Pushing the borders of country: five songs I like

Recently I wrote a longer piece about my musical tastes.  It’s pretty clear that I have eclectic tastes in music; about the only stuff I won’t listen to is very hard-edged metal or most contemporary rap.  I do have a special place for country music, though.  I don’t listen to it all the time, but the country I listen to tends towards remakes, collaborations and other category-defying songs.  Here are five I like:

Who Says You Can’t Go Home – Bon Jovi / Jennifer Nettles

It makes sense for me to start with the crossover song, since the more I think about it the more I recognize my appreciation for collaborations and crossovers.  This is a favorite that caught my attention once I heard it.  Jennifer Nettles’ vocals and the steel guitar make this song.  Listen to Bon Jovi’s original version of the song and it sounds flat and lifeless.

If You Leave Me Now – Suzy Bogguss

I first heard this cover of the Chicago song on an episode of A Prairie Home Companion.  This is not a show I regularly listen to, but I turned the radio on, and there was this wonderful voice… and I knew the song.  I didn’t know who the singer was, but I tracked it down quickly.

A Song for You – Willie Nelson, Leon Russell and Ray Charles

I dare you to listen – and watch – this incredible live performance without getting teary.  Performed at the Beacon Theater in New York City on April 9, 2003, Charles was giving one of the final public performances of his career.

“Look, let’s face it, good music is good music,” he told The Washington Post in 1983. “Meaning what? Meaning good is always good — I don’t care if it’s Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff or one of those cylinders that was made almost 100 years ago. Effort went into it, and I can appreciate.”

That’s Right – Lyle Lovett

While this isn’t my favorite song by Lyle Lovett, it’s one that resonates with me because of my admittedly tenuous Texas connections.  Hang around with enough Texans, spend enough time in Texas, and you either start acting a bit like a Texan or learn to accept the Texan’s assumption that the Lone Star State is the center of the universe.  Lovett himself cuts across cultural boundaries with his music.  “I know from a marketing standpoint it’s much easier if you can present yourself in one way or another,” Lovett said in a 2008 interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “But people have supported my career over the years, which reflects many of my different influences. . . . I grew up in a culturally diverse world.”

Night Life – Eric Clapton

As I’ve written before, this is one of the songs that pops up on my “most played songs” playlist.  I like Clapton and I like Willie, so it makes sense I’d like them both together.  “Night Life,” which Nelson originally wrote for Ray Price, is a bluesy song to begin with.  The collaboration with Clapton adds a driving blues-rock rhythm that makes the song work.

Lest anyone think I only like it when Willie collaborates with someone, when I was working at Woodstock ’99, he was the only performer I made an effort to see.  He opened with a pretty good version of Whiskey River, which has always stuck with me for some reason.  This up-tempo performance reminds me of that day.


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