by Megan Bledsoe, Zackary Kephart, Grant Ludmer, Nathan Kanuch and Julian Spivey
“A Better South” by American Aquarium
There are a handful of songs I’ve really dug this year: “Neon Cross” by Jamie Wyatt, “Pawn Shop” by Brandy Clark, “Old Men” by Corb Lund and more, and I must admit I haven’t delved far enough into one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriter’s Jason Isbell’s latest album, but the one that has most stood out to me in this god-awful hard year for seemingly all of us is one that really fits the now – American Aquarium’s “A Better South.” As a Southerner who isn’t always proud of the things I frequently see in the south I often will cling to songs that speak of this idea of a better south and folks like B.J. Barham, lead singer and songwriter of American Aquarium and proud Southerner, give me hope that I’m not alone. It’s an anthem that certainly won’t be taken kindly by some, but it can serve as a reminder to those that they’re quickly becoming a minority in a growing world. I particularly enjoy the vigor with which Barham sings the lyrics, “they say sing your song, boy, and shut your mouth.” He might hear the bullshit of the complacent, but he refuses to relent and give in to it. I stand with American Aquarium and also believe in a better south. Julian Spivey, The Word
“It’s About Blood” by Steve Earle
The best song of the first half of 2020 contained a number of strong contenders. Jaime Wyatt channeled her inner Tanya Tucker with the lonesome and desperate “Mercy.” Indeed, Shooter Jennings firmly cemented himself as one of the best producers in country music with Wyatt’s latest album. Kip Moore released “Payin’ Hard” as the final track off Wild World and let listeners into the mindset of a touring artist who sacrificed quite literally everything. Jimmy Buffett also released a new batch of songs, and “Tides” would not have sounded out of place on his early ‘70s records. The slide guitar is at once calming and wistful as the lyrics paint a vivid picture of the magnificent life Buffett has lived. But, for me, there’s one song that stands above the rest for the best of what 2020 has offered thus far. Steve Earle’s “It’s About Blood” is a straight-forward, angry and essential offering to the canon of country music. Featuring guitar work reminiscent of Earle’s mid-‘90s output and biting, poignant lyrics about the betrayal of Appalachian coal miners in modern times thanks to the chasing of greed over the safety of human life, “It’s About Blood” says everything needed to be said about what happens when the value of the dollar is ruled to be more important than flesh. Nathan Kanuch, Shore2Shore Country
“Small Town Hypocrite” by Caylee Hammack
It’s such a great thing to be able to say that my favorite song from the first half of 2020 came out of mainstream Nashville. From the first time I heard this, it connected with me on a personal level, and that is what sets country music apart from other genres, the ability to tell stories and touch our hearts with genuine, relatable emotions. As for this particular song, it can speak to anyone from any little town across America and the world, whether they left to follow their dreams or got stuck in their town holding on to long-lost wishes, or as Caylee Hammack so eloquently puts it, "phantom pains for the wings I lost.” This is the story of a woman who gave up all her plans for high school love, only to have her heart broken; now she’s left with bitter memories and shattered dreams, wishing she’d chosen to leave it all behind and yet still blaming circumstances for the turns her life has taken, "like a small-town hypocrite.” It’s the honesty in her delivery, the little details in every line like the seven years that she spent circling wedding rings in bridal magazines, and the relatability of this story that will make “Small Town Hypocrite” nearly impossible to top for my favorite song of 2020. Megan Bledsoe, Country Exclusive/Farce the Music
“Only Children” by Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
There’s a strong sense of duality that colors Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s Reunions. In this case, some have interpreted the tale of two sordid friends on “Only Children” as Isbell just having a conversation with his past self. It’s an interpretation I can understand, but don’t quite fully agree with personally. To me, it’s about two broken friends who share an affinity for music and writing. One is lucky enough to escape the bad conditions that imprison them as children while the other surrenders to a downward spiral, and the emotional gambit of that situation is presented with such a harrowing empathy. There’s a mix of sadness, bitterness and even guilt from the friend “who made it.” For me, it paints the full picture of empathy and humanity that’s colored Isbell’s best work, and if that all wasn’t enough, I love the ghostly swell the production adds to it all. There’s Isbell songs I like more, mind you, but as of the midyear point for 2020, “Only Children” is my favorite song released so far. Zackary Kephart, The Musical Divide/Country Universe
“Forgot About You” by Triston Marez
Triston Marez is a Texas country artist that is making damn good traditional country music. “Forgot About You” is a first person narrative about a guy that finally realizes he is completely over his ex. He thought at one time that this woman was the one and that he would never get over her. But not only is he over her but he is hopeful that she is doing well and will find love like he has after their split. This song is a great example of how a healthy adult acts after a breakup, a perspective you will rarely hear on country radio. Grant Ludmer, Critically Country
Lamentations by American Aquarium
If I’m being frank, American Aquarium only just won me over with their last album, 2018’s Things Change. Which makes sense, given how it was a complete reworking of the band around front man BJ Barham. But time and experience? That will make all of that seething potential erupt in a white-hot core, and though one could argue otherwise – it couldn’t have come at a better time.
To step away from the musical conversation for a second, though, most of the turmoil surrounding current events boils down to a regard for empathy of fellow human beings – not strict left or right politics. On Lamentations, Barham not only understands that, but seeks to challenge those different perspectives. And like any great songwriter, he’s going to offer a voice to the oppressed, all while uncomfortably acknowledging he’s one of the lucky ones: he didn’t have that late night drunk driving escapade; and he isn’t the father who threw it all away hoping his daughter will someday be able to see some shred of good in him; he rose above his demons. His stories, however, often show those who didn’t, either by choice or by situation – sometimes both, which makes the celebratory tracks of enduring that long haul seem more cathartic in comparison. And when Shooter Jennings’ weathered production cracks depict the ragged edges of that journey, it makes for the band’s most tempered project, but also their best yet. But like the final track suggests, it’s all a battle of survival, and it could snap out of place at any moment. In other words, a timely listen for now. ZK
Ghosts of West Virginia by Steve Earle & the Dukes
This is both an excellent tribute to the 29 miners who gave their lives in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster of 2010 and a thoughtful, loving ode to the state of West Virginia and its people. It perfectly captures the duality of hope and hopelessness so common to these people and really to all of us in some measure, the toil and hardship of this life mingled with the ever-present hope for joy and peace in the hereafter. Happiness and sorrow exist side by side on this record, and giving the best of yourself and your years for a coal company’s dollar is portrayed as the natural path and indeed the best option in a world where the only certainty seems to be hard times. There is a fierce pride in the people of Appalachia and a deep, abiding love for their mountains, both of which Steve Earle highlights here on this album. Underscoring all of this is the declaration by Earle himself that he wanted to make a record that spoke to people who likely did not vote the way he did. This is such an important album in 2020 where political divides have led to the erosion of understanding and intelligent conversation in favor of narrow-mindedness and hate from both sides. Steve Earle is a notoriously outspoken figure when it comes to politics, and yet he leads the way by example here, not preaching to the choir but instead seeking to bridge gaps before they become impassible. This is an excellent record, both in its inspiration and execution, and it’s a shame to see it getting somewhat overlooked. MB
There are two types of country music critics: 1.) Those who consider Steve Earle essential because they’re supposed to, and it’s trendy 2.) Those who understand and realize the impact of what Steve Earle gives the genre and the importance of his words and convictions. Steve Earle is a living legend. He sat at the right hand of Guy Clark. He came of age with Rodney Crowell. He was championed by Waylon Jennings. He sank to the darkest of places and emerged somehow even better than before. Steve Earle has a lot to say and nothing stopping him from saying it. Ghosts of West Virginia isn’t just a protest album. It’s a cry for compassion and empathy. Sure, it’s got the angry albeit excellent protest song “It’s About Blood” and the brutally honest writing of “Black Lung” and “Devil Put the Coal in The Ground.” But above all else, Steve Earle is seeking to understand why others have different beliefs and trying to have open, honest and frank discussions with people from diverse backgrounds. That’s why Ghosts of West Virginia is such an important record. Earle is about as left as someone can get on the political spectrum; yet, he’s willing to engage in a respectful manner to start essential conversations. In 2020, what more could we ask for? NK
Megan said it’s a shame to see Steve Earle’s Ghosts of West Virginia getting somewhat overlooked, but if that’s the case we damn sure aren’t overlooking it here. I too have chosen it as my favorite album in the country and Americana genres of the first half of 2020. I don’t believe I could say anything about the album that better captures what Megan and Nathan have said about it, but I will add that the album, which is certainly a concept album (maybe Earle’s first?), was created in collaboration with a play called “Coal Country,” about the same mining disaster, written by playwright couple Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen. Blank and Jensen work in a medium called documentary theater and according to NPR 95 percent of the words in their script come straight from interviews and the rest is told through Earle’s songs, seven of the 10 from his album appear in the play. The play opened at The Public Theater’s Anspacher Theater in New York City on March 3 just days before COVID-19 essentially shut the country down. Ghosts of West Virginia has a very theatrical feeling to it as a result that makes for an incredibly cohesive piece of work in a time when many performers simply try piecing together singles and filler tracks to form an album. I’m so thankful we still have a few artists like Steve Earle. JS
Wild World by Kip Moore
Calling Kip Moore country may be a bit of a stretch but at times so are other artists that we love - cc Eric Church. Whatever you want to call Kip Moore’s new album Wild World, it is my favorite album of the year. There are moments of fun that you will find on the lead single “She’s Mine” and “Southpaw.” You also get the introspective, regretful songs like “Payin’ Hard,” which is a real standout track on the album with the outstanding line “My life’s a credit card, play now, pay later and I’m payin’ hard.” And my personal favorite song on the album “Red White Blue Jean American Dream,” which has an infectious chorus. The album certainly isn’t perfect but in a year with releases being pushed back it’s certainly an enjoyable record. GL
"Let Merle Be Merle" by Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers
I’ll begin by saying I like Wade Bowen and I like Randy Rogers and I particularly like it when the two collaborate. I was excited to hear their second collaborative album Hold My Beer, Vol. 2 when it was released in early May and there’s certainly some good stuff on it. When thumbing through an album’s track list you’ll often find song titles that immediately pique your interest and the one that instantly stood out to me on their latest album was “Let Merle Be Merle,” written by Josh Abbott, Randall Clay, Ross Cooper and Casey Twist. I’m sure there’s probably worse country songs this year – probably many of them, in fact – but I swore off mainstream country radio years ago so thankfully I haven’t heard many, if any, of them. But I can tell you I was immediately disappointed in “Let Merle Be Merle” and don’t believe parts of this song have any business being around in 2020. It’s a song about being nostalgic for what are essentially in the narrator’s mind the good old days featuring the chorus: “Let a boy be a boy/let a girl be a girl/let a nut be a nut/let a squirrel be a squirrel/yeah, some things don’t need to change/in this ever-changing world/let rock and roll be rock and roll/Let Merle be Merle.” Now, I could be reading too much into the first two lines of the chorus thinking it’s discriminatory against members of the transgender community, but even if that’s not the case (and I hope it’s not) it’s still too gender stereotype confirming for today’s world. JS
“One Margarita” by Luke Bryan
I’ll admit there’s a great deal of mainstream country music in 2020 that my ears are never forced to hear. I’m 100 percent sure that there were worse songs released in 2020 to country radio than the idiotic pointless song “One Margarita.” Luke Bryan to this point has made a career off of dumb, meaningless pop-country songs and this fits right into that category. This honestly sounds like a Spring Break EP reject song that somehow was one of the best-selling songs in all of country music this year. GL
“Trash My Heart” by Walker Hayes
I’m more disappointed in mainstream country music this year than I am outright angry. The industry’s response to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic is to have artists release upbeat, nihilistic drinking songs that resurrect some of the worst elements of bro-country (“Cobronavirus,” as one writer puts it). Philosophically, then, I’m angrier at songs like Brad Paisley’s “No I In Beer” and Lady A’s “Champagne Night” (from the band, that is) than I am at objectively worse material this year. If I had to outright pick a worst song, though, I’d go with Walker Hayes’ “Trash My Heart,” which is a new low even for him.
I can’t even discern everything going on with the production, though I can say the stuttered guitar pickups and snap percussion chop any semblance of groove this song might have had. To be fair, Hayes certainly throws himself into his performances … but that’s not a positive element. He’s completely overdoing his attempt at half-talking, half-singing the track, and his stabs at falsetto on the chorus are even more ear-splitting. As for the lyrics, however, Ashley McBryde attempted this theme of one-night stands with much more class and nuance last year on “One Night Standards,” highlighting the genuine pain and loneliness that comes with giving in to these sordid affairs. Hayes, though, is so “Holiday Inn” to his girl - which, in the context of the song, is one of the worst sexual innuendos since the pink umbrella line from Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze” - and says his girl can “steal his kisses like it’s free shampoo.” At least it ends with him repeating the word “trash”; it’s the most fitting end to this nightmare. ZK
“God Whispered Your Name” by Keith Urban
It’s not really this song itself that is my least favorite thing about 2020 musically; in fact, I could have picked half a dozen different equally generic, cringe-worthy songs to represent this awful trend of boyfriend country. That’s part of the point of why this trend annoys me so damn much; these songs are all interchangeable, shallow pieces of nothing that are worse for the genre than almost everything bro-country ever gave us. That subgenre at least had catchy hooks and some country instrumentation, whereas this largely leans toward R&B, and worse, is about as boring as watching paint dry. It’s great to have respect for women, but these songs are so pandering that they become as insulting to women as tailgate anthems, only these are wrapped in prettier packaging. With this particular song, as with so many of these boyfriend country numbers, Urban is exalting this woman to the point of worship. I can’t take this song or any of these songs seriously as a woman, and not only that, they are so generic, lacking any specificity or sincerity like the great love songs that have always been a part of country. There’s nothing moving in this song, no beautiful sentiments like in “When You Say Nothing at All” or “Cover Me Up” or even Urban’s own “Making Memories of Us,” nothing to make it believable or even specific to one woman. It feels like a trend-chasing cash grab disguised as showing respect toward women, and that makes this song and all of its clones the most unbearable thing to happen to country music in 2020. MB
Do you have a favorite song or album in Country Music or Americana thus far in 2020 or a least favorite song? Give us your choices in the comments section below!
by Julian Spivey
When legendary singer-songwriter John Prine died on April 7 from complications of COVID-19 at the age of 73 it ripped a hole through the heart of the Americana singer-songwriter community as Prine was truly the father figure of that community.
A couple of months later Prine’s family and friends have come together for a nearly two-hour tribute film, “Picture Show: A Tribute Celebrating John Prine,” that debuted on Prine’s YouTube and Facebook pages on Thursday, June 11 and will remain up on those platforms until Sunday evening (June 14).
‘Picture Show’ was a mixture of tribute performers from many of Prine’s friends and those who have been greatly inspired and influenced by him, as well as remembrance from family and friends and some archived performances and interviews.
The special also doubled as a fundraiser for causes to help fight COVID-19 and to raise money for NAMI (National Association for Mental Illness). The YouTube portion of the special raised nearly $150,000 for NAMI at the time of this writing. The Facebook portion raised over $70,000.
The special began with what was perhaps the best performance of the entire program with Jason Isbell performing potentially Prine’s all-time greatest song “Hello in There,” accompanied by his wife Amanda Shires on fiddle and backing vocals. Shires was then accompanied on guitar and backing vocals by her husband as she performed a beautiful rendition of “Clocks and Spoons,” from Prine’s 1972 album Diamonds in the Rough.
Grammy-winner Kacey Musgraves performed her original “Burn One with John Prine,” which she actually got the chance to perform with Prine in concert, even though she never got to partake with him as he told her “I don’t do that stuff anymore.” It’s a terrific song that has never been recorded on one of her albums, but I truly hope appears on one someday. She also performed Prine’s memorable “Spanish Pipedream,” from his self-titled debut album.
Margo Price was accompanied by her husband and musician Jeremy Ivey on guitar as they performed the incredible “All the Best” from Grimey’s record store in Nashville. Eric Church took to Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame for a performance of “She’s My Everything,” that sounded terrific.
Brandi Carlile and her guitarists Tim and Phil Hanseroth looked like they were having an absolute blast on “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.”
Vince Gill performed his original “Some Things Never Get Old,” from his 2006 album These Days, that features the lyrics: “Makin’ sweet love to that gal of mine/My first taste of bluebird wine/Eatin’ watermelon down to the rind/Any old song by brother John Prine” as the titular things that never get old.
One of the truly touching moments from the special was seeing Prine’s youngest sons, Jack and Tommy, performing his classic “Paradise,” which was an ode to Prine’s father and a song Prine’s wife Fiona said he dearly loved to see and hear his sons perform.
Prine’s band featuring musicians Jason Wilbur, Dave Jaques and Fats Kaplin appeared multiple times during the special both performing with Wilbur on vocals and backing other artists. Wilbur led the band on “Far From Me,” off Prine’s self-titled debut, with backing vocalist from Sara Watkins. They also performed “Unwed Fathers,” off Prine’s 1984 release Aimless Love, as a duet with Kelsey Waldon (who’s on the Prine family owned Oh Boy Records) and backed Todd Snider on “Illegal Smile,” also on Prine’s debut. The band also performs “That’s the Way the World Goes Round” during the special’s end credits.
One of my absolute favorite moments of ‘Picture Show’ was Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, truly one of Hollywood’s great couples, perform the hilarious duet “In Spite of Ourselves,” which Prine recorded with Iris DeMent. Bacon played mandolin and Sedgwick played ukulele during their performance, which they seemed to truly be having a blast at.
One of Prine’s most famous buddies was actor-comedian Bill Murray who shared a touching story of how Prine invited him to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville as a guest so they could see the bluegrass band The Steeldrivers and when Murray arrived at the Opry House he was surprised to learn that Prine would be joining in with the band and that Prine was tasking him with doing background vocals on “Paradise.” Murray shared a framed photo of the performance that he obviously cherishes.
Other great performances on the special included Sturgill Simpson doing “The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” Kurt Vile and friends being wacky with “Crazy as a Loon,” Dan Auerbach (who produced Prine’s final album The Tree of Forgiveness) performing “Caravan of Fools” from that album with Prine’s co-writer Pat McLaughlin and David Ferguson, and a touching performance by The Secret Sisters with their father Ricky Rogers of “Souvenirs.”
There was no better way for ‘Picture Show’ to end than with Bonnie Raitt performing “Angel from Montgomery,” which she famously recorded in 1974 for her album Streetlights and has become one of her signature songs.
by Tyler Glover
In September 2019, Taylor Swift played at the L'Olympia Theater in Paris, France, turning for a short time the city otherwise known as the “City of Love” into the "City of Love(r)."
Her album, Lover, had just been released the previous month and this venue allowed her to play her new music in front of many fans. Swift notes at the concert that she feels this is a "release party." Swift was set to start her Lover Fest tour this summer but like almost everything else this year, it was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During this pandemic, entertainers have found multiple ways of continuing to deliver content to their fans in an effort to uplift their spirits and offer some sort of distraction. Taylor Swift's concert special is an entertaining concert that showcases the spectacular songwriting and vocal ability of the best songwriter of this generation.
Swift's concert special showcases eight of the songs from Lover: "ME!" "The Archer," "Death By A Thousand Cuts," "Daylight," "Cornelia Street," "You Need To Calm Down," and the title track.
In between the songs, Swift offers a glimpse into her songwriting process. Swift explains that one time in the middle of the night, she got an idea and went straight to her piano to work on it. She also mentions a time she got an idea while in the bathtub. She offers viewers a look into the meaning of each of these songs. She has an impeccable ability to capture the human condition and find ways to relate her experiences to her fans, which is definitely one of the reasons she is as successful as she is. Another reason for Swift's success is her awareness that without her fans, there is no way for her to be where she is today. Swift thanked her fans for caring about the music she makes. She is very aware there are other options for music and never fails to show her fans how grateful she is for their loyalty.
Aside from her songwriting ability, we also see breathtaking performances in this concert special. Swift has many songs with very high production values but every song she writes is written first with just her and one instrument. This special showcases many acoustic performances that show just how strong of a vocalist Swift is. Her performance of "Cornelia Street" is my absolute favorite performance from this special. If the two Grammys she won for the song, "Mean" doesn’t do it, this performance should silence all of the people who once believed Taylor Swift could not sing.
The only thing I was left wanting from this special was MORE of it. This was truly a magical gift from Taylor Swift at a time when the world needed it.
If you missed the "Taylor Swift: City of Lover Concert" special, it is now streaming on Hulu and Disney+ for a limited time.
by Julian Spivey
5. "Shelter From the Storm" by Chris Martin
This is hopefully the only time you’ll ever see a pre-recorded musical performance on a best ‘SNL’ performances of the season list, but Chris Martin’s excellent cover of Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm” appeared in the very first ‘SNL: At Home’ episode in April. It was a good selection for a country quarantining at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This marked Martin’s second musical guest performance of the season, as his band Coldplay appeared in the episode hosted by Kristen Stewart in November of 2019. Making two musical appearances in the same season on ‘SNL’ is incredibly rare and the only other instance I can remember was all the way back in season two when Levon Helm appeared with The Band in an episode hosted by Buck Henry and then again with Dr. John and Paul Butterfield in an episode hosted by Broderick Crawford.
4. "Lover" by Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift’s performance of “Lover” in the episode hosted by Phoebe Waller-Bridge was the perfect example of how less can be so much more when it comes to musical performances. The performance was just Swift at a piano, that was either green or made to look so via lighting that matched her outfit and the stage/background, singing one of the best songs of her award-winning career. In one of the nicer stage production touches I’ve ever seen for a ‘SNL’ musical performance the stage and background was covered with I believe sheet music (or possibly love letters), with many of them affixed to make it look like they were suspended in air. It’s an all-around beautiful performance.
3. "Once in a Lifetime" by David Byrne
David Byrne was an out of leftfield selection as musical guest of “Saturday Night Live” in 2020, but a very welcomed one. Byrne had appeared in comic John Mulaney’s latest Netflix special “The Sack Lunch Bunch” and it feels like one of those times when the week’s host, Mulaney (a former writer on ‘SNL’) recommended his buddy tag along. It was Byrne’s third musical appearance on ‘SNL,’ but his first since 1989. His ‘SNL’ debut came all the way back in 1979 with the Talking Heads. Byrne has turned his body of work into a Broadway musical called “American Utopia” and brought the cast of the musical along for his ‘SNL’ performances, which included the memorable Talking Heads 1981 single “Once in a Lifetime.” I’m sure it left a lot of millennial or Gen Z viewers of the show confused, but I loved it (even though I’m a millennial).
2. "Truth Hurts" by Lizzo
Like with Billie Eilish, I was late to the Lizzo bandwagon, but her soulfulness on tracks like “Truth Hurts” and her great personality won me over by the time she appeared as musical guest on the much anticipated episode featuring Eddie Murphy’s much hoped for return to the show. Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” was an example of a first time musical guest making the most out of their ‘SNL’ debut by knocking the entire thing out of the park. Props for having an entire female band, especially a kickass guitarist Celisse Henderson who honors rock music and guitar pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe with a Gibson SG Custom guitar and “Sister” emblazoned on the strap.
1. "Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish
I hadn’t listened to a single Billie Eilish song before her appearance as musical guest in the season 45 premiere of “Saturday Night Live,” despite reading and hearing a bunch about how the teenager was taking the music world by storm. I marveled at his first performance on the show of her hit single “Bad Guy,” even though I admittedly was enamored on the first, live view by the production with her performing the song on a revolving stage and wondering how the show managed to pull it off. It was certainly one of the most unique musical productions I’d ever seen from the show. My respect for her actual musical talent came after multiple listens.
by Julian Spivey
Over the last month in this world and in our country, we’ve seen a renewed respect and appreciation for medical workers worldwide who are risking their lives to save our lives and keep us safe amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Music superstar Lady Gaga helped curate a music special, not to raise money for anything, but merely to say thank you to those medical heroes that aired on major networks ABC, CBS, NBC and others, as well as streamed online on Saturday, April 18.
I’ve seen a handful of these music specials in my lifetime for various causes and I have to say this was perhaps the most star-studded I’ve seen in quite some time, so I tip my cap to Lady Gaga for getting all these musical superstars and legends together. The special had everything from Rock royalty like Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones to some of pop music’s newest bright stars in Billie Eilish and Lizzo. There wasn’t a single dud in the bunch.
The special was hosted by late night talk show hosts Stephen Colbert (‘Late Show’), Jimmy Fallon (‘The Tonight Show’) and Jimmy Kimmel (‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’) and the trio did an admirable job of throwing to musicians performing from the safety and comfort of their homes, while also giving us a laugh or two along the way.
Lady Gaga rightfully kicked her shindig off with a performance of “Smile,” which she said was her way of hopefully giving us at home something to smile about during these hard times.
One of the most touching moments of the telecast came next when living legend Stevie Wonder paid tribute to friend Bill Withers, who died on March 30 from heart complications, by mixing Withers’ classic “Lean On Me” with “Love’s In Need of Love Today.”
Rock legend Paul McCartney paid tribute to the hard working women of the medical field by performing his Beatles No. 1 classic “Lady Madonna.” One of the true highlights of the evening came a little later when fellow British music royalty the Rolling Stones meshed together their hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” from their respective houses. The song sounded great, but if you noticed drummer Charlie Watts was air-drumming – does one of the all-time great drummers seriously not have a drum set at his home? In proof there is no shortage of all-time great British rockers Elton John performed an energetic “I’m Still Standing,” which will no doubt serve as a great theme for all of us who survive this time.
Being a global event, it was nice to see some worldly music on the program with performances from Latin star Maluma performing “Carnaval” and African star Burna Boy meshing together “African Giant” and “Hallelujah.”
Among the younger pop set featured on the telecast were perhaps 2019’s biggest pop star finds in Lizzo and Billie Eilish. Both performed classic covers with Lizzo dropping jaws with Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” which I felt was the best performance of the two-hour special. Eilish performed Bobby Hebb’s 1966 hit “Sunny,” with her brother/producer Finneas accompanying on organ. It was terrific, but also the hardest to hear performance of the evening due to a lack of a microphone involved.
Speaking of organ performances, I thought Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder was about to launch into something from “The Phantom of the Opera” during his performance of “River Cross,” with the way his organ sounded.
Some of the evening’s truly touching performances were of songs that almost find a second meaning in these hard times like Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow,” Taylor Swift’s “Soon You’ll Get Better” and Green Day’s frontman Billie Joe Armstrong doing “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” Good luck having gotten through any of those stellar performances with dry eyes.
And, if you ever thought to yourself, “I wonder what Jennifer Lopez would sound like performing a Barbra Streisand number?” I don’t think you would’ve been disappointed by her version of “People.”
The evening ended with a special, previously unannounced, all-star collaboration of “The Prayer” by Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Lady Gaga, John Legend and Lang Lang accompanying them on piano.
The entire special was interspersed with clips and interviews with medical professionals doing their best to make this world a safer and better place and I hope many throughout the country got the chance to enjoy the program tonight in the comfort of their homes.
by Julian Spivey
With much of the country in quarantine over the last month due to Covid-19 there has been lot of talk about “essential workers” and one group of essential workers who have been struggling during the terrible time in our country is the family farmer.
Farm Aid committee members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews got together to help out the family farmers and ranchers struggling at this time with a special “at home” version of the Farm Aid music festival that aired on AXS TV on Saturday, April 11, as well as streamed live on the network’s social media pages.
Nelson, one of the founders of Farm Aid with Young and Mellencamp in 1985, released a statement before the broadcast that said: “One of [Covid 19’s] many impacts is that it has helped us to better see the value of essential people like heath care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery truck drivers, and farmers and ranchers. Farm Aid has worked for 35 years to build a family farm centered agriculture system, and we are here now to support farmers and ranchers in this crisis, without whom we could not eat.”
The AXS TV telecast was hosted by Nelson and his sons, Lukas and Micah, from their home with most of the talking being done by Lukas and Micah. Nelson, who will turn 87 later this month, has dealt with health issues over the last few years and generally didn’t seem able to speak or sing well on Saturday.
Matthews was the first of the four performers on the evening, as the youngest of the board members of Farm Aid. He seemed to have the longest set of the four starting things off with a beautiful cover of Nelson’s classic “Funny How Time Slips Away.” He would then perform a couple of his own notable songs back-to-back in “Satellite,” from his 1994 debut album Under the Table and Dreaming, and “Bartender,” off 2002’s Busted Stuff.
The final performance of Matthews set was the most important in my opinion as he debuted a new song (that he didn’t share the title of) that he said he wrote a couple of weeks ago during this quarantine. It was a beautiful piece of hopefulness that really brings a tear to your eye.
Of the four performers on Saturday night’s event the most philosophical was certainly John Mellencamp, who spoke of all the good things this moment in our life has brought to us – people making art and spending more time with loved ones.
He performed a couple of tunes really applicable to our current world situation in “Save Some Time to Dream,” from his 2010 album No Better Than This,” and “Longest Days,” off 2008’s Life, Death, Love and Freedom.
Mellencamp’s acoustics in his place were the worst of all four performances, but that didn’t really bug me too much on Saturday night, I was just happy to hear him perform classics like “Jack & Diane” and “Rain on the Scarecrow,” which ended his set and has somewhat become the anthem for Farm Aid and the plight of the American family farmer.
During the quarantine Neil Young has been recording what he’s called Fireside Sessions from his home in Telluride, Colo. and sent some of these performances into the At Home with Farm Aid special. His cobbled together set from these Fireside performances began with “Vampire Blues,” from his 2016 album Earth. I had never heard this song before, but immediately enjoyed it.
Young would break out some of his older numbers with “Love and Only Love,” off 1990’s Ragged Glory, and “Helpless,” which appeared on the legendary Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 1970 album Déjà vu.
Sometimes legendary artists like these playing songs that aren’t exactly considered among their “greatest hits,” but rather deep cuts would be controversial, but these performances truly seemed to be perfect for such a moment in our time.
As mentioned earlier Nelson didn’t quite seem to be at his usual self vocally and this led to two of his three performances being led vocally by his sons. This wasn’t a disappointment though as it gave his kids the chance to show off some of Nelson’s deep cuts, as well, that you never hear at a Nelson concert. Micah kicked things off with “I Thought About You, Lord,” from 1996’s Spirit, and Lukas performed an excellent version of “Hands on the Wheel,” from his pop’s iconic 1975 album Red Headed Stranger.
The trio of Nelson’s ended the hour-plus of spectacular music with Willie’s classic “On the Road Again” with Willie taking his turn on vocals. It was a fitting way to end the special and I’m sure Willie and his boys, like all touring musicians in today’s world, truly can’t wait to get back on the road again.
If you would like to donate to Farm Aid and help our nation’s hard-working and absolutely essential family farmers and ranchers you can do so at its website.
by Julian Spivey
Joe Diffie, the affable blue collar ‘90s country music hitmaker that made us all feel like he was a buddy we could pull up a barstool next to and have a beer with, died at 61 on Sunday, March 29 after succumbing to Covid-19, a death that makes this pandemic hit home a little closer for those of us who haven’t known any loved ones who’ve contracted it.
Diffie was terrific at two kinds of country music – the kind of honky tonk that made you want to dance and the kind of honky tonk that made you want to cry in your beer.
Here are Diffie’s 10 best singles:
10. "Pickup Man"
In today’s country music songs about trucks have become nauseating, but it hadn’t yet gotten to that point when Diffie released “Pickup Man” in 1994. The fun romp, written by Howard Perdew and Kerry Kurt Phillips, about how women love a man in a pickup truck topped the Billboard country chart, one of Diffie’s five No. 1 hits and the longest charting one at four weeks.
9. Is It Cold In Here
It wasn’t that long ago that I was flipping around the radio dial and stopped on a song that immediately hit my ear. I wasn’t very familiar with it, but immediately knew it was Diffie. The song was the heartbreaking ballad “Is It Cold In Here” about a dying love. Despite owning “The Essential Joe Diffie” compilation it wasn’t one of his hits I was familiar with, but I immediately fell in love and wished for this era of country music to return. The song, which peaked on the country chart at no. 5 in 1992, was co-written by Diffie, Danny Morrison and Kerry Kurt Phillips.
8. New Way (To Light Up An Old Flame)
“New Way (To Light Up an Old Flame)” was the fourth and final single off Diffie’s debut albums A Thousand Winding Roads and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard country chart. The song co-written by Diffie and Lonnie Wilson is a perfectly twanged honky-tonker about searching for a new way to bring the fire back in a relationship. It’s one of Diffie’s best vocals.
7. Ships That Don’t Come In
Joe Diffie’s no. 5 hit “Ships That Don’t Come In” from 1992 is potentially his most emotional single, at least the most emotional on this list. The ballad, co-written by Paul Nelson and Dave Gibson, tells the story of two men sitting at a bar having a conversation about life’s difficulties and how someone always has it worse off than you do. It’s a touching song that helps put life into perspective, especially in hard times like right now.
6. John Deere Green
It’s quite possible “John Deere Green” would be higher on this list had it not been for radio oversaturation. I don’t have exact numbers, but I’d be shocked if this wasn’t Diffie’s most played song of all-time. The story song, written by Dennis Linde, tells the story of small town love between Billy Bob and Charlene, a love so special he climbs the town’s water tower to write he loves her in John Deere Green. The No. 5 hit (really seems like it would’ve/should’ve charted higher) from late 1993 led to one of the most memorable online tributes to Diffie this weekend when the John Deere company tweeted: “Forever John Deere Green” with a broken heart emoji.
5. Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)
“Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)” was a no. 3 hit for Diffie in 1993 and unfortunately became an immediate “too soon” joke upon his death Sunday. The single, written by Rick Blaylock, Howard Perdew and Kerry Kurt Phillips, begins as a slow piano ballad about not being afraid of death, but rather the thought of being dead and not being able to go to the local honky tonk on a Saturday night. When the narrator comes up with the way to handle his potential death the song becomes a fun honky tonker about all the good times his buddies could have with his corpse at their local haunt.
4. If The Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)
Diffie’s third career single, and second career No. 1 hit, “If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)” is one of the most unique sounding singles of his career with its bouncy, almost Western Swing themed music, which wasn’t common in the early ‘90s. It’s a breezy and humorous take on the old “devil-made-me-do-it” phrase about how the devil would have a ball in the narrator’s pockets because he always seems to find himself broke. The song was co-written by Ken Spooner and Kim Williams.
3. So Help Me Girl
“So Help Me Girl” is both the best love song and best vocal of Diffie’s career. I could see how some might find the ballad of finding a girl that he never dreamed of being able to fall in love with as sappy, but Diffie’s sells it completely with those vocals. The song was written by frequent Diffie songwriters Howard Perdew and Andy Spooner and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard country chart.
2. Third Rock from the Sun
Diffie’s 1994 No. 1 hit “Third Rock from the Sun” is probably his most fun release of his career. It tells the story of a cheating Chief of Police in a small town bar and the chain of chaos that ensues as a result of his extramarital affair. It’s a rip-roaring number that burns off a fast-paced, humorous story while barely giving those singing along at the top of their lungs the chance to breathe. The song was Diffie’s first No. 1 in three years.
It’s funny how often I think a country star’s first single is their greatest: Garth Brooks’ “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” and Mark Chesnutt’s “Too Cold at Home” are two notable ones from Diffie’s era. I also find Diffie’s debut single “Home” off the album A Thousand Winding Roads to be the greatest single he ever released. Diffie took a long road to stardom working blue collar gigs and playing in honky tonk bands before his first hit in his 30s came along in 1990 with “Home.” I think it’s this hard earned, much traveled road that gives the heart in his vocals to the Fred Lehner and Andy Spooner written song about there always being a home at the end of the day one can return to. “Home” went to No. 1 and Diffie never looked back.
What was your favorite Joe Diffie song?
by Julian Spivey
Garth Brooks is considered by many to be the most entertaining performer in the history of country music, but the PBS concert special that aired on Sunday, March 29 in which Brooks was honored with the Library of Congress' Gershwin Prize for Popular Song was anything but entertaining.
The prestigious event took place at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. on March 4 shortly before the entire world seemingly came to a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The evening began with a rip-roaring collaboration between Brooks and country music hitmaker Keith Urban doing the 1993 no. 1 “Ain’t Going Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)”. It seemed like the perfect wat t kickoff the night.
As is the case in most of these honors a multitude of performers came on stage to perform some of Brooks’ greatest hits in front of him.
Chris Stapleton would follow with great performances of “Rodeo,” Brooks’ top-five hit from 1991, and then “Shameless,” the Billy Joel-penned song that Brooks would score a no. 1 with also in 1991.
Keb Mo would take the stage for a performance of Brooks’ 1992 no. 1 hit “The River” and then Urban would return to the stage for “We Shall Be Free,” which thanks to some unnecessary controversy via country radio was the only single Brooks would release from the start of his career in 1989 until 1995 that didn’t reach the top-10.
Lee Brice would perform Brooks’ most recent no. 1 “More Than a Memory,” which he co-wrote with Billy Montana and Kyle Jacobs, and was basically the highlight of Brooks’ first minor comeback in 2007. It was at this point that I realized many of Brooks’ biggest and best songs weren’t being played.
That feeling was momentarily laid to rest when Country Music Hall of Famer Ricky Skaggs, he only veteran of the genre appearing during the night, brought out his mandolin for a terrific performance of “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” which Brooks took to no. 2 in 1994.
Brooks’ wife and ‘90s country superstar on her own right Trisha Yearwood then took the stage and things got really sappy with her singing personal love songs to Brooks.
Following these performances Brooks accepted his honor with a short speech and began to perform for the second-half of the two-hour special. This is where things completely left the format you typically see at these events.
This must have been Brooks’ choice, because I guarantee artists would have been lining up to perform his greatest hits in his honor.
For what seemed to last forever while watching Brooks would take queues from his Las Vegas residency in which he performed songs from his many influences, except he only played snippets of classics like Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels),” Don McLean’s “Vincent,” Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home,” Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Cat Stevens’ “Wild World,” Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and more.
I understand why Brooks wanted to pay tribute to his songwriting influences in an event celebrating his songwriting, but it just made for a boring, uninteresting broadcast. If he had chosen one or two songs to perform in their entirety.
Once Brooks finished this medley of hits from his legendary influences the show ended on a good note with him performing a run of his hits like the 1993 no. 1 “That Summer” and the 1991 modern classic “The Thunder Rolls.”
Brooks told the audience filled with political luminaries that one of the things he dreamed of as a young man was being able to write a song that could be sung by everybody in an audience and he launched into 1990’s “Friends in Low Places,” which has become such a classic that Sirius XM recently named it the greatest song in country music history. I just take one little issue with Brooks’ statement … he didn’t write or co-write “Friends in Low Places,” it was written by Dewayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee.
He would finish the special with a performance of “The Dance,” one of the songs he’s definitely most synonymous with but is also a song he didn’t write or co-write – it was written by Tony Arata.
by Julian Spivey
Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Elton John has always been the go to guy when it comes to charities and raising money for them, so it was no surprise when he quickly formed a celebrity benefit performance to raise money for Feeding America and First Responders Children’s Foundation to help children in need during the Covid-19 pandemic in our country.
Elton John partnered with Fox and iHeartRadio for the iHeartRadio Living Room Concert for America on Sunday, March 29 bringing many stars from multiple genres performing in taped appearances from their living rooms to raise money for those worthy causes.
At the beginning of the telecast Elton John said: “Here we are together at home, you’ve got your family and loved ones and I’m keeping mine close too. We’re taking care of each other, looking out for each other, doing what we can during this crisis. There’s a lot of grief out there, uncertainty and fear, but let me tell you what’s going to keep us together: all the goodness that’s still happening in the world, those doctors, nurses and scientists on the frontline, they’re living proof that most superheroes don’t wear capes.”
15-time Grammy winner Alicia Keys got the performances started with “Underdogs,” an ode to the selfless health workers helping the many sick and dying in this country and don’t ever quite get the ovation and recognition they deserve.
Elton John said he wished he could perform but was quarantined in the only house of his without a piano. He would borrow one of his son’s keyboards to perform a snippet of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down” at the end of the broadcast.
One of the most interesting performances of the night was boy group Backstreet Boys performing their 1999 smash hit “I Want It That Way” from five different locations across the country including Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Orlando in a spliced together video that looked effortless.
My two favorite performances of the evening were the rockers “My Hero” by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. Armstrong’s performance included a cute and quick cameo from one of his dogs.
Tim McGraw’s pups also made cute and quick cameos during his performance of his 1999 no. 1 country hit “Something Like That,” which he sung while setting on his pool’s diving board while his band was spliced in from their homes. It was the benefit’s lone country music performance.
One of the most stellar performances of the evening was Grammy sensation Billie Eilish and her guitar player/producer brother Finneas who performed their hit “Bad Guy.” It was fantastic to see a stripped down, acoustic version of “Bad Guy,” as it’s such a production in it single, hit form and this version really allows the listener to hear the terrific vocals by Eilish.
Other performances on the show included Sam Smith doing “How Do You Sleep?” acapella. I believe it was the only truly acapella performance of the evening. In what was possibly the weakest performance of the show Camila Cabello was joined by her pop star boyfriend Shawn Mendes on guitar for “My Oh My.” At least the two have gotten to quarantine together. R&B star H.E.R. sounded terrific as always on a performance of a song that I unfortunately do not know the title too, but she never disappoints. Demi Lovato also performed a short version of 2011 top-10 hit “Skyscraper.”
Even with all of these stunning and hitmaking artists performing during the benefit one of the most jaw-dropping moments of the entire telecast was the showing of a performance by two doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. who became viral superstars earlier in the week with their rendition of John Lennon’s classic “Imagine.” Dr. Elvis Francois, an orthopedic surgeon, shows off flawless vocals on the song with accompaniment from Dr. William Robinson on piano.
The wonderful hour of music and charity wrapped up with Mariah Carey performing her 1995 hit “Always Be My Baby,” showing off her fabulous range.
Hopefully Sunday’s telecast did incredibly numbers for Feeding America and First Responders Children’s Foundation. If you would like to donate to these causes you can do so at feedingamerica.org and 1strcf.org.
If you missed the telecast and would like to check it out it’ll be on iHeartRadio’s YouTube channel until April 1.
by Tyler Glover
"Who doesn't know what I am talking about?" is a lyric from the Dixie Chicks song, "Wide Open Spaces” and it also described the Dixie Chicks themselves in 2003. Everyone knew who the Dixie Chicks were. This female country group, comprised of Martie Erwin Maguire, Emily Erwin Robison and lead singer Natalie Maines, had seen success after success. This includes commercially and critically successful albums, number one hits, multiple Grammy wins, and tons of fans screaming their names. Their songs were infectious, joyful, feisty, vulnerable, sad, and spoke to the world we lived in. They also stayed very true to the country music genre. The Dixie Chicks were on top of the world until it would all come to an abrupt halt when during a London concert on March 10, 2003, Maines told the audience: "We don't want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States (George W. Bush) is from Texas." This was just days before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Americans were upset at her comments. CDs were burned, radio stations stopped playing their music, and they were blacklisted by networks. Their career appeared to be over. They would go on to make one more album 2006’s Taking The Long Way, which would go on to win all five Grammys it was nominated for, including Album of the Year. It would also win Song and Record of the Year for "Not Ready To Make Nice." However, after this album, the Dixie Chicks would take a very long break from making music. It has been 14 years since the Dixie Chicks have made new music by themselves and this particular fan could not be more excited for their new album, Gaslighter, set to be released on May 1. The Dixie Chicks have never disappointed and I feel like they are going to be back on top of their game. To celebrate this upcoming new album, I am going to be counting down the top 10 Dixie Chicks songs of all time.
10. "Tonight The Heartache's On Me"
This Dixie Chicks song depicts the situation of running into an ex at a bar when they are with someone else. The song cleverly uses typical bar talk about people buying drinks for other people by saying "this one is on me" and uses it to reference the situation going on. The Dixie Chicks sing "Tonight the heartache's on me, on me/Let's drink a toast to the fool who couldn't see/Bartender, pour the wine/Cause the hurtin's all mine/Tonight, the heartache's on me." One thing I admire about the Dixie Chicks is they have always remained true to who they wanted to be as an artist. There is nothing wrong with wanting to switch genres (Taylor Swift transitioned over perfectly.) However, nowadays, country groups tend to either veer over into pop by collaborating with them (Dan+Shay and Justin Bieber) or just by making music under the country genre label that is not actually country music. This song is just such a great country music song done by a true country female group who always feel like no matter what they do, they are who they say they are doing what they say they are doing.
9. "I Can Love You Better"
This song reminds me of the John Michael Montgomery song, "I Can Love You Like That" thematically. While Montgomery is singing very romantically and full of humility, the Dixie Chicks are very sure of themselves. They CAN love him better and they are going to prove it. They ARE going to break the spell that the girl he is with now has on him. Sung with strong conviction and self-assuredness, the Dixie Chicks have us believing that if they say it, they CAN and WILL do it!
8. "Once You've Loved Somebody"
This song is one of the more vulnerable songs by the Dixie Chicks. They sing of how it is difficult to move on once you have loved someone so much. You can try to go out with someone new, but the effects of the previous relationship linger. They sing "Once you've loved somebody/It ain't that easy to do." This song shows that even though the Dixie Chicks can do energetic and infectious country songs like no other, they still can deliver strong emotional material as well.
7. "Cold Day In July"
This emotional song, from their album Fly, definitely flies right into your heart to shatter it. We all have been in those relationships where the other person promises never to leave but sometimes, they break that promise. This particular partner told her that the day he would leave her would be a cold day in July. My favorite lyric from the song is the very beginning where the Dixie Chicks sing: "The moon is full, but my arms are empty/All night long how I've pleaded and cried." It is a simple story to tell but a devastating one that many listeners can identify with. It is definitely a tearjerker but one of my favorite works of art from the Dixie Chicks.
This song is their latest single and it definitely suggests they are back to rule country music. This song fits right into pop culture right now with the #Me Too movement. Men are being held accountable for their abuse of women and this song has the Dixie Chicks calling out their man for his emotional abuse. For those who may not know what gaslighting is, it is basically someone manipulating someone to the point they question reality and what really happened. Gaslighters are fitting everything into the narrative they want put out there even if it is not the truth. My favorite lyric in the song is when they sing "You're sorry but where's my apology?" This is a really clever take on them being a sorry person and actually being sorry for what they did. This song definitely suggests they are back and if this is just the lead single, I cannot wait to hear the rest of their new album.
5. "Goodbye Earl"
It has always surprised me about what this song manages to accomplish. It is a catchy and infectious song that fans want to sing along to every time it comes on, but it is tackling a very serious issue (spousal abuse). The song tells the story of Mary Anne and Wanda, who are two best friends in high school. They graduate and Mary Anne leaves town to pursue her dreams while Wanda ends up with Earl, who becomes abusive to her. After Earl puts Wanda into intensive care, the girls plan to kill him. This song manages to make some statements about abuse that I completely agree with and never heard addressed before. The Dixie Chicks sing that "Earl walked right through that restraining order and put her intensive care." This addresses that flaw in our system where abusive people are not stopped because of the law. They do not play by those rules and it leads to people getting hurt or worse. This song manages to tell a very detailed story and keep you engrossed into what is going to happen next. All we know shortly into the song is we are most definitely going to be saying goodbye to Earl.
4. "Wide Open Spaces"
This Dixie Chicks song depicts that moment when we all have to go out on our own, make our own mistakes, and just live life free from what may be holding us back. The song's chorus: "She needs wide open spaces/Room to make a big mistake/She needs new faces/She knows the high stakes." I think this song is so high on my list because I did not get the support of one of my parents in my dreams and it held me back from going for them. This song shows a woman who is ready to embrace the risks that she is taking. I personally see this character and wish I would have taken the risks for my dreams that she does.
3. "Travelin' Soldier"
This song is country music at its finest. This song was originally recorded by its songwriter (and Emily’s former brother-in-law) Bruce Robison, but the Dixie Chicks released it as a single from their album, Home. It tells a beautiful story about a young soldier going off to war and the letters he writes to a girl he meets shortly before leaving. The two form a bond through these letters. The best lyrics in the song are: "Our love will never end/Waiting for the soldier to come back again/Never more to be alone when the letter says the soldier's coming home." It definitely belongs in the top three in large part due to the powerful vocal performance of lead singer Natalie Maines.
2. "You Were Mine"
This song is the most emotional and devastating song to me that the Dixie Chicks have ever released. The song depicts the end of a relationship when the man has decided to leave because he has found someone else. This is a subject that gets tackled a lot in music but this one stands out to me because it adds a new dynamic that other songs don't always address. The song is devastating already and then the Dixie Chicks sing: "He's two and she's four and you know they adore you/So how can I tell them you changed your mind?" I love that this song addresses that more people are affected than just the two people in the relationship. Years later, my eyes still fill with tears when hearing that lyric. This is definitely one of their best to date.
1. "Not Ready To Make Nice"
This song is one of the best examples in music that sometimes when bad things happen to artists, it can lead to their best works of art. This song addresses the way the Dixie Chicks were treated after speaking out against the war in Iraq. There are so many powerful lyrics in this song but some of my favorite are: "Forgive/Sounds good/Forget/I'm not sure I could" and when they sing "It's too late to make it right/Probably wouldn't if I could." There is a lot of respect in this song from me for the Dixie Chicks because even though it put a huge strain on their career, they were not sorry for what they said because after all, in America, we do have free speech. They also sing: "How in the world can the words that I said/Send somebody so over the edge that they write me a letter saying that I better shut up and sing or my life will be over?" This lyric really shows just how much this controversy affected the Dixie Chicks on a personal level. This song would also go on to win the Grammy for Song and Record of the Year. After all the Dixie Chicks had went through, this was definitely a nice surprise.
What's your favorite Dixie Chicks song? Let us know in the comments!