My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: George W. Bush

Album Review: Dixie Chicks — ‘Home’

It is difficult to assess the merits of this album, partially because of the changes in the reference points by which albums are evaluated and partially because of the firestorm that the Dixie Chicks generated by their future comments while playing a small venue in England.

Many commentators regard this album as the Dixie Chicks masterpiece, and while I am not among them, I do regard this as an excellent album that draws the group closer to a roots sound than their previous major label recordings.

At the time of the album’s release in 2002, the world of country music was in turmoil. Slick pop acts like Shania Twain, Martine Mc Bride and Faith Hill were still near their commercial peak, while the neo-traditionalist had lost steam, slowly being replaced by the vapid bro-country that plagued the genre until recently. Conversely, there was a brief resurgence in bluegrass and pre-bluegrass acoustic string band music fuels by the runaway success of the movie Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?

Symptomatic of the cross purposes to which the fan base and the radio stations worked, radio barely played anything from the movie Oh, Brother Where Art Thou? The Dixie Chicks chose to ignore this divide, releasing an album that in places would have fit into a roots classification, but in other places was something else entirely.

Five songs received airplay from Home:

“Long Time Gone”                                     #2 country / #7 pop

“Landslide”                                                       #2 country / #7 pop / #1 adult contemporary

“Travelin’ Soldier”                                     #1 country / #26 pop

“Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)”     #48 country

“Top of The World”                                     did not chart

“Top of The World” was too long for radio to play it, moreover, it was released after the unfortunate comments about President Bush turned many thoughtful Americans, whether or not supporters of Bush.

This album is mostly covers of material written by others. In that vein, the album opens up with “Long Time Gone”. The song, written by Darrell Scott, was originally recorded by Scott on his 2000 album Real Time and tells the story about a young man who left his family and went to Nashville to become a musician. Eventually, he treks back home and settles down to raise a family. The song’s last verse criticizes contemporary country music as being shallow, and despite the upbeat melody, the song’s lyrics are very pessimistic indeed.

Next up is a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”. There is something terribly appropriate about this cover because the Fleetwood Mac story closely parallels that of the Dixie Chicks in that Fleetwood Mac started out as one thing (a brilliant blues-rock group), changed members and form into a basic pop-rock group, and pretended that the prior version of the group never existed. The song was written by Stevie Nicks, who was not a member of the group’s original lineup,

Bruce Robison’s “Travelin’ Soldier” is probably the best song on the album, a sad song about the correspondence between a soldier and his girlfriend, and his eventual death in combat. The song was first recorded by the writer and later, in altered form by Ty England, but the Dixie Chicks rendition is by far the best version of the song. At the time the group recorded the song Bruce Robinson was the brother-in-law of Emily Robison.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag of covers and originals a bunch of good songs well performed and thoroughly country in sound and instrumentation. Both Martie and Emily are excellent musicians and the supporting cast includes Lloyd Maines on steel guitar and bluegrass wizards Brian Sutton (guitar) Adam Steffey (mandolin), Chris Thile (mandolin solos) plus Emmylou Harris on vocal harmonies. You couldn’t ask for better.

Of the remaining tracks, my favorite is the humorous “White Trash Wedding”. Written by the three members of the group, the song depicts a scenario that has played itself out many times over the years, but does so with humor:

You can’t afford no ring

You can’t afford no ring

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

 

You finally took my hand

You finally took my hand

It took a nip of gin

But you finally took my hand

You can’t afford no ring

You can’t afford no ring

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

 

Mama don’t approve

Mama don’t approve

Daddy says he’s the best in town

And mama don’t approve

You can’t afford no ring

You can’t afford no ring

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

 

Baby’s on its way

Baby’s on its way

Say I do and kiss me quick

‘Cause baby’s on its way

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

There are a few misfires on the album (“Godspeed and “I Believe in Love” are pretty pedestrian and rather uninteresting) but even the misfires are not terrible and the net impression is of an album that contains both serious and amusing material performed with great flair.

A-

Album Review: Brooks & Dunn – ‘Steers & Stripes’

1999’s Tight Rope was a commercial failure by Brooks & Dunn’s standards; it yielded no major radio hits and became the duo’s first studio album not to be certified platinum. Not surprisingly, they made some some changes for their next project, in their attempts to break out of the artistic and commercial rut in which they had found themselves. Mark Wright came on board as co-producer for 2001’s Steers & Stripes, which proved to be one of Brooks & Dunn’s more consistent and satisfying albums. Though it does have its flaws, they are more easily forgiven, thanks to a generous offering of fourteen tracks. Steers & Stripes finds the duo updating their sound, moving away from the beat-driven, barn-burning sound that had been the hallmark of many of their 90s hits, and moving towards more pop-oriented music.

“Ain’t Nothin’ About You”, the first single, was released two months in advance of the album and returned the duo to the top of the Billboard singles chart, becoming their first #1 hit since 1998’s “Husbands and Wives”. It also reached #25 on the Billboard Hot 100, the duo’s best showing ever on that all-genre chart. The patriotic anthem “Only In America”, which opens the album, was chosen as the second single. Released in mid-2001, it predated the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but in their aftermath, it quickly became a rallying cry for a nation struggling to come to terms with what had happened. It reached the #1 spot in Billboard in October of 2001 and was later featured prominently as a theme song for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. In the spirit of bipartisanship, it was also played four years later at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The next single, “The Long Goodbye”, was somewhat of a departure for Brooks & Dunn. Composed by Irish songwriters Paul Brady and Ronan Keating, it had originally appeared on Brady’s 2000 album and was subsequently covered by Keating, whose version became a Top 5 hit in the United Kingdom in 2003. Though wildly successful – providing yet another #1 hit for the duo – Brooks & Dunn’s version is marred by overproduction, a problem that occasionally plagues other tracks on the album, namely “When She’s Gone, She’s Gone” and “I Fall”, both of which feature Kix on lead vocals, and especially “Unloved” – the most purely pop Brooks & Dunn song to date. All of these songs feature a more slick and polished sound than the duo’s previous work, and on “Unloved” in particular, the strings and synthesizers tend to overwhelm the song. Fortunately, Ronnie Dunn’s vocal performance is restrained, and he wisely resists the temptation to turn the song into an 80s-style power ballad.

More to my taste is “Every River”, the fifth and final single released from this set. It is one of the album’s more traditional-leaning songs and its least successful single, peaking at #12. “Lucky Me, Lonely You”, my favorite song on the album, is the sole purely traditional number. Also providing a nice change of pace from the strings, synthesizers and rock guitar licks that characterize most of the album, are the two Latin-flavored songs, “My Heart Is Lost To You” and “Deny, Deny, Deny”. “My Heart Is Lost To You” was the album’s fourth single, released between “The Long Goodbye” and “Every River”. It reached #5 in Billboard. The remaining tracks are largely forgettable, with the exception of “See Jane Dance”, which closes the album. This song is a throwback to the line-dancing songs of the 90s, and one I could have lived without.

In addition to a new co-producer and a change in musical styles, Steers & Stripes marks the beginning of a shift towards a little less Brooks and a little more Dunn. Whereas previous albums had the two members sharing lead vocalist duties more or less equally, Steers & Stripes is about one-third Brooks and two-thirds Dunn, with Kix taking the lead on only five of the album’s fourteen tracks. The changes paid off; Steers & Stripes marked a commercial recovery, reaching #1 on the albums chart and earning platinum certification. More importantly, it helped the duo break out of their creative rut. Despite the prevalence of more pop-leaning songs, Steers & Stripes is one of the stronger albums in the Brooks & Dunn catalog, and is worth seeking out.

Grade: B+

It is still widely available from both Amazon and iTunes.