Showing posts with label nineties country music is the best. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nineties country music is the best. Show all posts

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Nineties Roll On

If an artist releases one great track in their career, he can hold his head high. He can't necessarily tour on that, but it seems to me that fans remember that one recording because it was superb, yet forget about all the artist's other marvelous music simply because it all pales in comparison. So, yes, at least a half-hour show, I'm calculating.

Country music today is...? I don't know exactly what happened to country; where it went wrong. I know when it went wrong, which precisely matches the time that I gave up on it entirely. I don't think there are any great songs released nowadays. If there were, I would have read about them and checked them out, for curiosity's sake. I saw a clip today of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and some dude I assume is country (because of his over-pronounced drawl) was singing something about "shut up", and I thought, "good advice". Let's just be honest ~ today's country is awful.

In the late eighties and especially the nineties, however, great, great country music was bountiful. I've already featured many of the standouts, but there are many others. They didn't all produce 60 number one hits like George Strait, but who has?

Tonight, I'm featuring some of the "great" songs released in the nineties.

Let's start here:


"Blue" was written by legendary WBAP disc jockey Bill Mack. Bill wrote other songs, too, that became hits. He wrote this one for Patsy Cline, which is evident. It is a throwback for sure, but fans in the nineties were obviously still hankering for good country music. I don't know what happened to LeeAnn Rimes. I sort of know that she became a bikini-clad publicity whore, but as far as music is concerned, I guess she wasn't all that interested. Too bad, because she is a talented singer.

I know, I know ~ Alan Jackson deserves his own post. But much like I've written about Dwight Yoakam and George Strait ad nauseum, I'm not going to rehash all of Jackson's hits here. Again, this is most certainly a throwback; a remake. Jim Ed Brown had a hit with this song sometime around 1968. I'm sensing a theme here, but not purposely. I just love great songs.


I am aware that most everyone disagrees with me on this (most everyone is wrong), but for the best pure country voice since Patsy Cline, one need look no further than Trisha Yearwood. I saw Trisha once in concert. It was one of those expo's that small cities used to sponsor to draw folks in to sample local merchants' goods, who had booths set up around the perimeter to sell modular phones (yes, it was the nineties) and I guess, life insurance. The arena featured various acts on a small stage periodically throughout the day, acts that had to compete with the throng of old ladies carting their plastic "expo bags" from booth to booth, stuffing them with giveaway pens and refrigerator magnets. My friends and I claimed seats up in the balcony and gossiped while awaiting the next act to make her way to the stage. I admit I didn't pay much attention to Trisha at the time. I think she had a song called "X's and O's", which was her only claim to fame at the time. Too, I remember my hairdresser lamenting about a Garth Brooks concert she'd attended, which featured an unknown opening act named "Trisha Yearwood". "What big star goes on tour and brings some unknown girl singer with them?" my hairdresser fumed. "Should have been someone like Reba McEntire; not some girl I never heard of!"

My hairdresser and I were sadly ignorant. Feast your ears upon this:

One of the most bad-ass country songs ever was recorded by Foster and Lloyd. However, that was in 1987, so since I'm dedicating this post to the nineties, I will resist the powerful temptation to include the '87 song. Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd, were, too, a throwback, only updated. For being unrelated, their harmonies were almost as spot-on as the Everly Brothers'. Radney went on to do some solo work, but let's not dismiss Lloyd. It was his telecaster that gave the duo its delicious sound.

This is an unfortunate video, an example of the artists letting a dumb-ass producer frame the story. Regardless, this song will keep Foster and Lloyd on tour:

Apparently, 1987 was a landmark year in country. Steve Wariner had "Lynda", which was a track that invariably got people up and dancing in the honky tonks. In 1990, though, he also had this one, which I like. I don't know exactly why I like it; just that I do:

People misconstrue this song. It's certainly not a feminist anthem. To me it's the story of a young girl burdened with a life she never chose, one of whiskey and violence and trying to escape for one brief moment to pretend she was the same as all her friends. Maybe you had to live it to "get it":


There was a triad of superstar country artists in the nineties: George Strait, Alan Jackson, and Vince Gill. It seemed that every minute or so, Vince Gill was releasing a new track. If you have any doubt, take a gander at his discography. It's funny; one minute no one knew the name Vince Gill; the next, he was inescapable. This one is my favorite for sentimental reasons. I assigned myself the task of creating recorded music for my mom and dad's fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration, and this was the very last song on the two-volume cassette:

I haven't forgotten Patty Loveless. She's getting her own post. She deserves her own post.

Joe Diffie, Little Texas, Lorrie Morgan, The Dixie Chicks, Lee Ann Womack...

When folks look back on the nineties, they talk about Garth and Shania; maybe if they aren't brain-dead, they remember to include George Strait.

I remember this:

I don't live in the past, but I dare...nay,'s country artists to match these songs.


Friday, November 29, 2019

Pam Tillis

Contrary to common belief, kids are not their parents. Parents have a problem with that concept. Or rather, baby boom parents have a problem. Baby boomers grew up self-absorbed, contemplative. I don't know if it was a symptom of the times or the fact that for most of us our parents were lackadaisical, removed. Baby boom kids were hardly the center of their parents' lives. It may have been that grownups were expected to have kids, so producing a brood was no big deal in the scheme of everyday life. Everybody had 'em. (That's why there are so many of us.) I have cousins I am completely unaware of, unless they are approximately my age. It was, for instance, Cindy and "the others". The rogue aunt and uncle who only managed to pop out one kid were viewed as odd and frankly, there had to be something wrong with that kid; therefore we avoided her.

All parents weren't necessarily like mine. All parents didn't contend with issues of substance abuse and the fallout. Nevertheless, I grew up essentially alone, and thus self-obsessed. I knew by the seventh grade what the name of my future son would be, because I contemplated things like that in my isolated bedroom. I became steeped in music, my lifeline in a lunatic world. I begged and borrowed to upgrade my sonic experience when the tiny speaker on my transistor could no longer drown out the cacophony.

Am I my parents? Sure, in some ways. DNA works like that. I have a lot of the good and some of the bad, but in the end I'm me.

When I heard a song on the radio in 1990 and the DJ uttered the name "Pam Tillis", I flashed back to an artist I'd appreciated much more as a writer than I did as a warbler. In 1968 I'd fallen in love with a recording by someone named Mel Tillis that went like this:

"Tillis" certainly wasn't a common name, so I surmised that Pam had to be Mel's offspring. And the song itself wasn't all that far removed from Heart Over Mind:

Except that Mel never did anything like this:

Or this:

Yep, this is a remake, but damn:

Mel was lamenting Ruby taking her love to town, while meanwhile, Pam said this:

Pam was not Mel. She was her own person. Pam benefited from Mel in her DNA, but she was simply Pam. Baby boomers took it from there.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Mary Chapin-Carpenter

I've given up a lot of things I used to do. Have you done that? For instance, I used to be a prolific CD-buyer. I've always been sort of  an obsessive. I'd glom onto a project and carry it to the extreme. There was a time in the nineties when I scoured my local mall outlet to latch onto the newest country CD, whip out my checkbook and tote that disc home like it was manna. Just ask my dusty CD shelves.

Albeit, it was a time when good music exploded like roman candles. My local DJ (when there was such a thing as non-computerized programming) would play a track and I'd wrack my brain to try to identify the singer. Which didn't work if the artist was brand-new. There was no instant internet gratification, so it was either a) keep listening to the radio and hope the disc jockey named the singer; or b) thumb through the record store shelves for what I "thought" the song title was and hope to get lucky. Come to think of it, I bought a lot of bad CD's that way.

Contrary to the current delusion, female artists were never relegated to the creaky cellar of never-radio play. In the nineteen nineties, in fact, female performers soared. One of those performers was Mary Chapin Carpenter. She was new, so when I first heard her on the radio, I faced the conundrum of trying to suss out exactly who she was and which CD to buy.

I liked Mary Chapin because her songs actually said something, and in an interesting way. Some artists are lyricists; some write great melodies. Not many can do both. Rodney Crowell can do both. Carpenter, too:

Like most second releases, this one isn't as good as Never Had It So Good, but I still like it (not a good video, unfortunately):

Mary Chapin wasn't only morose. Cast your eyes on this one:

Anyone who cites Dwight Yoakam in a song has my vote:

I don't believe this was ever recorded, but I remember it well from the CMA awards:

Take this, 2019 Year Of The Women:

After this next song, I don't know exactly what happened. I guess, like most stars of the nineties, Mary Chapin Carpenter's time had come and gone. I bought four Chapin Carpenter CD's ~ the last one was a disappointment, and that's when I stopped.

But Mary is still performing. And she goes her own way. At age 61, one deserves that.

If one writes one great song in their lifetime, that's magic. Never Had It So Good is magic.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Diamond Rio

Over the years, I've seen a lot of country bands. To be clear, a band in country terms is distinct from a rock band. In the sixties a country band played "backup" to the star. That said, some bands distinguished themselves ~ The Buckaroos and The Strangers, to name two. I would add the little-known Po' Boys, who backed Bill Anderson, and get zero mention.

By the seventies things began to change. Alabama was self-contained; Randy Owens was the lead singer, but the band in its entirety was the star. In the eighties, NGDB (The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) were iconic. The Mavericks, in the nineties, distinguished themselves as seminal musicians.

But the best true band I ever saw live was Diamond Rio. It was a small, intimate venue, in a casino many miles from home. Having dinner in the restaurant prior to the concert, I spied Gene Johnson at a table alone, endeavoring to eat his steak and baked potato, when a couple of frenzied female fans accosted him, and I thought, wow, leave the poor man alone. He was gracious, but I would never do that to another human being. It was an eye-opening revelation; thus when my then-husband and I passed by his table on our way out, I deliberately ignored Gene.

At half past eight o'clock, we settled into our third-row seats in the venue and proceeded to be wowed by a phenomenal band. I think there was actually a red velvet curtain as a backdrop.

Marty Roe was a true bluegrass singer who tucked himself into the country genre and embraced the role of showman. Lead guitarist Jimmy Olander exuded perfection and personality. Gene Johnson, despite the heartburn interference, was a master. The band was rounded out by Brian Prout on drums, Dan Truman caressing the keys, and Dana Williams plunking the bass. 

There are great artists who are duds at live performance. See: Alan Jackson. I wouldn't even remember the Jackson concert I attended except for a skinny elm tree perched in front of the mic wearing a white cowboy hat.

Diamond Rio was no Alan Jackson.

I love this song:

I'm partial to this one, too:

Barney Fife and a country band? C'mon!

Sadly, I don't know if DR was oblivious, but they never made an official video of this song?

All Rio's songs weren't about the fun.

Yes, George Strait did it, but Diamond Rio did it first:

The nineties can be summed up for me in two words ~ Diamond Rio.

This is what the nineteen nineties were about.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Restless Heart

I've been watching a Netflix documentary about Laurel Canyon and rock music of the nineteen sixties ~ please check it out ~ it's awesome.

All genres of music have lapped over the edges of others. What the documentary, Echo In The Canyon, labels "folk rock" I would call country rock. The Byrds would have been country had they come on the scene twenty years later. The Eagles aren't folk rock ~ they're country rock.

I'm a sucker for the many manifestations of country; Honky Tonk, Neo-Traditional, the Bakersfield Sound, Western Swing, Americana, some forms of Bluegrass. But I began life as a rock 'n roll child and remnants of a past life linger. While I love and appreciate what can be accomplished with three simple chords, I've always been drawn to more complex melodies and harmonics. Restless Heart wasn't exactly country rock, but they were close. The first track I ever heard from the group was this one, and it sucked me in:

I love "Wheels". There is no live performance video to be found, but this is country rock at its finest:



Larry Stewart left the band in 1992, and Restless Heart essentially ended. Larry had one number one hit:

Bands don't last much more than a decade unless you're the Rolling Stones. But a decade is a long-ass time. A decade can be a seminal pillar in one's life.

I thank Larry Stewart and the band for one hell of a seminal pillar.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Clint Black

For a variety of reasons, barroom songs are the best songs. I grew up around bars, or what one might now call "tap rooms", with a juke box and a local band playing on weekend nights. The whiff of stale tobacco mixed with gin and bourbon smells like home. There's nothing like the morning after, when tables need to be cleared, to soak in that cloud of obliterated good times.

As a kid I only knew about the music and that people seemed to be having tons of fun. I could perch right outside the entrance of my uncle's bar, and later my dad's bar and take in the abandon displayed before me and the thumping of an electric bass and the crash of drums; even though I couldn't quite discern which song the band was playing. I didn't even think to make judgments about the masses inside ~ the sad men bumped up against the bar nursing a tall frosted glass or the wiry arms draped around hairspray-stiffened fake blondes in red booths in dark corners. Once a quarter got dropped into the juke box slot, men who had, after three whiskey sours, developed a certainty of their dancing prowess would coax the ladies into their arms and onto the dance floor, and they would two-step to Ray Price's "Crazy Arms" or Buck Owens' "Foolin' Around".

It was all exciting to me because it was different; foreign.

For reasons that all pointed back to my dad, I renounced bars for a couple of decades thereafter. The fun is fleeting; the repercussions are piercing daggers that stab for a lifetime. But sometime around 1987, I felt a craving to re-immerse myself in the fun times ~ experience the abandon as a fully-grown woman. There was a renowned country bar in my town called The Dakota Lounge that brought in all the best regional bands on weekends and had a scrolling neon sign inside that flashed all the upcoming acts. The club was dark, as all bars should be. Faux cowboys strolled in around eight o'clock, black hats perched atop their sideburned coiffes; shiny pointed boots inadvertently pinging against bar stools. The gals would saunter in as a clutch around nine; red kerchiefs circling their slender necks, a powder puff of Jovan Musk wafting off their breasts. The cowboys began to circle, scoping out the prettiest, and then the juke box would kick in as weary bar maids took drink orders.

Decades had passed since Ray Price had boomed out of a Wurlitzer's speakers, but the tableau was just the same. It requires a special vibe to commence the ritual; mystic, yet immediately agreed upon. The song is a toasty embrace with a pulsing heartbeat.

This was that song:

Had Clint Black never recorded another song, "A Better Man" would still be celebrated as the ultimate country hook-up song of the nineteen eighties.

But he did record more:

What Clint did was, he didn't forget country music:

And Clint was no flash in the pan. This track, from 1997, is as good as it can be:

Thanks to Saving Country Music, I found this wholly original video:

Ken Burns may have brushed Clint Black aside, but I won't.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Clay Walker

I had a friend and co-worker, Lynnette, who was in love with Clay Walker. I wasn't in love with him (shoot, I didn't even know him!) but I heard a song on my car radio in 1993 as I was pulling into a parking spot at West Acres Mall in Fargo (yea, memory is inexplicable) and I thought I knew the singer, but I actually didn't. (Remember the days when you'd hear a new song on the radio and you'd try to pinpoint the artist, and then it turned out it was someone brand-new? Clay Walker was brand-new.)

I stopped before I turned off the ignition and listened:

There was an exhilaration in his voice that was mesmerizing. I can understand why Lynnette loved him.

Clay's recordings were eternally optimistic and that was refreshing.

This one is a bit different, and I like it almost as much as I like "What's It To You":

Shall we date ourselves?

Clay Walker is still going strong, as evidenced by the news on his site.

I like that we don't just go away; that we keep going. That latest twenty-year-old can't erase us. I was older than Clay when I first him on my car radio and I'm still here.

I'm not impressionistic like Clay Walker was in his heyday, but I like to be reminded that brightness still exists.

I wonder if Clay is still that idealist.

I hope so.

Travis Tritt

The period from the late eighties to early nineties was so rife with exciting new music that I almost took it for granted. Like a spoiled child, I expected more and more. I'd heard "Country Club" on my local FM station ~ it had a good beat; you could two-step to it; but it didn't strike me the way a spanking-new George Strait single did. "I'm Gonna Be Somebody" was actually a better track than I gave it credit for at the time.

But it wasn't until 1991, when a new show on NBC called "Hot Country Nights" appeared out of nowhere as a summer replacement that I really sat up (on my couch) and took notice of Travis Tritt. He sat on a stool in center-stage with just his acoustic guitar, and this is the song he performed:

For a voice with so much soul, his performance was heartbreaking in its simplicity. Sometimes it's not the bells and whistles that grab you ~ sometimes it's the quiet. This sure wasn't "Country Club".

Then he did a complete turnabout and released this song, which is sort of the nineties' kiss-off answer to "Take This Job (And Shove It):

Soon Travis teamed up with Marty Stuart to record a duet that embodied the time-honored tradition of the bass-thumping country shuffle. And I loved it:

I will readily admit that my favorite Travis Tritt recording is a remake of an Elvis song that was awash in insipid artificiality, like most Elvis songs. THIS version, however, is extraordinary:

Like most artists of the period, Travis parted ways with his label, but never fear ~ he's still out there and making music. I learned, in fact, that he just did a concert with my latest obsession, Tracy Lawrence. I discovered this via Travis's website, which is an actual site and not a tiny-fonted slap-together page like poor Ricky Van Shelton's.

Travis Tritt is a musical chameleon. I can't pigeon-hole him, and I bet he likes not being tucked inside a neat package.

The last track that caught my ear, when I still listened to terrestrial radio, was one that sums up most of our philosophies as we glide through this big blue ball of ether:

And Ken Burns be damned ~ Travis Tritt represents everything about the nineties that Ken forgot.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Ricky Van Shelton

I think it was my older sister who first introduced me to Ricky Van Shelton. Carole was not necessarily a music aficionado; she just liked what she liked. She'd breeze in from Texas once a year and lay down the gauntlet of songs we all needed to hear. As an example, she was an early fan girl of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia", and I thought, well, okay...

Like all music people tell me I need to like, I was naturally resistant to Ricky Van Shelton. I think he had a cover song on the charts at the time, and I was inherently scornful of artists who earned their chops by copying someone else. Grudgingly, however, I went out and purchased Van Shelton's debut CD, "Wild-Eyed Dream". I was buying CD's like they were candy gumballs anyway, so what was one more pointless purchase? Turned out the album had some original tracks that beat the covers all to hell. A hot artist, I'm assuming (maybe naively) should have his pick of songs; so why Ricky recorded so many cover songs perplexes me. Maybe he simply wanted to memorialize the classics. Regardless, I preferred the songs I'd never before heard, like this one (of course the official video is unavailable ~ because we need to scrub the late eighties/early nineties from everyone's consciousness):

 Much like this one:

Those two tracks alone, never mind all the covers, made the album an A plus for me.

There's myriad reasons why shiny careers fade ~ the label loses confidence; tastes change. Not everyone can be a George Strait, with choice songwriters breaking down their door. Ricky Van Shelton's career suffered from either the lack of good original song choices or his own proclivities. I would have loved to see Ricky perform in a bar setting ~ his natural milieu was stacked speakers, a thumping bass, and a telecaster.

That aside, he recorded a great rendition of "Statue Of A Fool", whose original recording by Jack Greene suffered from the lack of a great singer:

My sister was right. I'll cop to it.

After all these years, he deserves more than a faint memory. Number one, he needs a website that isn't lame ~ Ricky, are you listening? I would link to it, but I don't want anyone to be embarrassed. Wix dot com is essentially free ~ even my band has a site.

Granted, Ricky retired in 2006, which is almost unheard of in the music business. Retire? The brittle-boned Rolling Stones are still touring, for God's sake! According to his pitiful website, he's a painter and a collector (still need a site to sell your paintings, though.) Maybe the good songs weren't forthcoming; maybe he just wanted to enjoy life off the road. More power to him.

Nevertheless, Ricky Van Shelton is worth remembering.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Tracy Lawrence

I'm beginning to get a bit pissed off about nineties country artists being ignored. It may have begun with Ken Burns' "Country Music" series, which completely overlooked the most iconic artists of a decade when country music was at its best (see: George Strait). For me, country was represented by artists like Tracy Lawrence, Mark Chesnutt, Clint Black, Diamond Rio, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, Collin Raye, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt, Clay Walker, Restless Heart, Earl Thomas Conley, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Foster and Lloyd, Ricky Van Shelton, Trisha Yearwood, et al.

The nineties was when country and our hearts soared. Even the sad songs made one at least feel alive. I don't know what country's like now; and frankly, from everything I've read, I don't care to know. Country for me was laid to rest somewhere around 1999. I'm told, though, that it's a pallid imitation of the genre formerly known as country.

So for the uninitiated, I'm bringing the nineties back. Mark Chesnutt warranted his own singular post, but let's not overlook the others. In posts to come, I will introduce novices to actual country music and remind those of us in the know of artists who may have slipped our minds.

I'm a big booster of Tracy Lawrence, as described here. 

In case you've forgotten or never knew, watch these:

Yep, I'm bringing nineties country back. Stay tuned.