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Come see me over at roughstock

Hello Friends,  Roughstock has officially gone live.  We’re proud to present it for all of you to see.  The whole team has worked very hard to make the content look good.  Some of the content is from this blog while most if it is new.  I am working on my CMA Music Festival coverage but hope y’all enjoy the Ashton Shepherd interview along with the audio tracks and videos. Come on in and stay hello.

Here’s the link: www.roughstock.com

Lost Highway Status Update

Since I was a young teenager, I have loved (all forms of) country music. I wanted nothing more than a career in the crazy world known as the music business. Along with about 10 years worth of writing for various websites, The Lost Highway blog has helped me realize that goal.  Early this year I was hired to be the content editor of the website www.roughstock.com. I will continue this blog but it will be a part of the new and improved roughstock. Instead of a music website w/o interaction, Roughstock will be all about interaction. Our team has worked tirelessly to make Roughstock, around the web since 1993, a community for country music fans of all types. It’s my hope that any of y’all who have been reading this blog will read the Roughstock site.

Under The Covers: Pop/rock songs that would make good country songs.

With “Home,” one of my favorite pop songs, recently getting recorded and released by Blake Shelton, I started brainstorming about what other pop songs would make for good material for country artists to cover.  Some songs will be obvious while others are either out of left field or unknown to many.  Wherever I can I’ll suggest an artist who’d make sense for the cover.   If you have any suggestions to add to what I’ve put forth, or to add your own suggestions, feel free to leave a comment. 

“Falling Slowly”

Original Artist: Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova

Cover Artist: Jon Randall & Jessi Alexander

Falling slowly, eyes that know me
And I can’t go back
Moods that take me and erase me
And I’m painted black
You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It’s time that you wonTake this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice you had a choice
You’ve made it now

I absolutely love this song (and the movie it comes from) and think that it’d make for a great country duet.  I almost think that the duo singing the song would have to be in love with each other or at least been there, the way the original artists and film stars are.  In that sense I think that Jon Randall and Jessi Alexander would do wonderful with the song and I actually think this could be a great Tim and Faith song too.  The bottom line is the artists singing need to be in love.   

Secret Smile”

Original artist: Semisonic

Cover artist choice: Keith Urban or Josh Turner

Nobody knows it but you’ve got a secret smile
And you use it only for me
Nobody knows it but you’ve got a secret smile
And you use it only for me
So use it and prove it
Remove this whirling sadness
I’m losing, I’m bluesing
But you can save me from madness

Written by Grammy winning songwriter Dan Wilson, “Secret Smile” has always ‘screamed’ out to me as a song that would make for a killer country record.  Lyrically, the song is about longing for a secret, forbidden love or is it about a deeply private and personal relationship with God?  I don’t know which I’d interpret the lyric to be but I really think the song would hit home for both men and women of any age.  Melodically, I can see where the right producer would add flourishes of banjo, steel guitar and fiddle to make the song work.  As for an artist that could deliver the song, I feel that the vocalist would have to be someone like Keith Urban or one could go completely in the other direction and have a great vocalist like Josh Turner wrap his baritone around it.  This song is over 10 years old and still hits home whenever I hear it. 

Song:  “The Distance”

Original Artist: Evan & Jaron

Cover Artist: Trisha Yearwood

“The sky has lost it’s color, the sun has turned to grey, at least that’s how it feels to me whenever you’re away, I crawl up in a corner, as I watch the minutes pass, each one brings me closer to, the time when you’ll be back, you’re coming back,

I cant take the distance, I cant take the miles, I can’t take the time until the next time I see you smile, I cant take the distance, and I’m not ashamed, that I can’t take a breath without saying your name, I can brave a hurricane, and still be standing tall when all the dust has settled down, but I can’t take the distance”

That’s the first verse and chorus of this haunting ballad.  Sung of a simple acoustic guitar and simply elegant cello, this song really could make for a brilliant country song, be it a ‘simple remake’ like Blake Shelton did with “Home” or a more inventive reading that mixes in steel guitar and fiddles and dobro.  It’s the kind of song that needs an emotive vocalist to give it the justice that Evan & Jaron created with their original (pre-radio remix).  I believe that Trisha Yearwood would knock it out of the park but at the same time I can also see Tim McGraw taking a chance this moving ballad.

“All Will Be Well”

Original Artist: Gabe Dixon Band

Cover Artist: Keith Urban

“The new day dawns
And I am practicing my purpose once again
It is fresh and it is fruitful if I win
but if I lose, ooh, I don’t know
I’ll be tired but I will turn and I will go
Only guessing ’til I get there then I’ll know
Ohh, I will know And all the children walking home past the factories
Can see the light that’s shining in my window
As I write this song to you
And all the cars running fast along the interstate
Can feel the love that radiates
Illuminating what I know is trueAnd all will be well
Even after all the promises you’ve broken to yourself
All will be well
You can ask me how but only time will tell”

A brilliant song that’s been used for some TV shows, surprisingly not American Idol, written with Semisonic’s Dan Wilson, “All Will Be Well” might not make for a great radio single, but it’d make for a great album cut or a song featured on a record of ‘covers.’  Again I hear Keith Urban doing this one simply because he has a similar voice to Gabe Dixon but I really think he could arrange the song to suit his guitar playing much like how he made Elton John’s “Country Comfort” his own.  Dixon, after all, is from the Elton John/Paul McCartney school of songwriting. 

“This Kind of Love” 

Original Artist: Sister Hazel

Cover Choice: Brad Mates (Emerson Drive)/James Otto

Sister Hazel had one really big hit/album in the late 1990s and seemingly ‘disappeared’ from the mainstream music.  What really happened is that the adult rock-oriented band just toured relentlessly and released strong album after strong album.  Their 2006 release “Absolutely” featured a few songs that could cross-over but “This Kind Of Love” is one of those no-brainer power ballads that suit weddings and anniversaries.  The lyric is straight forward “This kind of love is what I dream about/well baby it leaves no doubt./this kind of love is why I’m standing here/it’s something that we can share/I can’t get enough of this kind of love.  Because the song is such a huge power ballad, it demands a singer that can actually sing it and not ‘over-sing it.’  The verses start low and the chorus is an absolute belter.  I think it’d be in worthy hands of Brad Mates from Emerson Drive or James Otto.  I especially would love to hear Otto take this song and wrap his soulful vocal around it. 

“Advertising Space”

Original Artist: Robbie Williams

Cover Artist: George Strait

For most of America, Robbie Williams is probably known as the dude behind that “Angels” song that Jessica Simpson destroyed or perhaps as the member of that “one hit wonder” boy band Take That.  To the rest of the world, he’s the most successful solo artist of the last 20 years.  The lyrics don’t follow the typical country music trends but that’s exactly what makes this song so appealing to me.  Yes, it’s another ballad and would be an ‘album track’ only, but y’know, it’s a damn good record.  Too bad Cash isn’t around to sing this one.   It would take a brilliant artist to record this one so that’s why I’m choosing George Strait. 

“Jealous Man” 

Original artist: Tyrone Wells

Cover Artist: Gary Allan

Tyrone Wells’s “Hold On” was probably my favorite pop/rock record from 2007 and that’s saying a lot.  This singer/songwriter with an insanely strong voice is from the same neck of the woods that James Otto came from and I’ll be damned if they don’t actually have similar voices.  That aside, It’d take a gifted vocalist to interpret “Jealous Man” since the song is already a damn great tune.  With a theme that was playfully covered by Garth Brooks with “Papa Loved Mama” and Blake Shelton with “Ol’ Red,” “Jealous” is the kind of song that builds and builds to the tidal wave of an ending.  I think Otto could do this justice but I’d really love to hear Gary Allan’s gritty voice take this one on.  If you only listen to one Tyrone Wells song, it’s gotta be this one.

“Just Like That”

Original Artist: Marc Broussard

Cover artist: Sugarland

Many people would think that Broussard’s universally praised “Home” would be on a list like this but I think his similarlly gritty, southern rock/soul track “Just Like That” (from his EP “Momentary Setback”) would actually make for a better cover, especially since not as many people have heard the tune.  Again, a strong vocalist is required to record a song like this.  Honestly, a female could sing this as much as a guy could. So for that, I’d say that Sugarland could do it (Jennifer Nettles can sing anything).  The lyrics are interesting and the funky melody is just too groovy to not make for a killer album cut.

“Everything To Me” 

Original Artist: Mark Schultz

Cover Artist: Jimmy Wayne

I’ve often thought that many of Mark Schultz’ songs would segue well into the country music world.  They’re structurally sound, have great hooks and are heartfelt.  They really fit the genre to a T. right now.  Mark Schultz was adopted and wrote this chestnut about his experience.  Another strong vocalist is needed to do this song justice and I can think of no body better than Jimmy Wayne.  He hits the right notes and would really be able to dig into the lyric, especially given his own backstory. Another good choice, belive it or not, would be Rascal Flatts, if only because of all the ‘money notes’ in the song.  No matter what people think of the band, Gary LeVox does sing well, when he doesn’t over-sing.

“Do You Even Know Me Anymore”

Original Artist: Mark Schultz

Cover Artist: Montgomery Gentry

Yep, another Schultz song.  You know, this song talks about a man’s relationship with his family and, ultimately, himself.  He thinks he’s doing the right thing but in the end he realizes that he has to change some things if he’s gonna be the man he hoped he’d be.  Since Montgomery Gentry’s mature enough to sing the song and seems to be singing songs like this, they’re an obvious choice. 

“Two Beds and a Coffee Machine”

Original Artist: Savage Garden/Darren Hayes

Cover Artist: Trace Adkins

Another bruise to try and hide

another alibi to write

another ditch in the road, you keep moving

another stop sign, you keep moving on

and the years go by so fast,

wonder how I ever made it through

I’ve always thought that this ‘unknown’ Savage Garden track would make for one hell of a country music song.  It’s a simple, piano and cello/orchestra backed lyrical gem that discusses how domestic violence impacts a family and the harsh reality of how often people have to go back to the abuse just to survive.  The song is sung in the third person but reveals itself as the story of the child in the song (it’s about the original singer Darren Hayes’ family).   This is another case where Jimmy Wayne might be a logical choice to sing the song but I also think a deeper voiced artist like Trace Adkins would absolutely bring the song to life. 

“I Don’t Know You Anymore”

Original Artist: Savage Garden

Cover Artist: Gary Allan

I know, I know, putting the names Savage Garden and Gary Allan in the same sentence is blastphemy to some but y’know, Gary would knock this brilliantly written, singer/songwriter-like song out of the proverbial park.  It’s from the same damn album that “Two Beds and a Coffee Machine” was from and both were my favorite tracks from it (I’m not afraid to admit owning the record).  Darren Hayes sings the song over a simple piano track but I think there’s alot to be done with the melody to make it fit Gary Allan.  He just seems like the perfect guy to sing this song. 

“Crazy”

Original Artist: Seal

Cover Artist: Keith Urban

I would’ve never thought of this one as a potential song until I heard Seal’s acoustic version.  It’s a ‘deep’ song that suits Keith’s nature to ‘rock out’ while also having great lyrics and a killer melody.  It’s a song that’s 17 years old and still hits me every time.  That’s all we can ask for a song.  This one’s a favorite of mine and I think Keith might be the only country artist who could even work this one up. 

Well, friends, that’s all I can think of at the moment, and I know I forgot many songs, but here it is.  What do you think?

New Labels and Artists Still Smell Money In Nashville

craig-morgan.jpgWith the news that Craig Morgan has exercised an option in his contract to part ways from Broken Bow Records, I started to wonder if ‘non-traditonal’ models for getting music to fans is the best way to further a successful career. That is, after all, what Morgan stated as the reason for leaving the label that he helped turn into a Nashville ‘player.’  But more recent news has come about speculating that Morgan has left Broken Bow for the ‘greener pastures’ of a ‘bigger’ label.  The rumor says it’ll be Valory Music Group (AKA the label created because of Taylor Swift’s success) but it could also very well be an actual major label.  Or, maybe, he’s looking to be a flagship artist for one of the plethora of labels sweeping into town to open up Nashville branches. 

Wind-Up Records is a BMG distributed ‘indie’ label that has found HUGE success in the durrance12.jpgalternative rock and Christian rock worlds with their artists like Creed, Seether, Evanesence, and Finger Eleven.  Recently, the label has started to branch out in other areas and  Eric Durrance, the former lead singer of Wind-Up’s Christian band Big Dismal, recently released a country music EP through I Tunes.  The EP, “I Lost It All” is only 6 songs but it shows that Durrance’s southern roots aren’t lost in translation to country.  While he’s certainly a promising artist, I am wondering if he’s just the first of Wind-Up artist to get a shot at country radio.  Another NYC label, Robbins Entertainment,has opened up shop in Nashville with Robbins Nashville.  The BMG distributed label has found success with dance music and now is hoping that Rockie Lynne can deliver some hits and sales as well.   Perhaps the biggest surprise of the labels ‘going nashville’ is major label Decca Recordings re-entering the Nashville scene.  A heritage label that once was home to Patsy Cline has signed One Flew South and sent him into the studio with songwriter Marcus Hummon to record their Eagles-inspired vocal country rock.  The interesting tidbit about the re-emergence of Decca is that it’s not affiliated with Universal Music Nashville or even Universal Records South.  It marks the third self-sustained UMG-owned label in the City, more than any other major recording company. 

All of this investment into Nashville by NY/LA based labels should be seen as good for the Nashville community as a whole.  With the influx of labels with true shots of marketing and promoting their artists, Nahville artists can get signed and offer their music to the music industry at large.  It’s good for the business and expands the chance that an artist with ‘left-of-center’ appeal, say like Mark McGuinn, can have a good shot at getting their material out there to the masses. Whatever Craig Morgan’s true motivation for leaving Broken Bow Records was, I’m sure he was feeling at least some of what I see happening in Nashville these days. 

Rockie Lynne – “I Can’t Believe It’s Me”

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Rockie Lynne first appeared in 2005 with his wonderful single “Lipstick.”  While radio barely let it slip by the Top 30, Lynne’s major label Universal South released his album anyway.  Two more singles, “Do We Still” and “More” both failed to make the Top 4o and Lynne was dropped by the label.  New indie label Robbins Nashville, with big label distribution a la “Indie” label “Big Machine Records, snatched up Rockie and “I Can’t Believe It’s Me” is the first fruit of their partnership.  It is as mainstream as country records get, the production is crisp, the lyric is relatable (if not overdone), and the Ronnie Dunn-like vocals are as top-notch as anything Lynne’s previously recorded.  It’s a strong debut for the label and it should be Rockie’s big breakthrough at country radio. 

 Grade: B+

Listen (via MySpace)

Ashton Shepherd – “Takin’ Off This Pain”

 

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With the release of this single, Shepherd is one of the critical ‘ones to watch for 2008. Possessing a strong traditional country mentality, Shepherd seems to have fans and the industry abuzz. With a voice like hers, and a song like “pain,” it’s easy to see why. The vocal is strong,t he production is crisp and a lyric that’s Gretchen Wilson-like without the trailer trash mentality.  In the end, this a fine debut single that leaves you waiting with baited breath for Ashton Shepherd’s debut album to drop.

 Grade: B+

Country Music and American Idol

AI Logo

With the recent news that 2006 (Season 5) winner Taylor Hicks and runner-up Katharine McPhee both lost their record deals with SonyBMG (while the 3rd and 5th place guys, Elliot Yamin and Chris Daughtry, rack up the hits), I think the producers of the show have or should look into ‘pushing’ more country or, rather, country/pop singers through to the final voting rounds.  Look at the genre’s track record with the show.   While not much is remembered of the first two season’s contestants, Josh Gracintook his 4th place finish to Nashville and recieved a record deal from Lyric Street Records.  He charted 3 Top 5 singles from his eponymous debut with “Nothin’ To Lose” hitting the top spot.  He has charted three singles from an unreleased sophomore record but only reached the Top 20 (“Favorite State Of Mind”).  Sixth place contestent Carmen Rasmussen initially self-released an EP before signing with indie Lofton Creek Records in 2006.  She released her debut album “Nothing Like Summer” in the summer of 2007.  Fellow Contestants from season two to have some connections to country are Kimberly Caldwell and Vanessa Olivarez.  Caldwell has looked for a deal while Olivarez is a co-writer of the song “Sugarland” by the popular duo of the same name.

 Season 3 didn’t produce anybody who has gone on to even sniff at a country career but Season 4 turned out to be a big one for both country music and American Idol.  Three of the Top 12 finalists had country leanings and while the troubled Jessica Sierra (currently mandated to two years of rehab in lieu of jail time for drug/alcohol issues) has found herself being directed towards pop and rock,  12th place finisher Lindsey Cardinale  has benefited from a couple years of seasoning and was recently signed to a record deal by Aria Records Nashville.  Lindsey also dueted on newcomer (and Iraq war veteran) Stephen Cochran‘s debut album from the same record.  “Let It Rain” might be the best song on Cochran’s eponymous record.  While the success of Cardinale is nice, the success of Season 4 winner  Carrie Underwood is noteworthy.  Living up to the title that she won, Carrie has overcome her lack of experience to become one of country’s best voices and most commercial artists.   She even crossed-over to find pop success with a song that wasn’t remixed for pop airwaves.   Her runner-up, Bo Bice, released a Gold selling debut album for RCA Records but the “nickelback-lite” which RCA favored wasn’t that successful and Bo found himself following season 5’s Elliott Yamin’s self-released path.  As such, Bice’s sophomore record, “See The Light” is a southern rock opus that could do well on country’s airwaves if he was given a chance to. 

 Season 5 featured a couple of artists who’ve gone on to get major label deals in Nashville.  Not only have Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covingtongarnered label deals but both artists have found success at radio.  Pickler even has a Gold record.  While Covington’s self-titled record may lean more towards Bo Bice than it does Hank Williams, the current country/rock flavor favored by radio allows him to have success.  Pickler rode a wave of “aw-shucks, ain’t she adorable” production pieces on American Idol to the 5 of the show.  Covington managed to crack country’s Top 10 charts with his debut single “A Different World.” 

the 6th season of American Idol was considered ho-hum by many but one bright spot may have been the Navy’s Phil Stacey.   Following in Gracin and Covington’s footsteps, Stacey was signed to Lyric Street Records in late 2007 and released his debut single in a week ago.  “If You Didn’t Love Me” is a country/pop song co-written by label mate Gary LeVox (of Rascal Flatts).   While Stacey has yet to prove that he’ll continue to American Idol’s streak of placing finalists within the Top 40 of the country charts, he certainly is further proof that American Idol would be smart to ‘focus’ more on the country/country-pop artists who show up on the show in season 7.   And while it’s true a ‘traditional country’ guy or girl has never managed to made it to the Final portions of the show, the fact that country continues to be the most popular radio format for music (talk radio is #1), bodes well for American Idol’s continued support of country.  After all, the show has produced more successful country artists than they have any other genre.