Thursday, July 31, 2008

Country Music I Like Despite My Better Judgment

Killing the Blues with Alison Krauss and Robert PlantMusic has always been a big part of my life, I grew up playing the Chopin while rocking out to my Def Leppard and INXS on weekends. I love jazz, alternative, opera, classic rock, classic classical, even movie soundtracks, Broadway and orchestral arrangements. The only musical genre I dislike is Country. Well I'm not big on New Age either but that's beside the point.

I say this all with caution because I recognize that saying one hates Country music is something like saying one hates the flag, Abraham Lincoln or Lost and I know I'm setting myself up for angry mail. But the first part of a cure is admitting you need help, right? So though I can't handle the twang, the ethos or the clothing Country music spawns there are a few--very few--songs that could be considered "Country" music that I like. Maybe even love--though I'm not sure I'm prepared to admit to the "L" word yet.

I suppose I should dedicate this list to my grandfather who is a die-hard Country fan. Not the Toby Keith-Shania Twain-crossover Country but the deep-down, hard-core variety that sings into a bottle of whiskey, rejected and alone in the back of a Chevy as only Country can do. I remember sitting on Grandpa's lap as a kid and watching Hee Haw together. The fun of watching with Grandpa would be the only thing on earth that could induce me to endure that show.

Any other songs I should be listening to that might make a convert out of me?

1. Killing the Blues by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Andrew came up with this song--it might have been a freebie on itunes, he follows those pretty closely--and gave me the "Guess whose voice this is?" test. I'm pretty good at picking out voices and I caught Alison's distinctive plaintive, clear tones right away but the male voice stumped me. I couldn't for the life of me guess who it was and it didn't help that Andrew kept saying "You're NEVER going to guess!" and he was right. When he finally told me I was hearing the great Led Zepplin front man reborn as a Country star I was blown away but I've loved the song from the first time I heard it.

Maybe it's just knowing that there's a tie to Led Zepplin there that makes me feel that it's not 100% Country. Yea, that must be it.

O Brother Where Art Thou? Soundtrack2. Big Rock Candy Mountain by Harry McClintock. This one really IS country, no getting around it but the words roll off the tongue so beautifully and the feeling of Americana is so strong I'm going to ignore my "no Country" rule and like it anyway. I love the whole O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack and the beautiful mix of gospel, bluegrass and folk that it reintroduces. "Down to the River to Pray" (another Allison Krauss favorite) is gorgeous and who can't help smiling when they hear "You Are My Sunshine"?

3. Tennessee Waltz by Eva Cassidy. You've heard me sigh over Eva's voice before and there are few women that could get me to love the twang the way Eva does. This sad and romantic waltz is a favorite and I also have a fondness for some of her gospel pieces such as "Wade in the Water."

Norah Jones Cold Cold Heart4. Cold, Cold Heart and Creepin' In by Norah Jones. Again with the female crooners! "Cold, Cold Heart" is an old Hank Williams song that Norah glosses up for my anti-Country ear. A great song that deserves a spot on my Limited Country List along with her "Creepin' In" duet with Dolly Parton (who by the way is one of the greatest songwriters ever in my humble opinion). It's got the guitar, it's got the twang and it's got my dedication.

5. Personal Jesus by Johnny Cash. I first heard this as a Depeche Mode cover and it was years before I found the headwaters of this great song. As expected, Johnny Cash does it right and while D.M. has a funky beat Cash's original carries the emotion and strength that the covers lack. Could be Cash at his finest--though I'm not an aficionado and my experience with his music is pretty limited so take my opinion with a grain of salt. And if we're talking Johnny Cash you could probably take it with a grain of salt and a shot of tequila. And then another.

6. Bluegrass. In general. This is probably my Alaskan roots because Bluegrass is popular here, there's even an annual Talkeetna Bluegrass Festival each year. I haven't heard much of the genre but if you can count Bluegrass as part of Country music then I'd say--tentatively--that I like quite a bit of what I've heard. I think it's because it feels like an American cultural root that goes deep into early American history--rather like gospel or folk--and it speaks to me. On a limited, need-to-know basis. And not every day. And rather quietly when no one else is watching.

She Said Yes Chad Brock7. She Said Yes by Chad Brock. I think I inherited this itunes file from my sister's playlist somehow--you know, a disc transferred to a disc transferred to a disc--and it's perky and chirpy enough that I found it catchy and I decided to leave it on my list despite the mockery from Andrew (who still refuses to get in touch with his countrified side). I don't play it for company but have been known to listen to it on the sly from time to time when no one is around and the windows are securely fastened.

8. Smokey Mountain Memories by David Archuleta. This really is embarrassing. It's like being caught with a Miley Cyrus poster on my bedroom wall but I justify myself by saying it's not really sugary-sweet, blond teenage country, it's DEEP country from the great Queen Dolly. Though maybe I've negated this justification by prefering the American Idol version sung by tiny David "Cutie Pie" Archuleta. He's like a short little Mouseketeer up there on stage with his cute little smile--Grace is a huge fan.

Oh who cares what you all think. I love this song and the first time I heard it I almost teared up. Almost. Not quite--you won't get me to admit more than that.

9. Travelin' Thru by Jason Castro. Since I'm spilling my guts with the confessions I might as well include this one sung the same American Idol night by Captain Dreadlocks himself, Jason Castro. Didn't particularly care for him as a contestant but I loved this version of another of Dolly's songs, once again reaffirming my assertion as to her songwriting ability. I think it's interesting that while I don't care for Christian rock some of the Country songs I like can have gospel overtones. Just proves that the lines between genres can be blurry.

All My Exs Live in Texas George Strait10. All My Exs Live in Texas by George Strait. This is silly Country at its finest--and while there are plenty of pop songs on ridiculous subjects only Country can take such wonderful liberties with the English language. I used to listen to this one (and it's not actually on my playlist, so my affection for it is still pretty limited) is because my dear friend Laurie my freshman year of college adored George Strait and Randy Travis and listened to their music constantly. I still hold the song in fondness in honor of her.

"Rosanna's down in Texarkana, wanted me to push her broom . . . Sweet Eileen's in Abileen, she forgot I hung the moon . . . and Allison in Galveston somehow lost her sanity . . . and Dimples who now lives in Temple's got the law lookin’ for me . . . "

Have you ever heard "I'd Rather Have a Bottle in Front of Me Than a Frontal Lobotomy"? There ought to be a Pulitzer Prize category for whacked-out funky song lyrics like this.

11. You Were Always on My Mind by Willie Nelson. This one has been remade by more people than should have been allowed into a recording studio and while I believe this was originally an Elvis creation (am I right?) I think Willie sings it the best. I just don't care that it's down-and-out Country, it's a beautiful ballad that can bring tears to the eyes. "Maybe I didn't love you . . . quite as often as I should . . .you were always on my mind . . . " Sniff.

Dolly Parton I Will Always Love You12. Amazing Grace. By anyone. It doesn't really matter who sings this song. Well now let me see, do I really mean that? Because that statement may not be entirely true. I don't think I'd care for an Usher version--or a Yanni or a Raffi version--so perhaps my loyalties are rather limited to those performing under a legitimate first and last name.

I've always thought it odd that my own church doesn't have this one in the hymn book as it's definitely the premier hymn and can move a crowd like no other.

13. I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton. Sorry for so much Dolly but can you argue with me on this one? Go ahead, argue with me, I dare you. Her voice is so sweet and clear and the words are so haunting that now that I think about it I'm NOT sorry for having so much Dolly on the list. So there. And if I've interested you enough to go and look up some of her songs on itunes then well folks my work here is finished.

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Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

Stand firm Andrew....refuse to give in...

Anonymous said...

Err, the Depeche Mode version IS the original. Johnny Cash covered the song late in life - not long before his death - along with a whole bunch of other covers (including NIN's "Hurt") on albums called "American I, II, III and IV". I believe this is on American IV and I also believe that was his last album.

You've probably heard Alison Krauss doing "I'm A Man You Don't Meet Every Day" with the Pogues but if not check it out. We had it at our wedding. It's on Rum, Sodomy and The Lash (great name for an album) if you can't find it.

I also love "Portland, Oregon" by Loretta Lynn, which is off an album she did with Jack White (the White Stripes). You can hear his vocals too, and it's great.

Anonymous said...

Your playlist sounds very interesting. You forgot Chris Isaak! You can listen to 5 of his songs on his website.
I just found your blog and am enjoying it. My own blog is almost one month old and I would love to have your comments on how I am doing! Best regards, Rosemary

Unknown said...

Why is it country music fans are so ridiculed? Oh wait. Because the music is twangy and hokey. :-)

That said, you picked a few of the great exceptions!

Kat Mortensen said...

I was a post-punk aficionado (with a little new romantic thrown in), but somewhere along the line, I deviated to a country phase and became a big fan of Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakum and later Johnny Cash. I still don't know all the early Cash stuff, but I regularly play and enjoy his later material with the likes of Trent Reznor's Hurt, and Soundgarden's Rusty Cage, BUT if you really want to listen to some great CASH - listen the album (you can tell how old I am by the use of that word) MURDER!

Wonderful post. We've been meaning to check out that Krauss/Plant collaboration. Now I'll just have to go out and get it.


Scott McMurren said...

Your picks are great! I bought that Robert Plant/Alison Krauss CD on a whim standing in line for coffee at WHole Foods. Love it. Of course, I love everything Alison Krauss does. I discovered watching "O Brother Where Art Thou" next on your list. Are you stalking my playlists?? HAHAAA...

Stephanie Wilson she/her @babysteph said...

I do NOT LIKE COUNTRY. But, I have a feeling I might like the Plant/Krause album. I also totally love Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and the O Brother Where Art thou soundtrack with a passion! : )

One other singer I might suggest is Mindy Smith. I love her song Come To Jesus and the rest of the album is pretty good, too. She does a duet with Dolly on Jolene. Love it!


Anonymous said...

I've heard most of the tracks from "Raising Sand" and have enjoyed all of the ones I've heard. It's a good album. Weird combo, considering the duo, but it turned out great.

Anonymous said...

I love the "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"soundtrack. There's something about that album that takes me back to my father's childhood in North Carolina.

We got the album for both dads for Father's Day one year.

My father-in-law listened to it for the first time in his car. The first track played. He heard the clink-ching, shuffle, clink-ching shufffle. Panicked, he stopped the car, thinking the last rusty bolt that holds it together had given way. Seeing nothing. He started up again.

Clink-ching, shuffle, clink-ching shufffle. He was aghast. Stop. Check. Nothing wrong.

Start again. Then the voice track came on.

Oh. It was the track on the CD with the chain gang.

My FIL and MIL hadn't seen the movie. They thought we were playing a joke on them.

I wish I could be that cunning, but it was purely accidental/

Munchkins and Music said...

I do have to admit, I like some country. But you are right, some of the country singers have SO MUCH TWANG in their voices. It is a bit much for me. I guess it fits the style though.

CountessLaurie said...

Sounds like denial there, Michelle! If you can find that many songs you do like, I am thinking there are probaby more...

I am a country convert and not afraid to admit it. I love twangy and hokey. (I also have a thing for big hair band ballads but that's a whole other post!)

Scribbit said...

Well Rebecca all I can say is "oops"--just shows how not-an-expert I am :)

Anonymous said...

Hate country, looooove Bluegrass. I don't get it either. LOL! There are some good Bluegrass channels on XM and iTunes.

TheOneTrueSue said...

I was an in the closet country music fan for years, but now I HAVE NO SHAME. I love it. It's very sweet, tender and sappy - all the things that I love.

Maddy said...

Oh dear! Now I shall be worried all day.

As a long time loather of all things remotely 'country' I would have to admit that I'm familiar with at least one of those.

Shan't tell you how many more though.


MIQuilter said...

I'm with you on the "not liking country music" thing..... although my husband has me occassionally listen to Brad Paisley - and his song "Online" is actually pretty cute.

Anonymous said...

Great choices! Robert Plant: I didn't know he was still on the go! And Johnny Cash - he's the best!

[Stacia] said...

You really ought to check out more of George Strait's newer songs-I love him!

carrie said...

I'm not usually a country fan either. Most of it just makes me downright ill.

But your list is some exceptional music any way you slice it. Love Allison Kraus, Dolly Parton, and Norah Jones (even though she's not usually country).

Heather said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mama Hobbit said...

Heh, I grew up in Texas, where you can't escape the stuff, and merely avoided it when possible. Now that I've moved to the East Coast, I find myself switching my radio to country all the time!. I think I'm homesick, and the horrible twang just takes me back :-p

Elizabeth said...

#4 and #5 I'm down with.
But the ain't country!!!!

Scribbit said...

Okay I had to go look at Wikipedia to see what they said and here's the gist:

Rebecca is right, Johnny Cash covered Depeche Mode's 1989 original of Personal Jesus in 2002.

Heather, I think you're thinking of "You Were Always on My Mind" which they say is a Brenda Lee original covered by Elvis, Willie and Pet Shop Boys. I had no idea it went back to Brenda.

Anyway, that's what the Mighty Wikipedia claims.

Shows how much I know.

ames said...

Good list! I'm not a country fan myself either, but I think it's really an aversion to the slower, more modern stuff. I like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dixie Chicks (occasionally), and Lyle Lovett, and I *love* Norah Jones, Alison Krauss, and anything Bluegrass! As long as there's a banjo or a fiddle, I'm diggin' it.

Charlie Daniel's Band too, but mostly for the Devil Went Down to Georgia :)

Penny said...

Because he's big, does it make it wrong? I like several of the Garth Brooks songs...

*Standing Outside the Fire - inspiration for life and love
*Ain't Goin' Down (til the Sun Comes Up) - gets my feet moving when I'm exercising
*We Shall be Free - great beat, great motto
*Long Neck Bottle - funny and upbeat

Beth Cotell said...

Dolly's version of "I Will Always Love You" is soooooooo much better than Whitney Houston's.

It makes me cry every time I hear it. Seriously.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

I LOVE that song by Allison Krauss and Robert Plant. I ran into it awhile ago on TV and forgot about buying it. Thank you for reminding me!

I also love, LOVE Dolly Parton - I have since I was a kid and was buying LPs. Still v. v. frustrated that the album "dolly, dolly, dolly" is not available on CD. I managed to cobble together most of the songs off of iTunes, but still. I am also a big fan of Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn.

Me likey bluegrass, too. I consider it different than "country", though. Bluegrass is less "twangy" and more "plucky".

Lara Neves said...

I am absolutely a music snob. And Country is one of the only genres I truly don't enjoy.

I had a stint back in college of going Country Dancing with roommates, and I started to like it, because the dancing is so fun.

Then, when my husband was working on his doctorate, his first assistantship was to be the TA for a class called "The History of Country and Western Music." We laughed and laughed about that assignment (he's not a fan, either), but he has grown to respect it a lot. Especially the early artists like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.

I haven't heard most of the songs you list, but am very interested in the Robert Plant one. :)

Lori - Queen of Dirty Laundry said...

Hey, sounds to me like you DO like country music. You're just not a fan of all of it.

Because George Strait? Pure country, and my pretend boyfriend. I've been a fan since the beginning.

Now crossover country, like Shania Twain? It's not country. I like some of her songs, but THEY ARE NOT COUNTRY. I used to bicker with a co-worker about it all the time.

To me, Alison Kraus and Dolly Parton are two of the twangiest, and I love 'em for it! And Dolly's version of I Will Always Love You? The ultimate.

I love that you have that Chad Brock song on your list - I love it and I'm sad that he faded into obscurity.

Great list!

Daisy said...

Love the lyrics and the titles of country songs! My son enjoys country, and I let him listen to country in the car when I'm driving. It makes for some good discussions, too. "Mom, what does it mean when they say Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo?"

Anonymous said...

I love all types of music, but was raised on Country. I can vividly remember dancing with my Grandpa while balancing on his toes, to Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and my all time, tip top favorite - Merle Haggard. Silver Wings makes me cry every time I hear it. I knew the words to Okie From Muskogee by heart at 5 or 6. Crazy!

I also love Randy Travis, Alison Krauss, Tracy Lawrence, George Strait, Alan Jackson and Reba McEntire. Lots more actually.

I haven't heard the new album from Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, but I hear it is very good.

Great list.

MamaCta! said...

I have also professed my dislike of country in the past, but find myself liking some music in this genre, including many that you mentioned on your list. I guess there are always lots of exceptions!

Anonymous said...

hi! i discovered your blog by accident a couple of weeks ago and love, love, love reading all your great newsy, funny and informational posts about Alaska...

i drove from VA to AK in 1995 with a good friend from college for a summer visit and stayed for 3 years!

i've been trying to get back ever since. only this time i'll have a husband and 2 sons in tow so your "mom in alaska" is right up my alley!

Killing the Blues is originally a John Prine song and I like the Plant/Krauss version but I LOVE the version by Shawn Colvin that she does on Cover Girl.

I'm originally from Richmond, VA and though I got the hell out of there as soon as possible, the one thing I've taken with me is a love of country music...

i mean the real stuff. no carrie underwood or rascal flatts, sorry.
to tell you my age...i listened to my mom's dolly parton and loretta lynn and conway twitty records along with my 45's of Tainted Love (the Soft Cell version) and at least half the songs from any John Hughes movie soundtrack!

have you given the dixie chicks a listen? esp. Long Way Home

and any older randy travis or older George Strait is a great way to go too.

generalizations are trouble(remember when lots of U.S. citizens thought it would be cool to have a cowboy as president?!?!?!)

you just have to wade through the sludge of modern country to get to the good stuff. much like anything these days i guess!

thanks again for your great blog. i can't wait to keep reading

J said...

I agree with you, country is not my bag. But there are exceptions to every rule, and Alison Krauss should be included in any list of country not to hate. ;)

Megan Cobb said...

Never been much of a country music fan myself, but I do love some Dolly Parton. Crystal Gayle's always been fairly tolerable, as well.

SarahHub said...

Oh, Allison Krauss has a beautiful voice.

Sarah said...

Try Nickel Creek! It's kind of modernish blue grass if that's a genre. You might like it. :)

Flea said...

There is a short window when I loved country, in the early 90's. Randy Travis, Clint Black, some Garth Brooks, Alabama. I don't count bluegrass or gospel as country. Maybe it's because I love them both. And Big Rock Candy Mountain is one of the best albums ever. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you; I feel so much better about peeking out the closet now, following you.
I also like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Norah Jones but please Michelle, please say it isn't true; Dolly?
Of course, I suppose that may be countered with my love of Dwight Yoakam. What an incredible voice! The only problem with him that I see is that his legs are longer and shapelier than mine.
I also think that Waylon Jennings had a gorgeous voice but I don't care for all the whining tales of misery and woe. I've got my own problems!

Geekwif said...

I am not much of a country music fan either. I haven't heard most of the music you mention here, but I love the sound track to O Brother Where Art Thou. Man of Constant Sorrows, Go To Sleep You Little Baby, Down In the River To Pray, they're all just wonderful.

Anonymous said...

You can never go wrong with George Straight and Dolly Pardon! :)

Great list.

Tammy and Parker said...

One word Sugarland.


Or is it Sugar Land?

Which in that case it would be TWO words.

Anonymous said...

Ya, I pretty much could have written this post without changing much. Except I have to add that Eva Cassidy and Norah Jones are not Country!

I LOVE Alison Krauss. Her voice is divine. I favor Everytime You Say Goodbye and Baby, Now That I Found You.

But I can also handle a few more artists AND I love Bluegrass. It comes from listening to Prairie Home Companion. LOOOOVE Prairie Home Companion. My husband and I notice that we like any music on that show, even if it's not something we'd ever normally listen to. In the context of the rest of the show, we can enjoy it.

Unknown said...

It's sounding like you could almost fit in down here in East TN. I think your love for Dolly MAY make up for your anti country attitude :)

Alison Kraus and Eva Cassidy are some of our favorites.

And, I love Archuleta too :)

Shauna said...

My favorite is Mr. Lyle Lovett. I heart Lyle and think Julia was an idiot to let him get away.

Janet said...

Being raised in Nashville you'd think I'd be a country music fan. Unfortunately it was a case of 'familiarity breeds contempt.' Also, I'm close to having perfect pitch, and that twang just makes my ears bleed. And my taste in music runs to folk and some serious rock and roll (Led Zeppelin and the like). However, you made some excellent choices. I love the "O Brother" soundtrack (and the movie) and all things Johnny Cash, because he could actually sing. And Dolly Parton's version of her own song is MUCH better than Whitney's over the top version. That being said, my grandparents were in Randy Travis' "Forever and Ever, Amen" video. And I met Loretta Lynn and she is a lovely, lovely person. Very kind and generous and never acted like she was better than anyone else. (I dated her son for awhile, but that's another story.)

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