My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Monthly Archives: February 2009

Week ending 2/28/09: #1 This Week in Country Music History

1959: Don’t Take Your Guns to Town — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1969: To Make Love Sweeter For You — Jerry Lee Lewis (Smash)

1979: Golden Tears — Dave & Sugar (RCA)

1989: I Sang Dixie — Dwight Yoakam (Reprise)

1999: I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing — Mark Chesnutt (Decca)

Dwight Yoakam

Dwight Yoakam

March Cover Art

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Looking at Amazon.com, I stumbled upon the new album artwork for Keith Urban’s Defying Gravity. Now, I’ve gathered a few country releases coming up in March, and I want to see what you guys think of the album artwork.

Well, the Neko Case one has been around for a while, and is probably my favorite of the three. I mean come on, Neko on a car with a sword? It just doesn’t get much cooler than that. I also like the cool writing of the album title into the background- it’s creative, and random, which seems to be the theme of her upcoming album.

On the other hand, the McBride cover is elegant, but the “bleeding” effect is really cool looking. I like her cover for Waking Up Laughing, but looking at it now, it looks boring, so I like how this one is more interesting. Shine also has one of my favorite fonts that I’ve seen in a while, which sounds kind of geeky to say. Her expression kind of makes it look like she got knocked out though…

Finally, we get to the Urban album. This is a radical departure from his last cover, which gave a darker tone to the hard times he was going through. This cover seems to reflect the more upbeat tone of this album, if ‘Sweet Thing” is any indication. He seems to be past his rehab and enjoying married life and his daughter, which should make for a happy album. I like how in the cover he is literally “defying gravity” by being sideways, so it links it more to the album material than other album covers.

Interestingly enough, all three of these have a gray-ish background, which can get boring after too many similar ones. I prefer albums with more color, like Sugarland’s latest, but these three are unique and interesting album covers from some of my favorite artists. Of course, this will be my first Neko Case album, but I already love her!

So what do you guys think? Are these good or not?

PS: Martina has posted new tracks from her album on her myspace.

Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Sing: Chapter 1’

wynonna_book_outside_whiteWynonna’s latest album – a covers disc incorporating styles ranging from bawdy blues to elegant pop to Stones-style rock and roll to traditional country – is an interesting and at times inspired collection. Wynonna’s ferocious delivery is front and center the entire time, always reminding us that Wynonna Judd is the owner of one of the finest voices of our time.

The one new song, the brilliant Rodney Crowell-penned ‘Sing’ is without a doubt the album’s masterpiece – an uplifting number with a swelling chorus.  The message isn’t terribly original, but lyrics like “Sing it like you hear it/Like you have no need to fear it now/Sing it like you know it/Like you’re not afraid to show us how” put this anthem of empowerment just a step ahead of the dozens of others of the same ilk.

Opening the album is the percussion-driven ‘That’s How Rhythm Was Born’.  Her bluesy take on the old Sippie Wallace number ‘Women Be Wise’ is pure ear-candy to anyone with a penchant for torch songs performed to perfection. Likewise, Wynonna tears into the Dave Edmunds cover ‘I Hear You Knockin’, infusing the 12-bar blues tune with those fierce, patented Wynonna vocals.

Another stand-out track is the Doris Day/Nat King Cole hit from the 1950s ‘When I Fall In Love’.  Celine Dion and Clive Griffin also recorded it for the soundtrack to the blockbuster Sleepless In Seattle  in 1993. Again, it’s the crooning of Wynonna that takes this, an average tune, and turns it into something special.

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Chris Isaak gets real with Trisha Yearwood

trisha-yearwood-chris-isaakFor the pilot episode of his new A&E series ‘The Chris Isaak Hour’, the California rocker wanted to open with a winner.  And he certainly accomplished that.  The hour-long show premiered tonight at 10pm on both A&E and its offspring network, the Bio Channel.  Yearwood was also a guest on Isaak’s Showtime sitcom/variety show ‘The Chris Isaak Show’ in the beginning of the decade.  And in between songs, the two sat down like old friends and talked about some very candid subjects.

The pair opened the show with a bluesy take on Yearwood’s ‘The Wrong Side of Memphis’.  Then, the interviewing began – this was the formula for the entire hour:  to talk a bit and then segue into a performance.  Isaak began by asking about Monticello, Georgia. Trisha happily recounted memories of her hometown and told him her family had cows, chickens, pigs, and a garden – which she and her sister regularly tended.  Talk turned to music next as Yearwood credits her Dad for introducing her to music through artists like George Jones, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline. Another bit I found interesting was her admission that instead of a doll, she asked for a tape recorder for her birthday so she could record herself singing.  She says there are tapes around somewhere of her 11-year-old self singing mostly Cher tunes. (Yearwood apparently wanted to be Cher at the time.)

Trisha recounts Elvis as the first voice she remembers.  “I was always drawn to big voices that were really emotive,” she says.  Adding she was always a fan of singers who “really pull the listener in.”  This segues into another duet, this time on ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’.  Yearwood rips into the song, trading verses with Isaak in a playful take on the classic.

Her stint on a 1980s TV talent search called ‘You Can Be a Star’ – which she lost to a cab driver from Atlanta – was a sort of turning point. She quit her job as a receptionist at MTM Records and began recording demos full time after the show, she says. Recording demos not only eventually lead to her recording contract with MCA, but introduced her to the most important person in her life. “We were instant friends,” Trisha recalls of the first time she met Garth Brooks. They recorded a demo tape of a duet together for a mutual friend. She also recorded the demo for ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ before Garth had a record deal himself and was still pitching songs.

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Secret Collaborations

question_mark2Recently I’ve bought many Trisha Yearwood albums, namely Hearts In Armor, Inside Out, Real Live Woman and The Song Remembers When, in that order (the last one hasn’t arrived yet). The other day I was listening to all of my Trisha music on shuffle (which adds H,HatPoL and Jasper County to the previous albums) when the song “Try Me” from Jasper County came on. Listening to the song closely, I found that the background singer was very familiar — it sounded like Ronnie Dunn! Checking the Wikipedia page for the album confirmed my suspicion: it was him! I decided I want to find all of these so-called “secret collaborations” (I made up the name myself). It’s basically when another artist (preferably a noticeable one) contributes either by singing or with instruments, but is not credited except possibly in the liner notes.

Here are all of the ones I can think of. Some are repeated from above or past reviews:

Contributed vocals:
“Try Me” by Trisha Yearwood – Ronnie Dunn is singing harmony vocals.
“Mean Girls” by Sugarland – Brad Paisley is playing the guitar on this track.
“Blue Diamond Mines” by Kathy Mattea – Patty Loveless sings harmony vocals.
“Trying To Find Atlantis” by Jamie O’Neal – Carolyn Dawn Johnson does background vocals.
“Where Are You Now” by Trisha Yearwood – Kim Richey and Mary Chapin Carpenter

Contributed Instrumental Work:
“Boy Like Me” by Jessica Harp – Keith Urban is playing guitar.
“I Hope” by The Dixie Chicks – John Mayer does the guitar solo.
“The Weight Of Love” by LeAnn Rimes – Keith Urban has a guitar solo here.
Almost all of Home by The Dixie Chicks – Chris Thile (of Nickel Creek) provided the mandolin work.

So I want you to give me as many as possible!
I know I had more, but I can’t remember them all. I think I knew of another track that Keith Urban played guitar on but I forgot it…

Album Review: Donna Ulisse – ‘Walk This Mountain Down’

ulisseDonna Ulisse was one of those artists who fell through the cracks when a major label deal failed to produce the commercial success her talent deserved.  Donna was signed to Atlantic Records in the early 1990s when the label was flirting with country music.  She released a fine album entitled Trouble At the Door in 1991, which showcased her strong alto and neotraditional country style with a solid set of songs, but failed to make an impact.   She is so forgotten today that she does not even merit her own entry on wikipedia.

In 2007 she re-emerged with a critically acclaimed bluegrass album, When I Look Back, and she has now followed this up with Walk This Mountain Down.   Both CDs are released by her publishing company’s own label, and Donna has written or co-written all the songs.  She is married to a cousin of Ralph Stanley (who played at her wedding), and she cites Ralph as inspiring her own love of bluegrass, although she did grow up listening to acts like the Osborne Brothers.  She says in the liner notes to When I Look Back that “the music business led me on a merry dance to find myself”, and it was only after she lost her original record deal that she started writing her own songs. 

Many of the most prominent current female bluegrass singers are notable for their pretty, even ethereal voices, and sweet sound — think Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, Dale Ann Bradley, or Claire Lynch (who provides harmony vocals on two tracks on the latest album).  Donna’s voice has a slightly darker feel, and the music is also quite hard-edged bluegrass, proving that acoustic music doesn’t have to be soft or quiet to be effective.  There is a strong “band” feel to the music, as the same group of musicians play throughout: producer Keith Sewell on guitar, Andy Leftwich on mandolin, Rob Ickes on dobro, Scott Vestal on banjo, and Byron House on upright bass.  They deserve special mention because the playing is very high quality, but I did feel that on the first few tracks the backing slightly overwhelmed Donna’s voice in the mix.   There are, however some nice male harmonies, for instance on ‘Poor Mountain Boy’. 

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A lasting impression

jen2In country music today, a great deal of mediocrity has been allowed to slip into the genre – where at one time, only legends and great ones stood. Now that’s not to say that every new artist is recording interchangable and forgettable tunes. But it seems the ratio of disposable songs to standards has taken a drastic plunge in recent years.  Where are the legends of today?  

Artists like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain come to mind.  If only for their record-breaking sales numbers, both will still be talked about for years to come.  Besides their respective mega-hits – ‘Friends In Low Places’ and ‘You’re Still The One’, I don’t think many people will be able to name more than a couple songs from them.  But, people will still know their name.  

And then we have artists like George Strait and Reba McEntire who are still relevant into the third decade of their careers.  Surely, people will still talk about the careers of King George and Reba long after they’re gone.  For Strait, I’d say people will remember songs like ‘All My Ex’s Live In Texas’, ‘I Cross My Heart’, and ‘Carrying Your Love With Me’.  Nobody is going to forget ‘Fancy’, ‘For My Broken Heart’, or ‘Does He Love You’ anytime soon either.  But, both of them have been having hits longer than most artists even remain in the memory of the public at large.

Loretta Lynn was a trailblazer and truly an American poet.  Dolly Parton built her persona into the kind of world-wide popularity rivaled only by the Beatles and Elvis. Merle Haggard, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash all had their own image.  There was nobody else like them, and there never will be.  Patsy Cline is still talked about today, some 46 years after her death.  And it’s been 56 years since country music lost Hank Williams, but his name comes up as often as ever.

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What lies around the bend for Randy Travis?

randytravisTwo news items over the weekend made me think about the career of Randy Travis and where (if anywhere) it might be headed now.

Last summer saw the long-awaited release of Around The Bend, widely trumpeted as his return to mainstream secular country music after some years pursuing Christian music.  It also marked his return to Warner Brothers, the label which launched his spectacular early career over 20 years ago.  The album was received well by critics, and received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album, although sales have not been spectacular.  Sadly the two singles released so far, ‘Faith In You’ and ‘Dig Two Graves’, were completely ignored by country radio.  In some ways this is understandable; both are perfectly decent songs, but not outstanding ones, although they are lifted to a higher level by the fine vocal performances.  I was surprised by the Grammy nomination of ‘Dig Two Graves’ for Song of the Year, but not Male Vocal Performance, since I rank the performance significantly above the song itself.

While the label did not select the best songs as singles, I doubt that one of the two truly great tracks on the album (the powerful but somber ‘You Didn’t Have A Good Time’ and ‘From Your Knees’) would have fared any better.  With the exception of the #1 hit ‘Three Wooden Crosses’ in 2002 (which is now looking like something of an anomaly), Randy has actually not had a country hit for a decade. 

Warners has announced the release of a new compilation on March 17, entitled I Told You So: The Ultimate Hits Of Randy Travis, in order to capitalize on the current chart success of Carrie Underwood’s flashy cover of the title track.  There are two new tracks, ‘Love’s Alive And Well’, ‘You Ain’t Right’, and ‘Faith In You’ and ‘Turn It Around’ repeated from Around The Bend, but otherwise the material will be familiar to Travis’ existing fans.  Presumably the plan is that this release will be marketed to younger listeners who are aware of Travis only as a name, but who may have been intrigued by the Carrie Underwood cover.  I can only hope that this does not signal the label’s abandonment of Around The Bend.  The inclusion of ‘Turn It Around’ may signal this is intended to be a single to promote both albums.  If so, the label has made another mis-step, picking another of the good but not great tracks rather than something more memorable.  The safe choices turned out to be a little too easy to ignore: why not go for a more challenging song like ‘You Didn’t Have A Good Time’?  It still might not be a hit, but it would have more of a chance of making an impact.

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Legends of the Grand Ole Opry: Connie Smith

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Constance June Meador was born on August 14, 1941 in Elkhart, Indiana. Her father’s alcoholism led to the breakup of her parents’ marriage when Connie was seven years old. After her mother remarried, Connie found herself in the middle of an extended family that included 14 children. Her stepfather played the mandolin and performed in square dances with his brothers who played fiddle and guitar. The family moved frequently, making it difficult for Connie to form friendships in school. Eventually they settled in Ohio. Connie grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry, as well as singers like Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald, when country music wasn’t available on the local radio stations.

In 1961, Connie married Jerry Smith, and began singing in grange halls and at local fairs to make extra money. In 1963, they drove to a country music park near Columbus to see a Grand Ole Opry package show where George Jones, Connie’s favorite singer, had been scheduled to appear. When the Smiths arrived, they discovered that George Jones had actually headlined the show the previous week, so they had to make do with a different headliner – one named Bill Anderson. The mistake about the show’s scheduled roster was a fateful one. There was a talent contest that evening, which Connie entered and won, which also got the attention of Bill Anderson. He invited her to Nashville to perform on the Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop radio program. She was initially reluctant, but eventually accepted the offer. While in Nashville, Anderson tried to persuade his producer Owen Bradley to sign Connie to a Decca Records contract. Bradley declined, since Decca already had Loretta Lynn on its roster, and didn’t feel the need for another “girl singer”. So Anderson instead talked to Chet Atkins at RCA , who did offer Smith a contract.

In 1964, country music was still recovering from the untimely death of its only female superstar, Patsy Cline, who had lost her life in a plane crash the previous year. There was no one else to fill the void. The next female superstar, Loretta Lynn, wouldn’t have her first #1 hit until 1966, and a young singer-songwriter named Dolly Parton wouldn’t arrive in Nashville until later in 1964, so the timing was just right for Connie Smith to take Nashville by storm. And take it by storm, she did. Her first single was a song written by Anderson, called “Once A Day”. (Click on the link to listen). It was a song that Bill Anderson had started writing years earlier. He quickly finished it upon learning that Connie needed a few more songs for her first RCA album. It quickly shot to #1, staying there for 8 weeks, a first for a female country artist. To this day, it remains the record holder for the most weeks at #1 by a female artist. It was the first time a debut record by a female artist reached #1 and it wouldn’t happen again until 1991 when Trisha Yearwood reached the top spot with “She’s In Love With the Boy”.

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Single Review: Jessica Harp – ‘Boy Like Me’

Jessica Harp

In case you don’t know, Jessica Harp was the not-Michelle-Branch-half of The Wreckers, a country duo on hiatus currently (Although they seem to still get nominated for stuff for some odd reason…). If you still don’t remember, they had the hits “Leave The Pieces” and “My, Oh My”, two great songs from their partially disappointing debut album.

This song finds Harp trying to start her solo career in country music, and it’s a pretty good song! First of all, the song rocks just enough for mainstream radio, but has enough twang to still be country. It has a good balance. It doesn’t hurt that Keith Urban is playing the guitar throughout, and it really reminds me of his hit “I Told You So”. (Rumor has it that Urban was going to record “Boy Like Me” as “Girl Like Me” but decided not to, so he contributed to Harp’s version instead.) It has a great mix of electric guitar and more traditional country sounds, not to mention Harp herself, who proves herself as a vocalist.

I never knew she could sing on her own! She was always the harmony half of The Wreckers, so it’s nice to hear her great voice, and she sounds engaging here. She has just enough grit to make this song believable, and she’s very entertaining. She doesn’t belt, but sings like she really wants that boy who’s just like her. She can also make her voice big enough to handle the chorus. Luckily, she never has to stretch, but sounds very comfortable in this song.

The song is very frivolous, but not in the annoying and mindlessly catchy way that the recent “Chicken Fried” is. Harp sings about how she wants a boy like her who wants to be more… rebellious… than I will ever be in my life. She wants that guy who will “lead her down the wrong road”, and she makes it sound fun! Most of the lyrics are fairly nondescript, but there are some fun parts like where she sings, “You’re the kind of boy who likes the kind of girls who like to fool around with the boys on the first date.” There are parts with some fun tongue-twisters that just sound like pure fun, but none of it is groundbreaking in any way.

It’s interesting to contrast this song with a single I reviewed last month, Gloriana’s “Wild At Heart”. While that fun song is way too saccharine (I’ve stopped liking it since I wrote my review), this song is just rough enough to make it appealing to most of mainstream country radio. Still, a really fun song. I hope her solo album keeps up this kind of quality.

Grade: A-

Written by Jerry Flowers

Listen to “Boy Like Me” on Jessica’s Myspace here.
Buy here from iTunes.

CD Giveaway: Dolly Parton – ‘Those Were The Days’

AND THE WINNER IS …..

TIM!!!

Congratulations, you’re the winner of Dolly’s Those Were The Days CD. It will be on its way to your home shortly.

Thanks to everyone who participated. Stay tuned for more giveaways in the future.

Feeling nostalgic for the 70s?  If you are — or if you’re too young to remember them and want to know what they were all about, we’ve got just the thing for you.  thosewerethedaysWe’re giving away a brand new copy of Dolly Parton’s 2005 CD Those Were The Days.   The winner will be randomly selected from the names of those leaving comments to this blog entry.   To enter, please leave a comment telling us about your favorite Dolly song.   Be sure to use a valid email address so we can contact  you in the event that you are the winner.  Your personal information will not be saved or passed along to anyone else.

Entries must be posted by 11:59 pm, Sunday February 22, 2009.

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Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Tell Me Why’

We’ve been featuring Wynonna as our spotlight artist throughout the month of February.  So, continuing with that coverage, here is the very first contribution from guest writer (and faithful My Kind of Country reader) Chad McBride.

– J.R. Journey

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With her first CD, Wynonna ventured out on her own, but not too far from her roots as a member of The Judds. That CD received great reviews from non-country outlets, such as Rolling Stone, and earned Wynonna her first four top five singles as a solo artist. This CD capitalized on that success by both repeating some of the same sounds but also branching out in new ways. Of the ten songs on Tell Me Why, five would eventually be released as singles, all of which reached the top ten – a feat unheard of at the time. And just a look at the contributing songwriters highlights some top singer-songwriters to emerge in the 90s. In Wynonna’s words from her live CD/DVD, she was ‘on top of the world and at the time’ and ‘some of the top country acts of the 90s’ were opening for her.

While Tell Me Why resulted in all of this acclaim, more importantly, it showcases the first time Wynonna really branched out from traditional Judd’s acoustic country (still showcased with great emotion on ‘I Just Drove By’ here) to more pop/country, blues, gospel, and shades of rock.

The first song and single, ‘Tell Me Why’, did not stray too far from the country rock sound fans had become familiar with after ‘No One Else On Earth’ from her first CD. The second song on the CD, ‘Rock Bottom’, the fourth single released to radio, was the first to really showcase her soulful backup singers, which would become a centerpiece of her live shows to this day. ‘Only Love’, the lush ballad co-written by Marcus Hummon with Roger Murrah features some of the smoothest vocals performed on her early CDs and was another top hit on the CD.

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Week ending 2/21/09: #1 This Week In Country Music History

1959: Don’t Take Your Guns to Town — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1969: Until My Dreams Come True — Jack Greene (Decca)

1979: Every Which Way But Loose — Eddie Rabbitt (Elektra)

1989: Big Wheels in the Moonlight — Dan Seals (Capitol)

1999: I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing — Mark Chesnutt (Decca)

Dan Seals

Dan Seals

War and Religion: Some Thoughts on Trace Adkins’ ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’

traceadkins1Ever since Trace Adkins released his most recent album, X, last November, I’ve been intrigued by the song ‘Til the Last Shot’s Fired’, and I wanted to explore a few aspects of the song.  Most of the debate I’ve seen so far over at The 9513 has centered on the appropriateness of the West Point Cadet Glee Club’s choral singing at the close of the song, but I want to look at a couple of aspects of the substance of the song itself.

The song is written by Rob Crosby, a one-time recording artist who had some modest chart success in the 90s before settling down as a professional songwriter, and songwriter/producer Doug Johnson.  Crosby has recorded ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’ himself, on his 2007 independent release Catfish Day; you can hear a clip of his version here. While I always like to hear a songwriter’s original version, I must admit I much prefer Trace Adkins’ vocal on this track.  Trace’s deep baritone voice is capable of bringing real gravitas to a song, when he finds one worthy of it.  He certainly does that here.

‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’ may not be the very best song on X (I would give that honor to ‘Sometimes A Man Takes A Drink’), but it is the most interesting.  Often in country music, the subject matter of war and soldiers is limited to an expression of patriotic pride.  I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with that per se, but it is only part of the story, and this song treads less familiar ground. 

One of the things that particularly strikes me about this song is the fact that of the four wars it references, at least two of the protagonists are fighting on the losing side, and another is questionable.  The Civil War soldier we ‘meet’ first is quite definitely on the Southern side.  Both songwriters are from the south, Carolina and Georgia respectively, so perhaps that was the natural emotional choice for them.  The death of the young man killed in the D-Day invasion, who is the second person Trace voices, is less complicated – the U.S. was clearly on the right side, morally speaking, as well as the victorious one, in World War II.  Finally, two further wars are referenced more briefly: Vietnam, which was one of America’s less successful military excursions, and Afghanistan, which is a conflict still to be fully resolved.  Only one of these young men could truthfully be said not to have died in vain.

If this was a deliberate choice by the writers, and the phrase, “I’m still hoping, waiting, praying, I did not die in vain,” suggests it might be the very heart of the song’s meaning, then why did they include WWII as one of their examples?  This soldier’s death is a personal tragedy for his family, but one which would normally be presented as being worth the sacrifice.  Are the writers really suggesting here that no death in war is worthwhile?  This makes the use of the army cadets’ choir all the more puzzling.  I’m still not sure quite what the writers intended to convey here.

The other unusual thing about this song is its use of religious imagery.  Most country songs about religious belief and life seem pretty firmly grounded in Protestantism, with a particular focus on Baptist beliefs.  I was very surprised, the first time I heard this song, to hear the chorus callling on “sweet mother Mary”.  I’m not sure if this was a deliberate personal choice by the writers, or what it signifies to them, but it certainly struck me as unusual to hear something I would associate with Catholicism.  It also strikes a bit of a dischord with the final track on X (and its leadoff single), ‘Muddy Water’, where the protagonist seeks baptism in the river.  I wonder if this factor might affect the song’s chances on radio if it is released as a single?

What do you think of this song in particular?  And do you have any other war songs worth listening to?

Listen to Trace Adkins – ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired.

Celebrity siblings

A lot of country stars have had siblings who also got involved in country music.   Some were successful for a while,  but most were unable to step out from the shadows of their more famous family members.  Here are just a few that come to mind.  Do you remember any of these?

LaCosta Tucker:

Louise Mandrell:

Pake McEntire:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ll_ScIqgAAM

Stella Parton:

I’m sure there are plenty of others I’ve missed, so what are some of the famous country siblings that you remember?

Single Review: Sugarland – ‘It Happens’

sugarland2Apparently Sugarland was just teasing us by releasing a video for the song ‘Love’, never intending for it to go to radio.  But, we still have an incredible music video of an epic song to watch.  And we have this one to hear on the radio for the next 20 weeks.  I can live with that.  The first time I listened to the Love On The Inside album, I knew this tune was destined for radio.  So, let’s talk about the song.

This girl is having one bad day.  Her alarm didn’t wake her up, so she got no coffee and no shower.  When she does get to work, she is doing the ‘walk of shame’ having arrived late.  And what’s worse, she has two different shoes on.  After a day like that, a girl needs to head to Wally World for some scented candles and a pink light bulb. Trouble is, her ‘trusty rust has a flat’.  No problem.  Just borrow the neighbor’s Caddy. Problem:  Ex and his new girlfriend hit her as she is running the yellow … um, red light.  Still this doesn’t deter the happy go lucky spirit of the singer as she merrily sings ‘sorry bout your neck, baby’.  With pluck like that, who needs coffee?

But all that action happens in the verses.  This seems to be Sugarland’s style to tell the story in the verses and just let the chorus soar.  Stringing together a long list of cliches akin to ‘life is like a box of chocolates’ makes the bulk of the chorus.  Nettles tries to subtly disguise that she is saying ‘shit happens’ twice in the song.  In the first chorus, it comes across ‘Pssh.  (short pause) It happens …’  But the second time she tries to mask the obscenity is at the end of the song.  This time she lets go and drops the short pause.  Good for you, Jennifer.  I say sing it that way everytime and change the title of the song.  Makes sense to me.

Word play aside, this tune is destined for the top of the charts.  The chorus is as catchy as ‘All I Want to Do’, without being as annoying.  And the storyline is downright endearing.  I want to be that girl’s friend.  Actually, I already feel like I am.  A step-up lyrically for Nettles and Bush and another smoking vocal from Jennifer Nettles.

B+

Written by Bobby Pinson, Jennifer Nettles, and Kristian Bush.

Listen to Sugarland – ‘It Happens’ on Last FM.

Miranda Lambert’s Next Single Will Be…

Miranda Lambert

Either “Dry Town”, “Desperation” or “Guilty In Here”. I know the link was posted on The 9513, but I wanted to re-emphasize it here! Miranda is having a poll for the next single off of her album Crazy Ex-Girlfriend here! (On the page for the poll you can also listen to the three choices if you haven’t already heard them.) I have always heard about this kind of poll, but I usually hear about them too late to actually participate, so I was glad I could have some sort of say here! Miranda is also one of my favorite mainstream-ish country singers right now, so I’m especially happy.

Initially, I voted for “Desperation” because it is by far my favorite song on the album, but looking at it now, I think “Dry Town” is the perfect single. It’s that quirky song that could be a smash hit or a signature song for Miranda, and it’s funny and singable, but not pandering or unintelligent. I also think that after “More Like Her”, another slow song is probably a bad idea, which cuts out “Desperation”. That leaves the two fast songs, and of the two, “Dry Town” is my favorite.

Luckily, I got a Macbook over the weekend for college, since I got accepted to BYU last week with full tuition for 4 years! (That’s why I haven’t really been around, I’ve been playing with my new computer!) This has to do with Miranda because I got the chance to vote again on my new computer, so I cast my second vote for “Dry Town”.

As of writing this, “Dry Town” is leading in the results of the poll with 45%, followed by “Guilty In Here” with 34% and “Desperation” with 21%.

Here’s what I’m asking you to do:

First of all, vote! Make your voice heard on what the next single should be! Then post here which single you think should be a single and why!

Album Review: Wynonna Judd – ‘Wynonna’

wynonnadebut

During the Farewell Tour for The Judds, the daughter half of the duo was also hard at work recording songs for a solo project. Naomi Judd was forced into retirement after being diagnosed with hepatitis in late 1990. The year 1991 saw the mother-daughter duo embarking on a major North American jaunt that turned out to be the biggest concert draw of the year.  So ended the fairytale story of The Judds.  But it was only the beginning for Wynonna Judd as a solo artist.

For her debut, Wynonna teamed with the red-hot producer of the day, Tony Brown. And the results were both critically acclaimed, and successful at the cash register and with radio as well.  The first three singles from the album shot to #1, and the fourth also hit top 5, peaking at #4 on the Hot Country Songs chart.  In the meantime, the disc has managed to sell more than 5 million copies, leaving many people saying “Naomi who?”  Well, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but Wynonna certainly comes into her own with this release.  Her vocals convey a sexiness and soul that was only bubbling beneath the surface on The Judds records, but is front and center here.

The album opens with the rocking ‘What It Takes’, an anthem of empowerment that probably didn’t sound as recycled in 1992 as it does today.  ‘She Is His Only Need’ was the first single, and sounds like it would fit neatly into the catalog of The Judds.  Written by Dave Loggins, it’s a beautiful love story about a young couple where the man goes “overboard, over the limit to afford/to give her things he knew she wanted” because “she is his only need”.  Next up is the biggest country radio hit of 1992, ‘I Saw The Light’.  This song is a bit cheesy, but so damn catchy you just can’t help but hum or sing along.

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Songs for a recession

recessionMy brother was laid off last week, for the second time in a year.  That’s the kind of thing that brings the state of the global economy really close to home, even though he’s been fortunate enough to find something else to move on to.

One of the great things about country music has always been that it’s rooted in real life. You can pretty much find a song for every occasion somewhere in the genre, even if in recent years mainstream releases have largely focused on the feel-good at the expense of deeper material.  I had been wondering when the first songs about the current situation were going to emerge, and whether radio would be prepared to adapt.  

John Rich’s new single, ‘Shuttin’ Detroit Down’, seems to be being received well on radio.  I’m not much of a fan of the self-regarding, self-aggrandizing John Rich, but I am impressed with this song, which really captures what I think many people feel.  My problem with the single is, unfortunately, Rich’s vocal performance, which to my ears signally lacks the anger of the lyric.  It ends up feeling unconvincing.  I rather wish he had passed it to someone else to sing, rather than using it to springboard his solo career.

So I was looking around my record collection for older songs where the song and performance combine better on the same theme.  It is arguably the case that period provided the crucible which produced country music as a distinct genre – after the first flowering of recordings of hillbilly, blues, gospel and folk music in the 1920s.  Songs from that period and subsequent periods still strike a chord today.

After thinking about this for a while, I’ve come up with the following short list of less familiar songs on the subject.  I’ve tried to avoid picking the obvious songs, with a couple of exceptions, and also songs about longterm rural poverty, which although an  important part of country music’s heritage, weren’t quite what I was looking for this time.

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Album Review: The Dixons – ‘Still Your Fool’

The Dixons
Still Your Fool (Cow Island)dixons

New York City isn’t a place usually associated with burgeoning country acts, particularly hardcore honky-tonk bands, but The Dixons have proven that good country music isn’t tied to geography. Formed in 2005 and based in Brooklyn, The Dixons cite Buck Owens and Wynn Stewart among their chief influences, and indeed that classic Bakersfield sound is immediately evident from the first pick of the Telecaster guitar and wail of the steel guitar, which happily, is featured prominently and not as an afterthought as is the case with so many releases out of Nashville these days.

Still Your Fool, the group’s debut recording, was released last October on the independent Cow Island label. It features eight original tunes and three covers of vintage country tunes –“Just Say You’ll Be Mine”,” Thanks a Lot”, and” I’ve Got a New Heartache”. The first was originally released by a rather obscure rockabilly band called Eric Kinsey & The Tip-Top Daddies, while the remaining two are classics whose versions by Ernest Tubb and Ricky Skaggs are remembered fondly by most country fans. While I’m not familiar with the original version of “Just Say You’ll Be Mine”, The Dixons’ version of ”I’ve Got a New Heartache” is a well done interpretation that is faithful to Skaggs’ version. On “Thanks a Lot” I found myself wishing they’d pick up the pace a little, as the tempo is somewhat slower than the Ernest Tubb version.

The original tunes all have a vintage feel and fit in well with the covers. The album opens with “Please Don’t Stop Lovin’ Me”, which is an original song and not a cover of the Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton classic. “Come and Get It” sounds like something that Dwight Yoakam would have recorded early in his career, while the title track is reminiscent of something that old Buck himself would have attacked with relish.

I have only one complaint about this album, and that is at just under 30 minutes’ playing time, it is way too short. In a perfect world, this album would get picked up and re-released by a larger label so it would get the attention it deserves. I hope it at least sells well enough that a follow-up album can be released before too long. In an age where people think that Rascal Flatts is the typical country band, The Dixons are a refreshing change of pace. If you’re a fan of Amber Digby or Miss Leslie and Her Juke-Jointers, The Dixons are well worth checking out.

Special thanks to Brady at The 9513 for telling me about this band.

Grade: A+

Visit The Dixons’ MySpace page

Purchase the album from Amazon or iTunes.