Tag Archives: Country

3: The Chase (Garth Brooks)

Album: The Chase
Artist: Garth Brooks
Year: 1992

1. We Shall Be Free
2. Somewhere Other Than the Night
3. Mr. Right
4. Every Now and Then
5. Walkin’ After Midnight
6. Dixie Chicken
7. Learning to Live Again
8. That Summer
9. Night Rider’s Lament
10. Face to Face

In the middle of an amazing run where he had multiple albums on the charts and never stopped touring, Garth Brooks released what is still his best album.  A fairly dark album as far as country music goes, The Chase includes some pretty heavy themes with the exception of Mr. Right, which is a short jingle about Garth professing his undying love for a woman, but is totally okay with just sex if she’s down with that.

We Shall Be Free is an anthem for civil rights, and something rarely heard on country radio. It even implied equal rights for homosexuals. Of course, we’d learn on his next album that his version of equal rights doesn’t extend to poor people, but it’s still a pretty good anthem. Somewhere Other Than the Night is a classic Brooks ballad about specific characters rather than ciphers that anyone can identify with. Every Now and Then is another song about Brooks pining for an old flame despite being married (see: Unanswered Prayers), but this one avoids being preachy and has a very pretty melody.

The next two songs are covers. Garth’s version of Walkin’ After Midnight doesn’t hold a candle to Patsy Cline’s, but it’s nice and inoffensive.  Dixie Chicken is a cover of a 1973 Little Feat song about a guy who meets the woman of his dreams and lavishes her only to find out (in deliciously subtle fashion) that he’s about the hundredth guy who’s fallen for her.

Learning to Live Again is my favorite country song hands down. A touching, painful song about a guy with severe depression trying to force himself to socialize again by going on a double date. It doesn’t tie everything up in a pretty bow and echoes the experiences of many in a similar emotional state.

That Summer is the most popular song from the album, reminiscent of Maggie Mae, but incredibly ham-fisted. It tries to be subtle with all the sexual innuendo but I’d much rather hear a real story about these two people without all the dress-up.

Night Rider’s Lament is a tribute to the cowboy lifestyle where Garth takes his shot at yodeling and does a fine job.  Face to Face wraps things up with the album’s darkest song about bullying, rape, and hate. It’s a cold song, and I’m glad Garth did it, but it feels a bit out of place as the final song on an album.

As Garth’s home life went to hell his songwriting sputtered as well, though it may have been coincidence. Nevertheless, his later albums are mixed with a few brilliant songs and a lot of unimaginative trash. His final album, Scarecrow, released in 2001, was a slight improvement and I’m looking forward to if and when he ever records again. He committed to not recording and touring until he raised his daughters, and his last one is finishing up high school, so maybe soon. Though, I wonder if the second best selling artist of all time has anything left in the tank.

8: Brand New Man (Brooks & Dunn)

Album: Brand New Man
Artist: Brooks & Dunn
Year: 1991

1. Brand New Man (D)
2. My Next Broken Heart (D)
3. Cool Drink of Water (B)
4. Cheating on the Blues (B)
5. Neon Moon (D)
6. Lost and Found (B)
7. I’ve Got a Lot to Learn (D)
8. Boot Scootin’ Boogie (D)
9. I’m No Good (B)
10. Still in Love with You (B)

I’ve pretty much run out of things to say about Brooks & Dunn.  So I’ll just say their debut album is sensational, the first song I ever danced to was Neon Moon, and I have a client with paranoid schizophrenia who loves playing Lost and Found for me on his guitar.

10: Come On Come On (Mary-Chapin Carpenter)

Album: Come On Come On
Artist: Mary-Chapin Carpenter
Year: 1992

1. The Hard Way
2. He Thinks He’ll Keep Her
3. Rhythm of the Blues
4. I Feel Lucky
5. The Bug
6. Not Too Much to Ask (with Joe Diffie)
7. Passionate Kisses
8. Only a Dream
9. I Am a Town
10. Walking Through Fire
11. I Take My Chances
12. Come On Come On

It was really hard not to view this album through a wave of nostalgia. It was the first CD I ever owned and is one of the few I still have. Three songs turned me onto country music.  Boot Scootin’ Boogie by Brooks & Dunn, Runnin’ Behind by Tracy Lawrence, and I Feel Lucky by Mary-Chapin Carpenter.  But this album is more than nostalgia.  It’s truly an exceptional collection of songs. Not that the radio is the best barometer for quality, but Come On Come On had seven singles and all seven were Top 20. Even more amazingly, the best two charting singles were the sixth and seventh.

Carpenter is a smoker and there’s a bit of gravel in her voice that works for me, especially on her ballads. Combine that with mature songwriting (she wrote every song except Passionate Kisses) and you get some really moving songs. He Thinks He’ll Keep Her is a refreshing and honest look at divorce from a women’s perspective.  Rhythm of the Blues is as soulful as one will get from contemporary country. Then we get I Feel Lucky, a very fun fantasy about winning the lottery. What would Mary-Chapin do with 11 million dollars? First things first: buy a pack of Camel’s, a burrito, and a Barq’s. She also entertains fighting off Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakam’s sexual advances.  Great stuff.

The Bug and Not Too Much to Ask are okay filler and Joe Diffie was definitely not needed for the duet. The flip side of the album is where its at. Passionate Kisses is about a basic need of Carpenter’s that Maslow forgot to add to his hierarchy. Only a Dream is an amazing introspective ballad. I Am a Town is pretty good poetry to music. I Take My Chances is a better written version of the “Don’t follow the crowd” trope in country music. The title track is the perfect ending to the album, a powerful lullaby.

12: In Pieces (Garth Brooks)

Album: In Pieces
Artist: Garth Brooks
Year: 1993

1. Standing Outside the Fire
2. The Night I Called the Old Man Out
3. American Honky-Tonk Bar Association
4. One Night a Day
5. Kickin’ and Screamin’
6. Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)
7. The Red Strokes
8. Callin’ Baton Rouge
9. The Night Will Only Know
10. The Cowboy Song

Let me start out by saying that this is some of the best cover art I’ve seen for a country music album.

Garth was already the most popular country artist ever before In Pieces and this album turned him into a freaking legend. Ain’t Goin’ Down was liked across genres and in one live show he was suspended from wires, flying through the stadium while a ring of pyrotechnics exploded all around him. There’s a reason he won Entertainer of the Year more than once.

What’s so impressive about this album is the wide range of emotionally resonating subjects he sings about. The Night I Called the Old Man Out is about the singer and his brothers getting pissed at their dad and getting into physical brawls with him.  The Night Will Only Know is about a couple witnessing a murder but not going to the police about it to hide their affair. Standing Outside the Fire is a fairly generic song about standing up for what you believe in, but the music video places it in the context of Down’s Syndrome and it makes the song all the more powerful.

The ballads are universally powerful. One Night a Day is a showcase for Garth’s voice with only a piano in the background. The Red Strokes was very popular and also had a pretty awesome music video. The Cowboy Song is a simple campfire song but a very pretty lullaby.

The only reason this album isn’t in the top five is American Honky-Tonk Bar Association. It exploded up the charts, and it has a pretty catchy tune. But it’s the only song of Garth’s that offends me as it takes multiple shots at welfare recipients. Garth is one of the more liberal country singers ever, so it’s sad that this unnecessary drudge stains his discography.

16: Hard Workin’ Man (Brooks & Dunn)

Album: Hard Workin’ Man
Artist: Brooks & Dunn
Year: 1993

1. Hard Workin’ Man (D)
2. We’ll Burn That Bridge (D)
3. Mexican Minutes (B)
4. Heartbroke Out of My Mind (D)
5. She Used to Be Mine (D)
6. Rock My World (Little Country Girl) (B)
7. That Ain’t No Way To Go (D)
8. Texas Women (Don’t Stay Lonely Long) (B)
9. Our Time Is Coming (D)
10. I Can’t Put Out This Fire (B)
11. Boot Scootin’ Boogie (Dance Mix) (D)

Brooks and Dunn’s first album was Brand New Man, so it was hilarious that they decided they were a Hard Workin’ Man for their second album. It was hard to make jokes about it, though, after just two minutes as the title song is just about the perfect country song. Loud, energetic, great guitar work. Definitely a top five song of all time for me, and my favorite driving song despite clocking in at less than three minutes.

The album doesn’t let up there as We’ll Burn That Bridge is a perfect follow-up song. Lyrically it’s nothing all that special, but the chorus has an insane crescendo that keeps the blood pumping.  The pace slows down for Mexican Minutes, appropriately. It’s pretty solid, showing off Brooks’s then good voice. Then what was a perfect album flies off the rail thanks to a terrible song by Dunn. Heartbroke Out of My Mind sounds lame and and it is. Awkward rhythm, blah piano, insipid lyrics.

Dunn makes up for it with She Used to Be Mine, which is as simple as you can get from a ballad but it showcases his powerful voice. Rock My World is an overrated country line dance number that actually ends with the studio crowd singing along. That Ain’t No Way To Go was another huge hit for Dunn, and in addition to showing off his amazing voice again, has a fantastic guitar intro. Texas Women approaches country swing and is fine filler.

Unfortunately, Dunn regurgitates another awful ballad in Our Time Is Coming. It’s a sad song that inspires no emotion. It’s not near as bad as Heartbroke, but I usually skip it all the same.  The album saves itself with a rare great ballad by Brooks. I Can’t Put Out This Fire has a solid chorus and Dunn sings a good harmony.

It feels weird to include a dance remix of a song in this review, but Boot Scootin’ Boogie (off their first album) is actually improved in this version as it adds a motorcycle, more harmonica, more piano, and a few more choruses. It’s one of the most popular line-dance songs ever and how to make it better other than doubling everything that was awesome?

Hard Workin’ Man is easily a top 5 album if not for two missteps by Dunn, but it leaves a really impressive nine-song album to listen to anyway.

20: For My Broken Heart (Reba McEntire)

Album: For My Broken Heart
Artist: Reba McEntire
Year: 1991

1. For My Broken Heart
2. Is There Life Out There
3. Bobby
4. He’s in Dallas
5. All Dressed Up
6. The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia
7. Buying Her Roses
8. The Greatest Man I Never Knew
9. I Wouldn’t Go That Far
10. If I Had Only Known

Reba was 36 years old when this album was released, making it her eighteenth album. She has slowed down considerably. Through 1999, at age 44, she had released twenty-four albums, but she’s released only four since, deciding that acting poorly in her shitty sitcom was more rewarding. Or something.

The first two songs were the two big hits, and they’re good, but pretty generic. Bobby is a painful song about how euthanasia can affect family and is one of my favorite songs. Continuing with crushing emotions, All Dressed Up is about a lady with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home who continually stares out the front window waiting for family that’s never coming. I’ve had similar clients in my career, so I connect with it, but the song has a subtle touch that makes it accessible to all.

Reba’s cover of Vicki Lawrence’s The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia definitely does it justice. The Greatest Man I Never Knew is another somber tune about a girl who grows up with a father who is home but not present. The rest of the songs are pretty much about broken relationships and are all solid. If I Had Only Known is probably my favorite of them and with its slow tempo makes for a good end to Reba’s best album.

For those noticing that all ten songs on the album are all about heartache and death, it’s not coincidence. This was the first album she released after her band was killed in a plane crash (a plane she would have been on had she not been suffering from bronchitis).  She only wrote one of the songs on this album (Bobby), but admitted the song selection reflected her emotional state at the time and her hopes that it would be a healing project.

23: Big Love (Tracy Byrd)

Album: Big Love
Artist: Tracy Byrd
Year: 1996

1. Big Love
2. Cowgirl
3. Good Ol’ Fashioned Love
4. Don’t Take Her She’s All I Got
5. If I Stay
6. Don’t Love Make a Diamond Shine
7. Tuscon Too Soon
8. I Don’t Believe That’s How You Feel
9. Driving Me out of Your Mind
10. I Love You, That’s All

Tracy is probably best known for Watermelon Crawl, and it’s my favorite song by him as well. But while his earlier albums had a few monstrous hits, the filler was exceptionally poor.  His third album, Love Lessons, nearly made the list. When his fourth album came out, I was blown away.  While not every song here is amazing, it really feels like these ten songs were meant to be together, which is a fine achievement considering that the ten songs had nine different writers. Not a big fan of the album title, but the cover is nice, and implies Byrd’s big love is the expanse of nature.

Gary U.S. Bonds wrote Don’t Take Her She’s All I Got, which has been a big hit for everyone who’s recorded it, including Byrd. Big Love was the other smash from the album, and it’s a decent opener. Cowgirl is great tongue-in-cheek country swing. If I Stay is a sad, up-tempo break-up song but it would also make a great ballad in any genre. I Love You, That’s All is another break-up song, and one I kind of modeled my own break-ups after (i.e. not being a whiny ass about it).

After this album, Byrd kind of went good ol’ boy for a while, and he slowly rolled off the charts and he hasn’t done much lately. He’s one of several country artists whose favorite album of mine is their fourth, and most of them fell off a cliff afterwards. I think part of the reason is that a lot of them, once they make it big, stop singing about relationships and move towards family, or patriotism, or how awesome it is to be a redneck. In Tracy’s case, it was also because the filler got more boring than ever.

 

31: Mud on the Tires (Brad Paisley)

Album: Mud on the Tires
Artist: Brad Paisley
Year: 2003

1. Mud on the Tires
2. Celebrity
3. Ain’t Nothin’ Like
4. Little Moments
5. That’s Love
6. Somebody Knows You Know
7. Famous People
8. Hold Me in Your Arms
9. Whiskey Lullaby (with Alison Krauss)
10. The Best Thing I Had Going
11. The Cigar Song
12. Make a Mistake
13. Make a Mistake with Me (instrumental)
14. Is It Raining at Your House
15. Spaghetti Western Swing
16. Farther Along
17. Kung Pao

I promise is the final Paisley album on the countdown. Mud on the Tires is his third and the most consistent from beginning to end. Mud on the Tires is classic country, easy to listen and sing along to, and was an instant smash. Celebrity is a fun and honest critique of the desire to be famous. Then the album shoots off three decent consecutive slice-of-life songs before Somebody Knows You Know, a sad and cynical break-up song, showing off Paisley’s tenor voice.

Famous People is a cute song about an actress visiting small-town Kentucky.  Whiskey Lullaby is a crushing song about alcohol abuse and Krauss is great as usual. The Cigar Song is a funny tune that plays on the urban legend of the guy who insures his cigars against arson and the collects on the insurance after he smokes them. Then the album’s highlight for me is Make a Mistake, the shortest song in my top 500, coming in at 1:33.

The end of the album wraps up with Brad’s usual, an instrumental, a gospel song, and some talking songs by the Kung Pao Buckaroos that do nothing for me beyond the initial listen. Thankfully, they are at the end so I can skip them. Fourteen consecutive good songs is enough for me.

32: Time Well Wasted (Brad Paisley)

Album: Time Well Wasted
Artist: Brad Paisley
Year: 2005

1. The World
2. Alcohol
3. Waitin’ on a Woman
4. I’ll Take You Back
5. She’s Everything
6. You Need a Man Around Here
7. Out in the Parkin’ Lot (with Alan Jackson)
8. Rainin’ You
9. Flowers
10. Love is Never-Ending
11. The Uncloudy Day
12. When I Get Where I’m Going (w/ Dolly Parton)
13. Easy Money
14. Time Warp
15. Time Well Wasted
16. Cornography

Paisley’s fourth album further his ascendance to one of country’s elite, though not surprisingly, my three favorite songs were non-singles. The singles are fine enough and are worthy listens as well, but I hate to think that if I had never bought this album I’d be missing out on three great songs. I’m not surprised I’ll Take You Back wasn’t released as it’s a patented Paisley tongue-in-cheek ditty. But Out in the Parkin’ Lot is a great and surprisingly philosophical duet about bar parking lots, and Rainin’ You is a power ballad that tugs at the heartstrings.

As for the rest, The World, Waitin’ on a Woman, and the duet with Dolly are pretty solid as well.  The Uncloudy Day is his usual hymnal, in the vein of Willie Nelson’s version, and a 30 second outtake at that. The final track, Cornography, is just a a bunch of guys (including George Jones and Little Jimmy Dickens) telling a story with a ton of innuendo. It’s funny, but not something I want to hear when listening to a music album.

33: Alright Guy (Gary Allan)

Album: Alright Guy
Artist: Gary Allan
Year: 2001

1. Man to Man
2. Devil’s Candy
3. What I’d Say
4. Man of Me
5. Adobe Walls
6. What’s on My Mind
7. Alright Guy
8. The One
9. I’m Doin’ My Best
10. I Don’t Look Back
11. What Would Willie Do

Gary Allan’s velvet voice has allowed me to forgive his relatively weak lyrics as evidenced by my owning his first five albums.  I stopped because they’re continuing to get worse and I just can’t support that anymore. He reached his zenith with his fourth album, Alright Guy. In retrospect, this should probably be somewhere around #50, but too late now!

The biggest hit from this album is The One, a super-generic ballad that is romantic I guess, but signals the weak point of the album for me. Until that point, the album is definitely #33 material. What I’d Say is an honest and painful look at what it’s like to be around an ex. Adobe Walls is a simple song about a tryst with a Mexican girl, but Gary’s voice about makes me melt.

The title track is a bit awkward, but worth it for mention of “book of pictures of Madonna naked” and referring to police officers as “a couple of dicks.” It’s out of nowhere for the normally mild Allan. The final highlight is What Would Willie Do, which more or less spends several minutes pointing out every fault of Willie Nelson, up to and including how ugly he and his family are. He uses this information to point out that life can’t be that bad and if a guy like this can do something with his life, then maybe you can, too. It’s obvious Willie didn’t take offense, as on Allan’s next album they sang a duet together.