Showing posts with label dirt band. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dirt band. Show all posts

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.


Friday, January 16, 2009

The CMA Awards - Feelin' Fine in '89

Almost all the way through the eighties! Wow! Time flies!

I wonder what happened in 1989. Well, let's take a look.

In the world of news, the Berlin Wall came crashing down:

Remember in 1961, when JFK said this?

"Ich bin ein Berliner"......He learned it phonetically, of course.

I myself prefer this one:

But enough about world events. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The only thing we truly remember about a certain moment in time is ~~ entertainment!

So, let's take a look at the top movies of 1989.

Remember when Tom Hanks was co-starring in a lousy sitcom? I do. "Bosom Buddies" - with Peter Scolari. Who knew? Now, Tom Hanks is a "major motion picture star". Here's a clip from when he was still starring in comedies, and hadn't yet become a serious "AC-torrrr":

And remember when Robin Williams was still funny? Here's an example of Robin Williams being funny, in "Good Morning, Vietnam"; a movie that featured a great performance by the late Bruno Kirby:

In pop music, the downturn continued. There were some good songs, but overall, pop music began to bite the dust in 1988, and 1989 was no better.

Here's one you've probably forgotten, by the Fine Young Cannibals:

Here's a much better one. A live performance by Aaron Neville (what a voice!) and a much thinner than now Linda Ronstadt, of "Don't Know Much" (introduced by Garry Shandling, with Japanese subtitles!):

With that bit of background for the year 1989, let's move on to the CMA awards, shall we?

Normally, I don't start out my posts with one of the highlights, but I don't really do anything "normally", so here's the MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR and VOCAL EVENT OF THE YEAR, Hank Williams, Jr. AND Hank Williams, SENIOR! "There's A Tear In My Beer":

Digital "trickery" wasn't as advanced in 1989 as it is now, but this is still pretty good! And it kind of puts a lump in your throat, watching Hank, Jr. singing a duet with his long-departed dad. I give this video two thumbs up! Of course, I'm actually using my thumbs to type this, but the two thumbs up are implied.

The MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR award, settled by an arm-wrestling contest with Chet Atkins, was ultimately bestowed upon JOHNNY GIMBLE!

I've posted almost all of the embeddable videos available of Johnny in previous posts, but here's one I haven't posted yet. And, as an extra-added bonus, it features my hero and yours, Merle Haggard! With the Strangers! Featuring Roy Nichols and Norm Hamlet!

SONG OF THE YEAR, given to the songwriter, went to this fine song, recorded by Vern Gosdin, and written by Vern and Max D. Barnes, "Chiseled In Stone":

The ALBUM OF THE YEAR in 1989 was "Will The Circle Be Unbroken", by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I love the Dirt Band, but I'll admit, I'm more partial to their country hits, a la "More Great Dirt"; songs such as, "Down That Road Tonight", "Workin' Man", et al.

"Will The Circle Be Unbroken" was one of those "concept albums", and it got a lot of press and a lot of kudos. Have you ever listened to it, though? I bought it later ~ much later, and I listened to it exactly one time. Maybe I need to listen to it again, because, let's just say, I wasn't knocked out by it.

Regardless, it won album of the year in '89, and seeing as how the Boys were on a roll, they decided to record volumes 2 and 3. This one is from #3:

I have to say, I do like this performance. So I guess I do need to dig out that CD one more time, and give it another chance. Bluegrass is a genre that had to grow on me, but once it did, I became a fan.

The SINGLE OF THE YEAR was recorded by Keith Whitley: "I'm No Stranger To The Rain":

It always makes me sad to watch clips of Keith in performance. What a shame. And what a loss.

The VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR was, once again, The Judds.

In total, the Judds won the duo (and strangely at one point, "group") of the year award seven times! Had they not broken up, who knows? Maybe they'd still be winning! Rather than Wynonna doing commercials for Alli. You know that drug that, hey, might work, but the side affects really aren't worth it! So, I'm guessing that Wynonna is sticking pretty close to home these days.

And now that I've veered completely off track, here's "Give A Little Love""


Having aced the Horizon Award the previous year, Ricky Van Shelton was victorious in 1989 in the Male Vocalist category.

Again, I enjoy RVS a lot, but I do have to repeat my previous quibble regarding all of his remakes. You know, there's a lot of starving songwriters out there, and Ricky could have thrown them a bone, and recorded a new song once in awhile. But no.

So, here's "Statue Of A Fool" (originally recorded by Jack Greene):

Okay, "Statue Of A Fool" is one of my favorite country songs, so I'm just going to forgive Ricky this one time.

The VOCAL GROUP award again was won by my favorite country group, Highway 101. I have searched, and I have searched, and believe me, there are no videos to be found on the net of the original Highway 101, except for "Who's Lonely Now", and I'm not going to post that again. I'm guessing there's some kind of legal mumbo jumbo going on; probably because the Highway has gone through a couple of lead singers since Paulette left the group. But dang! It sure would be nice to be able to watch some of those videos!

So, in lieu of any additional videos from Paulette and the guys, let's all look at the nice old-fashioned radio, as we listen to, "Whiskey, If You Were A Woman":

The FEMALE VOCALIST winner was one of the best voices in country music, Kathy Mattea. I'm glad to hear that Kathy is doing her own thing, her own way, nowadays.

This single is chronologically incorrect (it was from 1994, actually), but I find what I can find!

In 1989, the HORIZON AWARD was given to an artist who actually ended up having a career! (These things are hard to predict, and as you know, the CMA has messed up a couple of times).

If you ever ventured into a honky tonk in the late eighties/early nineties, you, of course, heard this song on the jukebox. Here's Clint Black:

Which leads us to the BIG award of the night, ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR.

I'll just preface this by asking, whatever happened to this guy?? Man, you'd think he could've had a real career in music, had he played his cards right. Surely, you'd think he would've had an ace in the hole.

I will console myself, however, with the knowledge that he did have a couple of hit songs, and I guess he did win a couple of awards during the course of his career.



Three folks were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989. I always find it interesting reading about people of whom I'm only semi-familiar. It's a real lesson in the history of country music.

Jack Stapp

Jack Stapp began his career in broadcasting by becoming program director of a radio station located within a hotel! And the station was only heard by the hotel's guests. Cool! Too bad they don't do that now. I could go for a gig like that!

From there, he moved on to much bigger and much better things ~ program director for WSM Radio in Nashville. Since WSM broadcast the Opry, Mr. Stapp also was involved with auditioning new talent for the broadcast. Thus, during his tenure at WSM, artists such as Hank Williams, Eddy Arnold, Kitty Wells, Webb Pierce, and many more, joined the Opry ranks.

From WSM, Mr. Stapp moved on to create Tree Publishing. Well, that turned into a nice little endeavor! He hired some staff writers, such as Roger Miller, Curly Putman, Bobby Braddock, and a bunch more. And the hits rollled on in....

So, there you go. A very influential pioneer in the world of country music.

Cliffie Stone

Cliffie Stone did his work far away from Nashville ~ in that other (soon-to-be) bastion of country music, California.

Mr. Stone was a musician, a comic straight man, a record producer, a personal manager, a publisher, a talent scout, an emcee, a TV personality. Whew! I'm tired just from typing all that!

Cliffie Stone worked at Capitol Records in the mid-to-late forties, both as a session player, and as a producer. Acts such as Tex Ritter and Merle Travis were recording for Capitol at that time, and in fact, Cliffie signed Merle Travis to the label.

Mr. Stone's most famous discovery was Tennessee Ernie Ford, who had begun his career as a disc jockey. Later, Mr. Stone went on to become TEF's personal manager.

It is also interesting to note that Cliffie Stone is the father of Curtis Stone, who was a founding member of my favorite country group, Highway 101! So, the apple does not fall far from the tree, or some other cliche like that.

Another true country music pioneer; Cliffie Stone.

Hank Thompson

Of course, today's country fans have no idea who Hank Thompson was.

Let me tell you, if you are a Willie Nelson fan, read the biography, "Willie Nelson - An Epic Life", and you will find just how influential Hank was to not only Willie, but to other artists of refined taste, such as Dwight Yoakam and our one and only George Strait.

Hank was a pioneer in the western swing style of music, along with Bob Wills, of course. And he had a bunch of hit songs. Here's his most famous:

Of course, Hank had other hits as well. (Oh, and by the way, Kitty Wells can thank Hank Thompson for, in essence, creating her career. See "I Didn't Know God Made Honky Tonk Angels").

All in all, though, it's really hard to compete with the lovely words of one of Hank's other hit songs; that go something like this: Ooga ooga mush-ka, which means that I love you. Ahh, were truer words ever spoken?

I am a Hank Thompson fan, and I didn't need to read his bio to come up with stuff to say about him. Maybe I'm just old, but I haven't forgotten Hank Thompson.

So, whew! We got through the eighties! And to think, it was only a short time ago (or was it?) that I started writing about the CMA awards, beginning with the very first awards in 1967.

That's a lot of ground covered! And a fun time, for me, at least.

Oh no, I'm not done yet, but it's important to mark the milestones, isn't it?

I'm looking forward to finding out what the last decade of the twentieth century holds for country music. So onwards and upwards, as the decades turn.