Tag Archives: Wynonna

CU10 Flashback: Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain and Gender in Country Music

Shania Twain Carrie UnderwoodIn 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.

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Filed under Alison Krauss, CU10, Discussion, Flashback, Miranda Lambert, Women of Country on Women in Country

Hall Worthy: 2014 Edition

halloffamelogoEight years ago, we posted our second edition of Hall Worthy, a list of significant country music figures who we felt were most deserving of being in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Since then, a lot has changed.  First and foremost, more than half of the list is now in the Hall of Fame (or, at least, headed there later this year.)  An additional entry, Wanda Jackson, is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

A bigger change came in 2009, when new categories were introduced to ensure that two artist inductees would be represented from different eras:  The Modern Era (20-44 years of national prominence), and the Veterans Era (45+ years of national prominence.)  There are also three more categories that rotate, meaning one from each category gets in every third year:  Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician.

Finally, since that list was published, our readership has grown tremendously and is incredibly well-versed on country music, past and present.  So in this new and now annual edition of Hall Worthy, we are going to run down the list of the most successful artists that are eligible but have yet to make it into the Hall of Fame, in the order of  “Hall Worthiness.”

The Modern Era:

alan-jackson

Alan Jackson

Scoring his first hit in 1990 with “Here in the Real World”, Alan Jackson is the most successful country artist that isn’t currently in the Hall of Fame.  His storied career has included 25 #1 hits and 49 visits to the top ten.  He’s won a slew of awards over the years, including many for his songwriting.  He is the most traditionalist of all of the nineties superstars, but has managed to stay relevant regardless of how pop the genre went over the past quarter century, selling more than forty million albums in the U.S. alone.   He should be the next inductee for the Modern Era.

Randy Travis

Randy Travis

The poster child for the new traditionalist movement was also the first true country music superstar to sell millions of records without any crossover airplay or rock press appeal.  Travis is the primary reason that Nashville turned away from pursuing pop airplay for more than a decade, realizing that there was more than enough money to be made by growing (and eventually saturating) the country market.  His debut album, Storms of Life, remains one of the greatest country albums of all-time, and songs like “Forever and Ever, Amen”, “On the Other Hand”, and “Three Wooden Crosses” were award-winning classics.

Judds02.jpg

The Judds

Put aside all of the tabloid drama and focus just on the music.  Those heavenly harmonies were reminiscent of the Carter Family, while Wynonna’s breathtaking vocals added a contemporary breadth and soulful twist to their pure country sound.  They were so commercially successful and critically acclaimed that the CMA had to change the rules of the Vocal Duo category so someone else could win Vocal Group.   Wynonna’s solo career following Naomi Judd’s retirement only further extended the legacy of this essential duo.

rickyskaggs

Ricky Skaggs

He’s often overlooked these days, as he’s made bluegrass his primary home.  But when he was a contemporary country star, he found a way to make bluegrass be contemporary country.  He was a central figure in making bluegrass music mainstream, making possible the future success of everyone from Alison Krauss & Union Station to the Dixie Chicks.   He’s managed to be both a pioneer of bluegrass music while also being a steadfast advocate for the bluegrass of old, and still scored eleven #1 country hits along the way and the CMA for Entertainer of the Year.  The Hall shouldn’t wait until he’s old enough for the Veterans Era.

patty_loveless

Patty Loveless

One of the few artists to successfully navigate both the eighties and the nineties on country radio, Patty Loveless is the most significant female artist of the Modern Era who is not yet inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Her acclaimed work for both MCA and Epic saw her develop from a singles artist with the good taste to cover Lucinda Williams, into an album artist that made critically acclaimed and surprisingly progressive traditional music.  Since fading from radio, she’s remained relevant with widely appreciated sets that delve deep into her mountain heritage, with her most recent set earning her a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album.

Dwight Yoakam

Dwight Yoakam

Extraordinarily talented and unfailingly artistic, Dwight Yoakam remains one of the most significant country artists from the new traditionalist movement, though his traditionalism has always had a West Coast flair that was more Owens than Haggard.   Never that much of a radio favorite, Yoakam still managed to sell millions of records, being one of the few legitimate album artists of his time.   His most recent work, 3 Pears, made more year-end critics lists than any other country album in 2012.

trisha-yearwood1

Trisha Yearwood

The only artist on this list who could never be described as a traditionalist, Trisha Yearwood has earned her place in the Hall of Fame through making more consistently excellent music over a longer period of time than any of her contemporaries.   She’s sold a ton of records and had more than her fair share of radio hits and industry awards, but her ultimate legacy will be having the best set of pipes and the best taste in songs, a combination that many artists – female and male – have never managed to pull off nearly as well as Yearwood has over the years.  That’s what having the voice of a Ronstadt and the song sense of a Harris will do for you.

The Veterans Era:

Hank Williams Jr

Hank Williams, Jr.

By a wide margin, Hank Jr. is the most commercially successful artist of the Veterans Era who is not yet in the Hall of Fame.  His noxious public statements in recent years have reinforced a notion that he’s little more than a Southern rock caricature, but his legacy is greater than Monday Night Football and regional xenophobia. At his peak, he made some of the most significant country rock that’s ever been made, crafting himself a distinguished place in country music history that is wholly separate from his legendary father.  In fact, there’s a better chance right now that a bar in America is singing along with “Family Tradition” than anything from his daddy’s catalog.

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Charlie Rich

An artist who was always years ahead of his time, he had a remarkable run of commercial success in the seventies, a period where the times finally caught up to him for a brief spell.  His bluesy style was embraced by the pop scene for a time, with his hit “The Most Beautiful Girl” being one of those rare country hits that also topped the Hot 100.   A veteran of the Sun Records label that produced Hall of Famers like Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, Rich made the transition to Nashville while always keeping one foot grounded back in Memphis.

Jerry Reed

Jerry Reed

He was one of the most iconic stars of his time, thanks to his witty novelty records, stunning guitar prowess, and extensive appearances on film.  His songwriting success arrived earlier than his recording stardom, but once he got rolling, he was scoring million-selling hits that ran up the country and the pop charts.  He’s one of the few legends left that were truly unique and distinctive personalities who haven’t yet been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

tanya-tucker

Tanya Tucker

She’s still three years away from eligibility in this category, with 2017 being the first year she can claim 45 years on the scene.  But while the competition is fierce for those Modern Era slots, Tucker should be voted in the first year she’s eligible as a veteran.  Her haunting, gothic early records are still revelatory, and in the years that followed, her gravely voice brought grit and soul to a long string of country hits.  She was able to remain a force to be reckoned with in the first half of the nineties, a remarkable holdover from the early seventies in an era that had wiped away even the stars of the late eighties to make room for the next big things.

Jim Ed Brown

Jim Ed Brown

Another legend that remained relevant over many different eras of country music, Jim Ed Brown’s immortality on record had already been guaranteed in 1959, when his family group the Browns recorded “The Three Bells.”  That classic hit topped the country and pop charts for many weeks, and the Browns kept going through most of the sixties, joining the cast of the Grand Ole Opry a few years before disbanding.  Brown went on to a successful solo career with classics like “Pop a Top” and “Morning” reaching the top five.  Then he teamed with Helen Cornelius and had his biggest hits since his days with the Browns, most notably “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You.”  At age eighty, he remains a force on the Opry and as a radio host, making him one of the longest-running personalities that the genre has ever seen.

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Single Review: Wynonna, "Something You Can't Live Without"

Wynonna Something You Can't Live WithoutIt’s been thirty years since the world was introduced to the voice of Wynonna Judd, a simple guitar strum being nothing close to enough preparation for the otherworldly voice that opened the debut Judds single, “Had a Dream (For the Heart)”:

Thirty years later, after about a decade of Judds music and another two decades of solo work, that voice is still that voice.  Wynonna has the ability to harness a true force of nature, having incredible depth and soul that remains under her complete control.

Less under control is her firebrand personality, an increasingly dramatic public image that has been overshadowing her music in recent years, but that’s mostly because she hasn’t been making nearly enough music.   Really, once she sings two or three notes, who really cares about her public image?

But what happens when that image starts to dictate the music? What happens when producers convince themselves that they have to be

just as loud and dazzling as the lady behind the mic?

“Something You Can’t Live Without” is what happens.

You’ve got Wynonna singing a great song that clearly means a lot to her.  She turns in a ferocious performance.   All the musicians need to do is give her a bit of support while mostly staying out of her way.

Instead, not only is the backing music way too loud, there is a cardinal sin committed that is simply unforgivable.  They actually put a digital effect on her voice.

You do that for bad singers. You do that for mediocre singers.  Sometimes, you even do that for good singers.  But to do it to one of the strongest vocalists popular music has ever seen is an insult.

I really like this record overall, simply because I can hear all that great Wynonna underneath the muck.  But much like those synthesizer-drenched Dolly Parton songs from the eighties, it’s just bewildering that the muck is there in the first place.

Such natural, God-given talent needs organic music to back her up.  I don’t care if it’s Memphis blues instead of Nashville country.  Just let her surroundings be as real as she is, and save all the artifice for the reality show circuit.

Written by Cactus Moser and Wynonna

Grade: B

 

 

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100 Greatest Men: #63. Clint Black

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

The Class of 1989 permanently changed the face of country music.  Clint Black was its valedictorian.

Born in New Jersey and raised in Texas, Black’s vocal talent was evident at an early age.  He played in a band with his older brothers, and taking a gamble, he dropped out of high school and pursued a solo career.

The new traditionalist movement of the early eighties inspired him to commit himself to the country music genre.   As he honed his craft throughout the eighties, he met songwriter and guitarist Hayden Nicholas, who would become an instrumental component of Black’s success.

Signing with RCA, he recorded his debut album with his road band.  Black wrote or co-wrote every track on Killin’ Time, and the 1989 release had a seismic impact on country music.  Black became the first country artist in history to have his first four singles reach #1, and the album quickly reached multi-platinum status.  Beyond its sales and radio impact, Killin’ Time was widely hailed by critics and genre enthusiasts as a masterpiece.

The impact of Black opened the doors for fellow artists like Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, and Alan Jackson to find similar massive success with their debut albums.  Together, they rejuvenated the country music market, putting it on the even playing field with pop, rock, and R&B that it still enjoys today.  Black won several major industry awards, and then had another multi-platinum album with his sophomore set, Put Yourself in My Shoes.

Throughout the nineties, Black continued to write and record radio hits.  Even as his album sales cooled to platinum and then gold, he still maintained a streak of top ten hits.  It wasn’t until his 29th solo single, “Loosen Up My Strings” in 1998, that he missed the top ten.   To a certain extent, Black’s profile was reduced because of the very door that he opened.  The flood of talent that followed in his wake included major talents who soon overshadowed him.

The tail end of his run with RCA found him recording with wife Lisa Hartman Black, and they enjoyed a big hit with their duet, “When I Said I Do.”  Collaborations with Wynonna, Steve Wariner, Roy Rogers and Martina McBride also gained positive attention.   In the new century, Black took the bold step of launching his own label, Equity Records, resulting in two studio albums that achieved moderate success.  One of them, 2004′s Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic, was his most critically acclaimed set in years.

His most recent release is 2007′s Love Songs, which featured re-recordings of some of his hit ballads from the nineties.  He’s kept his profile alive with various film and television appearances, and he does some light touring, preferring at this stage to spend as much time as possible with his family.

Essential Singles:

  • A Better Man, 1989
  • Killin’ Time, 1989
  • Nobody’s Home, 1990
  • State of Mind, 1993
  • Something That We Do, 1997

Essential Albums:

  • Killin’ Time, 1989
  • Put Yourself in My Shoes, 1990
  • The Hard Way, 1992
  • Nothin’ but the Taillights, 1997
  • Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic, 2005

Next: #62. Red Foley

Previous: #64. Jerry Reed

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Deep Down in 2011

Lately, I’ve been playing “Deep Down” on a loop, and it got me thinking…

What if one of the big female artists of 2011 were the first to release this song?

If Carrie Underwood recorded it in 2011, the song would be praised as one of the best she’s ever recorded, but she’d be criticized for over-singing and over-producing it.

If Taylor Swift recorded it in 2011, the song would be praised as one of the best she’s ever recorded, but she’d be criticized for missing every other note, even with the help of auto-tune.

If Miranda Lambert recorded it in 2011, the song would be praised as one of the best she’s ever recorded, and further evidence that she’s the messiah of contemporary country music, regardless of how she sang or produced it.

But alas, Pam Tillis recorded it in 1995, and the song went largely unnoticed, because a great song with a great vocal performance and a great production was expected, not special, coming from her.

This same post could’ve been written about  “Nothin’ But the Wheel”, “Believe Me Baby (I Lied)”, “Aces”, “Is It Over Yet”, “I Guess You Had to Be There” or “Standing Knee Deep in a River.”

Perhaps the best way to listen to country music in 2011 is not to listen to anything else in the genre’s history. That way the illusion that there is some great contemporary country music out there can be preserved.

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How Very Nineties: Women Who Can Actually Sing, Part Three

A woman who can actually sing:

Wynonna.

“Is It Over Yet”

“I Want to Know What Love Is”

“Come Some Rainy Day”

“My Strongest Weakness”

“That Was Yesterday”

Previous Entries: Part One, Part Two

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Where’ve You Been? – 2011 Edition

It’s hard to believe that there once was a time that country artists put out two full-length albums a year.  If they were part of a regular superstar duet team, like Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn or Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, a fan might hear as many as four new studio albums from their favorite artist.

By the time that I got into country music – twenty years ago, natch – things had slowed down a bit.  Artists usually released a new album every 12-18 months.  Sometimes they’d push it to two years, but not often.

Those were the days.  Waits between album releases have gotten crazy lately.  I’m all for taking the time to get it right, but once we push past the half-decade mark, things have gone too far.  Sure, we’re given side projects to carry us over, but there’s no substitute for a full-length studio album of all-new material.

Here are five artists who I’d really love to see make a long-awaited return with a new album in 2011, along with a brief rundown of the side projects that they’ve been busy with while we’ve waited for that new album:

Shania Twain

Last Studio Album: Up! (2002)

Side Projects: Greatest Hits (2005), featuring four new tracks; contributions to a Dolly Parton tribute album, a live Willie Nelson album, an Anne Murray duet album, and the Desperate Housewives soundtrack.

It’s been over eight years since Twain released that 19-track opus. It was cool that she released the album in three different mixes, essentially giving us 57 new mp3s for the iPods we didn’t even have yet. Of all the superstar acts, she’s the one who has been away the longest.

Wynonna

Last Studio Album: What the World Needs (2003)

Side Projects: Live album, Christmas album, covers album, Cracker Barrel album…

In a sense, she’s never really gone away. But despite being a fixture in the media and releasing so many other-type albums, we haven’t gotten a real studio set from Wynonna in over seven years. Given that the last one was among the finest in her career, it’s a shame she has yet to craft another mainstream country album.

Dwight Yoakam

Last Studio Album: Blame the Vain (2005)

Side Projects: A Buck Owens tribute album in 2007, Dwight Sings Buck.

The most distressing absence on the list, mostly because he’s been so prolific in the past. Movie appearances are keeping him busy. Here’s hoping that when he does return, we get more than ten songs.

Dixie Chicks

Last Studio Album: Taking the Long Way (2006)

Side Projects: “The Neighbor”, from the Shut Up & Sing documentary; contributions to a Tony Bennett duet project; Emily and Martie’s Court Yard Hounds set; Natalie’s duet with Neil Diamond.

It’s hard to follow up an album that wins a bunch of Grammys, but it’s not like they haven’t done so before. If they’re insisting on writing all of the next album, it could be gestating for a very long time. Can’t we get a Patty Griffin or Darrell Scott covers album to hold us over?

Vince Gill

Last Studio Album: These Days (2006)

Side Projects: A mother lode of duet and harmony appearances on other artist’s albums (Reba McEntire, Charlie Daniels, Amy Grant, Clay Aiken…)

Gill’s last album was a four discs worth of new material, so it’s understandable that it would take a couple of years for him to craft a new one. But we’re going on five now. Since Gill was able to create those four discs a mere three years after his previous studio set (2003′s Next Big Thing), we should be due for a new album soon.

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #50-#26

The themes of love and loss have permeated country music for as long as it’s been in existence.  This second-to-last batch of great nineties hits contains songs that are direct descendants of well-known classics like “Can the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, along with a Shania Twain hit that would  have made Roba Stanley smile.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #50-#26

#50
Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)
Travis Tritt
1991 | Peak: #2

Listen

From the first forceful guitar strum on, this kiss-off number somehow manages to seem unusually cool and collected in its own aggression. You get the impression that Tritt’s character has been anticipating this moment, and has already made up his mind that he’s going to relish every second of it. – Dan Milliken

#49
I’ve Come to Expect it From You
George Strait
1990 | Peak: #1

Listen

This is about as dark and bitter as George Strait gets. It’s a coat that he wears well. – Kevin Coyne Continue reading

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400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #75-#51

As might be expected, the subject matters are getting more intense as we edge closer to the top.  But there’s still room for some carefree moments here, thanks to the Dixie Chicks and Jo Dee Messina.

400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #75-#51


#75
When You Say Nothing at All
Alison Krauss & Union Station
1995 | Peak: #3

Listen

This Keith Whitley classic was recorded as part of a tribute album to the late country star. It became a hit all over again, perhaps because Krauss performed it in a near-whisper. The quiet arrangement matches the sentiment beautifully. – Kevin Coyne


#74
Alibis
Tracy Lawrence
1993 | Peak: #1

Listen

Lawrence dishes on his ex’s cheating ways to her new potential lover. How did she get that way? He reveals that he’s the one who taught her everything she knows from the cheater’s playbook. Moreover, he seems regretful of her corruption. – Leeann Ward

#73
Cowboy Take Me Away
Dixie Chicks
1999 | Peak: #1

Listen

In a modern world where life can so easily feel cold and mechanical, love remains earthy and exciting and mysterious. It’s a window into a different world, one where we’re not defined by the predictables of our routine – the same stresses, the same cars and buildings – but by our core nature as people, our place in the greater fabric of Earth and, perhaps, heaven. On the surface, “Cowboy Take Me Away” sounds like just a sugar-sweet love song – I’ve even heard it called “pre-feminist”  – but there’s something else going on here: a plea for life to have meaning again. – Dan Milliken Continue reading

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The Nineties All Over Again

The new country music stars of the nineties grew up with the pop/rock of the seventies.  It’s no wonder that many of them revisited songs from that era.

Some of these covers became big hits, like Billy Dean’s “We Just Disagree” and  Brooks & Dunn’s “My Maria.”   Various album cuts and tribute projects demonstrated Lorrie Morgan’s fondness for Bonnie Tyler (“It’s a Heartache”), Garth Brooks’ love for Kiss (“Hard Luck Woman”), and more than a dozen artists’ affinity for the Eagles.

It’s just a matter of time before today’s country stars start remaking pop and rock hits from the nineties.  Here’s a few that I think would work well:

Rascal Flatts, “One More Try”

This Timmy T. hit topped the charts in 1991.  It would be a perfect fit for the Flatts boys. They could elevate it into something great.

Carrie Underwood, “Nothing Compares 2 U”

You need a powerful set of pipes to pull this one off. Who could do it better than Carrie Underwood?  Okay, yes. Wynonna. But among the artists on the radio dial today, no one could tackle this with better results than Underwood.

SHeDaisy, “You’re in Love”

This band could cover just about any Wilson Phillips track, but this one’s dying to be a hit all over again.

What nineties non-country songs do you think today’s country stars should cover?

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