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Martina McBride, "I Just Call You Mine"

May 4, 2009 Tara Seetharam 8

Finding a “Martina McBride” among the class of mainstream country artists is rare. When she’s on her game, she effortlessly balances relevance and reverence with timeless material.

That’s why it’s so frustrating to see her dip from this standard, as she does on the lukewarm “I Just Call You Mine.” It’s pleasant and effective, and McBride’s soaring vocals are flawless, even tastefully soaring a little less than usual. But as her signature power ballads go, this one falls just a tad short of stirring emotion.

In theory, I empathize with the subject: most of us know someone, romantic partner or otherwise, who exemplifies the “good” in the human spirit, someone so uniquely special that you’re honored to have him or her in your life. But it’s a tricky thing to realistically describe without feeling weighted down with grandiose professions, and this is especially true when the backdrop is a swelling and not entirely original melody. Perhaps the song would be more interesting if we were given some context: what, specifically, makes this person “a standing ovation after years of waiting”?

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Dwight Yoakam Starter Kit

May 3, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 22

Few artists command as much critical acclaim as Dwight Yoakam, yet he was also a stunningly successful commercial act from the start. Nine of his releases have been certified gold or better, and his biggest set to date – This Time – has sold more than three million copies.

His catalog is deep with classic cuts. Here are ten of the best, a solid introduction to one of the genre’s greatest talents.

And while it’s not represented on the list, I highly recommend his stellar Under the Covers, an excellent covers album that is best heard in its entirety.

“Guitars, Cadillacs” from the 1986 album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

It’s tempting to kick off with “Honky Tonk Man”, Yoakam’s effective cover of Johnny Horton’s classic that was also his breakthrough hit. But what’s missing from that track is Yoakam’s signature heartache and pain. In Yoakam’s best songs, he’s not seeking out the night life because he enjoys it. It’s to distract him from the loneliness and rejection that his lover has inflicted upon him.

“Streets of Bakersfield” (featuring Buck Owens) from the 1988 album Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room

Yoakam was instrumental in making the younger generations aware of the importance of Buck Owens, clearly Yoakam’s strongest country influence. When he chose to revive an old Owens tune, he invited the man himself to help him out. The end result was a #1 hit that was a comeback for Owens and a signature smash for both of them.

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Steve Azar, "Moo La Moo"

May 3, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 2

I can only assume that this song is titled “Moo La Moo” to avoid being confused with the old Billy Hill hit “Too Much Month at the End of the Money.” It’s a shame that choice was made, since “Too Much Month…” is the hook of the song and an eye-catching title to boot.

It would be even more of a shame for this song to be overlooked. Easily the strongest release of Azar’s career, it perfectly captures an experience that countless Americans can relate to: living paycheck to paycheck.

That it manages to do so with dark humor instead of somber commentary is refreshing. It’s a lot closer in spirit to “9 to 5” and “Busted” than it is to “If We Make it Through December.”

He sings, “I don’t know why I’m laughing ’cause it sure ain’t funny,” but it’s hard not to crack a smile at the lyrical wordplay throughout the song. “My checks ain’t bouncing but they sure is shaking. I ain’t broke yet but I sure am breaking. My BLT’s just waitin’ on the bacon.”

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Richie McDonald, "Six-Foot Teddy Bear"

May 3, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 5

Former Lonestar frontman Richie McDonald caused a stir when he left the band. His former bandmates vented in the media, sharing their frustration that McDonald had insisted they move in the direction of domestic songs like “My Front Porch Looking In” and “Mr. Mom.”

To be fair, those songs were huge hits, and there’s always been a place for such records in country music, as Donna Fargo and Barbara Fairchild could easily attest.

“Six-Foot Teddy Bear” continues in the same vein as those Lonestar hits. It’s the tale of a man who leads with his chest at work, a Harley-driving tough guy who turns into a mush once he gets home. He wonders what the guys at work would think of him if they knew that he let his little girls outfit him in Mickey Mouse ears and paint his toenails red.

McDonald’s performance is a mixed bag. He’s never fully convincing as the tough guy, but he’s fully believable as the family man who puts his children’s enjoyment before his own dignity. It’s a pretty realistic portrait of modern day fatherhood, and his joy in playing the role is palpable.

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Deals Aplenty This Month on Amazon MP3

May 1, 2009 Dan Milliken 4

There’s something for everyone this month at Amazon. The ever-thoughtful editors there have marked down 50 prime MP3 albums to $5 apiece for the duration of May. Among their choices:

Kenny Rogers, The Gambler: Something of a concept album revolving around the iconic title track. It’s regarded as one of his best full albums.

Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song: Nashville’s critical favorite of 2008 if you don’t count Taylor Swift’s Fearless as “country.”

Neko Case, Middle Cyclone: A well-received rock-leaning outing from the alt-country favorite. Has a very weird and very cool album cover.

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