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I’ve always had a bit of a love affair with country music – I love the storytelling lyrics, the likeable, heartfelt vocals and the foot tapping blueprint that is the backbone of the genre. As the nineties progressed, country music was far from dead, and with an injection of pop overtones, it became even more accessible than ever.
But it’s not all boot-stomping cowboys and songs of heartbreak or harmony; there’s so much more to country than that. With artists such as Vince Gill, Garth Brookes, and Reba McEntire dominating the late nineties scene, it took some very special peers to even attempt to take on these heavyweights. Check out some hard hitters and hidden gems of nineties country!
Essential Album: ‘King of the Thrift Store Cowboys’ (2000)
“Nobody bridles her heart ‘til she’s willin’, and buddy that’s up to you // ‘Cause nobody rides in a cowgirl’s rodeo unless you’re wearing cowboy boots.”
‘King of the Thrift Store Cowboys’ is the only album to date by Utah-born country artist, Kevin Banford. With a dash of classic Hank Williams Sr. and a little of Dwight Yoakam’s modern day sass, Kevin’s independent debut album is a charming homage to a simpler time and a proper taste of some good, old fashioned honky tonk.
After completing six tours entertaining service men and women with his down home country music, Kevin has managed to secure himself a die-hard following, despite commercial success remaining elusive.
A smooth, true country vocal, swinging acoustic honky tonk and some beautifully written tracks sum up Kevin’s brand of homegrown country. If you’re looking for a real obscurity, look no further!
Essential Album: ‘The Life of Chris Gaines’ (1999)
“Heaven knows // I’m head over heels and it shows // I’ve played every field I suppose // But there’s something about you…”
Mixing a catchy country style with pop sensibilities, Chris Gaines made his first and only sojourn into the Billboard Hot 100 with ‘Lost in You’ peaking at #5 before his career met an untimely demise. With poor album sales, interest fizzled out, and plans for a Chris Gaines’ movie, ‘The Lamb’, were scrapped.
So, who was Chris Gaines? Good question. During the late nineties, county music elite Garth Brookes decided to try his hand at the mainstream charts, thus, the fictional rock star Chris Gaines materialised, and with it the album, ‘The Life of Chris Gaines’.
As short lived alter egos go, the Chris Gaines project had the makings of something special. I actually quite liked the album; each song had its merits, and it was a fascinating era in Garth’s career.
Just check out Garth’s guise as Chris in the VH1 Behind the Music Special!
Check out ‘The Life of Chris Gaines’, it’s a bit of a novelty, but a really good one!
Essential Track: ‘My Best Friend’ (1999)
“You’re more than a lover // There could never be another // To make me feel the way you do // Oh, we just get closer.”
Tim Mcgraw’s track record speaks for itself, but this gorgeous country ballad from 1999 is, as far as I’m concerned, his finest moment. Written by Bill Luther and Aimee Mayo, ‘My Best Friend’ has a gorgeous, lilting melody combined beautifully with poignant lyrics – if that’s not enough, Tim’s down to earth, conversational vocal style manages to pour emotion into each and every syllable.
It’s hardly a surprise this track from Tim’s fifth studio album, ‘A Place in the Sun’, hit the top spot on the Billboard Country Charts back at the end of the last century.
‘My Best Friend’ ticks all the boxes for perfect country love song, from the mournful slide guitar to the catchy, uplifting chorus. This song holds a special place in my heart, and it deserves a place on every country playlist!
Essential Track: ‘It Wouldn’t Hurt to Have Wings’ (1995)
“I don’t see things like love any more // The rose-colored glasses are gone // I won’t be fooled like I was before // I’m learning now how to fly on my own.”
Texan country artist Mark Chesnutt is one of those artists who sit just below the radar of stardom, despite faithfully producing good, solid, well-received chart singles.
‘It Wouldn’t Hurt to Have Wings’ from Mark’s sixth studio album ‘Wings’ just scraped into the top ten on the Billboard Country Charts, and the album is probably one of his most overlooked.
I love Mark’s rich vocals on ‘It Wouldn’t Hurt to Have Wings’, there’s a real feel of old style Nashville all wrapped up in a mid-noughties bundle of accessible, mainstream country heartbreak. Check out this forgotten gem today!
Essential Track: ‘Saturday Night’ (1999)
“Well the band just played their last song // But me and my baby gonna party on, you know that’s right // Gonna find another place with a neon light // Can’t go home it’s Saturday night.”
The ‘one that got away’ track from a band that had otherwise scored plenty of chart hits, ‘Saturday Night’ failed to reach the top forty when it was released from Lonestar’s third studio album, ‘Lonely Grill’.
I love this track from country’s rockin’ good ol’ boys, Lonestar. It’s slow, sultry country rock with a ‘living for the weekend’ vibe and relentless groove. I can’t fathom how it didn’t fare better in the charts, but for a noughties hidden country gem, this ticks every box.
There’s always some dissent over what makes country ‘country’, but for me there’s really no question. If it’s foot-stomping with a lazy drawl and a twanging, guitar-driven style, it sounds a lot like country to me!
Check out ‘Saturday Night’ and give this overlooked track some good lovin’.
Essential Album: ‘Forget About It’ (1999)
“I’m all that’s left of two hearts on fire // That once burned out of control // You took my body and soul // I’m just a ghost in this house.”
With a voice as smooth and sweet as warm honey, and a likeable, acoustic style, Alison Krauss and Union City were arguably the forerunners of promoting a renewed interest in bluegrass during the nineties.
Today, I’ve chosen Alison’s 1999 solo album as an absolute must-hear for this incredible country artist, and I cannot stress enough just how sublime ‘Forget About It’ is. Alison’s vocal performance on her fourth solo album is nothing short of angelic, and I just love the use of fiddle, dobro and accordion to give these contemporary bluegrass tracks a sweet, traditional twist.
Despite the album peaking at #5 on the Billboard Country Charts, the lead single ‘Forget About It’ didn’t fare particularly well, which is an absolute crime. I do love Alison Krauss, and this album is one my dad introduced me to. Needless to say, he had very good taste in music!
‘Ghost in This House’ is one of my favourite tracks from the album for its pretty, simplistic style and lyrically beautiful nature.
As the old century came to an end, country music became ever more popular in the mainstream charts with the likes of Shania Twain becoming breakthrough artists and opening the floodgates for peers and contemporaries alike.
My honourable mentions today go to the classic artists of yesteryear, the names who influenced the artists yet to come. I’m talking about the likes of Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton. These mainstays of country music made it what it is today, and they deserve a salute.
I’ve loved sharing some of my favourite country tracks from the nineties, so why not add your favourites and get commenting!
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