Country Universe writer and editor Jonathan Keefe has contributed to an awesome new project called Kicking the Canon. Put together by In Review Online, Kicking the Canon attempts to expand on what has traditionally been considered the definitive music and films of eras gone by.
Keefe’s take on Trisha Yearwood’s landmark 1992 set, Hearts in Armor has gone live:
Her self-titled debut may have spawned four top-ten singles, but it was on Hearts in Armor that Trisha Yearwood properly announced herself as one of the finest country artists of her generation. Informed by the end of her first marriage, the album explores both the subtle and the dramatic ways that a relationship can dissolve, and it allows Yearwood to lay bare hard-earned truths that lesser vocalists might have left hidden.
And that’s just the beginning! You can read the whole thing here.
The only other country album featured so far is Iris Dement’s My Life, but there are plenty more on the way. You can preview their 25 albums from each year (1960-1999) on their master list.
Does failure to reach a consensus indicate a year that lacked quality, or a year that had enough interesting singles that subjective taste is enough to prevent a consensus?
This was the dilemma faced by the Country Universe staff as we compiled our Best Singles of 2014 feature. We followed our usual routine. Each writer submitted their list of the twenty best singles of the year, and our numbers guru Jonathan Keefe used his time-test algorithm to produce a collective ranking.
But this year, there was only one single that appeared on four out of five lists. The rest: three or less. Rather than shorten the list to showcase only those songs chosen by multiple writers, we decided to stick to the usual forty slots, and let quite a few songs embraced only by one writer to have their place in the sun.
The result is probably the most diverse singles list we’ve ever published, and provides a great counterpoint to our upcoming albums list, which showed far more consensus than any previous albums list has.
Today, we start with the lower half of our top forty singles. Look for the upper half tomorrow, and our albums list on Wednesday.
“Truck Stop Gospel”
Raspy-voiced newcomer Parker Millsap takes it to church on one of the year’s best-drawn character sketches, adopting the persona of a truck driver whose cab doubles as his pulpit. – Jonathan Keefe
Our Best of 1994 Singles List continues with Part Three, which includes the ten songs that just missed the top ten! This section includes several #1 singles and signature hits, but kicks off with one of those should’ve been hits by a should’ve been star.
Joy Lynn White
Written by Dennis Linde
JK #9 | SG #18 | KJC #39
A brash, fiery vocalist with an instantly recognizable timbre and sense of phrasing, White revels in the forthright sexuality of “Wild Love” and has the pipes to match the track’s blistering arrangement. White may never have cracked the top 40 at radio, but the influence of her vocal style is all over Natalie Maines’ singing, and “Wild Love” foretold the hard rock turn the genre would take a decade or so later. – Jonathan Keefe
PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit
PrizeFighter: Hit after Hit includes the first set of new material from Trisha Yearwood in seven years. That new material, six tracks in total, is uniformly excellent and often extraordinary, adding to her already impressive legacy as the genre’s finest singer and interpreter of the last thirty years. What a pity that the rest of the collection cheapens and sullies that legacy.
Let’s start with those wonderful new tracks. The lead single and title cut, “PrizeFighter”, is an inspiring, get back up when you fall power anthem, featuring supporting vocals by Kelly Clarkson. In true Trisha form, the preview track is better than just about anything else on the radio today, yet still only hints at the treasures that await on the rest of the album.
Despite the Grammys and even the ACM’s demonstrating more consistent taste over the past few years, the CMA’s remain the most significant industry awards that honor country music. This year’s slate of nominees gives the organization an opportunity to build on the credibility of last year’s George Strait victory. His win for Entertainer saved a dismal show in its closing minutes.
Here’s our take on this year’s contenders:
Entertainer of the Year
- Luke Bryan
- Miranda Lambert
- Blake Shelton
- George Strait – Kevin, Jonathan, Tara, Ben
- Keith Urban
- Luke Bryan
- Miranda Lambert
- Blake Shelton
- George Strait – Jonathan, Kevin, Tara, Ben
- Keith Urban
Kevin: I’d settle for a Miranda Lambert victory, as she had an amazing year. But my first choice is George Strait, who deserves a fourth trophy for that record-breaking final concert. The rest of these nominees have either won before or still seem to have their best days ahead of them. There will never be another George Strait again.
Jonathan: The appalling sense of entitlement Jason Aldean has shown in his seemingly endless campaign of adult temper-tantrums disguised as interviews since these nominees were announced makes it all the more satisfying that the voters didn’t exclusively consider commercial and touring stats when voting for this award. I think that will likely continue with the final ballots, giving Strait the win here as a final send-off– a win that, as Kevin said, Strait’s last concert fully justifies based on even Aldean’s logic.
Tara: I have a feeling I’ll be pulling for Lambert next year, but 20 months after seeing it, I’m still high on Strait’s phenomenal farewell show. He deserves this.
Ben: Why not? Miranda will have plenty more shots at it, but this could be our last chance to see George Strait accept a CMA Entertainer of the Year trophy. Let the cowboy ride away in style.
“Prize Fighter” (with Kelly Clarkson)
Written by Jessi Alexander, Sarah Buxton, and Ross Copperman
Yes, it’s been more than seven years since Trisha Yearwood has released a proper single. Yes, it was worth the wait.
“Prize Fighter” is uplifting, inspirational, and powerful. It showcases Yearwood’s still flawless voice, an instrument that is effective at every setting between whisper and shout, and is always properly calibrated to the material it delivers. It’s a credit to Kelly Clarkson that she can even keep up with Yearwood, and her contributions to the track are complementary, if not entirely necessary.
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List
Arriving on the scene in 1989 with a great song sense and a strong background in marketing, Garth Brooks emerged as the poster boy for the nineties country boom, and along the way, became the biggest record-seller in America since the Beatles.
Brooks was born and raised in Oklahoma, the son of Capitol country recording artist Colleen Carroll. He grew up with music around the house, and learned to play the guitar and the banjo. His athletic prowess earned him a track scholarship at Oklahoma State University, but his interest soon turned to music. He began performing around Stillwater, becoming a major draw on the local talent circuit.
There are a lot of great country songs chronicling the breakup of a relationship, but it’s the female characters who have often shown a particular propensity for leaving their lovers by car. Sometimes she changes her mind and turns the car around; most of the time she doesn’t. Either way, it’s been the making of many a great country song.
There are obviously numerous songs that fit this mold, but here’s my whittled-down list of six personal favorites. I look forward to reading about your favorites in the comments section below.
“Nothin’ But the Wheel”
Written by John Scott Sherrill
Whenever I attempt to rank my many favorite Patty Loveless songs, “Nothin’ But the Wheel” is always one of the top three. Loveless’ mournful drawl is gorgeously framed by the weeping fiddle and steel guitar as she gives voice to a woman striking out on the road in the wee hours of the morning. The real gut punch comes with the line “And the only thing I know for sure is if you don’t want me anymore…” as the narrator reveals that she’s leaving not only because she’s unhappy, but because she knows she will not be missed. Continue reading
In 2008, I was finishing up my degree in journalism and trying to understand what it meant to be a professional writer. I wanted to write about music, but the divide between fan and critic felt, at times, insurmountable.
That fall, I stumbled onto Country Universe through this post, and it changed my perspective. As both a writer and leader, Kevin was thoughtful, rational and personally invested in the country music genre. He showed a deep respect for the genre’s history, but wrote about new artists with tolerance and curiosity. Best of all, he held readers and writers alike to the highest standards of decency.
It’s for that reason that this post shines. Kevin’s ability to take a stand while cultivating constructive dialogue is unmatched. He cut through the divisive hype around Carrie Underwood –an artist who is as special to me now as she was back then—and underlined the real issue at hand: country music’s staggering, frustrating gender bias. Six years and a truckload of interchangeable male artists later, it’s more imperative than ever that we continue this discussion. – Tara Seetharam
Discussion: Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain and Gender in Country Music
by Kevin John Coyne
August 29, 2008
I fear this post won’t quite live up to its ambitious title, and I realize that I’m stirring the tempest pot a bit by putting those two artists in the same sentence. But the tone that surfaces whenever Carrie Underwood is discussed here is something that I find increasingly frustrating, so I’m going to talk about it. Hopefully, I’ll get a meaningful conversation going along the way.
Songs have such a big impact on our life experience that they sometimes inspire songs of their own. It’s a cool theme that I wish more singers and songwriters would explore.
Here are some of my favorite examples of this theme:
Trisha Yearwood, “The Song Remembers When”
Far and away, the gold standard for songs about songs. I love the way the intro’s guitar hook is repeated immediately after Yearwood, sings, “When I heard that old familiar music start.” Producer Garth Fundis is the unsung hero of this classic recording, which has always seen heaps of deserved praise for Hugh Prestwood’s poetic songwriting and Yearwood’s skillful interpretation.