Wynonna’s music has incorporated so many elements of soul and blues over the years that it’s easy to forget that she got her start singing pure country harmonies with her mother. Some of those elements started creeping into the later Judds records, particularly on the hit “Born to Be Blue.” But when Wynonna went solo, listeners quickly learned where her true musical heart was. With Sing – Chapter 1, she reveals how that heart was shaped.
Scanning the track listing, one might expect this collection to run the musical gamut, but the sound is quite a bit more focused than that. There are a few country songs here, but none of them are performed as such. Even the pure pop songs don’t have a glossy sheen. The entire album is done in the blue-eyed soul where Wynonna is most comfortable.
For the most part, it works. Her reading of the Hank Williams classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” reveals just how close the roots of country music are to the roots of the blues. “When I Fall in Love” and “Till I Get it Right” have an intimate allure that would be right at home in the early morning hours of a dimly lit piano bar. And when she rocks? Good Lord, she rocks. Her ferocious performances of “I Hear You Knocking” and “The House is Rockin’” could single-handedly revive the long-dormant Best Female Rock Performance Grammy.
While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories.
This is a look back at the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category. It was first awarded in 1965, an included single competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.
I’ve often made the case that female artists were making the best music in the 1990s, and the Grammys did a great job nominating songs and albums that were ignored at the CMA and ACM awards, which is not surprising, given that those shows have so few categories that are actually for songs and albums.
As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back.
Martina McBride, “For These Times”
LeAnn Rimes, “What I Cannot Change”
Carrie Underwood, “Last Name”
Lee Ann Womack, “Last Call”
Trisha Yearwood, “This is Me You’re Talking To”
This year’s lineup includes three former winners and two women looking for their first victory in this category. Martina McBride is in the running for the eighth time in fifteen years, and with one of her more understated performances. Lee Ann Womack returns for a fifth time, having received a nomination for the lead single of her five most recent albums. Both ladies turned in good performances here, but they’ve been overlooked for records bigger and better, so they’re not likely to snap their losing streaks this time around.
As for the previous winners, LeAnn Rimes earned her third consecutive nod, bringing her total to five in this category. She hasn’t won since 1997, when she took home the award for “Blue.” If enough voters hear “What I Cannot Change,” she might have a shot, though the only version of the song that’s been a legitimate hit has been the dance remix.
Trisha Yearwood won in 1998 for “How Do I Live,” her only victory to date. But she’s earned her tenth nomination for “This is Me You’re Talking To,” which is arguably her strongest vocal performance of the ten. Like Rimes, the challenge is getting enough voters to listen to it, but she’s never been more deserving of the victory than she is this year.
Still, the favorite remains Carrie Underwood. She’s quickly become a favorite with Grammy voters, having won this category two years running, along with Best New Artist in 2007. She’s the nominee with the highest profile, and while “Last Name” is nowhere near the same league of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” in terms of artistry or impact, it was a big hit, something that the other four entries cannot claim.
If Underwood was nominated for “Just a Dream,” she’d have a mortal lock on this one. But the strength of the other nominees will at least keep this race competitive. If Underwood prevails, Grammy queen Alison Krauss better watch her back.
Alison Krauss, “Simple Love”
Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
LeAnn Rimes, “Nothin’ Better to Do”
Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love”
Looking at this lineup, you’d think that it was a golden age of female country artists, something akin to the mid-nineties. In reality, only one of these songs was a big radio hit, though three others managed to go top twenty. In terms of quality, however, this is the most consistent and thoroughly wonderful set of nominees this category has seen this century. You’d have to go back to exactly 1999 to find a better lineup.
In a year when any winner would have been deserving, Underwood won for “Before He Cheats,” her second straight win for a signature mega-hit from her debut album.
While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories. This year, the 45th trophy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance will be awarded.
In a continuation of our Grammy Flashback series, here is a rundown of the Best Country Vocal Performance, Male category. It was first awarded in 1965, and included singles competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.
As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back. Be sure to vote in My Kind of Country’sBest Male Country Vocal Performance poll and let your preference for this year’s race be known!
Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”
Brad Paisley, “Letter to Me”
George Strait, “Troubadour”
As with the album race, this year’s contenders for Best Male Country Vocal Performance are a combination of unrecognized veterans and promising newcomers. In fact, none of this year’s nominees have won in this category, and only one of them – Brad Paisley – has a Grammy at all.
First, the veterans. Paisley has numerous ACM and CMA victories to his credit, including two each for Male Vocalist. Although he’s been nominated for this award twice before, this is the first time he’s contended with a cut that can’t be dismissed as a novelty number. The touching self-penned “Letter to Me” is his best shot yet at taking this home.
Trace Adkins has been at this a bit longer than Paisley, but this is his first Grammy nomination. His crossover exposure from Celebrity Apprentice might help him out here, along with the fact that the song was considered strong enough by voters to earn a nomination of its own.
But the real veteran to watch out for is George Strait. After being nominated only twice for this category in the first 25 years of his career, voters have now given him three consecutive nominations. This is one of four nods he’s earned for the 2009 ceremony, and “Troubadour” is essentially the story of his epic career distilled into a radio-length song. It would be the perfect way to honor the man and his music in one fell swoop.
However, there’s a newcomer that might be a Grammy favorite already. We just haven’t found out yet. Not James Otto, of course, who is nominated for his charming romantic romp “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”, but rather, Jamey Johnson. The recent Nashville Scene critics’ poll further confirmed the depth of his support among tastemakers, and his nominations for Best Country Song and Best Country Album indicate that he’s very much on the academy’s radar. It helps that he has the most substantial track of the five, and it’s the obvious choice for traditionalists, who have little reason to split their votes in this category. If voters aren’t considering legacy when making their selections, he has a great shot at this.
Dierks Bentley, “Long Trip Alone”
Alan Jackson, “A Woman’s Love”
Tim McGraw, “If You’re Reading This”
George Strait, “Give it Away”
Keith Urban, “Stupid Boy”
The often offbeat Grammy voters have been surprisingly mainstream in this category for the past three years, a trend best exemplified by this lineup, which was the first in more than a decade to feature only top ten radio hits. Tim McGraw and Keith Urban were the only two who had won this before, and it was Urban who emerged victorious. “Stupid Boy” was a highlight of his fourth studio album, and this was the only major award that the impressive collection would win.
Dierks Bentley, “Every Mile a Memory”
Vince Gill, “The Reason Why”
George Strait, “The Seashores of Old Mexico”
Josh Turner, “Would You Go With Me”
Keith Urban, “Once in a Lifetime”
Vince Gill returned to win in this category for a ninth time with “The Reason Why.” Not only is he, by far, the most honored artist in this category, his wins here account for nine of the nineteen Grammys currently on his mantle.
George Jones, “Funny How Time Slips Away”
Toby Keith, “As Good As I Once Was”
Delbert McClinton, “Midnight Communion”
Willie Nelson, “Good Ol’ Boys”
Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
Keith Urban, “You’ll Think of Me”
Urban’s biggest and probably best hit launched his second album to triple platinum and established him as a crossover artist. He gave a killer performance of the song on the show. Toby Keith was a first-time nominee here, and while he publicly groused that the Grammys put too little emphasis on commercial success in picking their nominations, he lost to the only track that was a bigger hit than his own.
Building a music collection used to be a far more difficult thing, a dogged hunt through record stores and mail order catalogs, hoping to find what you were looking for. The advent of the internet made things easier, but it wasn’t until music could be downloaded digitally that a deep music collection could be built with far less effort.
However, all of this available music can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to get a handle on the catalog of an established artist. Country Universe is here to help. Our Buyer’s Guides will walk you through the music that is digitally available for a given artist, starting with the essential purchases for new listeners, and working through the entire digital catalog until even the completist fan will be sated. You can also sample each album in its entirety, and purchase any song or album that you like through Amazon’s MP3 store.
Our first Buyer’s Guide is for our artist of the month, Dolly Parton. Look for many more to come in the new year.
Starting Your Collection
Dolly Parton’s catalog is quite the labyrinth. Thankfully, there are several compilations available that are an excellent value, offering twenty tracks each for less than ten dollars. Casual fans can just pick up the first set, but serious country fans should skip the first and buy the other three.
Ultimate Dolly Parton
This collection is all that the casual fan will ever need, with twenty hits included for just under eight bucks. All of her big crossover hits are here, like “Islands in the Stream”, “9 to 5″ and “Here You Come Again.” Also included are her country classics “Jolene”, “Coat of Many Colors” and the original recording of “I Will Always Love You.” It’s a bit too broad for studious fans of country music, but if you just want the big hits, they’re all here.
The Essential Dolly Parton, Volume Two
RCA has yet to issue a definitive box set for Parton, but their three Essential releases in the nineties are collectively effective in covering her tenure with the label. This is the strongest of the three sets, focusing on her sixties and seventies material. In addition to the big hits, including the original recording of “I Will Always Love You”, you also get lesser-known greats like “Touch Your Woman”, “Mule Skinner Blues” and “The Seeker.” Her transformation from mountain singer to pop sensation is captured here, as the set includes the first wave of her pop hits, too.
The Essential Dolly Parton One: I Will Always Love You
Even though it was released first, this set focuses on the latter years of Parton’s tenure, with nearly all of the cuts being released in the eighties. The rest of the big pop hits are here, like “9 to 5″ and “Islands in the Stream”, along with some forgotten gems, most notably “Single Women”, “God Won’t Get You” and “Tennessee Homesick Blues.” Also of note is her recording of “To Daddy”, which she chose not to release when Emmylou Harris expressed interest in recording it instead.
The Essential Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton
Although they both are Hall of Famers, you can’t effectively tell the story of either Porter Wagoner or Dolly Parton without discussing their work together. They are the most successful collaborators in country music history, and nearly all of their hits are collected here. Classics like “Making Plans” and “Just Someone I Used To Know” are essential, as are “Burning the Midnight Oil” and “The Last Thing on My Mind.”
Building Your Collection
For all three women involved – Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris – this was a career landmark, which brought them wide critical acclaim and huge commercial success. The harmonies are exquisite throughout, but the best moments are “The Pain of Loving You”, “Wildflowers” and “Telling Me Lies.”
Tonight, I turn over our discussion to one of our readers. He suggested I write about this topic myself, but his suggestions were already far better than anything that I would have come up with. Thankfully, he was willing to share them with all of you!
Guest Post by Country Universe reader Jim Bagley:
About a month ago, I discovered a website http://feedback.legacyrecordings.com/ where folks can request reissues/retrospectives of artists who are part of the Sony/BMG Catalog. When you sign up, you are also given 10 votes to show which suggested product you would like to see reissued. Except for Johnny Cash, the suggested product has been decidedly uncountry and I think that the readership at Country Universe could change that for the better.
Legacy does indeed review the board and some of the suggestions – a Lou Rawls retrospective for instance – have then been subsequently released.
Here are the four listings that I have recently added:
The Essential Tammy Wynette – with only 14 tracks – was probably the worst essential set to date. Even the Tammy three disc set Tears of Fire left off many of her 40-plus top ten solo hits. Please release a two-disc set set of Tammy’s solo hits, including all top ten efforts. Many like “The Wonders You Perform,” “Reach Out Your Hand,” and “(You Make Me Want To Be) A Mother” are always left off Tammy sets. I would include the David Houston and Mark Gray hit collaborations, but please leave off the George Jones duets which have been reissued to death (and take up valuable room on other Tammy retrospectives).
Dolly Parton full career box set (4-5 discs)
Sony-BMG has control of nearly all of Dolly’s career, so why hasn’t a box set been done on her? From the mid-60s Monument singles (Dumb Blonde, Something Fishy), through her fascinating late ’60s RCA work Just Because I’m A Woman, Daddy Come and Get Me), the hit RCA years (Joshua through Think About Love), the late ’80s, early ’90s Columbia stint (Yellow Roses, Rockin’ Years), her collaboration with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, and finally, the turn of the century bluegrass gems on Sugar Hill. It would take 100-125 tracks to get it right, but Dolly deserves this deluxe treatment.
Bobby Bare three disc career box set
Bobby Bare charted 60 singles for RCA and Columbia from 1962 through 1983. It would be nice to have a box set which captured all of these hits (the past Columbia retrospectives are particularly incomplete), plus his first hit “All-American Boy” and his six early-’70s singles for Mercury. Bobby deserves it!
Connie Smith two-disc set of all of her hits
Connie Smith charted 48 singles between 1964 and 1985. All of them were for labels that are now under the Sony-BMG umbrella (RCA, Columbia, Monument, Epic). Please put together one package of ALL of her hits that does justice to Connie’s legacy.
Anyone who recorded for Columbia, Epic, Monument, RCA, or Arista is eligible for reissue. I suggested vintage artists for whom I wanted larger repackaging. But it would also be great to see an Alan Jackson box set; 20-track best-of sets for Pam Tillis, Collin Raye, and Lorrie Morgan; 16 Biggest Hits on BlackHawk, Doug Stone, and Ty Herndon, and even 10-track Super Hits for Ricochet and Wade Hayes. Country Universe readers have a wealth of knowledge and music favorites, and it would be great to see their “wish lists” and votes represented on the site.
Earlier this year, the Grammys celebrated their fiftieth anniversary with a series of compilations focusing on winners in different fields. Two of the best entries in this series focused on country music. With five decades of winners to choose from, it’s no surprise that Ultimate Grammy Collection: Classic Country and Ultimate Grammy Collection: Contemporary Country are solid collections.
The Classic Country set is particularly strong, including a diverse selection of significant artists from the sixties and seventies. Even better, most of them are represented with their signature tracks. Roger Miller opens the set with “King of the Road”, easily his biggest hit. Other superstars include Tammy Wynette (“Stand By Your Man”), Johnny Cash (“A Boy Named Sue”) and Waylon & Willie (“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”)
As the collection moves on to the seventies and eighties, there is a healthy portion of pop-country classics from the likes of Kenny Rogers (“The Gambler”), Dolly Parton (“9 to 5″), Crystal Gayle (“Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue”) and Willie Nelson (“Always on My Mind”). In the midst of that crossover sound, however, there’s a healthy dose of traditional country, courtesy of George Jones with “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
That Jones track is the only one that wouldn’t be familiar to fans that buy the set because they remember those crossover hits, even though it’s a country classic. They might also revel in the discovery of Ray Price (“For the Good Times”) and Jerry Reed (“When You’re Hot, You’re Hot”), which were both AM radio staples back when top 40 regularly played country records. The set also includes mega-hits from Charlie Daniels Band, Lynn Anderson, Donna Fargo and Jeannie C. Riley. The only real misstep is the inclusion of Johnny Cash & June Carter’s “If I Were a Carpenter”, an unnecessary inclusion that was no doubt shoehorned in because of lingering sentiment for all things Cash. That slot would’ve been better represented with Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn’s “After the Fire is Gone.”
One of the landmarks of Dolly Parton’s career was the Trio album, her platinum-selling collaboration with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. It was one of the few country albums in history to receive a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year, and it won every major industry award, including the ACM for Top Album.
Just as compelling was Parton’s collaboration with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, which went gold despite zero support from country radio. After another collaboration with Ronstadt and Harris in the late nineties, there hasn’t been another collaboration of the sort from any major country artists.
I think this concept needs to be updated for the 21st Century. My vote is for a Lorrie Morgan, Pam Tillis and Carlene Carter album that fulfills the promise of their headlining 1996 tour.
Which three artists would you like to see put out a trio album?
In coordination with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Shout Factory! has begun a new series of country music DVDs that collect archived performances of the genre’s legends, coupled with rare interview footage and Hall of Fame inductions. The promise of this series cannot be overstated, both for fans of the artists profiled and the need for country music’s legacy to be preserved.
Both of the debut entries in the series follow the same format. Fifteen performance clips from old television shows are arranged chronologically, and provide the bulk of each set’s content. The defining singles of both artists are included, and in watching the clips, viewers can get a sense of how each artist developed, along with a fascinating window into how country music itself was presented on television over the course of four decades.
For a variety of reasons, the Marty Robbins collection is the stronger of the two. Since his career dates back to the fifties, we’re treated to four performances from Country Style USA, one of the earliest country music television programs. As we transition into the age of color television, we’re treated to a stunning performance of “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife” from the 1970 CMA Awards. As the liner notes point out, Robbins penned the song in the hospital while recovering from his first heart attack. In one of many appearances on these two collections by other country legends, Tennessee Ernie Ford gives a classy introduction that precedes the performance.
As one of Nashville’s premier songwriters, Bobby Braddock has spoken the language of many a country music fan, a talent that has surpassed a number of his peers for its sheer depth of creativity and connection to the audience.
Braddock was born in Auburndale, Florida, attending Florida Southern College in Lakeland for two years. The first recording of one of Braddock’s songs occurred in 1961, on D.J. Records, an independent record label that operated out of Auburndale. Braddock played piano in several rock and roll bands locally and around the state, and throughout the southeast, but soon migrated to Music City. After moving to Nashville in 1964, Braddock landed a job at a music store, and eventually he was offered a gig playing piano in Marty Robbins’ tour band. In 1966, Robbins recorded and released Braddock’s song, “While You’re Dancing.” Bobby worked around town as a session player before signing with Tree International (now Sony) as a staff songwriter.
Braddock began recording his own songs in 1967 and had some chart success with his second single, “I Know How to Do It.” That same year the Oak Ridge Boys reached the Top Ten with his “Would They Love Him Down in Shreveport” after which he provided the Statler Brothers scored two Top Ten singles with his compositions. Braddock scored his first #1 when Tammy Wynette sang “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” a song he co-wrote with Curly Putman. He continued a steady stream of hits throughout the 1970s, including: “I Believe the South’s Gonna Rise Again,” a major hit for Tanya Tucker, “Come on In” (1976), which was recorded by Sonny James, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Oak Ridge Boys, and “Womanhood,” which reached #3 for Tammy Wynette.
It was a seminal moment in a career filled with them, but the recording of “Stand by Your Man“ has contributed considerably to the world of country music. It caused the questioning of gender roles and stirred up dialogue about how far a woman’s heart can stretch in the face of her man’s transgressions.
“Stand by Your Man” was reportedly written in 15 minutes, the creation of Wynette and her producer, Billy Sherrill. Wynette’s gorgeous performance is sympathetic yet strong. As always, Wynette possesses a heartbreaking quality in her voice, but still remains as calm as ever. Her declaration of love for her man is powerful, despite the admission of his sinful dealings. The song is an ode to a faithful, supportive wife and the understanding that her man has faults and failing, but she will continue to stay by his side. Feminists criticized the song, believing it was belittling to women, but Wynette defended the song profusely. Her intent, she said, was to call women to forgive their wayward men.
Following shortly after her great breakup ballad, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” the ode to loyalty soon became what Sherrill would call her signature song. Released as a single in late 1968, the song reached No. 1 on the country chart for three weeks, and also became a No. 19 pop hit. The classic anthem to faith and fidelity also won Wynette her first Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female in 1969.
New controversy marked the song in the early 1990s when soon-to-be First Lady Hillary Clinton told CBS’ 60 Minutes that she “wasn’t some little woman ‘standing by my man’ like Tammy Wynette.” Wynette demanded an apology, and Clinton retracted her statement. Later, in a gesture of reconciliation, Wynette performed at a Clinton fundraiser.
Different perceptions surround the song, but Wynette’s portrayal of a forgiving woman evoked strength and power, lending evidence to the belief that “Stand By Your Man” is till-death-do-you-part devotion rather than blind faith in a faltering love.
“Stand By Your Man” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.