The 10 Best Songs in Rock Band: Country Track Pack
Music games have the power to turn people on to new music. And what genre needs more rehabilitation than country music? More people hate on Nashville's music than live in the entire state of Tennessee. I've been playing Rock Band: Country Track Pack with the ears of a cynic -- somebody who lives by the copout that the only good country music is Johnny Cash.
Any student of American music knows that accusation is dead wrong, but why not let our friends at Harmonix prove it? After playing the 21 songs and chasing the handful of song-centric Achievements on this standalone disc for the Xbox 360, I've learned to love 10 twanging tunes. Are you open-minded enough to hang with these country greats?
10. Brooks & Dunn "Hillbilly Deluxe"
It seems like half the songs on the Country Track Pack are about how country folk like to party. "Hillbilly Deluxe" -- an ode to cruising -- is the least offensive because it rocks assuredly and astutely, and doesn't linger long. Besides, Kix and Ronnie sound a bit like Waylon Jennings.
Best lyric: "Put on the smell good, put on Skynyrd / Head into town like a NASCAR winner."
9. Cross Canadian Ragweed "Cry Lonely"
Even in country music, the term "alt" means "15-percent more likely not to suck than the crap you usually hear on the radio." This cover of a Chris Knight tune has a distinct Southern-rock vibe, making it 100-percent cooler-sounding than anything by Garth Brooks.
Best lyric: "I won't be there / When you call my name." Harsh.
8. Drive-By Truckers: "Three Dimes Down"
These guys sound like the Rolling Stones -- a band that surprisingly few acts ape. "Three Dimes Down" is a bluesy stomp punctuated by twangy guitar licks. And unlike "Gimme Shelter," Rock Band singers aren't forced to croon both lead and insanely hard back-up vocals.
Best lyric: "Rock and roll never forgets." Apologies to Bob Seger, right?
7. Steve Earle "Satellite Radio"
I get the feeling that contemporary country singers are rarely rewarded for being quirky. That makes this downright off-beat novelty all the more surprising. Come for Steve Earle's unique delivery and looped drum work; stay for the "Drop the Hammer" Achievement that rewards guitarists for nailing every hammer-on in the song.
Best lyric: "At the galaxy's end where the stars turn bright / Are you tunin' in and turnin' on?"
6. Dixie Chicks "Sin Wagon"
If these ladies were controversial before they badmouthed George Bush, it's songs like "Sin Wagon" that won them their disapproval. This bawdy hootenanny stomp is full of fast-pickin' guitar runs, banjo solos and fiddle breakdowns. But maybe their biggest, and most clever, crime is the way the girls slyly harmonize a portion of the country gospel hit classic "I'll Fly Away" in the same breath they sing about transgression.
Best lyric: "Praise the lord and pass the ammunition."
5. Miranda Lambert "Gunpowder & Lead"
Johnny Cash sang "Delia's Gone" about shooting a woman who did him wrong. Miranda Lambert offers an empowered alternative -- a track about woman steeling her nerve to point a shotgun at an abusive lover. Occasionally the tune feels like an Alanis Morissette cast-off, but bad-ass lyrics more than make up for (and maybe even accentuate) the radio-rock sensibility.
Best lyric: "He ain't seen me crazy yet."
4. Sara Evans "Suds in the Bucket"
I'm a liberal city boy, so the first thing I thought when I head this song was, "These people need to work on their communication skills." Over a peppy roadhouse rhythm and laconic lap steel, Evans sings about an 18-year-old daughter who runs off with a lover -- embedding her song with sly cultural critique and subtle suggestion in the final verse. Serious music-game fans have probably already enjoyed belting this one out in Karaoke Revolution Country.
Best lyric: "You can't fence time."
3. Lucinda Williams "Can't Let Go"
Alt-country rocker Lucinda Williams injects her tunes with a teensy dash of punk -- the same attitude that informed the earliest rockabilly bad boys. The fast blues shuffle of "Can't Let Go" fast blues shuffle seems at odds with its lyrics -- the lament of a woman bound to a no-good man. But a simmering anger emerges as Williams belts Randy Weeks' lyrics.
Best lyric: "I've got a big chain around my neck / I'm broken down like a train wreck."
2. Kenny Rogers "The Gambler"
Expert guitar players will find their fingers tangled when they try to pick their way through the first minutes of Rogers' 1978 hit. Everybody remembers this song for its melancholy story and kick-ass chorus, but for gamers this song could be the next "Green Grass and High Tides."
Best lyric: "Said, if you're going to learn to play the game, boy, you gotta play it right."
1. Willie Nelson "On the Road Again"
Nelson's ode to touring is the reason to buy Rock Band: Country Track Pack. It may not be as challenging as an Iron Maiden track, but it's the kind of familiar party song that'll get everybody in the house singing.
Best lyric: "The life I love is makin' music with my friends."
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