Growing up, I didn’t like country music, even though I was surrounded by it.  I don’t know if I associated it as “my mom’s music” or “my grandpa’s music” or “hillbilly music” or what, but I wasn’t having any of that.  It wasn’t that I liked other music better.  I wasn’t into much music at all.  But something happened when I was teenager.  Probably hormones or something.  I say every (white) man goes through a country music phase – and if he doesn’t, you probably shouldn’t trust him as a man.

One day, I turned a corner and I just “got it.”  I understood what these people were singing about all of a sudden.  They were singing about the same things I was thinking about, and they were looking at the world through the same flawed eyes as I was.  They weren’t rock gods singing about how great they were.  They were regular people singing about how human they were.  How can you not connect with that?  The awesome part of country music is that it’s very elastic – there’s a lot of types of music that can fit under that cowboy hat.  But at their heart, they’re all the same.

  • "Bluebird Wine"

    Emmylou Harris

    I’ve always been hit-or-miss when it comes to Mrs. Emmylou, but this is one of my all-time favorite songs.  You want to kick off playlist for a road trip?  This is the song to do it – it has highway written all over it.  (I’d love to hear Miranda Lambert tackle this one.)  It’s got that killer fiddle solo, and it was as funky, sassy and fun as Emmylou ever got.  It’s the story of a hard-drinking woman who sobered up just in time to fall off the wagon again – only now she doesn’t have the alcohol tolerance she once had.  The party just started and she’s “drunk on Bluebird Wine.”  Sounds like a heckuva party to me.

  • "Right or Wrong"

    George Strait

    You know, I think this George Strait fella could have some kind of future, if he sticks to this country music thing.  I know it’s a little off the beaten path of all George’s monster hits, but between the fiddle and the steel guitar, it’s the one that gets me every time.  It’s a peppy little number, but George sucker punches me by singing it with such heartbreak.  It’s that old singer’s adage that you sing a happy song sad and sad song with a smile.  It frickin’ works for me.  “All along, I knew I’d lose you,” he sings, and when you’ve got that staring you in the face, what else can you do but dance your blues away?

  • "Can't Let Go"

    Lucinda Williams

    Lake Charles’ own country legend has done a lot of great music, but if you listen to this song and your toes don’t start tapping, I think you need to see a damn doctor, son.  When I played in a little string band called ‘The Attaboys,’ this was one of our favorite songs to just rip out.  (Of course, we never sounded as good as Lucinda.)  By the middle of it, our feet would get to stomping so hard things would be shaking on the walls.

  • Jackson

    Johnny Cash and June Carter

    “I like to watch you talk,” says Johnny to June on the album ‘At Folsom Prison.’  “I’m talkin’ with my mouth – it’s way up here,” she shoots back.  Wraps it all up in a nutshell, doesn’t it?  I’m going to go ahead and call this one of the single greatest songs ever recorded – country music or not.  I will fight people over this.  The version on this album is blistering hot, and let there be no mistake -- it’s June who brings the heat.  I keep thinking she’s gonna tear something when she and Johnny round the last corner of the song -- “We got married in a fever!”  After listening to this recording, yeah, I can see what Johnny saw in her.

  • "Can I Sleep in Your Arms?"

    Willie Nelson

    I got a thing for a good weepy country ballad, but I don’t know any song that can get me right in the ol’ bread basket better than this one.  Some of us are lucky to have people we love in this live – people that also love us back.  But Willie’s not asking to sleep in the arms of just any woman.  When you sing a song like this, it can only be addressed to one person – the person who knows you better than anyone else.  When you find a person like that, you have all you need in your life.  I think this is one of the best vocal performances I’ve ever heard in my life, from a guy who had no shortage of them.

  • "Box #10"

    Jim Croce

    When Jim Croce was alive, he wasn’t country enough to be country, and now he’s too country to be classic rock.  And songs like this got lost somewhere in the cracks of the music industry.  This should have been a huge hit for someone, but it came too early in his career to land on the charts.  Jim Croce wrote a lot of great songs, but I don’t think he ever wrote a better one than this one.  Some of it was likely pulled straight from Croce’s life as a guy who tried to make it in the big city only to find the city might be harder the he is.

  • "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn OId)"

    Garth Brooks

    Even when he first broke onto the scene, there was a lot of talk about just how country Garth Brooks really was.  But say what you will – he was the ‘gateway artist’ into country music for a lot of people, including me.  Like I said earlier, I didn’t grow up liking country music.  This song was one of the first that made me question why.  So I’m grateful for that.  This wasn’t the first song of his that grabbed my interest, but it was the song that made me realize I was going to dive head-first into this music.  Thank God for that.