Archive for December, 2009

Best Country Albums of the 2000s:

December 10, 2009

This is the time of year when best of lists are compiled, usually of the best of everything from the past year. This being 2009, it’s also reflection time on the decade. Here is my list of best country albums of the 2000’s:

10. Lee Ann Womack Call Me Crazy

Coming off of her CMA win for Album of the year, Lee Ann Womack took three years to craft her flawless follow-up. Featuring a nice mix of both contemporary and traditional, Lee Ann crafted her true artistic statement.

Appealing to everyone, and featuring the best vocals around, Lee Ann made a standout album that showed why she is one of the most important singers of her day.

Essential Listening: “Either Way,” “Solitary Thinkin,” “Have You Seen That Girl”

9. Sugarland Love On The Inside

Capitalizing on the success of “Stay,” Sugarland made the single best contemporary record of the last decade featuring a whopping 17 tracks that justify their place among country music elite. Without a bad song in the bunch, they crafted one heck of a complete and well-rounded record that gave fans everything and more. Following this, will be no easy feat.

Essential Listening: “Love,” “Joey,” “It Happens”

8. Porter Wagoner Wagonmaster

Grand Ole Opry star Porter Wagoner was largely forgotten by the mainstream audience when this Marty Stuart produced disc hit store shelves in 2007. In fact, every label in Nashville passed on releasing the album; it finally came out on a small hip-hop label showing Nashville’s ability to shun its living legends when they can no longer produce a buck.

Fueled by the deeply personal “Committed to Parkview,” a song written by Johnny Cash about a mental hospital they were both patients of, the album was staged as though the old Poter Wagoner show had been put to record. Featuring everything from special guests to old fiddle tunes, the record is a reminder of country music’s rich past and should serve as a textbook for those wanting to make it in the business today.

Essential Listening: “Eleven Cent Cotton,” “My Hurried Southern Trips,” and “Committed to Parkview”

7. Dixie Chicks Home

Masterpiece. Flawless from start to finish. A truly realized artistic statement. The Chicks’ 2002 release is easily one of the decade’s strongest albums and one of its best. Diving head first into bluegrass for the first time, the Chicks let their musicianship shine  and show their uncanny ability to choose thoughful and insightful songs that strike a chord with everyone.

Unfortunately, the CD pales in comparison to its follow-up Taking The Long Way. Without much by the way of writing credits the CD feels less like an artistic statement and more a really nice covers album sung Dixie Chicks style. On its own, the CD acts as an introduction to 21st century bluegrass, but next to its brilliant successor, it seems puny and weak.

Essential Listening: “Long Time Gone,” “Truth No.2,” “Top of the World”

6. Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose

Easily the greatest single disc of her legendary career, Lynn shines in a project that pairs her with White Stripes lead vocalist Jack White. Mixing his rock sensibilities with her down home country grit, the disc brings Lynn a fresh sound and shows how at 70, Loretta Lynn is just as fiesty as she was back in her 60s/70s glory.

Essential Listening: “Van Lear Rose,” “Portland Oregon,” “Woman’s Prison,” and “Miss Being Mrs”

5. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss Raising Sand

The unlikely pairing of the rock god and the princess of Bluegrass just works on every level, creating an album worthy of mention with the likes of Thriller and Rumors. Never before has a fusion between blues and American Roots sounded this good and it might never again. This is the album you didn’t know you were waiting for and the one you cannot imagine living without.

Essential Listening: “Killing The Blues,” “The Long Journey,” “Please Read The Letter”

4.  Jamey Johnson That Lonesome Song

Without a doubt, Johnson has crafted the antidote to the slick pop country during the latter part of the decade. Easily the greatest traditional country album of the decade, Johnson pays tribute to his musical hero Waylon Jennings by covering two of Jennings’s iconic songs (“Dreaming my Dreams” and “The Door is Always Open”)

But the truly remarkable aspect of the record lies in Johnson’s ability to write the most truthful and honest songs to come out of Nashville in the last twenty years. His “High Cost of Living” pours more truth and real life experience into four and a half minutes than most of the current Nashville teeny boppers will ever have in a lifetime. And his “In Color” makes me proud to call myself a life-long country music fan.

The bar is so high, to follow this up will be a an epic feet. Good luck with that one Jamey.

Essential Listening: “High Cost of Living,” “Place Out on the Ocean,” “The Door is Always Open,” “In Color,” “That Lonesome Song,” “Dreaming my Dreams with You,” “Women,” “Stars in Alabama,” and “Between Jennings and Jones”

3. Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around

Never before has a person looked death square in the face and wrote their own eulogy. This, the last album released during his lifetime, is his best since his prison concert days. A mix of reflection, regret, and promise of a life after this, Cash captures those final moments of life and embraces their arrival wholeheartedly.

Essential Listening: “Hurt,” “The Man Comes Around,” “We’ll Meet Again”

2. Patty Loveless Mountain Soul

It is a very rare occasion when a singer can match the material they are singing. In no other record this decade did a singer sound so comfortable nor did material fit a singer so well as it did here. This is the style of music Patty Loveless was born to sing and she brings such an authenticity and freshness to it that it makes even the biggest non-believer into a bluegrass fan.

This is the greatest album of Patty Loveless’s career and her masterpiece. Though she’s come extremely close, Loveless has yet to top the artistry she possesses on these fifteen perfectly chosen tracks. Thank goodness for the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack for making roots music popular again and making a record like this one possible.

To prove my point go listen to “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” The Kentucky twang of Loveless’s voice is the perfect backdrop for telling this rich story of  the coal mines where she grew up. “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” makes the daily pain of Appalachia concrete for the average listener. The poignant vocal comes from experience, Loveless’s father died of black lung disease in 1979.

Skip the 2009 sequel Mountain Soul II, as with most sequels it adds nothing to continue what is found here and shows that this level of magic cannot be duplicated.

Essential Listening: “Daniel Prayed,” “Pretty Little Miss,” “Rise Up Lazarus,” “Cheap Whiskey,” “Sorrowful Angels,” “You’ll Never Leave Harlen Alive”

1. Dixie Chicks Taking The Long Way

Home would have easily made the top spot, if this album had never been created. Simply the finest album of the decade in any genre, The Chicks dazzle with a mix of real emotion and raw honesty. Filled with anger towards an unforgiving and senseless world, and with the hope of a better tomorrow, Taking the Long Way marks a turning point for not only the Chicks but for music itself. Albums rarely get better than this or more complicated.

The Dixie Chicks refused to rest on their laurels and wrote an album from the heart. Home was a masterpiece. Taking The Long Way is in a league of its own.

Essential Listening: “Not Ready to Make Nice,” “Voice Inside my Head,” “Bitter End,” “Easy Silence”

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Reality TV makes us dumb; smarten up and watch the news

December 2, 2009

The following is an editorial I composed for Colby-Sawyer’s student newspaper, The Courier:

UnknownThe continuing “Balloon Boy” saga has perpetuated two evils brewing for years in this country: our unquenchable thirst for fame, and a focus on entertainment as news.  Without knowing it, Richard Heene began a national conversation that, as a nation, we should be engaging in every day.

The 2000s are going to be commemorated as the “reality television” decade. TIME magazine first called attention to the craze in their June 26, 2000 cover story entitled “Voyeur TV.” Our decent into an unrecognizable world had begun.

The need to be famous has risen to unprecedented levels. Everywhere we look; there is coverage of a “celebrity” who is nothing more than someone who achieved fame due to a starring role or appearance on a realty show. These shows are good television that reel us in with frivolous idiocy and make us feel better about our own lives. What we have failed to grasp, and now need to engage in, is the danger in this type of programming. What Heene exposed to the world, is just how fame hungry our culture has become.

The danger lay in one simple fact: we began to care. Our fondness towards lives of these non-celebrities has added fuel to the fire for families like the Heenes to be able to pull off elaborate hoaxes, like the one we saw with the balloon. They are being held accountable for their actions even though we’re the ones to blame for this whole mess in the first place.

At what point are we going to stop and reevaluate? America needs to wake up from its long hibernation. The fact that we know intimate details of Jon and Kate Gosselin, or McKenzie Phillips’s experience with incest speaks volumes about where our head is at as a nation.

Non-reports about celebrities have seeped into our national news coverage and pushed us away from the issues that matter most. For example, CNN committed a Sunday afternoon to Britney Spears and her newly shaved head. More recently, coverage was dedicated to Maria Shriver for not following her husband’s law banning cell phones while driving. Are these types of stories really that important?

There are two habits that need to change: what we are given and how it is received. The American people need to focus on the important issues that affect us all. Information is power and the more informed we are, the smarter we are.

The domination of national news coverage by the likes of Kanye West, The Heene family, John and Kate, and other superficial garbage needs to cease.  The American people need to send a message, loud and clear, that they will not tolerate the brutal dumbing down of our culture.

As a nation, America needs to re-engage in the type of conversations that led to a change of public opinion about the Vietnam War. To not be informed about issues that matter (health care, global climate change, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Iran Nuclear crisis, etc.) is ignorant. We have turned a deaf ear to our biggest problems because we either do not understand them, or have grown fatigued by them.

America needs to be concerned again. Only we can effect change in this country. The problems plaguing our nation are up to us to fix, not the legislature in Washington.

I challenge you to really learn about the issues of the day. In the end you will be better for it. At the end of the day, our national issues mean more than who John Mayer may or may not be dating. Put away the gossip magazines, turn off MTV, and watch the news.

Thank you Richard Heene for starting the most important national conversation of our lifetime. America, it is time to continue it.