Art Works Blog

Mixed Tape: Favorite Country Songs Edition

An album cover from my collection. (Unfortunately, it had the wrong record in it, but the cover's still pretty great!)

My love for country music started---as most lifelong loves start, I suppose---with a boy. A soccer-playing, Massachusetts via Belgium boy who was my college crush. As one does in these situations, I made every excuse I could to go visit his dorm room. And on one such visit, I asked to borrow some music---so I'd have a reason to go back.

Fortunately, the cassette tape I borrowed that day was Patsy Cline's Greatest Hits. Sure I'd grown up singing my broken heart out to Paula Abdul's "Cold-Hearted Snake" and Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart," but I'd never heard heartache sung quite the way nor as well as Cline sang it. Not only did her voice floor me, but my budding writer self appreciated the economy of language, just how much of a story could be compacted into one lyric. Not to mention how much sadness, loneliness, and despair could be milked from a fiddle, a guitar, or the other instruments that populated country bands.

Over the last twenty years, I've cheered up quite a bit---thankfully---but I still appreciate a compact lyric that packs an emotional wallop, and a singer that can bend heartache and hope into the same note. Here are some of my favorite country songs and albums:

"Crazy" by Patsy Cline. This song---penned by Willie Nelson---is equal parts defeat and defiance, which seems to be how you'd describe quite a few love affairs. (Full disclosure: This is my go-to karaoke song.)

"Can't Let Go" by Lucinda Williams. I discovered Lucinda Williams in a record shop in Provincetown one winter that turned out to be the best of times and the worst of times. I particularly loved this song from her album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road because it proved that I wasn't the only young woman who had passed way too many hours lost in unrequited love.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music by Ray Charles. When I moved to Chicago in the mid-1990s, I discovered the blues, which in a roundabout way led me to Ray Charles. Sure, I already knew who he was, but I'd never really listened to his music until one of my favorite Chi-town bands cited him as an influence prompting me to buy every Ray Charles album I could get my hands on. The original mash-up artist, on Modern Sounds Charles takes the country genre and makes it utterly his own. My favorite cut is "Just a Little Lovin'" on which he proves that, in the right hands, even country music can swing.

"Cold Cold Heart" by Norah Jones. This pick is another mash-up of sorts---Jones' cover of the Hank Williams classic, from her 2002 debut Come Away with Me. I heart this song because it shows what would happen if country music and the blues had a love child.

"Angel from Montgomery" by Susan Tedeschi. I'm not quite sure where I discovered Susan Tedeschi's cover of the John Prine/Bonnie Raitt classic, but I love the yearning of the chorus, and how deftly the narrative is played out in the spare verses. (Full disclosure: In my Provincetown days, I spent a few glorious weeks as the lead singer in a band, and this song was on our set list.)

 "Something's Gotta Give" by Christian Kane. Yes, yes, I know that Christian Kane's a TV star, but it turns out he's also got some great pipes, and more than a few Nashville songwriting bona fides. My favorite song off The House Rules is "Something's Gotta Give" with lyrics penned by Kane and his songwriting partners. As a poet, I particularly appreciate how fully the character is sketched in just the first three lines: "Faded dreams and blue jeans/a Rangers cap with sweat rings/There's a hole in the sole of my favorite boots."

So, tell us, what's on your list of country and western faves?

And if you're on Twitter, don't forget to follow us (we're @NEAarts) and keep an eye out for Rocco's Country Song Title of the Day (#RSTOTD) throughout the month of October!

Add new comment