I just spent several hours going through a list of this year’s GRAMMY nominees, finding videos, for each nominated song, a task associated with my day job at Radio.com. It was at times tedious but also, in many cases, fun and eye-opening. There’s a lot of, shall we say, less-than-inspirational music on the list, especially among the categories that wind up on television. But dig deep and you’ll find some gems.
For instance, I knew nothing about Woodkid, a French singer-songwriter and director (real name Yoann Lemoine) who’s probably best known for the video work he’s done for artists like Katy Perry, Pharrell, Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift. Woodkid was nominated for Best Music Video for his song “The Golden Age” (featuring Max Richter).
Taken from Woodkid’s 2013 album of the same name, both the song and the black-and-white video are quiet, dreamy and melancholy, sharing nothing much at all with the pop of singers like Perry or Swift. Carve out a few minutes (OK, actually more like 11) and watch it below.
One of my all-time favorite artists, Mickey Newbury had a knack for sad, slow, soulful songs that cut deep — but do so gently and thoughtfully. Newbury also had one of the finest voices in country music — a whole different style from someone like George Jones, but I would argue he was up there in that league.
Below is “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye,” one of Newbury’s finest songs. It’s a live version he performed on the Johnny Cash Show:
Even diehard mainstream country fans can’t deny that so many of today’s songs have similar themes, both melodically and lyrically. Much has been made lately of so-called “Bro Country,” with songs (sung by men, of course, who still dominate the charts) about tailgating, beer drinking, tight jeans and partying out in the country — often down a dirt road, by a river, or under the moonlight.
Nothing against beer, trucks or dirt roads per se, but things are clearly getting out of hand. Take a look at the video below that was put together by Entertainment Weekly critic Grady Smith — it makes the point pretty clearly.
On Dec. 16, 2014, country legend Ray Pricepassed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 87 years old, and he left behind a huge catalog of recordings and a musical legacy that is among the most impressive in country music history.
Price was a contemporary (and friend) of Hank Williams, and his early recordings reflect that sharp-edged honky-tonk sound. As the 1950s progressed, though, Price found himself more and more attracted to smoother countrypolitan stylings. You can hear it working its way into songs like “City Lights” and especially on his album Night Life. And it finally comes to full fruition on Price’s 1960s songs such as “Danny Boy” and “For the Good Times” — the latter a Kris Kristofferson composition that Price turned into a signature song.
Price and his band the Cherokee Cowboys developed a dance-friendly rhythm that became known as the ‘Ray Price shuffle.’ The band was an early starting ground, too, for such later legends as Roger Miller, Willie Nelson and Johnny Paycheck.
Price also co-owned Pamper Music, a publishing company that helped boost the careers of Harlan Howard and Hank Cochran, among others.
Price was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. And he continued performing up until very recently, when his health wouldn’t allow it.
Because it spans so many years and includes so many great songs, Price’s catalog is well worth exploring in depth. Below are five key tracks to help you dive in.
Alt-country artist Jonny Fritz (aka Jonny Corndawg) joined up with Deer Tick’s John McCauley to create a moody soundtrack for the documentary Oxyana, which is about the oxycontin epidemic in Appalachia.
There’s something smartassy about this band that almost makes you want to slap them. But I can’t stop listening to this song. Catchy and brilliant — like the most popular boy or girl in your class, you know that they know it, too. All that aside, though, Foxygen still is one of the best new bands I heard all year.
Bill Withers wrote “Ain’t No Sunshine” and released it back in 1971 on his album Just As I Am. The song was a hit at the time (reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100), but since then, it’s taken on new life and found vast new audiences, thanks to many cover versions.
Here’s a version of Bill and his band performing the song in 1972 that shows just a powerful (and subtle) a performer he was — and how much he owned this song.
This was Withers’ first hit song — it even earned him a GRAMMY in 1971. After this, he went on to reach No. 1 in 1972 with “Lean on Me” and then No. 2 with “Use Me” later that same year.
“This is the part of the song where Billy Strange raised his hand and asked if he could please leave the room.” (Lee Hazlewood, from his version of “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”)
Bandleader/arranger/guitarist Billy Strange passed away yesterday (Wed., Feb. 22) at age 81.
While not exactly a household name, in the music world he was a major player. And over the years, on his own and as a member of L.A.’s famed Wrecking Crew, he worked with some of the biggest and best names of mid-20th century pop music, including Elvis Presley, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Lee Hazlewood, the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr.
I threw together a Top Ten list of the best albums of the past year for the CBS site Street Date. It’s a fun task, but not always easy, as anyone who’s done it knows–you inevitably miss a few things, and weeks or months (or more) later, you may come to regret your choices. Either way, though, it stands as a capsule of where your head is at at a specific point in time. Here’s where mine’s been at lately.