As we grow older, our tastes change and some would even say that they mature. Such is the case with me, as you’ll see in the list below. There was a time when I did not like these artists (gasp!) and a time when I didn’t like these songs. However, something made them grow on me to the point that I absolutely love them now. Which artists and songs have grown on you over time? Here are my lists: Artists: Willie Nelson Dwight Yoakam Emmylou Harris Miranda Lambert Sturgill Simpson Songs: Josh Turner, “Another Try” Vince Gill, “Go Rest High on that Mountain” Dierks Bentley, “What Was I Thinking” George Strait, “Troubadour Randy Travis, “Before You Kill Us All”
In early February, Zac Brown Band kicked off a brief cycle of Twitter Outrage when they performed a cover of Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues,” which they are rumored to have cut for their upcoming album, during a high-profile ESPN gig. Some of Isbell’s devoted fans were livid that a mainstream country performer had covered Isbell’s song, insisting that it should be Isbell with the multi-platinum stats and sold-out arena tours. There’s something to that line of thinking, of course: Were commercial music a strict meritocracy, then Isbell would be an international superstar on the strengths of his one-of-a-kind songwriting and intuitive, soulful singing. Isbell, to his credit, responded to the uproar with a level-headed and fundamentally correct statement about how people who clamor for more substance in mainstream country shouldn’t be attacking artists who are interested in cutting songs like “Dress Blues.”
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 Read More
The results are in: Nashville Scene’s 15th Annual Country Music Critics Poll Miranda Lambert and Sturgill Simpson dominated this year’s results, with Maddie & Tae topping the Singles list for their progressive and timely hit, “Girl in a Country Song.” Be sure to check out the Critic’s Comments, which feature some choice quotes from our very own Sam Gazdziak!
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. #20 Jennifer Nettles That Girl 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”
Does failure to reach a consensus indicate a year that lacked quality, or a year that had enough interesting singles that subjective taste is enough to prevent a consensus? This was the dilemma faced by the Country Universe staff as we compiled our Best Singles of 2014 feature. We followed our usual routine. Each writer submitted their list of the twenty best singles of the year, and our numbers guru Jonathan Keefe used his time-test algorithm to produce a collective ranking. But this year, there was only one single that appeared on four out of five lists. The rest: three or less. Rather than shorten the list to showcase only those songs chosen by multiple writers, we decided to stick to the usual forty slots, and let quite a few songs embraced only by one writer to have their place in the sun. The result is probably the most diverse Read More
Updated: Best Country Duo/Group Performance The Band Perry, “Gentle on My Mind” Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, “Somethin’ Bad” Little Big Town, “Day Drinking” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill, “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” Keith Urban featuring Eric Church, “Raise ‘Em Up” Best American Roots Performance Greg Allman & Taj Mahal, “Statesboro Blues” Rosanne Cash, “A Feather’s not a Bird” Billy Childs featuring Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas, “And When I Die” Keb’ Mo’ featuring the California Feet Warmers, “The Old Me Better” Nickel Creek, “Destination” Best Country Solo Performance Eric Church, “Give Me Back My Hometown” Hunter Hayes, “Invisible” Miranda Lambert, “Automatic” Carrie Underwood, “Something in the Water” Keith Urban, “Cop Car” Best New Artist includes last year’s actual best new artist! Iggy Azalea Bastille Brandy Clark (!!!!) HAIM Sam Smith Best Americana Album Rosanne Cash, The River & The Thread John Haitt, Terms of My Surrender Keb’ Mo’, Read More
2013 turned out to be a banner year for new music, full of powerful songwriting, inspired collaborations, and truly cohesive albums that would rank among the best releases in any given year. Many of this year’s top twenty would’ve ranked much higher in other years, and many of us writers couldn’t even include all the works we deeply enjoyed this year on our personal lists, making our collective list worthy of the heartiest endorsement we could ever give.
Here’s to a great 2013, and a greedy wish that 2014 will be just as wonderful on the music front. As always, share your thoughts and personal favorites in the comments.
Individual rankings: #7 – Tara; #12 – Leeann
Like Chris Young two years ago, Worsham’s voice is a commodity that instantly elevates the new artist to an orbit above the male radio regulars. His is warm and cleanly expressive, lending itself best to songs that nurture his upper register, like the jaunty “Want Me Too,” haunting “Someone Like You” or those invigorating opening bars of “Could It Be.” If only life imitated “Nashville” and its fictional stars’ uncomplicated brand of pop country, Worsham might just be the next Luke Bryan and “Rubberband” –the album’s finely produced, genre-bending title track– his next big hit. – Tara Seetharam
Recommended Tracks: “Rubberband,” “Someone Like You,” “Young to See,” “Could it Be”
If this year’s singles list leaves you with a familiar feeling, it’s not your imagination. For the first time in Country Universe history, an artist has topped the year end list for two years in a row, and there are plenty of repeat appearances from CU favorites. But there are some fresh faces too, including some promising new singer-songwriters and inspired collaborations from artists we already liked an awful lot by themselves.
As always, share your thoughts and personal favorites in the comments!
“Hangin’ Up My Heart”
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
Individual rankings: #3 – Leeann; #20 – Kevin
What a way for Emmylou and Rodney to kick off their much anticipated duet project! The bouncy tune shows the power duo in fine form both in voice and spunk and signals what will turn out to be one of the finest albums of the year. – Leeann Ward