Posts Tagged ‘Natalie Maines’

Favorite Country Singles of 2013: 10-1

December 5, 2013

It was just a few months ago, I was in panic mode. How the heck am I supposed to compile and rank a list of favorite singles when the majority of country music, especially mainstream terrestrial radio country, left me numb? Hell, I don’t even have a can’t-live-without favorite single from 2013. I don’t know when the tide turned, but I was once again able to rank a list I’m very happy with. None of these were big hits (although #8 did chart top 15), but they were the artistic statements that should’ve ruled the airwaves. The genre would’ve been better off if they had.

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10. Bruises – Train Feat. Ashley Monroe 

Two high school classmates run into each other for the first time since graduation ten years ago. He marvels at her ability to retain her beauty after having two kids, while she’s glad to hear he’s finally left their suffocating small-town. Lovers or not, they’ll always be linked by their bruises – those moments in life resulting in a stumble on the path to enlightenment.

Hailing from San Francisco and making his mark in pop music, Train’s Pat Monahan is forgiven for recycling Phil Vassar’s “Carlene” just about word-for-word. This take on the tale stands out, though, because he gives voice to the female perspective through Monroe who turns in a buttery vocal that’s one of her finest moments she’s ever committed to record.

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9. Sober – Little Big Town 

The centerpiece of Tornado, “Sober” proves there’s life beyond Karen Fairchild whose position as the band’s lead singer has left little diversity in their radio offerings of late. Whether or not this turns into the hit it deserves to be, it’s good to see the criminally underrated Kimberly Schlapman given her due. She’s more then just a pretty face, and is finally able to prove that here.

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8. All Kinds of Kinds – Miranda Lambert

Lambert’s best single since “The House That Built Me” is Don Henry’s timeless ode to diversity that makes a strong statement without seeming preachy or political. These are the types of quality records that helps Lambert stand above her competition, schooling them on how to challenge the listener with substance while honing the artistic image that’s made them famous.

She howls, ‘When I stood up in Geometry and everybody stared at me as I tossed my test into the trash’ with the same bite she brings to her revenge anthems, but you feel the weight of maturity from an artist who isn’t afraid to grow in a market that rewards stagnation around every corner. Lambert is a fully modern country singer, but “All Kinds of Kinds” proves she isn’t done pulling new tricks out of her sleeve.

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7. Blue Ridge Mountain Song – Alan Jackson 

Leave it to Alan Jackson, three years after being blackballed by country radio, to release one of his greatest singles – an old fashioned testament to true love sprinkled with trademarks of the bluegrass tradition. He may move the story a little too quickly, in order to get to the twist towards the end, but he does everything else right. May this mark the beginning of an exciting new chapter in his career.

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6. Over When It’s Over – Eric Church 

With Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean facing deserving near-constant criticism for their shallow lyrics and douche bag behavior, their “Only Way I Know” counterpart Eric Church has been givin the space to forge his own path. Instead of rapping about trucks and dirt roads, he has consistently crafted original compositions that possess a decidedly rock edge, but are cut from the cloth of classic country (“The Outsiders” notwithstanding).

“Over When It’s Over” is a sparse reflection on a relationship gone sour, with both parties going their separate ways through a seething fog of regret. What the track lacks in production is compensated for in Church’s tour-de-force vocal conveying the perfect amounts of anger and sadness. It’s the best track from Chief, and while it could’ve used accents of pedal steel in its execution (and how cool would’ve been if Natalie Maines could’ve provided the backing vocals?) what we have is just enough to make it stand out from the pack.

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5. Stripes – Brandy Clark

Shane McAnally had the idea to write a song called “Orange” about a woman who stops short of killing her cheating husband because she doesn’t look good in the titular prison color. He brought the idea to Clark, stuck on the fact nothing rhymes with his clever hook. She turned it around saying “but everything rhymes with stripes.”

Their meeting of the minds resulted in a wickedly smart cheating song littered with originality and quirky turns of phrase (“there’s no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion”) that reveal the underlying humor underscoring the uptempo numbers on 12 Stories. Clark’s ability to find comedy in some of life’s most despairing moments is one of her greatest skills as a songwriter.

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4. Blacktop – Alan Jackson

I was glad to see the blacktop, no more dust in my eyes” and with that Jackson lays down the gauntlet in opposition to bro-country with an act of striking civil disobedience. How refreshing is it that twenty-four years into his storied career Jackson still has something meaningful to contribute to the country music landscape?

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3. Elephant – Jason Isbell 

The mark of a great songwriter is their ability to take well-worn themes and make the listener feel like they’re hearing them for the first time. In an era saturated with an “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” mentality, where hair is replaced with “Skin” and women are “Tough,” Isbell is just trying to ignore the elephant in the room and let his woman enjoy what little life she has left – letting her get drunk and high, joke about her harsh reality, and sing although her voice is nearly gone.

He’s the truest of friends, there for her but not a burden. He just wants one night where they both forget the bitter truth staring them squarely in the face, an impossible proposition seeing as he’s an emotional wreck bursting at the seams, a levee that miraculously hasn’t breached. Never has the word “somehow” been packed with so much meaning.

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2. Hangin’ Up My Heart – Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

The best track from Old Yellow Moon is this ripped from the 1970s traditional number penned by Crowell for Sissy Spacek’s lone early 1980s country album. The pair sound invigorated here, with a renewed freshness that showcases what the resulted album could’ve and ultimately should’ve been.

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1. Follow Your Arrow – Kacey Musgraves

The most important country single of 2013 is a gay-rights battle cry openly embracing a love who you love mentality in a genre where anything ‘gay’ is almost non-existent. Musgraves is a new age Loretta Lynn not afraid to speak her mind and be open towards her beliefs. Her boldness is refreshing and hopefully the seed that gives her fellow contemporaries the guts to bring substance to their music again.

Say What? Natalie Maines is a glorified ass

January 17, 2013

CMIL24Earlier this month, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines had a lot to say in an interview with Howard Stern on his Sirius/XM radio show:

“Growing up, when people asked, ‘What kind of music do you listen to?,’ I’d say, ‘Anything but country.’

She went on to insult her former core fan base further, this time by dragging up what is almost ten years in the past:

“I naively thought those same people would come again. It was not good. Our biggest fanbase was a country audience, and they weren’t there. I don’t trust it anymore. I don’t want to put my fate in country music fans, I’m too stubborn.”

And if country fans had any hope of a Dixie Chicks reunion following two planned Chicks concerts in Canada this summer, she made sure to squash those, too:

“I didn’t want to do (the Canadian shows), because I want to focus all of my energy [on] this album. I’m not good at multi-tasking. I just wanted one touring cycle to just focus on this, but I was outvoted.”

And she, of course, gets the final say in anything the Dixie Chicks get to do from this point onward:

“I just don’t feel like it’s the Dixie Chicks’ time. I feel like things were tainted permanently. So, I struggle with going out on five Grammys or going out — petering out.”

But she must end by making sure she’s totally clear:

“I’m still in the Dixie Chicks; we haven’t broken up … I love the Dixie Chicks; it’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. It was like winning the lottery.”

I can easily forgive someone who puts their foot in their mouth with a largely unfortunate gaffe insulting the President of the United States. Her behavior on March 10, 2003 was certainly uncalled for, but it never really bothered me – people say idiotic things, blah, blah, blah. It didn’t damper the artistic excellence of Home and it led to one of the most complete artistic statements I’ve ever heard, Taking The Long Way.

The Chicks were better for Maines’ comment because it broke down the barrier of fear and insecurity blocking deeply honest truths and shockingly raw sensibilities. Taking The Long Way showcased a band in full alignment with their authentic selves, an unapologetic force for both personal and social justice. With the levee not just broken but demolished, I had great anticipation for their artistic future – especially after convincing myself they’d never make a record as good as Home again. Instead they made a record that rendered Home an act of child’s play.

The real effect of their commercial demise wasn’t the open wound they left in country music but its inability to properly heal. The Dixie Chicks took the high quality of early-2000s country down with them, and the state of country radio has never recovered, more and more a parody of its former self each and every bygone year. They took with them the challenge to be great, to sing intelligent songs, and fill your records with the lyrics of strong insightful songwriters. Think about it. Had the Chicks proceeded as normal, without alienating most Americans, we’d likely been spared such dreck as “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Come Off,” “Dirt Road Anthem,” “Truck Yeah,” and “Cruise.”

They managed to make bluegrass, the genre Dierks Bentley couldn’t make country radio play with a ten foot pole, not just cool but profitable. They turned a cover of a Fleetwood Mac song into a radio smash. Heck, they put the banjo and fiddle in the forefront of mainstream country again. They even managed to turn in one of the coolest Bob Dylan covers in recent memory. They climbed musical mountains and made the impossible, possible.

Now it seems, it was all for nothing, at least to Maines. I understand the desire to change directions and make a solo rock album, but burning the last pillers of the bridge that made the rock album possible? Acting with complete disregard for anyone and everyone who may’ve bought an album in the past? Come on. Maines should be grateful to be talking about another album at all. The damage she did with “the incident” was bad, but this is taking things too far.

I love how she refers to her career in country music as a “job.” As though being a country singer is just another hat to wear. It amazes me that she could lead a genre she has so little regard for. I completely understand the alienation she feels from the country music community – I’ve never seen anyone turn that quickly on someone ever. She was banished to the guillotine faster a citizen speaking out against a ruthless communist dictator. It’s hard to believe even the most outspoken of country singers – Steve Earle, Merle Haggard, etc – didn’t see fit to rally behind her. But that’s not the point, is it?

Maines has made us all the fools. She’s turned her outspoken nature around to make us look bad. Like we were pawns in this big facade, supporting someone just going along for the ride, fulfilling the duties of a job. An actor in the meatiest role never to nab an Academy Award. But there’s a big difference now – our eyes are open. The fans can see right through Maines, a onetime FUTK fashionista. Her inability to be genuine is downright sickening. She’s nothing but a glorified knucklehead, talking just to hear herself talk. And enough is enough. Maybe the world is better without that Dixie Chicks album we’ve been long awaiting, if it means she takes her mouth and just goes away. At least until she has regard for something, and more importantly, someone.

Now, I still love the music of the Dixie Chicks. And The Court Yard Hounds. There’s something warm and inviting about Maine’s singing voice that speaks to me. I’ve often been very good at separating people from their art. How can you not? Almost everyone in the entertainment business has said some stupid thing at one point or another. That’s why I will be buying Maines’ solo rock album Mother this May. I’m glad she’s back with new music. Now if she’d just shut up and let that music do the talking. It would be a nice change, and might restore the last faded strain of credibility she might have left.

Now, as pissed as I am at her continued lack of self regard, I’m glad she did the Howard Stern interview. I’ve (and country fans) have waited long enough for news about a new Chicks album, and this is the update we’ve needed for so long – straight from the horses’ mouth. But we should’ve been careful what we wished for.

Concert Review – Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples at the Cape Cod Melody Tent

July 1, 2012

On a crisp and breezy summer night in late June, Bonnie Raitt, still a fine singer at 62, closed the current leg of her tour  in Hyannis, MA at the Cape Cod Melody Tent. Throughout the excellent show, Raitt spent ample time slinking her way through songs both old and new, recognizable hits and ones that should be from her excellent new CD Slipstream.

She kicked off the evening working the crowd in to the feel good groove of “Used To Rule The World,” the opening cut on the new album, before launching into the reggae mood of “Right Down The Line,” her excellent cover of the Gerry Rafferty song.

The night quickly became a showcase for the new music, some of the blueiest of Raitt’s career, and her first new music in seven years. In addition to the opening numbers, Raitt performed a beautiful cover of Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles,” Joe Henry’s “You Can’t Fail Me Now,” and “Marriage Made In Hollywood,” co-written by her ex-husband Michael O’Keefe.

The highlight of the new music was “Not Cause I Wanted To,” co-wrriten by country songwriter Al Anderson. A pensive ballad, the crowd became transfixed on Raitt’s emotive vocal. The tasteful and quiet arrangement helped too, as it gave the song appropriate room to breathe. A classic in the making, it was a show-stopping moment, and proof there are artists out there still willing to bring quality songs to their fans.

Raitt also turned back the clock to her iconic classics, turning in fine versions of “Something To Talk About,” “Love’s Sneaking Up On You,” and John Hiatt’s  “Thing Called Love,” complete with her usual energy and gusto. And with the mark of an acute songstress, they all sounded as good as they did more than twenty years ago, if not better. (The only hit she didn’t sing was “Nick of Time”).

Having never seen Raitt live before, I was unaware of her easy going nature and sense of humor. Between songs she spoke lovingly of the memories she has of being a little girl, peaking down the aisles of the very tent she was performing in (although, as she noted, it’s been moved just slightly from its original location).

Raitt came of age in Massachusetts, getting her start as a musician in Cambridge, the city bordering Boston. She didn’t talk about her Cambridge connection, but through memories with her father, her love of Massachusetts became very clear. She was even able to visit Martha’s Vineyard  during this brief stay.

She also made sure to interact with the audience, even remarking at a fan’s sign requesting a couple of songs. She was amazed at this person’s level of Raitt knowledge, requesting two songs she deemed “obscure” (she never said what they were), quipping that she wished she still knew them.

At another point, during the encore, Raitt became somewhat political, taking a stance against the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant (in nearby Plymouth, MA), advocating for it’s permanent closer. A very hot-button issue (the workers have recently been on strike), it got the crowd going and forced security to evict someone. This semi-rant led into her Nick of Time hit “Have A Heart,” and was supposed to infuse the song with added power.

I’m not one for artists using their platform to spiel political discourse, and in the post-Maines era, it’s proven not to be a smart move. But it hardly took away from the  music-centric evening. Raitt often proved a mutual admiration society with her band, some of whom had been with her for more than 20 years.

One of the newest additions is noted keyboardist Mike Finnigan, known for his work with Jimi Hendrix, Manhattan Transfer, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Raitt paused long enough to give Finnigan a solo number, the deepest slice of authentic blues heard all evening.

Moments like this gave Raitt a chance to display her guitar prowess, an underrated talent in the music world. Throughout the evening she switched between many guitars, both acoustic and electric. Her playing abilities were as intoxicating as her singing, and together proved an ultimate package.

The aforementioned encore proved another highlight as Raitt brought out her secret weapon (and only guitar-less number), “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” A song deeply engrained within us, Raitt infused it with new meaning by slowing it down even further, thus letting the emotion sink in. She closed with a spirited Elvis Presley cover.

Staples, the opening act, got the party rolling with her throaty mix of Gospel and southern preaching. Like a female God, she emoted from the deepest fibers of her soul when talking about the Civil Rights Movement and marches from Montgomery to Selma through chants of “I will not turn around!”

Her somewhat lengthy (for this venue, which has a noise curfew) hour long set also included a lovely tribute to Levon Helm and a showcase of her siblings, the Staples Singers (Cleeotha, Pervis, and Yvonne). While not as famous, they proved just as good  and accompanied Mavis all evening.

But the highlight of her set came when Raitt made a surprise appearance, joining Staples on stage for a cover I wasn’t expecting to hear – The Carter Family / Nitty Gritty Dirt Band classic “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” Unaware of its connection to the Staples Singers, this came as a shock out of nowhere, yet was one of the night’s most enjoyable moments.

Overall, it was fabulous night of entertainment from two extremely classy individuals who seem better with age.  It also didn’t hurt that the sold out show was filled with music lovers (mostly the Baby Boomer generation), not young adults looking to drink beer and raise a Red Solo Cup. Being surrounded by people who not only appreciated but understood good music turned an ordinary evening into something very special.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – it’s often a curse, growing up with two in the round theaters practically in your backyard. The intimacy of the performances is easily unmatched when placed on bigger stages in the Boston. The closeness between singer and fan can’t be found most other places, and I’m grateful to have grown up with The Cape Cod Melody Tent and South Shore Music Circus playing a critical role in my musical education. And, of course, for making nights like this a reality.

Concert Review – Kelly Clarkson Stronger Tour – Wang Theatre – Jan 26, 2011

January 31, 2012

It seems like Kelly Clarkson is everywhere. She had an Unplugged special on VH1 last November, she sang on the AMA Awards and VH1 Divas Soul, was announced as a mentor on Blake Shelton’s team for The Voice, and she performed as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. And not to be out done on the biggest night in sports, she’s singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.

I hardly remember a similar media blitz in her ten year career. Clarkson’s mangers and publicity people seem to be working overtime to make sure she has her fill of the spotlight. In between all these events, she’s also touring.

I never knew I wanted to see Clarkson in concert until I saw a notice about her Stronger tour from her Facebook page. I looked over the dates and found she was coming to the Boston Area at the end of Jan. I really wanted to go, but getting tickets proved challenging as they were already on sale and likely sold out. But being persistent paid off as good seats, too good to pass up, became available.

I don’t have a distinct recollection of ever attending a show at The Citi Performing Arts Wang Theater before, so I was really looking forward to the experience. I love the old classy theaters in Boston and have seen many a musical in town. This was my first “rock” concert at such a venue and it worked surprisingly well.

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