Lost In The Shuffle, Vol. 11: A Defense Of The Aughts

When it comes to country music, the 1990s and 2010s tend to have strong narratives and elicit strong opinions: The 90s were a neotraditional revival, and the 10s were a time of experimental (and controversial) genre-fusing. In contrast, the decade wedged in between these two eras lacks a similarly strong identity: It was mostly a time of transition, where some titans of 90s continued their reign (Alan jackson, George Strait, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney), some titans of the 2010s began to find their footing (Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan), and the defining sound of the era was, well, hard to define. Were the 2000s the era of pop-country stylists like Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts, and Taylor Swift, or the era of modernized torch-bearers like Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, and Miranda Lambert?

What’s lost in this debate is a more fundamental question: Was the music any good? I’d argue that there was a lot to like on both sides of the equation, and last week I finally performed the overdue task of making a sibling playlist to my ultimate 80s/90s collection that memorialized the best of the 2000s. Today, the goal is to celebrate a decade that lacks the hype and and the debate of its predecessor and successor.

The concept of LITS is simple: Hit the shuffle button on my old iPad, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.

Is this silly and without purpose? Absolutely, but it’s also a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is.

The Contenders

#1. Travis Tritt, “Love Of A Woman”

Tritt falls squarely on the 90s side of this divide, and 2000’s Down The Road I Go was his last major hurrah in the genre. This song, the third single from the album, would probably be labeled Boyfriend country if it had come out recently, but it leans on the “woman as a man’s rock/savior” premise that’s gotten a lot of play over the years, especially from the rough-edged outlaw singers that Tritt draws inspiration from. The arrangement features some decent depth behind the few headline categories (you’ve got both a piano- and an organ-tuned keyboard, some acoustic and slick electric guitars, and a steel guitar that gets some decent airtime), and the feeling here is equal parts awe-struck and reverent as the narrator celebrates the ability of women to put up with imperfect men like himself. Tritt is known for his rowdier material, but he could also sell a sentimental song when we wanted to, and he does a nice job infusing some feeling and heartfelt emotion into the track. I don’t know if I would call it Tritt’s best work, but it’s pretty good nonetheless.

#2: Reba McEntire, “I’m A Survivor”

Is it just me, or has McEntire been completely forgotten by country music? She can go toe-to-toe with heavyweights like Jackson and Strait in the hits department, yet you never hear her get name-dropped in modern singles the way those two do. McEntire’s wasn’t as prevalent on the radio as other holdovers from the 90s (partially because she was branching out to other forms of media; she spent six seasons starring in the hit TV series Reba), but she still made a respectable showing on the charts, including this song that served as the leadoff single for his third greatest hits compilation in 2001. The song is more string-focused, but its tone remains upbeat and resilient, the writing does a nice job discussing the narrator’s struggles while simultaneously allowing the narrator to shrug them off and push through. McEntire’s performance simply radiates strength and power, and it helps elevate the track and connect with anyone who’s had a rough go of life but finds a way to survive and make it work. It doesn’t seem like an empowerment anthem, but it sure feels like one, and McEntire set a standard that other female artists would aspire to meet for the rest of the decade.

#3: Blake Shelton, “Playboys Of The Southwestern World”

Shelton may have debuted in 2001 and released five albums during the decade, but his chart performance for much of the decade was so inconsistent that I would call him more of a 2010s artist (he didn’t find consistent radio traction until about 2008). “Playboys Of The Southwestern World” is the long-forgotten third single from his long-forgotten sophomore album The Dreamer, and while I found the song to be silly fun back in the day, it’s not hard to see why it only reached #24 on the radio. For one thing, the story cuts out at the best part: The border guard finds the money, the narrator blames his friend…and then the song ends with only a brief mention of being “temporary cellmates.” The hook makes for a nice title, but it’s a bit long and clunky for Shelton to spit out, and while the electric guitar has some decent texture, it’s basically all you hear during the song—the fiddle is barely noticeable, and the organ is consigned to background duty. (Shelton’s kinda-sorta accent when saying the Mexican border guard’s line is also kinda-sorta questionable.) The song is really just a sugar rush that’s in desperate need of another verse or two, and probably won’t make much of a splash on this list.

#4: Tritt, “Best Of Intentions”

Two songs from the same artist is one thing, but two songs from the same album?? This was the leadoff single from Down The Road I Go, and it’s a melancholy confessional of the narrator’s failures in their relationship. What’s interesting here is that while many of these songs focus of the narrator’s emotional failures in pursuit of material things or a better way of life, this song goes in the opposite direction: The feelings are present and deep (a credit to Tritt’s emotional range), but the narrator is unhappy that they aren’t able to give their partner the sort of life that they deserve. The production is suitably moody, with regular minor chords and reliance on a piano, steel guitar, and neutral-sounding acoustic guitar to emphasize the narrator’s sense of sadness and frustration. Said frustration is palpable in the writing as well, but there’s also a sense of hope as well: The narrator wants a chance to fix whatever is wrong, and with love still apparently present, the listener gets the sense that there might still be a happy ending in store here. Tritt may have been overshadowed by his peers over the years, but he deserves a lot of credit as a flexible, emotive performer who could deliver any of of material with presence and ease. I like this one than “Love Of A Woman,” so maybe he can finally get some of his due on this list.

#5: Martina McBride, “Blessed”

I’m starting to worry about my playlist: It was pretty close to half the size of the 80s/90s list (which makes sense since it’s covering half the time), but all the songs thus far have been concentrated in the early part of the decade. What the heck was I doing for those last five years?

It’s always a risk putting new material on what’s supposed to be a greatest hits album, but McBride put four new songs on hers in 2001, and all of them performed well, with this one reaching #1 (which turned out to be the last #1 for a solo female artist for the next 22 months). The production for this one is surprisingly unorthodox: I wouldn’t call the instrument tones terribly bright and there are a lot of minor chords here, but there’s an energy and a power in the sound that drives the song forward and gives it an optimistic feel. Lyrically, this is a standard count-your-blessings track, with the narrator highlighting the people and moments that make their life worthwhile, and given the simple, family-oriented nature of said moments, the song in turn pushes others to recognize how lucky they are in their own lives. McBride herself is a strong combination of power and positivity, and while she holds herself back on the verses, she’s merely storing her power to unleash it on the chorus, and she’s got the charm and charisma to take even a simple message like this one and get everyone nodding and singing along. She’s another one of those artists whose legacy has gotten dusty in recent years, and it’s worth recalling just how good she was back in her day.

#6: Josh Turner, “Firecracker”

Well, at least we’ve made it to 2007 now! Turner was a revelation (especially for a Randy Travis partisan like myself) when he emerged with “Long Black Train” back in 2003, but his career never took off the way I expected it to, and he basically disappeared for most of the 2010s. I seem to be a contrarian when it comes to Turner’s early work: I consider Everything Is Fine to be ten times the album that Your Man was, but it only reached gold status compared to Your Man‘s double-platinum sales, and I’d honestly call “Firecracker” one of the weaker songs on the disc despite it being the only single to reach the Top Ten. I’d group this one with “Playboys Of The Southwestern World” in the silly-fun category, but this track is so much better, and it all starts with the production: It’s a fiddle-and-steel throwback with some seriously rollicking guitars, and it pushes the tempo to eleven to make a three-and-a-half minute song feel only about half that long. Despite being mostly stuck in his upper range and dropping ridiculous lines like the “Sssssssssssssbang” quote on the outro, Turner pulls the whole thing together with his easy, effortless charisma and and makes the whole thing far more fun than it has any right to be. The writing really has to stretch to get some of the “firecracker” rhymes to work (you can tell that Turner, who I’ve called out for his poor writing in the past, was a co-writer here), but in the end, Turner and the producer make the whole thing so catchy that you barely even notice. I really miss this guy in mainstream music, and MCA deserves to be charged for manslaughter for killing this guy’s career.

#7: McBride, “Concrete Angel”

Two songs from the same artist is one thing, and two songs from the same album is another, but two songs from two separate albums??? I’m starting to question the variety on this playlist…

Just like with Tritt’s pair, however, the second entry is the stronger one, and this one might have the power to claim this post’s crown. Start with a emotional story of a abused child whose story is discovered too late, put the power of Martina Freaking McBride behind it, and mix in a classic piano-and-sting-driven formula that’s will catch the listener’s attention, and you’ve got a ready-made tearjerker guaranteed to melt even the hardest of hearts (or was it? It only made it to #5 on Billboard’s airplay chart). Much like with “Best Of Intentions,” there’s a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness: The deceased is in a better place now, beyond whatever pain and suffering they felt on Earth, and the world is left with the collective shame of letting it happen under their noses. With her history of thought-provoking and activist material (her debut single was “Independence Day,” for crying out loud) and her hey-stop-and-listen-to-me power vocals, McBride is the perfect person for a song like this, and she’s able to capture the emotion and sadness of this story and shoot it straight through the collective heart of the audience.

It missed #1 on Billboard, but “Concrete Angel” has another chance to reach #1 here, and it just might pull it off…

#8: Montgomery Gentry, “My Town”

“She Couldn’t Change Me” might have made it to #2, but I would argue that it was this song and this album from 2002 that really catapulted Montgomery Gentry into the public consciousness. It may have been one of those rural-glorification tracks that have come to dominate the genre in recent years, but while the attitude is recent years has gotten more confrontational and exclusive, this song was an invitation and a guided tour to the place the narrator held dear. Instead of being a token instrument, the banjo ends up anchoring the melody during the verses, and the duo’s rough-edged sound is sanded down smooth to stay out of the writing’s way, even when the guitars and organ swell up on the chorus. Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry show off their incredible chemistry, the mood here is reverent and optimistic instead of protective and defiant (which perhaps reflects how the nation’s mood have soured over the last twenty years), and the old symbols still find purpose in a new era (the rusty tractor is repainted, the water-tower romance has consummated with a baby, and the church continues to draw a crowd). This is the approach I wish more artists would take today when it comes to where they come from: Don’t draw a line and slam the door in our faces—instead, invite the world in and show them just what makes the country life awesome.

#9: …Tritt, “Modern Day Bonnie And Clyde”?!

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. There are 450+ songs on this playlist, and the iPad picks three from the same album???? I know Down The Road I Go was great, but I’m not sure we need every freaking single from the album here…

Still, this is hands-down my favorite song on the album, and one of the better story songs to come out of Nashville in the last two decades. (I’m kind of a sucker for these sorts of tales; Ricky Van Shelton’s “Crime Of Passion” and LeAnn Rimes’s “Nothin’ Better To Do” are also pretty good.) There’s a rollicking back-porch feel to this mix thanks to its prominent dobro, acoustic guitars, and even some harmonica tossed in (the guitars and keyboards are here, but they’re supporting cast instead of the leading roles), and it’s upbeat energetic vibe keep the audience humming along. The writing is the sort of romantic banditry tale that everyone can enjoy: We get the imagery of a long highway trek with a star-crossed pair, nobody gets hurt, and justice is eventually served in the most enjoyable way possible. As for Tritt…come on, is there any role this guy can’t play? His rule-bending persona makes him exactly the sort of character that would engage in a little opportunistic larceny, and he absolutely owns this track with his lively performance.

There aren’t many tracks that could challenge “Concrete Angel” for list supremacy, but this is one of them. However, if the last track is “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive,” “Where Would You Be,” or “When God-Fearin’ Women Get The Blues,” I swear I’ll—

#10: The Wreckers, “Tennessee”

…Okay, now I’m sad. Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp formed the short-lived duo in 2005 and released a fantastic debut album a year later…and then they broke up soon afterwards and left us all wondering what might have been. “Tennessee” was the group’s third and final single, and it didn’t stand out either on the radio or the album (there were so many other great songs on that album: The title track, “One More Girl,” “Rain”…), but at least it showed off what made the duo so good: A roots-rock sound that could take either a softer or harder line with equal success (this one is on the softer side, driven mostly by acoustic guitars), some of the best vocal chemistry and harmony that I’ve ever heard, and thought-provoking writing that finds the narrator ruminating on a relationship decision and wondering if it was the right choice. There’s a bit of ambiguity in the writing (Did the narrator choose their dreams over love? Was either party terribly serious about the romance at the time?), but the puzzling seems to draw people more into the story, and while I’ve never been a fan of nostalgia romance tracks (what’s done is done; all you can do is move forward), there’s enough in the sound and the vocals to keep me paying attention until the very end. (Ironically, the song makes me break my own nostalgia rule: How good would this pair have been on their follow-up album?) It’s okay, but I like some of their other songs better.

The Results

PositionSong
#1“Concrete Angel”
#2“Modern Day Bonnie And Clyde”
#3“My Town”
#4“Firecracker”
#5“Best Of Intentions”
#6“Blessed”
#7“Tennessee”
#8“I’m A Survivor”
#9“Love Of A Woman”
#10“Playboys Of The Southwestern World”

Man, Blake Shelton just can’t catch a break around here, can he? But the victory goes to McBride over Tritt in the strangest LITS yet (Alan Jackson put three songs in LITS #2, but at least they were from different albums), with the somber tale of child abuse holding off the ill-fated tale of two convenient criminals. If I’m honest, this is a pretty strong list overall (even “Playboys Of The Southwestern World” has its merits), which helps prove the point I wanted to make at the start: The 2000s were a pretty solid decade in country music, and they deserve better than to be remembered as the placeholder between two more-prominent periods in history. If you take the time to look around, there’s some great music to be found here, and based on Chris Owen’s constant mentioning of how songs are bringing back the old 2000s feel, perhaps the industry and rest of the world are starting to realize that too.

As for me, I guess I’d better go listen to the rest of Tritt’s Down The Road I Go and McBride’s Greatest Hits, because that’s what this iPad is going to make me do anyway…

(Editor’s Note: In looking at the songs coming up after the first ten, “When God-Fearing Women Get The Blues” was thisclose to making the list too!)

Lost In The Shuffle, Vol. 10: The Song Remembers When

There’s an old line I use a lot that goes something like this: If someone is celebrating the past, it’s because they have nothing to look forward to in the future. You see this a lot in the sports world (teams are forever putting on grand anniversary celebrations in the middle of a horrendous season), but it feels like we’re all trapped in this space as 2021 comes to a close. Musically, I’m not all that optimistic about what country music will look like going forward: Things have gotten a little better in the last month or so, but we’re generally trapped in a bland soundalike era, and the forces that have brought us here (for example, a lack of writers) are still holding sway. On the national level, we seem to be trapped in a Groundhog-Day-like cycle of virus variants and surges (while it’s still too early to know what omicron’s impact will be, the early returns aren’t promising), and we have no freaking clue when (or even if) the world will get a handle on the virus and life will become kinda-sorta normalish again. Surrounded by such uncertainty, we end up retreating to our isolation/echo chambers and clinging to the things that brought us joy once upon a time, which is pretty much the entire purpose of the Lost In The Shuffle series.

The concept of LITS is simple: Hit the shuffle button on my old iPad, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.

Is this silly and without purpose? Absolutely, but it’s also a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is.

The Contenders

Song #1: Highway 101, “Rough And Tumble Heart”

This album cut from Highway 101’s 1989 album Paint The Town is a good place to start, because at this point I think we’ve all got “Rough And Tumble Hearts.” (Fun fact: Pam Tillis is a co-writer here, and eventually released the song herself.) While the arrangement composition is nothing to write home about, the guitars lean on rougher textures and dark tones to underscore the trials and hardships that the narrator has experienced, and the song leans on the distinct voice of lead singer Paulette Carlson to catch the listener’s ear and draw them into the story. The message here is a surprising fit for the modern day: While the explicit focus was is mostly on romantic issues, it’s only a short jump to the bigger issues we struggle with today, where we’ve “struggled so long with the wrongs and rights when there were no easy answers.” Despite everything’s that happened, there’s an underlying optimism that the heart will persevere and eventually find what it’s looking for, and we can only hope that all of us will do the same. Highway 101 isn’t a name that comes up a lot when classic bands of the neotraditional era are talked about, but I think they at least belong in the conversation.

Song #2: Gary Allan, “Tough Little Boys”

So the iPad is going straight for the feels in the early rounds, eh? While the leadoff single from Allan’s 2003 album See If I Care is a bit too cheesy and saccharine for my tastes, I can definitely appreciate why this song resonated the way it did back in the day. The thing that impresses me most is how Allan (known as more of a hard rocker with a Bakersfield sound) transforms himself into a softer, more vulnerable character, dialing back his delivery and contrasting his previous macho confidence with the fear he shows in the face of being a parent. The production takes a similar approach, trading the in-your-face guitars and drums with a lighter piano and warm-sounding fiddle that do a great job setting the mood (the way these instruments and the steel guitar play off of one another is a great example of the instrumental diversity I’d like to see more of in the future). The song is the perfect face turn for an artist like Allan, as the narrator’s rough-edged past and the life-changing event ensure that he is both a believable and sympathetic character in the eyes of the audience. Sappy as it may be, it’s still a good track, and honestly I wouldn’t mind more songs like this one or Elvie Shane’s “My Boy” from this genre going forward.

Song #3: Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood, “Oh Love”

This album cut from Paisley’s 2007 album 5th Gear falls along the same lines as “Tough Little Boys,” but isn’t nearly as effective: It’s a fairly-generic “power of love” track that tries to use a more-spacious sound and Paisley and Underwood’s vocal chemistry to deliver its message. Despite the variety of instruments here, they tend to run together in this mix thanks to the background synth tones and reverb effects the producer applies, and neither Paisley nor Underwood get the chance to really apply any power to their vocals (they seem oddly restrained here, especially on the chorus). The result is that the song builds momentum but never actually reaches a climax, pulling back every time there’s a noticeable swell in the sound. It lacks the built-in relatability that Allan’s track does, and as such it doesn’t connect with its audience nearly as well. (The song seems to wear out its welcome quickly too, especially with the unnecessary ending “yeah-eeyeah-eeyeahs.”) It’s not a bad song, but I consider it to be one of the weaker tracks on the album, and it likely earn the same distinction on this list.

Song #4: Lorrie Morgan, “Except For Monday”

The third single from Morgan’s 1991 album Something In Red tries to show a struggling narrator putting on a happy, confident face to face an ex that left them, but they kind of miss the balance here and makes the audience believe that there are really no issues here at all. The production features light, springy guitars, light-touch drums, and a generally-upbeat tone that’s so strong that it undermines the idea that this is all supposed to be a facade. Similarly, Morgan’s delivery is unflinchingly positive and poised, even as she’s going through all the days of the week that she has trouble with. The writing falls short in comparison to a song like Terri Clark’s “Better Things To Do” because Clark’s track leans way into the absurd way the narrator distract themselves (“wash my car in the rain, change my new guitar strings”), while this one uses vague dismissals that don’t catch the listener’s ear nearly as well. It ends up feeling like an unintentional empowerment track, and while it’s a easy, enjoyable listen, it doesn’t even close to achieving its original goal.

Song #5: Hootie & The Blowfish, “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”

This recording of a traditional spiritual is a hidden closing track on Hootie & The Blowfish’s 1994 album Cracked Rear View, and while Rucker does a nice job with his acapella performance on the song (the way he ends lines on a minor chord gives a track a haunting feel and emphasizes the narrator’s pain and distress), at fifty-three seconds this feels like the first verse to an unfinished track, and leaves the listener hanging at the end with no indication of how to feel about it. I would have liked to see the band expand on this: Even if this is the only verse, repeat it a few times while bringing it more voices and instruments with each pass, and build up to a big production at the very end to hammer the message home. As it is, the song is a bit too short to leave any lasting impact on the user without the context of either history or the album, and is too easily forgotten when the next song comes along.

Song #6: Trace Adkins, “Hold You Now”

This is album cut from Adkins’s 1997 disc Big Time, and while I’m generally not a fan of “longing look-back” tracks like this one, I don’t mind this one because there’s a sense of growth from the artist and thus it doesn’t feel like a pointless exercise in futility. I feel like Adkins is underrated as a vocalist (for example, he’s got a larger vocal range than you might expect), and his performance gives the audience a strong sense of the pain and regret the narrator is feeling. There’s nothing new about a country artist discovering the hard truth about leaving someone they shouldn’t have, but instead of whining about how the other person should feel à la Tucker Beathard or Taylor Swift, the narrator owns up to their mistakes, pledges to do better in the future, and serves as a cautionary tale as to what might happen when you neglect or prematurely end a relationship. The production strikes a suitably-serious tone about the situation that accentuates its emotional nature, all while featuring a number of different instruments within the arrangement (my one nitpick is the electric axe on the bridge solo feel a bit too clean and out of place). It’s a decent choice both for Adkins’s early-career style and for this list.

Song #7: John Anderson, “Swingin'”

This is the 1994 remake of Anderson’s signature song from Country ‘Til I Die rather than the 1983 original, but it’s still the same silly-fun song that it always was. The production has still got the organs and horns as the original (it’s actually fairly faithful to the original rendition, with a few extra additions such as the steel guitar), but it’s a bit louder and more in-your-face this time around, and Anderson has the same smile on his face and glint in his eye that he brought to the mic over a decade earlier. The truth is that the song is nothing but a good time and doesn’t try to be anything else, and instead of telling you to marinate yourself in alcohol and forget all your troubles, this one makes it happen naturally through its upbeat vibe and simple story (which is surprisingly detailed for what it is, especially that verse taking about the happenings at Charlotte Johnson’s home). While the hook might be short and repetitive, you’re so caught up in the positive atmosphere that you don’t really notice (never underestimate the power of a song that’s fun to sing along with). Sometimes a song can be a good time for the sake of a good time, and while a lot of modern hits don’t measure up in the end, this thing comes through on all fronts, and regardless of where it ends up on the list, it will always have a special place in our hearts.

Song #8: Grandpa Jones, “Grandfather’s Clock”

So it’s time to go old school, huh? I can’t track down the exact date of this recording, but given that the song was written in 1876 and Jones was primarily active in radio in the 1940s and 1950s, it’s safe to say that it’s been a while. The song is about a strange connection between the narrator’s grandfather and their prized clock, and features little more than Jones’s banjo played in his signature clawhammer style. Jones is a natural storyteller, and his old-before-its-time voice is about as distinctive as it comes (I have no idea what Nashville would do with him if he showed up on their doorstep in 2021). The song is better-written than you might think: The story is simple but cute, and it’s got some solid puns declaring that the clock had “not a frown upon its face, and its hands never hung by its side.” Give the lively banjo and generally-upbeat nature of the sound, I’d put this in the same “mindless fun” category as “Swingin'”: It’s just a nice way to spend a couple of minutes, and the fact that it still stands the test of time nearly 150 years after being written is an accomplishment worth celebrating. This will be higher on the list than you might expect.

Song #9: Toby Keith, “I Wanna Talk About Me”

This is one of those incoherent pairings between a song and an artist: The narrator goes on about all the things their partner wants to talk about and demands that a little attention be paid to their own thoughts and concerns…except that Keith, a year into his massive 2000s run of success, was already talking a lot and was already one of the most talked-about artists at the time (and this would only become more true when Unleashed dropped and the Iraq War began). He just seemed like kind of a weird guy to be demanding even more attention, and it made him seem a little whiny and petulant as a result. The song could feel a like half-baked at times (the fast-paced verses were decent, but the drawn out “meeeee” and “you, you, you” portions on the bridge dragged on for too long and didn’t ask much to the song), and having a guy demand to talk over a woman wasn’t a good look then and isn’t any better now. The production is best described as “classic Keith” with its deep-voiced electric guitar and occasional pedal steel riffs, but it was mostly drowned out by the lyrics (especially the verses) and didn’t seem to set a strong tone for the track. It’s a song that really hasn’t aged well over time, and I don’t see it finding much traction here.

Song #10: Shenandoah, “(It’s Hard To Live Up To) The Rock”

This is one of those random unreleased tracks that labels will sneak onto a compilation album (in this case 1994’s Super Hits), but while it never ended up getting released as a single, it’s still a decent track that highlights what happens to the parent-child dynamic in the absence of thoughtful communication. The story may be skewed a bit too much towards the father here (we really don’t learn a whole lot about the child), but there’s enough in the writing to let the narrator’s insecurities and frustrations shine through, and at the end we get a sense of how the parent’s own sense of duty and expectation led to their behavior (plus we got the satisfying reconciliation we want at the end). Lead singer Marty Raybon delivers an honest, heartfelt performance that lets the audience share in his early sorrows and eventual joy, while the production does a nice job incorporating a couple of instruments that disappeared from the modern scene (dobro, harmonica) to reflect the impressiveness of “The Rock” the underlying tension the image caused with the father/son relationship (the synthesizer, the background “oohs,” and the double key change help push the mix towards a more-positive vibe). It may be hard to live up to the rock, but I think this song will hold up well against its competition.

The Results

PositionSong
#1“Grandfather’s Clock”
#2“Rough And Tumble Heart”
#3“(It’s Hard To Live Up To) The Rock”
#4“Tough Little Boys”
#5“Swingin'”
#6“Hold You Now”
#7“Except For Monday”
#8“Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”
#9“Oh Love”
#10“I Wanna Talk About Me”

Who says you shouldn’t be the oldest guy at the club? Banjos have been relegated to token status is modern country music, but they’re capable of real magic when you give them the spotlight, and Jones’s presence and ability make him a great fit for the story. No, there’s no grand lesson, no bullet-point takeaways, and no percussion besides some wood blocks mimicking a clock, but there’s a story here that’s just catchy enough to be worth listening to in an age of digital clocks and smartwatches.

Was there a point to this madness? Maybe: If there was something here that reminds you of a moment or a person that made you smile, even for a moment, then this post has served its purpose. Life may be dominated by doom and gloom right now, but there’s still a lot of good worth celebrating, from an ancient song sung by an ancient singer to the people who are working tirelessly to try to get us out of this mess we’re all in. There is a future out there in the distance, and if we do the right things and try to keep on the sunny side of life, we’ll get there one day, and we’ll really have something to celebrate when we do.

Lost In The Shuffle, Vol. 9: Moving Forward By Looking Back

If you think you’ve been waiting a long time for another deep dive post, imagine this: The last volume of LITS was posted over a year ago now. Of course, this is understandable: The series was essentially a set of filler posts, and the switch to my current three-posts-per-week schedule late last June eliminated the need for frivolous content (in fact, it eventually forced me to condense some of the legit content into larger posts). However, after a long year of isolation and a few months of mostly bland offerings from mainstream country music, I decided it was time to dust off the series and see whether a dive into the archives might unearth some more interesting material.

The concept of LITS is simple: Hit the shuffle button on my old iPad, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.

Is this silly and without purpose? Absolutely, but it’s also a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is.

The Contenders

Song #1: Kathy Mattea, “Come From The Heart”

Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off a list like this than with this #1 from 1989. The light and airy acoustic guitar, the spry mandolin, the bright piano, and the background choir give the song an uplifting, almost spiritual vibe, and Mattea (whose memory has been mostly overshadowed by artists like Reba McEntire and Patty Loveless) delivers a warm, comforting message to follow your heart, don’t overthink things, and forget about what anyone else might say about it. There will always be doubters and obstacles along the way, and “it’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work” because it’s the only reason you’ll stick with something when times get tough. At a time when it feels like things are done or positions are taken just to see how it plays on TV, the idea of doing something because we think it’s the right thing to do is something we could all stand to remember.

Song #2: Anne Murray, “Broken Hearted Me”

Oh wow, and I thought Mattea was forgotten. I know Murray mostly for “Could I Have This Dance” and didn’t even realize I even had this #1 from 1979 on my iPad, but here we are. The piano, string section, and clean drum set reflect the pop-tinged production that made Murray a crossover success back in the day, but that arrangement is sparse enough that it doesn’t feel overproduced (at least until the choir jumps in and the instruments swell up on the chorus). I like it, but if I’m honest, the sound seems a bit too optimistic for a narrator who’s claiming that they’ll never get over a breakup (the piano-driven verses seem suitably moody, but the chorus buildup gives it too much of a silver lining). Similarly, Murray sounds fantastic here, but there’s too much polish and composure in her performance to sell such a sad tale (she may not be convinced she’ll make it through, but the audience certainly thinks so). Still, its appearance here was a pleasant surprise, and serves as a reminder that pop-country isn’t automatically bad.

Song #3: Joe Nichols, “No Time To Cry”

Dang, this tune (originally an album cut from 2004’s Revelation and a cover of an Iris DeMent song from 1993) hits very differently in 2021. The last year, in a word, has been overwhelming: Political turmoil, economic turmoil, climate change, racial injustice…and oh yeah, the small matter of a pandemic that’s killed over 570,000 Americans. We’ve grown numb to the pain and suffering because we don’t have a choice; we simply couldn’t function otherwise, and just like Nichols’s narrator, there’s so much that we have to do that we can’t afford to spare a moment to reflect or grieve. The sparse arrangement (acoustic guitar, drums, retro keyboard) keeps the focus squarely on the writing, detailing the narrator’s transition from an empathetic individual to someone who’s gotten too good as suppressing feelings and can barely spare the time to bid a final farewell to their father (an act that many have been denied in the last year thanks to the virus). Where seventeen years ago we felt for the narrator thanks to Nichols’s understated-yet-powerful performance, we now feel for the whole world, and a track like this really drives home the power of music when delivered like this.

So much for all that optimism Mattea gave us…

Song #4: Rodney Atkins, “Watching You”

Well, that’s one way to change the mood…

Rodney Atkins had a brief moment in the spotlight with his 2006 album If You’re Going Through Hell, and “Watching You” was the second of four #1 hits from the disc. While its attempt at foreshadowing is way too clunky and obvious, I really like the way the song uses humor to draw the listeners before the sticky-sweet closer delivers a gut punch straight to the feels. There’s also an important message hidden beneath the comedy and cheese: Whether or not Charles Barkley believes it, you’re a role model, and people are always watching what you do and taking cues about how they can or should behave. The bright, bouncy sound has a neotraditional flair and helps the whole thing go down easy, and Rodney Atkins displayed an everyman charisma that made him the perfect pitchman for the song. It’s a song that is somehow both fun and mature, a combination that I wish was emulated more often in modern tracks.

Song #5: Tracy Byrd, “The First Step”

This track, a #5 hit from 1995, is the sort of song you might find listed next to “neotraditional country” is the dictionary: The rollicking guitar, the prominent fiddle and steel guitar, the uptempo line-dance vibe, and real percussion (yes, there are hand claps here, but at least they sound real rather than synthetic) all are staples of this sound. It’s also the sort of fun party track that I wish Bro-Country had used as a template: The narrator comes across as chill instead of pushy (a perception aided greatly by Byrd’s charm), the other person sets the parameters and expectations (the main goal of the night is enjoyment, not love), and in the end a good time is had by all. The objectification is minimal, the farthest the guy goes is to suggest dinner, and the party atmosphere is three times stronger than anything Florida Georgia Line ever created. Byrd and many of his contemporaries proved that these sorts of songs could be done well, and it adds a bit of bounce to what’s been a heavier playlist thus far.

Song #6: Garth Brooks, “Unanswered Prayers”

When people think of Garth Brooks, they tend to think of his his harder-rocking hits like “Ain’t Goin’ Down ‘Til The Sun Comes Up” or drink-along classics like “Friends In Low Places.” Brooks, however, was a flexible artist who could deliver a overproduced ballad like nobody’s business too, and he proved it on this #1 from 1991. The production here is mostly acoustic and uses a guitar, piano, and string section to create a thoughtful, reflective atmosphere for the narrator as he ponders what might have been. Where so many artists these days opine about “the one that got away,” here a chance encounter causes Brooks’s narrator to recall how badly he’d wanted something in his life, and how not getting it allowed them to discover something better. Brooks, of course, could sell a refrigerator in Siberia, and he delivers his lines with a combination of newfound wisdom and humility, in awe of how misguided his younger self wound up being. This is why I tell many of today’s artists to stop moping about when might have been: What might be may turn out to be so much better.

Song #7: Randy Travis, “Too Gone Too Long”

As someone who owns darn near every Randy Travis song in existence, it’s not surprising that one of his tracks would appear on our list. What is interesting, however, is that this track (a 1988 #1 from his sophomore album Always & Forever album) appeared, featuring a man directing his ire at a woman just a few days after I ripped Parker McCollum and Travis Denning to shreds for much the same attitude. So why does this song succeed when those two failed that hard? Part of it is Travis himself, whose easy charm and smooth delivery allow him to, in the words of Winston Churchill, “tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip,” delivering the message matter-of-factly with barely a hint of malice. The writing also does a much better job framing the case against the accused: They wanted to play the field and weren’t ready to commit to a serious relationship, so the narrator simply got tired and found someone that was (the other person was “too gone for too long”). The production is a classic play from a fellow Kyle (Lehning), keeping things sparse and simple with an acoustic guitar, fiddle, dobro, and restrained drum set (with some choir vocals added for emphasis). When you’re Randy freaking Travis, you don’t have to be too heavy-handed to make your point, and the result is a snappy tune that brings attitude without making you hate the narrator. I hope McCollum and Denning are taking notes…

Song #8: Sammy Kershaw, “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful”

Usually the draw of LITS is the potential for sheer random chaos, but tonight’s tracks have been surprisingly consistent. This track is Kershaw’s lone career #1 from 1993, and while it’s okay, against its competition tonight I feel like it comes up a little short. The production is a fairly standard neotraditional mix with slick guitars, fiddles, and drums, but it can feel a bit boring at times, and the writing feels a bit repetitive and doesn’t come across as complementary as the writers hoped (it portrays the other person as somewhere between insecure and clueless). Kershaw sounds fine, but the narrator’s fixation of physical beauty is the sort of attitude that I’ve yelled at a bunch of Metro-Bro artists for over the last couple of years. There’s more to this person than their beauty, and unfortunately the song never really gets past that. Again, it’s miles ahead of what I’ve heard on the radio lately, but in this crowd, it’s a bit lackluster.

Song #9: Dolly Parton, “When Life Is Good Again”

There isn’t a lot I can say about this song that I haven’t already said, but while the optimism that surrounded this track back when it was released last year has long since dissipated (and what we’re feeling right now is much more measured), it is worth noting that when Parton declared her dedication to making a better world in the future, she meant it. I’m still amazed at how powerful a vocalist Parton remains in her mid-seventies, and the producer made the right choices by framing the song in a similar manner to “Come From The Heart,” right down to the bright mandolin and backup choir. As naive as the song sounds now (at the time, 570,000 deaths would have seemed an impossible number), the truth is that things will get better eventually, and while it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to make that happen, Parton’s ready to do her part.

Song #10: Del Shannon, “Runaway”

I was hoping for a curveball to close out this set, and I got it in the form of Shannon’s #1 smash from 1961. The drums and piano do a nice job driving the song forward and giving it some frenetic energy, the minor chords, horn section, and whatever the heck a clavioline is give the song an ominous feel that helps enhance the narrator’s panicked sorrow, and the “wah-wah-wah-wah-wonder” part might be the best singalong moment of any song that’s ever been sung. Shannon uses his charisma to add a desperate edge to his vocals, and while it suffers from the same problem as “Broken Hearted Me” (it comes across as a bit too upbeat to be a sad song), the whole thing is executed so well that the listener doesn’t care all that much. After such a heavy dose of 80s/90s country music, this was a nice change of pace to end on.

The Results

PositionSong
1.“No Time To Cry”
2.“Come From The Heart”
3.“The First Step”
4.“Too Gone Too Long”
5.“When Life Is Good Again”
6.“Runaway”
7.“Unanswered Prayers”
8.“Broken Hearted Me”
9.“Watching You”
10.“She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful”

Honestly, this might be the strongest list of random songs we’ve had for an episode, but I’m going to give the win to Nichols for capturing the moment we’re living in so well (even if he did it seventeen years early). In all honesty though, I don’t think you could go wrong with any of these tracks, and it begs the question: What do many of these have that much of today’s releases do not? I think it boils down to perspective and maturity: There a sense of life being lived in many of these songs, the ability to look beyond a beer-soaked Friday night and extract wisdom from what they see. I feel like these songs are more polished compared to what we get from the genre today, with softer edges and fewer in-your-face beats and volume.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from this exercise, and perhaps someone might eventually even learn them. For now, however, I’m going to try to defy Nichols’s words and spare a moment to remember all that we’ve lost in the past year, and hold on to that feeling as a reminder to do everything I can so that we never travel this wretched road again.

Lost In The Shuffle, Vol. 8: Quarantine Fatigue

After a crazy week and a looong deep dive into Randy Travis’s career, I am honestly burnt down to cinders right now, and would like nothing more than a good three-day siesta.  —Kyle, Jan. 24th, 2020

Oh boohoo, past Kyle. You can’t even spell “coronavirus.” I don’t wanna f—ing hear about it.  —Kyle today

So…yeah. The last few weeks have happened, and I don’t even recognize the face I see in the mirror anymore (mostly because of this “lockdown beard” that’s threatening to reach playoff-hockey proportions). In-depth single reviews feel more and more out of place every day, so tonight I’m turning the keys back over to my iPad and letting it write a post for a change.

The concept of LITS is simple: Hit the shuffle button on my old iPad, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.

Is this silly and without purpose? Absolutely, but it’s also a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. (And frankly, everything I do nowadays feels silly and without purpose. Sure, this is the cleanest my microwave’s been in months, but what’s the point?) Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is.

The Contenders

Song #1: The Beatles, “Something”

Is it bad that I’m more familiar with Johnny Rodriguez’s 1974 cover of this than The Beatles’s 1969 original? This has always struck me as a very weird song: The narrator is certainly attracted to this other person and struggling to understand their feelings, but they’re not ready to make any hard declarations (every answer is “I don’t know, I don’t know!“) and saying “you know I believe her now” doesn’t make much sense when we’re never told what she said/did in the first place. The production has a very unsettled feel to it, especially with the chord change for the “chorus” portion, which doesn’t make it feel especially romantic. I suppose that love is a complicated emotion and this track certainly reflects that, but if the listener feels the same way as the narrator and is looking for some guidance, they aren’t going to find it here. It’s all right, but I wouldn’t expect it to climb too high on tonight’s rankings.

Song #2: Vince Gill & Paul Franklin, “Together Again”

This is more my speed when it comes to love songs. This 2013 cover of Buck Owens’s 1964 classic is one of the rare occasions where a re-recording actually holds up against its predecessor, primarily because of how closely Gill and Franklin stuck to the playbook: Owens’s track was dominated by the incredible steel guitar wizardry of Tom Brumley, and Franklin (perhaps the best steel player of the modern era) is given the same leading role here, and he doesn’t disappoint. Gill isn’t in his peak-90s form here, but he’s darn close, and the writing’s simple, straightforward sentiment gets the narrator’s message of love and happiness across without a hitch. (Both Owens and George Harrison do a nice job conveying their raw feelings about romance, although Harrison’s seem a bit more conflicted than Owens’s.) This has a chance for a decent placing tonight, but we’ll see how the competition stacks up.

Song #3: Weird Al Yankovic, “Don’t Download This Song”

Welp, so much for that serious vibe the iPad had going…

This 2006 cut from Yankovic’s Straight Outta Lynwood album (but, naturally, was put out as a free download first) was modeled after  overproduced charity ballads like “We Are The World,” but this time the message was not to support impoverished people in faraway lands, but to support impoverish musicians and the labels who build their fortunes on the backs of said musicians. In typical Weird Al style, this style is hilariously over-the-top, from the crime sprees that would inevitably spawn for such behavior (robbing liquor stores, selling drugs, running over people) and the items that he would no longer be able to afford (“how else can I afford another solid-gold Humvee?” There’s a reason Yankovic has stuck around for so long: He’s a master of capturing production styles and taking ideas like this one to their logical extreme (having a voice as flexible as his doesn’t hurt either)B, and the result is pure comedy gold. Songs like “Together Again” have their place, but in times like these, sometimes a good laugh is worth its weight in gold (or platinum).

Song #4: Brandy Clark, “Hold My Hand”

Clark has written some incredible songs over her career (“Take A Little Pill” is my personal favorite), but I find this one to be one of more forgettable tracks from her 2013 12 Stories album. The sad thing is that the more I listen to it, the more I think that it isn’t the song’s fault: The writing is absolutely superb in capturing both the scene and the narrator’s insecurity, the sparse production sets a suitable mood and stays out of the way of the lyrics, and Clark acquits herself capably and charismatically. The issue for me is that the song is just not relatable: I’m not part of the the target audience and I’ve personally never found myself in this situation, so the track doesn’t resonate with me the way it would with someone who has ever held love and was deathly afraid of losing it. It’s a solid song that likely won’t get the credit it deserves on this list, but I’d still recommend that people check it out (and tbh, you should check out the rest of this album too).

Song #5: …Richard Akers, “Bury Me Beneath The Willow”?

There’s no YouTube link to this song because there are MAYBE five copies of this recording in existence.

Okay, this LITS volume has officially cemented itself as the most eclectic of the bunch.

Uncle Rich has been dead for almost 20 years now, but back in his day he was known for three things: Working on cars, brawling in bars, and picking the meanest banjo in the county, and he and a crack band of part-time musicians (and there are more of these people hidden in the woodwork than you might think) would get together on the weekends over a few adult beverages and pick & grin until the sun came back around. Occasionally someone would record these sessions, and somewhere along the line one such recording got converted to a CD and wound up as an MP3 buried on my iPad. The recording quality is predictably poor and the vocals are hard to decipher ( I don’t know whether to blame the tape or the alcohol), but the musicianship is surprisingly good, with guitars, mandolins, and even steel guitars joining in the action. Uncle Rich’s banjo is the most prominent instrument here, and while I don’t recall ever hearing him play in person, the tape suggests he was as good a five-string player as the legends say. I have no idea where this will wind up on my list tonight, but in this time of extreme social distancing, it’s a reminder that home is never that far away if it’s still in your heart.

Song #6: Thomas Rhett, “Renegades”

Man, what a letdown after that last tune…

Rhett’s 2017 album Life Changes was front-loaded and a mixed bag overall, and this song was #12 out of 14. The opening line is “poor boy rich girl, what a cliché” and he’s not kidding: This is a generic young-love, wrong-side-of-the-tracks anthem with a slight James Dean flair, and it’s as underwhelming as you might think. Rhett is good-but-not-great in the narrator’s role (it kind of clashes with the title track’s picture of a family man), and the production is more of a rock mix dominated by heavy guitars, but there’s nothing in the arrangement or vocals that makes it stand out or stick out in the listener’s mind (at least “Sweetheart” sold out fully to be a tolerable doo-wap facsimile). There are much better tracks to check out on this album (“Marry Me,” anyone?), and this one will end up near the back on this list too.

Song #7: Joey + Rory, “Suppertime”

Okay, so the only theme tonight is the complete lack of a theme.

The “official” closing track from the duo’s final album before Joey Feek passed away from cancer (“When I’m Gone” is listed as a bonus track), “Suppertime” is a gospel standard that always felt like one of Joey + Rory’s signature tunes (it seemed like they were always playing it on their TV show, although that might just be because of re-runs). This version feels a tad overproduced (the atmospheric synths and deeper drums that opened the track feel unnecessary), but generally the mix stays in the background while the lyrics lean on warm (and perhaps manufactured) nostalgia to draw folks to reminisce on their childhood. Even in her weakened state, Joey Feek remained a potent force behind the mic, and while Joey doesn’t do a lot vocally here, their chemistry is apparent during their brief moments of harmony. I’m feeling a middle-of-the-road placement for this track: not bad, but with Uncle Rich around, the nostalgia lane is already pretty crowded.

Song #8: Toby Keith, “Big Blue Note”

Well, at least we got mildly-amusing Toby Keith instead of jingoistic obnoxious Toby Keith.

“Big Blue Note” stems from Keith’s 2005 Honkytonk University album, and as far as kiss-off songs go, it’s…okay I guess. Much like “Something,” it doesn’t really establish a consistent mood (one moment the narrator loves the ex, the next moment they hate them, and back and forth it goes), and writing gets a little bizarre at point (the psychiatrist bit feels like an awkward fit with the rest of the song). I appreciate the offbeat-but-upbeat vibe of the production (man, where have all the harmonicas gone?), and Keith’s dry delivery is better than much of what we got from him during this era, but overall it falls into the “just another breakup song” category for me. It’s fine, but I don’t see it placing too high tonight.

Song #9: Southern Rail, “Drive By Night”

(This one doesn’t seem to be on YouTube either, so have a link to one of their more-recent tunes, “Gone For Way Too Long.”)

Sweet, I’ve been waiting for this group to show up here! Southern Rail is a rare Northeast-based bluegrass group front by husband-and-wife duo Jim Muller and Sharon Horovitch (who were recently inducted into the Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance Hall of Fame) that have been active for over forty years. “Drive By Night” is the title track for their 1991 album, and it’s a sizzling instrumental drive by some fantastic banjo work. The minor-chord-based mix and blazing fast tempo make this thing a pure sugar rush that begs to backstop an old-school car chase scene, and while the banjo is the spotlight instrument, the mandolin and violin that step up hold their own and don’t miss a beat as the beat rolls (literally) along. This is neck and neck with “I Didn’t Ask” for the best track on the album, and this is a group I never get tired of stumping for. Dig them up on YouTube or iTunes; it’s absolutely worth your time if you like bluegrass, country, gospel, or anything in between.

Song #10: Dwight Yoakam, “Dangerous Man”

Yoakam’s 1990 album If There Was A Way is probably my favorite record of his, but this track was left off of the cassette version of the album, and you can kind of see why as you look back: It’s a slicker sugar rush that doesn’t really fit well with the rest of the album, and the writing is weirdly obtuse and only seem partially finished (Yoakam has to really stretch some lines to fit the required space). The “dangerous man” certainly seems like a bad dude, but the story is so vague that you never really figure out why the dude is so bad. It’s one of those classic Finebut award winners: “It’s fine, but” it doesn’t really stack up against tonight’s competition.

The Results

Position Song
1. “Don’t Download This Song”
2. “Drive By Night”
3. “Together Again”
4. “Bury Me Beneath The Willow”
5. “Hold My Hand”
6. “Something”
7. “Suppertime”
8. “Dangerous Man”
9. “Big Blue Note”
10. “Renegades”

I love Southern Rail to death (and you should too), but I’m giving Weird Al the victory tonight because “Don’t Download This Song” is a master class in production, vocals, and comedic songwriting. In some sense, there was actually a theme tonight, as old-school songs and sounds mostly carried the day (though it pains me to think the 1990s qualify as “old-school” now that we’ve reached 2020). I’ve been leaning on my musical library a lot since this whole COVID-19 business shut the world down, and it’s strangely reassuring to know that no matter how long we’re stuck six feet apart from one another, we’ll have quality tracks like (most of) these help sustain us and buoy our spirits.

Hang in there, everyone. There’s light somewhere out there in this darkness, and if we stick it out long enough, we’ll find it.

Lost In The Shuffle, Vol. 7: Kneotraditional Knights

As open-minded as I try to be about the sound of country music, there will admittedly always be a place in my heart for the Randy-Travis-inspired movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Still songs songs were better than others, and I think it’s time to take a trip down memory lane to see just how rose-tinted my glasses really are. As CallieMacN might say, “Who’s ready for a randomizer?!”

The concept of LITS is simple: Hit the shuffle button on my old iPad, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist. Today, however, said playlist will be drawn from a carefully-curated batch of singles from the neotraditional era, with no old-school, new-school, or non-country stuff allowed.

Is this silly and without purpose? Absolutely, but it’s also a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is.

The Contenders

Song #1: Ricky Skaggs, “Country Boy”

I complain a lot about lifeless songs that plod from start to finish, but Skaggs’s 1985 bluegrass track is the exact opposite: This is sonic heroin, so guaranteed to hype you up it’s dangerous to listen to while driving (it could use a warning label). There’s not much to the writing besides, you know, being a country boy, but the instrumental wizardry on display here could reduce an old-school fan to tears: The mandolin, fiddle, banjo, piano, steel guitar, and acoustic guitar take turn trading expertly-executed licks on perhaps the greatest outro in music history (and that Warner Bros. riff thrown in at the end always makes me laugh). This was a good time in a cassette taps back in the day, and it remains so as a MP3 on a dated iPad. You can’t go wrong with a starting track like this one.

Song #2: George Strait, “One Night At A Time”

If you’re dealing with 80s and 90s country music, you’re practically required by law to include a George Strait track (and I expect Alan Jackson to show up any minute now). Looking back on the era, however, it feels like Strait’s singles are mostly just “good” (and perhaps even a little too safe) compared to his 80s releases. Still, it makes him a safe bet for any playlist, and this 1997 release is no exception: I wouldn’t call it “sexy,” but that Spanish guitar and Strait’s smooth, charismatic vocal on top of a standard fiddle-and-steel mix create a very warm and comfortable atmosphere, unlike some of the sex jams I hear country artists try to pull off today. It’s a decent single and I’ll never object to it appearing, but as Skaggs showed earlier, there are better tracks that we can draw from this era.

Song #3: Alan Jackson, “Little Bitty”

Well, speak of the devil! Jackson matched Strait hit for hit back in the 1990s, and on this 1996 release, Jackson had some help: The song was written by “The Storyteller” himself, Tom T. Hall. You can kind of tell that this is a Hall composition with the way he spins a short thread into a long yarn, and the back-to-basics observations and simple “be kind and enjoy life” message are timeless (if not exactly novel). The production tosses an accordion onto the fiddle-and-steel foundation to give the track some Cajun flavor and an upbeat, energetic vibe, which feels like a good fit for the season as winter gives way to spring. It’s a fun song with no guile or guilt, and it’s a nice choice for establishing a carefree mood on a Friday night.

Song #4: Toby Keith, “He Ain’t Worth Missing”

Does anyone remember 1990s-era Toby Keith? His polarizing persona of the 2000s makes it hard to admit sometimes, but he had some solid neotraditional cred back in the day. I wouldn’t call “He Ain’t Worth Missing” one of his best tracks of the era (it’s not on the level of “Shoulda Been A Cowboy” or “Who’s That Man”), but this 1993 release remains a decent offering, with its ominous, piano-driven production and Keith using his charisma to pitch himself as someone genuinely concerned with the other person’s well being (instead of a sleazy bro terrified of losing their girlfriend to an old flame). It’s probably not the first track I’d seek out if I was looking for some OG Keith material, but it sets the mood well enough to earn a seat at this table.

Song #5: Alan Jackson, “Love’s Got A Hold On You”

Simplicity is the name of the game here, as Jackson’s 1992 release (and second song of the night) is as straightforward as it gets. The production is primarily a guitar-and-drum mix (the fiddle and steel are bit players here), the “love as a disease” trope is delivered without pageantry or fluff in the writing, and the uptempo beat means this thing clocks in at a brisk 2:50 and change. In truth, it feels a bit bare-bones in hindsight, leaving me thinking “That’s it?” when the song is over. It’s enjoyable, but like “One Night At A Time,” it’s not peak Jackson either. Still, it checks all the neotraditional boxes, and I’ll never turn it away at the door if it arrives.

Song #6: Travis Tritt, “Anymore”

Hey, it’s that guy from the new Hot Country Knights single! Tritt may be one of the less-heralded members of the “Class of ’89,” but he certainly had his moments in the early 90s, and this is one of them. (For a guy considered a spiritual successor to the outlaws of the 70s, his biggest hits, and all his #1s, are all ballads.) “Anymore” hit the airwaves in 1991, and it had me fooled back in the day (I thought the “I don’t love you anymore” line meant the narrator was walking away from a dying relationship), but it’s actually about a narrator who can no longer resist that attraction of a presumed special someone. The production makes this more of a power balled with its heavier keyboards and electric guitars jumping in to give the track jolts of noise and energy in the lead up to the punch line (and that guitar backing on the bridge solo is the perfect table-setter). It’s not the first song I think of when I think about Tritt, but it’s a nice addition to the playlist and will likely find a respectable spot on today’s list.

Song #7: Lee Roy Parnell, “Heart’s Desire”

Here’s a name you don’t hear very often! Parnell had a brief moment in the early and mid 90s, and 1996’s “Heart’s Desire” was essentially his last hurrah in mainstream country (it was his last Top Ten single). Honestly, I wouldn’t call this his best work: The lyrics are fairly boilerplate and a little silly at times (“like a sweet tooth cravin’ candy”? “like a car spinning out of control with a blown-out tire”?), and while Parnell himself seems happy, I don’t feel the love the way I do on something like “One Night At A Time.” The production is fairly guitar-centric (which makes sense given Parnell’s skill as a player), but it doesn’t really reach the energy levels it needs to, and feels kind of lukewarm as a result. It’s an okay track, but the competition is extra-strong tonight, and Parnell needs to bring his A-game if he’s going to compete on this list.

Song #8: Mark Chesnutt, “Old Flames Have New Names”

Now this is how you play a player! The 1992 leadoff single for Chesnutt’s Longnecks And Short Stories is a rollicking good time (think Strait’s “All My Exes Live In Texas” but faster), clocking in at a blazing 2:20 and change. The detail is what really sells the song, as it’s interesting to hear about what the narrator’s former acquaintances are up to and how they’ve grown and matured into new roles while the narrator most certainly has not. Chesnutt avoids feeling too sleazy by making himself the butt of the joke and tossing out charm by the bucketful, and the springy western-swing-esque mix is guaranteed to move your feet by the end of the track. It’s a ton of fun from beginning to end, and my biggest complaint is that it’s over so darn quickly!

Song #9: Joe Diffie, “New Way (To Light Up An Old Flame)”

And the upbeat numbers keep coming! Before he become the object of Jason Aldean’s fascination, Diffie had a decent run back in early/mid 90s, and this 1991 release checks all the usual boxes: A fiddle-and-guitar-dominated mix with some serious bounce and brightness, a narrator brimming with optimism as they proclaim that they’re going to fix whatever’s broken with their relationship and re-light the fire of passion, and a charismatic vocal performance from Diffie that can’t help but make you root for the guy, regardless of what their transgressions were. I seem to be in a mood for cheerfulness today (hey, spring break is still spring break, even if I can’t go anywhere thanks to the coronavirus), and Diffie delivers in a big way on this track.

Song #10: Brad Paisley, “Me Neither”

What the heck we started with some instrumental magic, so let’s end with it too! Paisley only barely made this playlist with his debut album Who Needs Pictures (this song was technically released in 2000, but it came off of a 1999 album so it made the cut), and this fits into the same mold as the last few songs: Faster tempo, brightly-toned traditional instrumentation, and a touch of self-deprecating humor thrown in for good measure. I always liked this song, but I also always felt like it was half-baked: The lyrics themselves cover less than two minutes, and the story ends rather abruptly after the second chorus (with a solid outro filling much of the gap). Still, this was our first glimpse at Paisley’s incredible guitar prowess (the rest of his band acquits themselves well too), while also highlighting his easy charm and strong songwriting chops. It’ll probably get stuck behind some of his immediate predecessor in this exercise, but it’s by no means a bad song.

The Results

Position Song
1. “Old Flames Have New Names”
2. “Country Boy”
3. “New Way (To Light Up An Old Flame)”
4. “Anymore”
5. “Little Bitty”
6. “Me Neither”
7. “Love’s Got A Hold On You”
8. “He Ain’t Worth Missing”
9. “One Night At A Time”
10. “Heart’s Desire”

Looking at tonight’s list, I’m reminded of Josh Schott’s post last month about fun in country music and where it disappeared to after being a major part of the 90s country landscape. The songs near the top of this list are unabashedly fun, and it’s something you don’t get a lot of from country music today (“Every Little Thing” and Runaway June’s recent offerings being the most-memorable exceptions). Perhaps that’s where some of the current complaints come from: Artists are so busy flashing their country cred or gushing over their significant others that their songs lack the spirit and atmosphere that made the 1990s so enjoyable. (That said, the neotraditional movement also had its share of strong slower offerings: Song #11, Shenandoah’s “Hey Mister (I Need This Job)” would have grabbed an upper-half slot had it been eligible.)

I wasn’t really feeling the Hot Country Knights’s debut single “Pick Her Up” (it had too much of a Bro-Country vibe for my taste), but it certainly captured that fun vibe of the neotraditional era in its sound. Here’s hoping a few other acts can follow their lead and bring some of those old feelings into the genre’s new era.

Lost In The Shuffle, Vol. 6: Naptime Blues

After a crazy week and a looong deep dive into Randy Travis’s career, I am honestly burnt down to cinders right now, and would like nothing more than a good three-day siesta. The blog must go on, however, and so I decided to trot out the first LITS of the year to at least give me a chance to rest while I pondered the tracks that appeared.

The concept of LITS is simple: Hit the shuffle button on my old iPad, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.

Is this silly and without purpose? Absolutely, but it’s also a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is.

The Contenders

Song #1: Sammy Kershaw, “I Want My Money Back”

Okay, this wasn’t really the song I wanted to start out with. I hit play, close my eyes, and…I’m immediately smacked across the face with a loud, bouncy bass and a prominent pair of fiddles. A double-shot of Starbucks espresso couldn’t have done a better job waking me up…

Thankfully, the title track and leadoff single from Kershaw’s 2003 album is actually pretty decent, offering a darkly-humorous take on the financial frustrations of middle-class America (a take that’s no longer a laughing matter seventeen years later). Despite a few questionable production decisions (what’s with the weird vocal effects on the bridge?), the mix some solid tone and energy to the table, and Kershaw is one of those underrated, likeable 1990s artists that deserves to be remembered more than he is. I may not appreciate the rude awakening, but I guess I’ll get over it.

Song #2: George Strait, “Lead On”

Now that’s more like it. If I had a word to describe the title track and final single from Strait’s 1994 album, it would be relaxed, taking its time with its tone and tempo, but never bogging down under its own weight. The song should be required listening for any artist trying to avoid being a creepy Metro-Bro act, because despite being a booty call at its core, it deftly sidesteps any questions from the press by a) giving both parties a voice, b) making the decision a consensual one, and c) imbuing its characters with honesty (the guy screwed up his last relationship, and he admits it). George Strait pours on the charm like it was maple syrup, and the pop-tinged production gives the track an inviting softness that makes it easy on the ears. One could argue *yawn* that it’s the sort of track someone could fall asleep to, but I’m okay with that right now…

Song #3: Carolyn Dawn Johnson, “I Don’t Want You To Go”

…And then CDJ comes in and ruins the mood. Let me rest, darn it!

All complaining aside, the third single from Johnson’s 2001 debut album Room With A View (and her last stateside hurrah) is pretty decent on balance. Unlike me, the narrator here has no intention of falling asleep anytime soon, and while the writing is a bit generic, Johnson infuses the protagonist with so much spunk that you can’t help but feel for them and their wrecked sleep schedule. The production backs her up with a lot of noise (this track always felt noticeably louder than most of my library), but the guitars and fiddles match Johnson’s attitude and energy, and make the song fun enough to compensate for its stale tale

But seriously, can I get some slower material next?

Song #4: Toby Keith, “Stays In Mexico”

My iPad doesn’t have hands, so this is as close to flipping me off as it can get.

Not only is it borderline-frenetic, but it’s a generic “Mexi-Bro” track chock full of gratuitous drinking, cheating, and ephemeral sugar highs. Keith comes across as a slimy voyeur, the characters are flat and unlikable, the production cranks the noise up to 11 with in-your-face guitars and a horn section, and frankly, the whole thing is so over-the-top that it’s not that much fun in the end. I didn’t want to listen to Johnson right now, but I wouldn’t want to hear this song at any time for any reason. Next!

Song #5: Marty Stuart Ralph Mooney, “Crazy Arms”

A steel guitar solo? I can dig it.

Mooney is credited with writing the song (although more recently, Paul Gilley has been labeled as the true composer), but it’s pop-culture impact is undeniable (it’s one of Ray Price’s signature songs), and Stuart had Mooney lay down an instrumental version for his 2010 album Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions. The funky chord progression that opens every verse and chorus is instantly recognizable, and the pedal steel gives the track a warm, smooth feel that transforms it from a lost-love lament to a happier, reflective tune. (If you’re going to contradict the lyrics like this, the best thing to do is get rid of them completely.) My main complaint is that the song is far too short, and could have used a few other instrument to trade the melody around with. Still, something’s better than nothing, and anything’s better than “Stays In Mexico.” You’re back in my good graces, iPad…for now.

Song #6: Randy Travis ft. Shelby Lynne, “Promises”

…Don’t push your luck, iPad.

I said yesterday that I was a fan of everything from Storms Of Life to Under The Influence, Vol. 2, but Travis’s 25th anniversary duet album is by far the weakest in his discography. None of the covers even come close to the original tracks, and “Promises” is no exception: The overproduction (strings, fiddle and steel) deliver the message far less pointedly than the acoustic-guitar-only mix of the original, Travis doesn’t sound great, he and Shelby Lynne (who?) have no vocal chemistry, and the rewriting neede to turn the song into a duet felt clumsy and half-baked. It’s better than “Stays In Mexico,” but there’s no need for this retread when the original was that good. Hey iPad, how about a Travis original to clean up this mess?

Song #7: Randy Travis, “I’d Surrender All”

Wait, you actually listened to me?

The final single from Travis’s 1991 album High Lonesome didn’t reach the height of its sibling singles, but I always felt it measured up from a quality standpoint. The lyrics don’t offer much novelty beyond the “hairspray in the air” line, but Travis is such an emotive singer (his note-holding was especially poignant here) and the production’s light touch, use of minor chords and crying steel guitar gave the song a strong melancholic vibe that put you squarely in the narrator’s corner (even if the song insinuates that they’re clearly to blame for the breakup). I just heard this thing last night during my discography crawl, but it’s the sort of song I could listen to over and over again.

Song #8: Mel Tillis, “Detroit City”

It’s not Bobby Bare, but it’s not bad.

Tillis is the original songwriter of “Detroit City,” but he gave the song to Bare because his stutter made it nearly impossible to get through the spoken-word section after the second verse. When Tillis covers the song live, he tends to ad-lib with the audience as he does in the video above to avoid the spoken section, but in the recording I have he doesn’t even go through the second verse! Tillis does a decent-enough job on the part of the song he does cover, but leaving a job half-finished like this make me feel a little cheated by the performance. It’s okay, but it’s not peak Tillis or “Detroit City,” so I don’t see it doing well on this list.

Song #9: Clint Black, “Spend My Time”

Wow, This is exactly what I was looking for!

Randy Travis is my favorite singer, but Clint Black is the unquestioned #2 in my personal rankings. I’ve always enjoyed his clever turns of phrase and how he can work his way around a topic, and the title track and leadoff single of his 2003 album is a prime example of his work. The piano-driven production establishes a calm, reflective mood, but the writing keeps its eyes on the future as it ponders the present and future passage of time, and Black brings enough optimism to the table to make the character feel earnest and believable. On top of this, the song suits my current subdued mood, while also gently prodding me to keep going and imagine better days ahead. This song is in the running for my favorite Clint Black tunes of all time, and it will definitely compete for the top spot on tonight’s list.

Song #10: Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton, “We’ve Got Tonight”

This isn’t a terrible song to end on. Sure, it’s a sappy, saccharine love song with the sort of pop styling that drive country music to the brink in the post-“Urban Cowboy” 1980s, but there’s a real gentleness behind the piano-and-strings production and Rogers’s surprisingly dialed-back delivery, and Easton’s part turns up the dial with extra power and electric guitars (which Rogers has no trouble keeping up with). The pair has solid vocal chemistry, both singers feel earnest and sympathetic, and even though this is essentially the same booty call as “Lead On,” having both voices in the mix make things at least feel above board and consensual. It’s a harmless, not-quite-memorable track that keeps the post from ending on a downer.

The Results

Position Song
1. “Spend My Time”
2. “I’d Surrender All”
3. “Crazy Arms”
4. “Lead On”
5. “I Want My Money Back”
6. “I Don’t Want You To Go”
7. “We’ve Got Tonight”
8. “Detroit City”
9. “Promises”
10. “Stays In Mexico”

 

Clint Black may be #2 in my heart, but he’s #1 on tonight’s list. “I’d Surrender All” is good, but “Spend My Time” has more atmospheric production and more interesting writing, outpacing both Travis’s track and Mooney’s steel shuffle. Sadly, there was a bit too much energy provided by some of the tracks, and now I’m wide awake with no hope of rest for another few hours. For a list like this, however, I suppose the trade was worth it.

The next question: How do I “Spend My Time” now that I have it? I guess I have to start grading assignments again…thanks a lot, iPad.

Lost In The Shuffle, Vol. 5: The Mysterious Mr. L

Greetings from the far side of the world! You know, the side that has neither WiFi nor cell coverage and you have to travel two towns over just to find a signal. The past few days of turkeys, touchdowns and terrible weather have made maintaining the blog a challenge, so I’ve decided to hit the reset button, throw together a quick LITS post to tide folks over, and get back in the swing of things next week.

The concept of LITS is simple: Hit the shuffle button on my old iPad, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.

Is this silly and without purpose? Absolutely, but it’s also a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is.

The Contenders

Song #1: Eric Church, “Record Year”

Hey, we’re starting off strong today!

To be honest, I’ve struggled to see the appeal of Eric Church: His songs have been hit-and-miss for me, and unlike Dierks Bentley, his “outsider” persona just never resonated with me. He’s got a few songs that I dig, however, and “Record Year” from 2015’s Mr. Misunerstood is one of them. I like the way he weaves an optimistic tune together with a solid vinyl-based theme and hook, and the slightly-unorthodox production and instruments adds a level of flavor that many of his peers (and often he himself) lacks. He’s one of the few artists who can name-check both Willie Nelson and James Brown credibly, and the audiophile in me imagines that this is exactly how I’d handle a situation like this. I support this LITS intro wholeheartedly.

Song #2: Midland, “Altitude Adjustment”

I’m ODing on tryptophan rather than cannibus, but there’s no denying I’m in an altered state of mind right now.

On the surface, this album cut from 2017’s On The Rocks about a man who’s had it up to here with Nashville and society in general, and is plotting an escape to Colorado. Read between the lines, however, and it’s clear this song is more about scoring a “Rocky Mountain High” than anything else. I’ve raved about Midland a lot on this blog, and this song features everything I enjoy about the group: Throwback production (heavy on the dobro and piano here), solid harmonies, interesting wordplay (with lots of weed-flavored double-entendres), and standout vocal work from Mark Wystrach. Two songs in, and we’ve already got a decent competition brewing!

Song #3: Levar Allen, “My Year”

Now that’s just not fair.

Levar Allen is a multi-talented Canadian artist who specializes in turning video game tracks into spectacular rap tracks, and this single from 2014 might be my favorite of the bunch. Using music from Luigi’s Mansion and Mario Strikers, Allen puts together a dark, punchy, horn-driven song that walks a mile in Luigi’s shoes and shows off the heart behind the constant fear and disrespect (and tosses in some solid guitar solos along the way). The mix is expertly crafted, Allen’s flow and tone are both excellent, and the lyrics are razor-sharp and works in a surprising number of references (even from outside the video game universe, like this:

Everyone loves Raymond, I’m the other Barone
So low-key, my whole life is baritone
So Loki, but I can handle a hammer bro

Yeah, I think we’ve got a true front-runner now.

Song #4: George Strait, “Blue Clear Sky”

Okay, I can take a moment to breathe now.

The title track from Strait’s 1996 Blue Clear Sky album is pretty much your stereotypical George Strait track: A clean, midtempo, neotraditional fiddle-and-steel mix declaring how love can sneak up on someone when they least expect it. While it’s a decent track overall, there’s little here to distinguish it from the bulk of Strait’s discography, so it gets forgotten behind his stronger material like “The Chair” and “I Just Wanna Dance With You.” It’s a bright, happy track that’ll put a smile on your face when you hear it, and Strait sounds as good as ever on the vocals, but you’ll probably forget your heard it within ten minutes or so. Still, if this is the “worst” song I hear today, I’ll totally take it.

Song #5: Steve Earle, “Guitar Town”

Aw yeah, now we’re cookin’ again!

I am woefully ignorant of Steve Earle’s career, but the one thing I know about him was that “Guitar Town” was all over the radio back in the late 1980s (it’s one of the few songs I actually remember from that era). True to its name, this is a guitar-driven romp about a James-Dean-type drifter who travels the road with his guitar constantly trying to see what’s beyond the horizon. The primary guitar riff is simple but memorable, and the sparse arrangement (guitars, drums, and an organ) generates a surprisingly amount of energy and draws the listener into the story. The writing isn’t exactly detailed, but it does just enough to bring the audience along with Earle on his journey, and leave them wanting more at the end. I don’t know what mood my iPad is in right now, but I hope it stays there for a few more songs!

Song #6: Merle Haggard, “I Never Go Around Mirrors”

Slowing down the pace, eh? For a track like this, I’ll take it.

I know this song not as a Haggard cut or a Lefty Frizzell original Keith Whitley cover, but as a song our band’s lead guitarist would play a lot back in the day. Originally from 1976’s The Roots Of My Raising, this is a classic cry-into-your-beer track describing how the narrator has fallen apart in the wake of his failed romance. Much like “Blue Clear Sky,” you can make the case that this mostly gets lost in Haggard’s discography, and the writing feels a bit lacking because there isn’t a whole lot to this song beyond a chorus and a single verse. While I personally enjoy this one a lot, objectively it’s not a great song, and on a list that’s turning out to be as strong as this one is, it’s likely going to get overlooked. Still, if you’re searching for that classic Haggard sound and tone, you’ll find it in spades here.

Song #7: Johnny Rodriguez, “The Last Letter”

If you’re going to go slow, go big or go home.

For the second-to-last track on Rodriguez’s 1974 album My Third Album (sure it’s a silly name, but is it any sillier than Jason Aldean’s recent 9?), the team pulled out all the stops: The production features a 3/4 waltz tempo and a full string section, the writing is a long-drawn out rumination on a love where the other person is apparently preparing to leave for a bigger, better deal, and Rodriguez does an excellent job expressing his sadness over the current situation while also delivering a clear message that the leaver will be the one who regrets this decision the most. It’s a tear-jerking mood-setter that’s executed to perfection, and should find a decent spot on the list despite the competition.

Song #8: Lonestar, “No News”

That’s right: I owe you all a deep dive on this group, don’t I?

Lonestar is best known for their late-career work (“I’m Already There,” “What About Now”), but the second single off of the group’s 1995 self-titled debut album remains my personal favorite. The narrator here cluelessly laments the lack of feedback from a significant other who has absolutely no intention of continuing the relationship, and the over-the-top excuses the narrator offers after a few quick verses made me lol a lot as a young listener (listening now, however, you realize that that “joined the Klan” line was in really poor taste). The production is a standard guitar-and-drum arrangement with a fiddle tossed on top for seasoning, and the song feels like it’s over relatively quickly, but it’s a bouncy number with some decent energy that will likely get bumped to the back half of the list simply because the list has been really good so far.

Song #9: Midland, “Somewhere On The Wind”

So Midland is making a late play to dominate the list, eh?

This song was the closer to On The Rocks, and it satisfies all the prerequisites: An opening reflective harmonica, a spacious acoustic guitar and restrained drum setting the scene, and a narrator saying their goodbyes to their partner as they embark on yet another long and epic journey down the road. (And hey, a banjo that doesn’t feel token for once!) This is really a softer take on the protagonist from “Guitar Town,” and I really like how atmospheric the sound is and how well the band’s harmonies blend together (and how the long, drawn-out song reflects the narrator’s conflicting feelings about moving on). I think I’d rank this ahead of “Altitude Adjustment,” but is it enough to take the No. 1 slot?

Song #10: Roger Miller, “Dang Me”

This is an awfully hard song to get a read on.

On one hand, this track from Miller’s 1964 debut Roger And Out is a bright, bouncy tune infused with Miller’s trademark humor and charm…but on the other hand, it’s a song about how lousy a person the narrator is and how they selfishly put themselves over the home and family they’ve got. The writing hasn’t aged terribly well (and to be honest, phrases like “maple syrple” were never that good to begin with), and the third verse feels completely unnecessary and only serves to length the not-even-two-minute track. Miller sounds fine here (although it’s hard to reconcile his upbeat tone with the darker lyrics) and the guitar, despite being the only instrument here, is excellently-played and does more than enough to carry the tune, but overall, don’t expect this thing to be much of a contender here.

The Results

Position Song
1. “My Year”
2. “Record Year”
3. “The Last Letter”
4. “Somewhere On The Wind”
5. “Guitar Town”
6. “Altitude Adjustment”
7. “I Never Go Around Mirrors”
8. “Blue Clear Sky”
9. “No News”
10. “Dang Me”

This was probably the strongest LITS list I’ve gotten thus far, but Allen’s excellent Luigi rap beats out a passle of classic country tunes to take today’s title. (This would have been a great workout track for the last competition too!) Enjoy your Thanksgiving leftovers folks, and if you get drawn into any annoying conversations about “Politics, Religion, and Her,” slap some Mr. L on the turntable and find the nearest game console to show the world that the ultimate Player 2 is ultimately No. 1.

Lost In The Shuffle, Vol. 4: Workout Special

I know, I know, I owe people a deep dive soon, but tonight I need a stiff drink and a random playlist…

The concept of LITS is simple: Hit the shuffle button on my old iPad, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.

Since I’ve been playing so much Ring Fit Adventure lately, I figured I’d tweak the criteria this week: Which of these songs would work best on a workout playlist? Some songs, as good as they one, you just can’t do squats to, so let’s see if my music library is up to the task.

Is this silly and without purpose? Absolutely, but it’s also a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is.

The Contenders

Song #1: William Michael Morgan, “Somethin’ To Drink About”

…It’s a little unorthodox, but let’s roll with it.

This is an album cut from Morgan’s debut album Vinyl, and honestly it’s one of the weaker tracks: The subject is overdone, the lyrics are generic, and Morgan’s delivery feels a little too serious for the song. It’s got some kick to the guitars and the drum line, however, and it creates enough of a motivational “keep on working” vibe that might actually make it work for a tough plank set. The people Morgan talk about are tough, hard-working folks who are just fighting through life, so gosh darnit you can fight through those wide squats! While I’d rather listen to “Missing” or half a dozen other tracks from this disc, given my additional criteria, this isn’t a bad start to the round.

Song #2: Darryl Worley, “If Something Should Happen”

On the flip side, this is a better song outside the gym than inside it.

Worley sunk his career forever by tying himself to the Iraq War with “Have You Forgotten?”, which is too bad because he put out some decent material in his prime, including this #9 hit from the self-titled 2004 album. It’s a song that showcases some real emotion and vulnerability, and the fear of the unknown (especially the medical unknown) can get to the toughest of us. However, when I’m in the middle of a thigh stretch, the last thing I want to think about is “If Something Should Happen!” The tempo and energy levels are a bit too low for thigh presses and a bit too fast for yoga, so I’d rather not hear this one come up while I’m trying to get buff.

Song #3: Brad Paisley, “Mr. Policeman”

There’s such a thing a too much energy for a workout song, and this thing could be downright dangerous!

In a vacuum, I love this album cut from Paisley’s 2007 album 5th Gear: The production is rocking and the musicians are on point, the chase-scene setup is the perfect combination of fun and danger (unlike “Moonshine In The Trunk,” this is not a drill), Paisley nails the carefree-yet-cocksure narrator, and the energy level is through the roof. A song this lit, however, could really get into your head and push you to overexert yourself (“More weight! Moar!“), potentially leading to an injury. As someone who is particularly vulnerable to musical energy and far too weak to really do much in the gym, I think this one might be a little bit above my multiplayer rank. It’s still a great song, just not for this task.

Song #4: Alan Jackson, “You Go Your Way”

So now we’re faced with a question: Is it better to bring too much energy to the table, or too little?

Objectively, this #41 single from Jackson’s 2012 album Thirty Miles West is pretty decent: The throwback neotradtional production is always welcome, Jackson does a nice job in the role of a wounded-but-realistic narrator in the throes of a breakup, and while it’s not a barnburner, it doesn’t plod either. The melancholy mood, however, isn’t terribly motivational when you’re fighting through a set of chess presses, and is more likely to make you stop and wonder what the purpose of all this exercise is than push you towards your fitness goals. I like this song, just not when I’ve got thirty miles (west) to go in a spinning class.

Song #5: Easton Corbin, “Like A Song”

Et tu, iPad? What, are you going to play “Go Rest High On That Mountain” next?

I’m one of the ten people that actually went out and bought About To Get Real back in 2015, and I still hold it up as an example of Bro-Country done (mostly) right. “Like A Song” is the album closer and the closest the album gets to Corbin’s neotraditional roots, and it’s a solid tearjerker with a sad, sympathetic narrator and some great piano and steel guitar to set the mood. In other words, this is the last thing I want to hear in the middle of a set of knee lifts: I’m already sweating, I don’t want to eyes watering and making me even more dehydrated! This is a song best consumed while in a comfy chair in a dimly-lit room, not while on an exercise mat while you’re trying to get your downward dog pose right. It would be a contender for a normal shuffle post, but not for a workout special.

Song #6: Brooks & Dunn, “Neon Moon”

…You know, I think we can make this work.

This is a #1 single from B&D’s 1991 debut Brand New Man, and it’s cry-into-your-beer-to-get-over-a-breakup setup might just have a place in the fitness world. The guitar and bass work give the track a real soothing feel, the fiddle and steel add some welcome flavor, the drums keep the song moving without feeling too obtrusive, and let’s be honest: Ronnie Dunn’s voice could melt butter from a half-mile away. It wouldn’t work for a more-active exercise, but for a light stretching set or a yoga session, this could really help get your into your zone and help you focus on your technique. It’s a song to help you forget, and that’s kind of what you need when you’re trying to block out your daily distractions and get your form right. (Honestly, I could see this working well for a meditation session as well.)

Song #7: Roy Clark & Buck Trent, “Black Mountain Rag”

Bluegrass to the rescue! This is an obscure track from an obscure 1978 album featuring two of the greatest banjo players in country music history, but it’s the sort of short burst of energy that you really use during aerobic exercise or strength training. The banjo and fiddle work is fantastic (obviously), the uptempo, rhythmic quality of the music gives you something you can tune your body to, and the fact that it’s an instrumental minimizes its distraction quotient. Even its short runtime is a positive, as you can use it for a quick burst of energy during a single set of reps of whatever you’re doing.  Once again, this song proves that bluegrass music can make just about anything better. 🙂

Song #8: Jason Aldean, “Night Train”

Aldean’s got plenty of hard-rocking tracks that would slide easily onto a workout playlist (“Lights Come On,” “Take A Little Ride,” even “1994”), but the title track from his 2012 album isn’t really one of them. It’s slower and lacks the instrumental punch of the aforementioned tracks, and Aldean isn’t the most motivational artist in the genre. It’s a song that’s more about being stationary than being active, and it won’t do the job when I’m staring fifteen more planks in the face and the abs are two seconds from going on strike. It’s not a terrible choice, but it’s not a good one either, and I’d be tempted to reach for the ‘Skip’ button here.

Song #9: Patty Loveless, “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye”

This track, from Loveless’s 1993 Epic debut Only What I Feel, reached #3 on the charts and is generally one of my favorite Loveless tunes, but I do not want to hear this start playing halfway through my overhead presses. It’s an unapologetically-sad song that drags the listener over the hot coals that are an early-life move, a traumatic breakout, and a lost parent, and it drains you of your energy rather than replenishing it. It’s also a very distracting song because it invites you to ponder and reflect on its source material, which isn’t great if you’re trying to correct your tree pose form. I need “I Try To Think About Elvis” or “Blame It On Your Heart” to get me through my exercises, not this.

Song #10: Trace Adkins, “634-5789”

Not a bad way to end it, if you ask me!

This is a forgotten album cut from Adkins’s 1996 Dreamin’ Out Loud debut, and honestly it’s a better fit for a workout routine than most of the actual singles (“I Left Something Turned On At Home” is the only one that come close). It’s not really uptempo, but it’s got a great groove and some serious positive vibes to recharge your body and mind after a tough session. I’m not sure how much it’ll get your heart rate up, but the rollicking neotraditional mix and Adkins’s underrated charisma are the perfect remedy to get you back on your feet. It’s a good closer for the cooldown stretch, and a solid chaser for this blog post

The Results

Position Song
1. “Black Mountain Rag”
2. “634-5789”
3. “Somethin’ To Drink About”
4. “Neon Moon”
5. “Mr. Policeman”
6. “You Go Your Way”
7. “Night Train”
8. “If Something Should Happen”
9. “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye”
10. “Like A Song”

Overall, I think I’d call this a “meh” playlist for an exercise routine: Only one or two songs really fit the mood, and the others were either situational or completely unsuitable for the task. Still, it’s nice to give Clark & Trent a shoutout, and they’re more than welcome to come along for the ride the next time I fire up Ring Fit Adventure. Let the banjos roll!

Lost In The Shuffle, Vol. 3: Road Trip Roller Coaster

If it’s Friday, Kyle is probably getting shipped to a random destination somewhere in the world, which means it’s time for another episode of Lost In The Shuffle! The concept is simple: Hit the shuffle button, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.

Is it silly and without purpose? Absolutely, but it’s also a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is.

The Contenders

Song #1: Generic Unnamed Bluegrass Group, “I Must Tell Jesus All Of My Trials”

(Note that the below song is not the version I heard; it’s just to give you an idea of what the song is.)

…So apparently the answer is “it’s not very wacky, but it’s occasionally sad.” This song is what happens when your mother raids the discount CD rack at Walmart and asks you to put all of her finds on her off-brand MP3 player. There’s nothing I hate more than a CD of songs that doesn’t even bother to credit the artists behind them, because it’s selling the listener on a false promise that “hey, this is exactly like the tune you expect” when it’s clearly not. However, this is likely a public-domain gospel tune that hundreds of folks have covered, so…maybe the execution will make it palatable? It didn’t: The production was basically a slow-rolling banjo that added little to the track, the anonymous artists had no tone and even less vocal chemistry (the harmonies here were painful to listen to), and the writing never goes beyond “tell Jesus all your problems, he’ll take care of them!” Look for this one at the bottom of today’s list.

Song #2: Brad Paisley, “Moonshine In The Trunk”

MUCH better! Paisley is one of my favorite artists, and this is probably my favorite track off of his 2014 Moonshine In The Trunk album. It’s a fast-paced barnburner with some exceptional instrument work, and while the story isn’t exactly deep (or even real; the whole thing is make-believe), it is a ton of fun to jam to. It’s one of those songs that are a bit dangerous to listen to in the car, because it makes you feel like Chase Elliott when you’re barely a 50cc driver in Mario Kart. Even without the weak challenger to start, this song would stake out a sizable early lead.

Song #3: Shania Twain, “The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You)”

This…is not one of Twain’s best songs. Serving as the title track for her 1995 album, this is a fairly standard declaration of devotion and desire. The piano/string-driven production is sensible and suitably serious, but I don’t feel this song the way I felt, say, “Forever And For Always.” The hook is only kinda-sorta clever, the vibe isn’t as spacious or emotional as it should be, and Twain doesn’t get the space she needs to let her personality shine. It’s not a bad song, just a “meh” one, and I don’t expect it to be much of a player here.

Song #4: Midland, “Lonely For You Only”

When it comes to song comparisons, Midland’s is its own biggest enemy. Standing by itself, there’s a lot to like about this song: The old-school steel-guitar-heavy production does a nice job setting the mood, the writing feels poignant even as it sometimes seems too clever by half, and Mark Wystrach plays the narrator’s role to the hilt. However, it’s also one of the weaker tracks on Off The Rocks, and feels incredibly bland when stacked up against “Burn Out,” “Out Of Sight,” “Drinkin’ Problem,” and “Nothin’ New Under The Neon.” The competition isn’t as strong here, so it’ll make a decent showing here, but it’s not a true challenger for the crown.

Song #5: Sam Bush, “Blue Mountain”

Now this is the sharp instrumental wizardy I want in a bluegrass song! Bush is a master mandolin player, but there are no slouches here, with the banjo, guitar, and even the bass stepping up to match his challenge note for note. The vibe is bright but surprisingly serious-feeling, giving the song a max-effort from the players as they trade the leading role. My main complaint with this song is that it’s six freaking minutes long, and gets really repetitive after a while despite the band’s attempts to change things up. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you pass more than two Interstate exits while listening to the same song, it’s too darn long. Still, it’s catchy enough that I expect it to wind up in the top half of the bracket.

Song #6: Lynyrd Skynyrd, “What’s Your Name”

This, on the other hand, might be more aggravating to listen to than that generic gospel tune. It’s a track from the band’s 1977 album Street Survivors, and it’s basically a firsthand play-by-play account of a one-night stand. The narrator’s attitude is just insufferable here: His use of the diminutive “little girl” and the fact that he doesn’t even bother to learn the woman’s name shows just how little he thinks of his temporary partner, and his claim that he’s “shooting you straight” doesn’t change the fact that he just throws her aside at the end. The band acquits themselves satisfactorily here, but this is just a generic “rockstar with a debauched lifestyle” track that just doesn’t sit well with me. Midland covers this topic about six times on its latest album, and all of them (even the mediocre opener “Let It Roll”) are better than this.

Song #7: Clint Black, “When My Ship Comes In”

Finally, some competition for Paisley! Black is my personal all-time favorite songwriter, and while he can sometimes get a little too off-the-wall for his own good, everything comes together here: The bright, optimistic feel of the production (not to mention the neotraditional arrangement), the restless-yet-confident feel of Black’s narrator, and the nice mix of Western and seafaring terminology (that “gonna sail right out of Colorado” line makes me smile every time I hear it). It sets the right tone, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it just makes the listener feel better, as if they, too, will soon see their fortunes change for the better. Is it better than a rollicking fun-yet-fake chase over nonexistent alcohol? …I’ll get back to you on that one.

Song #8: Joe Nichols, “Farewell Party”

Gee, where have I heard that name before? On paper, this is a great idea: A singer with a knack for a classical tune paired with one of the all-time great country songs. Unfortunately, theory isn’t practice, and Nichols finds himself completely overmatched by the song: His flow is too choppy, his power is lacking, and his occasionally so off the beat that he makes Willie Nelson sound like a metronome in comparison. He has to be propped up by the producer and the backup singers far too often (he mostly hits that iconic last note though), and all I can think about is how much I’d rather be listening to the OG Gene Watson version. Perhaps this is why Nichols caught fire the way we all expected him to: He just wasn’t performer enough to go toe-to-toe with the classics.

Song #9: Clint Black, “Like The Rain”

So Black is trying to pull a late-game Alan Jackson-esque power play, eh? Unfortunately, while I like most all of Black’s discography, this was not one of his stronger efforts. It’s got a much darker sound (especially the percussion) that clashes with the romantic theme of the writing, the rain metaphor isn’t as clever as he thinks it is, and at its core it’s not much more than a love song that requires an umbrella to listen to. I still like it, but if I had to rank Black’s best singles, “When My Ship Comes In” probably gets slotted a fair bit higher than this one. It’s still a two-horse race in my mind, unless…

Song #10: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “I Won’t Back Down”

This is an iconic track from an iconic singer, but I’m not sure this is a challenger for the top spot either. Petty feels a bit too nonchalant and matter-of-fact in his delivery, and doesn’t feel as emotionally invested in his defiance (on top of that, he never really tells us what the heck he’s supposed to be defying.). Neither Petty nor the production delivery the passion that they later brought on “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” and as a result the listener really isn’t moved to share the narrator’s feelings. I’m just going to back away from this one and tally the results.

The Results

Position Song
1. “Moonshine In The Trunk”
2. “When My Ship Comes In”
3. “Lonely For You Only”
4. “Blue Mountain”
5. “Like The Rain”
6. “I Won’t Back Down”
7. “The Woman In Me”
8. “Farewell Party”
9. “I Will Tell Jesus All Of My Trials”
10. “What’s Your Name”

This felt like a weaker set than the first two volumes: Song #11, Tracy Lawrence’s “If The World Had A Front Porch,” would have been Top 5 easy, and the best of the trip was Song #25, Southern Rail’s cover of Ronnie Milsap’s “Prisoner Of The Highway”. Still, Paisley’s rotgut romp would been a serious challenger regardless of the day, so it’s more than worthy of the top spot here. Still, I hope the playlist for the drive back home ends up being a bit more interesting….

Lost In The Shuffle, Vol. 2: An Alan Jackson Overdose

It’s never a good idea to say “hey, I’m starting a new weekly series!” and then wait several weeks before the second post. When the RNG gods saw me making another series, however, they decided that I must have far too much free time, and buried me under a mountain of bureaucracy and tedium. Thankfully, they didn’t break me (yet), and it’s long past time to dust off the ancient iPad once again, so let’s do this thing!

The concept is simple: Hit the shuffle button, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.

Is it silly and without purpose? Absolutely (which is why my initial thought was to make this a weekend feature). But hey, it’s a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Also, after today’s series of unfortunate events (mostly meetings and poorly-catered functions), I have three hours left to post something and absolutely no ideas on what to post, so…hey, no time like the present!

Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is. Drum roll please…

The Contenders

Song #1: Blake Shelton, “Cotton Pickin’ Time”

Remember the days when Blake Shelton was actually tolerable? Most of the mileage I got from 2004’s Blake Shelton’s Bar & Grill was from “Some Beach,” but this was a tolerable-enough album cut. I like the sparse-but-springy production, the lighthearted take on the money vs. love debate, and Shelton tag-teams with the writers to keep the song (which prominently features skippy-dipping) from slipping into the gutter. I wouldn’t call it great (and it likely won’t challenge for today’s crown), but I suppose there are worse ways to start off a shuffle.

Song #2: Alan Jackson, “To Do What I Do”

So now we’re a 2004 kick, huh? This was the live album closer for Jackson’s What I Do album, and while I’m not generally a fan of live recordings, I can see why they set it up this way. The song is an autobiographical recap of Jackson’s rise to country music stardom (complete with awful jobs and plentiful doubters), and it expresses his happiness and gratitude that both he and his audience are at the show right now. The song is an exemplar of what made Jackson so great back in the day: Classical fiddle-and-steel production, thoughtful and plain-spoken lyrics, and charisma oozing out of Jackson’s every pore. Like a good cleanup hitter, Jackson is a threat to leave the yard every time he steps up to the mic, so don’t be surprised to find this one in the upper tier when this is over.

Song #3: Acoustic Blue ft. Smokey Greene, “Don’t Tell Mama”

Yes Virginia, there is such a thing as New England Bluegrass. Acoustic Blue was (and I think still is, although this current iteration has dissolved) a Massachusetts-based band that was a beloved fixture on the local bluegrass circuit, and in 2009 they included this particular track on their This Is Now album. It’s been performed by a number of artists over the years (Gary Allan, Frankie Ballard, etc.), telling the tale of a young man who dies in a alcohol-fueled car accident and who pleads with the narrator “don’t tell mama I was drinking.” While this is a perfectly fine version, and I like how the limited bluegrass arrangement captures the melancholy atmosphere of the moment, I think Allan’s song is the superior one, and as much as people love Smokey Greene around here, I don’t think he acquits himself very well here (his timing and tone are not good at all). It’s still kind of sentimental, but it’s not one of my go-to Acoustic Blue songs.

Song #4: Pam Tillis, “They Don’t Break’em Like They Used To”

Tillis tends to get overlooked when the great ladies of the 1990s are recounted, but she was a pretty consistent hitmaker back in the early to mid 1990s. This song is an album cut from her 1994 disc Sweetheart’s Dance, and while Tillis’s narrator gets a little too smug at times when he lordes her boyfriend over his ex, the affection at least feels genuine and the brisk two-step production keeps folks smiling. (The hook isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is, though.) It’s a solid neotraditional offering, and it what’s shaping up to be a field with no clear front runner, it’s got as good a shot as any.

Song #5: Jackson, “Good Time”

Did I say there wasn’t a front runner? I guess I stand corrected.

Objectively, the title track to Jackson’s 2008 album is basically Bro Country with fiddles and steel guitars, complete with shallow lyrics, shameless name-dropping, and of course a lot of alcohol. So why is this so much fun? For one thing, those fiddle and steel guitars do a lot to keep the mood light and out of your face (no beats or loud electric guitars hitting you with a wall of noise, making it more of a line-dance than a rave tune), and Jackson is so dang charismatic that he never comes across as creepy or meatheaded. This is exactly what you’d expect a Friday night at your local beer joint to sound like, and Jackson lords over it all with his winning personality. Putting this back-to-back really got the party going, and I’m curious to see who comes to challenge Jackson for the crown.

Song #6: Marty Stuart, “Wait For The Morning”

Well, if someone had to kill the buzz, at least it’s country music’s resident historian. Marty Stuart never had a #1 single on the radio, but he’s enjoyed a resurgence in his second act at a throwback stylist, and his 2017 concept album Way Out West was an excellent tribute to the classic West Coast sound. “Wait For The Morning” was a thinly-veiled gospel tune near the end of the disc, and its minimalist aesthetic and uplifting vibe speak to an optimism that someday the narrator and their audience will reach the fabled promised land. While I didn’t share this optimism then (and I definitely don’t share it right now), Stuart’s faith is unwavering, and the Fabulous Superlatives live up to their name with a simple-yet-suitable melody to back their band leader. There really isn’t a lot to this track and I see it ending up somewhere in the middle of the pack, but for now, I’ll take it.

Song #7: The Dixie Chicks, “Tonight The Heartache’s On Me”

Frankly, I’m still salty over what happened to the Dixie Chicks back in the early 2000s. These are three talented ladies who had some incredible records, and they got blackballed simply because they called out their commander-in-chief. This song isn’t one of the trio’s biggest hits (it was a fifth single off of their debut album Wide Open Spaces), and there’s a bit of a mismatch between the energetic vibe of the sound and sad cry-in-your-beer subject material, but it’s still catchy as all heck and the harmony work is a joy to listen to. (Plus I love lead singer Natalie Maines’s distinctive vocals, with Miranda Lambert coming close to mimicking it since the group got booted.) The Dixie Chicks may not be on many playlists nowadays, but I happy that they’re still on mine.

Song #8: Jackson, “I’d Love You All Over Again”

It seems Jackson has revealed his evil plan: If he takes up all the remaining slots, then no one can challenge him for the victory! This is a fifth single from Jackson’s debut disc Here In The Real World (and his first #1 to boot), and while it’s a little odd to hear him step into an older, long-tenured narrator at 32 years old, he showed off glimpses of the artists he would soon become: A devotion to classical instrumentation and subject matter, enough charm to melt an iceberg (not that the world needs more help doing that), and a knack for getting to the heart of the matter with his writing. “Good Time” is more of a, well, good time, but this a pretty strong single in its own right. So how many more of these are we going to get today?

Song #9: Sammy Kershaw, “One Day Left To Live”

Oh ho! This just got interesting.

Kershaw was mostly past his expiration date when he dropped this tune as the third single from his 1997 album Labor Of Love, but he remained an underrated singer with a knack for a good ballad (“Yard Sale” is probably my favorite of the bunch), and this one is no exception. Life seems to move even faster now than when this song first dropped, and after one of the busier weeks I’ve had in a while, this is a good reminder to look around and appreciate life while you’ve still got something to appreciate. The production does a nice job establishing a serous atmosphere while staying out of the way of the lyrics, and while Kershaw isn’t Jackson, he was a pretty darn good performer in his day. I think Jackson’s plan has been foiled, because this could definitely challenge for the top spot.

Song #10: The Eagles, “Desperado”

I think this is a fitting way to close things out.

This was the title track for the Eagles’s 1973 album, and despite it never being released as a single, it’s one of the band’s signature songs and made their first greatest hits album (which is how is made it to my iPad). The song describes a solitary man who seems to be endlessly working and striving for something, and the narrator suggests that they settle down and find someone to love (gee, where have I heard that before, Mom). The production does a nice job starting small and building to a climax near the end, Don Henley fills the role of the concerned friend/comrade nicely (he never feels like he’s nagging the other person, although it doesn’t seem like the “desperado” is listening either), and the lyrics do a nice job painting a picture of a driven soul oblivious to their surroundings. I don’t know if it’s a winning song, but it’s definitely a Top 5 track.

The Results

1 “One Night Left To Live”
2 “Good Time”
3 “Desperado”
4 “Tonight The Heartache’s On Me”
5 “I’d Love You All Over Again”
6 “They Don’t Break’em Like They Used To”
7 “Wait For The Morning”
8 “Don’t Tell Mama”
9 “To Do What I Do”
10 “Cotton Pickin’ Time”

This are two major takeaways here:

  • This was a pretty strong group overall: I said “don’t be surprised to find [“To Do What I Do”] in the upper tier when this is over,” and it ended up ninth! There were a lot of good songs that deserved to win here, but for my money, Kershaw takes the cake tonight.
  • I’m kind of surprised how uniform this group is: Acoustic Blue is bluegrass and The Eagles are, er, The Eagles, but the sound was mostly concentrated in 90s neotraditionalism. (In fact, looking out to the next ten songs on the playlist, the only deviations from this theme would have been Thomas Rhett’s “Get Me Some Of That” and the theme song from Madden 2002.) My library is a bit more eclectic that this snapshot reveals, but I can’t complain with what I got.

So what do folks think? Are my ratings on point or off the mark? Is there anything here you hadn’t heard in a while? Let me know in the comments section below!