("Exploring the Classics" (ETC) is an ongoing series in which I highlight and discuss an album from country music's past that is of particular noteworthiness due to general acclaim, influence, historical import, commercial success, or some combination thereof. While in many instances I'll be revisiting albums with which I've long been familiar, in others I'll be experiencing these works for the first time. What albums count as "noteworthy" is obviously highly subjective and determined at my discretion, but I'm not too strict about it. I do, however, feel that these are the works that tell the story of country music and all of its many roots and branches.)
There are some songs that are extremely catchy and fun to listen to. And then there are songs with great lyrics that blow you away by their profundity or ingeniousness. But only rarely does a song fall into both of these categories. But dare I say it, I think that describes close to the majority of tracks on Todd Snider's terrific 2006 album, The Devil You Know.
Todd Snider released a string of solidly-received alt-countryish albums throughout the '90s and early '00s, and even got a small taste of mainstream success when both Gary Allan and Mark Chesnutt cut one of his songs, but he never seemed to fully realize his potential and put it all together for one album. That all changed in 2004 when he released what many consider to be his finest work, East Nashville Skyline. He then followed it up in 2006 with The Devil You Know, which made many year-end lists and in my view nearly equals its predecessor.
Author: Leon Blair
I'm an album guy - always have been and always be. Here at Country Music Minds, we take the concept of an album very seriously, so much so that you could say we have higher (or stricter) standards than other blogs. That being said, 2016 had a lot of great albums, more so than we could fit in with our album of the year candidates. Therefore, we wanted to put together a list of what we considered to be the top 25 albums of this year. They aren't ranked in any particular order. All they are is proof of how great 2016 was from a musical standpoint.
Please note, OUR ALBUM OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES ARE NOT HERE. THEY ARE LISTED RIGHT HERE! However, these other eleven albums are also considered to be among the best that 2016 had to offer. Without further ado, here they are -
Author: Leon Blair
While many other blogs have already crowned their favorite song of the year, here I am just now announcing the candidates. I guess you can blame it on time, but no, I have not forgotten about this prestigious award. Admittedly, I'm more of an album guy, however this year is truly a great year to write about songs. Heck, trimming down my album of the year candidates was admittedly fairly easy, however when it came time to decide what my favorite songs were, I started with a huge list that I just had to keep trimming down. If anything, it's been an exceptional year for music, and the proof lies within the candidates that I present to you for Country Music Minds' first ever “Song Of The Year” award.
Please note, only songs that were released in 2016 are eligible to qualify here. If it was released as a single this year but came last year, it's not here. Sorry folks, that's just how I operate. The song HAS to come from this year whether as an album cut, a standalone release or some other way. Get it? Got it? Good.
When a veteran mainstream artist is inevitably cast aside from radio and their time in the spotlight is finished, they generally respond in one of two different ways. Some become dramatically less active in recording new music and release new albums only sporadically. A few even retire altogether. On the flip side, others record with newfound vigor, enlivened by the freedom to record without the need to kowtow to commercial pressures. '70s honky-tonker Gene Watson undoubtedly falls within the latter category. Despite not having anything even resembling a hit since the late '80s, he has quietly released a string of highly worthwhile albums over the past two decades to a small but dedicated fanbase. His 2016 release, the fittingly titled Real. Country. Music., continues that trend, and will almost certainly be among the better traditional country records released this year.
While never a household name, Gene Watson has a reputation among erudite country fans as being among the most talented and underrated vocalists in the genre's history. While evaluating the likability of a singer's voice is always an exercise in extreme subjectivity, I think this reputation is well-deserved. Watson's multi-octave tenor and well-honed interpretive skills compel me to describe him as one of traditional country's finest practitioners. And Watson's voice has held up amazingly well for a man in his early 70s. Indeed, he sounds virtually identical to the way he did on classic tracks from his prime like "Farewell Party" and "Love in the Hot Afternoon."