Tag Archives: Wynonna

ACM Flashback: Album of the Year

The ACM Awards has traditionally been overshadowed by the CMA Awards, despite its longer existence. This is for several reasons.  First, the ACM originally existed to emphasize the West Coast country music scene, whereas the CMA Awards represented Nashville from the start.  The ACM has also been more commercially-oriented from the beginning, as the history of this category proves.  Eighteen of the last twenty winners in this ACM category are multi-platinum sellers, and the organization allowed greatest hits albums to compete for more than a decade.

Still, the ACM category has bragging rights of its own. Critically-acclaimed albums like Storms of Life, Trio, Killin’ Time and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend won at the ACMs but were overlooked by the CMAs.  Additionally, women have also been far more successful at this ceremony. Only five women have ever won the CMA Album trophy, and one of them was Sissy Spacek!  At the ACMs, women have dominated the category for the past three years, and the category has honored everyone from Loretta Lynn and Donna Fargo to K.T. Oslin and Shania Twain.

A special note about ACM flashbacks. Like the Grammys, the ACMs issue their award for a given year the following year, so the awards for 2009, for example, are given out in 2010.  For the purposes of the flashbacks, Country Universe notes the year the award is presented. While the ACM first presented awards in 1966, the Album category wasn’t introduced until 1968.

As with other flashbacks, we begin with a look at this year’s nominees:

2010

  • Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum
  • Miranda Lambert, Revolution
  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Carrie Underwood, Play On
  • Zac Brown Band, The Foundation

Three previous winners – Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, and Carrie Underwood – compete against the debut albums of two hot bands.  Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band each picked up a Grammy this year and are well represented on the rest of the ACM ballot.  This is a very competitive race. Even the sales-friendly nature of the ACMs doesn’t help much here, as four of these albums are platinum and Lambert’s just went gold.

2009

  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
  • Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew It All
  • George Strait, Troubadour
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless
  • Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride

Taylor Swift became the third consecutive female artist to win in this category, a feat that would’ve seemed unthinkable earlier in the middle part of the decade, when country radio all but exiled women from radio.

2008

  • Rodney Atkins, If You’re Going Through Hell
  • Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates
  • Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
  • Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
  • Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift

A visibly shocked Lambert accepted the trophy for her critically acclaimed sophomore set.  While it did go gold, it remains an anomaly among ACM album winners. You have to go all the way back to 1979 (Oak Ridge Boys) to find another ACM album winner that didn’t sell platinum or higher.

2007

  • Brooks & Dunn, Hillbilly Deluxe
  • Vince Gill, These Days
  • Rascal Flatts, Me and My Gang
  • George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
  • Carrie Underwood, Some Hearts

Carrie Underwood became the first solo female artist to win this award in eleven years with her 7 million-selling Some Hearts.

2006

  • Gary Allan, Tough All Over
  • Brad Paisley, Time Well Wasted
  • Rascal Flatts, Feels Like Today
  • Sugarland, Twice the Speed of Life
  • Lee Ann Womack, There’s More Where That Came From

A strikingly strong lineup, with the victory going to Brad Paisley. Due to differences in eligibility between the two shows, there are two CMA winners in this category. Not only did Paisley repeat his victory the following fall, Womack won the CMA the previous year.

2005

  • Kenny Chesney, When the Sun Goes Down
  • Sara Evans, Restless
  • Tim McGraw, Live Like You Were Dying
  • Keith Urban, Be Here
  • Gretchen Wilson, Here for the Party

Though he’s always been popular with the CMA and Grammy voters, Urban’s only Album award to date came courtesy of the ACMs. Oddly enough, they haven’t nominated him since.

2004

  • Brooks & Dunn, Red Dirt Road
  • Toby Keith, Shock’n Y’All
  • Martina McBride, Martina
  • Brad Paisley, Mud on the Tires
  • George Strait, Honkytonkville

On an evening where he won several major awards, Keith picked up his second Album of the Year trophy from the ACMs for an album that included the #1  hits “American Soldier”, “Whiskey Girl”,  and “I Love This Bar.”

2003

  • Kenny Chesney, No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems
  • Dixie Chicks, Home
  • Alan Jackson, Drive
  • Toby Keith, Unleashed
  • Trick Pony, On a Mission

If you think all of those 2009 nominations for Heidi Newfield were surprising, check out Trick Pony’s presence in this category among four albums that sold more than 4 million copies each.  Alan Jackson picked up his third trophy in this category for the album that included “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”.

2002

  • Brooks & Dunn, Steers & Stripes
  • Toby Keith, Pull My Chain
  • Tim McGraw, Set This Circus Down
  • Soundtrack, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • Travis Tritt, Down the Road I Go

Big comeback albums for Brooks & Dunn and Travis Tritt were nominated, but it was no surprise to see the victory go to the landmark soundtrack that sold more than eight million copies in the end.

2001

  • Johnny Cash, American III: Solitary Man
  • Billy Gilman, One Voice
  • Toby Keith, How Do You Like Me Now?!
  • Brad Paisley, Who Needs Pictures
  • Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance

Even Keith was a veteran in comparison to Gilman and Paisley, who were nominated with their debut albums, but the biggest surprise was the nomination of Cash for his third project with Rick Rubin. Even the CMA didn’t recognize those collaborations until the fourth volume and “Hurt.”

2000

  • Asleep at the Wheel, Ride With Bob
  • Dixie Chicks, Fly
  • Faith Hill, Breathe
  • George Jones, Cold Hard Truth
  • Tim McGraw, A Place in the Sun

An impressively eclectic lineup is unsurprisingly represented by the consensus choice Dixie Chicks, the one act that everybody used to agree on.

1999

  • Garth Brooks, Double Live
  • Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
  • Faith Hill, Faith
  • Jo Dee Messina, I’m Alright
  • George Strait, One Step at a Time

For the fourth time in the nineties, the trophy went to an artist’s breakthrough album.  After their shocking win at the Grammys a few weeks earlier, this Dixie Chicks victory wasn’t quite as surprising.

1998

  • Garth Brooks, Sevens
  • Patty Loveless, Long Stretch of Lonesome
  • Tim McGraw, Everywhere
  • George Strait, Carrying Your Love With Me
  • Shania Twain, Come On Over

Strait’s third victory in this category tied him with Alabama for most wins.  It was also his first album to top the overall Billboard 200, a feat he’s repeated with three additional albums.

1997

  • Brooks & Dunn, Borderline
  • Tracy Lawrence, Time Marches On
  • Patty Loveless, The Trouble With the Truth
  • LeAnn Rimes, Blue
  • George Strait, Blue Clear Sky

Strait’s victory came with an album that featured the #1 hits “Blue Clear Sky” and “Carried Away”, along with the rodeo-themed “I Can Still Make Cheyenne.”

1996

  • Brooks & Dunn, Waitin’ On Sundown
  • Patty Loveless, When Fallen Angels Fly
  • Tim McGraw, All I Want
  • George Strait, Lead On
  • Shania Twain, The Woman in Me

Although Loveless won the CMA award the previous fall, the ACM sided with the Grammy winner for Best Country Album, Shania Twain’s landmark set, The Woman in Me.

1995

  • Garth Brooks, In Pieces
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stones in the Road
  • Vince Gill, When Love Finds You
  • Alan Jackson, Who I Am
  • Tim McGraw, Not a Moment Too Soon

McGraw’s only victory in this category came with his first nomination. This set remains his top-selling to date, thanks to the presence of the massive hits “Don’t Take the Girl”, “Indian Outlaw”, “Down on the Farm”, and the title track.

1994

  • Brooks & Dunn, Hard Workin’ Man
  • Billy Ray Cyrus, It Won’t Be the Last
  • Vince Gill, I Still Believe In You
  • Alan Jackson, A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘Bout Love)
  • Various Artists, Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles
  • Dwight Yoakam, This Time

Alan Jackson picked up his second victory in this category with an album that included “Chattahoochee”, which would remain his biggest hit for nearly a decade.

1993

  • Garth Brooks, The Chase
  • Brooks & Dunn, Brand New Man
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On
  • Billy Ray Cyrus, Some Gave All
  • Wynonna, Wynonna

These are some big selling albums. Wynonna and Mary Chapin Carpenter both sold five million and they are tied for last place among the nominees.  It’s easy to forget how fresh the Brooks & Dunn sound was when it first arrived on the scene.  Five hits, including the classic title track, “Neon Moon”, and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”, helped power them to a win.

1992

  • Garth Brooks, No Fences
  • Garth Brooks, Ropin’ the Wind
  • Alan Jackson, Don’t Rock the Jukebox
  • Ricky Van Shelton, Backroads
  • Travis Tritt, It’s All About to Change

In perhaps the most bizarre moment in this category’s history, Garth Brooks competed again with No Fences, which won the same award last year. Alan Jackson emerged victorious with his sophomore set.

1991

  • Alabama, Pass it On Down
  • Garth Brooks, No Fences
  • Vince Gill, When I Call Your Name
  • Alan Jackson, Here in the Real World
  • Ricky Van Shelton, RVS III

No Fences includes the Garth Brooks classics “Friends in Low Places”, “Unanswered Prayers”, and “The Thunder Rolls”. It remains his highest-selling album to date, and second only to Shania Twain’s Come On Over among all single-disc country albums in history.

1990

  • Clint Black, Killin’ Time
  • Rodney Crowell, Diamonds and Dirt
  • Kathy Mattea, Willow in the Wind
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Vol. II
  • Randy Travis, Old 8×10

The winning album demonstrates why Clint Black was the head of the Class of ’89, even though he’d soon be overshadowed by fellow newbie Garth Brooks.

1989

  • Vern Gosdin, Chiseled in Stone
  • K.T. Oslin, This Woman
  • Ricky Van Shelton, Loving Proof
  • George Strait, If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin’
  • Dwight Yoakam, Buenos Noches From a Lonely Room

K.T. Oslin dominated the awards circuit in 1988 and 1989, with her final victories coming at the ACM Awards.  Her Album of the Year winner included the #1 hit “Hold Me”, along with the top five hits “Hey Bobby” and the title track.

1988

  • The Judds, Heart Land
  • Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris, Trio
  • George Strait, Ocean Front Property
  • Randy Travis, Always and Forever
  • Hank Williams Jr., Born to Boogie

The classic project by legends Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris also won a CMA for Vocal Event and a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

1987

  • The Judds, Rockin’ With the Rhythm
  • Ricky Skaggs, Live in London
  • George Strait, 7
  • Randy Travis, Storms of Life
  • Dwight Yoakam, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

The neo-traditionalist movement at its peak, with a win by its standard-bearing artist with his standard-bearing debut album.

1986

  • Alabama, 40 Hour Week
  • Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, Highwayman
  • The Judds, Why Not Me
  • George Strait, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
  • Hank Williams Jr., Five-O

The only #1 hit from this album was the title track, but “The Fireman” and “The Cowboy Rides Away” have since become signature songs for the legendary artist.

1985

  • Alabama, Roll On
  • Earl Thomas Conley, Don’t Make it Easy On Me
  • Ricky Skaggs, Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown
  • George Strait, Right or Wrong
  • Hank Williams Jr., Man of Steel

Their third victory in four years came on the strength of the hits “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)”, “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)”, “(There’s a) Fire in the Night”, and “When We Make Love.”

1984

  • Alabama, The Closer You Get
  • John Anderson, Wild & Blue
  • Merle Haggard, Going Where the Lonely Go
  • Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson, Pancho & Lefty
  • Ricky Skaggs, Highways & Heartaches

Over a field of traditionalists old and new, the pop-country supergroup Alabama won their second Album award. In addition to the hit title track, The Closer You Get… included the hits “Lady Down on Love” and “Dixieland Delight.”

1983

  • Alabama, Mountain Music
  • Willie Nelson, Always On My Mind
  • Kenny Rogers, Love Will Turn You Around
  • Ricky Skaggs, Waitin’ For the Sun to Shine
  • Don Williams, Listen to the Radio

Nelson’s biggest single powered the album of the same name to victory. It also included a pair of #2 hits: “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning” and “Let it Be Me.”

1982

  • Alabama, Feels So Right
  • Rosanne Cash, Seven Year Ache
  • George Jones, Still the Same Ole Me
  • Oak Ridge Boys, Fancy Free
  • Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs

With the exception of George Jones, all the nominees here enjoyed significant pop success with these projects. Alabama won their first trophy in this category with Feels So Right, which included the hit title track, “Old Flame”, and their biggest crossover hit, “Love in the First Degree.”

1981

  • Charley Pride, There’s a Little Bit of Hank in Me
  • Kenny Rogers, Greatest Hits
  • Soundtrack, Coal Miner’s Daughter
  • Soundtrack, Urban Cowboy
  • Don Williams, I Believe in You

For all that it’s been maligned, the Urban Cowboy soundtrack does have a lot of classic hits on it.  Some of them were recycled, like “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Lyin’ Eyes”, but some were introduced on the soundtrack, most notably Anne Murray’s “Could I Have This Dance” and Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ For Love.”

1980

  • Larry Gatlin, Straight Ahead
  • Emmylou Harris, Blue Kentucky Girl
  • Waylon Jennings, Greatest Hits
  • Willie Nelson, Willie Sings Kristofferson
  • Kenny Rogers, Kenny

Those of you wondering how on earth Larry Gatlin was the winner in this field should know that this was actually a platinum-selling album. Perhaps its big hit, “All the Gold in California”, endeared the project to west coast voters.

1979

  • Ronnie Milsap, It Was Almost Like a Song
  • Anne Murray, Let’s Keep it That Way
  • Willie Nelson, Stardust
  • Oak Ridge Boys, Y’All Come Back Saloon
  • Kenny Rogers & Dottie West, Every Time Two Fools Collide

They had made several albums as gospel stars, but it was their first big country hit that fueled this win for Album of the Year.

1978

  • Waylon Jennings, Ol’ Waylon
  • Dolly Parton, Here You Come Again
  • Elvis Presley, Moody Blue
  • Kenny Rogers, Kenny Rogers
  • Conway Twitty, Greatest Hits Vol. II

This self-titled album was renamed “Lucille” in later pressings to capitalize on its biggest hit.

1977

  • Mickey Gilley, Gilley’s Smokin’
  • Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser, Wanted! The Outlaws
  • Loretta Lynn, Somebody Somewhere
  • Marty Robbins, El Paso City
  • Conway Twitty, Now and Then

Gilley’s winning album features his most well known hit, “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.” It’s the most recent album in the category’s history that hasn’t reached at least gold status.

1976

  • Glen Campbell, Rhinestone Cowboy
  • Freddie Fender, Before the Next Teardrop Falls
  • Merle Haggard, Keep Movin’ On
  • Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, Feelins’
  • Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger

This shared award is the only Album trophy that either Lynn or Twitty won from the ACM or CMA, though Lynn did go on to win Best Country Album three decades later at the Grammys.

1975

  • John Denver, Back Home Again
  • Merle Haggard, Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album
  • Loretta Lynn, They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy
  • Cal Smith, Country Bumpkin
  • Bob Wills, For the Last Time

Denver’s biggest country album, it spent thirteen weeks atop the country album chart. The title track topped the chart, and “Annie’s Song” became a wedding standard.

1974

  • Merle Haggard, I Love Dixie Blues…so I Recorded “Live” in New Orleans
  • Loretta Lynn, Love is the Foundation
  • Charlie Rich, Behind Closed Doors
  • Johnny Rodriguez, Introducing Johnny Rodriguez
  • Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn, Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man

Rich’s classic set has sold four million copies, an unheard of tally for a country album from this time period. It didn’t hurt that the title track and “The Most Beautiful Girl” were crossover hits, with the latter actually topping the pop singles chart.

1973

  • Mac Davis, Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me
  • Donna Fargo, The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.
  • Merle Haggard, The Best of the Best of Merle Haggard
  • Merle Haggard, It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)
  • Merle Haggard, Let Me Tell You About a Song
  • Freddie Hart, Bless Your Heart

Donna Fargo triumphed in a field of six albums, half of which were recorded by Merle Haggard! The Fargo set produced two million-selling singles – the title track and “Funny Face”.

1972

  • Merle Haggard, Hag
  • Merle Haggard, Someday We’ll Look Back
  • Freddie Hart, Easy Loving
  • Ray Price, I Won’t Mention it Again
  • Charley Pride, Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs

The title track was a massive hit, helping Hart’s Easy Loving reach gold status and spend nine weeks atop the country albums chart.

1971

  • Glen Campbell, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Album
  • Merle Haggard, The Fightin’ Side of Me
  • Merle Haggard, A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills)
  • Ray Price, For the Good Times
  • Charley Pride, Charley Pride’s 10th Album

Who knows how many times Haggard could’ve won this award if he wasn’t nominated against himself? This year, Ray Price’s For the Good Times was the victor, thanks to the Kristofferson-penned title track.

1970

  • Glen Campbell, Live
  • Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison
  • Merle Haggard, Okie From Muskogee
  • Charley Pride, Best of Charley Pride
  • Tammy Wynette, Greatest Hits

Haggard’s only victory in this category was for a live album. Incidentally, he won over two other live albums and a pair of greatest hits sets.

1969

  • Glen Campbell, Wichita Lineman
  • Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell, Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell
  • Merle Haggard, The Best of Merle Haggard
  • Merle Haggard, Mama Tried
  • Buck Owens, Best of Buck Owens

Campbell won for the second year in a row, this time sharing the victory with Bobbie Gentry of “Ode to Billie Joe” fame.

1968

  • Glen Campbell, Burning Bridges
  • Glen Campbell, Gentle on My Mind
  • Merle Haggard, Branded Man
  • Merle Haggard, I’m a Lonesome Fugitive
  • Wynn Stewart, It’s Such a Pretty World Today

California favorite Glen Campbell won the first ACM trophy in this category, and he’d remain a favorite of the Academy over the next decade.

Facts & Feats

Multiple Wins:

  • (3) – Alabama, Alan Jackson, George Strait
  • (2) – Glen Campbell, Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith

Most Nominations:

  • (17) – Merle Haggard
  • (12) – George Strait
  • (7) – Garth Brooks, Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson
  • (6) – Alabama, Tim McGraw
  • (5) – Loretta Lynn, Brad Paisley, Kenny Rogers

Most Nominations Without a Win:

  • (4) – Vince Gill, Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, Ricky Skaggs
  • (3) – Johnny Cash, Kenny Chesney, The Judds, Patty Loveless, Ricky Van Shelton, Hank Williams Jr., Dwight Yoakam

Albums that won the ACM Award and the CMA Award:

  • Merle Haggard, Okie From Muskogee
  • Charlie Rich, Behind Closed Doors
  • Willie Nelson, Always on My Mind
  • Alabama, The Closer You Get
  • George Strait, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
  • Garth Brooks, No Fences
  • George Strait, Blue Clear Sky
  • George Strait, Carrying Your Love With Me
  • Dixie Chicks, Fly
  • Soundtrack, O Brother Where Art Thou?
  • Alan Jackson, Drive
  • Brad Paisley, Time Well Wasted
  • George Strait, It Just Comes Natural
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless

Albums that Won the ACM award and the Grammy for Album of the Year:

  • Soundtrack, O Brother Where Art Thou?
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless

Albums that Won the ACM award and the Grammy for Best Country Album (only presented in 1965-1966 and 1995-present):

  • Shania Twain, The Woman in Me
  • Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces
  • Dixie Chicks, Fly
  • George Strait, Troubadour
  • Taylor Swift, Fearless

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Forgotten Hits: Suzy Bogguss, “Hey Cinderella”

Hey Cinderella
Suzy Bogguss
#5
1994
Written by Matraca Berg, Suzy Bogguss, and Gary Harrison

There’s a term that has gathered strength over the past decade: the quarter-life crisis. It describes that phase in life where the idealism of what you thought your life would be collides with what reality has in store for you. Reconciling the two is needed to get beyond this point of life, and adulthood completely sets in once such reconciliation has been accomplished.

A significant difference between the major female artists of the early nineties and those of today is that they’re on opposite sides of that quarter-life marker.  Take at the ages in which today’s newer female stars enjoyed their first top twenty hit: Carrie Underwood, 22; Miranda Lambert, 22; Kellie Pickler, 20; Taylor Swift, 17.

Now compare that to the women who broke through from 1989-1992: Suzy Bogguss, 34; Pam Tillis, 33;   Mary Chapin Carpenter, 31; Wynonna, 27; Trisha Yearwood, 26.  Unlike today, there were also several additional female artists who were also on the radio – Reba McEntire, Kathy Mattea, Patty Loveless, and Tanya Tucker – all of whom were in their thirties.

“Age ain’t nothin’ but a number,” Aaliyah once sang, but the musical output of these two crops of artists suggest otherwise.  “Hey Cinderella” was a top five hit for Bogguss in 1994, and perhaps best exemplifies the different perspectives of these two generations of women.

“We believed in fairy tales that day,” Bogguss sings as she reminisces with her friend about the day her friend got married. “I watched your father give you away. Your aim was true when the pink bouquet fell right into my hands.”  It sounds like the beginning of the latest Taylor Swift song, perhaps a duet with Kellie Pickler.

But as life goes on, “through the years, and the kids, and the jobs, and the dreams that lost their way,” these grown women are wondering about those fairy tales. “I’ve got a funny feeling we missed a page or two somehow”, and find themselves wanting to question the legendary princess: “Cinderella, maybe you can help us out?” they ask. “Does the shoe fit you now?”

While the perspective of youth is honestly preserved, these are clear-eyed adults with a wealth of life experiences informing their feelings today. It doesn’t get more honest than the line “We’re good now ’cause we have to be.” It’s not so much we grow up because we want to, but rather because we have to.

I’ve written many times that I don’t find Taylor Swift’s music offensive so much as irrelevant.  When I was a teenager, I could listen to country music and not fully understand the intricacies of what the songs were about, but I knew I’d eventually grow into an understanding.  Over the past fifteen years, I’ve done just that.  What I can’t do is regress back into the state of development needed to find Taylor Swift’s music relevant to me.

Honestly, I don’t think that the world looked like what’s described in “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” at any period of my life. I’ve just never known girls who saw the world that way. The ones I knew have grown up to be women quite a bit like those that Bogguss and her contemporaries sang about. Here’s hoping that this generation is able to do the same. In the meantime, if you like country music by and for adults, this forgotten hit is a great starting point.

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Single Review: Tim McGraw, “Still”

Wynonna once sang about driving down an old road that “can take you back to the place but it can’t take you back in time.”  The road she longed for doesn’t exist in physical reality, but as Tim McGraw observes in his new single “Still”, they do exist in your mind, provided you allow yourself the quiet and stillness needed to travel down them.

This is the part of the review where I should continue waxing philosophical and pretending there is a professional distance between myself and this song, that the “A” grade that follows is based on a purely objective and thoughtful analysis of the record’s components and how they come together. That would be a lie.

The truth is that my memories are my only tangible connection to most of the significant people and places in my life, and while the details may differ from what McGraw describes in this song, the process of reconnection is the same. I just need to be still, to allow the quiet and alone that are needed to go back in time again.

What I love about this song is that it juxtaposes the business of everyday life with the need to slow down and take a moment to just remember where you’ve already been. It’s not so much about going back in time itself. It’s not a romanticized nostalgia where the present is flawed and the past is perfect.

There really is no perfect time in life. Going back to days gone by would mean sacrificing those people and places that have come along since then, not to mention all of the lessons learned along the way. I’ll never walk on this earth with my father again, and so many of my closest friends are tied to places and ways of life that I can visit in passing but will never live in again.

Yet the fact that I’m happier now than I’ve ever been is not a repudiation or rejection of any of them. They’re still with me, never more than one quiet moment or unexpected reminder away.  Time’s great gift is that the best memories are what remain, and those are the ones that we revisit in our mind. Perhaps it’s really God’s great gift in the end.

So anyway, “Still” makes me feel all of these things. I get a warm feeling when I hear it and I tend to hit repeat once or twice.  Good enough for an A in my book.

Written by Lee Brice, Kyle Jacobs, and Joe Leathers

Grade: A

Listen: Still

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 8: #60-#41

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 8: #60-#41

#60
“Long Trip Alone”
Dierks Bentley
2006
Peak: #10

In a perfect world, this would be this decade’s wedding standard. – Kevin Coyne

#59
“Your Man”
Josh Turner
2005
Peak: #1

Lush baritone against an effortlessly charismatic, enticing invitation to let Turner be “your man.” How can you resist? – Tara Seetharam Continue reading

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100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 2: #90-#81

    The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 2

    90 Miranda

    #90
    Miranda Lambert, Kerosene

    On her first major-label album, Lambert reveals herself as a fiery, spirited artist with a lot to say, and a clever voice with which to speak. Her sharp songwriting skills, though a work in progress as we’d later learn, take her naturally from aggression to desolation and back again. But most notably, through Kerosene, Lambert got the traditionalists to pay a little more attention to mainstream country music and its more promising artists. – Tara Seetharam

    Recommended Tracks: “Kerosene”, “I Can’t Be Bothered”

    89 Kris

    #89
    Kris Kristofferson, This Old Road
    This Old Road has not have received as much mainstream attention as Kristofferson’s recent appearance in Ethan Hawke’s Rolling Stone article; an unfortunate fact, given it was the legendary writer’s first album of new material in 11 years. With This Old Road, Kristofferson shines a spotlight on the world much in the same his earlier writing shined a spotlight on himself. The result is an overtly political album with more depth than most modern attempts have been able to produce. – William Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “The Last Thing to Go”, “Pilgrim’s Progress”

    88 Guy

    #88
    Guy Clark, Workbench Songs

    The recordings  of the songs that Guy Clark, one of country music’s most respected modern songwriters, has written for the most popular artists in country music are typically polished by the best Nashville musicians and slick producers. But Clark’s own albums tend to be more organic, with spare instrumentation that somehow manages to avoid sounding anemic as a result. His well worn voice sings these eleven melodically and lyrically strong songs with warmth and the kind of emotion that easily captures the listener. It’s one of the best albums of his deep catalog that spans over thirty years. – Leeann Ward

    Recommended Tracks: “Walkin’ Man”, “Expose”

    87 Wynonna

    #87
    Wynonna, What the World Needs Now is Love

    It’s hard to believe that it’s been six years since Wynonna’s last proper studio album. This collection is easily one of her best, with effective covers like “I Want to Know What Love Is” and “Flies On the Butter”, along with socially conscious material that provokes thought instead of pandering to already held beliefs (“It All Comes Down to Love”). – Kevin Coyne

    Recommended Tracks: “Sometimes I Feel Like Elvis”, “Rescue Me”

    86 Lee Ann

    #86
    Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance

    The massively successful title track powered this album to triple platinum, but it also overshadowed the excellent songs surrounding it. For those who explored the album beyond track two, there were some of Womack’s finest moments on record, as she had the good taste to plunder the catalogs of Bruce Robison (“Lonely Too”), Bobbie Cryner (“Stronger Than I Am”), Julie Miller (“I Know Why the River Runs”), and Rodney Crowell (“Ashes By Now”). – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “Lonely Too”, “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger”

    85 Chris

    #85
    Chris Thile, How to Grow a Woman From the Ground

    This is the first album from the band that would eventually become Punch Brothers. Garnering a Grammy Award Nomination in 2006, How to Grow a Woman From the Ground is a solid bluegrass album with classical sensibilities and extraordinary instrumentation. – WW

    Recommended Tracks: “Wayside (Back in Time)”, “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”

    84 Ralph

    #84
    Ralph Stanley II, This One Is Two

    Hyperbole alert, but it’s hard to think of a more beautiful-sounding traditional country album from this decade, or one which more comfortably merges old school aesthetics with modern production polish. Stanley corralled a number of meaty story songs here, but it’s the combination of his warm baritone and the lush instrumentation that gives this gem its quiet strength. – Dan Milliken

    Recommended Tracks: “Cold Shoulder”, “They Say I’ll Never Go Home”

    83 Louvin

    #83
    Various Artists, Livin’ Lovin’ Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers

    Tribute albums too often feel redundant, as well-meaning artists deliver nice but forgettable imitations of classic records. Not so with the Louvins’, which sticks veteran and current artists alike on the Bros’ close harmonies and sees each intriguing combination (Pam Tillis and Johnny Cash? Why not!) triumph. I daresay it’s as good an introduction to the duo’s work as any compilation of their own recordings. – DM

    Recommended Tracks: “How’s the World Treating You?”, “Are You Teasing Me”

    82 Todd

    #82
    Todd Snider, The Excitement Plan

    Snider mostly avoids both political themes and complex arrangements on his latest record, emphasizing his greatest strength as a writer instead: his uncanny ability to make the most specifically personal have universal resonance. Listen out for a wonderful cameo from Loretta Lynn on “Don’t Tempt Me.” – KC

    Recommended Tracks: “Barefoot Champagne”, “Money, Compliments, Publicity (Song Number 10)”

    81 O'Connor

    #81
    Mark O’Connor, Thirty-Year Retrospective (Live)

    Mark O’Connor’s Thirty Year Retrospective is a double instrumental album of his live performance with Chris Thile, Bryan Sutton and Byron House.  The album covers a wide range of Mark O’Connor’s career, presenting a range of instrumental country, bluegrass, new grass and jazz with the detail and care often only applied to classical music. – WW

    Recommended Tracks: “Caprice No. 4 in D Major”, “Macedonia”

    – – –

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    Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Wynonna

    wynonnaA Guest Contribution
    by Michael Allan

    One of my earliest musical memories is singing along to the Judds’ Rockin’ With the Rhythm album as a child in the car. Unfortunately, the world’s most famous mother-daughter duo was forced to end their career early in 1991 when Naomi was diagnosed with hepatitis. To this day, however, their catchy songs still get plenty of “spins” on my iPod.

    Even if Wynonna had never pursued a solo career after the Judds, her place in country music’s history would have been secure. However, I for one am so happy she did continue to sing and make music after her mother’s retirement. Her voice has a distinct personality, yet her catalog is eclectic. You never really know what to expect when Wy releases a new album – except that it will most likely be good.

    However, beyond her music (which you will read about below), being the woman in a poster on my teenage bedroom wall and being my first autograph (scored by my grandmother when the CMA Music Festival was still called Fan Fair), I have a great deal of respect for Wynonna the person. She devotes countless hours of time to charities such as YouthAIDS and faces potential scandals and her personal struggles with remarkable candor and humor, all the while sharing the gift of her voice with us.

    #25
    “Why Now”
    from The Other Side (1997)

    We’ve all been there or know someone who has. You can’t help loving someone, even if you know they’re bad for you. Wynonna’s voice and singing style capture the emotions and feelings of pain that go along with it. One of the Judds’ later singles from Love Can Build a Bridge that is often overlooked, “One Hundred and Two”, is similar in spirit and comes highly recommended.

    #24
    “Father Sun”
    from Tell Me Why (1993)

    With cryptic lyrics co-written by Sheryl Crow, this pop nugget has an almost mystical quality to it.

    #23
    “Always Will”
    from The Other Side (1997)

    Wynonna’s voice is in fine form on the closing tune from her 1997 album. It glides comfortably over the lyrics and a strumming guitar. A love song filled with promises, it is a wish that, from time to time as love evolves, you will be surprised by how new, exciting and powerful it can still be. Maybe Wynonna even viewed this as a love song to her children.

    #22
    “Attitude”
    from Her Story: Scenes from a Lifetime (2005)

    The title says it all in this one. This rockin’, defiant anthem is her last Top 40 hit to date.

    #21
    “Woman to Woman”
    from Tammy Wynette Remembered (1998)

    Wy’s soulful, sultry take on a classic, from the First Lady of Country Music.

    #20
    “Sing”
    from Sing Chapter 1 (2009)

    To celebrate her 25th anniversary in the music business Wynonna released a stellar collection of covers (Her take on Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Dionne Warwick’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart”, in particular, are worth seeking out.). Here the master interpreter takes on the project’s title cut and lone new song, written by the great Rodney Crowell.

    #19
    “Girls With Guitars”
    from Tell Me Why (1993)

    Mary Chapin Carpenter penned this ode for all the women who’ve played their guitars instead of pursuing law school and medicine (even you, Taylor Swift). An empowering anthem like this makes me miss the 90s which was a much better decade for women in country music than the last ten years have been. Lyle Lovett sings background vocals.

    #18
    “Free Bird”
    from Skynyrd Frynds (1994)

    The Holy Grail of rock songs (Dolly Parton’s take on “Stairway to Heaven” notwithstanding.). Taking on this epic, iconic anthem is a daunting task, but Wynonna makes it work. It’s hard not to be entranced by the way her voices wraps around the guitar. For another fine example of Wy’s ability to effectively tackle rock songs, track down her version of Dire Strait’s “Water of Love” from the Judds’ River of Time album.

    #17
    “Heaven Help My Heart”
    from Revelations (1996)

    Co-written by Australian pop star Tina Arena, it’s no coincidence this is one of Wynonna’s most pop sounding songs. I’m betting the gusto of her strong voice almost blew the roof off the studio the day she recorded this earnest plea for love. My favorite part of this almost six minute song is when she hums her way into the third line of the second verse.

    #16
    “You Are”
    from Someone Like You (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2001)

    Wynonna had a hand in writing this mid-tempo, moving dedication to her sister Ashley. Here’s hoping we all find someone in life that we love and respect enough to sing this to.

    #15
    “No One Else On Earth (Club Mix)”
    from Collection (1997)

    Wy’s signature about love’s ability to crack even the toughest of nuts. This particular mix may sound a little dated, but I like it because you can definitely feel the 90s country (my favorite era)/line dance vibe.

    #14
    “That Was Yesterday”
    from Tell Me Why (1993)

    With her signature sly growls and purrs, this bluesy track (written by mother Naomi) is perhaps the best example of Wynonna’s range. It is a scathing done me wrong number that warns against crossing Wy. The nefarious cackle she gives when her man gets what he deserves lets us know that this is a new day and that… was yesterday.

    #13
    “A Bad Goodbye”
    from No Time To Kill (1993)

    Wynonna has had a number of great duet partners in her career since going solo (Kenny Rogers, John Berry, Michael English, Tammy Wynette), but none as commercially successful as her pairing with Clint Black. This classic, sad country duet came together as a result of the Black & Wy tour and their voices compliment each other well. A great song made perfect the second you hear Wynonna’s voice enter.

    #12
    “Rock Bottom”
    from Tell Me Why (1993)

    With lyrics like “When you hit rock bottom, you’ve got two ways to go: straight and sideways… Straight up is my way,” “When you get down to nothin’, you’ve got nothin’ to lose,” and “A dead end street is just a place to turn around,” this song is more inspiring than any motivational poster I’ve ever seen.

    #11
    “It’s Never Easy to Say Goodbye”
    from Wynonna (1992)

    The stories of Jimmy and his mom, Julie Rae and her dad and other lost friends morph into a gospel-esque final verse that would fit right in at church. It was later covered by Kenny Chesney on his 1996 album Me and You.

    #10
    “Burning Love”
    from Disney’s Lilo and Stitch Soundtrack (2002)

    I defy you not to shake your hips when listening to Wynonna’s excellent, fun take on the King’s classic. There’s nothing G Rated about this hot ditty.

    #9
    “Can’t Nobody Love You (Like I Do)”
    from New Day Dawning (2000)

    This beautiful, piano laden ballad is both soft and sexy and would fit in comfortably on AC radio stations.

    #8
    “All of That Love From Here”
    from Wynonna (1992)

    With a prominent mandolin and strong imagery provided by the details, this tune has an almost dreamlike quality. Lyrics about mama and chasing dreams probably took on a significant autobiographical aspect for Wynonna as she was striking out on her own for the first time in her career at this point. (“Sometimes I Feel Like Elvis” from What the World Needs Now Is Love is another example of a song that feels like it could have been written by her.)

    #7
    “What the World Needs Now”
    from What the World Needs Now Is Love (2003)

    Some may say the lyrics are clichéd but I find that this song just proves how a sincere, simple message can remain true. I remember this track coming on my iPod one day when I was running on a treadmill and watching a closed captioned CNN report about a school shooting. It put a lump in my throat and brought a tear to my eye.

    #6
    “She Is His Only Need”
    from Wynonna (1992)

    This three act story song (reminiscent of the Judds’ “Young Love (Strong Love)”) is the sweet tale of Billy and Bonnie. It served as Wy’s solo debut single and her first number one.

    #5
    “O Come O Come Emmanuel”
    from A Classic Christmas (2006)

    Like Celine Dion’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and Martina McBride’s “O Holy Night” before it, Wynonna’s version of this Christmas standard has now become the definitive version in my book. Wy exercises restraint and bravado at appropriate levels in the right spots. Essential December listening. Also worth checking out during the holidays are “Let’s Make a Baby King” and “Ave Maria”.

    #4
    “Come Some Rainy Day”
    from The Other Side (1997)

    You can’t help but be taken back to your childhood and then high school years when listening to this song, even if your experiences aren’t exactly the same as those painted in the lyrics. A gorgeous reminder to remember our dreams. Simply stunning.

    #3
    “Is It Over Yet”
    from Tell Me Why (1993)

    Wynonna captures the pain and heartache of breaking up in this lush ballad. Piano, strings and her voice convey an illustration more powerful than even the lyrics suggest. If she’s not going to cry, I just might. A similar song also worth downloading is the smoldering “Don’t Look Back” from Revelations.

    #2
    “I Want to Know What Love Is”
    from What the World Needs Now Is Love (2003)

    Our vocal powerhouse’s tour de force. Wynonna really lets loose on this number and shows us what she’s capable of. She’s never sounded better and with Jeff Beck assisting on guitar, listening becomes a downright religious experience. This is no longer Foreigner’s song. It belongs to Wynonna now.

    #1
    “When I Reach the Place I’m Going”
    from Wynonna (1992)

    In a morbid sort of way, I’ve always known what song I want played at my funeral. (To be fair, I’m not the only one. My mom has long stated that she wants Willie Nelson’s “What a Wonderful World” played at hers.) Although brief (clocking in at less than three minutes), this song is in the vein of some of the Judds’ greatest spiritual hits (Think “I Know Where I’m Going”.) and in fact, features background vocals by Naomi. Written by Emory Gordy, Jr., it was later covered by his wife Patty Loveless on 2005’s Dreamin’ My Dreams.

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    Women of the Decade

    reba-mcentireCountry Universe contributor and reader Cory DeStein flagged this rundown from Billboard regarding women on the charts this decade:

    PERFECT 10: On Country Songs, Carrie Underwood ropes her 10th top 10, as “Cowboy Casanova” climbs 11-8. With the advance, Underwood now stands alone in first-place for most top 10s on the chart among solo women this decade.

    Here are the solo females with the most top 10s on Country Songs since 2000:

    10, Carrie Underwood
    9, Faith Hill
    9, Martina McBride
    8, Taylor Swift
    7, Sara Evans
    7, Reba McEntire
    6, Jo Dee Messina
    5, LeAnn Rimes
    5, Gretchen Wilson
    4, Shania Twain

    Notably, the artist who led the category among women last decade did so with almost three times as many top 10s. Reba McEntire ranked first among solo women in the ’90s with 27 top 10s on Country Songs. Trisha Yearwood placed second with 18 between 1990 and 1999, and Faith Hill, Patty Loveless and Tanya Tucker each posted 14 in that span.

    The decline in fortune for women at radio this decade is even more pronounced when you compare the above top ten to the previous decade:

    Most Top Ten Singles by a Female Artist – 1990-1999:

    1. Reba McEntire (27)
    2. Trisha Yearwood (18)
    3. Faith Hill (14)
    4. Patty Loveless (14)
    5. Tanya Tucker (14)
    6. Pam Tillis (13)
    7. Lorrie Morgan (12)
    8. Shania Twain (12)
    9. Wynonna (11)
    10. Martina McBride (10)

    That’s ten women who matched Underwood’s total for this decade. That Underwood didn’t even hit the top ten for the first time until late 2005 shows how bleak it was at radio for female artists this year.

    But this comparison doesn’t even tell the whole story. Take a look at the list of women with the most top ten singles two decades ago:

    Most Top Ten Singles by a Female Artist – 1980-1989:

    1. Reba McEntire (23)
    2. Crystal Gayle (22)
    3. Dolly Parton (21)
    4. Janie Fricke (17)
    5. Barbara Mandrell (17)
    6. Rosanne Cash (16)
    7. Emmylou Harris (16)
    8. Anne Murray (14)
    9. Tanya Tucker (12)
    10. Kathy Mattea (10)

    Notice the trend? This decade, the top ten women combined for a total of 70 top ten hits. In the 90’s, the top ten women enjoyed a total of 145 top ten hits. In the eighties, a total of 168 top ten hits.  Even the nineties list is dominated by women who were played heavily in the earlier part of the decade.

    What’s strange is that it was in the mid-nineties that female artists became the dominant commercial force in country music. Janie Fricke never had a gold album. Shania Twain has sold 48 million albums. Yet Fricke  had more top ten hits in just the eighties than Shania Twain has earned in her entire career.  Record buyers have wholeheartedly embraced Alison Krauss and Miranda Lambert, but despite their strong sales, they’ve each enjoyed only one solo top ten hit.

    So what to make of all of this?  Is the recent success of Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood an indication that things are improving for women on the radio dial? Is it worth noting that Sugarland and Jennifer Nettles (11 top ten hits) and the Dixie Chicks (14 top ten hits) have done their part to compensate for this lack of gender parity? Does it even matter that radio is playing women less often each decade, especially if record buyers are finding their music anyway?

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    Album Sales Update: July 2009

    It’s time for an album sales update, our first since .   Brad Paisley is off to a strong start with American Saturday Night, selling 130k in its first week. That’s about 70k less than his previous two studio albums – Time Well Wasted and 5th Gear – opened with, but not a terrible drop-off, considering the state of the music market.

    Meanwhile, the new studio albums by Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban are slowing down considerably, now being outpaced on a weekly basis by 2008 releases by Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum.

    Among younger acts with a new album in 2009, the most impressive sales are coming from Jason Aldean, while 2008 releases from Kellie Pickler, Billy Currington, and Randy Houser are showing new signs of life.

    Biggest disappointments? It’s hard not to look in the direction of Martina McBride, who has barely cleared the 100k mark on her new studio set.  Lee Ann Womack’s 2008 set just made it over that mark, too.  Then again, one only needs to have sold 455 copies to make the chart this week, with the anchor position going to Wynonna with that total. Her covers album Sing – Chapter 1 has sold 41k to date.

    Here are the latest totals for albums released over the past three years that are still charting:

    2009

    • Rascal Flatts, Unstoppable – 842,000
    • Keith Urban, Defying Gravity – 452,000
    • Jason Aldean, Wide Open – 384,000
    • Kenny Chesney, Greatest Hits II – 281,000
    • Dierks Bentley, Feel That Fire – 219,000
    • Martina McBride, Shine – 104,000
    • John Rich, Son of a Preacher Man – 103,000
    • Eric Church, Carolina – 94,000
    • Rodney Atkins, It’s America – 88,000
    • Jake Owen, Easy Does It – 81,000
    • Randy Travis, I Told You So: Ultimate Hits – 78,000
    • Montgomery Gentry, For Our Heroes – 64,000
    • Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel, Willie & The Wheel – 56,000
    • Steve Earle, Townes – 47,000
    • Colt Ford, Ride Through the Country – 45,000
    • Jason Michael Carroll, Growing Up is Getting Old – 45,000
    • Wynonna, Sing – Chapter 1 – 41,000
    • Hank Williams Jr. – 127 Rose Avenue – 34,000
    • Ryan Bingham, Roadhouse Sun – 15,000
    • Tracy Lawrence, Rock – 11,000
    • Darryl Worley, Sounds Like Life – 8,000
    • Holly Williams, Here With Me – 5,000
    • Charlie Robison, Beautiful Day – 3,000
    • Tanya Tucker, My Turn – 3,000

    2008

    • Taylor Swift, Fearless – 3,464,000
    • Sugarland, Love on the Inside – 1,683,000
    • George Strait, Troubadour – 914,000
    • Alan Jackson, Good Time – 869,000
    • Darius Rucker, Learn to Live – 754,000
    • Kenny Chesney, Lucky Old Sun – 721,000
    • Zac Brown Band, Foundation – 681,000
    • Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits Vol. 1 – 680,000
    • Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum – 674,000
    • Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits – 652,000
    • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – 509,000
    • Toby Keith, That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy – 403,000
    • James Otto, Sunset Man – 374,000
    • Julianne Hough, Julianne Hough – 314,000
    • Kellie Pickler, Kellie Pickler – 261,000
    • Dierks Bentley, Greatest Hits – 255,000
    • Brad Paisley, Play – 247,000
    • Dolly Parton, Backwoods Barbie – 208,000
    • Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits Vol. 3 – 206,000
    • Billy Currington, Little Bit of Everything – 191,000
    • Trace Adkins, X – 185,000
    • Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew it All – 184,000
    • Joey + Rory, Life of a Song – 167,000
    • Blake Shelton, Startin’ Fires – 165,000
    • Eli Young Band, Jet Black and Jealous – 108,000
    • Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy – 102,000
    • Craig Morgan, Greatest Hits – 81,000
    • Hank Williams III, Damn Right Rebel Proud – 80,000
    • Randy Houser, Anything Goes – 79,000
    • Lost Trailers, Holler Back – 69,000

    2006-2007

    • Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift – 4,129,000
    • Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride – 2,918,000

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    Wynonna, Sing – Chapter 1

    sing

    Wynonna
    Sing – Chapter 1

    stars-312

    Wynonna’s music has incorporated so many elements of soul and blues over the years that it’s easy to forget that she got her start singing pure country harmonies with her mother. Some of those elements started creeping into the later Judds records, particularly on the hit “Born to Be Blue.”  But when Wynonna went solo, listeners quickly learned where her true musical heart was. With Sing – Chapter 1, she reveals how that heart was shaped.

    Scanning the track listing, one might expect this collection to run the musical gamut, but the sound is quite a bit more focused than that.  There are a few country songs here, but none of them are performed as such. Even the pure pop songs don’t have a glossy sheen. The entire album is done in the blue-eyed soul where Wynonna is most comfortable.

    For the most part, it works. Her reading of the Hank Williams classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” reveals just how close the roots of country music are to the roots of the blues. “When I Fall in Love” and “Till I Get it Right” have an intimate allure that would be right at home in the early morning hours of a dimly lit piano bar. And when she rocks? Good Lord, she rocks. Her ferocious performances of “I Hear You Knocking” and “The House is Rockin'” could single-handedly revive the long-dormant Best Female Rock Performance Grammy.

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    Grammy Flashback: Best Female Country Vocal Performance

    Revised and Updated for 2009

    While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories.

    This is a look back at the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category. It was first awarded in 1965, an included single competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.

    I’ve often made the case that female artists were making the best music in the 1990s, and the Grammys did a great job nominating songs and albums that were ignored at the CMA and ACM awards, which is not surprising, given that those shows have so few categories that are actually for songs and albums.

    As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back.

    2009

    • Martina McBride, “For These Times”
    • LeAnn Rimes, “What I Cannot Change”
    • Carrie Underwood, “Last Name”
    • Lee Ann Womack, “Last Call”
    • Trisha Yearwood, “This is Me You’re Talking To”

    This year’s lineup includes three former winners and two women looking for their first victory in this category. Martina McBride is in the running for the eighth time in fifteen years, and with one of her more understated performances. Lee Ann Womack returns for a fifth time, having received a nomination for the lead single of her five most recent albums. Both ladies turned in good performances here, but they’ve been overlooked for records bigger and better, so they’re not likely to snap their losing streaks this time around.

    As for the previous winners, LeAnn Rimes earned her third consecutive nod, bringing her total to five in this category. She hasn’t won since 1997, when she took home the award for “Blue.” If enough voters hear “What I Cannot Change,” she might have a shot, though the only version of the song that’s been a legitimate hit has been the dance remix.

    Trisha Yearwood won in 1998 for “How Do I Live,” her only victory to date. But she’s earned her tenth nomination for “This is Me You’re Talking To,” which is arguably her strongest vocal performance of the ten. Like Rimes, the challenge is getting enough voters to listen to it, but she’s never been more deserving of the victory than she is this year.

    Still, the favorite remains Carrie Underwood. She’s quickly become a favorite with Grammy voters, having won this category two years running, along with Best New Artist in 2007. She’s the nominee with the highest profile, and while “Last Name” is nowhere near the same league of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” in terms of artistry or impact, it was a big hit, something that the other four entries cannot claim.

    If Underwood was nominated for “Just a Dream,” she’d have a mortal lock on this one. But the strength of the other nominees will at least keep this race competitive. If Underwood prevails, Grammy queen Alison Krauss better watch her back.

    2008

    • Alison Krauss, “Simple Love”
    • Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
    • LeAnn Rimes, “Nothin’ Better to Do”
    • Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
    • Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love”

    Looking at this lineup, you’d think that it was a golden age of female country artists, something akin to the mid-nineties. In reality, only one of these songs was a big radio hit, though three others managed to go top twenty. In terms of quality, however, this is the most consistent and thoroughly wonderful set of nominees this category has seen this century.  You’d have to go back to exactly 1999 to find a better lineup.

    In a year when any winner would have been deserving, Underwood won for “Before He Cheats,” her second straight win for a signature mega-hit from her debut album.

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