Showing posts with label randy travis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label randy travis. Show all posts

Friday, October 14, 2022

Reviewing The Top 10 Country Singles From This Week In 1992


Ahh, where did the last three decades go? The first Bush was president, the Mall of America opened a few miles away from my home (I've been there once, which was more than enough), Seinfeld was a hit, George Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame, and at the CMA's it was Garth Brooks' year.

I was fully ensconced in country music, and music-wise I remember it as a happy time.

Well, let's see, shall we?? 

I've done a few retrospective chart reviews before, and it's always a fun, and generally surprising exercise. (See this, this, this, this, and this.)

The rules are thus:

  • I review the single as a first-time listener.
  • I must listen to the entire track before offering my critique.  
  • I stick with the top 10, because dang, this takes a long time!
  • I do my best to find music videos. If all else fails, I use a video of the recorded song.

I'm using the American Country Countdown wiki as my reference.

Okie doke! Let's go!

#10 ~ Lord Have Mercy On The Working Man ~ Travis Tritt

The track begins as kind of an homage to Jimmie Rodgers and the Dust Bowl years, with a dobro and a slide guitar, which sets the downcast mood. Then the chorus kicks in with more modern accoutrements to bring us into the singer's present circumstance. This song offers probably the most important component of a memorable composition ~ a singalong chorus. I like the group of background singers punching up the last chorus, signaling that many people are drowning. I can imagine this one going over HUGE at the artist's concerts thirty years in the future.



#9 ~  Cafe On The Corner ~ Sawyer Brown

Honestly, from these first two tracks one would think that 1992 was an awful year. I don't remember it that way. I and my family were doing fine. My career was humming along, my kids had new clothes, I didn't worry about paying the bills. Was I living in some kind of alternate universe?


Despite the rather jaunty instrumentation, this song is a downer. It's well-written, no question, but I question whether anyone will remember it thirty years hence. My impression of this group is that they whirled around from performing goofy little ditties to morose "message" songs in a flash. I do appreciate their foray into serious music, but my optimistic nature prefers one of their earlier hits, The Walk. And songs do need to match the times. Who knows? Thirty years in the future, this might fit right in. Nevertheless, societal realities aside, this ranks a strong...



#8 ~ The Greatest Man I Never Knew ~ Reba McEntire

I'll just be upfront ~ I don't care for all. Ballads really need to be majestic to succeed. This one isn't. Reba is a great singer, but it sounds like she's straining to hit the high notes on this one. I get that this is about her dad, and I loved my dad, but that love would impel me to write him a better song. Nobody will ever remember this. I've almost forgotten it already.



#7 ~ Wrong Side Of Memphis ~ Trisha Yearwood

One immediately has to acknowledge the singer's superb instrument. But this song's structure is too repetitive, and has nothing for the listener to latch onto. It seems this is a case of a great singer searching for a style. I hope she finds it. I wouldn't purchase this, and if it were included on a greatest hits CD, I'd skip it.



#6 ~ Seminole Wind ~ John Anderson

Few singers are truly original; John Anderson is. One can never mistake him for someone else. The production on the track is outstanding, but a memorable song generally can't be all mood. It would benefit from some change-ups. The track benefits from the singer and from the production.



#5 ~ Going Out Of My Mind ~ McBride And The Ride


My first thought upon hearing this is Little Texas. The two groups could be interchangeable. I don't know if this one will stand the test of time. It has an unmistakable nineties vibe. That's not to knock it. I like it for what it is. And not to beat this issue to death, but a memorable chorus is key, and this song has one. As a moment stuck in time, this isn't bad.



#4 ~ Jesus And Mama ~ Confederate Railroad

I have a natural antipathy to songs with Jesus and Mama in the title, unless it's Mama Tried. It seems this group tried to branch out from its rowdy reputation, but sometimes you just gotta stick with what you know. This is certainly not I'm The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised, unfortunately. It's cloying and pandering ~ an automatic letter grade deduction from me.



#3 ~ In This Life ~ Collin Raye 

This is how a ballad is done. I can't find a single thing to criticize here. What a universal message. Singer, production, song ~ all superb. Instant classic. This makes me not even want to listen to the others remaining on the chart.



#2 ~ No One Else On Earth ~ Wynonna

Fans will probably remember this one, but more for the singer than the song. Frankly, there's far too much going on in it. It's like it has to check every box, which in the end turns it into one sloppy mess. Hopefully Wynonna as a singles act will discover her actual sound.



#1 ~ If I Didn't Have You ~ Randy Travis (official video only watchable on YouTube)


I kept looking for something to say that'd boost this one. I really like the singer, but this is by far not his best effort. I guess the chorus is pretty good, but to be frank, only the singer saves it.



So, there you have it ~ a snapshot of the top ten singles from thirty years ago today.


My report card:

In This Life ~ Collin Raye: A+ 

Lord Have Mercy On The Working Man ~ Travis Tritt: A-

Cafe On The Corner ~ Sawyer Brown: B

Going Out Of My Mind ~ McBride And The Ride: B

Seminole Wind ~ John Anderson: B-

If I Didn't Have You ~ Randy Travis: C+

Wrong Side Of Memphis ~ Trisha Yearwood:  C-

The Greatest Man I Never Knew ~ Reba McEntire: D

Jesus And Mama ~ Confederate Railroad: D

No One Else On Earth ~ Wynonna: D


I believe that if you find one gem, all is right with the world.

I definitely found one.










Thursday, September 12, 2019

September Is Country Music Month ~ I Almost Missed The Eighties

Unlike today when country music really is dead, by the dawn of the eighties I was convinced (erroneously) that my favorite music had bit the dust. I mostly gave up on listening at all, although a part of me kept checking in just to make sure I was right. Decades-long habits are tough to break.

Country was dominated by Kenny Rogers and a newly-pop Dolly Parton. Alabama was still clinging to the charts, but I was frankly tired of Alabama. In my little town, we didn't get a lot of concerts, but Alabama showed up almost once a year; thus I went, simply to see live music. They were the sort of group if asked one's opinion about them, we would say, "they're okay". I don't mean to knock Alabama; I just wasn't excited by their music. I caught a couple of artists on the radio I liked ~ new girl singer, Johnny Cash's daughter, Rosanne; and I still was a fan of the Oak Ridge Boys. The movie Urban Cowboy was released in 1980 and almost smothered country's breath. I saw the movie with my mom, because we both liked country; she superficially; me reminiscently. The soundtrack was not good. It was a gloppy stew of disjointed songs. And if I never again hear Lookin' For Love, I will consider myself blessed.

Sometime in the early eighties a new channel slipped into my cable lineup ~ MTV. I found that the songs were catchy and it seemed that, unlike country artists, the musicians really liked what they were doing. So I made the wrenching decision to forsake country completely. My car radio preset became pop station Y93. Ask me anything about eighties pop and I can tell you. Mention early Judds and I'd ask, "who?"

The eerie thing about skipping a few years of country was that I did it just as the genre was making a comeback, and I completely missed it. Who did I miss? The afore-mentioned Judds, George Strait, Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam. I stopped in to visit my mom and dad one evening and they were watching a VHS tape of George Strait in concert. Of course, I didn't know who George Strait was, and I tossed my head derisively. I'm sure I clucked my tongue, too. The next day, just to make sure I'd been right, I twirled my car radio dial to the local country station and gave it a trial listen. I was flabbergasted to hear actual country songs, real country songs; and no longer analog. The steel and fiddles were so crystal-clear. The bass pounded like a heartbeat. There were drums! The artists seemed unafraid to burst forth with actual passion. 

Damn! I'd missed it!

I heard others, whose names I'd eventually learn: Kathy Mattea, Rodney Crowell, Ricky Van Shelton, Restless Heart, Highway 101, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (who I knew, but not like this). Foster and Lloyd, Clint Black, Steve Wariner, Holly Dunn, Earl Thomas Conley, Marty Stuart.

I didn't stop watching MTV, but I found a new channel called CMT. It had music videos, too, and they were country! This whole revelation was mind-blowing! Maybe all it took was for me to go away for a while (unfortunately, that theory hasn't worked for the last 20 years).

I'm not completely convinced the nineteen eighties were the best decade for country music ~ the sixties and nineties are stiff competition ~ but the eighties roped me back in.

So, to celebrate September as Country Music Month, let's look back at the best songs of each tick of the eighties:



1982 (hey, I'm no music snob):







Sorry, too many. Here's a bonus:


More awesome:



Bonus #2:



Bonus #3!

I could go on and on and on, but I'll stop here.

Thank you, Randy Travis and George Strait, for re-inventing country music.

And thank you, Dwight Yoakam.

A couple or three of these songs were written by you, Rodney Crowell. I am in your debt.

This is country music.

There you go, Ken Burns.

Friday, June 21, 2019

My Musical Requirements

Sometimes I think artists are under the misconception that fans are here to serve them. No ~ you entertain me.

I have the option to not listen to you. It's easy ~ click on a YouTube video; click off. I've done it so often, my mouse finger is arthritic.

There are universal elements to a good song. I understand the temptation to serve one's ego ~ I'm a songwriter, too. And all that is a-okay, if one is recording in their basement. I have no illusions that anyone will like my own personal treasures; but then again, I'm not sending them out into the world. The only people who profess to like obscure meditations are either geeks or posers.

I'm not sure if professional songwriters fall in love with each of their songs or if they're manning an assembly line, but there is a glut of sub-par songs floating through the ether. Give me a lined tablet numbered one through one hundred, and I could sum up the entire essence of popular music. I'm really not a curmudgeon; I've simply lived long enough to have heard it all.

I've tried (really tried) to get on board with the new and semi-new artists written about on the go-to country music site Saving Country Music, but what's missing with these artists is that certain zing to the heart. Intellectually, I can appreciate some of the new efforts, but who listens to music intellectually? I might as well crack out a math book. And no matter how many people tell me I should like John Q. Country, sorry ~ I make up my own mind.

I miss the days when I caught half a new song on the radio and couldn't wait 'til the DJ played it again. Maybe music has lost its magic. Or it just isn't that good anymore.

Back to my musical requirements:

Heart ~ Don't pretend that you believe what you're singing. Really believe it. Ask Randy Travis. Ask George Strait.

Play it like you mean it ~ Damn, people! Are you afraid of musical instruments? They're really not scary; they're an integral part of this thing called "music". Don't give me a strummy acoustic guitar ~ kick it in the ass. See:  Dwight Yoakam.

Be universal ~ I don't want to hear about you; I want to hear about me. Give me something that relates to my life.  See:  Merle Haggard.

Do something different ~I can write verse-chorus, verse-chorus in my sleep. It'll take more than that to grab my attention. Surprise me. Surprise might be the most important element in distinguishing a banal song from a stupendous one. See: The Honeycombs, the soaring falsetto of Roy Orbison; the intro to "California Girls".

Combine these four elements and I'll fall in love.


Play it like you mean it:

Be universal:

Something different:


Do that and I'll join your street team. Don't do that and just leave me the hell alone. I've heard it all, remember.

And now I commence numerating my one hundred essential songs....

Saturday, June 23, 2018

"Country Music Is So Depressing"

As long as I've been listening to country music, which includes my pre-country music period (my mom and dad's music) as well as my three-decade obsession, from approximately 1967 to 1999; I've heard two criticisms:  country music is soooo corny and country music is too depressing.

I never found country music depressing. A track by Little Texas never once made me consider killing myself. Of course there are sad country songs -- country music is just like life; sometimes we're happy; other times wistful. Sometimes we feel giddy and silly; ready to break into a dork dance. And sometimes our hearts are broken.

The times when I've been sad, I wanted music to wallow in. Crying is sorely underrated. Right after my dad died, I sat in my room and played Ray Price's "Soft Rain" over and over and over. The grief I couldn't put into words, Ray did, and perfectly.

I don't know what those judgmental people are listening to, but obviously not the country music I know. In the eighties and nineties country music was glorious, even the sad songs.

This is ostensibly a sad song. Does it sound sad?


If it's got a good beat and one can two-step to it, sad or not, it's happy. At least it makes me feel happy. 

And, you know, everyone in country music is not heartbroken:

Sometimes they are falling in love and it's just now hit them:

As a country music historian, I know there are (old) songs that are frankly, maudlin, or at least cheesy. Do you like every rock song every recorded? Don't judge a whole genre of music by "I Wish I Was A Teddy Bear" and "Honey". In my teens and pre-teens, I felt obliged to defend the bad country songs, because people were so vociferous in their hatred. "Folsom Prison Blues? Yea, really great with that chunka-chunka guitar." Guess what? I didn't like that song, either. I also didn't like Rose Garden, but had I named a good country song, I would have gotten quizzical stares, because all those people knew was what was played on Top 40 radio. 

I wasn't a top forty kind of gal. I had taste; not that it mattered one whit to anyone but me. But that's okay, actually. When it comes to music, I only need to be true to myself. 

And, no. Country music is not depressing. Unless you want it to be.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

1989 In Country Music Was Damn Good

Sometimes I wonder if my life can be measured by the jobs I've held. I sincerely hope that's not true. But when I think back to 1989, I remember my work life being in flux. I'd left eight comfortable years of being the girl behind the desk on the medical floor of our local hospital, and I distinctly remember why I left. Monday evenings were a flurry of activity on the medical floor. Folks who'd been sick all weekend, but who'd told themselves, just hold on -- maybe I'll be better by Monday -- had finally given in and made an appointment to visit their personal physician, and found out, why yes, I really am sick! Sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, in fact. Thus, admissions came fast and furious on late Monday afternoons. The medical floor had three wings. One was for telemetry (heart) patients, and the other two -- Central and West -- were for general illness. I juggled admissions as best I could between the available wings. The nurses were sorely overworked and I endeavored to rotate new patients so none of the RN's and LPN's became overwhelmed. Sometimes that was an impossible task. I guess my final room assignment was the last straw for one of the RN's who I'd considered a friend. She took a moment out of her whir of vitals and wheelchairs and sputum cups to voice her displeasure. Essentially, her position was that I was deliberately tormenting her and she was disappointed and disillusioned with me. I don't think I said a word in response; I just stared at her, feeling like a bug she keenly wanted to stomp beneath her white oxfords. She and I had shared breaks -- sat in the nurses' lounge and smoked our cigarettes on moonless nights -- laughed together about goofy goings-on in the Pharmacy Department; shared anecdotes about our kids. And now she hated me. I left the hospital at the end of my shift and went home to my torture chamber bed and tossed and scrunched around most of the night. I felt unjustly accused. I had simply done my job the best I could, in impossible circumstances.

The next day I scanned the hospital bulletin board for open positions and promptly applied for one in the Admissions Department. I was hired in a flash. The medical center had a policy of filling jobs from within. Thus, I sat in a high-backed chair in an office with three open-air slots, evening after evening, right next to the switchboard operator's glass-encased cubicle, and awaited new "check-ins". Every department within the facility had its specific wardrobe requirements, so I switched from navy blue polyester uniforms to some kind of baby blue stiff starched linen. I guess that was how one could be readily identified -- slotted in, as it were. I hated registering new patients. I felt clumsy and asked the wrong questions or inevitably forgot to check a specific box on the admission form. I couldn't remember which forms I was supposed to stamp beneath the heavy iron contraption, and creating the little plastic identification cards with a "C" for Catholic and remembering to include the "Mrs." before Verna Schuffeltd's name seemed beyond my brain's capacity. The truth was, I simply hated my new job. I missed knowing what I was doing; missed the breezy efficiency with which I'd whipped out lab orders and missed the nurses I'd come to know so intimately. I hated the stilted quiet of the admissions office and longed for the familiar cacophony of real life.

I lasted a week or so in my new position, and then I lied and told my new supervisor some tale about how the schedule wasn't working for my family.

If I hadn't been shot through the heart, maybe I'd still be at that hospital today. I'd be the elderly gray-stranded woman everyone allows to cut in front of them in the cafeteria line, because, you know, she reminds me of my grandma!

I padded across the sliding-door threshold of the hospital one final time. I had no plan. I had no options.

In my small town, the newspaper's want ads for "clerical work" encompassed a line space approximately the width of my thumb. I innocently assumed I could always get a job with the State Government -- my fallback. I'd begun my "career" working for the State, and trust me, they'd hire practically anyone they could confirm was actually drawing breath. And I sort of did get hired by the State, but it was a downtown (not at the State Capitol) temporary part-time job as a receptionist for the Teachers Retirement Fund. My duties consisted of passing out mail and typing occasional letters on an IBM Selectric with a correctable ribbon. No more Wite-Out for me! No sirreee! I worked from eight a.m. to noon and couldn't wait to escape that soul-sucking receptionist's desk when the big hand clicked on the twelve. Between mail delivery and the two letters per day I was required to type, I had approximately three hours of non-productive time. I don't recall how I filled those hours -- I'll guess by jamming a Kleenex between the numbers on the switchboard and whisking away the dust. If one wants to achieve invisibility, she should get a job as a receptionist. Most of the staff to which I delivered mail rarely bothered to show up for work, so I had no clue what they actually looked like. They were simply names on a business-sized envelope. Thus, I was taken aback when I finally found what I thought would be a better position -- and full-time! -- and hovered in the doorway of my anonymous supervisor's office to give my notice, and this woman, Mary Smith (as far as I was concerned) expressed dismay and told me they'd been thinking of offering me a permanent full-time position. What? And why? I only had fifteen minutes worth of work to do in the first place. But who knows? If I'd hung around, maybe I'd be the soon-to-retire director of that God-awful place today. I honestly still don't know what they actually did there.

I saw an ad in the newspaper for a medical transcriptionist. No, technically I'd never transcribed medical records, but I did know medical terminology and I certainly knew how to type. Voila, I was hired. This job did not work out well. The owner assured me that a "transcribing machine" was on order and I would settle into my new position just as soon as it arrived. In 1989, a transcribing machine was a 21-inch television-sized word processor. I don't know what was packed inside that behemoth, but knowing technology as I do today, I'm guessing it was a pile of lead plates that served no discernible purpose other than to make the contraption a hernia-inducing heave up a flight of stairs for two unfortunate delivery persons.  Alas, the transcribing machine was a mirage. I sorted mail (yep!) for months into individual slots, drank gallons of coffee, drove to the McDonald's window for a hamburger every day at twelve, came back and tossled envelopes around for a few more hours before checking out and heading home. I know transcribing machines actually existed, because the company had two busily-finger-tapping transcriptionists I envied daily for the fact that they actually had something to do. The highlight of that position was the company's annual trip to Kansas City for, I guess, a transcribing convention. I boarded the plane to KC with the two actual typists and proceeded to get sloshed. Once there, after our sirloin steak dinner, one of the girls (I'll call her "Jill" because I have absolutely no recollection of her actual name) cornered the company's CEO and vented all her frustrations about our boss. Jill then pointed to me and promised I could vouch for everything she was saying. I think I drunkenly muttered something about "not getting my machine". The next day we flew home. Come Monday, each of the three of us typists got called in separately to the boss's office to discuss our Kansas City faux paus. When it was my turn, the office maven asked me if I was dissatisfied there. I piped up that I still hadn't gotten "my machine". "I told you it's on order!" she huffed. "Well, it has been six months," I responded timidly. She then asked me if I wanted to retain my employment with the company. "," I said. And thus I tromped down the stairway and out the front door. That was the last day I had a single burger and a small fry for lunch from McDonald's.

My job prospects were dire. My family was incomprehensibly understanding. If I'd been a bystander, I wouldn't have been so patient. I compare the employment opportunities at that time to a choice between three entrees that are all putrid -- let's say, liver, seared cow brains, and boiled chicken hearts. Hmmm, what to choose? Okay, I'll take the liver. Maybe I can at least choke that down. Before long, I found a posting for a "Farm Records Secretary". I had no idea what that was, but I understood the three words, singly. I figured stringing the words together would produce a job I could perform, albeit begrudgingly. The Farm Credit office was located on the far edge of a different city from the one in which I resided, but there really was no such thing as "traffic" -- the interstate highway was clear and the morning drive was rather lovely. I could zone out and listen to the radio as the sun rose behind me. I did have a bias against the word, "secretary", since in my experience, secretary meant shuttling a mug of coffee to a man who didn't take the trouble to glance up from his paperwork and make eye contact. Fortunately, my new boss wasn't a man, but a woman who didn't take the trouble to glance up from her paperwork and make eye contact. She was prim. And awkward. Conversation didn't come easily to her. She'd migrated years before from someplace like Oklahoma and hadn't yet lost her Okie accent. Transcribing her recorded correspondence was a challenge. At first I would ask her to clarify a word, but later, finding our interactions less than scintillating, I simply typed the word that seemed to fit best. The previous secretary, who had recently been promoted, trained me, and she was impatient. She kindly ignored me when not giving orders. I didn't like all. In a couple of months, we would become the best of friends. I'm not sure how things like that happen. Maybe we had a common enemy....Mrs. Park. I spent half of 1988 and the entirety of 1989 doing my farm secretary duties. One winter morn, as I endeavored to cajole my rear-wheel drive Ford up the steep hill to the FCS office, I found myself sliding backwards. I flipped the butt of the car into a roadside snowbank and tried again...and again. We'd had a rare freezing rain storm and I was not a well-lit bulb. After about fifteen minutes of fruitlessly trying to push up the hill, I gave up and backed/slid down to the intersection, parked and found a nearby telephone. I called up the guy whose office abutted my receptionist desk -- an older guy who spent his days jawing with ranchers -- kind of a dad-like prince of a man. He soldiered out to where I sat shivering in my Taurus and loaded me in his pickup and shuttled us to the office. As much as may hate our circumstances, there are always angels. Farm Credit Services was full to the brim with nice, nice people. Had it not been for Mrs. Hateful, I might have stayed. But I was basically miserable.

Thus, the music of 1989 was my salve. The Dakota Lounge was full of sawdust and regional bands and a loud juke box. Fridays and sometimes Saturday nights we ventured there, and here are the songs I remember:


I wonder if this was the number one country single of 1989. I'm going to guess yes:

I haven't left out the king. I wanted to give him a special place of honor, because in 1989 he released one of his top two best albums, "Beyond The Blue Neon"

Ahh, 1989 in country music was damn good.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

How Does One Pick The Best Country Album?

"Best Of" lists are so subjective. I read them with a heavy shake of salt. Honestly, I read them to find out how wrong they are -- in my opinion. That's the thing; it's simply opinion. My list of the all-time best TV shows will be different from yours. Wildly different. And I don't even know if I could pick the all-time best TV shows. That stream is fluid. My husband and I just finished watching a series on DVD that I would now rank in my top five. And we're watching one now on Netflix that's pretty damn good.

Music is a bit different. One can discount current music. And I'm guessing any new music won't crack the Top 100. So, we take a backward glance. But here's the thing; music is emotional. My life experience is my own. Albums that mean something to me, others would say, "huh?" You had to be there. And you weren't. I wasn't living your life, either. See?

Nevertheless, with hindsight I can weed out emotion and be objective; brutally objective. I'm frankly hard to please, music-wise.

Country albums weren't even a "thing" until sometime in the seventies. Oh, there were country albums, but they were vehicles to support a hit single. The modus operandi of the records producers was to slap the big single on track one and fill up the rest of the disc space with cover versions of other artists' songs. Thus, we had Tammy singing D-I-V-O-R-C-E followed by her versions of Rose Garden and Don't Come Home a-Drinkin'.

Even in the seventies country albums were mostly duds. I will say right now that the following are not the best country albums of all time, despite what Rolling Stone Magazine (a real authority on country) says: "Wanted! The Outlaws", "Red Headed Stranger", "Will The Circle Be Unbroken". The Outlaws was a disjointed accumulation of outtakes by various artists slapped together with a sepia-toned wanted poster on the cover. There was no cohesion. It would be like putting a Dean Martin lounge song next to a Reba McEntire ballad side-by-side with a discarded Led Zeppelin track and calling it, "Wanted! A Bunch of People Who Have Nothing In Common". Red Headed Stranger had one decent song, but it was "edgy" in an East Texas version of edgy, which meant "acoustic".  Will The Circle Be Unbroken was a collection of old-time songs featuring instruments like dulcimers and banjos -- a purer version of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, only without a heart-stirring track like "Man of Constant Sorrow".

This site recently published a list of the Top 100 Country Albums of All Time. I give them kudos for making an honest effort. The list is a bit top-heavy with current albums, but the thing is, one can't rank a current album as one of the best of all time. You gotta give it a couple of decades to breathe. Ten or twenty years to settle into its slot on the shelf next to Merle and George and see if it continues to claim its spot or if it goes into the garage sale pile for 25 cents. (I've got tons of 25-cent CD's; trust me.)

This list also gave "Coat of Many Colors" the number one spot. I never bought that album. I looked at the track listing in the store, and decided to save my six dollars and ninety-nine cents. I probably bought an Eddie Rabbitt album instead and never looked back.

Some on the list I will grant were exquisite albums, but only a few; pitiably few.

So my primer, if you want to sample the greats:

No live performance, naturally. It was an album cut, after all, but here's a sampling:

I didn't know who the heck Rodney Crowell was in 1988. But it was kind of like when I discovered Foster and Lloyd. I didn't know them, but I knew good music. I liked country music, just a bit updated from the lackadaisical Hank Williams sound of the fifties. I liked the bones of country; I just needed a bit more drum, a bit more bass. "Diamonds and Dirt" was country.

To wit:

Dwight Yoakam is...really something. It's almost a badge of honor that the Nashville establishment has never recognized him with an award. Dwight is too cool for those dudes. After spending most of the nineties listening to Hall and Oates (who I still love) and Huey Lewis and the News (who I still love), and various MTV stars, when I decided to give country one more try, it was George and Dwight who informed me what I had been missing. "Guitars, Cadillacs" was a revelation. This is most likely my favorite Dwight album:

Here you go:

In hindsight, some of the best years for country music were the mid-eighties (right after I'd abandoned it, naturally). "If you love something, set it free", apparently. That was a time when "Vocal Group" at the CMA's actually meant something. We had Restless Heart, Diamond Rio, Nitty Gritty, Highway 101, to name a few. We had the Judds. Rosanne Cash, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea. Clint Black, Vince Gill, Ricky Van Shelton, Earl Thomas Conley, Mark Chesnutt. I'm lonesome just thinking about those artists and those times.

1986 was pretty damn good for classic albums. "Classic" is one thing; "Best of" is a category all its own. I sometimes repeat anecdotes here, but these two tales are so ironic, they bear repeating:  

My mom and dad, in their naivete, their lack of country music sophistication, slipped one of those VHS tapes into their VCR one Friday night when I'd brought my kids over. Some country wannabe in a Stetson was crooning into the mic. I tossed my hand and sauntered into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. This guy was certainly no Merle Haggard. My ear caught the whine of the steel guitar and the crunch of twin fiddles, however, and I granted (silently) that this music sounded pretty good. I walked back to the living room and plopped on the sofa. "Who's this guy?" I asked, feigning boredom. "George Strait", my mom said. "Straight", I murmured, committing the name to memory. I told myself I should check out this Straight guy next time I stopped at the mall. 

Flash forward a couple of years and Mom called and asked me if I wanted to see this guy Randy Travis in concert. "I'll get enough tickets for all of us," she said. "Noooo, not really," I replied. Who was Randy Travis? Apparently another one of those "new country" artists. I couldn't stand sitting through a concert of yet another dude who pretended to be "authentic". Mom was either in a mood to educate me or wanted to promote some family togetherness, so she didn't give up. "He's really good", she said. I'd dedicated too many years waiting for country music to get good again. Country music was Charly McClain and Crystal Gayle and Alabama, who I'd seen in concert 2,100 times because they toured relentlessly. Country music was Charley Pride re-recording bad pop songs, Louise Mandrell recording a country version of "Reunited" with her husband. Country music was snatching icky pop songs from the charts and adding a touch of steel guitar in the hope that they wouldn't sound as bad as they really were. There obviously weren't any country songwriters anymore. Merle was drowning in cocaine, having a fling with Dolly; trying to stave off time.

I sighed heavily into the receiver."Okay," I surrendered. Another wasted evening, when I could be home watching MTV videos dance across my screen.

The lights went down and this Randy dude walked out wearing a white suit. I stared down at my bag of popcorn and clapped apathetically. I told myself to grow up and pretend like I was having fun. Mom and Dad sure were. Even my sister seemed excited. The dude in white launched into some song about bones; a trite uptempo number. Sure, he had a good voice. I wasn't enamored with his contrived pacing across the stage, mic in hand; but his act was far better than Hank Williams, Jr's, whose concert I had walked out on a couple of years before. I'd seen my share of bad concerts -- my hometown was small enough that one had to take her entertainment where she could find it. My enormous music ego slipped a bit and I began enjoying this new guy.

Then he launched into this:

Okay, that did it. I dropped my popcorn bag into my lap and applauded furiously. I might have even hooted.

The moral of these stories is, always listen to your mom and dad. 

Which, after a long, meandering road, leads me to another of the best country albums of all time, "Storms of Life":

I'm gonna throw in an album that doesn't get the renown it deserves. What CD's would you take on a road trip? Let's say you could only pick five. Hmmm, it's not easy, is it? This would be one of mine:

There were so many great songs on this album, but unfortunately a dearth of live videos. I did see the NGDB in concert. They were on one of those free stages at a festival and they were awesome. One of the guys even played the accordion! This album captures NGDB at their best, "Fishin' In The Dark" not withstanding. 


The best country albums of all time didn't spring to life only in the eighties. Just most of them.

We'll discuss the sixties in another post. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

CMA at 50 - 1987...and Holly Dunn

Holly Dunn passed away this past Monday, November 14. She was 59; younger than me. Those things shouldn't happen.

I liked Holly's recordings -- she was a soprano, whereas I was always more drawn to more earthy voices like Patsy Cline's -- but Holly Dunn was country and that's what mattered. I've always liked my country to be...well, me crazy; and 1987 was that kind of year. Holly fit right in.

At the CMA's that year, Holly won the Horizon Award, the award given to best new artist. She deserved it.

Holly wrote, produced, and performed her own songs, which was, in 1987, let's say unusual. As a pseudo-songwriter, I know how monumental that is.

“I think this gives me a real legitimacy, a genuineness,” she told The Associated Press in 1990. “I’m not just up there standing where they tell me to stand, singing what they tell me to sing.”  (source)

In 2003 Holly retired from recording, just like that. She said that country no longer wanted what she had to offer, and she was right. Country music gave up the ghost somewhere around 2001 and it's never come back. I once thought it would -- everything being cyclical -- but I was wrong. It never came back. Nineteen eighty-seven was a watershed year. Let's revisit it...

Horizon Award
T. Graham Brown
The O'Kanes
Restless Heart
Sweethearts of the Rodeo
Holly Dunn 

Female Vocalist of the Year
Emmylou Harris
Kathy Mattea
Rosanne Cash
Dolly Parton
Reba McEntire

There was no denying that the late eighties was Reba's time. It was before she went off on her costume-changing frenzy (although I never actually witnessed it in concert, it made all the popular publications, like People Magazine) and while she still had the frizzy perm and an iota of country in her blood. Like this:

If I'd still been a CMA member in 1987, though, I would have voted for this:

You tell me which song holds up better. It's not even a fair contest.

Male Vocalist of the Year
George Strait
Randy Travis
George Jones
Ricky Skaggs
Hank Williams, Jr.

I'm not going to quibble with this one, although my heart lies with George. Randy Travis was and is a voice beyond measure.

Single of the Year
The Right Left Hand - George Jones (I have no recollection whatsoever of this song)
Walk The Way The Wind Blows - Kathy Mattea
All My Ex's Live In Texas - George Strait
Forever And Ever, Amen - Randy Travis
Can't Stop My Heart From Lovin' You - The O'Kanes

Nineteen eighty-seven was a great year! I'd forgotten how good it was. In the interest of diversity and fairness, I'm going to include one of the singles that didn't win:

Song of the Year (award to the songwriter)
Forever And Ever, Amen - Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz
All My Ex's Live In Texas - Lyndia Shafer and Sanger D. Shafer
Can't Stop My Heart From Lovin' You - Kieran Kane and Jamie O'Hara
Daddy's Hands - Holly Dunn
On The Other Hand - Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz

To be different, here's:

Vocal Group of the Year
Asleep At The Wheel
Restless Heart
The Judds

This is a tough category. I would have given it to The Judds in 1985, and maybe they did win it then. I don't have photographic memory! (A-Ha! They did! I just checked!)  I love The Judds, especially for their early hits, but sadly, I find that Restless Heart never won the vocal group of the year award. That's shameful. Since they never won, I guess I can pick any song, from any year, I want. I pick this one:

Randy Travis won Album of the Year (naturally); fiddler Johnny Gimble was Instrumentalist of the Year; Vocal Duo of the Year was a bust (for the record, it was Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White); the Music Video of the Year was "My Name is Bocephus" by Hank Williams, Jr.; which leads me to the strangest award of the night:

Entertainer of the Year
The Judds
Reba McEntire
George Strait
Randy Travis
Hank Williams, Jr.

I'm not sure what happened. Perhaps it was a nod to an era that was ending. I'm not proud of it, but the only concert I ever walked out on was Hank's. I liked him once; thus, I bought a ticket to see him. This, unfortunately, was the time when Junior decided to "become his own man". The people who liked Lynryd Skynyrd, I'm sure, loved this concert. I hated it. Hank's thing was writing and singing songs about...Hank. Listen to any of his songs, and they're all egocentric. All good, if you like that sort of thing.

I checked Hank's discography, trying to discern which record, exactly, earned him the award. I'm truly perplexed. So, I'm just going to guess this one...

So, 1987 was a tremendous year in country music -- not necessarily a tremendous year for the CMA's. They got some things wrong and some things right. But I'm sure it was hard, with so much talent to pick from.

And God bless you, Holly Dunn. Thank you for the music.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The CMA'S at Fifty

I have lots of thoughts about fifty years of the Country Music Association awards, and I'm the one to share them, because I watched the very first telecast in 1968.

I didn't watch this year, but I'll catch up on the videos. I'm prepared to be disappointed, but who knows? Maybe I won't be. But I think I will.

Fifty is a momentous milestone. Fifty years of country music!

I remember 1970, when Merle Haggard collected every award except female vocalist of the year. I remember a tipsy Charlie Rich pulling a lighter out of his pocket and setting fire to the card that read, "John Denver". I remember Alan Jackson stopping in mid-song and breaking into a rendition of "He Stopped Loving Her Today" in protest of George Jones not being invited to perform on the awards telecast. I remember when Alabama was a foregone conclusion to be named Vocal Group of the Year and the other four bands just filled out Alabama's dance card. I remember Rodney Crowell winning Album of the Year in 1988 for "Diamonds and Dirt", and thinking, I guess the CMA members do have taste after all.

But that's all for another day.

I will say this, however:  Randy Travis.

Stay tuned....

Saturday, October 15, 2016

2016 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees - CHARLIE DANIELS

I saw the movie Urban Cowboy with my mom. In one's twenties, in an earlier era, it was embarrassing to go to movies with one's mom, because inevitably there would be scenes that moms and daughters didn't care to talk about. "How did you like the movie?" "Um, fine. The music was good." Urban Cowboy was nothing compared to seeing Saturday Night Fever with Mom. Apparently we both liked John Travolta, because those are the only two movies I remember going to with my mom. My dad, on the other hand, practically wept during "Ordinary People" when I saw it with him, and we both knew exactly why, but that's a whole other story that has nothing to do with Charlie Daniels.

My point, which I've apparently lost while I was busy reminiscing, is that the first time I became aware of Charlie Daniels was when I saw Urban Cowboy. My older sister, shortly thereafter, came from Texas for a visit and was agog over the Charlie Daniels song featured in the movie. I could get my sister's point -- the song had an aura of danger and a Catholic girl's sensation of dread...ending in an upbeat hoedown -- which, I'm sure, is how God intended the world to work. I, however, could not deny the sublime fiddling. 

It's only fitting that in honor of Mom, I feature this clip from Urban Cowboy:

I subsequently purchased the Charlie Daniels Band's album, which I don't remember the name, but I found that Charlie was more than devils. I understand there's a whole mystique centered around southern rock. It wasn't something that was on my radar -- the Allman Brothers and other brothers and who knows who -- Marshall Tucker who heard it in a love song (which I'd heard as "pretty little love song"). Maybe one had to be from the south to appreciate southern rock's allure, but I sure as hell love this song:

That's about all I know about Charlie Daniels, other than that he is a patriot. But I like him; he's real. And he's real talented.

I'm good with whoever the Hall of Fame wants to induct. It's time we settle some scores -- remember artists who deserve to be remembered.

And my sister, no doubt, is thinking she was right all along.

2016 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees - RANDY TRAVIS

When I rediscovered country music in the late nineteen eighties, after a long, tough drought, I found that I'd missed a few things. Wasn't it just like country music to become good again after I went away? I've written before about the wonders I discovered when I came back -- George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, The Judds; actual country music. It seemed it took some new blood to look around and say, Hey, does anybody remember country? What's with all these remakes of pop hits? Who's this "Sylvia"? What the hell happened to Charley Pride's musical taste? Likely there were some new producers hitting Nashville who actually liked country music and set out to find artists to match their longing for an authentic sound. Lucky for us; me. These producers understood that times had changed -- Chet Atkins wasn't in control anymore, and bless him, Chet was a treasure, but he'd held the reins tight on whatever sound came out of Nashville, and it was watered-down broth; nothing to upset the taste buds of listeners who liked their country with an airy chime of the Anita Kerr Singers and the steel guitar and drums mixed down so quietly they were essentially nonexistent.

The nineteen eighties, however, were a time for boldness. We were feeling pretty damn good about ourselves -- we had a president who'd restored our self-worth; things were looking up, and it was time to stop settling for crap. We wanted to go out and two-step; we wanted to shove the volume on our car radios to nine, roll down the windows and sing along. We just needed a reason to do that.

This song was a reason. This song killed me and it still does -- one of the best country songs of all time (I included it in my all-time top twenty). Its awesomeness takes my breath away:

As if that song alone wasn't enough, there was this one, also from 1985:

That voice

I looked up country music in my handy thesaurus app and one of the suggestions was Randy Travis. Okay, not really, but it should be.

There are certain things, outside our family, that we cherish; things that bring us comfort. Things that make us feel warm, cozy, secure. For me obviously it's music. I like a lot of music, but I treasure only a few specific voices -- John Lennon's, Roy Orbison's, Randy Travis's.

Here is more:

I have a couple of lesser-known favorites by Randy, and since this is my blog, I get to share them (sorry; all the official videos of this song are unembeddable, so this is the best I could find):

This one doesn't even have a live performance that I could find, but it's so good:

Everybody knows what's happened to Randy in the last few years -- his troubles, his stroke. Life is a series of troubles with some good times in between. When I watched him in the Hall of Fame video, my heart ached.

My parents dragged me to a Randy Travis concert when I was still clinging to the vestiges of Phil Collins and Prince and Robert Palmer; before I'd allowed myself to believe that country music would ever, ever come back. I didn't know who this guy was. I sort of knew, but I wasn't succumbing to that trickery; no. Country music had sucked me in once before and then it had tossed me aside like garbage. So as I sat in the upper reaches of the auditorium, I crossed my arms and tossed my head and tsk-tsked over the display on stage below me. But after a while I started to squirm with embarrassment in my seat, because this guy was good.

And boy, was he good. 


Friday, October 14, 2016


I guess this is the 50th anniversary of the CMA awards.

A bit about me:  I was a "countryholic" most of my life (thus the title of this blog), until country music changed and left me behind. I remember settling in, cross-legged, in front of our big living room TV when I was thirteen or so, devouring the CMA's. I rooted for my favorites to win -- I was even geeky enough to join the Country Music Association under false pretenses. (In those days one could claim to be anyone in the music industry and send in their fifteen dollar money order and become a voting member.)

Around the year 2000, things got wacky, as they say. The final nail in my country music coffin was Faith Hill, who had a single on the charts -- something to do with breathing -- and I said, what the hell? This isn't my country anymore!

I'm not ragging on Faith Hill; she was just the catalyst. There was lots of bad country music that year. So I gave up; removed the preset from my car radio, essentially stopped listening to music all together. Where was I going to go? To classic rock? I hate that stuff. And one can only hear the same oldies about a thousand times before they want to plummet off a cliff. Occasionally I would purchase the latest George Strait or Dwight Yoakam CD. Marty Stuart was my redemption angel. I grieved for country music, though -- the country I'd lost. I immersed myself in other interests -- mostly stupid politics, which, for someone like me is a losing game (trust me).

I found Twitter and became addicted. And on a whim, I decided to follow George Strait. That's where I found this video. For wont of anything better to do, I clicked on it.

I didn't plan to cry.

I never even liked some of these artists that much -- Charley Pride was okay; Dolly, too, was fine. I loved her duets with Porter. Randy I loved, yes. And seeing him sitting there, solitary; knowing the ravages he'd suffered, remembering the vibrancy of his stage presence the one time I'd seen him in concert -- well, that started the tears.

Then there was Ronnie Milsap. George, of course. Reba. Martina. Trisha. Brooks and Dunn. My man Alan. Glorious Vince. Even Rascal Flatts.

I don't even know who some of the artists in this video are. But when they started singing, "I Will Always Love You", I thought, hold on. You guys can't do this song -- not without Dolly.

Then there she was.

Dang, I am embarrassed for crying. I shouldn't be. It's good to mourn. And to celebrate, even if what's lost hurts a little.

I have my quibbles with the video -- artists who were left out and shouldn't have been. But shoot, I wasn't in charge.

I'm just thankful somebody actually remembered.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sonny James

Sonny James was one of those guys who was always around; one who resided in the recesses of a six-year-old's brain, but failed to advance to the front, because she was too enamored of Billy Preston singing some (now admittedly demeaning) song about Native Americans and by Eddie Cochran doing a prescient preview of real rock and roll.

Sonny James was the Ricky Nelson of country music. Ricky, as he was called then, got a featured segment on Ozzie and Harriet, at the end of each episode, to perform one of his rockabilly/teen angst songs with his eyes closed, which only added to his allure, apparently (or so my older sisters tell me). But you know, it was the early sixties, and things were ripening up, but weren't yet overly ripe.

Sonny James, a country singer, had a crossover hit in 1956 with "Young Love". Popular, for the masses, music was in its infancy then. Country was something hayseeds listened to on WSM on their battery-powered crank radios. Elvis had barely scratched anybody's consciousness with "Ready Teddy" on Sun Records -- not a real barn burner in the Eisenhower years. Music aficionados essentially had Eddie Fisher singing, "O My Papa" and Perry Como. Rockabilly was about a year away; the time it took for Carl Perkins to get a record released.

So, it was a revelation and a head-scratcher when Sonny James' song hit the airwaves:

He apparently liked the four-guy harmony behind him, but four-part harmony was the thing that separated the Ray Prices from the "pop crossover" artists.

I never saw Sonny James in person, and believe me, as a thirteen-year-old living in a small town, I went to every traveling caravan show that deigned to show up in my small town. I liked what I liked (Merle Haggard), but I still saw acts like Kitty Wells and Ernest Tubb. But Sonny, apparently never traveled to my town or I would have seen him.

He was one of those artists who was always tucked in the back of my musical mind. He was there, but he, after Young Love, made a decision to record covers of other artists' songs, and at a certain point in my young life, I chose to appreciate the originals. I don't know why he did that. In reading about Sonny's life, it seems he was a versatile artist. A great fiddler, I've learned. Maybe it got too hard. In the 1970's, after a breakout debut, Charley Pride did the same thing -- he started doing covers. It wrecked his career. Maybe it was comfortable -- I don't know. So, Sonny was always there, and always good. It just would have been better had he done original songs. 'Cause he was damn good.

Here's the Sonny James I remember from those days:

Rest in peace, Sonny James.

A tribute: