Producing primarily pop-flavored country music has rarely been a ticket to immortality for even the biggest artists, particularly the female ones. Imports like Shania Twain and Olivia Newton-John are labeled impostors. Faith Hill’s canny song sense is overlooked while hubby Tim McGraw’s is widely praised. Brilliant Dolly Parton records like “Here You Come Again” and “9 to 5” are cited as being beneath her greatness, rather than prime examples of it. Only Patsy Cline has been given a free pass, and who wouldn’t want to claim those pipes?
Wynonna once sang about driving down an old road that “can take you back to the place but it can’t take you back in time.” The road she longed for doesn’t exist in physical reality, but as Tim McGraw observes in his new single “Still”, they do exist in your mind, provided you allow yourself the quiet and stillness needed to travel down them.
This is the part of the review where I should continue waxing philosophical and pretending there is a professional distance between myself and this song, that the “A” grade that follows is based on a purely objective and thoughtful analysis of the record’s components and how they come together. That would be a lie.
The truth is that my memories are my only tangible connection to most of the significant people and places in my life, and while the details may differ from what McGraw describes in this song, the process of reconnection is the same. I just need to be still, to allow the quiet and alone that are needed to go back in time again.
A tense uncertainty hung over 2009, as the world waited to see what would become of a new American president, an economy in crisis, and a full deck of divisive social issues.
Popular music tends to respond to such a climate in one of two ways: by confronting the issues and their ramifications head-on, or by cranking up the escapism to drown it all out for a bit. 2009 leaned heavily on the latter course, as the thumping sex-pop of Lady GaGa and the fluttery boy-centrism of Taylor Swift dominated the airwaves and the registers, offering listeners a chance to believe, if only for a few passing moments, that the world was as simple as a ride on a disco stick or the defeat of an evil cheer captain.
Gretchen Peters is best-known as a singer-songwriter, and a successful one at that, having penned the CMA. Song Of The Year “Independence Day” in 1994 and scored a top five hit when Faith Hill recorded her song, “The Secret of Life” in 1999. It is surprising then that, with her seventh album, One to the Heart, One to the Head, she and Tom Russell would release an album consisting almost completely of covers. Reminiscent of Willie Nelson’s penchant for relaxed delivery, One to the Heart, One to the Head flows with subtle emotion and western imagery. – William Ward
Here’s hoping you haven’t gotten completely burned out on countdowns yet. 2009 was hardly a favorite musical year for many of us, but amid each year’s glut of throwaway items, there’s always a good’un or two (or forty). The following is the first installment of our Best Singles of 2009 list, which will conclude tomorrow morning. Best Albums will follow next week.
As with the Singles of the Decade feature, this countdown has been compiled through combination of four equally weighed Top 20 lists by Kevin, Leeann, Tara and myself. An inverted point system was applied to the individual rankings (#1 on a list meant 20 points, while #20 on the list meant 1 point). The songs were then ranked together by number of total points, greatest to least. The final result is another rather stylistically diverse set.
As always, we hope you enjoy the countdown, and welcome all the feedback you can muster. Happy New Year!
Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
The trio puts a country spin on an old school pop sound, but without forsaking raw emotion. The highlight of the song is Hillary Scott’s smoky performance, which draws out all the anguish and regret you’d expect from a desperate, 1 AM lover’s call. – Tara Seetharam
Here are the top selling country albums of the calendar year 2009. The number in parentheses is the album’s rank on the overall list encompassing all genres. The totals are rounded to the nearest thousand:
- Taylor Swift, Fearless (1) – 3,157,000
- Zac Brown Band, Foundation (15) – 1,243,000
- Carrie Underwood, Play On (19) – 1,150,000
- Rascal Flatts, Unstoppable (21) – 1,123,000
- Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum (24) – 948,000
- Jason Aldean, Wide Open (27) – 940,000
- Darius Rucker, Learn to Live (31) – 849,000
- Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift (36) – 766,000
- Keith Urban, Defying Gravity (38) – 715,000
- Sugarland, Love On the Inside (41) – 678,000
“Not Ready to Make Nice”
It’s easy to label this as a transitory response of a song, whose quality is stamped by context and time, but to do so is to undermine its carefully crafted layers of universal emotion. Anger is only the outer coating of the song – beneath it lies a tender-to-the-touch complex of feelings: pain and disgust, confusion and resolve, stubbornness and defeat. “Not Ready to Make Nice” may always recall a certain unfortunate episode in country music history, but its theme – that there’s a price to pay for standing up for what you believe – is timeless. – Tara Seetharam
“Probably Wouldn’t Be this Way”
A striking portrait of grief that alternates between phases of desolation, disillusionment and gratitude. Rimes’ interpretation of the lyrics is chillingly precise. – TS
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 8: #60-#41
“Long Trip Alone”
In a perfect world, this would be this decade’s wedding standard. – Kevin Coyne
Lush baritone against an effortlessly charismatic, enticing invitation to let Turner be “your man.” How can you resist? – Tara Seetharam
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 7: #80-#61
“When Somebody Loves You”
A treasure of a love song. Contrasted stunningly with modest accompaniment and vocals, the song’s message is that of love’s sublime ability to transform one’s life and bring light to dark. – Tara Seetharam
“Separate Ways” is an instructive narrative of a couple who did everything together, but “the last thing they did together was go their separate ways.” Fortunately, the song’s narrator learns from his parents’ divorce and wisely applies its valuable lesson to his own relationship. – Leeann Ward
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 4: #140-#121
“Who Says You Can’t Go Home”
Bon Jovi featuring Jennifer Nettles
Packed as country music has been lately with rocked-up little singalongs, perhaps it was only natural that one of the leading bands in rocked-up little singalongs should cross over for a bit to show everybody how it’s done. It was newcomer Nettles, though, who stole this show, driving Bon Jovi’s ditty home with an infectiously joyful performance. – Dan Milliken
“God’s Gonna Cut You Down”
Peak: Did not chart
The arrangement is cool enough, but it’s Cash’s stoic, slicing vocal performance that makes his version of this song so memorable. – Tara Seetharam
Can’t say that I’m loving country music in its 2009 version, though my steadfast allegiance to the genre runs deep, so I hold out hope as a new decade is about to begin. Tonight, I’m recommending ten tracks from albums that were released this year. I’ve avoided singles so there’s some sense of discovery. I look forward to discovering music that I missed through the comments!
Recommend Ten Tracks: 2009 Edition
Lorrie Morgan, “I’m Always On a Mountain When I Fall” from A Moment in Time
I love the effect that was created by having this album recorded live in the studio. It’s like hearing her in a smoky nightclub. This is by far my favorite track on the album, a loser’s lament that was quite worthy of revival.
Aaron Tippin, “Prisoner of the Highway” from In Overdrive
He already has the default voice of the overworked working man, so his world-weary vocal is a perfect fit for this song about an imprisoned by the freedom of the road.