Posted by: Michelle Mitton | July 31, 2008

Country Music I Like Despite My Better Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sponsored by Oaki at Outdoor Adventure Kid Company–Gear for kids who live outside.

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