Music has always been a very personal experience for me. And if that sounds a bit redundant or hokey to you, I cannot apologize. I’ve never been one to wear my heart on my sleeve, but you better believe it doesn’t hang out far from my ear. My current state of mind is usually pretty easy to decipher from the recent songs on my playlists. Yeah, I’m pretty transparent like that. My brain has been wired to seek out melodic poetry to state my feelings. I don’t lock myself in a room and blast the twang from my speakers, even when emotions hit harder than usual. When I begin to feel a little overwhelmed, I like to think I strike a nice medium somewhere in between insane and indifferent. But I guess that’s for the people around me to call. Still, there are times in life when only your favorite songs will understand the way you feel.
With all that in mind, I invite you to join me on this trip to ex-lover-land with these quintessential country songs.
Dolly Parton – Here You Come Again
Dolly’s husband Carl Dean first recognized the potential in her first pop hit, telling her “that song right there is a million seller.” Sure enough, when Dolly released it in 1977, it became her first million-selling single. A somewhat cheesy electric piano intro first grabs your attention, but it’s not long before Parton is pouring one of her strongest vocals ever onto these lyrics that tell of a ex-lover’s effect on her state of mind. ‘All you gotta do is smile that smile, and there go all my defenses‘ she sings, as her mind stays completely aware of the dire situation her heart is putting her in once again. But she doesn’t care, her senses are all full up, and the mind will just have to suffer the consequences of the heart’s decision.
Randy Travis – Diggin’ Up Bones
Even though others started the New Traditionalist revival of the 1980s before him, no one better exemplified the sound than Randy Travis. His debut album Storms of Life is essential listening for any country fan, and personally, I can’t get enough of it. His second #1 single finds him revisiting a failed marriage through pictures, old love letters, the rings, and even a negligee’, all of which he finds while going through the ‘lonely bedroom of our recent broken home‘. Allowing the rhythm section to the front separated this kind of traditional country from its old-school counterparts, and created a template for modern traditionalism that has yet to be reestablished. This was not your father’s country music, but you can both sure enjoy it together, and I dare you not to sing along with those repeating harmonies.
Ronnie Milsap – Back On My Mind Again
I cannot say enough about Ronnie Milsap and his influence on my listening habits. As one of the first out-of-my-generation acts whose catalog I fell headlong into, his smooth crooning and the diversity of his songs gave me my first real footing into the deep well of country’s backlog of superlative artists. This contemporary gem is a hybrid of a country shuffle and Urban Cowboy-era countrypolitan. Following another failed relationship, Milsap sings of recharging his batteries, pulling himself back together, and even starting over with someone new. Yet none of this can keep thoughts of his ex off his mind.
Emmylou Harris – Blue Kentucky Girl
Loretta Lynn also recorded this Johnny Mullins-penned track, but Harris’ has been in my library lately because of our spotlight artist coverage this month. Featuring one of the most memorable choruses in memory, this sweetly demure song simply says ‘I don’t care why you left, just come on home’.
Trisha Yearwood – Woman Walk The Line
Even if it didn’t have a cold opening – those get me every time, I swear – this Emmylou Harris co-write would still have grabbed me immediately. It’s got the kind of immediate one-two punch most ballads only hope to deliver. In the first couple of lines, we’re instantly transported to the barside table of our narrator as she attempts to ‘do some drinking’ and ‘listen to the band’ to forget the man who’s out doing her wrong. But that’s all she’s there to accomplish. Any attempt at picking her up, or even keeping her company, is an exercise in futility. Behind a stone-country arrangement (maybe her most traditional country recording), Yearwood’s masterful vocal breathes new life into this song inspired by Johnny Cash’s signature hit. Bringing Harris along on harmony, Yearwood proves she’s ‘as good as what you’re thinking‘. Better, even.
Patty Loveless – Here I Am
Jesus said “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Patty Loveless said “Don’t do it darlin, don’t you dare look in there … Cause you know I’m right there waiting for you in the bottom of your glass” And while they were probably speaking of different life situations, both speak of the folly in looking back. Playing the part of the all-knowing and all-seeing jilted lover, Patty’s soaring song paints her as the perfect pragmatist, before concluding that pride diminishes with age, oh, and by the way, come back and get me if you want to.
Travis Tritt – Anymore
Power ballads don’t get much more powerful than Travis Tritt’s 1991 mega-hit that also spawned a video trilogy sequence about the life of disabled veteran Mac Singleton and Annie. Chomping at the bit from the beginning, the acoustic guitar leads the verses as Tritt lets his feelings flow out. By the time the big, big chorus begins, he’s resolved that he’s ‘got to take the chance or let it pass by‘. Electric guitars ring and drums bang as Tritt admits ‘I can’t keep pretending I don’t love you anymore‘ in his most passionate vocal.