Friday, June 5, 2009

Essential Country Albums

I find ideas in the strangest places. I went to Amazon, with the sole purpose of leaving a book review, and then I thought, oh, why bother? I thought, what if the author reads it, and her feelings are hurt? What's the point?

Anyway, the page I was on had some discussions about country music, and you know how I like a good country music discussion. One of the questions was:

"What are the first 10 CD's that are a 'must own' for anyone just starting a country music collection?"

The author went on to say that some of the artists he likes are Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, and Waylon Jennings (a pertinent point to include, since country music to me could mean something completely different to someone else).

So, I started thinking about my favorite country music albums.

The problem with country albums, as opposed to rock, is that back in the day, albums were basically a means of promoting the hit single, and the rest of the tracks were afterthoughts (a lot of filler; usually a bunch of cover songs). Sadly.

So, overall, a new country listener would be well advised to go for the "greatest hits" packages.

As time went on, and country was dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century, some of that began to change, happily.

Thence (thence?) I started to browse through my music collection, and surprisingly, I realized that ten albums is very limiting.

I've got way more than ten that fit the parameters of the author's question. But I'll stop with ten this time, and maybe do a Part Two later.

So, in no particular order, because I'm really too lazy to try to rank them, here's Part One:

The Carnegie Hall Concert - Buck Owens & The Buckaroos

Recorded live, back in the sixties, this album has the joy and the excitement that only a live recording can convey.

You'll hear the best versions of some of Buck's greatest hits, particularly because Don Rich is singing harmony, whereas, in the studio recordings, Buck tended to sing harmony with himself much of the time, and Don Rich adds a real vibrancy to the songs.

You'll get little snippets (medleys) of some of Buck's perhaps lesser-known songs, which will make you want to get the original recordings, just to hear these songs in their entirety. Songs such as, "Don't Let Her Know" and "Excuse Me (I Think I've Got a Heartache)".

Plus, you'll hear a kick-ass version of "Buckaroo".

Love In The Hot Afternoon - Gene Watson

This is the album that introduced us to the voice that is Gene Watson.

While it doesn't include "Farewell Party" (download this as an mp3), this is an album I listened to over and over when it was released in 1975.

I thought, hey, this new guy has quite a voice! And "Love In The Hot Afternoon" is (now) a classic country song. Back then, it was and great.

A couple of my other favorite tracks from this album are, "For The First Time", "This Is My Year For Mexico", and "Where Love Begins".

Country Music - Marty Stuart

Released in 2003, this, to me, is Marty's greatest album. Many prefer "The Pilgrim", but for those who remember real country (see Buck Owens, above), this album is hard to beat.

Marty is a real country music historian, and songs such as, "Sundown In Nashville" remind us of songs we may never have heard, or like me, just plain forgot about.

Stellar tracks include, "Fool For Love", "Here I Am", the silly/endearing "By George", and, of course, "Farmer's Blues", with Merle Haggard. Not to mention, "A Satisfied Mind".

Trust me on this one. You won't go wrong buying this CD. And that mandolin will kill you.

Diamonds and Dirt - Rodney Crowell

This album got robbed of the CMA Album of the Year award in 1988, but what can I say, except this is a joyous album!

I played it over and over......and over and over.

From the opening track, "Crazy Baby", to the modern country classic, "I Couldn't Leave You If I Tried", to Wynn Stewart's "Above and Beyond", to the goofy "She's Crazy For Leavin'", to "It's Such a Small World", with Rosanne Cash, it's essentially good song, good song, good song. No filler here!

Elite Hotel - Emmylou Harris

Another album from 1975. 1975 must have been a pretty good year!

This was my first consciousness of Emmylou Harris. And she was in rare form here. From "'Til I Gain Control Again", written by bandmate Rodney Crowell (see above), to the classics, "Together Again" and "Sweet Dreams", to the jaunty opening track, "Amarillo", to the last track, "Wheels", written by Emmy's mentor Gram Parsons, along with Chris Hillman, this is a classic from start to finish.

This album established Emmylou as the standard bearer of true country music, so it's a no-brainer, really.

Emmy's signature album.

Savin' The Honky Tonk - Mark Chesnutt

A 2004 release that said, hey country music, remember me? Remember country music? In case you forgot, this is what country music sounds like.

Oh, just some steel guitar, some fiddles. Some two-steppin' music. Somebody who's been sadly overlooked, but who, in years to come, will be regarded as somebody who "saved" country music for those who needed savin'.

From the opening track, "Somebody Save The Honky Tonk", to Kevin Fowler's "The Lord Loves The Drinkin' Man" (Kevin did a great recording of his song, but it took Mark to get it to mainstream radio).

Let me just say, "The Lord Loves The Drinkin' Man" is the quintessential country song. I think I heard it a grand total of ONE time on terrestrial radio, in between tracks by Tim McGruff, the crime dog, and Faith Hope Charity, his crime-fighting sidekick.

Lucky for me that I caught this song the ONE TIME it was played, or I never would have found this delicious album.

Easy Come, Easy Go - George Strait
Let me just say, I own ALL of George Strait's albums, so it was hard to pick a favorite. But this release from 1993 has all the elements I look for in a good COUNTRY release.

Number one, it's got not one, but two, songs written by the genius, Jim Lauderdale ~ "Stay Out Of My Arms" and "I Wasn't Fooling Around".

Plus, it's got the old Wayne Kemp (originally recorded by Faron Young) song, "That's Where My Baby Feels At Home".

And, for good measure, it's got a rousing rendition of the George Jones chestnut, "Love Bug".

I like this one because it's one of the most "country" of the country albums that George ever released.

I give it a 95. It's got a good beat; I can dance to it (for you American Bandstand fans).

Highway 101: Greatest Hits

If, for some unknown reason, you are not familiar with Highway 101, then it's time to GET familiar with them!

Where do I begin? With "Somewhere Tonight", written by Rodney Crowell (see above)? With "Whiskey, If You Were A Woman"? With "Cry Cry Cry"? With "Honky Tonk Heart"?

Roll the dice. You can't come up a loser with any of these choices.

Paulette Carlson is the "Stevie Nicks" of country music, with the added benefit that she's COUNTRY. I'll always be a Paulette Carlson fan. Throw in Cactus Moser, Curtis Stone, and Blackjack Daniels, and you've got a combination that can't be equaled in today's market ~ and I'll match Paulette up against Jennifer Nettles any day.

This Time - Dwight Yoakam

Much like George Strait, I own ALL of Dwight Yoakam's albums. Thus, it was difficult to choose the essential Dwight.

I chose this one simply for the fact that it includes two of Dwight's best songs EVER: "Ain't That Lonely Yet" and "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere".

Not to mention the never-to-be-ignored, "Fast As You".

You can pretty much choose any Dwight CD. You can't go wrong with any of them. This one just happens to be one of my favorites.

More Great Dirt: The Best of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Volume 2

Yes, they did Springsteen's"Cadillac Ranch". But they also did "I've Been Lookin'" by the Dirt's own Jeff Hanna, and "Workin' Man (Nowhere To Go)", and another Hanna song, "Down That Road Tonight". Not to mention, of course, the ubiquitous "Fishin' In The Dark", a song that, let me just say, is impossible to dance to.

Chockfull of hits and timeless songs, the Dirt round out my Part One list of essential country albums.

Did I forget anyone? Of course I did.

That's why there's gotta be a Part Two.


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