Kaplan, La. native Sammy Kershaw proudly chases the sounds of George Jones and other country music heroes while keeping the rich music of his home state (and a smaller smattering of Memphis blues) at no more than an arm's length.
Whether he's singing a slow number like the often-covered "Chevy Van," singing a duet with ex-wife Lorrie Morgan, "All in the Same Boat" with old friends Joe Diffie and Aaron Tiffin, planning a life for "Me and Maxine" or fired up about a "Cotton County Queen" from "Old Cowtown," Kershaw always seemed to have the right story to rope in listeners. Although he started chasing his musical ambitions as a young teen and continues performing into his 60's, these name-dropped songs and the list that follows point to the '90s and early aughts -- a much different time for country radio.
With all of that in mind, press play, kick back and ride the "Feelin' Good Train" with one of the most consistent and authentic mainstream stars of his time.
10. "Honky Tonk America"
Although it sounds more like modern country and heartland rock, this song off his Labor of Love album explains how the whole country is filled with small bars and venues that'll draw packed houses as long as artists like Kershaw keep passing through town.
9. "Yard Sale"
"Ain't it funny how a broken home brings the prices down." That's among the clever and heartbreaking lines in this song about the sudden dismantling of a separating couples' home. It might be the most underrated song about divorce in recent memory.
In a song that might've been too smart for radio audiences, Kershaw notices that a woman named Vidalia is a lot like her vegetable namesake. Despite that initial sweet taste, too much of her makes a man cry.
7. "Third Rate Romance"
Kershaw's Cajun roots spice up an often-covered 1975 single by country-rockers the Amazing Rhythm Aces. The song was covered by everyone from Elvis Costello to Rosanne Cash.
6. "Queen of My Double Wide Trailer"
Don't let the title scare you off. If you haven't heard it, this one is a simple yet fun song about love and loss, with Kershaw sometimes taking the back seat to the "Charlie Daniels of the torque wrench." Throw in a fun music video, and it's not the list of redneck buzz words that'd accompany such a song title in the 2010s.
5. "Haunted Heart"
Things slow down for this sentimental title track from Kershaw's best album. By throttling back the honky tonk and rock elements, Kershaw's undeniable talents as a vocalist and song interpreter shine brighter than ever before, making him sound even more like the Possum.
4. "Louisiana Hot Sauce"
Kershaw namedrops his home state while singing about the same kind of gal that knocked most of his peers off their bar stools. With that killer piano part, it sounds like Skynyrd's Billy Powell hit the studio with Tim McGraw.
3. "National Working Woman's Holiday"
Now this is how you sing about an unnamed woman in a country song without sounding tone deaf. It's a sincere anthem for the working women in your life, and it has definitely aged better than a lot of recent hits sang by dudes.
2. "Cadillac Style"
The greatest talent in Kershaw's toolbox may be his ability to lead a white-hot band, making studio recordings like this early classic, "Got a Lock on My Love," "A Little Bitty Crack in Her Heart," "Tennessee Girl" and others fiery singles into something he could recapture as an on-stage showman.
1. "She Don't Know She's Beautiful"
Kershaw only reached the top of the Hot Country charts once, with this sweet and sentimental 1993 hit. That seems somehow wrong. Less memorable artists got to have multiple hits, it seems, while Kershaw always churned out solid albums as consistently as most of his peers. That's probably a silver lining--had Kershaw chased hits and not the sounds of Jones and other greats, he might be the multi-hit pop star that time forgot.
This post was originally published on May 15, 2018.