Tag Archives: The Raconteurs

CMA Awards: Predictions and Personal Picks

The CMA Awards are upon us again, and I must say that this is the most underwhelming lineup I’ve ever seen, and I started watching the show back in 1991. We’ll be back to live blog the festivities on Wednesday night. In the meantime, enjoy our personal picks in each category, along with who we think will actually win.

brad-paisleyEntertainer of the Year

Should Win:
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Leeann, Tara
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift – Kevin, Dan
  • Keith Urban
Will Win:
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift – Dan
  • Keith Urban

Kevin: Much like the field finally cleared for him in the Male Vocalist race two years ago, I expect that this is Paisley’s year to win with his sixth nomination. I think Taylor Swift deserves to win, though. There’s no getting around the fact that she’s the biggest thing out there right now.

Leeann: I won’t be shocked (or really even disappointed) if Taylor Swift picks it up, but I really feel it’s finally Brad’s year.

Dan: Swift is the face of the genre right now, and she’s putting out better-written material than many of the veterans in this category. It looks like a race between her and Paisley, and I think she may actually get it.

Tara: It wouldn’t be inappropriate for Swift to take this award, and I would much (understatement) prefer her to win this over the vocalist award. But to me, Paisley is the all-around entertainer, and I think it’s his year to be recognized.

brad-paisleyMale Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Leeann, Tara
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait – Dan
  • Keith Urban – Kevin
Will Win:
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Leeann: I have no doubt that Paisley will win again, as he  has had a strong year and the CMAs tend to prefer him for this award.  While I think Urban is technically a very worthy opponent, the combination of Paisley’s warm voice and stronger album makes me continue to root for him.  I’d also be just as happy if Strait won, however, and feel that his and Paisley’s albums were the strongest of the year.

Dan: Looks like an easy Paisley win, but I’ll give Strait the nod for all-around strength this past year.

Tara: I don’t anticipate that Paisley’s winning streak will be broken. I’m pulling for him on the strength of his material, but wouldn’t mind one bit if Urban took the award. Just please, CMAs, don’t give it to Rucker!

Kevin: Paisley’s poised to pick up his third trophy, with his only real competition being five-time winner George Strait. I’d give a fourth trophy to previous winner Keith Urban over the rest of the field. He really sang rings around the rest of ‘em when comparing their latest albums.

Carrie Underwood 09Female Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:
  • Miranda Lambert - Leeann
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood – Kevin, Dan, Tara
Will Win:
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

Dan: I tend to find Underwood boring, but I do think she released some of her better singles this past year. Swift just isn’t a strong enough vocalist to merit this prize, and I’d rather see Lambert win in a year where she has more momentum going, which could well be next year.

Tara: It will no doubt spark controversy when Underwood takes her fourth trophy and joins the ranks of Reba McEntire and Martina McBride, and that’s another discussion all together – but looking at the nominees for this year, it’s clear she deserves to win. In terms of sheer vocal talent, few artists in the genre come close to her. I’d love to see Lambert take this award (and Underwood would too!), but like Dan, I don’t think it’s her time just yet.

Kevin: I won’t believe a different winner in this race until I see it. I was underwhelmed by the latest albums from Lambert, McBride, McEntire, and Swift, and quite frankly, Underwood is the only lady of the five to put out more than one single this year that I actually really liked (“Just a Dream”, “I Told You So.”) I remain in her corner.

Leeann: Carrie will deserve to win this award when she wins it this year.  I, however, still prefer Lambert’s voice and feel that her output (album) is the most interesting of the nominees.

Sugarland JoeyVocal Duo of the Year

Should Win:

  • Big & Rich
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
Will Win:
  • Big & Rich
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

Tara: Sugarland continues to excite me, and I think they deserve this award again.

Kevin: I love Joey + Rory, but Sugarland have really been blowing me away lately.  I’d pick them for Entertainer if they’d been nominated.

Leeann: I’d technically love for Joey + Rory to win, but I know full well that Sugarland is the duo that truly deserves to win based upon their impact this year.

Dan: Sugarland. But I want to talk to whoever is picking their singles.

lady-antebellum-and-a-chairVocal Group of the Year

Should Win:

  • Eagles
  • Lady Antebellum – Tara
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band – Kevin, Leeann, Dan

Will Win:

  • Eagles
  • Lady Antebellum – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Kevin: I find Zac Brown Band more interesting, and I think they have a real shot at winning this. I suspect Lady Antebellum has a bit more industry support, though, so I’ll give them the edge.

Leeann: Lady A will win because they’ve got more industry support and popularity with radio, but the Zac Brown Band has certainly put out more interesting music and have a refreshingly unique sound that deserves to be rewarded.

Dan: Pretty much what Kevin and Leeann said. “Chicken Fried” notwithstanding.

Tara: It’s definitely a race between Zac Brown Band and Lady Antebellum, and I can understand why my co-bloggers are rooting for the former. But even if Lady Antebellum’s talent needs a little cultivating, their music strikes a very personal chord with me, and I’ll be thrilled when they take this award. Can you believe Rascal Flatts might actually walk away from an awards show empty-handed?

zac-bbNew Artist of the Year

Should Win:
  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson – Dan
  • Jake Owen
  • Darius Rucker
  • Zac Brown Band – Kevin, Leeann, Tara

Will Win:

  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson – Kevin
  • Jake Owen
  • Darius Rucker – Dan, Leeann, Tara
  • Zac Brown Band

Kevin: A weak lineup that speaks volumes about why country music is where it is today. I think Zac Brown Band should win. They’ve really been the real breakthrough act of the five. But I suspect in this battle of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” co-writers, Jamey Johnson will emerge victorious.

Leeann: While I’m tempted to root for Jamey Johnson, I think Zac Brown Band has a chance of keeping me intrigued over the next few years (even if they fall out of the mainstream), though I don’t think they’ve reached their potential  just yet.  I predict that Darius Rucker will actually win, however, as he’s been the most successful in the last year.

Dan: Time will tell whether Johnson is able to remain a strong artistic force, but I’d say he has as good a chance as any of these five if he can keep from getting self-important. Rucker is the biggest star on the ballot, though, and I suspect he’ll squeak the win over Johnson and Zac Brown Band.

Tara: Johnson and Zac Brown Band are both deserving recipients of this award, but I personally prefer the band’s music. With the commercial success Rucker’s seen in the past year, though, I think it’s his award to lose. Not too sure how I feel about that.  

thatlonesomesongAlbum of the Year

Should Win:

  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – Leeann, Dan
  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday NightTara
  • Sugarland, Love on the InsideKevin
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity
Will Win:
  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Sugarland, Love on the Inside
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless – Leeann
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity

Leeann: While Johnson’s album hasn’t really stuck with me over the past year or so, I still think it’s the best album out of the bunch.  I think Swift will win, however, due to the volume of sales and hit singles.

Dan: All of these albums have strengths, but That Lonesome Song is the only one that makes me optimistic about country music’s future. I expect it to triumph, though Swift’s has a great shot, too.

Tara: Paisley’s album, to me, strikes that sweet balance of traditional and contemporary. I think it’s a strong, interesting and relevant album that epitomizes why Paisley is so deservingly successful. But Johnson will deserve this award when he takes it, and I recognize and appreciate his positive influence on mainstream country music.

Kevin: I expected more nods overall for Jamey Johnson. I think that the eligibility period hurt him, with the project less fresh in voters’ minds. But the CMA values traditional country more than any other awards organization, so I expect him to win this. I enjoy the Sugarland album far more than any of the other four, so I’m rooting for that one.

Jamey smile 2Single of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown Band
  • “I Run to You” – Lady Antebellum
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley
Will Win:
  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown Band
  • “I Run to You” – Lady Antebellum
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington – Dan
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley

Dan: I’ve just got a bad feeling about that Currington single. “I Run To You” does have some smokin’ production, but “In Color” is the only one of the five I can still stand.

Tara: Ouch. I’m pleased that “I Run to You” is nominated as it’s a personal favorite, but I don’t think any song other than “In Color” is deserving of this award. Again…ouch.

Kevin: This is the weakest lineup in the history of this category.

Leeann: Johnson’s song feels old to me now, but it’s the best song in this underwhelming category, though I’m sure David Letterman disagrees.  While I like the production on “People Are Crazy” the best in this line-up, the hook (not to mention the frustratingly weak story development) is just lame.

randy-travisSong of the Year

Should Win:
  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette
  • “I Told You So” – Randy Travis – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Dan
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “Then” – Chris Dubois, Ashley Gorley & Brad Paisley
Will Win:
  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette
  • “I Told You So” – Randy Travis – Leeann
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “Then” – Chris Dubois, Ashley Gorley & Brad Paisley

Tara: I would absolutely love to see Travis take this award; Underwood’s success with the song proves that the best-written country songs are timeless. I think “In Color” has more pull, though.

Kevin: I think Johnson will win, but kudos to Carrie Underwood for recognizing the value of the Randy Travis-penned gem and making it a hit all over again.

Leeann: This is not one of my favorite Randy Travis songs, but for nostalgia’s sake, I’m rooting for him to win this one. I even think it has a chance of winning, since it was a hit song for one of today’s country music’s most popular artists. I think the Paisley composition is, by far, the weakest though.

Dan: I like probable-winner “In Color” marginally more than “I Told You So.” Any of the other three winning would hurt me way down deep.

randy-travis-and-carrie-underwoodMusical Event of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” – Brooks & Dunn featuring Reba McEntire
  • “Down the Road” – Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally
  • “Everything But Quits” – Lee Ann Womack with George Strait
  • “I Told You So” – Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis – Kevin, Tara
  • “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe – Leeann, Dan
  • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban
Will Win:
  • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” – Brooks & Dunn featuring Reba McEntire
  • “Down the Road” – Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally
  • “Everything But Quits” – Lee Ann Womack with George Strait
  • “I Told You So” – Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe
  • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban – Leeann

Kevin: Will the CMA really pass up the chance to give a trophy to Randy Travis for the first time in 21 years? I hope not.

Leeann: Paisley’s and Urban’s collaboration was originally accidentally left off the ballot, but the superstar pairing is the most likely to win.  Conversely, I suspect that the inclusion of the collaboration with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe was likely an accident, but I’d still love to see this dark horse nomination win. It’s certainly the most interesting song of the category.  I might have gone for the Underwood/Travis pairing if Travis’ inclusion didn’t seem so random.  I liked Underwood’s original version better, as Vince Gill’s harmony seemed more natural.

Dan: It’s totally between “I Told You So” and “Start A Band”, but I’m pulling for the underdog Raconteurs record, too. I like my collaborations a little spontaneous like that, and it’s always great to see outsiders included in the CMA fold.

Tara: While I have a particular soft spot for “Down the Road,” which I thought was one of the best singles of 2008, it should come as no surprise that I’m pulling for the beautiful, rough-and-pure “I Told You So.” I think it will easily win.

george_straitMusic Video of the Year

Should Win:
  • “Boots On” – Randy Houser
  • “Love Story” – Taylor Swift
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban
  • “Troubadour” – George Strait – Kevin, Dan, Tara
Will Win:
  • “Boots On” – Randy Houser
  • “Love Story” – Taylor Swift – Kevin, Dan, Tara
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Start a Band” – Brad Paisley and Keith Urban
  • “Troubadour” – George Strait

Dan: I enjoy the Strait video most, but Swift’s is the flashiest, and that tends to win out.

Tara: Strait’s video is poignant and tastefully done. I never understood the appeal of Swift’s Shakespearean video, but apparently a whole generation of country music fans does. My money’s on Swift.

Kevin: I think the Swift fairytale will get the most votes, but the Strait clip hypnotizes me every time it’s on. Who knew a simple slide show could be so powerful and such a perfect fit for a song?

paul-franklinMusician of the Year
Should Win:
  • Eddie Bayers (drums)
  • Paul Franklin (steel guitar) – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara
  • Dan Huff (guitar)
  • Brent Mason (guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (guitar)

Will Win:

  • Eddie Bayers (drums)
  • Paul Franklin (steel guitar)
  • Dan Huff (guitar)
  • Brent Mason (guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (guitar) – Kevin, Leeann, Dan, Tara

Dan: I should really start paying more attention to this kind of thing. But I know Paul Franklin’s been doing steel for everyone from Lyle Lovett to Rascal Flatts in the past year. Respek!

Tara:
Franklin’s the one I’m most familiar with, and I agree with Kevin and Dan that he deserves it. I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure how to gauge who’ll win this year, but I suppose I’d go with McAnally again.

Kevin: I guess that McAnally will repeat his victory from last year. The other previous winners won quite a bit of time ago – Dann Huff in 2001 and 2004, Brent Mason in 1997 and 1998.  My sympathy goes to Eddie Bayers, who is nominated for the tenth time and has yet to win. I have no choice but to pull for Paul Frankin, though, who has lost this award sixteen times.  Here’s hoping that seventeen’s a charm!

Leeann: Please don’t let it be Dann Huff! That’s all I ask.  Of course, I’m partial to the steel guitar, not to mention that it’s a shame that a steel guitar player has to work so hard to win a country music award.

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CMA Noms ’09

cma_awardIt’s that time of year again! For each major category, we’ll look at who’s broken in since last year, who’s been booted out, plus some initial thoughts. As always, we invite you to share your own opinions in the comments. Without further ado:

Entertainer

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift
  • Keith Urban

Who’s In: Taylor Swift

Who’s Out: Sugarland

Snap Judgment: With Carrie Underwood and Sugarland a little out of the spotlight recently, it’s no shock to see the regular foursome of Chesney, Paisley, Strait and Urban prevail. Swift was a logical inclusion given her across-the-board dominance, but I gotta say that I’m surprised to see her acknowledged for it by the historically traditional-leaning CMA.

Male Vocalist

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Who’s In: Darius Rucker

Who’s Out: Alan Jackson

Snap Judgment: Pretty predicable. Rucker has shown he can get serious spins at radio, which is probably what won him this slot over Jamey Johnson.

Female Vocalist

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

Who’s In: Reba McEntire

Who’s Out: Alison Krauss

Snap Judgment: Again, no big surprises. Martina always hangs in there somehow, doesn’t she?

Vocal Duo

  • Big & Rich
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland

Who’s In: Joey + Rory

Who’s Out: The Wreckers (finally!), oddly not Big & Rich

Snap Judgment: I guess there has to be at least one defunct act in this category every year, huh?

Vocal Group

  • Eagles
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Who’s In: Zac Brown Band

Who’s Out: Emerson Drive

Snap Judgment: I’m baffled to see the Eagles still here. I expect there will be a lot more shake-up in this category next year, with Love and Theft, Eli Young Band and The Lost Trailers all experiencing a rise in profile recently.

New Artist

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

Who’s In: Completely new line-up!

Snap Judgment: A strong group. Johnson, Rucker and Zac Brown Band are selling better than many of the veteran acts, so they’re the serious contenders this year, but all five nominees show great artistic potential.

Album

  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
  • Sugarland, Love On The Inside
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless
  • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity

Snap Judgment: Probably as good a line-up as you could’ve hoped for. Never thought I’d live to see a CMA category where I thought Keith Urban had the weakest offering!

Single

  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown Band
  • “I Run To You” – Lady Antebellum
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley

Snap Judgment: Sigh.

Song

  • “Chicken Fried” – Zac Brown & Wyatt Durette
  • “I Told You So” – Randy Travis
  • “In Color” – Jamey Johnson, Lee Thomas Miller & James Otto
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “Then” – Brad Paisley, Chris DuBois and Ashley Gorley

Snap Judgment: I mean, it’s not like Randy Travis ever had his own hit with “I Told You So” or anything.

Musical Event

  • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” – Brooks & Dunn featuring Reba McEntire
  • “Down The Road” – Kenny Chesney with Mac McAnally
  • “Everything But Quits” – Lee Ann Womack with George Strait
  • “I Told You So” – Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis
  • “Old Enough” – The Raconteurs featuring Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe
  • “Start A Band” – Brad Paisley with Keith Urban

Snap Judgment: How in the world did that Raconteurs record sneak in there? Props, CMA!

Music Video

  • “Boots On” – Randy Houser
  • “Love Story” – Taylor Swift
  • “People Are Crazy” – Billy Currington
  • “Start A Band” – Brad Paisley with Keith Urban
  • “Troubadour” – George Strait

Snap Judgment: Not bad. Houser’s doesn’t have much, but the only one I outright dislike is Currington’s. It’s just another excuse for him to sit around looking scruffy on a beach.

Musician

  • Eddie Bayers
  • Paul Franklin
  • Dann Huff
  • Brent Mason
  • Mac McAnally

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Dan Milliken’s Top 20 Singles of 2008

Let’s do this, y’all. You’ll recognize some of these write-ups from our collective list, but others weren’t posted there or were cut down for that list. This is my “Director’s Cut” version, you might say – or maybe the “UNRATED!!” version, depending on your taste in films.

In any case, here are my favorite 20 things designated as country music singles in 2008 (that I picked up on, anyhoo):

elizabeth-cook-balls#20

Elizabeth Cook, “Sunday Morning”

Cook mines an abstract Velvet Underground song and halfway convinces you it was always meant to be a quiet country reflection. The production and vocal are a bit too buoyant to fully convey the song’s weariness, but they do flesh out its gentle message of hope, and that’s not too bad, either.

hank-iii-rebel-proud#19

Hank Williams III, “Six Pack of Beer”

Silly and shallow it may be, but III’s turbo-campy lament of hard times + booze was also this year’s sweetest piece of hillbilly ear candy. I think it sounds like the fastest, most frivolous thing Johnny Cash never recorded, but maybe that’s just me.

james-otto-sunset#18

James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”

What’s this? A contemporary country single with a traditional structure that skips on big choruses? A distinctive voice at the helm? Oh? It was the most played song of the year? Huh. So country music fans want to hear unique-sounding singers singing some semblance of actual country music on the radio? How perplexing.

In all seriousness, this smash really is a fine example of feel-good radio fluff that still manages to sound human. It’s impossible to evaluate honestly without the requisite (and very valid) comparison to Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” but honestly, I think Otto out-sexed his predecessor by a good margin. Turner gave a fine performance with his standard sweetness, but Otto opted for randy, slightly jagged cooing that ultimately sounds much more convincing coming from a man in this particular situation.

joey-rory#17

Joey + Rory, “Cheater, Cheater”

My soft spot for frivolity shows itself again. This tell-off ditty has a cute bite, and its malicious irrationality is delivered with a knowing wink that has been regrettably absent in many recent, like-minded harangues (cough cough, “Picture to Burn”). Still, it’s the frenetic bluegrass production and the couple’s palpable chemistry that ultimately sell the thing.

josh-turner-everything#16

Josh Turner featuring Trisha Yearwood, “Another Try”

I’m always game for more regret on country radio, particularly when you’ve got two of the best singers in the biz on the job. The only thing holding it back for me is the melody, which is a bit too “Peabo Bryson goes country” for my taste.

sugarland-love-on-the-inside#15

Sugarland, Little Big Town & Jake Owen, “Life in a Northern Town”

There is a certain kind of song whose impact simply defies logical explanation, which seems to tap something so primal in the human spirit that you don’t even want to try explaining it for fear you might belittle it somehow. You couldn’t ask for a better example of that phenomenon than this cover of Dream Academy’s surreal ode to singer-songwriter Nick Drake, which resolves into a chorus of tribal “hey ma ma ma ma”s that somehow manage to say more (to me) than most actual words ever do.

It’s much more “Lion King soundtrack” than “country,” of course, but the union of all of these unique individual voices evokes the sort of grand communal warmth that you can normally only find in church or around a campfire. Personal favorite moment: Jake Owen’s solo, which he sings with such silky ease that it makes you pissed he hasn’t found better material for himself yet.

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Best Country Singles of 2008, Part 2: #30-#21

The list continues today with the next ten entries, a collection of hits, could’ve been hits and should’ve been hits. Adventurous radio programmers, take note.

#little-big-town-place30

Little Big Town, “Fine Line”

There’s a fine line between imitation and tribute, and Little Big Town lands on the proper side of the balance.  Karen Fairchild steps forward on this flashback to ’70s SoCal country-rock, and her biting, expressive performance matches perfectly with an admonishment of a distant lover. Very fine, indeed.  – BB

willie-nelson-moment#29

Willie Nelson, “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore”

This ridiculous but fun single just sounds like a Willie Nelson song. While it’s a 2008 single, it sounds as though it could have been recorded at the height of Nelson’s career. Moreover, Willie’s voice sounds as strong as ever here.  – LW

raconteurs-single-art#28

The Raconteurs with Ricky Skaggs & Ashley Monroe, “Old Enough”

A thrilling, organic collaboration that sounds cooler and more convincing with each listen. It probably hasn’t gotten enough exposure to be remembered several years down the line, but it’s one of 2008’s most compelling arguments for the uncanning of country music.  – DM

eddy-arnold-seven#27

Eddy Arnold, “To Life”

A glorious swan song from an incomparable talent.    When it charted shortly after his death, Arnold became the only artist in history to hit the country singles chart in seven different decades. – KJC

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Review: The Raconteurs featuring Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe, “Old Enough”

Country crossovers have been getting a really bad rep recently. The tension is nothing new, of course – only the late John Denver could claim to have his name set aflame on a CMA telecast – but between three seasons of Gone Country, the recent glut of pop veterans snatching up major Nashville record deals, and many of the genre’s mainstream acts themselves sounding more ‘Hanson’ than ‘Haggard,’ genre-hopping has practically become the new norm. The resulting cynicism of critics and fans alike is a real shame, but given the climate, you can hardly blame a country lover for forgetting that artists from other realms sometimes manage to dabble in Ye Olde Twang with reverence and ingenuity instead of commercial cunning, that such outings occasionally produce solid gold over mere dollars.

But make no mistake here: Jack White is not Jessica Simpson, and The Raconteurs are not Bon Jovi. Best-known as one half of enigmatic alternative duo The White Stripes, White has racked up country points in recent years by producing and guesting on one of the decade’s most acclaimed albums (Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose), offering sincere praise of the Nashville community he currently calls home, and even reportedly contributing to an upcoming album of lost Hank Williams songs also featuring Alan Jackson and Lucinda Williams and spearheaded by none other than Bob Dylan. A critic’s darling thanks to a string of excellent blues-grinding Stripes albums, he began work with The Raconteurs in 2005 and now finds their second offering, Consolers Of The Lonely, nominated for Best Rock Album at the forthcoming Grammy Awards. However you cut it, this is a man who knows his country, knows his rock, and isn’t going to be stupid about the way he blends them.

And so perhaps it should not surprise that The Raconteurs would choose to recolor their folky current single as a bluegrass-inflected number, or that they would pick collaborators for the project from the absolute cream of the crop. And yet, when you really think about the fact that a high-profile rock band has decided, just for fun’s sake, to share their spotlight with Ricky Skaggs – a legend whose legacy speaks for itself – and Ashley Monroe – a uniquely talented young singer-songwriter whose highly promising debut, Satisfied, got the Sony shaft back in 2006 – you can’t help but grin. On paper, this is the kind of effort that defines “critic bait”: cool artists collaborating with other cool artists on a cool song simply because it’s a cool thing to do.

That’s quite an accomplishment itself, but thankfully, the single’s appeal is pretty well substantiated by the music itself. “Old Enough” is a decent song on its own, with a straightforward, confrontational lyric that disparages the plucky confidence of youth, but the real pleasures of this record come from the new twists: Monroe’s harmonic chemistry with singer Brendan Benson, the sweet fiddle part getting more room to breathe thanks to a less crunchy arrangement, the oddly appropriate inclusion of a certain Everly Brothers line, the acoustic fury of the song’s coda. There’s a sense of vital, organic creation pulsating throughout this recording that manages to keep you interested even when the holes in the song and performances appear.

And there are holes, to be sure: some of the instrumentals toward the end sound tossed off, the arrangement is not necessarily the most cohesive, the lyric still falls on the uncaptivating side of minimalism that requires listeners to fill in a lot of blanks themselves. These problems somewhat mar the record’s attempts to convey a serious theme, limiting its appeal to “music for music’s sake”; it’s sort of the difference between campfire singing that means something and campfire singing “just because.” But for whatever the latter is worth, it’s hard to argue too much with how The Raconteurs and Co. have done it here: beautiful singing, mostly beautiful playing, uncompromising creativity. It’s enough to make a mainstream country fan pretty dang jealous.

Written by Brendan Benson & Jack White

Grade: A-

Buy: Old Enough

Listen/Watch (note that the sound mix is a bit better in the actual track than in the video, though it’s the same performance):

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