Country artists are rockin’ the juke box instead of playing country music

I have been reminded, yet again, why I don’t listen to today’s country music—because it isn’t country music.

What passes for country music today is…oh, hell, I don’t know what it is.

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.

The Country Music Association Awards singalong has become a total misnomer. More accurate would be a title something along these lines: The Anti-Merle, Anti-Waylon, Anti-Willie, Anti-Patsy, Anti-Dolly, Anti-Emmylou Show.

I mean, what I watched from Nashville on Wednesday night was country like Faith Hill’s right leg is short and stubby. (If you observed Faith’s right stem while she sang a duet with hubby Tim McGraw you’ll know what I mean. If not, be advised that Faith’s stems are noticeably unshort and unstubby.)

George Strait and Alan Jackson had it right when they sang Death On Music Row at the CMAs at the back end of the 20th century: Someone killed country music/cut out its heart and soul/they got away with murder/down on Music Row.

The chorus of that Larry Cordle/Larry Shell-written song goes like this:

For the steel guitars no longer cry and the fiddles barely play
But drums and rock ‘n’ roll guitars are mixed up in your face
Old Hank wouldn’t have a chance on today’s radio
Since they committed murder down on Music Row.

Once upon a time, country music was three chords and the truth. It was about the song. Now it’s…again, I don’t know what the hell it is, but apparently few folks can sing these days without distracting, blinding strobe lights, smoke and the volume cranked up so high that you can’t hear, or understand, the lyrics.

A lot of them look country, but they don’t do country.

Miranda Lambert looks country. Does it, too. Chris Stapleton looks country. Does it, too. Any coincidence that they were saluted as female and male vocalists of the year?

Miranda Lambert: A girl and her guitar.

I like Lambert. A lot. She can get after it like a hell-ya girl, but she doesn’t need gizmos and gadgets. She can stand on stage with nothing more than her acoustic guitar, her voice and her pain and deliver pure country music. She did the girl-and-her-guitar thing earlier this year with Tin Man at the Academy of Country Music awards. She was spellbinding. On Wednesday in Nashville, she genuflected in the direction of traditional country music with To Learn Her. This time she had a backing band and the performance included—wait for it—a pedal steel solo. The only one I heard in three hours. Imagine that. Pedal steel in a country song. What a concept. Miranda was Patsy, Loretta, Dolly, Emmylou, Tammy and Reba in a petite, powerful package.

What Miranda Lambert did is what country music is supposed to look and sound like.

It’s supposed to look and sound like what Little Big Town (with Jimmy Webb on keyboards) did with the Glen Campbell classic Wichita Lineman. Beautiful, four-part harmonies. It’s supposed to be what the Brothers Osborne did with Tulsa Time (a tribute to the late troubadour Don Williams). It’s supposed to look and sound like what newly minted Hall of Famer Alan Jackson did with Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.

Instead, we get too many like Luke Bryan, a terrible singer singing a terrible song (Light It Up).

I thought it fitting that Jackson closed the show with Don’t Rock the Jukebox, because that tune pretty much sums up my sentiments about today’s country music:

Don’t rock the jukebox
I wanna hear George Jones
My heart ain’t ready
for the Rolling Stones
I don’t feel like rockin’
Since my baby’s gone
So don’t rock the jukebox
Play me a country song.

Sadly, too many of today’s performers can’t, or won’t, play country music.

Baby Blue and other songs that take me back to special people and places

patti dawn swansson

So, I stepped out of the shower the other morning and I could hear country legend George Strait crooning. The song was Baby Blue and I immediately thought of my beautiful daughter, Krystal.

Baby Blue was her favorite song for a time. Mine too.

Hearing it again served as a sweet reminder how music, perhaps more than anything else, links us to the special people and places that enrich our lives. Specific songs take us to a specific person, or to a specific place. This is the list of select songs that do that for me, and the people and places I recall warmly when I hear them.

Baby Blue, George Strait: I cannot hear this tune without thinking of Krystal.

If I Fell, The Beatles: Lynn, first high school crush.

Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain, Willie Nelson: Heather, owner of The Toad in Osborne Village in Winnipeg. We’d have what we called “Willie Nights” when the barman played nothing but Willie Nelson tunes after closing. Heather and I would dance.

Dance with My Father, Luther Vandross: Terry. This was played at the memorial service for his father.

Fanny Be Tender, Bee Gees: Colleen, my lifelong crush. She was 21 and married, I was an 18-year-old kid when we met. Nothing ever happened, but I wanted it to.

You Needed Me, Anne Murray: Colleen, Part II. I’m still crushing on her after all these years.

Lady, Kenny Rogers: Sheila, a special, amazing, beautiful woman. What was I thinking when I left her?

Songs of Life, Neil Diamond: Sheila, Part II. And I still don’t know what I was thinking when I left her.

Pretty Woman, Roy Orbison: Sheila, Part III. Obviously, I wasn’t thinking when I left her. Dumb, dumber and dumbest.

Stormy Monday, Eric Clapton (or any great blues singer): Rhonda, another ex. My goodness, that woman had a voice. I heard her sing this in Brandon shortly after we began dating, and I was blown away.

Since I Fell for You, Barbra Streisand (or any of the great lady singers): Rhonda, Part II. She sang this for me in the lounge at the downtown Sheratan in Winnipeg. I was gobsmacked.

New York, New York, Frank Sinatra: Joan was my landlady when I first moved to Toronto in early 1980s. Great friend.

Imagine, John Lennon: Stephanie was a lady from Liverpool whom I met the night John Lennon died.

From This Moment On, Shania Twain: This was played at the first same-sex marriage I attended, for Rob and Derek. Rob left us a few years ago, but I always think of him and Derek when Shania sings this tune.

Girl from the North Country, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash: My brother Mick. It’s the first song on the Bob Dylan classic Nashville Skyline. I gave that album to Mick long ago and he’s been a Dylan-ite ever since.

I Cross My Heart, George Strait: I always think of Harley Tucker, a fictional character and Strait’s love interest in the movie Pure Country, when I hear this song. I’d like a girl just like her.

Old Friends, Waylon and Willie: Johnny Murphy, late DJ at CFRY in Portage la Prairie, once took an article I wrote and read it verbatim on his show, playing the various tunes I mentioned in the piece. They included Old Friends. Then, when our mutual friend Friar Nicholson died, I played this song all morning.

Losing You, Alison Krauss: This is Saturday afternoons/evenings at Paparazzi, when owner/barkeep Terry allows me to switch the music to my favorite singer.

Till I Gain Control Again, Alison Krauss: I think of heaven, because her voice is angelic.

Roadhouse Blues, The Doors: Once upon a time, I hosted a talk show, Prime Time Sports, on CJOB in Winnipeg. This was my theme song.

Till, The Vogues: Glenice, my first. A truly beautiful soul who deserved better than me.

Things that are on my mind this morning…

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

Random thoughts in the wee hours before dawn’s early light…

I keep reading about the United States being the “land of the free?” What makes the United States the “land of the free?” What freedoms do Americans have that we don’t enjoy in Canada? Oh, that’s right, they get to play with guns and we don’t. How’s that working out for them?

I no longer use the phrase “You know you’re getting old when…” I now say, “Now that I’m old…”

As the day when there are 66 candles on my birthday cake approaches, I surrender to the reality that time is running short for me to take my first selfie. That is not, however, on my bucket list, so I shall be ashes in an urn before I engage in that self-serving ritual. I’ll continue to talk about myself, write about myself and look at myself in the mirror, but snapping a selfie is a non-starter.

I really like my dentist, but why does it cost so much to have her peer into my mouth? How do we know dentists aren’t ripping us off?

I find it interesting, also odd, that I can fly clear across an ocean to England for less money than it costs me to fly most places in Canada.

Someone told me that Americans would never be so dumb as to elect Donald Trump president. No? Then explain the voters in Minnesota electing a professional wrestler as governor and the voters in California doing the same with a body builder.

The Spice Girls: Did I miss anything?
The Spice Girls: Did I miss anything?

While watching Mel B on one of the late-night gab shows recently, it occurred to me that I could not name one Spice Girls song. So you tell me, have I missed something?

Someone once said, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be,” and I agree. Whereas certain of my childhood friends go on Facebook to reminisce about the good, old days, I sometimes wonder if I even had a childhood or good, old days. They drop names I don’t recognize. They write of events I don’t recall. For example, the other day someone posted a comment about walking to high school in a group that apparently included moi. I have no recollection of that. I remember almost always walking to and from school alone or with one of the Lowery girls.

I witnessed the rarest of sightings the other day: Two people sitting in a pub, talking to each other instead of playing with their smart phones or tablets. That was nice.

I was a 10-minute walk from the Royals on Saturday, so I had a choice: Make that 10-minute walk and watch Kate and Will deliver the Royal wave, or sit in the pub and order another pint. I’m pleased to report that that other pint tasted real good.

Why was security on highest alert when Kate and Will arrived in Victoria on Saturday? Were the motorcycle cops and those men in sun glasses and long, black limos afraid one of our homeless citizens would insult the Royals by asking for spare change?

If the cost of rent continues to soar in Victoria, I might soon be one of those homeless citizens begging the Royals for spare change.

I missed the Royal wave from Kate and Will.
I missed the Royal wave from Kate and Will.

I have nothing against the Royals. I have something against fawning over faux celebrities. Or any celebrities, for that matter.

I tried to watch The Voice last week, but I can’t get past Miley Cyrus. I’m not sure what it is about Billy Ray’s little girl, but she’s a most irritating bit of business. Her nails-on-chalkboard voice is grating and those teeth that look store-bought don’t seem to fit her mouth or face. She’s over the top with her rebel-with-a-cause schtick, too. I’ll pass on The Voice this year now that I know she’s a coach.

On the matter of The Voice, the adolescent bantering between Adam Levine and Blake Shelton became painfully tiresome about three seasons ago. How often do those two mooks have to call each other an “idiot” before the audience and producers decide the schtick is just childish and not funny?

I was a fan of country music in the 1980s, when I hitched my horse in Calgary. That was a wonderful decade for the genre, with the emergence of George Strait and Clint Black and Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson and Randy Travis and Reba and Alabama and Dwight Yoakam and Roseanne Cash and Ricky Van Shelton. So what happened? When did Nashville become a haven for the vocally challenged? I mean, you’re telling me that Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan are mega-stars? George Strait and Alan Jackson were right when they sang Murder on Music Row. It’s a crime what’s happened to country music.

I really like Renee Zellwegger. She makes me laugh.

One vibrator (batteries included) away from romance

Apparently, Victoria is the most romantic city in Canada. Been that way four years running, so the folks at tell us.

newest pic

Well, fat lot of good that’s doing me.

I mean, I hang my bonnet in Victoria. I’ve been here going on 17 years. So where’s the love? Not feeling it, people.

I’m sorry, but when tells me that Victoria sits atop a list of the 20 most romantic locales in the True North, I have to scratch my head. And it isn’t because I have dandruff. If it’s true that love is all around, it has managed to avoid me like logic and Donald Trump. Last time I had a date, social networking meant picking up a telephone and dialing.

So what gives?

Well, right off the hop, I suppose I ought to explain the methodology in determining the burg where hearts throb the fastest. Its findings are based on the purchase of romantic novels and relationship books, romantic comedies, romantic music and, ahem, sexual-wellness products in towns with more than 80,000 residents.

That’s a whole lot of libido those folks are looking into, and they’ve been doing it for seven years, the last four of which have found favor with Victoria. More to the point, My Town is the runaway leader in each of the aforementioned categories.

In short, I live in the Land of Lust.

So, again, what gives? I am, after all, a romantic. Hopelessly so.

Most of my fave tunes are ballads. The eyes dampen and the heart strings tug when I hear the Garth Brooks rendition of Bob Dylan’s beautiful Make You Feel My Love. Ditto whenever I listen to Timothy B. Schmit and the Eagles sing Love Will Keep Us Alive. And I totally lose it every time I watch George Strait serenade Harley Tucker with I Cross My Heart in the final scene of the movie Pure Country.

I’ve read romantic novels/relationship books, and don’t even get me started on romantic comedies. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched Sleepless in Seattle, Notting Hill and When Harry Met Sally. After seeing Return to Me for the first time, I watched it again. Immediately. I ran out of Kleenex…then ran out for more.

So sure, on that basis, I qualify as a hopeless romantic.

I do not, mind you, own any “sexual-wellness products,” which is a fancy-schmancy way of saying “sex toys.” Well, if that’s the sole thing keeping me out of the romance game, then I shall rush out and purchase a vibrator for my batteries.

I should point out that I have had ample opportunity to date. Thing is, I’m not into dating men who try to pick me up on the street. Actually, I’m not into dating men at all, which reduces my possibilities to the 76,885 single, separated, divorced or widowed women (2011 census) who live in Victoria. And, of course, those ranks are further reduced when you eliminate the straight women and are left with the lesbians. How many single, separated, divorced and widowed lesbians call My Town home? Likely less than 2,000.

So that’s my dating pool. You’re apt to find more fish in the Sahara. Seriously. And no amount of sex toys will increase those odds.

All of this is not to say I am waving the white flag and surrendering to a life of loneliness. I’m still out there, baby, and I’ve got a fresh batch of batteries just in case.


I’ve gotta get me a cowgirl like Harley Tucker in my life

I know you’re out there, Harley. Somewhere. Let’s you and I saddle up and ride. It’ll be a beautiful thing. I cross my heart.

Harley Tucker and Dusty from Pure Country.
Harley Tucker and Dusty from Pure Country.

I have to stop watching chick flicks. Either that or I must win a contest that offers a lifetime supply of Kleenex as the grand prize, because I am a hopeless romantic who can’t control my sprinkler system whenever I watch a happily-ever-after movie.

I watched two chick flicks last weekend, you see. Sleepless in Seattle and Pure Country. The former starred the delightful Meg Ryan and the likeable Tom Hanks, the latter featured my all-time favorite country crooner, George Strait.

I would like to report that George Strait is a boffo actor. I cannot, however, tell a lie. So I must report that, as an actor, George Strait makes a boffo country crooner. And, in the final telling, it’s his singing that really set off my waterworks.

Pure Country is a boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl again time-waster in which country crooner Strait plays the role of a big-shot country crooner (now, there’s a real stretch) named Dusty, who tires of the touring life with its bright lights, extravagant stage shows, rhinestone duds and the demands and the shenanigans of his lady manager. So he goes “for a walk.” Leaves his band high and dry.

He hitch-hikes his way back to his down-home roots. He visits Granny Ivy for words of wisdom and he picks up his old acoustic guitar. He makes a pit stop at the honky tonk where it all started so many years ago. He meets a lovely lass, who is a hot-shot, barrel-racing rodeo queen named Harley Tucker. Love is in the air.

Dusty’s conniving manager will have none of it, though. She has a sleuth track him down and they find him hog-tying steer on Harley’s 1,000-acre spread. Determined to nip this budding romance in the bud and get her meal-ticket back on stage, the dragon lady manager follows Harley into the washroom at the honky tonk and tells her a big, fat fib. Harley emerges in tears, decks Dusty with a right hook to the jaw and stomps out.

Game, set and love-match? Nope.

It just so happens that Dusty’s next gig is in Las Vegas, at the same time as Harley’s next rodeo gig. He shows up at the arena to pitch woo, but Harley tells him to vamoose.

The thing is, Harley is unaware that her Dusty is this hot-shot country crooner. She is bewildered when an emissary arrives at her motel room door with front row tickets for his performance that evening at The Mirage. Harley and her kin are chauffeured to The Mirage in a limo. So is Granny Ivy. When ol’ Dusty appears on stage and Harley sees him, she is gobsmacked.

That’s when I start to lose it, because I know what’s about to happen.

Ol’ Dusty tells the audience that he’s going to do something “a little different tonight. So if you’ll indulge me, I’d appreciate it very much.”

He makes the long walk to the front of the stage, steps down, sits and looks lovingly at Harley, who’s with her kin at their reserved table. She’s completely smitten and choking back tears. He begins to pick at the strings of his guitar. He serenades her with the beautiful ballad I Cross My Heart. They are the only two people in the room. What follows is three-plus minutes of unharnessed blubbering. By me. Not Harley.

I have replayed that scene probably a dozen times since the weekend. It’s sets off my water works every time, and I always arrive at the same two conclusions:

1) George Strait could sing the knickers off most any girl. I suspect that includes some lesbians.

2) I’ve got to get me a girl like Harley Tucker in my life.

That’s right. The rest of you girls can swoon over George, because he surely is a most swoonworthy fella. But he’s a man and men are…well, you know. They’re men. Strike one, two and three. He’s out.

Harley Tucker, on the other hand…my oh my. She’s delicate, yet she’s got that no BS cowgirl thing going. She looks as good in a little, black dress as she does in a pair of Wranglers. She’s sensitive, yet strong. She’s flirty and feminine. She can share my stable any time.

I know you’re out there, Harley. Somewhere. Let’s you and I saddle up and ride. It’ll be a beautiful thing. I cross my heart.

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