Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1995, Part II
Old Mr. Webster could never define/What’s being said between your heart and mine.
1. “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead,” Junior Brown. Junior Brown never received significant radio airplay, but his sense of humor and unique persona did result in frequent airings of his videos on Country Music Television. “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead,” which peaked at #68 on the country charts in 1995, is a tale about an unwanted reappearance of a former lover, one who Junior had placed in an apocryphal graveyard. Junior places the emphasis on this song not on his prowess as a guitar player, but on his comical hound dog baritone voice. Some other ace Junior Brown song titles – “Venom Wearin’ Denim,” “Cagey Bea,” (say that one slowly and think about Russia), and “The Phantom of the Opry.
2. “Nothing,” Dwight Yoakam. Dwight Yoakam moved further away from his traditional sound on his 1995 single “Nothing.” While he was still moaning about his heartbreak, the swelling strings, blues guitar licks, horn charts, soul sisters, and Hammond B-3 organ sound more like Al Green than Buck Owens. Country radio wasn’t ready for soul man Dwight and “Nothing” peaked at #20 on the charts. Biographer Don McLeese on the 1995 “Gone” album, “It’s a daring album, and it’s a great one. It’s the record Dwight had to make, and it’s the one that his Nashville label had no idea how to sell, no luck in selling, or no interest in selling.”
3. “South of Round Rock, Texas,” Dale Watson. Dale Watson started playing on the Houston club scene as a teenager, then ventured to Los Angeles and Nashville before becoming an Austin institution. “Cheatin’ Heart Attack,” his debut album, was released on Hightone Records in 1995 and he became an instant critic’s fave with his hardcore Texas honky tonk sound. Watson and guitarist Dave Biller wrote “South of Round Rock, Texas,” a county swing number that extols the musical virtues of Austin, where the two step is better than the new steps. Watson also staked his claim for traditionalism on that album with “Nashville Rash,” where he bemoaned that he was “too country now for country” and namechecked Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Faron Young, Johnny Bush, Johnny Paycheck, Charlie Pride, and Loretta Lynn as older artists who no longer received airplay.
4. “Tall, Tall Trees,” Alan Jackson. Roger Miller and George Jones met in the late 1950s, when Miller was trying to break into the songwriting business in Nashville. The two men wrote “Tall, Tall Trees” and Jones released a non-charting single version of the lovestruck number in 1957. Miller recorded an album version of the song in 1970, moving the sound from traditional country to a Cajun feel. Jackson, “I’ve always been a big fan of Roger’s and when it came time to record a couple of new songs for this greatest hits, I couldn’t resist. After I recorded it, we found out that George Jones is a co-writer – I think George had even forgotten he’d written it. I’m proud to have the chance to record a song written by two of my favorites.” Released as a single from Alan Jackson’s “The Greatest Hits Collection,” the single went to #1 and the album sold over six million units.
5. “Victoria,” Old 97’s. The Old 97’s hadn’t conquered the world, or even Dallas/Fort Worth, in 1995 – Rhett Miller’s reported income for that year was $3,800. The band raised their profile on the “Wreck Your Life” album, released on Bloodshot Records. “Victoria” is the lead track and was inspired by an ex-girlfriend of Miller’s. He describes her troubled soul by stating, “She started out on Percodan and ended up with me.” Musically, this is a solid representation of their early rockabilly meets Texas twang sound. The band recorded with Waylon Jennings the following year, but when they went the major label route in the late 1990s, they started to venture more into power pop/hard rock territory. However, two decades plus later they seemed to have reached a commercial sweet spot where they can record and perform the type of music they like and, while not major stars, can make a comfortably living doing so.
6. “ When You Say Nothing at All,” Alison Krauss and Union Station. Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz were having an unproductive songwriting session and developed a song to describe when there’s nothing to say. At first, they didn’t think too much of their composition, but Keith Whitley told them it was an instant classic and his version went to #1 in 1988. Alison Krauss recorded “When You Say Nothing at All” in 1994 for the “Keith Whitley: A Tribute Album” project, which included cover versions of Whitley’s hits by contemporary country acts. Krauss sings her version with a perfectly understated fragile beauty, projecting the strength and comfort she receives from her speechless companion. Krauss has chosen to spend most of her career working for independent labels and this #3 single is her only major country hit. However, let us not forget that she has won 27 Grammys and can musically kick anybody’s backside whenever she chooses to do so.
7. “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under,” Shania Twain. Canadian Shania Twain performed in cover bands and spent several years singing at a rural resort before being signed to Mercury Records in 1993. Her debut album failed to breakthrough, but she caught the personal and professional attention of producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who was famous in hard rock circles for his albums with AC/DC, Def Leppard, and Foreigner. Twain and Lange were married in late 1993 and she became a superstar with the 1995 “The Woman in Me” album, a twelve million plus seller. The hook laden, country pop of “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” was Twain’s breakthrough hit, peaking at #12 on the charts. Eight singles were released from “The Woman in Me” album over a two year period, including four #1 singles. Twain crossed over to become a pop star later in the decade and although she’s only released four studio albums, she has sold over 85 million records.
8. “Windfall,” Son Volt. After the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, alt-country icon Jeff Tweedy founded Wilco and Jay Farrar continued his career in music with the lower profile Son Volt. “Windfall,” the lead track from their debut album, is about that blissful state of driving with no worries and with good music transporting you to another dimension. Farrar, “I was doing that drive from New Orleans north, and a lot of times I would check in with AM radio, where you could find a lot more varied musical palette. They would play a lot of classic country, so when I was driving, I would listen in and hear Buck Owens and George Jones and Merle Haggard. That’s the aesthetic I was going for, trying to incorporate some of that instrumentation – acoustic guitar and fiddle.” Or, as the song says, may the wind take your troubles away.
9. “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am,” Patty Loveless. Patty Loveless was at her peak commercially in the mid-1990s, releasing three consecutive Top Ten, platinum albums. The “When Fallen Angels Fly” album included five Top Ten singles and similar to the strategy used by Emmylou Harris, Loveless included material from respected songwriters including Jim Lauderdale and Billy Joe Shaver. Gretchen Peters penned the Grammy nominated single “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am,” an unblinking look at a married couple who have grown apart and decide to divorce. Loveless, “It starts out and you think, ‘Okay, here’s another woman crying about something,’ and then it swings around and it says he finds her ring on the pillow and he starts to think, ‘Hey, you didn’t know who I was either.’ They got to the point in their marriage that they didn’t know each other anymore. There’s been a lot of men that this song just tears up. I’ve often said that country is the cheapest therapy you can get. Music can be good for your soul.”