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Beatlemania, Nashville Style

September 12, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 19

BeatlesI’ve been working my way through the Beatles Remasters that were released earlier this week, thoroughly enjoying myself in the process. As I listened to Help!, I heard Ringo Starr doing his best Buck Owens imitation as they covered “Act Naturally.”

It’s pretty darn cool that the Beatles covered Buck Owens, and plenty of country artists have returned the favor ever since. With the Beatles all over the media these days, it seems as good a time as any to look back on some of country music’s biggest and best takes on the Beatles catalog:

Rosanne Cash, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” and “I’m Only Sleeping”

Cash is the only country artist to score a #1 hit with a cover of a Beatles song, as her take on the Beatles For Sale track “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” became her eleventh and final #1 hit in 1989. An even better listen is her take on “I’m Only Sleeping” from her Retrospective release. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a much better song than “Party”, pulled from Revolver, arguably the best album the Beatles ever made.

Nickel Creek, “Taxman”

This progressive bluegrass band sounds great on record, but you don’t really get the full experience of their talent until you’ve seen their live show. Perhaps all of those royalties from their platinum-selling debut album pushed them into a higher tax bracket, as “Taxman” – another Revolver highlight – soon became a staple of their live shows.

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Joe Diffie Starter Kit

August 3, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 26

Today, the Starter Kit returns to Country Universe, and it brings a new theme with it: Back to the Nineties.
Beginning this month, we’ll be putting a special focus on the artists most closely associated with the nineties boom, which remains the most commercially successful era in the history of country music.

The first artist to be featured is Joe Diffie, a wonderful balladeer who had his greatest success with novelty material. At one point, he was known in Nashville as Joe Ditty, a moniker that masked the fact that he continued to record heartbreaking ballads but had trouble getting them on the radio.

With that in mind, Diffie’s Starter Kit is also the first to introduce a slight tweak to the format. This and future Starter Kits will include Ten Essential Tracks and Two Hidden Treasures, allowing for should’ve been hits to be acknowledged along with the signature songs.

Ten Essential Tracks

“Home”
from the 1990 album A Thousand Winding Roads

Today, it might be quickly dismissed as the latest nostalgic “list song”, and perhaps this would be little more than that in lesser hands. But Diffie’s wistful pining for home is a lot closer in spirit to Porter Wagoner’s “Green, Green Grass of Home” than it is to anything contemporary. As Diffie’s first single, it’s interesting to hear him still finding himself as a singer, with quite a bit of his phrasing borrowed from Merle Haggard.

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Traditional Country is a Link in a Long Chain

June 30, 2009 Guest Contributor 23

The following is a guest contribution from Scott O’Brien.

“But someone killed tradition. And for that someone should hang.” –Larry Cordle & Larry Shell, “Murder on Music Row”

Dan Milliken’s recent post got me thinking: The country music I grew up with is nothing like the music on country radio today. If I turned on today’s country radio in 1988, I might not realize it was a country station and keep right on flipping. Back then, Randy Travis and Keith Whitley’s traditional twang ruled the airwaves. Today, they are dominated by the giggly teeny-bopper ditties of Taylor Swift and the boy band sounds of Rascal Flatts. Did they get away with murder on music row? Well, let’s start by briefly uncovering country’s traditional roots.

What is traditional country music? Is it simply anything from the past? That seems too broad; Shania Twain wasn’t traditional. Anything before 1990? Maybe, but that is still a rather wide net. To me, traditional country music is honky-tonk music. It heavily employs steel guitars, fiddles, and forlorn vocals. It moves at a slow pace. There are no drums or electric guitars. The songs typically deal with heavy topics such as heartbreak, cheating, or drinking, with a ballad here and there. In most cases, the goal is to induce pain. Not bad pain, but the therapeutic empathy that tugs your heart and helps you through your personal struggles. The patron saint of traditional country is Hank Williams. Hank’s first disciple is George Jones. Jones’ first disciple is Alan Jackson. The traditional template is supposed to help us decipher what is country and what is not. After all, what makes country music country if not fiddles and cheatin’ songs?

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Tanya Tucker, My Turn

June 30, 2009 Leeann Ward 1

As a tribute of sorts to her father who loved traditional country music, Tanya Tucker has compiled a set of twelve songs that pays homage to country music’s past. While not an example of traditionalism herself as a recording artist, Tucker ably demonstrates that she is more than capable of stepping into the role on this project, but also shows that this is not her most comfortable position as an artist.

Produced by accomplished and respected producer, Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam), Tucker’s new covers album, My Turn, is full of both oft sung and lesser known gems. Tucker shines on up-tempo fare such as Buck Owens’ “Love’s gonna Live Here” with guest help from Jim Lauderdale, Don Gibson’s “Oh, Lonesome Me”, Charley Pride’s “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” and the album’s best track, Merle Haggard’s “Ramblin’ Fever.” With the support of snappy productions to match Tucker’s assured vocals, these interpretations aptly showcase Tucker’s spunk and are where she seems to fully connect, both vocally and emotionally, to the songs and their lyrics, which is likely why the straightforward “Ramblin’ Fever works so well for her. “If someone said I ever gave a damn/Well, the damn sure told you wrong/’Cause I’ve had ramblin’ fever all along”, she growls with utmost believability.

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The Few Remaining Icons

June 29, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 27

I’ve heard it said so many times in the past week: the death of Michael Jackson is my generation’s equivalent of the Death of Elvis Presley. (I can only assume that makes Kurt Cobain our Janis Joplin?)

He was a controversial figure, to be sure, and much like Elvis, a tragic figure even before his tragic death. Being a music fan first, I lost interest in Jackson a long time ago, simply because he’s made so little music in the past two decades – a mere three studio albums in more than twenty years.

But there’s no doubt that he’s an icon, the embodiment of the MTV age and the breakdown of barriers between pop, R&B and dance music. Who does pop music have left that’s in the same league? Only Madonna, but since she’s still very much at the top of her game and is anything but a tragic figure, don’t expect the mourning for her to begin any time soon.

But pop music isn’t the only genre running low on icons. What country acts remain that could garner significant coverage upon their death? Johnny Cash’s death made the cover of Time magazine, an honor usually reserved for former Beatles members. CNN broadcast live from Tammy Wynette’s funeral back in 1998.

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Perfect 10

April 29, 2009 Dan Milliken 43

As April is one of the odd months that has five Wednesdays, I thought I’d take a break from Country Quizzin’ for this week and try out a new discussion-thing.

Given the current mainstream climate, it’s been a while since I’ve felt able to heap unfettered praise on a piece of country music here, and that frankly bums me out a bit. So in the spirit of un-bumming, I’m going to share ten country songs that I find absolutely flawless – my “Perfect 10” – and I invite you to do the same. It’s a simple enough concept – you could just think of it as Recommend a Track times 10 plus a punny name.

Still, I suspect the outcome could be really interesting if everybody puts in the effort to pick ten songs that they consider the absolute cream of the crop. We’re talking all-time best material here, whatever “all-time” happens to mean to you. You don’t have to rank them, and they don’t have to be your definitive top ten; I sure wouldn’t be able to produce that list without a lot more thought. They just have to be up there – the kind of songs that you love fully and deeply, that still engage and surprise you after countless listens.

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dan Seals

April 3, 2009 Guest Contributor 16

The following is a guest contribution by Country Universe reader Tad Baierlein.

When Dan Seals died of lymphoma last Wednesday, a great deal of the press coverage centered on his days as “England Dan” in the soft rock duo England Dan and John Ford Coley. Seals’ country career, though more successful for a longer period of time, seemed to be treated as an afterthought.

Many of the obituaries mentioned Seals’ biggest country hit, “Bop”; hardly an accurate representation of his years spent in country. Now, it’s perfectly justifiable to glance at a person’s career highlights for a newspaper obituary, but I think that a great deal more attention should’ve been paid to Seals’ death within the country music community. I would like to contribute this little appreciation to one of my favorite country artists.

“The Banker”
Rebel Heart, 1983

For two years following the split of England Dan and John Ford Coley, nothing seemed to be going right for Seals. First off, he recorded two solo soft rock albums just as that sound was going out of favor. Aside from one single ekeing its way into the Adult Contemporary charts, the albums were considered huge failures. Secondly, Seals had accrued a massive amount of debt to the IRS; almost everything he owned was repossessed to pay it. Seals’ move to Nashville had been planned for quite a while but in 1982 it seemed almost a necessity.

This song that he wrote for Rebel Heart would seem to place his frustrations and hope in the story of a man trying to save his land from an evil, number-crunching banker. Sometimes when it seems like all hope is lost all you can do is work to get yourself out of trouble. Seals could only hope that the oil-rich resolution of “The Banker” came true in his life as well; he wouldn’t have to worry.

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Say What? – Merle Haggard

March 5, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 9

Today’s Say What? comes courtesy of country music legend Merle Haggard, who recalled a salty conversation with a label executive in the 1980s. The memory was prompted by Emmylou Harris performing “Kern River”, a Haggard

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Themed Albums

February 13, 2009 Guest Contributor 7

Kathy Mattea’s brilliant album released last year, Coal, reminded me of how much I love themed albums.  There is something unique and special about an album that addresses a single topic from varied angles or

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