it’s easy to forget that he possesses one of the top voices among the current country crop as he slips under the radar much of the time. Therefore, it’s the surprise of the season that his Christmas EP is one of the best Christmas projects of 2010. His talent gorgeously shines through most especially on the gently and beautifully sung arranged “Auld Lang Syne”, but on “Silent Night and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as well. “Joy to the World” is a rousing back porch pickin’-type affair that is ridiculously infectious. The title track is also upbeat, but is the lone contemporary produced song on the set. It wouldn’t sound like a typical Christmas song if not for the setting, but it’s fun, if not superfluous, nonetheless. If this EP is representative of Jason Michael Carroll at Christmas Time, more please!
When Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes released dueling versions of this song in 1997, it was apparently a wake up call to country listeners: “Hey, wait a minute. Trisha Yearwood is an amazing singer!” She elevates “How Do I Live” beyond its movie theme nature by adding layers of subtlety and nuance to the typical Diane Warren template. – Kevin Coyne
I don’t claim to have any real knowledge of what it’s like to spend a night at the liveliest of honky-tonks, but I’ll be darned if this song doesn’t make me feel like I do. Because “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” isn’t really about a specific place where people go, and it isn’t even about the boogie itself; it’s about the universal thrill of busting out of the work week, kicking back and dancing your troubles away. From start to finish, Brooks & Dunn’s performance is a twangy blast of exhilaration, and that’s a feeling we can all relate to – outlaws, in-laws, crooks and straights alike. - Tara Seetharam
Don’t Take Her She’s All I Got Tracy Byrd
1997 | Peak: #4
Just a damn catchy trad country sing-a-long. It was good fun when Johnny Paycheck had the original hit with it, and lost none of its steam when Tracy Byrd resurrected it for a new audience twenty-six years later. – Dan Milliken (more…)
Three talented ladies unveil a batch of remakes that recharge their creative batteries
Recording a covers album can be a daunting task; only a singer with a clear artistic vision is worthy of the adventure. Even then, the risks involved often outweigh the rewards. But this year, a trio of country’s finest singers proved that such an exercise can be a liberating, and ultimately, satisfying experience.
Sleepless Nights, Patty Loveless’ fourteen-track collection that culls from the traditional country catalog of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s,outclasses much of the original material issued by Music Row this year. But its humble beginnings found Loveless in one of the worst slumps of a career spanning three decades.
Loveless spent most of the ’90s scooping up industry awards and selling gold and platinum. Her success was particularly gratifying for Music Row; she was a critical darling who, with the help of husband/producer Emory Gordy, Jr., framed traditional country music in a contemporary mold. But as Music Row became a pop-oriented culture, Loveless enveloped herself in the sounds of the past. In 2001, she issued a critical favorite, Mountain Soul, a sterling set that embraced her Kentucky upbringing and the stringband stylings of bluegrass and acoustic country. On Your Way Home, a rich blend of shuffling honky-tonk and fiddle-laced balladry, followed in 2003.
Dusty Springfield portrayed sexual longing and soulful intensity in a thrilling manner. Her nakedly honest songs seemed to be a survival mechanism. If she couldn’t speak her candid truths, she may have collapsed under the weight of her fierce yearnings.
In Springfield, Shelby Lynne has found a kindred spirit. There lies an undercurrent of loneliness that links them, a trait that instills their songs with a sense of gravity. To retain some semblance of privacy for their deeply-felt personal pain, they’ve channeled their anguish into moving musical statements. And given the comparable arc of their broken hearts (and for that matter, their careers), Just a Little Lovin’, Lynne’s collection of Springfield covers, seems likean inevitability that has finally come to fruition. Neither woman could be defined as conventional, and neither has shied away from minor acts of rebellion.
Allison Moorer’s latest album is an exercise in splendid restraint. Excepting the title track, a Moorer original, Mockingbird is a collection of songs written and performed by the women who serve as her musical idols. Moorer shows an overt dedication to honoring the timeless rhymes of her sistren, drawing inspiration from a diversity of musical styles that she whips into an intoxicating cocktail.
Mockingbird experiences a hiccup early, when Moorer chooses two fine songs marred by bland production. The cover of the Cash family classic “Ring of Fire” is presented as a ballad, with a fraction of the intensity that charged the original, and Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot” suffers from its brittle, progressive rock arrangement.
She was only eighteen years old when she scored a major label record deal, but Shelby Lynne had already had enough life experience to be a convincing singer of harrowing, heartbreaking country songs.
Born Shelby Lynn Moorer in 1968, she grew up in a musical family. Her father was a bandleader and her mother often sang harmony with him on stage. On some nights, Shelby and her little sister Allison would join them on the stage. However, her dad struggled with alcoholism, and it fueled his explosive violence at home. When Shelby was only seventeen years old, her father demanded to speak to her mother in the driveway of their home. He then fatally shot her, then turned the gun on himself.
The shocking tragedy left Shelby alone to support herself and younger sister, so she turned to something she knew how to do well: music. The two sisters moved to Nashville, and Shelby started to play the local clubs. Through a lucky break, she scored a performance slot on the nightly cable variety show Nashville Now. Her impressive performance made such an immediate impact that she had four major labels offering to sign her the very next day.
Some artists produce music that changes the sound of their time. Others adapt to the current time, shaping their sound to match what’s currently popular. Sylvia is one of the latter artists, a pop-flavored singer that rode the Urban Cowboy wave, complete with synthesizers and a chorus of female backup singers echoing the lines she sang.
Sylvia was only 23 when she released her first single for RCA records, “You Don’t Miss a Thing.” She had spent her previous years in Nashville as secretary for producer Tom Collins, followed by a successful run as a studio backup vocalist, and when that first single was released, she had only recently made her first stage appearance as a solo country artist. She had caught the attention of RCA label executive Jerry Bradley when auditioning to be the latest Sugar, and she ended up landing a solo deal instead.
“You Don’t Miss a Thing” and its follow-up, “It Don’t Hurt to Dream”, both barely dented the top forty. Then, Collins, now producing his former secretary, and Sylvia went for a sound he called “prairie music – Western-type lyrics with a disco beat.”
That new sound produced her first top ten hit, “Tumbleweed”, which was followed by her first #1 single, “Drifter.” The sonic description Collins provides is pretty much accurate, and could charitably be described as something like an old-time saloon band fronted by Juice Newton.
One of the definitive female artists of Americana music.
Allison Moorer was the second musical artist to emerge from her family, with an older sister who goes by the name Shelby Lynne preceding her in the industry by about a decade.
Moorer signed with MCA in the mid-nineties, and began to carve out an unconventional path to success. Her first single, “A Soft Place to Fall”, was placed in the movie The Horse Whisperer. Moorer found herself launching her career with a song in a major motion picture, and while radio never warmed to it (or any of her other singles), she scored an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song and performed it on the 1999 telecast.