Sketches: Country Strong

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Hi there! Once again, there’s been a bit of a gap between my last post and…now. Here’s another new feature…and this is one kind of without much bells and whistles. It’s where I want to basically just write. About a music-related topic that’s on my mind. For fun. And I might ramble. But with good intentions. I’ll call it “Sketches” (since that term is sometimes used in music for improv-type stuff, and that describes this fairly well). So let’s go!

This past Wednesday, I made a point of watching the CMA Awards on TV. It was years since I last saw them…I always see the commercials on TV and go, “Hmmm, that might be nice to see…” and then end up forgetting about it. This year, they were on a Wednesday, on a channel & time when I normally would be watching TV (ABC’s awesome Wednesday night comedy block…I love “Better With You” and “Modern Family”), so I decided to sit down and view my first CMA Awards in years.

Oh, by the way. I love country music. It’s a side of me that doesn’t often poke out too much nowadays…but country is what I grew up with. My love for jazz came on late in life, and any pop and rock songs I liked as a younger kid were spotty at best. We always listened to 107.9 FM (KMLE…”Camel Country one-oh-eight!”) in the car (we never cared for the Valley of the Sun’s other country station, 102.5, and we still don’t), we had the greatest hits of Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, and Collin Raye (those are just off the top of my head), and I always simply always HAD to get the new Shania Twain/Dixie Chicks/SHeDAISY CD. Country was what I lived and breathed then.

So what changed? I’m not entirely sure. I discovered jazz in 3rd grade…my elementary school music teacher (an awesome, awesome guy named Paul Anderson who plays in a jazz band called the Yaman Jazz Syndicate) played Diana Krall once in class, and from then on, I was hooked…but I didn’t truly get into it until I was about 12 or so, and even then it was kind of slow going at first. But I guess it was probably the catalyst for me drifting a bit away from my country obsession. I slowly started actively seeking out and listening to a lot of different kinds of music, and for a while, country got shifted to the side. It went from being all I listened to, to being a tiny part of my music listening diet. I couldn’t really tell things were shifting then, but looking back now, it’s an interesting journey.

But as time has passed on, I’ve realized my love for country is still very much alive. I still treasure the Dixie Chicks, SHeDAISY, Shania Twain (the aforementioned trifecta of female country acts that I’ve always loved to pieces) collection I have, and have even added to it in the case of SHeDAISY in the past few years. (The only physical SHeDAISY CD I have is “Knock On The Sky,” which is by far my favorite of theirs. It’s terribly, terribly underrated. I might review it soon…anyways, all the music I have from their other CDs came from downloading songs individually over time.) There’s stuff peppered all over my iPod from Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Jamie O’Neal, Brad Paisley (a few days ago I realized I only have two songs of his, and they’re both melancholy duet ballads :)), Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn, Terri Clark, Rascal Flatts…the list goes on. It’s all kind of random in some places. I still haven’t recovered all the country songs I lost when we switched computers (I had a LOT more songs), so that accounts for a few missing areas, but mostly, my taste (as with any music) is kind of all over the place when it comes to country. I absolutely loved Rascal Flatts when they first came out (I remember my first thought upon hearing “Praying For Daylight” for the very first time on KMLE was, “Whoa! They’re like a cool N’Sync for country!”), but their newer stuff has left me a little cold. I love Brooks & Dunn’s CD “Steers & Stripes” (one of their mid-period albums), but I haven’t got around to putting any other music by them on my iPod. And so it goes for my whole collection. Even now, years after the fact, with me at 18, it’s still a work in progress.

I could go on and on about my country-related thoughts and memories…blasting Toby Keith’s “The Angry American” (a song I couldn’t stop listening to years ago, but now can’t really stand) with the windows open; going to my very first mainstream concert (by SHeDAISY) at the Arizona State Fair, and literally dancing in our way-in-the-back-of-the-coliseum aisle; being annoyed that my mom wouldn’t let us listen to “Goodbye Earl” and “Sin Wagon” off the Dixie Chicks’ “Fly” album (I still haven’t touched either of those songs in years); singing a Shania Twain song to a crush I had in elementary school in someone’s backyard at night. Those are just a few. Country has a special place in my heart. It always will, no matter how much at odds the country music field may be with most of the rest of my current tastes.

So back to the CMA Awards…I missed most of the first half because I had a previous engagement (I watched most of it later), but I caught some great performances: Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, and even Gwyneth Paltrow (singing a song from her new movie, “Country Strong”…I thought she did wonderfully) among them. I especially loved Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow’s tribute to Loretta Lynn (a country music legend, but only a recent find of mine), who even came out and surprised everyone, and rocked it (her voice sounds outstanding!) at the age of 76. All three of those powerful, talented women all on one stage? And then seeing Miranda Lambert getting the Female Vocalist of the Year award from Loretta Lynn, one of her idols? I almost cried, doggone it. No joke. (And by the way, afterwards I bolstered my Miranda Lambert collection on my iPod quite nicely. It went from 2 songs to…quite a lot more. She’s one ferociously talented artist. I’ve always been more inclined towards female vocalists…they’re just generally cooler…and Miranda is certainly no exception.) Plus Brad Paisley got Entertainer of the Year. I don’t have much of his music, like I said, but he seems like such a great guy. So all in all…a great night of music, one that stirred the old country boy in me once again. You just can’t keep a country music lover down. 🙂

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