(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Here are some memorable things from 2006 that I probably haven’t talked enough about here.
• I love Sarah Buxton’s husky, smoky voice and her smart songwriting, as in “Stupid Boy.” Keith Urban liked that song well enough to cut it, but I kind of lean toward her recorded version of it. (Buxton’s version is not officially out yet because her debut album won’t be released until Feb. 1. Listen to “Stupid Boy” on her MySpace page.) And any young aspiring country singer who publicly avows her love for Lowell George and Steely Dan has got my vote. We’ll hear a lot from her.
• Billy Burnette’s Memphis in Manhattan is a great, overlooked album. Cut live in an old church in New York City, it’s just Burnette on guitar and vocals, along with the esteemed Kenny Vaughn on guitar, the stellar David Poe on stand-up bass and the solid drummer George Ricelli. Burnette is usually referred to as rockabilly, but he expands that definition here. He’s a former member of Fleetwood Mac, and he takes that group’s song “Oh Well” and pushes it into a rocking new dimension. One reason this CD sounds so good is that it is on Chesky Records, which is probably the leading audiophile record label. Chesky is renowned for the live quality of its recordings. And you need to crank this up to get the full subtlety of high volume in quality recording.
• The Who’s Pete Townsend wrote a song about country music icon Marty Robbins. “God Speaks, of Marty Robbins,” from the Who’s Endless Wire CD, is a damn good song, with just Townsend singing along to acoustic guitar. Townsend himself wrote about it thusly: “Very simple song. God is asleep, before Creation — before the Big Bang — and gets the whim to wake, and decides it could be worth going through it all in order to be able to hear some music, and most of all, one of his best creations, Marty Robbins.”
• Paul Burch with his CD East to West continues an odyssey toward a perfect merger of roots music’s past and future. Anyone who can lure Ralph Stanley, Mark Knopfler and Tim O’Brien into recording with him on one album, as Burch did, has got a pretty dadgum good idea of what he’s doing.
• Why the Hell Not: The Songs of Kinky Friedman. People forget what a really good songwriter the Kinkster is. Now that the citizens of Texas have voted to keep him in the private sector, perhaps he will write some more. Many of his best songs are covered here by Jason Boland, Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, Charlie Robison, Bruce Robison, Delbert McClinton, Asleep at the Wheel, Lyle Lovett and Todd Snider. These are mostly inspired performances, but I especially like Willie’s serious reading of what is probably Kinky’s most profound song, “Ride ‘Em Jewboy.” That song is not a joke. It is a serious allegory that deserves serious attention.
• Taylor Swift is going to be a big part of country music’s immediate future. She’s an undeniable young dynamo. I’m not totally crazy about her song “Tim McGraw,” but it shows what an incredibly smart operator she is. Her song “Picture to Burn” should be huge for her. What is she, 16 years old now? She’s channeling Tanya Tucker and LeAnn Rimes and even Brenda Lee. Plus, she knows how to write songs. It doesn’t hurt that she looks like every publicist’s dream of a young, angelic, golden-tressed country nymphet.
• With You’re Only Lonely, the masterful Raul Malo continues his exploration of the human heart. The romantic CD cover itself evokes a lush Mantovani vision from the ’50s. The music is a wide range of cover songs that Malo’s soaring voice takes charge of completely. Songs range from the Bee Gees’ “Run to Me” to Etta James’ “At Last” to the Everly Brothers’ “So Sad” to Willie Nelson’s “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” Put this on, dim the lights, and mix the martinis. Good night.