Tag Archives: Vince Gill

100 Greatest Men: #81. Eagles

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

You can count their country hits on one hand, and still have fingers to spare.  But the Eagles did more to shape the sound of country music than any rock band before or since.

It was another country rocker, the legendary Linda Ronstadt, that nudged the band into existence.  Looking for musicians to back her on record and on stage, the founding members – Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner – performed on her 1971 eponymous album.   With her encouragement, they decided to form a band of their own.

From the time they released their debut album in 1972 until they ended their initial run with 1979’s The Long Run, the Eagles produced rock music that was heavily laced with country instrumentation.   The sound was most prevalent in their earlier work, and while they’d only score one top ten hit at country radio, “Lyin’ Eyes”, they still managed to score a Vocal Group nomination at the CMA Awards.

The country connection to their work was forgotten until the nineties, when a tribute album called Common Thread brought together the nineties country superstars who were most influenced by the band’s work.   Anyone who wondered why so many middle-aged rock fans suddenly embraced country music in the early nineties can have their questions answered by that tribute album.  Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt, and Vince Gill covered Eagles classics faithfully, and the end result was a collection of performances that reflected just how similar their own work was to that of the Eagles.

The tribute album won the CMA for Album of the Year, and its commercial success inspired the Eagles to reunite for their Hell Freezes Over tour and subsequent album.   When they decided to make their first studio album in almost three decades, they targeted the country market directly. Long Road Out of Eden topped the country albums chart and produced a Grammy-winning country hit with “How Long.”   When they hit the road to support the album, they did so with the Dixie Chicks and Keith Urban.

Essential Singles:

  • Take it Easy, 1972
  • Lyin’ Eyes, 1975
  • Take it to the Limit, 1975
  • Hotel California, 1976
  • Heartache Tonight, 1979

Essential Albums:

  • Desperado, 1973
  • One Of These Nights, 1975
  • Hotel California, 1976
  • The Long Run, 1979
  • Long Road Out of Eden, 2007

Next: #80. The Everly Brothers

Previous: #82. Fiddlin’ John Carson

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Album Review: LeAnn Rimes, Lady and Gentlemen

LeAnn Rimes

Lady and Gentlemen

A new covers album from LeAnn Rimes would likely draw comparisons to her 1999 self-titled effort, which found her covering the likes of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.  But this time, there’s a twist:  All of the songs she’s covering were originally recorded by male artists.  Thus, Rimes is re-interpreting them in a female perspective.

And while 1999’s LeAnn Rimes album might have given you a feeling that you were listening to really good karaoke singer, as her versions seldom strayed far from the originals, Rimes’ new collection Lady and Gentlemen finds her taking substantial liberties with these classic hits.  She even alters lyrics on Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman” and “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” (re-titled as “The Only Mama That’ll Walk the Line”).  The songs are given modern, yet reverent, production arrangements, with Rimes adding her own personal style to each one, resulting in a uniquely creative effort.

Besides the obviously strong song material, what really makes Lady and Gentlemen a keeper is the fact that, although she covers everyone from Jennings to Jones to Haggard, the project remains first and foremost a LeAnn Rimes album.  She sounds entirely in her element – After all, she grew up listening to these songs – and the result is a strong set of performances that sound natural, sincere, and unaffected.

Rimes and her co-producers Vince Gill and Darrell Brown craft arrangements that sound simultaneously vintage and modern, never treating the songs as museum pieces.  The albums kicks off with Rimes’ cover of John Anderson’s “Swingin,” which was released as the project’s first single last year.  Though it barely made a ripple on the charts, it easily ranked as one of the best singles of the year.

While everything about the original Anderson recording screamed “eighties,” LeAnn speeds up the tempo, and transforms the über-cheesy hit into a modern-day jam session.  In listening to Rimes’ vocal delivery, you’d think she chugged down a pot of espresso before heading into the recording studio.  Like an auctioneer at the county fair, Rimes calls out the verses in rapid-fire succession, while the band furiously plucks away behind her.

The better part of the album finds Rimes backed with simple acoustic and steel guitar-driven arrangements, such as on the Freddy Fender cover “Wasted Days and Wasted Night” – worth hearing for her Spanish accent alone.  She utilizes a similar sonic approach on Merle Haggard’s “I Can’t Be Myself,” notable also for a vocal that sounds deeply plaintive, while also casting a feminine tone over the classic lyric.  While her version of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons” carries a deep retro vibe, she adds an extra layer of sass to the lyric, which makes the song one of the album’s most interesting tracks.

She deviates from the vintage approach with her cover of Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name,” and instead puts a blue-eyed country soul spin on the nineties hit.  Such an approach accents the deep bluesy tone in her voice, but the unnecessary addition of a gospel choir distracts from the raw emotion that came through in Gill’s original recording.  Though interesting, her take on “When I Call Your Name” is less satisfying than many of the album’s other tracks.

Perhaps the song that gives her the biggest shoes to fill is the classic Bobby Braddock/ Curly Putman composition “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” a hit for George Jones in 1980, and widely regarded as the greatest country song of all time.  Appropriately, Rimes and Gill’s approach places the classic lyric front and center, with no superfluous bells or whistles.  Rimes is backed by little more than an acoustic guitar as she recounts the dark tale of a man who loved his woman until the very end, even when his love was no longer requited.  She gives a remarkably moving performance of the familiar ballad, even when delivering the spoken-word portion.  Vince Gill adds his distinctive harmony touch to the track, and the result sounds absolutely haunting, making “He Stopped Loving Her Today” a strong contender for being the album’s best track.

The album closes with the original songs “Crazy Women” and “Give,” both of which have seen release as singles.  “Crazy Women” sounds like something out of a Broadway musical (or a Laura Bell Bundy album, for that matter), and Rimes deftly pulls it off with a broadly entertaining performance of the wickedly snarky tune.  Current single “Give” returns Rimes to a fully modern pop-country style.  While the philosophical song – a call for proactivity and benevolence in the world – is a strong composition, the musical styling is an awkward fit for an album that is largely retro in style.  It’s a good song – It just sounds like it belongs on a different album.

As a special treat for her fans, Rimes offers a re-recorded version of her classic 1996 debut single “Blue,” commemorating the fifteen-year anniversary of the song’s release.  The new version sounds even more traditional than the original, which is saying a lot, while also displaying Rimes’ growth as a vocalist and lyrical interpreter.  She gives a performance with more restraint than the original, connecting with the underlying emotions on an even deeper level than before, while the simpler, twangier arrangement highlights the timeless nature of the Bill Mack composition.  It’s impressive to note the ease with which “Blue” fits in among all these revered classics.  As one who’s known and loved the song “Blue” for years, I do not say this lightly:  The new version of “Blue” rivals the original.

A binding thread running throughout the set is the palpable reverence Rimes displays for these songs, which makes Lady and Gentlemen one of the most intriguing and wholly satisfying releases of 2011, and of Rimes’ own career output.  It all comes together so well that the project’s success seem perfectly natural.  LeAnn Rimes is a great singer, and these are great songs, so in her tackling these timeless tunes, it logically follows that a great album would result.

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Someone Like You

I didn’t expect much.

I’ve had the Adele album for a good bit now, and “Someone Like You” is my favorite track on it.  I’d already heard how the song shot to #1 in the U.K. after she performed it on the Brit Awards.

I checked out that performance, and thought it was good. Not great, but good.

So when I heard all the buzz about her performance of the song on Sunday’s MTV Awards, I didn’t rush to check it out, and ended up just watching it last night out of boredom.

I can’t tell if it’s because she was a bit hoarse, or if she was trying to hold back her tears. Either way, it was so stunningly powerful that I was even a bit shaken up by the whole thing.

I know that there’s going to be the inevitable claims of authenticity and real talent and such, which makes sense given the pop landscape that she’s performing in.  But honestly, it’s been a really long time since anything has happened on a country music stage that’s even come close to what Adele pulled off that night.

It reminded me of Reba McEntire’s performance of “For My Broken Heart” on the 1991 CMA Awards.  She’s a seasoned pro who rarely misses a note, but she tears up so much in the final chorus that she can’t get the notes out, and imperfection that makes the performance timelessly perfect:

I can’t find the clip online, but it also reminded me of Vince Gill singing “The Key to Life” on the 1998 show, also breaking down in the final few lines of the song.  I miss moments like this in country music.

No wonder I’m so awfully disinterested in country this year.  Besides the usual mainstream drivel, I’ve also been disappointed by new albums from usually reliable folks like Dolly Parton, Todd Snider, Alison Krauss & Union Station, and even Emmylou Harris.   I’ve taken to pretending that The Civil Wars are somehow country so that I don’t write the genre off completely this year.

The only thing I’ve really loved so far?  Matraca Berg’s The Dreaming Fields.  It’s got that same rawness that must be speaking to me for some reason these days.  There’s no chance of Berg making it back on the radio in 2011, but with all the shameless format-hopping that’s been allowed by country programmers in recent years, maybe we can get them to give a few spins to Adele.

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Single Review: Vince Gill, “Threaten Me With Heaven”

From his upcoming fall album release, Guitar Slinger, Vince Gill releases a quiet song that gorgeously portrays a man who is at peace with his impending death. While his loved ones are distraught from the thought of losing him, he assures them that he is not afraid of the prospect and, in fact, welcomes it:

“What’s the worst thing that can happen / What’s the worst that they can do?/ Threaten me with Heaven / It’s all they can do / Threaten me with Heaven / if they want to / Threaten me with Heaven, I believe that it’s true / Threaten me with Heaven, I’ll be waiting on you.”

His wife, Amy Grant, may be the official Christian/gospel singer in the family, but Brother Vince could easily stand right alongside her in such a capacity of he so chose, as his rousing “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” and “Rock of Ages” performances with Grant, from her hymns albums, can legitimately testify. While “Threaten Me with Heaven” is much more understated than those gospel favorites, it’s a powerful testament of faith to which people can either possibly relate or envy.

Similar in sound to his inspiring “What You Give Away”, “Threaten Me with Heaven” hosts a heartfelt vocal, tasteful guitar support and a gospel choir that enriches the tone of the song. As a result, the single is more adult contemporary than pure country, but it is beautifully sung and arranged nonetheless.

Written by Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Dillon O’Brien & Will Owsley

Grade: A

Listen:  Threaten Me With Heaven


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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Sara Evans

I was in my early teens when I first discovered Sara Evans… and I thought she was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  The rich, throaty texture of her distinct voice reeled me in, and her entertaining mixture of traditional and contemporary influences had me thoroughly hooked.  Now that I’ve also become familiar with the likes of Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood, and Emmylou Harris, my view of Sara is a little more in-perspective these days, but I do still consider myself a big fan, and she holds a special distinction as one of the first female country artists I really got into.

Radio passed on her when she first emerged as a neotraditionalist in the late nineties, but with future efforts, Sara went on to become a star, thanks to her ability to adapt to changing times while still staying true to herself.  She was one of the dominant female country voices on the radio dial in the early years of the twenty-first century, and after enduring a bit of a dry spell for a few years, she has recently experienced a commercial resurgence.

Though she maintained a fairly consistent quality standard for the better part of her career, recent years have seen that standard slipping thanks to subpar pop-country cuts in the vein of “Feels Just Like a Love Song.”  Nonetheless, Sara still deserves credit for having a solid body of work behind her that’s well worth remembering.  If we’re fortunate, perhaps we may one day see Sara make a return to form, or even delve back into her traditional country and bluegrass roots.

The following list includes many of the songs that best exemplify the qualities that drew me to the music of Sara Evans in the first place.  It’s not meant to be a strict listing of the songs that unquestionably rank as Sara’s “best;” (which would be pretty subjective anyway) It’s merely a list of my own personal favorites.  Let it be an enjoyable look back on some of Sara’s finest moments.  If you would like to share any of your own favorites in the comments section, please feel free to do so.

#25

“A Little Bit Stronger”

Stronger, 2011

Somehow, Sara’s comeback hit finds a way to hit my sweet spot for power ballads. (Yes, I actually do have a sweet spot for power ballads, though few have been able to hit it) What was it about this song that won me over?  Maybe it was the subtle strains of mandolin and steel.  Maybe it’s the build-up nature of the song – the way the progressive nature of the narrator’s healing is mirrored by the production and by Sara’s vocal delivery.  At any rate, the ingredients come together to form a record greater than the sum of its parts.

#24

“New Hometown”

Real Fine Place, 2005

It’s not just a song about how cool small-town life is.  Stylistically, the song even ranks as one of Sara’s most pop-friendly album tracks.  As Sara’s character expresses her desire to escape the hustle-and-bustle of city life, the song becomes a plea for a return to the simple things in life.  Though not all of us intend to make a big old move to a small town, no doubt many among us harbor a similar deep-down yearning just to “find a little earth to stand on.”

#23

“Perfect”

Restless, 2003

The catchy guitar hook is an instant attention-getter, but this number-two hit from Sara’s Restless album has a heart and a simple message at its core:  “Real love and real life doesn’t have to be perfect.”  Add in a few quirky and clever lines such as “If in every wedding picture my daddy looks annoyed, it’s all right,” as well as the fitting conclusion that “All the fairy tales tell a lie,” and you’ve got a real beauty.

#22

“Momma’s Night Out” 

Real Fine Place, 2005

I love this song mainly because it’s a side of Sara that we haven’t seen very often.  She’s rarely been one to record party songs.  But on this track, Sara takes on the role of an overworked mother who throws in the towel, leaves the kids with daddy, and hits the town with the girls.  Sara’s sassy vocal finds her as loose as she’s ever been, while the funky horn-infused production makes it an unforgettable track

#21

“Cupid”

No Place That Far, 1999

The distinct voice of George Jones, even when coming in the form of background vocals, has the ability to make a great song even greater (see Patty Loveless, “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me”).  In this shamelessly twangy steel-infused country rave-up from No Place That Far, the Possum joins Sara in delivering the unshakable hook of “Tell Cupid not to point that thing at me!”

#20

“Restless”

Restless, 2003

I have a bit of a weakness for country music that borrows from Irish and Celtic influences as this track does.  The gorgeous Celtic-harp-laced arrangement makes “Restless” a highlight of one of Sara’s most stylistically-diverse albums.  The lyrics are every bit as beautiful, poetically telling of a restless soul learning to make peace with the fact that she will be a wanderer until the day she dies.

#19

“Low”

Billy: The Early Years (soundtrack), 2008

Sara’s contribution to the Billy soundtrack is nothing short of a pure joy, replete with the sounds of pure country and bluegrass instrumentation.  Though the lyrics invoke religious elements, they don’t sound preachy at all.  It’s not a “You should live your life this way” kind of song;  It’s an “I’m going to live my life this way” kind of song.  It’s a proactive anthem of strength, resolve, and determination – more uplifting than a million Martina McBride power ballads combined.

#18

“I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail”

Three Chords and the Truth, 1997

Fact:  Sara sounds best when singing traditional country music.  Going back and listening to Sara’s shamelessly neotraditional debut album is a joy for any fan of stone cold country.  Here she pays tribute to the vintage Bakersfield sound with a cover of a Buck Owens hit co-written by Harlan Howard.  Besides being a highlight of the Three Chords and the Truth album, this song was instrumental in helping Sara get the chance to snag a record deal and become a star.  It was when the legendary songwriter Harlan Howard himself heard Sara’s performance of his classic song that he threw all his efforts into helping the young talent get discovered.

#17

“Fool, I’m a Woman”

No Place That Far, 1999

This deliciously snarky tune has Matraca Berg’s fingerprints all over it.  In a composition by one of country’s finest songwriters, Sara plays off the age-old stereotype of a woman’s continual habit of changing her mind.  She scoffs at old romantic clichés as she pointedly tells off her soon-to-be-ex-lover – “You used to tell me so many nights/ You don’t deserve me/ Well maybe you were right.”  Ouch!

#16

“A Real Fine Place to Start”

Real Fine Place, 2005

I have a major affinity for songs that can effectively channel the excitement of a newfound romance, and this Radney Foster-penned number-one hit from 2005 squarely hits that target.  Thanks in large part to Sara’s soaring vocal performance, “A Real Fine Place to Start” is a fun, breezy record that bubbles over with energy and exuberance, and begs to be blasted out one’s car windows.  A shining example of pop-country done well.

#15

“Why Should I Care”

Born to Fly, 2000

A sparse pop-country ballad in which a woman struggles to make sense of the feelings of guilt and jealousy that suddenly surface when she finds out that her former lover has found someone new.

#14

“Imagine That”

Three Chords and the Truth, 1997

Sara’s take on this Patsy Cline torch ballad ranks as arguably one of the finest displays of Sara’s vocal talents that can be found on any of her studio albums.

#13

“Bible Song”

Real Fine Place, 2005

This melancholy Lori McKenna song was one of the best tracks on Real Fine Place.  While so many country stars have gleefully sang the praises of small-town living, “Bible Song” echoes the message that life in such idealistic small towns is not always what it’s cracked up to be.  The pace of life may be slower, but this tragic story of a young man’s drug-induced death shows that even small town residents at times fall prey to their own inner demons.

#12

“Rockin’ Horse”

Restless, 2003

A genuine nugget of wisdom is wrapped up in this blazing fiddle-shredder.  The narrator recounts a frightening childhood experience in which a tree falls near her family’s house after being struck by lightning.  Then her father carves the tree’s wood into a rocking horse that becomes one of her most treasured toys.   By showing how this experience shapes the narrator’s outlook on life, “Rockin’ Horse” becomes a colorful testament to the power of positive thinking, with its message summed up in the memorable hook “When it’s pouring down on me/ In my life I see the rockin’ horse inside the tree.”

#11

“As If”

Greatest Hits, 2007

Four new tracks were included on Sara’s 2007 Greatest Hits package, and this almost-Top 10 hit was by far the best.  With cheeky, humorous lyrics, Sara satirically poked fun at the human tendency toward infatuation that blinds one to all a person’s shortcomings.  The catchy melody and energetic performance made for an earworm of a record that was truly unforgettable.

#10

“What That Drink Cost Me”

Stronger, 2011

The new album could have benefited greatly from more songs like this.  This restrained steel guitar weeper is the stuff of a country classic – a heart-wrenching tale of the destructive power of alcohol.  Though the Stronger album as a whole found Sara saddled with an excess of disposable material, the fact that it also included one of the best songs she had written in years is an encouraging sign.  Besides that, “What That Drink Cost Me” is yet another example of one of the qualities that I’ve always appreciated about Sara’s music:  Even after she went in a more pop-flavored musical direction, her traditional country influences were never fully snuffed out.

#9

“If You Ever Want My Lovin’”

Three Chords and the Truth, 1997

This loose, flirty, upbeat little ditty was co-written by Sara along with Billy Yates and Melba Montgomery.  Though the cheeky lyrics can put an instant smile on one’s face, the record’s most endearing trait is Sara’s raw, expressive vocal delivery.  Though Sara’s Missouri twang is toned back on some of her more pop-oriented material, this record allows that twang to stand front and center.

#8

“Unopened”

Three Chords and the Truth, 1997

This was the only original song on Sara’s debut album on which she did not share writing credits, originating from the pen of Leslie Satcher.  As the song’s narrator discovers evidence of a secret love from her man’s past, she views his willingness to leave it behind as evidence of his genuine love for her.  She resolves to return that love by trusting in her man, and allowing his secret to remain a secret.

#7

“No Place That Far”

No Place That Far, 1999

Vince Gill is one of country music’s favorite harmony vocalists (besides being an A-list legend in his own right), and he adds something particularly special to the hauntingly beautiful love song that was Sara’s breakthrough chart-topper.  The song reaches a crescendo in the final chorus as Sara sings “If I had to run, if I had to crawl…” and is answered each time by that distinctive tenor.  It’s as if we’re listening to two lovers singing to one another from afar off, pledging their unwavering determination to be reunited.  Though it’s a great lyric in its own right, the chemistry of the two performers gives the story an extra layer that can’t be seen just by looking at the lyrics on paper.

#6

“I Learned That from You”

Born to Fly, 2000

Though found on one of Sara’s most pop-oriented albums, “I Learned from You” was one of the finest and most country tracks on Sara’s breakthrough album Born to Fly.  A heavy-hearted reflection on the difficult leassons learned from a first love that didn’t last, while also an appreciative recollection of all the happy memories that were made at the time.

#5

“Coalmine”

Real Fine Place, 2005

The timing was unfortunate for the release of this underplayed gem that offered a glimpse of Sara’s mountain bluegrass influences.  A flirty, playful lyric and performance added up to a song that was loads of fun as Sara fawned over her man “walking out of that coalmine, covered with dust, T-shirt tight, all muscled up.”  This is one Sara Evans single that is definitely deserving of a re-release.

#4

“Three Chords and the Truth”

Three Chords and the Truth, 1997

The title track of Sara’s debut is a testament to the power of country music in dredging up deeply held emotions in a listener – emotions that we might have ignored in the past.  It’s the kind of song that always reminds me why I love country music so much.  Sara’s character hears a country song on the radio for the first time, and it not only brings back the emotions, but it moves her to action.  It motivates her to turn the car around and reconcile with the lover she had intended to leave far behind.  “Three Chords” is a beautifully constructed story that effectively pays tribute to country music at its best, demonstrating that there’s so much more to this unique and special genre than what the ugly stereotypes would lead some to believe.

#3

“Suds In the Bucket”

Restless, 2003

Besides being an excellent singalong driving jam, this fiddle-and-steel-laden hit is a humorous glimpse at tongue-wagging small-town culture, sans the chest-pounding backwoods clichés that are common on country radio today.  Fun, playful, and full of personality, this country rave-up was the song that first got me into Sara Evans, and it’s remained a personal favorite of mine ever since.  It never fails to make me feel happy.

#2

“Cheatin’”

Real Fine Place, 2005

This Top Ten hit takes a classic country music theme – infidelity – and puts a distinct and memorable spin on it.  After having parted ways with an unfaithful spouse, Sara’s character gloats over the unpleasant living situation her ex has since found himself in.  But as the lyric progresses, she reveals that she has been genuinely hurt by his actions, and she unashamedly drops the bomb of “Yes, I’ll be glad to take you back just as soon as I stop breathing.”  Amusingly spiteful and achingly emotional at the same time, “Cheatin’” exemplifies the layered organic storytelling that makes for a killer country song, while the traditional-styled arrangement acts as the perfect sonic backdrop to Sara’s bitterly nuanced performance.

#1

“Born to Fly”

Born to Fly, 2000

Sara’s career record remains one of her most enduring and effortlessly charming hits, and with it’s distinctive drumbeat intro and bluegrass-tinged instrumentation, it’s definitely one of her most recognizeable.  “Born to Fly” is an endearing coming-of-age tale of a young woman exploring her potential in life, and seeking to find her place in the world.  It manages to perfect the magic formula of possessing a unique identity of its own, while still being universal such that a wide array of individuals can relate to the feelings it expresses.  Who among us has never gone through this period of life as a young person?  We’ve all been at that crossroads point in life, and felt what it’s like to be “starin’ down the road, just lookin’ for my one chance to run.”

In a way, the song could also be seen as symbolic of the point Sara was at in her career when she recorded it.  Would her third album improve on the moderate success of No Place That Far, or would it be ignored like the commercially-underappreciated Three Chords and the Truth?  It was with this album and single that Sara struck platinum with a style that was just slick enough to be commercially friendly without sacrificing the heart of her earlier work.  The result?  Her career ‘soared away like a blackbird.’

In a career that has included many memorable singles, “Born to Fly” is one of the very finest.

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Rodney Crowell

As most of my favorite artists tend to be, Rodney is talented in multiple ways. Not only does he have a charismatic voice, he’s an accomplished musician, songwriter and producer. He has used these talents for himself, but has also shared them with many other artists. In fact, high-profile artists like Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Johnny Cash, Chely Wright, among many others, have benefited from his musicianship, compositions and producing abilities.

In this feature, we will focus on some of the best Rodney Crowell songs–whether they were big hits, minor hits or unreleased album tracks—but these twenty-five songs certainly do not do enough justice to this man’s contribution to country music. As a result, look for an accompanying Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters feature on Rodney Crowell to come soon.

#25
“You’ve Been on My Mind”

from the 1989 album Keys to the Highway

The lyrics are a little ambiguous, but it’s clear that this is a lonesome song about love lost. Crowell can do a lonesome song with the best of them and he does just that here.

#24
“Telephone Road”

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

With an infectious, driving production, “Telephone Road” depicts Crowell’s childhood with fondness (an ice cream from the ice cream truck was only 5 cents), but without the irresponsible nostalgia that seems to afflict many such songs of today (I’m looking at you Bucky Covington). To be totally shallow, this is one to blast on some good speakers.

#23
“Adam’s Song”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

Anyone who has experienced the passing of a loved one knows the reality that Crowell sings about. As he knowingly observes, “We’ll keep learning how to live with a lifelong broken heart.”

#22
“Many A Long and Lonesome Highway”

from the 1989 album Keys to the Highway

This is the first song I’d ever heard by Rodney Crowell. At the time, I had just gotten into country music and the song was already four or five years old, but I had no idea of his history. I simply thought it was a great, melodic song. I still do.

#21
“Song for the Life”

from the 1978 album Ain’t Living Long Like This

To me, this song sounds mature and reflective, from a man who has lived and learned. However, in a 2005 20 Questions interview with CMT, Rodney reveals that he wrote this song when he was a mere twenty-one years old. And, is that Willie Nelson I hear singing background vocals? Yes, it is.

#20
“Fate’s Right Hand”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

The title track of the critically acclaimed Fate’s Right Hand explores changing times and injustices much better than Toby Keith’s “American Ride” does.

#19
“Topsy Turvy”

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

This song vividly paints the picture of Crowell’s parents’ abusive relationship. It’s from his perspective as the fully aware child who witnesses the turbulence. He doesn’t mince words throughout the song, but especially when he admits, “I cross my heart and tell myself ‘I hope they die’”. He also details the lack of meaningful response from neighbors and police officers.

#18
“Beautiful Despair

from the 2005 album The Outsider

It’s not a feeling that one wants to embrace often, but there are times when leaning into that feeling of despair propels one to action or at least some needed introspection. From this song, it’s likely that despair has played a beautiful function in his life.

#17
“Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”

from the 1978 album Ain’t Living Long Like This

Emmylou Harris was one of the first people to record a Rodney Crowell song and what a gem it is. While Harris’ recording of it is the strongest and most exuberant version, Crowell’s version is great too.

#16
“This Too Will Pass”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

What I like about a Rodney Crowell penned inspirational song is that it’s not embarrassing to listen to. It’s inspiring without sounding like a page from Chicken Soup for the Soul.

#15
“My Baby’s Gone” (with Emmylou Harris)

from the 2003 album Livin’ Lovin’ Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers

From the excellent Louvin Brothers tribute album, one of the many shining moments is this duet from Rodney and Emmylou Harris. It just cements the fact that they need to do a duets album. Stat!

#14
“The Rock of My Soul”

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

While this song is not strictly autobiographical, it is a chilling representation of Crowell’s tumultuous experiences with his father.

#13
“Dancin’ Circles Round the Sun (Epictetus Speaks)”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

Here’s another example of Rodney Crowell inspiring without sickening.

#12
“After All This Time”

from the 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt

If you’re not listening carefully, you might think this is a pretty love song. It, however, is a wistful love song to a relationship that no longer exists.

#11
“I Walk the Line Revisited” (With Johnny Cash)

from the 2001 album The Houston Kid

This is a joyful account of the first time Crowell heard Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” on the radio as a kid. It’s an obvious full circle moment when Cash sings an altered melody of the classic on Crowell’s song about it.

#10
“We Can’t Turn Back”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

In his gentle but no nonsense way, Crowell explores the notion that we can’t change the past, which means that we can only focus on the present and what we can do to make it better.

#9
“Artemis and Orion”

from the 2003 digital release Lost Tracks

Supported by a delightfully simple production and memorable tune, Rodney sings a version of the story of Artemis and Orion from Greek Mythology. I’m not sure of the origins of the song, since it seems to have been randomly recorded by Crowell, but it is fun to listen to.

#8
“’Til I Gain Control Again”

from the 1981 album Rodney Crowell

Crowell has written several songs that have become classics for him and for others. “’Til I Gain Control Again” was first recorded by Emmylou Harris in the mid-seventies, then made famous by Crystal Gayle in the early eighties and subsequently recorded by many artists over the years. Crowell’s own version is beautifully sung with just the right air of forlornness.

#7
“Things that Go Bump in the Day”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

I hardly even know what this song means, but I still love it for its bouncy production, unshakable melody and Crowell’s energy while singing it. I dare you not to get it stuck in your head.

#6
“The Outsider”

from the 2005 album The Outsider

The effective use of horns in this bluesy soul infused song is enough to hook me, but the theme of being okay with being different is something to embrace too.

#5
“Things I Wish I Said”

from the 1989 album Keys to the Highway

Much has been written and said about Rodney Crowell’s difficult relationship with his violent father, but the end of that story is that they found a way to heal their relationship and turn it into something healthy and tender. This song is personal to Crowell as it describes the relief that he feels that he has no regrets with the passing of his father. Likewise, it is a universal sentiment that most of us can relate to as well.

#4
“She’s Crazy for Leaving”

from the 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt

I love this song because both the melody and the song’s vividly painted story are equally funky. The scene that’s created for the song is fodder for a hilarious and ridiculous comedy sketch.

#3
“Riding Out the Storm”

from the 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand

A not so beautiful picture is underscored by a beautiful melody and poetic lyrics. That’s one of Rodney Crowell’s effortless songwriting talents.

#2
“Making Memories of Us”

from the 2004 album The Notorious Cherry Bombs

Keith Urban is who made this song famous and Crowell a little richer, but Rodney Crowell, backed by Vince Gill, is who makes it a fine treasure. Written for his wife as a last minute Valentine’s Day gift, it’s a tender love song that rivals most modern songs of its ilk. It’s one of those “action” songs that I especially love. He’s not just promising to love her, but also pledging to be an active part of their relationship in order to create meaningful memories.

#1
“Shelter from the Storm” (with Emmylou Harris)

from the 2005 album The Outsider

Again, there’s no reason that Emmylou and Rodney shouldn’t make a duets album together. With sublime vocal chemistry, they turn this Bob Dylan song into something entirely different than what it once was. Instead of having to dig for the gem, they put it out there front and center for us. It’s gorgeous and it’s their interpretation that makes it so.

In “Beautiful Despair”, Crowell acknowledges the depth of Bob Dylan’s songwriting and his feelings of inadequacy when compared to Dylan’s ability. He sings: “Beautiful despair is hearing Dylan/ When you’re drunk at 3 a.m. / Knowing that the chances are/ No matter what you’ll never write like him.”

As a Dylan fan, it may be heresy to think it, but methinks Rodney Crowell is being too hard on himself. It is not a knock on Rodney Crowell’s incredible songwriting that I chose a song that he did not write as my top Crowell song, but rather, a testament to his ability to interpret a legendary song well enough to make it his own.

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Album Review: Gary Nicholson, Texas Songbook

Gary Nicholson
Texas Songbook


Written by Bob Losche

Texas Songbook is the latest album from country/blues singer/songwriter Gary Nicholson, a recent inductee into the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame. Nicholson is best known for writing familiar radio hits such as”The Trouble With the Truth” (Patty Loveless), “One More Last Chance” (Vince Gill), “Squeeze Me In” (Garth Brooks/Trisha Yearwood), and “She Couldn’t Change Me” (Montgomery Gentry), among many others.

Although he left Texas for Nashville over 30 years ago, Nicholson remains a Texan at heart, and all 13 songs on Texas Songbook have a Texas connection.

Produced by Gary and recorded in Austin at Asleep at the Wheel’s Bismeaux Records, the album features Texas musicians and co-writers, the latter group including the likes of Lee Roy Parnell, Delbert McClinton, Guy Clark and Allen Shamblin among others. There’s plenty of fiddle and steel guitar as well as effective use of the harmonica and accordion in this collection of swinging and two-stepping, dance hall and honky-tonk style music.

Many country music fans may already be familiar with some of the songs on this album: “Fallin’ & Flyin’ “, written with the late Stephen Bruton and performed by Jeff Bridges, was featured in the movie “Crazy Heart.” The island flavored “Live, Laugh, Love” was written with Allen Shamblin and previously recorded by Clay Walker on his 1999 album of the same title. It’s a “seize the moment” song.

Previously recorded by George Strait, Delbert McClinton and Del McCoury, “Same Kind of Crazy” written with Delbert McClinton, gets things rocking. McClinton plays harmonica with backing vocals by Randy Rogers. The man is smitten because his new girl is the same kind of crazy as he is. The third verse begins, “It’s getting hard to use a ladder ’cause I keep climbing down just to kiss her” and concludes with the best line of the song, “she talks in her sleep but she always gets my name right.”

My favorite track on the album is “Talkin’ Texan”, which was written with Jon Randall Stewart. I especially love the chorus: “there’s nothin’ he ain’t seen or done,/ he’s always got the biggest one/ he ain’t lyin’, he’s just talkin’ Texan”

Another co-write with Jon Randall, along with Guy Clark, is “Some Days You Write the Song”, which was the title song of Clark’s 2009 Grammy nominated record, Some Days the Song Writes You. Musing on the mystery of the song writing process, Nicholson sings, “Somedays you write the song, some days the song writes you.”

The cool sounding “Messin’ with My Woman”, written with John Hadley and Seth Walker, is a swinging tune with attitude. “Don’t be messin’ with my woman, when I’m out on the road, let my song be your warning, you can’t say you ain’t been told.” If the guy does mess with his woman, he’s “gonna take a whole lot of doctors to put you back the way you were”, with background singers Ray Benson and Jason Roberts of Asleep at the Wheel chiming in “they’d never get it right, they’d never get it right”.

The well executed fiddle and steel guitar filled “Texas Weather”, written with Lee Roy Parnell, opens the album by comparing the singer’s relationship with his woman to the volatile weather of his home state. He contrasts “angry voices, bitter cold and tender words that warm the soul”. “We know if we only wait a while we’ll see that rainbow smile”. The theme is a bit predictable. It reminds me of the saying, “If you don’t like the weather in (fill in the blank), wait 5 minutes.”

With a swinging melody that I love, “She Feels Like Texas” was written with Kimmie Rhodes. The girl’s “in a lone star state of mind, everywhere she goes.” Whenever she sees a foreign tourist attraction, she compares it to something from Texas, including calling the Eiffel Tower “the biggest oil rig I believe I’ve ever seen”.

“A Woman in Texas, A Woman in Tennessee” is a solo writing effort by Gary that he calls “a true story I made up”. Both women wondered where he was half the time. The situation gets more complicated as the song progresses: children with both, an accidental meeting of the families and the revelation of another family in Louisiana.

“Listen to Willie” is a tribute to the Redheaded Stranger written with Kevin Welch. Except for the chorus, the lyrics consist essentially of Willie Nelson song titles: “You’ve always been a ‘good hearted woman’, and I’d hate to see your ‘blue eyes cryin’ in the rain’. Other titles cleverly connected to compose the verses include “funny how time slips away”, “you were always on my mind”, “night life”, “on the road again”, “crazy” and about a half dozen others. Add a star if you’re a Willie fan. It is clever but after a few listens, I got tired of it

“Bless ‘em All”, written solely by Gary, bless him, features the gospel singing McCrary Sisters. Bless them too. The song mentions about a dozen religions, bless ‘em all, and concludes that “we got to all come together and find a better way to live”.

“Texas Ruby”, written with Jim Croce’s son AJ, features Marcia Ball on piano and Jim Hoke on saxophone. It tells of a stripper who gets on a street car in New Orleans on a real hot and sticky day and starts doing her thing. It’s a mildly amusing tune that AJ previously recorded in ’06 on his “Early On” cd.

“Lone Star Blues” was written with Delbert McClinton and has been previously covered by Delbert & George Strait. In the first scenario, he signs up for the rodeo. “I drew a bull called original sin, heard he’d killed a couple of men”, … but “he got disqualified when the bull up and died”. The chorus and last two scenarios gave me the blues and should have died too. The chorus speaks of north, south, east and west Texas blues, together the Lone Star Blues.

Although the songs included in “Texas Songbook” do not, for the most part, match some of Gary’s very best songs, the album as a whole is thoroughly enjoyable. The production is light throughout, the music is great and Gary knows how to deliver a song. If you’re into dancing, you’ll double your pleasure with this album.

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 30

And so it comes to a close, with the final category:

A Song That Makes You Want to Be a Better Person.

Here are the staff picks:

Tara Seetharam: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Aretha Franklin

Maybe it’s the way the gospel arrangement evokes a guttural reaction or the way the lyrics are shamelessly selfless. As with the best songs, I can’t quite put my finger on why it moves me – but this song makes me want to live for others.

Kevin Coyne: “Hell Yeah” – Neil Diamond

This is how I want to look back on my life when it’s all said and done. I’m about halfway there.

Leeann Ward: “Man in Black” – Johnny Cash

This is a tough and weighty category for sure. “Man in Black” could just as easily fit the “worldview” category for me, but then, “What You Give Away” could fit this one too. Somehow, these lyrics, however, make me want to try harder to be better toward those around me: “I wear the black for those who’ve never read/ Or listened to the words that Jesus said/ About the road to happiness through love and charity/ Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.”

Dan Milliken: “Square One” – Tom Petty

My worst vice is that I’m perpetually behind on several things at once. Not just long-term shoulds, like “I’ve been meaning to call my old pal Jan,” but short-term imperatives like “I need to start that paper that was due three weeks ago.” I’ve gotten away with play-first-and-maybe-work-later for most of my life, and while it’s made me less uptight and more understanding of others’ foibles, it also means I’m usually walking under an invisible raincloud of sorts. The burden of something unfinished – let alone several things – is like an awful condom on the fun you can actually experience, the care you can give to other people, the love or joy you can feel – everything good about living, basically.

I want to be Tom Petty in “Square One.” He’s fought his way through his respective “world of trouble” and finally come out clean. “My slate is clear,” he sings, in the sweetest Tom Petty tone ever; “Rest your head on me, my dear.” With his baggage cleared out, he can finally live fully in the present, taking full advantage of the people and experiences he’s blessed with.

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 27

Today’s category is…

A Song That Expresses Your World View (Or Somethin’ Like That.)

Here are the staff picks:

Kevin Coyne: “Something Worth Leaving Behind” – Lee Ann Womack

Live your life for yourself, your life dies with you.  Live it for others, it lives on long after you’re gone.

Leeann Ward: “What You Give Away” – Vince Gill

I like the way this guy thinks. I wholeheartedly believe in this philosophy and tend to be a sucker for any song that expresses it.

Dan Milliken: “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)” – The Byrds

Ecclesiastes and Pete Seeger wrote this classic in a Music Row living room after eating some barbecue and swapping stories about their weekends. “Turn! Turn! Turn!” gets that life paints in shades of gray – things that seem undesirable to us may yet be necessary, and different courses of action may be morally sound or not depending on circumstance. But the song also doesn’t shy away from advocating for peace at the end, as if to say, “maybe we’ve already served enough ‘time for war,’ you know?”

Tara Seetharam: “What a Wonderful World” – Louis Armstrong

I know it seems like a simplistic pick, but lately its message has really resonated with me. It’s incredible –mind-blowing, really– how much beauty and humanity you can see in the world every day if you choose to see it. And life is significantly more rewarding when you do.

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The 30 Day Song Challenge: Day 19

Today’s category is…

A Song You Hate by an Artist You Love.

Here are the staff picks:

Kevin Coyne: “Honk if You Honky Tonk” – George Strait

Not even Trace Adkins would cut this.

Oh, who am I kidding? Of course he would.

But it should be beneath the stature of a legend like George Strait.  His talent helped him pull of “Write This Down” and “Don’t Make Me Come Over There and Love You”, but there was no saving this one.

Leeann Ward: “Pretty Little Adriana” – Vince Gill

Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time likely knows about my love for Vince Gill’s music and even his character. I don’t, however, love every song that he sings, which is probably why I don’t understand those super fans who love every song that their favorite artists sing. That’s certainly not the case for me.

Vince has some album tracks that I don’t like, but one single in particular that has never sat well with me is “Pretty Little Adriana.” The melody is plodding, but my bigger problem is that Vince has said that it was inspired by a missing child by the name of Adriana, but the lyrics sound like an intimately longing love song. And even if it was only very loosely inspired by a child (as fictional license might allow), I still don’t like “little” to be applied to a woman, as in “the little woman,” or in this case, “Pretty little Adriana.”

Dan Milliken: “Why’s it Feel So Long” – Keith Urban

About him sitting on the couch and calling Nicole a half-hour after she’s left for the airport ‘cause he just loves her sOooOoOoOO much. Jack Johnson would gag.

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