Country Music For Babies – A Calming but also Entertaining Playlist

Continuing our exploration of country music for babies, our initial recommended calming-type playlist, in no particular order, is below. Normally I’d put my caveats, disclaimers and explanations here but Z is strapped to my chest and I want to make sure we hit at least the list before she wakes up. See bottom of the post for those disclosure notes.

  1. Love Without End, Amen – George Strait
  2. Even If It Breaks Your Heart – Eli Young Band
  3. Livin’ On Love – Alan Jackson
  4. I’d Love To Lay You Down – Conway Twitty
  5. Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good – Don Williams
  6. Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver
  7. Good Stuff – Kenny Chesney
  8. Humble and Kind – Tim McGraw
  9. Forever and Ever, Amen – Randy Travis
  10. Colder Weather – Zac Brown Band
  11. Follow Me – Uncle Kracker
  12. Springsteen – Eric Church
  13. Down the Road – Mac McAnally
  14. Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes – George Jones
  15. If I Needed You – Emmylou Harris or TVZ, both wonderful
  16. Angels Among Us – Alabama
  17. What Cowboys Do – Casey Donahew Band
  18. Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes – Jimmy Buffett
  19. I Hope You Dance – Lee Ann Womack
  20. My Church – Maren Morris
  21. God Bless the USA – Lee Greenwood
  22. I Wish Grandpas Never Died – Riley Green
  23. I’m Coming’ Home – Robert Earl Keen

Color on the list. First, no artist appears more than once. We could create a fine playlist with a much smaller handful of artists, but that wouldn’t be as fun for me and wouldn’t capture enough range for baby’s country music learning and enjoyment. Second, as I’ve done with other playlists, the number of tracks here roughly corresponds to how many tracks you’d be able to get onto a burnt CD of my childhood. Third, I’ve focused here primarily, though not exclusively, on calming potential. There’s a great playlist to be made for when you want to purely rock out with baby during awake time, but it’s not this one. Of course it’s not purely about calming – there is consideration given to quality of lyrics and themes and a number of other variables that I’ll unpack in a later post. And so, fourth, this isn’t even the top songs that I find most calming for either me or the baby or solely my favorite group of calming-type songs primarily because, as I’m learning in many other respects too, this playlist is not just about me and I want to try to capture some of those other variables. And as always apologies to the unlisted songwriters who I don’t think ever get enough credit.

If readers have any recommendations that I can add to Z’s playlist, please let me know!

Country Music for Babies – For Starters

Once I knew we were going to have a baby, I knew the first place we’d start would be Heartbeat Love Songs. For reasons previously discussed, but quite literally applied to this situation, replicating the heartbeat of the womb environment just seemed like a no brainer. 

I should probably have consulted my original post for music ideas, but even without doing so my mind went first to Alabama and George Strait. I thought maybe in the future we’d branch out with “radio” but in the first instance we went with pre-created playlists on Spotify so we’d just get the one specific artist. My initial use case was calming (more on that in a later post) and songs by those artists have been pretty successful in that regard. Just to mention a few examples:

Strait: Carrying Your Love With Me; Give It Away; Love Without End, Amen; Ocean Front Property; All My Ex’s Live In Texas; I Got A Car; Fool Hearted Memory; Amarillo By Morning; The Seashores of Old Mexico; She Let Herself Go

Alabama: Angels Among Us; Down Home; Take Me Down; High Cotton; Born Country; Hometown Honeymoon; Love In The First Degree; Close Enough To Perfect; God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You; My Home’s In Alabama

Probably not all of those fall into the strict realm of Heartbeat Love Songs – some are really Heartbeat Love Song-adjacent, but that’s close enough to perfect for these purposes.

Two other artists to mention here. The first is Randy Travis – a tremendous amount of Heartbeat Love Song gold in his catalog. The other, sort of as a segue to a future post on use cases, is Jimmy Buffett. We discovered Jimmy after a couple difficult bath experiences. I’m not for sure if this is what generated the idea, but in retrospect JB seems like perfect baby music, almost like a hybrid of Alabama and Raffi. Maybe this is a subset of the calming function or maybe it’s a separate category all together – I haven’t quite made up my mind – but the use case here was really calming by way of distraction. For this purpose, the fun instruments in Jimmy Buffett songs, irreverent lyrics, sing/humability and island and/or children’s vibe make a lot of Jimmy songs a good fit for the distraction category.

CMA Does TV/Movies: Nashville

I’ve recently been watching Nashville and it’s a pretty good show.

My favorite part is probably rolling over in my head the real life country stars the show’s characters are most similar to and presumably based on, and spotting real life happenings and incidents that make it into the fictional show. This feels like a topic the writers of the show must have addressed in interviews. But without having read those and just for a couple of the characters my sense is:

  • Rayna Jaymes: 30% Shania Twain, 70% Faith Hill
  • Luke Wheeler: 50% Tim McGraw, 30% Alan Jackson, 20% Luke Bryan
  • Juliette Barnes: 70% Taylor Swift, 20 Miranda Lambert, 10% crazy pills
  • Deacon Claybourne: 50% Robert Earl Keen, remaining % I can’t quite put my finger on
  • Will Lexington: 30% Jason Aldean, 30% Kenny Chesney, 30% Cole Swindell, 10% creative liberties

The music is good generally, both the character-related songs and various background music (recall hearing at least Eli Young Band and Zac Brown Band – ZB also making a cameo). And the acting is also good – especially Connie Britton, who if she’s not a super nice total sweetheart in real life is an even more remarkable actress. The exploration of the different strands of country music, record-label type wheeling and dealing, highs and lows of touring, writing, etc and similar themes are all interesting, and based on what I understand or suppose to be the case ring true to me. Re: different strands, the show is primarily focused on pop country, but there are plenty of explicit and implicit nods to especially alternative country and bluesy country, and also classic country and Americana. Some of the cameos are also great (e.g., Brad Paisley’s).

There is what feels to me like a bit too much soap opera style over drama. But I don’t have concrete suggestions on how that might be done better, plus the emotions drawn out are credible and at least to me surprisingly meaningful, so ultimately that’s overlookable. I don’t feel like viewers get the same window into the city or region in the same way we do for say NOLA in Treme or New Mexico in Breaking Bad, but there’s definitely authentic incorporation of classic country music and Nashville locations and backdrops. And at the end of the day the show does double duty for country music fans since viewers get to watch an entertaining TV program that’s also about and featuring country music.

Good show. Would recommend.

Song Analysis: I Wish Grandpas Never Died

Riley Green’s I Wish Grandpas Never Died is a very good song, and I’ve been listening to the other tracks on his first album and looking forward to the next with much enthusiasm. Many thanks to my buddy Cart who turned me on to this one.

Right from the get-go it’s clear this is going to be a very strong category song.

I wish girls you love never gave back diamond rings [Hard Times]
I wish every porch had a swing [No category, just nice]
Wish kids still learn to say “sir” and “ma’am”, [Nostalgia]
how to shake a hand [In context, ditto]
I wish every state had a Birmingham [The South]

I wish everybody knew all the words to Mama Tried [Country Music Aspirations and Inspirations]
I wish Monday mornings felt just like Friday nights [implied Hard Times and/or Raisin’ Hell, but not substantive enough to qualify]

The first verse alone hits four, with most of these reinforced with additional category hits later on. The song also goes on to hit Love & Modes (“I wish the first time, seventeen, she was my everything kiss in a Chevrolet, could happen every day”), Raisin’ Hell (“and back road drinking kids never got caught”) and America (“I wish everybody overseas was gonna make it home”). More to be said on America category in a separate post, but this is one where we’re appropriately more liberal in our analysis to capture the spirit of the category cf Modes which really requires a more literal reference.

God/religion is the only category not mentioned. Green circles around the category, but ultimately, for purposes of this song, Sundays spent on the creek bank and death not explicitly memorialized with religious component.

Though less explicitly than some other songs that list things (e.g., Something ’bout a Truck, I Love This Life), this is a song that lists things. It shouldn’t be interpreted as a knock on this fine song to remark that it’s easier to hit a higher number of categories in ca song that lists things. The format is just more flexible when there’s no specific plot to be advanced. Going back to first principles, the number of categories doesn’t itself create a good song, it’s just an indicator. And so re-emphasizing the point on this commentary not taking anything away from the song, it should be reminded that one of the very best songs there is – and the only other known song to also hit 8 categories – Kenny’s I Go Back is also a song that lists things.

If I had one complaint/suggestion it would be to scrap the electric/steel guitar, in particular the short solo, in the recorded version. To me this undermines what is considered in the following para and for a moment, in what is otherwise a nice and special song, makes it feel just a bit cookie-cutter.

This song is effective because Green lists things that allow the listener to situate themselves in a time when their grandpas were around (or at least when the listen imagines that Green’s grandpas were around), looking back nostalgically to how things were when they/he were growing up. The nostalgic listings lead up to and culminate in the heartfeltly delivered title line at the end of the chorus. Taken out of context some of the lyrics look cliche – pop country antennas of course go up to feel out any reference to Bud Light or similar. But the strong weight of other lyrics (I love e.g. the lyrics on Copperhead and good dogs), including the capstone re: grandpas, make the song authentic and make us feel good about giving the benefit of the doubt to lyrics like Bud Light, which in context are credible. Overall, the lyrics use the categories to effectively situate the song’s nostalgia – the activities, the music, the emotions, etc – that take the listener back to the time of grandpas being around. 

An Open Letter to Pat Green: Mr. Pat F. Green, Any Chance You’ll Play My Wedding?

Mr. Green,

We go way back.  Not quite way back Texas, but at least way back D.C.  When I was in college, I saw you play for the first time live in DC – I think it was the 9:30 club.  At the time that seemed to be the farthest north you were playing, and I must have drove down from college in NH to see the show.  Reverse engineering the timeline that must have been 2008/2009 – I recall you introducing Let Me, which I think hadn’t been released at the time.  At that first show you signed my Mets hat and a PFG tee.  Can share full story at later date, but that Mets hat was subsequently signed by a former US ambassador to the UN.  I told him he was in good company.  I think he laughed.  I did not.  I lost that hat on a fishing trip.  See shirt in picture below – which you graciously resigned, after the first sig basically came off in the wash.

I think your music is very good.  My humble country music blog has probably devoted more space to you than any other country artist.  I’ve been to a bunch of your concerts, including a bunch of Texas Independence Day shows in NYC.  Definitely not as many shows as some or probably most of your fans from Texas, but I suspect I’m super high in the rankings of number of Pat Green shows attended by a person who comes from Connecticut.  And almost certainly in top 5 in enthusiasm.  Here we are below having a great time!

IMG_1501

Anyway, here’s a couple links to posts about you: one, two, three, four.

So, I’m getting married late July 2020 in Philadelphia.  Not just because I’m sure she’ll read this post, my fiancé is absolutely wonderful.  I’m very Lucky. (Get it?!)  I understand you’ve got a ton going on: family, friends, new material, tours, etc – but it would be incredibly awesome if you were able to stop by to maybe have a couple bourbons and sing a couple songs.  (Don’t want to get bogged down in details here but see FN on logistics).  Having one of my very favorite singer-songwriters celebrating with our friends and family would really be a great bonus on top of what will already be an amazing day.  See comment on absolutely wonderful fiancé above.  Most of our friends are a nice combo of fun and reasonable, so should be a solid atmosphere.  My friend Greg would I’m sure just be going crazy with excitement, but I promise we’ll keep him in check.

I’ve only got this one country music blog, and I’m not asking any other country singers about this.  Full disclosure, if Casey Donahew Band or Cody Johnson were like “hey, we heard about your wedding from your blog post letter to Pat, can we get in on that?” I’d be pretty excited.  But I’d have to say, “I don’t know, I asked Pat first, let me check with him”.  But, you know, let’s cross that bridge if we get to it.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Hope to hear from you!

FN on logistics: I think we could figure out the logistics.  Just FYI, we’ll be having a band, and not looking for any sort of concert lift on your end (unless you’re into that).  Was envisioning more of a casual share a drink or two, sing a bit, hang out a bit sort of thing.

REK Reminder

I’m embarrassed to admit that I sometimes forget about Robert Earl Keen.  I don’t know how it happens, but for periods of time he seems to slip right through the middle of Spotify’s triangulation of my listening interests to create those daily mix playlists and slip down the chain of Pandora radio stations so I don’t see him there towards the top when choosing the next one.  On blind grabs, my koozie drawer seems to offer up a REK koozie less than I’d suspect was statistically warranted.  Ditto for country t-shirt grabs.

But each time REK does come back around – this time it was thanks to the Jason Boland/Cody Canada cover of Shades of Gray from Undone coming on – it’s a lightening bolt reminder of not only how great he is, but also of some of the very best things about country.  No matter how many times I hear his songs, his content is fresh and original – he tells stories with ups/downs, characters and emotions.  And picayune details.  The stories feel authentic.  They do not feel like they were written to trend on twitter.  His content is funny, sometimes it’s a poke of darker irony, but more often it’s silliness – either cleverly woven into the fabric of a story or sometimes just for its own sake.

Performance is important too.  The same song can take on very different feels, depending on tempo, instruments, delivery, etc.  But back on lyrics and content, most REK songs make me feel like he’s capturing experiences, rather than performing.  It feels like what he has to sing about is unlimited.  Probably a couple other songwriters still recording who fall into the same camp – want to think more about that – but the most similar, modern comp that I’ve thought this about is or was Evan Felker and Turnpike Troubadours.

Anyway, great reminder! Robert-Earl-Keen.

Baseball & Country Music: Part 3 – Songs About Baseball

It occurred to me the other day listening to Alabama’s Mountain Music that there aren’t a whole lot of country songs about baseball. There are a bunch of reasons why football might have the edge, particularly wrt high school football, but still once I got to thinking about it I was surprised by how few country baseball songs I could come up with.

Cheap Seats (recorded) by Alabama is one of the two songs closest to the mark I can think of. This song paints a great picture of baseball. It hits the bases of hot dogs, flat beer, jawing at the umpire and of course cheap seats, but also nicely straddles the line between loving the game and just going because it’s something to do and something to watch. I love the lines “we got a great pitcher what’s his name” and “the game was close, we’ll call it a win” and then the reference to the dive bar band’s “kinda minor league sound”. For me the song captures both true love of baseball and simple enjoyment of the game as a means of having a couple of beers with friends. The other song is The Greatest by the great Don Schultz and of course with Kenny Rogers singing it. It hits baseball from the kids angle that I would have expected to be more widespread. To make an incredibly sweet song short, the little kid throwing up pitches to himself in ballfield and swinging and missing repeatedly comes to the realization at the end of the song that he’s the greatest pitcher in the world. It’s the American pastime as a vehicle for youthful optimism.

Even though it’s not strictly country, I’d be sad not to mention John Fogerty’s Centerfield which is at least on par with Cheap Seats and The Greatest. From the references to Casey at the Bat and a bunch of baseball greats to the great line “put me in coach, I’m ready to play” – I like everything about this song.

Trace Adkins’ Swing isn’t a good song, but worth mentioning because it at least has an obvious baseball setting and more interestingly was co-written by a young Chris Stapleton. Other songs weave baseball more softly into an Americana background. I like Aaron Watson’s nostalgic love song line about leaving town to play college baseball but losing out “cause you know the big leagues never called/and you went and fell in love with him”. And I also like Kip Moore’s “I didn’t have the grades but I had myself a major league fastball/got a call from the minor leagues in Wichita/ blew out my arm the first year”. The latter in Reckless, not to be confused with Watson’s Reckless, and on Moore’s Up All Night which is a very good, and his best, album.

Like in Mountain Music, there are probably a whole lot more songs like this, not explicitly about baseball but weaving in the pastime in hitting themes like nostalgia, opportunity and optimism and painting the wonderful American landscape.

Song Analysis: Riding With Private Malone

In analyzing a country song we start, as always, with the text. On a quantitative basis RWPM hits at least six of the nine categories of country music, and arguably two more. It’s less hokey and more meaningful than the following summary suggests, but the short version is the plot tracks a soldier getting out of the service and stumbling across a ’66 Corvette previously owned by the deceased title character Private Malone who ends up acting as the narrator’s guardian angel when he gets into a car crash.

Proceeding chronologically, the song hits America first with the narrator’s military service, later followed up by the service of PM plus of course the quintessential Americana of the car itself. Next is Modes of Transportation, when we see the narrator is looking up a newspaper ad for an old Chevy that turns out to be the ’66 Corvette that he fixes up and that the song is built around. After buying the car, our narrator reads the Nostalgic note left in the glove box by Private Malone from years ago, passing on his dream of the car to the new owner, the fact of the note a consequence of PM having died for his country – Hard Times (see also the fiery crash near the end of the song). Then in the second verse we see the narrator driving past all the girls in town, not Love but at least a nod to the category, and picking up country on the radio – a reference to country music though perhaps not Musical Aspirations and Inspirations. The third verse begins with the narrator Raisin’ Hell by driving too fast and ends with a witness seeing the (God/Religion) spirit of Private Malone rescuing the narrator from the crash, which spirit had been riding shotgun with the narrator all along.

It’s even more impressive that the song hits so many categories because it’s a story-telling song, rather than a song that lists things. For me it’s ultimately an American story of salvation, the title character giving up his life for country, the narrator restoring the car and living out the dream of Private Malone and then of course the narrator getting saved by God/Private Malone. Through the note-turned-chorus the song reaches back to the original dream of Private Malone and through the narrator the realization. It features the narrator in the first verse searching, the second restoring and exhilarating and the third coming close to his downfall but ultimately being rescued. And what especially makes the song so good is the depth and breadth of story it manages to pack into four minutes and change, with so many economical lyrical hooks punching above their weight to import for the listener bigger ideas and feelings into the song. This is one of the abilities of great songwriters that never ceases to amaze and delight me as a listener – the ability to create in a self-contained song and with just a few words an entire universe by drawing on meaning from our own real lives

The song was written by Wood Newton and Thom Shepherd and first recorded by David Ball, though I prefer the version Shepherd recorded. While Ball’s version is also good and I think his delivery of the choruses are on point, overall his rendition feels more to me like he’s capturing the story from a third-person perspective, whereas Shepherd’s version rings truer to me in the first person, which is an important part of the power of the song.

TX Independence Day NYC 2018

On the heels of a somewhat lackluster performance in November and sandwiched in between CBD and PFG, I didn’t expect Eli Young Band to be the highlight of the show, but they absolutely crushed it! Vocals were on point, energy and enthusiasm levels very high. Fingerprints songs were sprinkled in as were a couple of covers, but right from the start of their set with Jet Black & Jealous and When It Rains this felt like the EYB music that I fell in love with years ago and a reminder of just how talented this band is. Crowd seemed more into Saltwater Gospel, Drunk Last Night and the cover of Come Together – but I preferred Always the Love Songs, Guinevere and their cover of Learning to Fly which surprisingly no one in the crowd seemed to know. I thought the renditions of Dust (a good song, but not one of my favorites of theirs) and Even If It Breaks Your Heart were especially strong – lots of emotion and energy in the vocals.

EYB 3-9-18

For some reason the show was scheduled for a Friday night which prevented a number of my friends from making it out, but we managed to squeeze in a few pre-concert drinks and made it to Terminal 5 right for the start of Casey Donahew Band’s set, though unfortunately missed Wade Bowen. CBD, as usual, was pretty electric – I haven’t yet seen them play a show where it didn’t seem like they were having a great time rocking out and where it didn’t feel like they’d rather be up on that stage singing their hearts out than anywhere else in the world. Set list was strong, and it seemed like the band was particularly into it with Double-Wide Dream, 12 Gauge and Stockyards. Newer songs from All Night Party were woven seamlessly into the set, and I particularly enjoyed Kiss Me – which is even better live, with a little more grit and rock and roll – and Country Song – a song just constitutionally suited to be played in concert.

Casey Donahew Band 3-9-18

Pat Green, too, seemed very much at home and happy to be playing in NYC. In addition to his usual concert set, it felt like a bonus to get to hear a few songs which don’t seem to be concert mainstays like Somewhere Between Texas and Mexico and Here We Go, and Texas On My Mind which I’ll always have a special place for even if not written by PFG since this was the first Green recording I ever heard. One of my buddies who couldn’t make the show this year would have been disappointed that neither Girls From Texas nor Down to the River made the set list, the latter of course never making it despite our best efforts at encouragement. Maybe the surprise stand out for me this year was While I Was Away. A number of the songs on Home have been growing on me since I first heard the album, and even if Green didn’t pen this one his delivery rings so true that it’s hard not to be moved by the song.

Pat Green 3-9-18

Awesome show this year, and hats off as always to these Texas artists willing to share a little country music with us folks in NYC.

Eli Young Band @ Brooklyn Bowl

Country music in NYC is always a treat and I’d been looking forward to seeing EYB at this show for a long time. The last few times I’ve seen them they opened for different pop country superstars – I want to say Kenny & Tim at Gillette Stadium and then Kenny and ZBB at the Georgia Dome. Before that I’d seen them as part of the Texas Independence Day line-up in NYC – pre-Life at Best and Crazy Girl – but I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to see them headline.

Brooklyn Bowl turns out to be an absolutely awesome live music venue, and it was great to get to celebrate my sister’s birthday over some country. For about the first half of the concert we were bowling, which turned out to be a mixed blessing since while bowling is up there with country music among my favorite things, it was tough to focus on my pin action and give EYB the attention they deserve at the same time.

EYB 11-12-17

The set list, comprised of EYB’s “oldies”, stuff from their new album and a bunch of covers, felt unusual. In terms of old stuff, I couldn’t have asked for a much better song list – Jet Black & Jealous, Skeletons, Small Town Kid and Guinevere are some of my very favorites. Interestingly their set list had When It Rains on it too (one of my enduring favorites), but Skeletons was also penciled in and their sound guy said it was an EYB game time decision which of the two to play but that they wouldn’t play both. This old stuff is what I came for. Especially with this band, there are so many more classic songs I wish they’d have played – Radio Waves, Get in the Car and Drive, How Should I Know, So Close Now, Oklahoma Girl.

EYB Set List 11-12-17

The new stuff, and by this I mean the Fingerprints songs, was difficult for me to appreciate since my familiarity with most of these songs (save Saltwater Gospel) was generally limited to my having listened to the album on Spotify a couple times over the preceding few days. Maybe it was this lack of familiarity that made the show feel a bit disjointed, rather than not liking the new songs. I suspect the former since EYB has such a solid track record of material and my sister likes the new album.

And then there were a whole bunch of covers which I didn’t quite understand, especially given how much gold of their own EYB has. When they first played David Lee Murphy’s Dust on the Bottle I said OK because that’s a great song, but they went on to play a strange mix of too many other covers including Come Together and No Woman No Cry mixed in with Small Town Kid. I definitely appreciate musical variety and it can be fun to see artists performing others’ work especially if it seems like they are really having fun with the material, but I didn’t love how the chosen songs were worked into and meshed with the set here.

EYB 2 11-12-17

All in all a fantastic concert. Eli Young Band is still one of the best, and seeing them live was a lot of fun. As a side note, EYB will be playing at 2018 TID in NYC – a welcome return to the event after an absence of a few years!