My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Chely Wright

Album Review: Lisa McHugh – ‘#country’

Lisa McHugh’s most recent album was released just about a year ago. While its predecessors were heavily reliant on cover versions of other artists’ hits, none of the tracks on #country are originals. While that in itself does not concern me, the 14-track collection does lack focus and could have benefited from a little pruning. I think this is definitely a case of “less is more” and the omission of a few tracks could have resulted in an outstanding album instead of just a very good one.

Let’s start with what does work: Many of the songs will be familiar to country fans on this side of the Atlantic; McHugh covers a variety of artists that have had success in North America. Her versions of The Wilkersons’ “26 Cents” and Sweethearts of the Rodeo’s “Satisfy You” rival the originals, and she turns in a stunning version of The Pistol Annie’s “I Hope You’re The End of My Story”. She handles uptempo material like Jann Browne’s “Who’s Gonna Be Your Next Love” as adeptly as she does ballads like Joey + Rory’s “To Say Goodbye”. She also turns in a reverent treatment of Loretta Lynn’s first Top 10 hit “Success”. Less familiar to most listeners are “Play Me the Waltz of the Angels”, which has been recorded many times — as far as I can tell the original version was by Buck Owens. This is my favorite track, followed by “Peggy Gordon”, an old folk song of Canadian origin, which is given a Celtic arrangement and sung as a duet with Malachi Cush, a folk singer from Northern Ireland. Lisa’s voice has been compared many times to Dolly Parton; on this particular track there are definite traces of Alison Krauss.

Not working as well are “He’s a Good Ole Boy”, which was Chely Wright’s debut single from 1994. I’ve always liked this song, which can best be described as Loretta Lynn with a twist — the protagonist confronts her romantic rival but instead of warning her to stay away, she is more than happy to unload her ne-er-do-well lover:

To steal him is your number one ambition
But sister, here’s one safe that you don’t have to crack
I’ll hand him over under one condition:
A deal’s a deal and you can’t give him back.

I’ve always liked this song and felt it deserved more attention that it received – and I really wanted to like McHugh’s version, but her delivery lacks the passion that Chely Wright brought to it. Her versions of Crystal Gayle’s “Why Have You Left the One You Left Me For” and Alabama’s “High Cotton” work a little better, but she doesn’t bring anything new to either of these songs. I would have omitted all of them from the album — and that goes double for the album’s biggest misstep “Stuck Like Glue”. The organic Celtic arrangement is not nearly as obnoxious as the Sugarland original but this is a bad song no matter who sings it.

McHugh is an extremely talented vocalist and this is a solid effort — with only one truly terrible song (“Stuck Like Glue”), but one gets the sense that McHugh is still struggling to find her artistic direction. She seems willing to record anything and everything. I’d like to hear more “Peggy Gordons” and “Play Me The Waltz of the Angels” and fewer “Stuck Like Glues” in the future. Still the album is worth downloading — just be sure to skip over “Stuck Like Glue”.

Grade: B+

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Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘A Few Questions’

41TBJpIpiKLBy 2003, Clay Walker’s popularity with country radio was on the wane. A Few Questions, his first and only album for RCA was somewhat successful in helping him reversing the trend, with the first two of the album’s three singles reaching the #9 — his first entries in the Top 10 since 2000’s The Chain of Love.

Produced by Walker with Jimmy Ritchey, A Few Questions has a slicker sound than Clay’s earlier work, reflecting country music’s overall trend towards more pop-oriented material. The title track was the album’s first single and despite its rather uninspired-sounding title, it is a very nice ballad in which the narrator struggles with questions the world’s injustices. I was less impressed by the R&B-tinged “I Can’t Sleep”, which Clay co-wrote with Chely Wright. I preferred the more traditional third release “Jesus Was a Country Boy”, a Walker co-write with Rivers Rutherford. Radio disagreed, as it only reached #31 on the charts.

The album cuts are, for the most part, disappointing. The fiddle-led “This Is What Matters” is hands down the album’s best song, but most of the others are too slick for my liking — the funky, horn-laden “When She’s Good She’s Good”, the rock-tinged “Countrified” and “I’m In The Mood For You”, and the poppy “Sweet Sun Angel”, just to name a few examples. “I Don’t Want To Know” isn’t bad, but it strays too far into pop power ballad territory.

All in all, this is a rather forgettable album that really isn’t worth bothering with, aside from three or four tracks. It is, however, available at budget prices, which may make it worth investigating for some fans.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Dolly Parton & Friends – ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’

Classic Rewind: Chely Wright – ‘Shut Up And Drive’

You didn’t have a good time: songs about struggling with alcohol

The recent unfortunate news of Randy Travis’s apparently alcohol-fuelled decline has prompted me to bring together these songs about people struggling to give up alcohol.

Randy’s own recording of ‘You Didn’t Have A Good Time’ from his last studio album, 2008’s Around The Bend, now seems heartbreakingly prescient – or an early warning to himself of a problem that he was, one assumes, aware of. The song starts from the standpoint that the first step in tackling the problem is acknowledging its existence:

I bet you don’t remember
Kneeling in that bathroom stall
Praying for salvation
And cursing alcohol
Then went right back to drinking
Like everything was fine
Let’s be honest with each other
You didn’t have a good time

So take a good hard look in the mirror
And drink that image down
I’m truth that you can’t run from
I’m the conscience you can’t drown
And the happiness you want so bad
You ain’t gonna find
Until you start believing
You didn’t have a good time

When you woke up this morning
I guess you just assumed
That you got something out of
The empty bottles in this room
There ain’t an angel that can save you
When you’re listening to the wine
And the demons they won’t tell you
You didn’t have a good time

Trace Adkins ‘Sometimes A Man Takes A Drink’ offers an equally somber warning of the gradual fall from casual social drinking into the prison of addiction, with its melancholy warning, “sometimes a drink takes the man”. (Co-writer Larry Cordle has also recorded a superb version of the song, but Trace’s magnificent vocal edges his cut ahead.)

The same theme appears in George Jones’s bitingly honest ‘A Drunk Can’t Be A Man’, from his 1976 album Alone Again, when he was still drinking heavily himself. In this third person story, George sings of a man whose life is utterly miserable thanks to his drinking but “seems proud to have the devil for his guide”.

Sometimes it seems like a miracle that Jones is still alive in his 80s, given his chequered history with alcohol. This history has been frequently acknowledged in his choice of songs like ‘Wine (You’ve Used Me Long Enough)’, the agonized ‘Wean Me’, ‘If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)‘, I’ve Aged Twenty Years In Five’,  ‘Ol’ George Stopped Drinking Today’, and the rueful admission of ‘Wine Colored Roses’. In 1999 it was also the subject of his last solo top 30 hit ‘Choices’, a bleak Billy Yates song about the lifelong effect of bad decisions and putting drinking above those who loved him.

Jones following a 1978 DUI arrest.

One of my uncles was (and I would say he still is) an alcoholic, and while struggling with his problem in his 20s he spent some time living with his older married half-brother (my parents, before I was born). I’ve left out a whole range of songs about the impact of an alcoholic relative on his or her spouse and family, but the role of a loved one in supporting someone through the hard times is also important, and dealt with in a number of country songs. One of my favorites is ‘I’m Trying’, recorded both by Diamond Rio in duet with Chely Wright, and more recently solo by Martina McBride, which movingly shows the middle of the struggle, with a loved one trying to support the drinker.

Someone who can’t admit their problem to their loved ones is clearly not in good shape to turn the corner. Now-disbanded trio Trick Pony were best known for main lead singer Heidi Newfield, but one of their best songs (‘The Devil And Me’), sung by one of her male bandmates, dealt with the struggles of an alcoholic, shamefacedly hiding his used bottles from his wife and children, and confessing,

I’ve battled with the bottle all alone for years

Bleak though the basic situation is, he still hopes things can turn around, affirming in the last verse and chorus:

I’m hoping for a miracle
I know that I can change
No, I’m not giving up
I know there’ll come a day

When I’m not too tired to fight it
Or too ashamed to pray
And I know the Lord won’t be bored
With the promises I’ve made
I won’t live here with my secret
Where no one else can see
No, I won’t keep it
Between the devil and me

Sometimes it takes a catastrophic incident to prompt a change of heart. 80s star T. Graham Brown has recorded a moving plea to God from a man who has reached rock bottom for help to turn the ‘Wine Into Water’. In the brilliant Leslie Satcher song ‘From Your Knees’ (recorded by Matt King  (with Patty Loveless on harmony), later by John Conlee, and ironically, also by Randy Travis on Around The Bend), a wife tired of her man’s “cheating and drinking” finally leaves after 17 years, forcing him to face the truth:

Right then and there in an old sinner’s prayer
He told things he’d kept in the dark
There was no use in lying
Cause the man who was listening
Could see every room in his heart

Sometimes a man can change on his own
But sometimes I tell you it takes

Empty closets and empty drawers
And a tearful confession on the kitchen floor
And burning memories in the fireplace
He had waited too late to say he was wrong

Brother, you would not believe
What you can see from your knees

Another song from his own repertoire Travis might be advised to pay attention to, now he seems to have reached his own rock bottom point.

Before he discovered the beach, Kenny Chesney recorded some strong material, and one of the best was the earnest ‘That’s Why I’m Here’, a #2 hit in 1998. A mature reflection on the damage done to a life “when you lose control”, this seems to have a happy ending as the protagonist has learned his lesson and started attending AA meetings.

However, some damage cannot be undone, as we see from a couple of songs dealing with the effects of addiction to drugs rather than alchol. The video for Jeff Bates’ emotional ‘One Second Chance’ ties it in with his own former drug problem, while Jamey Johnson’s stunning ‘High Cost Of Living’ is one of the finest songs of its kind as it portrays someone whose addiction led to throwing away everything good in his life. Billy Yates’ minor hit ‘Flowers’ (subsequently covered by Chris Young) deals with the literally sobering aftermath of a drunk driving incident in which the protagonist killed his wife or girlfriend; change comes too late. Gravel-voiced singer-songwriter Bobby Pinson included several compelling songs referring to the drunk-driving death of a high school friend on his underrated album Man Like Me ( ‘Don’t Ask Me How I Know’, ‘A Man Like Me’ and ‘I Thought That’s Who I Was’), the culminating effect of which sounds autobiographical. In ‘One More Believer’ on the same album he looks back to a sordid past passing out drunk before finding salvation through the love of a good woman.

Joe Nichols, another star who has struggled with substance abuse in real life, chose to record ‘An Old Friend of Mine’, a moving low key confessional of the day a man gives up drinking:

I never thought I’d be strong enough to leave it all behind
But today I said goodbye to an old friend of mine…
And I heard freedom ring when that bottle hit the floor
And I just walked away not needing anymore

Yet it’s still a struggle to maintain sobriety after making that commitment. My uncle stopped drinking over 40 years ago, but still attends AA meetings regularly and can’t touch a single drop of alcohol in case it sets off the cravings again. George Jones has had the odd lapse in recent years, and it’s well documented that Randy Travis had issues with drinking among other wild behaviour as a teenager before straightening up, so his current woes may be a resurgence of a longstanding underlying problem.

Collin Raye’s hit ‘Little Rock’ shows an alcoholic trying hard to make a fresh start and making a good beginning, but only 19 days into his sobriety there’s clearly a long way to go (although his record is 10 days and counting ahead of the protagonist of George Strait’s recent single ‘Drinkin’ Man’. Co-written with Dean Dillon who has had his own issues with alcohol in the past, this searing portrait of a man whose problems go back to his early teens unfortunately proved to be a bit too close to reality for today’s country radio and became the lowest charting single of Strait’s career.  It remains one of the best singles of 2012.

Texan Jason Boland’s ‘Bottle By My Bed’, looking back on the time when “my life was as empty as the bottle by my bed,” also talks about all the false starts, when “each time was the last time, that’s what I always said”, but has the protagonist now on safer ground.

Finally, if anyone reading this thinks they have a problem: please get help. For information and resources, visit the AA.org and Al Anon websites for help for you and/or your loved ones.

Favorite country songs of the 1970s: Part 3

The 1970s were not my favorite decade for country music but it was the decade in which I did my largest amount of listening to country radio, having the good fortune to have such country giants as WSUN AM- 620 in St. Petersburg, FL, WHOO AM-1090 in Orlando and WCMS AM-1050 in Norfolk, VA for my listening pleasure, plus I could tune in WSM AM – 650 in Nashville at night. I did a lot of shift-work during this decade so my radio was on constantly.

    

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1970s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records

Silver Wings” – Jim & Jon Hager (1970)

Since Hag issued the song as a B side (“Workin’ Man Blues” was the A side), this version is the only charting version of Hag’s classic. The Hager Twins do a nice job with the song, although it only reached #59 on the charts . Fans of Hee Haw will remember this duo well.

I Can’t Be Myself” – Merle Haggard (1970)

My all-time favorite Merle Haggard recording, this song went to #1 on Cashbox. Frankly, picking an all-time favorite Hag song is a hopeless proposition as he is the most consistently great artist of all time. Hag wrote about fifty #1 songs, the most of any songwriter. The flip side of this record “Sidewalks of Chicago” also received a lot of airplay and likely would be in my top ten favorite Haggard recordings.   Read more of this post

Album Review: Diamond Rio – ‘One More Day’

Diamond Rio’s sixth studio album was released nearly three full years after Unbelievable had dropped at retail stores. To bridge the gap between the projects, the lead single “Stuff” was released in 2000. Admittedly not one of their better efforts, “Stuff” was planned to be the title track of the band’s forthcoming album. Stalling at #36 on the charts, its relative failure came on the heels of another under-performing single, 1999’s “I Know How The River Feels” which topped out at #33. As a result, the planned album was retooled somewhat, which possibly explains the lengthy period between albums.

The band’s next radio effort, “One More Day” did much better. Released in October 2000, it gained in popularity following the February 2001 death of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, and eventually reached #1. Later that year, the wistful, bittersweet tune which is my all-time favorite Diamond Rio song, enjoyed a resurgence in popularity following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It was the band’s first #1 since 1997’s “How Your Love Makes Me Feel”, and as a result of its success, “One More Day” supplanted “Stuff” as the title track of the new album.

One More Day was finally released in June 2001. The band shared production duties with Mike Clute, as they had done for their past few albums. The result was a somewhat more contemporary song selection, as well as more prominent harmony vocals, which are used to great effect on “The Love Of A Woman” and the excellent bluegrass-flavored “Hearts Against The Wind”. The latter is my favorite cut on the album after the title track. Also noteworthy is “I’m Trying”, (not to be confused with the Trace Adkins song of the same title), on which the guys are joined by Chely Wright.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album is mostly generic and forgettable. The Skip Ewing and Bob DiPiero-penned “You Make Me Feel” is particularly disappointing. Skip Ewing is one of my favorite songwriters but this certainly qualifies as one of his poorer efforts. “Sweet Summer”, which was the follow-up single to “One More Day” is badly marred by an introduction featuring a young child singing an off-key rendition of “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning” from the musical Oklahoma!, which was thankfully omitted from the radio edit.

The success of the title track notwithstanding, One More Day marks the beginning of Diamond Rio’s commercial decline. “Sweet Summer” failed to capitalize on the title track’s success, peaking at #18, while the energetic but fluffy “That’s Just That” became the first Diamond Rio single to fail to crack the Top 40, leveling off at #42. Though the band would go on to enjoy two more #1s from their next album, they would never again crack the Top 10 after that. One More Day did reach #5 on the album chart, making it Diamond Rio’s highest charting entry on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart up to that time. It failed to reach platinum-level sales, but it did earn gold certification, as both IV and Unbelievable had done. Though it is a somewhat uneven collection, it is worth buying, if only for the track “I’m Trying” which is not available for individual download.

Grade: B

Inexpensive copies can be purchased from Amazon.

J.R. Journey’s Top 10 Albums of 2010

So many of my perennial favorites released new material this year that no room was left on the top 10 for new faces.  It wouldn’t have been hard to double this list as I bought twice as much music as last year, and had even more than that sent to me, and I found myself enjoying more and more of it as the months went on.  This always makes listing your favorites in order a task to undertake.  So this year, I  simply ranked my albums list according to their plays on my iPod and the 2 media players on my computers.  So here then, are my favorite and my most-played albums of 2010.

10. Alan Jackson – Freight Train

The ever-dependable Jackson released one of the best sets of music Nashville offered this year. Too bad more of these songs weren’t released to radio since this is likely the best Alan Jackson album most people will never hear.  If you haven’t yet, listen to ‘Tail Lights Blue’, ‘Till The End’, and the title track.

9. Sarah Buxton – Sarah Buxton

Four years in the making, Sarah Buxton’s first full-length album was finally released earlier this year, though 6 of the songs were released digitally in 2007. In addition to Buxton’s original take on the Keith Urban hit ‘Stupid Boy’, this disc features the raspy-voiced singer-songwriter’s four top 40 radio hits, and will likely continue to be mined for future hits by more A-listers.

8. Willie Nelson – Country Music

Nelson’s sedate take on these country standards and other songs from the Great American Songbook, including more than one hymn, are each one sublime.  My personal favorites are ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama’, ‘You Done Me Wrong’, and an almost-hushed take on ‘Satisfied Mind’.

7. Reba – All The Women I Am

Aside from that ghastly first single, Reba’s newest album is either half-full of good songs or half-empty, depending on how you look at it . Either way, the few tracks that do hit home pack a mighty punch. ‘The Day She Got Divorced’ stands as McEntire’s finest recording in years, while the weeping ‘Cry’ and the horn-infused title track remind us there’s still a gifted vocalist behind all that makeup and leather.

6. Coal Miner’s Daughter: Tribute to Loretta Lynn

Tribute albums? Meh. That’s usually my reaction too. But very rarely does a multi-artist collection offer so many one-time gems. (Think: Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles.) The usual suspects are all here – Reba’s awesome slice of western swing with ‘If You’re Not Gone Too Long’ is flawless – while even the likely Faith Hill and the unlikely Kid Rock step up to competence with Loretta Lynn’s  material. Added kudos for pairing Lynn with Miranda Lambert for the title track.

5. Jamey Johnson – The Guitar Song

Jamey Johnson’s epic follow up to his career-making That Lonesome Song doesn’t pack the knockout punch of that first record. Instead, these 25 songs deliver their message with subtle dark overtones, and the stories told here are the kind you just can’t make up. Check out ‘Lonely At The Top’, ‘Can’t Cash My Checks’, and ‘Playin’ The Part’.

4. Gary Allan – Get Off On The Pain

Allan’s eighth album is another installment of the gritty, pathos-infused West Coast country that only Gary Allan is doing. These songs find a man addressing the harsher realities of everyday life; lyrics driven all the way home with Allan’s competent vocal work throughout. Favorites include ‘Kiss Me When I’m Down’, ‘Along The Way’, and ‘No Regrets’.

3. Marty Stuart – Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions

Stuart’s throwback to country’s first golden era is highlighted mostly by warm musicianship, which features up heaping dollops of fiddle and steel while keeping that signature Bakersfield-meets Mississippi sound that made Stuart’s early recordings so engaging. Choice cuts include the high-octane ‘Bridge Washed Out’ and ‘I Run To You’ with Connie Smith.

2. Chely Wright – Lifted Off The Ground

Lifted off the Ground finds Chely Wright ably making the leap to a mature, serious, and literate artist in the vein of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Rosanne Cash, with a brilliant blend of country and folk with tinges of rock and pop, aided in part by Rodney Crowell, who urged Wright to pursue her inner songwriter, and also produced the set.

1. Zac Brown Band – You Get What You Give

It’s been a fairly slow build for me, but the Zac Brown Band have firmly planted themselves as one of my favorite mainstream country acts today. I’m not sure why their sometimes warm and fuzzy, sometimes humorous, always charming kind of country took two albums and half a dozen singles for me to get them, but I think I finally do. These guys are the opposite of what so many are trying to do in Nashville right now: these are legitimate southern rock stars recording actual country music (as opposed to the imposters with their ‘I’m country’ lyrics and hard-rocking guitars). Here’s a band that can out-island Kenny Chesney – ‘Settle Me Down’, ‘Let It Go’, out-country Strait – ‘Cold Hearted’, and probably out-Hollywood Tim McGraw if they chose to, but at the moment they’re making music. Substantial, memorable music full of hooks and melodies.  I really like these guys.

J.R. Journey’s Top 10 Singles and Tracks of 2010

Country radio must be getting better.  My favorites list this year include more actual radio hits than ever before.  Of the ten songs below, two were #1 hits, five more (including my top pick) hit the country top 40.  Still, two more songs were released as radio singles and enjoyed very little success, and yet another is just an album cut that was never sent to radio.  So there’s room for much more improvement. Read on to find out why I picked them as the best of the year, and click on the links to read my own single reviews when available.

10. Jewel – ‘Satisfied – I had been consistently unimpressed with Jewel’s country offerings until ‘Satisfied’ hit the airwaves. The singer uses her big, emotive voice to full effect in this power ballad that centers on the theme of letting your love show. It didn’t storm up the country charts, but it made me finally sit up and welcome the Alaskan farm girl to the country fold.

9. Emily West feat. Keith Urban – ‘Blue Sky’ – Here, West delivers a stunning vocal with Keith Urban providing a gentle harmony, on this track that finds the narrator rebuffing the swinging door policy this guy has set up for himself. This kind of smart, elegant ballad is the kind of song that brought me to country music

8. Miranda Lambert – ‘House That Built Me’ – Arguably, the biggest country hit of the year – and certainly it will be the best-remembered when most everything else are just numbers in record books – the magnum opus of Lambert’s Revolution album, and her career so far, was a major hit because it resonated so well with so many people. Universal emotions, like sentimental attachment to the house where you grew up, never fail when they’re delivered this brilliantly.

7. Zac Brown Band – ‘Highway 20 Ride’ – The first time I heard this song, I thought it would fit neatly with Alan Jackson’s own music-industry/life-on-the-road songs. As with Jackson’s many like-cuts (‘Job Description’, ‘To Do What I Do’, ‘Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow’), ‘Ride’ features a tight lyrical structure, smooth melody, heartstring emotions, and a fitting vocal from Brown.

6. Keith Urban – ‘Til Summer Comes Around’ – Not since ‘You’ll Think Of Me’ hit in 2004 has Keith Urban impressed upon me so much with a single release. In this reminiscent tale of a Summer fling, the singer is paying a Wintertime visit to the carnival where his love affair started. Full of imagery and melancholy, it maintains the feel of the best of Urban’s moody ballads.

5. Sugarland – ‘Little Miss’ – Like most everybody else, I was disappointed with the bulk of Sugarland’s The Incredible Machine. But, one track stands out as a throwback to the sound they offered just 2 short years ago. ‘Little Miss’ features the acoustic, harmony-driven sound that had become their staple. In this, the duo try their best to appeal to everywoman, and with a laundry list of ‘little miss this and that’, I don’t think they could have left many out.

4. Trace Adkins – ‘This Ain’t No Love Song’ – This is a great song with a fresh idea and nothing overbearing or in-your-face about the production. With it, Trace Adkins may have struck the perfect balance between his up-tempo ditties and the memorable ballads that dot his catalog.

3. Chely Wright – ‘Notes To The Coroner’ – I could have chosen at least 4 tracks from Chely Wright’s Lifted Off The Ground to list among my favorites of the year. The disc has certainly gotten more mileage than any other album in my player this year. But it was this one clever, biting goodbye from a lady befelled by her own heartbreak that stands out as the centerpiece of a five-star album.

2. Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘I Put My Ring Back On’ – It’s always great to get new music from someone like Mary Chapin Carpenter. It’s even better when she returns to the infectious melodies of her signature 90s sound. Making up after a fight makes up the basis for this track, and with its rocking guitars and rolling drums, it recalls Carpenter at her own rocking best vocally.

1. Sunny Sweeney – ‘From A Table Away’ – One of my favorite new artists, Sunny Sweeney failed to make much more than a ripple on the mainstream circuit with her first Big Machine album, the excellent, ultra-traditional Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame. Her first single for an upcoming sophomore release has fared much better, fueled mostly by a perfect marriage of modern Nashville and Sweeney’s undeniable Texas twang. Here, she plays the other woman who spies her love interest in a romantic situation with his wife. He has of course made all kinds of promises to her about their future together.  The scene brings home that he has no intention of leaving, and it’s at that moment she realizes she’s been his fool. This is the stuff great country music is made of.

Revisiting this year’s headlines

2010 began on a slow news beat, as the top story in January was the buzz surround the Grammy’s at the end of the month.  While Taylor Swift continued to define the term superstar, several more months passed before the month of May brought a bevy of headline-grabbing stories from Music City. First was Chely Wright’s announcement in People magazine that she was, in fact, a lesbian. This was followed shortly by Wright’s first album of new material in 5 years, the frank and folksy Lifted Off The Ground. Also that same week, Nashville was hit with record rainfall that flooded the city’s Cumberland River and devastated the downtown area, as well as temporarily closing the doors at Opryland.  We also saw Lady Antebellum emerge as a retail powerhouse this year, while we said tearful goodbyes to greats like Carl Smith, Hank Cochran, and Jimmy Dean.

Finally, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert announced their engagement and emerged by year’s end as the newly crowned power couple of country music.  Carrie Underwood tied the knot, while both Billy Ray Cyrus and Randy Travis looked to untie their own. These are just a handful of the events that make up the timeline for 2010 in country music.

But what about the music these media darlings gave us this year? Like everybody else, we’ll be telling your our respective favorites of the year in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can head over to Country Universe to discuss your own favorite songs and albums from this year. Since CU has the corner on the music discussion, we’d like to invite you to share your favorite headline from the past year.

What stories will you remember five or ten years from now? What one event do you think will define 2010 in country music for the history books?

Christmas Rewind: Chely Wright – ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’

May Music Giveaway

I’ve been consuming music for as long as I can remember now. Being a huge music fan, I’ve always enjoyed sharing my finds with my friends, sometimes forcing what I thought was good music on them. More often than not, at least some of it took, and I’ve converted more than a few hard-core rock, R&B, techno, and even rap fans into listeners of country music. It’s like that when you find something you really like: you want to spread it around. Two of my favorite albums of the year so far were released in the last couple weeks, the latest indie releases from one-time country hitmakers Mary Chapin Carpenter and Chely Wright, respectively. Click on the links to read my reviews of both discs. And keep reading for your chance to win a copy of both albums.

We have 3 copies of Chely Wright’s latest, Lifted Off the Ground to give away plus 2 copies of The Age of Miracles, the new album by Mary Chapin Carpenter to spread around. There will be 3 winners: 2 will each get a copy of both albums with a third winning only the Chely Wright release.

To enter to win, leave a comment telling who your favorite mainstream-to-indie artist is and why. You can choose someone like Carpenter and Wright, who both scored country hits before switching paths and leaving radio success behind, or someone who might have tried their hand at mainstream success and moved on to a different sound before commercial success found them. Three winners will be chosen at random and comments must be submitted before 11:59 PM on May 31, 2010.

And the winners are:

For a copy of both the Mary Chapin Carpenter and Chely Wright releases: Jamie and Sharon

For the Chely Wright release only: Judith Henkin

Congratulations to you all. We’ll be in touch shortly via email to get your contact information.

Abbreviated Album Review: Chely Wright – ‘Lifted Off The Ground’

To kick off a new feature at My Kind of Country, here’s an abbreviated album review of Chely Wright’s new album, Lifted Off the Ground. Chely. The recently-outed country star who scored hits a decade ago with songs like ‘Shut Up and Drive’ and ‘Single White Female’, has a new album out on the Vanguard label. If you’d like to read a complete review of Lifted Off the Ground, check out Blake Boldt’s excellent synopsis at The 9513. Here are my thought’s on the singer’s new release:

With her new album – which I considered mostly part of a publicity stunt to announce her sexuality – I didn’t expect as much I got from Chely Wright.  What I found after listening was a brilliant blend of country and folk with tinges of rock and pop, aided in part by Rodney Crowell’s encouragement to pursue the songwriter within.  Lifted off the Ground finds the singer ably making the leap to a mature, serious, and literate artist in the vein of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Rosanne Cash, a path I didn’t think the ‘Shut Up and Drive’ singer could venture down so flawlessly.

Here a few choice tracks from the album:

‘Broken’ is a mid-tempo track with a smooth melody.  The basis has the narrator hoping to opt another heart to open up open while offering a diary on her own heartaches.

‘Like Me’ finds the singer directly addressing the issue of her sexuality.  But first, it’s a song about how much a friend know’s about the other.  Then it asks the question: ‘Who’s gonna end up holding your hand?, A beautiful woman or a tall handsome man, There’s no doubt they’ll love you, but it’s yet to be seen’.

‘Damn Liar’  makes Miranda Lambert’s ‘White Liar’, and most every other female get-back-at-him song sound tame compared to this.  It’s a great song with a helluva catchy melody.  ‘Damn Liar’ is an angrywoman song, and there’s not enough of those in country music.  Chely is spitting anger with her vocals on this one.  The final line even finds her proclaiming ‘you fuckin’ liar’, making it not appropriate for squeamish ears.

‘Object of Your Rejection’ provides another drawing melody again with insightful lyrics, and again with the intent of vengeance.  Anger seems to be a recurring theme of the album.  This time, it finds the bitter heart-broken lover threatening to be the voice of dissent for all-time, akin to Ronnie Milsap’s ‘There’s No Gettin’ Over Me’, but with more tangible consequences.

Lifted Off the Ground, provides a glimpse into a meaningful and poised artist with something to say and much to unload.  Chely Wright has found her muse.

Grade: A

You can purchase Lifted Off the Ground at amazon.

The 25 best albums of the decade

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been compiling a list of our favorite albums of the past decade. We each prepared a list of our 10 favorites, and then we attempted to trim the combined list down to 25 and rank them. There was surprisingly little overlap, and I think it’s safe to say that the final list is quite different from what any of us would have come up with individually. So, without further ado, here are the 25 best albums of the decade, as we see it:

25. Elizabeth Cook — Hey Y’all (Warner Bros, 2002)

Elizabeth Cook was too country for country even in 2002 with her engaging major-label debut. My favourite track is ‘You Move Too Fast’, followed by the charming ‘Everyday Sunshine’, the comparison of her career to that of ‘Dolly’, the sweet ‘Mama, You Wanted To Be A Singer Too’, the singalong about the ‘Stupid Things’ love will make you do, and the irrepressibly optimistic ‘God’s Got A Plan’. — Occasional Hope

24. Wynonna — Her Story: Scenes From a Lifetime (Mercury/Curb, 2005)

Wynonna took an autobiographical approach to her 2005 tour, and the show was filmed and recorded for a live DVD/CD combo set. Beginning with her musical journey as one half of The Judds, Wynonna affectionately recalls her days on the road with her Mom, before moving on to the solo side of her music career, revisiting classic Judds hits like ‘Girls Night Out’ and ‘Love Can Build a Bridge’. The banter in between the songs is reason enough to own the set, but Wynonna’s live take on her own songs like ‘That Was Yesterday’, ‘I Want To Know What love Is’, and ‘Is It Over Yet’ are flawless. — J.R.

23. Bobby Pinson — Man Like Me (RCA, 2005)

This was the richest debut album of the decade, although few record buyers agreed, and singer-songwriter Bobby soon lost his deal with RCA. His gravelly voice had genuine character and emotional depth; perhaps it was too much of an acquired taste for radio beyond one minor hit single. Great overlooked tracks include the reflective title track, showing how hard experiences made the man, the testimony of a sinner saved by a woman’s love in ‘One More Believer’, ‘Ford Fairlane’, perhaps my favorite song of all time about a car, and the wry ‘Started A Band’ about struggling to make it as a musician. — Occasional Hope

22. Brad Paisley — Time Well Wasted (Arista, 2005)

After three promising but somewhat uneven albums, things finally came together with Paisley’s fourth release. This was the first album he released that I felt compelled to buy. It opens with the obligatory novelty tune (“Alcohol”) but it also contains one of the strongest entries in his catalog to date, “When I Get Where I’m Going” which features beautiful harmony vocals by Dolly Parton. — Razor X

21. Sugarland — Love On The Inside (Mercury, 2007)

Masterpiece. That’s the best word I can find to decribe this album. But mere words cannot begin to explain how much I love this album, or how many times I’ve played it in the past 18 months. Jennifer Nettles said it was a set of songs that would play well from ‘Saturday night to Sunday morning’, but I have to disagree. I can’t think of any day of the week, or any time of day this near-perfect set doesn’t play well. With sharp songwriting set among a myriad of subjects, while Nettles wraps her distinctive pipes around the always-catchy lyrics, Love On The Inside is still the best studio album I’ve heard in my years listening to country music, with songs like ‘Genevieve’, ‘Very Last Country Song’, and ‘Fall Into Me’ all getting hundreds of spins in my library. I’ve liked all the singles sent to radio too. — J.R.

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Week ending 9/12/09: #1 singles this week in country music history

keith_whitely11949: Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me — Wayne Raney  (King)

1959: The Three Bells — The Browns (RCA)

1969: A Boy Named Sue — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1979: You’re My Jamaica — Charley Pride (RCA)

1989: I Wonder Do You Think Of Me — Keith Whitley (RCA)

1999: Single White Female — Chely Wright (MCA)

2009: Big Green Tractor — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Keith Whitley the Songwriter

In addition to being an exceptional vocalist, Keith Whitley was also a very accomplished songwriter. He didn’t record very many of his own songs, but a handful of them went on to become hits for other people. Here’s a sample of some of the songs he wrote or co-wrote:

Looking For The Stone — Tim & Mollie O’Brien

I Love You Enough To Let You Go — Chely Wright

It’s All Coming Back To Me Now — Keith Whitley

Cryin’ time

Martina McBrideI’ve been feeling quite down for these last few weeks, finding it difficult to both concentrate and write anything for the blog. What’s interesting about these “down times” is that I fall into a predictable pattern when it comes to my music. I always go for certain songs, or rather, certain types of songs. These songs work like therapy.

According to Martina McBride, “Life is a roller-coaster ride”, and while I’m descending (or sometimes plunging) into the depths of the darker side of life, my music tends to be insanely sunny. When I’m riding along the rails at rock-bottom depths, my listening habits usually takes a turn to the far more depressing depths of the musical pool, with songs like Dolly Parton’s “Not For Me” and Loretta’s “Miss Being Mrs.” in constant rotation. As the trolley starts its uphill climb once more, the mood of my music shifts to more of a mildly positive mood.  Faith Hill’s “A Room In My Heart” and Chely Wright’s “Deep Down Low” are two favorites of mine.

I think this is very interesting, because my mind seems to be seeking out its own therapy during the hard times.  For instance, I believe I listen to sunny music as I’m about to go into a slight depression as an attempt to counter balance my darkening feelings. Listening to very depressing music is sort of uplifting during the most depressing times, because I find it comforting to know that “there’s someone worse off than me”, however cruel that might seem.

Now, I might be over-analyzing (and coming across as very bipolar), but these habits seem pretty natural to me, and I do believe that music helps me through sad times. That’s why I sometimes pity those who don’t listen to music much.

What are some of your musical habits when feeling “down”?

Listen to “Not For Me”, “Deep Down Low”, “Sunny Day”, and “Down”.

Emotional truth: sentiment and sentimentality in country music

Maschera Tragica (Mask of Tragedy)

Maschera Tragica (Mask of Tragedy)

Emotional truth is at the heart of almost all truly great country songs.  There is a very fine line in country music between the true tearjerkers, for which the genre is justly known, and the cloying sentimentality which outsiders sometimes ascribe to the music. Not, I have to admit, always completely unfairly – if the strings are too obvious, the emotion feels forced, and the song just doesn’t work.  But as I said, the line is a fine one, and a song’s impact depends on a number of factors.

Country music does not consist solely of confessional singer-songwriters, and we do not expect every song recorded to be a personal slice of the author’s life – certainly not when it comes to a love song or cheating song. However, when we are aware a song draws on its writer’s experiences, I think we are more disposed to respond to them as “real”.  If a love song is said to be for its writer’s spouse, and the marriage subsequently breaks up (as, for instance, with Vince Gill’s ‘I Still Believe In You’, written for first wife Janis Gill before he left her for another woman), the song may suddenly seem emotionally dishonest in retrospect, purely because the listener has bought into the story behind the song.  In the case of a song specifically designed to elicit an emotional response, this authenticity is all the more important.

There is a line in the Mavericks’ song ‘Children’ which refers to “a life where everything’s real and nothing is true”.  I do not believe a song has to be factually real to convey emotional truth, but it does help to dispel accusations of sentimentality.  An example of this would be Tammy Cochran’s ‘Angels In Waiting’.  This tribute to Tammy’s two brothers, who both died young as a result of cystic fibrosis, would be cloying if the song were an invented one.  It probably wouldn’t even work if it were sung by an unconnected singer, even though it was written from the heart and is a well-constructed song. Here it is almost completely the fact that it is the true story of the person singing it which carries the emotional force of the song.

Another instance is Jimmy Wayne, whose first self-titled album was filled with intensely emotional songs inspired by his childhood. These songs — the hits ‘I Love You This Much’ and ‘Paper Angels’, and other less-known numbers on similar themes — would undoubtedly fall in the emotionally manipulative category if they were not genuinely based on Jimmy’s appalling childhood in foster-care. That lends an emotional truth which is not found in the same singer’s love songs which are forgettable.  American Idol finalist Kellie Pickler is frankly not a very good singer, but her song ‘I Wonder’, about the mother who abandoned her in childhood, has an emotional resonance, which is lacking in her other material, and is genuinely moving — as long as you know the story behind it is true.  I don’t think it stands on its own merits.

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