As we’re prepping our 1993 lists, there have been many debut albums in consideration. That year brought the first studio sets from big stars like Tracy Byrd, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Shania Twain, and Clay Walker. Also, sentimental favorites of attentive listeners, like Brother Phelps. Shawn Camp, Bobbie Cryner, Lisa Stewart, and Lari White also released their first discs. Debut albums aren’t always great. Sometimes the artistic voice just isn’t there yet. But some new artists knock it out of the park the first time out. Today we ask: What are your Top Five Debut Albums? Here’s my list: Kim Richey, Kim Richey Clint Black, Killin’ Time Randy Travis, Storms of Life Bobbie Cryner, Bobbie Cryner Emmylou Harris, Pieces of the Sky
Aaron Watson The Underdog The narrative surrounding Aaron Watson’s The Underdog makes it an album that is easy to root for: Buoyed by more than a decade of goodwill and fan support and a deft pre-release promotional push, the album surprised many with its #1 bow atop Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, surreptitiously around the same time that erstwhile Sony Nashville CEO Gary Overton made his controversial remark about how artists who don’t get played on country radio “don’t exist.” The Underdog, the twelfth album from a traditional-leaning Texas singer-songwriter known as much for his humility as for his music, provided a perfectly timed counterexample to Overton’s short-sighted arrogance.
Even among the new traditionalists of the early nineties, Mark Chesnutt stood out as a traditionalist, bringing pure country to the radio dial for more than a decade.
Any song that starts with a guitar melody so eerily reminiscent of Rosanne Cash’s “Blue Moon With Heartache” is going to reel me in right away. Throw in an understated production that recalls early Alan Jackson, and the fact that Corbin is an actual country singer instead of just a country personality, and things get even better.
The song is beautiful. Really, really beautiful. Like so many great country ballads, someone who’s been left alone because a relationship failed can relate to it just as well as someone who has been left alone because they’re a widow. On the verses, Corbin sounds so good that he could’ve sent this to radio in 1992 and stood tall among the Mark Chesnutts and Collin Rayes of that time.
A few should’ve been hits are mixed in with genuine smashes as the countdown continues.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #350-#326
How Do I Live
1997 | Peak: #2
When Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes released dueling versions of this song in 1997, it was apparently a wake up call to country listeners: “Hey, wait a minute. Trisha Yearwood is an amazing singer!” She elevates “How Do I Live” beyond its movie theme nature by adding layers of subtlety and nuance to the typical Diane Warren template. – Kevin Coyne
Boot Scootin’ Boogie
Brooks & Dunn
1992 | Peak: #1
I don’t claim to have any real knowledge of what it’s like to spend a night at the liveliest of honky-tonks, but I’ll be darned if this song doesn’t make me feel like I do. Because “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” isn’t really about a specific place where people go, and it isn’t even about the boogie itself; it’s about the universal thrill of busting out of the work week, kicking back and dancing your troubles away. From start to finish, Brooks & Dunn’s performance is a twangy blast of exhilaration, and that’s a feeling we can all relate to – outlaws, in-laws, crooks and straights alike. – Tara Seetharam
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 2: #180-#161
It’s the pairing of aching nostalgia and all the power that comes with a Flatts country-pop ballad that makes this song so potent. – Tara Seetharam
“Takin’ Off This Pain”
Like a fiery-eyed hybrid of Loretta Lynn and Jennifer Nettles, Shepherd burst onto the scene snapping her newly ring-free fingers at the clueless sap not treating her right. Next Decade, please take note: you’ve got a star in waiting. – Dan Milliken
The banality continues. Read Part 1 here.
The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 2: #40-#31
Kenny Chesney & George Strait, “Shiftwork”
A stab at the working class blues still ends up on a tropical island by the third verse.
Anita Cochran featuring The Voice of Conway Twitty, “(I Wanna Hear) A Cheatin’ Song”
In which a duet is formed from beyond the grave by chopping up bits and pieces of old Conway Twitty songs and reassembling them word by word.
Billy Dean, “Let Them Be Little”
Thirty seconds in and you’ll be headed to your dentist for a cavity filling.
Montgomery Gentry, “She Couldn’t Change Me”
Sorry boys, but “some hip-hop mess” would be a great improvement over this hillbilly trainwreck.
One of the side effects of the nineties boom was that every Nashville label started looking for young male acts that looked good in a Stetson and could sing with an accent.
The end result was that some solid talent was discovered a bit too early, before they’d fully refined themselves into artists. Tracy Byrd’s a great example of this. Only 25 years old when his first single went to radio, Byrd had been plucked from the Beaumont, Texas music scene that had groomed Mark Chesnutt.
Byrd’s hit material from the nineties was reflective of what the B-list hat acts recorded during that era, though his vocal charm helped him elevate middling songs from time to time. He also turned in a few gems, with his music getting far more consistent as he entered his thirties.
His last studio album, 2006’s Different Things, was excellent, but radio had already moved on to the new twentysomethings at that point, artists who will probably be making better music a decade from now and being overlooked for the new, new twentysomethings.
Ten Essential Tracks:
from the 1993 album Tracy Byrd
When surprisingly strong sales greeted the release of Byrd’s debut album, radio jumped on board. This catchy tune briefly knocked Garth’s “Ain’t Goin Down” out of the top spot, though Brooks would return to #1 a week later.