Actively writing single reviews again has me also looking at the radio charts again. What a bleak landscape of interchangeable singers and songs! I can’t remember things ever being this generic and bland. We flirted with it back in the Kellie Coffey days, but the bottom didn’t fall out.
Today, is there even a bottom? An old friend of mine listened to country radio for the first time in presumably years and asked, “Am I crazy, or is everyone getting drunk on country radio?”
He’s not crazy. What can we do to fix this?
Today’s Top Five asks: What five songs would you immediately put in heavy rotation on country radio?
They can already be singles, or could be unreleased songs that you think should be singles, but they should be current enough to be featured on an artist’s most recent album.
Here’s my top five:
- Old Crow Medicine Show, “Mean Enough World”
- Trisha Yearwood, “You Can’t Trust the Weatherman”
- Jason Isbell, “Songs that She Sang in the Shower”
- Nickel Creek, “You Don’t Know What’s Going On”
- Reba McEntire, “Just Like Them Horses”
Though she’s recorded steadily since the late 80s, Texas singer-songwriter Kimmie Rhodes hasn’t enjoyed either the commercial or critical cachet of many of the other alt-country and Americana acts. Both Wynonna and Trisha Yearwood have recorded her songs, but she hasn’t been a steady go-to songwriter like, say, Gretchen Peters or Kim Richey. That’s largely the result of how unassuming Rhodes’ work routinely is: Her songs are never less than well-constructed and are always observed in plainspoken but effective lines, while her singing hinges on her gentle, wispy voice.
“I Remember You”
Written by Kelly Archer, Ben Carver, and Brad Rempel
After the anthemic “Prize Fighter”, Trisha Yearwood softens things with the emotional “I Remember You.” With just an acoustic guitar and simple strings, “I Remember You” is a gorgeous tribute to the memories of someone who has passed from this life to the next.
Tomorrow is My Turn
Although Rhiannon Giddens has been a fixture on the Americana circuit as the frontwoman for the terrific Carolina Chocolate Drops, it’s on her solo debut, Tomorrow Is My Turn, that Giddens truly announces herself as an artist. On a shrewdly chosen collection of songs that draw from a diverse sample of American roots music, Giddens and producer T Bone Burnett showcase a fearless approach to genre that never once allows easy signifiers to interfere with her forceful and intuitive interpretations.
The third most prestigious country music industry award nominations – but the most important ones handed out in the spring – have been announced. Here’s a rundown of all the major categories, along with some back-of-the-envelope analysis:
- Jason Aldean
- Garth Brooks
- Luke Bryan
- Florida Georgia Line
- Miranda Lambert
Who’s In: Jason Aldean, Garth Brooks, Florida Georgia Line
Who’s Out: Blake Shelton, George Strait, Taylor Swift
Last year’s winner, George Strait, didn’t get a return invitation, but Garth Brooks, who has won this award six times before, returns to the competition. Much like Strait’s farewell tour was a reminder of his extensive popularity, Garth’s ability to sell out several dates per city overshadows the lukewarm reception to his new material at radio and retail. Taylor Swift’s exit is directly tied to her cutting ties with the genre. Jason Aldean’s return makes logical sense, but it’s quite the mystery to see Blake Shelton gone and Florida Georgia Line in.
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.