Are you a George Jones guy in a Garth Brooks world? A Loretta Lynn gal trying to understand why people still call Shania Twain a "country" artist?
If so, this website is for you... I'm DJ Joe Sixpack, and this is part of my friendly, opinionated Guide to Hick Music, where I try and make sense of the Nashville pop phenomenon. I've been a country fan since the 1970s, with a tilt towards the twangy stuff, but an open mind and a good ear for sharp songwriting wherever I find it. I may be a hick music traditionalist, but I'm not too snobby about it, and I've logged a lot of hours checking out the slick stuff that's at the top of the charts... 'Cause ya never know, even those phony-baloney, prefab country superstars can get things right every now and then. This section is mostly geared towards folks like myself, people from the alt-country side of the street who might also want to check out what's going on in Nashville, and maybe make find a few fun discoveries...
Your comments and suggestions are welcome, particularly suggestions for artists or albums I might have missed. If you're a Top 40 fan you might like this site as well... Turns out there are a lot of great songs that never make it onto the radio, and discovering these lost gems is also part of the fun. If I also happen to hate something you really like... Well... try not to take it so personally. Variety is the spice of life!
This is the first page covering the letter "A"
Roy Acuff was one of the main movers and shakers in the growth of Nashville from just another Southern city into the nerve center of American country music. He gained nationwide fame as the host of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s, as the ambitious regional radio show expanded into a nationally broadcast program, soon to become the premiere hillbilly radio show. Acuff was also a key player in the music publishing industry; the Acuff-Rose publishing house, founded with partner Wesley Rose, became one of the dominant powers in Music City, brokering high profile deals between artist's, managers, record labels and the numerous songwriters that flocked to Nashville in the postwar years. Finally, Acuff was a fine performer who helped form a bridge between country music's bluesy "hillbilly" roots and its smoother postwar incarnations. This fine 25-song collection includes his biggest hits, back from when Acuff was king of the hillbilly singers, including such early country standards as "Great Speckled Bird," "Wabash Cannon Ball" and "Beautiful Brown Eyes." Coming up at a time when an entire generation of singers devoted themselves to imitating yodeller Jimmie Rodgers, Acuff found his own voice, hewing to nostalgic and religious material, but singing in a stripped-down, less emotive style that softened the twangy, backwoods music and made it more accessible to a mainstream audience. Acuff was a prefect country spokesman, sticking to a tradionalist repertoire while expanding the music's appeal into a wider audience. As with other ASV releases, this generously programmed best-of has first-rate song selection, fine sound quality, and -- most importantly -- includes the original versions of tunes that Acuff re-recorded numerous times in years to come. Thus far, this is the best single collection of Acuff's work to be found in the CD era... Highly recommended!
Roy Acuff "The King Of Country Music" (Bear Family, 1993)
This 2-CD set is actually made up of Acuff's 1950s recordings, made for the Capitol and Decca labels, and includes re-recorded versions of many of his classic songs, first recorded on Columbia in the 1930s and '40s. It's nice, though the studio sound at the time was much smoother and less bluesy than on the originals. Although he was one of the most powerful men in Nashville at the time, Acuff was still a bit of a throwback, with sparse arrangements and a plain, simple delivery that was in sharp contrast to the increasingly lavish production and poppish crooning of the day. Personally, I find his old stuff more exciting, but this is still a nice set, and has Bear Family's hallmark great sound quality and well-researched liner notes.
Roy Acuff "The Great Roy Acuff" (Capitol, 1964)
The world of country music had long since passed Acuff over as a recording star when this album came out. His style was antiquated and a bit stiff, and though he was a major force in the Nashville song publishing establishment, his hits were few and far between following the advent of the swank, hi-fi "Nashville Sound." That being said, this is a mighty fine album. Sure, Acuff was kind of long in the tooth and geezerly, but he made the most of modern recording techniques and the crackerjack studio crews available at the time. Revisiting some old hits, he gives them a new lease on life with the sonic richness of the stereo era, and like many old-school country singers, he knows how to sing with sincerity and conviction, particularly on the gospel material. This album is certainly worth picking up... an old master still in fine form.
Although this 14-song collection is a step backwards from Sony's previous Essential collection of a decade earlier (which had a half-dozen more tracks on it), it's nice that students of country music can still find an affordable best-of set for this legendary figure. And the sound quality is quite nice; CD technology has come a long way since '92. So, all in all, I'd say this one's a winner, full of prime material from Acuff's peak years, 1938-49. If you don't already have this music, you should pick this one up and check it out.
(Produced by Scott Hendricks)
It's the same old story: new kid on the block who comes on all country and cocksure, then slips into the same old sugary country-pop ruts. This is Louisiana native Trace Adkins's dynamic debut, packed with good-natured, raunchy honkytonkers like "I Left Something Turned On At Home" and the loping, relaxed "If I Fall You're Going With Me," which of course are balanced by a bunch of drippy, tinkly Kenny Rogers/Michael Boltonesque ballads and an embarassing bluesy cover of Wilson Pickett's old R&B hit, "634-4789." But at least we got a sense of what he was capable of when he just sings a little straight-up country. A promising debut by a future country superstar.
(Produced by Scott Hendricks)
The followup to his debut disc, Dreamin' Out Loud. Decent music, with reasonably clever lyrics and fairly traditional arrangements (a bit heavy on the drums, but thankfully un-synthy). A major player on the country charts towards the end of the 1990s, Adkins writes a few tunes, but mostly he's singin' other people's stuff. What's most remarkable is how weak a singer he is: yeah, he can hit those Lefty-ish nasal notes, and roll down into the low George Jones-y growls, but he's not very expressive or dynamic. It's more like he's an adequate actor whose main worries are to remember his lines and not bump into furniture. He's okay, but not iconic.
(Produced by Ray Benson, Trey Bruce & Paul Worley)
The opening track throws a bunch of glitzy, busy, boy-bandish production in our face... When the beat kicks in and Adkins gets a chance to sing, it becomes listenable, but in general the production is a bit heinous and hackneyed. The slow stuff is often unbearable, and the Southern rock riffs that get thrown in to spice things up come off like just another gimmick. Still, to his producer's credit, they do seem to have figured out how to cover up his shortcomings as a singer -- on a song like "Can I Want Your Love" he really falls flat; with better-managed arrangements, he can really carry a tune home. So, six of one, half dozen of the other. Album highlights include "Don't Lie" and... well, maybe that's about it for me. Lotsa drippy duds on here, if you ask me...
(Produced by Trey Bruce & Dan Huff)
Super-over-the-top glossy postmillennial production, draped over shameless tearjerkers and canned blue-collar ballads... And yet, Adkins, with his modest voice tightly swathed by tightly crafted arrangements, is able to bring most of these songs home, even "I'm Trying," which recovers from an absurd "Elanor Rigby"-style string quartet intro. Hey, what can I say? It works: check out tunes like "I'm Paying For It Now," built around a fiddle, and with lyrics that pull you in... Which isn't to say that this disc doesn't have its disasters, notably the dorky, boybandish title track (and big hit single) and clunkers like "And There Was You," "Give Me You" and "Scream," but when Adkins just croons a country tune, he ain't half bad. About one third good... which, in Nashville, really ain't that bad.
A pretty nice album, although the too-perfect production starts to drag it down a little in the middle. That might be appropriate, though, since the album's theme is maturity and marital fidelity, starting off with "Hot Mama," which sings the praises of gals with normal figures who mysteriously don't look like Kate Moss once the kids have come, and continues the theme on the title track -- about a wild & wooly buckaroo who's about to be landed by a gal who doesn't pay attention when he says he ain't the settlin' kind -- and on "Then I Wake Up," a weeper about a fellow who dreams about his gal long after she left him, and several other songs that follow in the same vein, notably "One Nightstand" (sic), where our guy remembers the fling that flung him from a happy home life into a dingy, dark motel... "Funny how a man's life can come down to one nightstand..." he sings, as he looks down at his wallet and keys... As country concept albums go, this is pretty darn good. The musical end is a little formulaic, but I'm impressed by the thoughtfulness with which these songs (all by different writers) were assembled. Worth checking out!
Trace Adkins "Greatest Hits Collection, v.1" (Capitol, 2003)
I met Trace Adkins a little while back; in fact, I interviewed him for a live video shoot that was featured online, and sat down with him face-to-face for about an hour on a big, posh soundstage with the cameras running... He was in a spectacularly bad mood that day, having been run through his paces doing a bunch of publicity crap in Hollywood, and after they wore him out running across town and doing a TV show, then he had to go do this thing for the Internet... I gotta admit, I was a little worried about how things were going to work out, whether he was just going to clam up on me or what, but as it turned out, things went fine. And I wound up really liking Adkins a lot, precisely because he did act like a real human being -- he was having a hard day, he was tired and grumpy, and it was totally understandable. But, y'know, when we got down to talking about country music, he lit up like a Christmas tree, especially when I knew who Ed Bruce was (I was amazed to find out that Adkins's pal Trey Bruce is Ed's son...) Trace might be a big, tough, scary dude, but he's good people in my book. Plus, his album at the time was really, really good. All this namedropping and backpatting is, of course, a preamble for my having to review this album which is, well, a little too "Nashville" for me... It starts off with the title track, in which Trace meets one of those folks who "don't like twang," riding on the airplane seat next to his, and he wins them over by giving 'em free tickets to his concert and (naturally) blows the guy away by speaking to his heart the way only country music can... It's kind of an interesting song, but jeez, is it overproduced! In fact, the whole album is a little too LOUD and rock-oriented for me... (Could somebody just slip something in the guitar player's drink, and get him to rein it in a little??) In the past, Adkins has done a great job balancing between real, hard country grit and the overwrought pop that dominates Nashville today, here he plunges whole-hog into the sort of overwritten, pretentious "serious" songwriting that I find pretty dreary. The closest thing thing on here to a subtle song with a memorable melody is "My Heaven," which would be a great song, if not for that frickin' wanky guitar lead at the end... Hopefully Trace will recover his honkytonkosity on future records; no doubt that in the meantime this one will do great on the charts.
(Produced by Mark Wright)
An okay debut album from a Georgia-born softcore honkytonker, much of which has a rock-oriented sound ("young country," as they called it in the early '90s...) that derives some of its poetic pretensions from pop-roots rockers like John Mellencamp and Bryan Adams. The ballads are terrible, but on more rompy-stompy honkytonk tunes, Akins is pretty likable. This album has his first hits, and oddly enough the ones that did best were the more uptempo, rootsy ones, notably "That Ain't My Truck" and "I Brake For Brunettes." The success of twang over crooning isn't the only thing that was backwards with Akins' career: he also got more twangy on later albums, rather than the usual pattern of losing one's roots as time goes on, and album sales beckon. So, in an interesting twist for twangfans, this first record actually isn't his best... Though it's still certainly worth checking out.
This album had its iffy moments, but even with the glossy "young country" production, Akins still has an inherent, deeply ingrained likability. Akins ain't the world's greatest singer, but like, say, Hank Locklin, he has a knack for turning his shortcomings into an asset: his voice stands out, and when he falters, it makes him sound genuine and sincere. Similarly, the material is lightweight, but likeable, though some of it's pretty lackluster. You don't have to think too much about an upbeat tune like "K-I-S-S-I-N-G," but that's just part of its charm; and a song like "Every Cowboy's Dream" is also admirably dopey and old-school. Worth a spin!
(Produced by James Stroud)
Y'know... I just find this guy to be kinda down-to-earth and unpretentious. For starters, there's the album art -- none of this "I'm-country-but-I'm-not-a-hick" fashion plate posing for this '90s cowboy -- nope, here's Akins hanging out in a barn, propped up on a rail fence, the way they used to do back in the 'Forties and 'Fifties, projecting an unapologetically backwoods image, and ya gotta respect that, especially considering how glossy and antiseptic Top Country has gotten in recent years. Musically, I'll admit that this isn't the strongest set ever, but his feel for singing fast numbers is pretty nice. Akins might want to shy away from the slow stuff, but when he gets to just belt 'em out, he's pretty fun. His main strength is his sheer sincerity; when he hits an anthemic chorus, you're with him all the way. This disc kind of tanked out on the charts, but I think part of the problem might have been the choice of singles -- I would've gone with the uptempo tunes, such as "Happy As We Wanna Be" or "She's Got Everything Money Can't Buy" instead.
Rhett Akins "Friday Night In Dixie" (Audium, 2002)
Commercial Country Albums - More Letter "A"
Hick Music Index