Here are three of my current favorites:
Carlene Carter, “Me and the Wildwood Rose”
from the album Carter Girl
“Me and the Wildwood Rose” was always one of my favorite Carlene Carter tracks. Back when it was released in 1990, it had a wistful nostalgia for the grandmother that she had lost. In 2014, all of the other folks mentioned in the song, including her little sister “the Wildwood Rose”, have also passed on. The new version is so heavy with grief, it is only Carter’s effervescent spirit that keeps it from being too heavy.
The bulk of our work at Country Universe this month has been catching up on singles currently at radio. Collectively, they’ve been abysmal, with review grades rarely reaching a B, let alone an A.
How can we turn this around? Here are five songs that I’d love to see sent to radio tomorrow. Share your own in the comments!
Zac Brown Band, “Let it Go”
I know that this is a reflection of my general mood these days. I’m optimistic by nature, but I feel like life’s been abundantly good lately after a pretty tough run. Given my lifelong connection to music, it’s no surprise that I’m seeking out happy music, skipping past the sad songs that I used to linger on back in the day.
Needless to say, I’ve been skipping a lot of country songs. I’ve listened to more pop in the past couple of months than I have in years. I want my country fix, but I have no interest in downers right now.
I’m sure many of our readers listen to genres beyond country music. Heck, you can listen to genres other than country music on country radio itself these days.
Tonight, we’re asking you to recommend a track that you love which is not even close to being country music. Bonus points for those of you who get as far away from country music as possible.
I’m recommending a song that’s been in heavy rotation for me since a friend of mine tipped me off about it: “Empire State of Mind”, by Jay- Z and Alicia Keys.
Songs about New York City are nothing new, but rarely are they done this well. This isn’t a song about somebody who moves to New York to find themselves. It’s a song about the visceral experience of someone “New York City born and raised”, as Neil Diamond once sang in “I Am…I Said.”
Many people may mistake my cynicism regarding, what I perceive as, heavy handed God centric songs in country music as not having appreciation for religious songs as a rule. This, in fact, is not accurate. While I cringe at certain religiously themed songs that feel too forced or contrived, I will admit here that I am easily taken in by religious songs. In fact, Randy Travis’ Worship And Faith is one of my favorite albums from his expansive discography. Likewise, I can’t get enough of Iris Dement’s Lifeline. While I, of course, always recommend those albums to all who haven’t heard it yet, there is somebody else that I urge you to check out if you don’t mind some “ old time religion in your heart.”
Recently, while listening to Kathy Mattea’s Coal, I realized that, perhaps, the most important aspect to creating a themed play list was the ability to find some obscure songs to include with all those well-known classics. While Merle Travis’s “Dark as a Dungeon” as performed at Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash and Darrell Scott’s “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” as performed by Patty Loveless are two of my personal favorite coal miner songs—they are already in heavy rotation on several of my play lists and are drawn from albums I listen to regularly.
Ashley Monroe’s “Canary,” which can be unearthed on This is My America Volume 2, is the kind of hidden gem that often can be missed even by those paying close attention to the movements of country music. Similar in tone to classic coal mining songs but delivered with modern sensibilities “Canary” most closely resembles what I wish “radio friendly” country sounded like—it isn’t traditional but it feels like country music. Plus, it fits well between my more traditional favorites, providing some variety for myself and perhaps a surprise to anyone listening along.
While I know it goes against the proper album listening experience, my favorite way to listen to my iPod is to put it on shuffle and see what pops up. It’s like my own personal radio station without the commercials, talking and music that I dislike. So, today I’m going to put my iPod on shuffle and list ten country songs that I would comfortably recommend to you. In the comments, you can do the same for us.