First as a songwriter, then as a new country superstar, and currently as an alternative country icon, Rodney Crowell has made an indelible mark on country music for nearly four decades.
Born and raised in Houston, Texas, he was already a bandleader in high school, heading up a teenage outfit called the Arbitrators. He was only 22 when he moved to Nashville, and by 1975, he’d been discovered by Jerry Reed, who heard him doing an acoustic set. Reed not only recorded one of his songs, but also signed him to his publishing company.
Crowell was soon a member of Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band, and she was the first to record some of his compositions that went on to be big hits for other artists, including: “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”, a #1 hit for Waylon Jennings; “‘Til I Gain Control Again”, a #1 hit for Crystal Gayle; “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”, a #1 hit for the Oak Ridge Boys; and “Ashes By Now”, a top five hit for Lee Ann Womack.
His remarkable songwriting talent led to a record deal with Warner Bros. While a trio of albums for the label were critically acclaimed, they failed to earn him success on the radio or at retail. But as would be the case for his entire career, other artists mined those records for hits. Most notably, “Shame on the Moon” became a #2 pop hit for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band.
Crowell took a break from his solo career to focus on his songwriting and production responsibilities for then-wife Rosanne Cash. This would be yet another successful avenue for Crowell, as his work with Cash produced several #1 singles and three gold albums. The relationship also helped set his solo career on fire. After signing with Cash’s label Columbia, his second set for the project was previewed with a duet with Cash, “It’s Such a Small World.”
It became the first of five consecutive #1 singles from Diamonds & Dirt, a gold-selling disc that briefly made Crowell an A-list country star, as five additional Cash singles that he had produced also hit #1 over the same time period. He received a Grammy award for Best Country Song for “After All This Time.” Two foll0w-up albums for Columbia also produced a handful of hits, with his final mainstream success being the pop crossover hit, “What Kind of Love.”
In the nineties, Crowell recorded two albums for MCA which were well-reviewed, but most notable for the second set including “Please Remember Me.” It stalled as a single when Crowell released it, but later that decade, Tim McGraw’s cover topped the charts for five weeks and earned Crowell a slew of award nominations.
The new century brought a reinvention on Crowell’s part, as he repositioned himself as an Americana artist with remarkable success. A trio of albums earned rave reviews, as did his collaboration with old friends like Vince Gill on The Notorious Cherry Bombs, which earned a handful of Grammy nominations and included Crowell’s “Making Memories of Us.” Once again, a current artist discovered it, and Keith Urban took it to #1 for several weeks.
Inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, Crowell continues to build on his legacy as a singer, songwriter, and producer. Most recently, Crowell produced Chely Wright’s confessional Lifted off the Ground and co-wrote an album with friend Mary Karr which features their songs recorded by several artists, including Crowell himself.
I Ain’t Living Long Like This (Waylon Jennings), 1980
‘Til I Gain Control Again (Crystal Gayle), 1982
Shame on the Moon (Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band), 1982
Age forty is still seen as more of a milestone, but age thirty might be the best place to neatly divide your life.
McGraw captures that feeling of settling in to who you're going to be, and the growing confidence that you're really an adult and that you've somewhat established yourself.
Suddenly, you look back on the ridiculous things you've done in your twenties with amusement and appreciation, like you're looking back on a different person who you're quite fond of but can no longer completely relate to. It's a moment in time when you've gathered your necessary life skills and still have enough energy to put them to use.
Who could be a better vehicle for this song than McGraw? He was 32 when he recorded it, and was enjoying unparalleled success at country radio, while also starting a family with fellow superstar Faith Hill. “My Next Thirty Years” was his twelfth #1 single in only seven years, and his seventh to spend four weeks or more at #1, a run absolutely unheard of in the modern era of country radio.
He sings with the confidence of a man on the top of his game, completely unaware of the fact that he'd one day sing “Truck Yeah.”
So in case you didn't know, Tim McGraw and Curb Records' “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” has taken an interesting turn as of late, with old label Curb and new label Big Machine releasing dueling Tim McGraw singles to country radio. Curb has put out a second single from Emotional Traffic - “Right Back Atcha Babe” (groan) – while Big Machine has released “Truck Yeah,” the first single from McGraw's forthcoming label debut album.
I've written it before, and I'll write it again: A snappy catchphrase does not a great single make. Half the time it doesn't even make a halfway good or decent single, and it can be downright embarrassing at worst. So “truck” rhymes with… you know. Congratulations to the songwriters on having come to such a grand realization, but that still begs the question of why the world needs to hear a three and a half-minute song built around it.
Some songs that are built around puns or catchphrases sound somewhat clever at first, only to gradually lose their appeal, and quickly become intolerable. This is not one of them, for it sounds dumb and ridiculous upon arrival. It starts with “Got Li'l Wayne poppin' on my iPod,” and then it's all downhill from there.
If this is at all representative of the musical direction McGraw plans to take with Curb Records, then it's probably past time I started calling myself a “former” Tim McGraw fan. This is it, folks – He's finally gone off the deep end.
Written by Preston Brust, Chris Janson, Chris Lucas, and Danny Myrick
Some songs live or die on the strength of the artist's vocal interpretation. Tim McGraw's “My Best Friend” could be considered one such song.
The funny thing is that's not necessarily an indication of poor songwriting. Sometimes it just takes the right vocalist to find the layers of emotion woven into a lyric that could scan as pedestrian in the hands of another performer. In this instance, Tim McGraw indeed proves to be the right vocalist.
Lyrics like “I don't know where I'd be/ Without you here with me/ Life with you makes perfect sense” could very easily come across as rote statements with no real emotional heft. When Tim McGraw delivers them, you get the sense that he means it from the depths of his soul.
McGraw's heartfelt performance is bolstered by a pleasant lilting melody and a laid-back arrangement featuring generous amounts of fiddle and steel guitar. Thanks to such fitting treatment, the song exudes such an irresistible warmth that it's easy to see why it's become a dance floor favorite in the twelve years since its release.
You know what's one of the best ways for a contemporary country song to worm its way into my heart? To display a mature and insightful perspective, or to tap into some universal truth, while dressing itself up with the catchiest of melodies and hooks.
That particular sweet spot is one that the female artists in country music tend to hit more often than the males – See “Deep Down,”“Hey Cinderella,” and “The Fear of Being Alone” for case studies. However, Tim McGraw's 1999 chart-topper “Something Like That” hits it, and hits it dead-on.
The song recounts the narrator's youthful experience of falling in love for the very first time at age seventeen. The verses are replete with little details – a barbecue stain, a miniskirt, a suntan line, etc. Such details may seem to have little meaning, but in this particular context, they mean everything. In the second verse, the narrator has a chance encounter with his old flame while traveling on a plane, where she says “I bet you don't remember me, to which he replies “Only every other memory,” thus assuring her that she is hardly forgotten. “Like an old photograph, time can make a feeling fade,” he sings during the bridge, “but the memory of a first love never fades away.”
Through its vivid, detail-laden approach, the lyric effectively hones in on the fact that the experience of one's first love is, in itself, unforgettable. Every little aspect of the encounter feels significant in its own way, because it's a lifetime milestone that leaves a lasting impression. Indeed, “a heart don't forget something like that.”
The point is driven home by a sprightly piano hook, toe-tapping rhythm, and wildly catchy singalong-friendly chorus – a one-two punch that helps the record make an impression both as a great lyric and as a fun, catchy listen.
After many years as a mid-level country artist, Kenny Chesney fused arena-size country with Caribbean rhythms to become one of the genre’s biggest stars of the 21st century.
Born and raised in East Tennessee, Chesney didn’t seriously start pursuing music until he was in college, despite being an enthusiast his entire life. While continuing his studies, Chesney played in a bluegrass band and for tips at a Mexican restaurant. He managed to finance a demo album and moved to Nashville in 1991. He played at a local honky-tonk called the Turf, and eventually landed a publishing deal in 1992 that led to a record deal with Capricorn in 1993.
His debut for the label, In My Wildest Dreams, found little success, but it laid the groundwork for a new deal with BNA Records. His second set, All I Need to Know, put him on the map. Throughout the nineties, he slowly built a career at radio and retail, as his songs inched higher on the charts and he moved from gold, to platinum, and then to multi-platinum sales by the end of the nineties.
Still, there was little to indicate that he was about to explode into superstardom. But as his live shows gained greater attention, Chesney began to incorporate Caribbean sounds into his music, styling himself as an island singer in the same vein as Jimmy Buffett. Through stronger song choices that helped repair the novelty act image that had been created with hits like “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”, Chesney began to earn critical acclaim for his work.
By the mid-2000′s, Chesney was the biggest act in country music, selling millions of copies of his albums and more concert tickets than even the biggest pop and rock acts of the day. He dominated the awards circuit, and even managed to sell big numbers of indulgent side projects like Be Who You Are and Lucky Old Sun.
Today, Chesney remains a top concert draw and a core radio act. He is currently prepping another studio album and a co-headlining tour with Tim McGraw.
I’ve always liked Kix as a singer, so I was happy to see that this single exists. He’s got one of those modest-but-charming Everyman voices, the kind that makes every song feel like a conversation with your ol’ pal.
He also sounds positively thrilled to flex it for us again, which is just infectious. Listen to how he relishes every note of “New to This Town,” like he doesn’t want waste a moment of this reintroduction. Love that! I love that.
Just want to hear it on a different song. This one’s got some good bones – the main chorus cadence (before it becomes a crutch), the theme of wishing you could rewrite a history gone wrong. But the first verse about the younger man doesn’t set up a compelling launching pad for the rest of the song, and I don’t know if I buy Kix Brooks with this sound – pulsing verses, big rock chorus. Plus, the subject matter invites comparison to Tim McGraw’s dazzling “Old Town New,” and there aren’t a lot of songwriters who can go head-to-head with Bruce Robison or Darrell Scott, much less the two of ‘em together.
So as an appetizer, I can’t say it kix ass but…….! (I’m done writing forever.)
Written by Kix Brooks, Marvin Green & Terry McBride