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The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 6: #50-#41

December 5, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 31

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 6

50 Mattea

#50
Kathy Mattea, Right Out of Nowhere

Kathy Mattea has rarely sounded more open and warm than on this set of innovative folk-tinged songs. Topics of peace, love, resignation and heartache are sensitively explored in songs both written by Mattea and other well-known names, including captivating interpretations of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Me Shelter” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down on the Corner.” It’s a rich album with a decisively vibrant feel. – Leeann Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Gimme Shelter”, “Down on the Corner”, “Give It Away”

49 Cash

#49
Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around

American IV: The Man Comes Around was the last Cash album released in his lifetime; the bulk of its tracks are covers performed by the then ailing singer. Amazingly enough, the album seems almost biographical despite the limited material written by Cash. Still, American IV is not limited to “Hurt” (written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails), as other well-interpreted covers and Cash’s own “The Man Comes Around” help cement the depth of the album. – William Ward

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100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1: #100-#91

November 29, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 20

Ah, the naughties. The decade began and ended with pop crossover queens, with Shania Twain and Faith Hill at the top of their game in 2000 much like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood reign supreme today. In between, we had the roots music boom, best exemplified by O Brother and the platinum-selling Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss & Union Station; the post-9/11 patriotic explosion, which brought Toby Keith and Darryl Worley to the top of the charts; the near-total banishment of women from the country radio dial for a good part of the decade, which started to fade as redneck pride ascended, thanks to a certain woman trying to make Pocahontas proud; and far too many tributes to country living and island-flavored beach bum songs to count.

All of this made for a fascinating decade to be a country fan. As radio worked its way through all of the above (with the notable exception of roots music), the internet made it far easier for acts to be discovered without ever getting a single spin of traditional radio play. With MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and the explosion of country music blogs, the barriers have been torn down between artist and audience in a way that was never possible before.

The motley crew of Country Universe has a diversity of tastes that fit within the widest boundaries of country music, as reflected our collaborative list of the 100 best albums of the decade. Five of our writers contributed to the list, with all writer’s selections being weighed equally. We’ll reveal ten entries a day until the list is complete. A look back at the greatest singles of the decade will then follow.

The 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade, Part 1

Abigail 100

#100
Abigail Washburn, Song of the Traveling Daughter

Song of the Traveling Daughter is the debut album from Uncle Earl claw hammer banjo player Abigail Washburn. Produced by Béla Fleck and featuring Ben Sollee, it is a subdued album filled with intriguing instrumentation and influences. Standout songs include “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” with its interesting Civil War period influence; the upbeat “Coffee’s Cold,” originally performed by Uncle Earl; and “Song of the Traveling Daughter,” based on the classical Chinese poem “Song of the Traveling Son.” – William Ward

Recommended Tracks: “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, “Coffee’s Cold”

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The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 2: #40-#31

October 24, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 38

thumbs downThe banality continues. Read Part 1 here.

The Worst Singles of the Decade, Part 2: #40-#31

#40
Kenny Chesney & George Strait, “Shiftwork”

A stab at the working class blues still ends up on a tropical island by the third verse.

#39
Anita Cochran featuring The Voice of Conway Twitty, “(I Wanna Hear) A Cheatin’ Song”

In which a duet is formed from beyond the grave by chopping up bits and pieces of old Conway Twitty songs and reassembling them word by word.

#38
Billy Dean, “Let Them Be Little”

Thirty seconds in and you’ll be headed to your dentist for a cavity filling.

#37
Montgomery Gentry, “She Couldn’t Change Me”

Sorry boys, but “some hip-hop mess” would be a great improvement over this hillbilly trainwreck.

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Women of the Decade

October 18, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 16

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:

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Good Artists Gone Bad

July 16, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 60

I guess that I must have poor taste.

I came across this feature today: Bad Songs By Good Bands. Reading through the list, I found that not only did I like the songs chosen as “bad”, but many were my favorite songs by that artist. I love the tracks that they singled out by Blondie, R.E.M., Guns N’ Roses, Depeche Mode, Paul Simon, Outkast, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, The Beach Boys, and The Clash.

But as much as I disagree with their choices, I know a good topic of conversation when I see one.

Perhaps some of you will disagree with me as much as I disagree with the good folks at Spinner, but here are some songs that I think are pretty bad, even though the artist is very good:

  • Faith Hill, “Bringing Out the Elvis” – “When I’m with you I never have to feel like a sardine in a little metal can. I’m more like wild shark that travels in a pink limousine. Yeah, together with my fans.”
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Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters: Matraca Berg

June 21, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 33

For a good stretch in the nineties, women were the dominant creative force in country music. Songwriter Matraca Berg was an indispensable component of that dominance, penning many of the biggest hits and best-loved tracks by signature acts like Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, and Martina McBride.

It’s no surprise that this list of Favorite Songs written by Matraca Berg is almost completely composed of female artists. So distinguished is Berg’s catalog that worthy cuts by the Dixie Chicks, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Gretchen Wilson just missed the list. Even Berg herself is only present with one performance, despite releasing several outstanding recordings in her own right.

But the beauty of these lists is that these are my own favorite songs, so I don’t have to force anything on to the list just to make it more well-rounded. Add your own favorites in the comments, and read Matraca’s 100 Greatest Women profile to learn more about this stunning songwriter.

#25
“Wild Angels” – Martina McBride
Wild Angels, 1995

This was meant to be the title cut of an album that Berg never released. Instead, the cut went to Martina McBride. It was McBride’s first #1 single, and listening to it today, it sounds remarkably rough around the edges for an artist who’d eventually become an AC radio staple.

#24
“Fool, I’m a Woman” – Sara Evans
No Place That Far, 1998

Berg’s writing can be effortlessly snarky, as evidenced by this breezy Sara Evans track that was a minor hit in 1999. “Did I say that I’d never leave you behind?” she queries. “Well, just keep treating me unkind. ‘Cause fool, I’m a woman, and I’m bound to change my mind.”

#23
“When a Love Song Sings the Blues” – Trisha Yearwood
Real Live Woman, 2000

Trisha Yearwood is Berg’s finest vessel, the only voice elegant enough to equal Berg’s words. This melancholy closer to Yearwood’s excellent Real Live Woman set finds the protagonist seeking solace in a dusty old piano, playing “Faded Love” and “Born to Lose” so she doesn’t have to cry alone.

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George Strait Honored As Artist of the Decade

May 28, 2009 Leeann Ward 43

There is really no new way to pontificate about the fascinating longevity of George Strait’s career. Many, including myself, have speculated regarding the many possible reasons behind his staying power, but it is more than likely that many of the factors that we have already considered could be easily applied to other artists with lesser careers to show for it. Therefore, the consensus that can be agreed upon by most everyone is that George Strait is consistent. In the last three decades, without being loud or splashy in any way, Strait has consistently remained a vibrant country music artist, both on the charts and in concert sales. As a result, he is one of the most respected, if not intriguing, artists in the business.

On May 27, the Academy of Country Music honored George Strait as their Artist of the Decade in a two hour CBS special. The show consisted of many of today’s biggest artists paying homage to Strait by singing the songs of the Man of Honor.

Unlike most tribute shows, this show moved along at a reasonably fast clip with few over-dramatic or slick moments to weigh it down, which was highly appropriate considering the man who was being honored that night.

The show opened with a rousing version of Strait’s Cajun flavored “Adalida” ably performed by Sugarland. Jennifer Nettle’s exaggerated drawl, while very different from Strait’s laid back vocals, gave the song energy and seemed to be a wise way to invigorate the crowd. Other energetic performances included a rocked up version of “All My Exes Live in Texas” by Jack Ingram, which was fun but lacked the whimsical charm of Strait’s western swing flavored interpretation. Alan Jackson did a faithful steel laden cover of “The Fireman”, which is always sung at events such as these, though it’s certainly not one of Strait’s most interesting classics.

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters: Darrell Scott

May 18, 2009 Leeann Ward 14

I’m pleased to introduce a new feature to Country Universe readers, which is a spin off of Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists called Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters.

While we all appreciate songwriters for their invaluable contributions to our favorite artists, they still often remain unrecognized as the people behind the scenes and, therefore, stand in the shadows of the big name artists who sing their songs. The purpose of this feature is to spotlight those songwriters who had or have aspirations of being stars, but are better known for sharing their craft with the more visible artists.

Therefore, the criteria for this feature is that the spotlighted songwriter has to have both written songs that other artists have recorded and recorded music of his/her own. For instance, Darrell Scott, Rodney Crowell, Radney Foster, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Robison, etc. are eligible songwriters, since they’ve recorded their own music and written songs for other artists. Conversely, people like Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Clint Black etc. won’t be eligible, since they’ve mostly only written songs for themselves and not others.

Finally, Favorite Songs by Favorite Songwriters will include a mix of songs that the songwriter has recorded, and songs that he/she has written that other artists have recorded, which will obviously depend on our favorite songs by that songwriter and our preferred version of the chosen song.

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Pop Goes the Country, Part I

March 9, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 68

What follows is a guest piece from Country Universe reader VP exploring the latest wave of country artists who have crossed over to the pop charts. Part II, written by me, will follow later in

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