I've got a short list of "best" country singers ~ I've always placed George Strait at the very top. I love the fact that that silky voice is instantly recognizable, even if the song isn't. Don't get me wrong; King George is no Sinatra ~ he's got that heart-clenching break in his voice, when he does it right.
Gene Watson is pure perfection. Is there a country performance better than "Farewell Party"?
Merle is his own category. There's no point in even attempting to lump him in with the others. It's ludicrous.
Others? Well, there's Faron Young, Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Marty Robbins, Ray Price.
Then there's Mark Chesnutt.
Mark Chesnutt should have been a superstar with laurels strewn at his feet. He was definitely a star, but why did he never get his due? I don't know ~ ask Dwight Yoakam why he's suddenly been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame after being systematically snubbed by the country music establishment for thirty-odd years.
Maybe, like Gene Watson, Mark Chesnutt is just too damn country.
The nineties was a time of transition for me. In 1990 I turned thirty-five and embarked on a road that would determine my default profession for the next thirty years. My kids were suddenly teenagers and I had the luxury to think about what I wanted to do with my life. My ambition was surging. I'd finally, through dollars I couldn't afford and dogged determination, gotten down to a size three, the tiniest I'd been since age eighteen. I was shopping for clothes at the local thrift store because my size kept shrinking. I was a peon insurance examiner, but the sky was the limit. I wanted to do more ~ I wasn't exactly sure what, but I would grab any flicker of opportunity that flashed before my eyes. And I was suddenly working alongside 29 like-minded confederates, who, like me, were country music fans.
Radio was vital; necessary. We discussed hits with each other; compared our favorite artists. There were so many: Pam Tillis, Diamond Rio, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tracy Lawrence, Clay Walker, George Strait, Kathy Mattea, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Shania Twain, Randy Travis, Brooks and Dunn, Patty Loveless, Travis Tritt, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Restless Heart, Lorrie Morgan, Little Texas.
Throughout that journey, from 1990 to 1999, was Mark Chesnutt.
It was odd that Mark Chesnutt never came up in our conversations, and yet I bought every single one of his CD's. And played the hell out of them. I think the lack of discussion about Mark was that it was simply a given there was nothing to debate. Nice as Clay Walker was, Mark was no two-hit wonder. Much like George Strait, we all knew that Mark Chesnutt would release another single that'd stir the hearts of true country-lovin' connoisseurs.
Even when Mark covered an Aerosmith song, he suffused it with country music bona fides.
In countless ways, the music of the nineties was magnificent; yet, by the strict definition, not all of it was stone country; not even George Strait sometimes. Little Texas was technically pop, and one could argue the same for Restless Heart. Shania was pop. Dwight was some kind of amalgam. I still loved it all.
There are those who like "country", and then there are people like me who love country. Mark Chesnutt was country. He was (is) principled. I admire principles.
In 2004 Mark released an album that lives in my heart, "Savin' The Honky Tonk", which features a track that can only be described by those of us who love country as stupendous:
Yep, Mark Chesnutt's the real deal.
No discussion required.