Carrie Underwood to Sing Sunday Night Football Theme; Stream New McKenna, Bhiman Albums; Who is the Greatest Living Country Singer?

Juli Thanki | May 8th, 2013

  • Elizabeth Cook and Todd Snider are on the cover of The East Nashvillian. You can download the entire issue here.
  • John Murph of The Atlantic posted a transcript of his interesting conversation with Wulf Muller and Chuck Mitchell about the revamped OKeh Records label.
  • Hellbound Glory posted a live cover of Hank Williams, Jr.’s “Women I’ve Never Had” to their YouTube page.
  • Chatham County Line precursor, the roots band Stillhouse, released their second album, The Great Reprise.
  • CMT Edge posted a cut from Mandolin Orange’s upcoming record, This Side of Jordan (due out August 6).
  • George Jones’ planned final Nashville show, which was scheduled for late November, will now be a tribute concert. A representative for Nancy Jones said that they are “re-confirming” all the artists who were scheduled to appear.
  • Now that the Possum is no longer with us, who is the greatest living country singer? Brian Mansfield runs through a few candidates in this USA Today piece.
  • On July 9, Preservation Hall Jazz Band will release That’s It! Check out a behind-the-scenes video on the making of the new album.
  • Stream Lori McKenna’s new record, Massachusetts, and read her thoughts on the album over at Performing Songwriter.  
  • Jim Beviglia of American Songwriter finished his Top 20 Townes Van Zandt Songs countdown.
  • Out June 18 on Rebel Records: Big Country Bluegrass’ Memories of the Past. (via press release)
  • Rolling Stone premiered “Home Again” from the Stephen King/John Mellencamp/T Bone Burnett project Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. The song features Sheryl Crow, Dave Alvin, Phil Alvin, and Taj Mahal.
  • Stream Ashleigh Flynn’s new album, A Million Stars, at No Depression.
  • Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices) goes “mock country” with new album Honey Locust Honky Tonk.
  • Premiering in NYC at the end of the month: A History of Future Folk, a sci-fi comedy about two aliens who were going to destroy Earth until they heard our music and decided to form a bluegrass duo instead. Wackiness ensues, naturally.

  1. Blake Boldt
    May 8, 2013 at 11:15 am

    On Twitter, I said the greatest living singers were Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Vince Gill and Patty Loveless. I stick by my answer.

  2. Blake Boldt
    May 8, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Connie Smith. Dag nabbit.

  3. Barry Mazor
    May 8, 2013 at 11:23 am

    I nominate Dag Nabbit. Loved the records, loved the cartoons, and he was a great UN Secretary General.

  4. Blake Boldt
    May 8, 2013 at 11:47 am

    I only wanted to correct my terrible oversight before a comment war broke out.

  5. TX Music Jim
    May 8, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Greatest living male singer is a dead heat between Merle Haggard and Ray Price
    Greatest living female singer another dead heat Connie Smith and Loretta Lynn.

  6. Barry Mazor
    May 8, 2013 at 11:56 am

    And I just wanted to respond to that, Blake, before a comment silence broke out.

  7. Luckyoldsun
    May 8, 2013 at 11:56 am

    I think it’s more interesting to ask who is the greatest living country ARTIST–rather than get bogged down in the entirely subjective issue of what constitutes great SINGING.

    I’d say the contenders are Haggard and Willie.

    I suppose Loretta, Dolly, Strait, Garth, Kenny (maybe both of them) and Tim would all get some votes.

  8. Occasional Hope
    May 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    I’d add in Gene Watson to the list of contenders for Greatest Living Country Singer.

  9. Arlene
    May 8, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    I’ll go with Johnny Cash’s nominees in his last interview with Larry King: male-Dwight Yoakam; female: Emmylou Harris. (Actually, he may have said they were his “favorite” country singers and not the “greatest.” I can’t recall King’s precise question but those are my choices.)

  10. Barry Mazor
    May 8, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    So wait, “great artist” is NOT subjective? “Great singer” is?

    (Not that I have any problem whatsoever with being subjective.)

  11. Jon
    May 8, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    “I think it’s more interesting to ask who is the greatest living country ARTIST–rather than get bogged down in the entirely subjective issue of what constitutes great SINGING.”

    Now THAT’S funny.

  12. nm
    May 8, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    I just think that trying to elide the distinction between “greatest singer right now” and “once the greatest singer, not singing that well any longer, but still alive” is cheating. Unless the consensus is Connie Smith, in which case I guess a case can be made either way.

    Also, I want to pout about Lee Ann Womack not making anyone’s list so far.

  13. nm
    May 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Oh, and this: George Jones’ planned final Nashville show, which was scheduled for late November, will now be a tribute concert has sort of answered the question of who isn’t going to be singing at that show. Sadly, it’s George Jones.

  14. J.R. Journey
    May 8, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Blake’s choices overlap most of the artists I would name (Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Connie Smith), but I’d have to add Dolly Parton and Ronnie Dunn, who, with the passing of Jones, I now consider the best male vocalist in country music.

  15. Luckyoldsun
    May 8, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Barry,
    There’s subjective and there’s subjective.
    I don’t think “greatest country artists” is nearly as subjective as “greatest country singers.” There are people–including some contributors here touting Gene Watson and Connie Smith as the greatest living SINGERS–and some of them have stated that Willie, or Cash or E.T. were bad singers–or couldn’t sing at all.

    If somebody tells me that Gene Watson was a better country SINGER than Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, I’ll say “You’re entitled to your opinion. If someone tells me that Watson was a better country ARTIST, I might answer “You’re off your rocker!”

    St. Jon–
    Go prove to Paul that Dylan is a great singer.

  16. Blake Boldt
    May 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    @Barry: When making grand statements around here, silence is never a possibility.

    You can split an artist’s repertoire into a whole lot of different categories. For example, I think Emmylou is the greatest harmony singer of all time. Anyway, I think recommending a core group of “the greatest” is more prudent than trying to select just one in particular. Just look at the talent that’s been mentioned above.

  17. Rick
    May 8, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Tonight’s Music City Roots will feature the Dex Romweber Duo along with Buffalo Clover, Jim Skinner, and Little Bandit. I’m just glad it’s over before “Survivor” airs out here on the West Coast! (lol)
    Schedule: http://musiccityroots.com/shows

    Apart from the “singer” aspect, I’d rate Merle Haggard as the greatest male country artist still alive today followed by Willie Nelson. If we were just talking singers from their heyday, I’d put Tony Booth and Ray Price near the top of the list.

  18. TX Music Jim
    May 8, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Willie is for sure the consumate artist a great live performer wonderful writer and guitar player and for sure a great stylist vocally. As a singer Gene Watson damn sure desrves high praise. I saw Ray Price about a year ago and he still sounds amazing which is impressive given his age and health battles lately.

  19. Jon
    May 8, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Why do people think that restating something stupid amounts to explaining it?

    If you go by influence, which is something for which there actually is some degree of objective measurement (though it’s a lot of work to get the job done), then there’s no question but that it’s Haggard.

    But really, I think Blake’s right about a “core group” being a more valuable construct – so much so that it almost offsets the unaccountable (though sadly too widely held) notion that “Emmylou is the greatest harmony singer of all time.” Almost. Well, not really at all.

  20. BRUCE
    May 8, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    Patty Loveless is a great harmony singer as well for my taste. For my personal pleasure, I prefer her but it may have to do as much with the songs she has sang harmony on. And she has sang on many.

    I will not list who I think are the best singers/artists or whatever-in-the-heck you want to call them. An exercise in futility.

    However I could list the ones that I PERSONALLY like the best and give opinions as to why. I would be happy then to read yours. It would seem to me that would be a more qualitative discussion. Otherwise it is purely subjective in accordance with one’s taste and can evolve into abstract ramblings.

    As far as influence goes, I gotta tip my hat to the country cop. There is certainly some objectivity to that discussion and it goes beyond one’s personal taste. Case in point. Bob Dylan makes me puke. But his influence has been substantial.

  21. BRUCE
    May 8, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    “she has sang” – oh brother. Can’t blame spell-check for that.

  22. Jonathan Pappalardo
    May 8, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    Putting aside the whole “greatest living country singer” debate for a moment, one of the most underrated living country/folk singers is Kathy Mattea. She does not get enough credit for what a fantastic vocalist she’s been for more than thirty years. Her tone is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard.

    Greatest living country singer(s)? Patty Loveless and Connie Smith. Hands down. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore!

  23. BRUCE
    May 8, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    Based upon the criteria of my own personal taste, I agree 100% with Connie and Patty.

  24. Barry Mazor
    May 8, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    Truthfully–I couldn’t care less about lists and rankings myself..( Don’t tell anybody.) I think Brian Mansfield did raise an interesting question in USA Today, though, and not just because he and I discussed this the other day and he mentioned me in the piece, but because it’s kind of on people’s minds and we’re in the news business.

    I’m much more interested in honoring contributions, and that doesn’t require ranking–though sometimes it requires a little time to get a round to things..

  25. BRUCE
    May 9, 2013 at 12:39 am

    Barry – Excellent response. Thanks.

  26. Luckyoldsun
    May 9, 2013 at 1:22 am

    “Why do people think that restating something stupid amounts to explaining it?”

    Maybe you’re not giving yourself enough credit.

  27. Jack Williams
    May 9, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Arlene, I remember that Johnny Cash interview. I saw it when I was visting my Mom, who was a regular Larry King Show watcher (no doubt she still misses him). Another moment I remember was when Larry asked “why do we love country music so much?” The answer was “Well, we don’t love all of it.”

  28. Jon
    May 9, 2013 at 9:05 am

    “However I could list the ones that I PERSONALLY like the best and give opinions as to why. I would be happy then to read yours. It would seem to me that would be a more qualitative discussion. Otherwise it is purely subjective in accordance with one’s taste and can evolve into abstract ramblings.”

    I think you’d be surprised as to how much of what you’re calling more qualitative turns out to be more like purely subjective and in accordance with one’s taste. But I will say that when you discuss these kinds of things in those terms (what you PERSONALLY like the best, etc.), you’re less likely to encounter objections.

    Emmylou Harris has done much great singing, but as a colleague of mine recently observed, those who admire her *harmony* singing in extravagant terms tend ultimately to be taken by her distinctiveness; they can pick her out as if she were singing by herself.

    But that quality has a pretty weak history in country music, especially when contrasted with the strong preference for “blending” harmonies that goes back to the earliest days of recorded country music. There are many fabulous harmony singers in country music who do just that – blend with the other singer(s) rather than stand apart – really well. Many. My conclusion is that if you want to have a serious discussion about great harmony singers in country music, that’s where you want to be looking.

  29. Bruce
    May 9, 2013 at 10:03 am

    ” There are many fabulous harmony singers in country music who do just that – blend with the other singer(s) rather than stand apart – really well.”

    A very good point.

  30. Arlene
    May 9, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    In interviews, Emmylou Harris has described harmony singing as singing “an alternative melody.” About a half dozen years ago I attended a seminar about harmony/duet singing at Merlefest with Carrie Rodriquez, Gillian Welch, and a couple of other singers who regularly sing in groups larger than two. Several panelists made the point that there are really two types of harmony vocals- those when you intend to blend and never stand out, and those when you sing an alternative melody, in which the listener has the challenge of following two melody lines at once. Oone artist, whose name I can’t recall, commented that vocalists who grew up singing in church often fall into the “blend” catagory” and those who don’t grow up singing in church, or in a school choir, tend to fall into the “alternative melody” school. I don’t see a problem with taking the position that there are at least two different styles of singing harmony, both of which deserve respect, and forming the opinion that Emmylou Harris is the leading proponent of the “alternative melody” approach.

  31. Jon
    May 9, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Singing a melody, “alternate” or not, is not singing harmony, and “following two melody lines at once” is not listening to harmony – at least, not as the term is used in the country music world, which was where I specifically located my point.

    Anyone familiar with its history can recite a lengthy list of singers whose ability to sing harmony by following, matching and blending with other singers has brought great acclaim throughout the history of country music, whereas the list of singers who have taken the other “alternate melody” approach to great acclaim is so short as to be essentially non-existent.

  32. Arlene
    May 9, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    @Jon- We’ll just have to agree to disagree. Harmony is the simultaneous use of pitches, notes and chords. Singing alternative melodies fits within the confines of this definition. As an initial matter, time is not the only test of musical worth or validity. Acoustic guitars existed centuries before electric ones. Is it illegitimate to give respect to expertise or skill on both acoustic AND electric instruments despite the fact that over the course of music history, especially country music history, there have been many, many more virtuosos who have performed on acoustic guitars than electric ones? Second, a number of prominant country singers sometimes harmonize using the “blend” approach and at other times use the “alternative melody” approach. I don’t begin to have your knowldege or frame of reference but in addition to Emmylou Harris, as examples I refer you to Dolly Parton on Trio 2, Patty Loveless on a number of her duets, and Willie Nelson on many of his recordings. I never suggested that the “blending” approach hasn’t “brought great acclaim throughout the history of country music,” or that the blending approach isn’t older or more widely employed than the “alternative melody” approach. I’ve merely suggested that both styles or schools deserve respect.

  33. Jon
    May 9, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    ” Harmony is the simultaneous use of pitches, notes and chords. Singing alternative melodies fits within the confines of this definition.”

    So does singing two different songs in two different keys at the same time.

    But that’s not what’s typically called harmony singing in country music, and neither is singing “alternative melodies.” I don’t see any reason to bring a completely unrelated subject (acoustic and electric versions of the guitar) into the discussion, and I haven’t said that “alternative melodies” are worthless or invalid, nor that they don’t deserve respect.

    But they are not generally valued as great harmony singing in country music, and bringing up Willie Nelson, whose singing with others tends to be so at odds with theirs that it’s a point of considerable humor in the country music world, does nothing to disprove the point. Neither does the Trio album, which largely features harmonies that forego “alternative melodies” (not surprising, since they are frequently trios), and I’d be interested to know exactly which Patty Loveless harmony vocal appearances you think show her serving them up.

  34. BRUCE
    May 9, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    In addition to Loveless being a great harmony singer, I would submit Don Rich on his recordings with Buck Owens. I think these fit into John’s description of which I happen to agree with.

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