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When I was getting into country music as a teenager, the first country album that bothered me with its clichés was Randy Travis’s highly acclaimed 1986 debut, Storms of Life.
It’s not that I hadn’t heard country albums that used familiar themes of drinking, cheating, mama, trains, heartbreak, and so on. Maybe they just seemed more concentrated in one place on this album.
I’d heard some of Randy Travis’s biggest hits through CMT countdowns and compilations at libraries, but I wasn’t prepared for the album tracks here. Songs like “Reasons I Cheat,” while sad, struck me as typical country fare, beyond salvaging from Travis’s appealing baritone.
Going back and hearing the album now on vinyl, with a greater knowledge of country music’s history, I can hear how the album sounded unique in the era of glitz that was ‘80s country. Storms of Life was one of the most acclaimed country releases of the decade, and many found Travis’s Lefty Frizzell-influenced style to be a refreshing example of the “New Traditionalist” style embodied at the time by artists like George Strait and Keith Whitley.
by Josh Friedberg
I don’t know I’ve ever been so wrong about an album in my life.
When I was younger, there were a lot of albums I called “overrated” after one casual listen because I didn’t understand the hype around them. It’s true, as I thought in the early 2000s, that Marvin Gaye’s 1971 soul masterpiece, What’s Going On, is a sacred cow, often treated with such reverence as if it is immune to criticism. It shouldn’t be, but perhaps it needs to be put in a fuller social context (the Vietnam War, African American freedom struggles, environmental degradation, youth movements, etc.) to be most appreciated.
That said, Smokey Robinson was right when he said around 2000 that the album makes more sense today than it did when it was released—deindustrialization and the growth of the prison-industrial complex, among other factors, have disastrously impacted communities of color in this country, and today Gaye’s opus continues to resonate amid the turmoil that spawned Black Lives Matter.
What’s Going On is also the most acclaimed album ever by an African American artist, according to statistical aggregate acclaimedmusic.net. White rock critics have loved this album since it came out, with Dave Marsh calling it the greatest black pop album ever, though African American critics have also lauded this album. For example, Cornel West called it something like the greatest musical achievement created by an African American.
So one could be forgiven for having unusually high expectations for such an album. When I first heard the album on CD, I was very familiar with the title track, widely hailed as one of the greatest songs ever recorded, but I was unprepared to deal with an album that was conceived as an album, rather than a collection of songs. There are some relative fragments on What’s Going On that don’t stand out like the singles do, and I was merciless in my response. At one point in the first half of the 2000s, I guested on a music talk show talking about overrated albums, calling out What’s Going On for inconsistency—as if consistency of quality across tracks should be the goal of every album.
by Bradley Morgan
Last Saturday, I ventured out to Soldier Field to see U2 play their masterpiece record The Joshua Tree in its entirety. I had been looking forward to this show for months. I even invited my dad and he drove over six hours to experience his first U2 concert.
Of course, I had seen Ireland’s favorite sons play a few times already including a greatest hits show and a concert promoting their latest studio album. However, this tour was different. The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 was designed with duality in mind; to commemorate the past but to also understand its relevance in the present. While this show signified a nostalgic trip for some, the tour set out to make a statement about the complexities of humanity and society. In preparation for the performance, I had to go back and find out not only what The Joshua Tree meant to me as art but also what U2 represented that made them so relatable to me over the years.
My path toward U2 fandom began at age twelve back in the fall of 2000 while I was living in Alaska. Anchorage didn’t really have any record stores or cool hot spots where hipsters could browse indie music stacks and discover the next big underground thing. Not only that, but streaming media online was not as sophisticated and easy to use as it is today, plus my dad wouldn’t let me download music. So, the only musical outlets available to me were whatever played on commercial radio and the limited selections of a local Wal-Mart or FYE.
That fall, U2 released their single “Beautiful Day” and it was life-changing. The sound was big and anthemic; qualities that inspired a budding teenager who had a lot to say and demanded that he be heard. The optimism and humanity within that song truly spoke to me.
Prior to that, U2 was a band that I had only heard of before. I had seen copies of War and The Unforgettable Fire in my mother’s CD collection, but I never listened to them before because what teenager wants to listen to their parents’ music collection? I wanted something new and relevant to me right then and there, despite the irony that this exciting new addition to my life was being delivered by an already established and accomplished band.
The music itself wasn’t the only thing that made me connect with the band. This band had something else going for them, too. They were Irish. That instantly made them more relatable and meaningful to me. As the son of an English immigrant with Irish grandparents, that made U2 so much more special. A bond was established through a shared ancestry that I wouldn’t quite understand until much later.
written by Kyle Sanders
In a pop cultural world soaked in nostalgia (remakes, reboots, and revivals--oh my!), even reissues can be a saving grace to a long forgotten, often underrated work of art. A band like Fleetwood Mac may not be underrated by any means (and some naysayers, perhaps, find them a bit overrated), but thanks to the nostalgic mentality of reminiscing, one would find that this year alone has found the musical group celebrating a handful of milestone anniversaries.
In 2017, not only has the band celebrated fifty years of making music, they've also celebrated the fortieth anniversary of their best-selling album, Rumours, the thirty-fifth anniversary of their early eighties contribution, Mirage, as well as the twentieth anniversary of their biggest comeback, The Dance.
Since that well-received reunion special, the band has maintained a solid presence in the touring circuit, as well as frequent pop-ups on classic rock radio stations. Just recently, their signature track "The Chain" was used to promote the blockbuster sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and was featured on that film's soundtrack as well.
Yet while most remember the band as a Seventies Supergroup, few often regard their album Tango In the Night as a notable musical foot note of the late 1980s. Coincidentally, that album celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year, and in recognition of that album's birthday--as well as the sixty-ninth birthday of notable band member Stevie Nicks--let us take look back at an album that remains lesser known yet still influential in the world of pop music.
By Josh Friedberg
Alison Krauss has been recording bluegrass, country, and pop since she was a teenager, and her 1995 compilation, Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection, first exposed her to a mass audience years before her appearance on the smash soundtrack to the Coen brothers’ movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?
For millions of country fans, including my mother, Now That I’ve Found You introduced them to one of the most beautiful voices of the last generation. I heard this album when I was a kid, and I was drawn to the quiet, largely acoustic sound, which reminded me of a variation on the ‘60s folk in my parents’ record collection.
Hearing it now after seeing the CD at a library, I’m amazed at how well it holds up. I’ve generally enjoyed this collection more than the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, despite Krauss’s excellent contributions on that album. Now That I’ve Found You is gorgeous and intimate, containing moments of both older and more contemporary styles.