My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Monthly Archives: April 2009

1989 Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Sunrise’

sunriseAfter a very turbulent childhood, which sadly ended with her alcoholic father killing her mother and then himself, Shelby moved to Nashville with her younger sister Allison, who is also a singer. Barely out of her teens, she started playing bars and clubs to support herself and her sister. After appearing on a TV show, Shelby inked a deal with Epic Records, releasing her first single, a duet with George Jones, called “If I Could Bottle This Up” in 1988. Even though it was only a very minor hit, her debut album Sunrise still followed the year after, something that would be very unlikely in today’s business. Paired with legendary producer Billy Sherrill, one would think that the end results could be nothing less than amazing.  And they aren’t. From the first note of the first song, “The Hurtin’ Side”, Lynne’s voice is established as a force to be reckoned with, and I can honestly say that it’s one of the very best in any genre;  it possesses both power and vulnerability, radiating emotion on every song. “The Hurtin’ Side” is about a lost love, whom Shelby still can’t get over.

There’s a river of feeling somewhere
And I’m told it flows deep and wide
But this mountain of memories I’m climbing
Keep me here on the hurtin’ side

The production of the track comes off as outdated, like many other uptempo numbers from this era do. Still, the lyrics of the song coming from the mouth of 19 year old Shelby (which is how old Taylor Swift is now), who sings with the conviction of an experienced forty year old, can be described as nothing less than great. Like LeAnn Rimes, Shelby showed an amazing ability of conveying  emotion at a very young age, and that ability is present on the entire album. “Little Bits And Lightning” is a song that deserves nothing less than classic status. The lyrics are nothing less than timeless, the topic being a lost love that the narrator’s trying to find again, but all she can find is “Little Bits And Pieces”.

But all I found were little bits and pieces
Odds and ends of things we tore in two
But all I found were little bits and pieces
But I couldn’t find one piece of love that belonged to me and you

Billy Sherrill’s production is glossy, which fits Shelby’s voice well. Shelby’s vocal is, as always, sublime, and her performance is pretty much the definition of heartbreak. Few people can claim to achieve such things at age 19.

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1989 Album Review: George Strait – ‘Beyond The Blue Neon’

beyondtheblueneonIf you’re looking for a solid classic George Strait album with some pleasant variety that’s cleanly country without all the over production, this one’s for you. Released the winter of 1989 in the year he received both the ACM and CMA Entertainer of the Year awards, Beyond The Blue Neon is King George’s 12th album and another #1 on Top Country Albums.

‘Neon’ produced a significant number of popular singles, 3 of which went to #1 themselves, and has been certified platinum. It’s got a mix of Western swing, ballads, tear-in-your-beer and dance tunes. It feels as though this one came straight out of a juke box somewhere, or better yet, you’ve picked up a recording of a live session in a honky tonk.

The title song sets that juke box, honky tonk, pool hall tone with a pleasant slow jazzy tune that features George at his best – crooning. This gem written by Larry Boone and Paul Nelson gives the album its cover image in the first verse:

‘Swingin’ doors
Sawdust floors
A heartache drowns as the whiskey pours
There’s a hole in the wall
From some free for all
The ringin’ crack of that old cue ball’

Larry recorded it first on his 1988 Swingin’ Doors, Sawdust Floors album.

Next up is the wonderful, dry humored ‘Hollywood Squares’. It’s a fun, pure-country novelty number featuring some great fiddle and a hook to make you smile: I got so many ex’s and owe so much/I ought to be on Hollywood squares. Though it was never released as a single, it charted at #67 and was included on a couple of later collections as a favorite.

The third song, and coincidently the third single, ‘Overnight Success’ reached #8 in 1990. Weeping steel highlights this traditional sad one’s hook: And if you planned on hurtin’ me/you’re an overnight success. What’s kept George at the top for so many years is his selection of songs, and this one’s a perfect example of a winning combination of a great song and his understated style.

‘Ace in the Hole’ is an upbeat swing tune with great instrumentation featuring the band and back up singers subtly doing their stuff to give George an awesome platform, but shining on a wonderful solo section. Appropriately, ‘Ace in the Hole’ features the band since it also bears the name of the band, and was one of George’s aces with a #1 on the charts. It’s one of my favorites – love the swing numbers on this album.

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1989 Album Review: Vern Gosdin – ‘Alone’

verngosdinalone1The great Vern Gosdin died today, aged 74. That makes this reminder of his superb album from 1989, one drenched in sorrow and regret in its own right, all the more poignant.

Vern was actually at the height of his career in 1989, both in terms of commercial and artistic success, even though he was well into his 50s and far older than most of his chart contemporaries. He was not only one of the greatest ever purveyors of heartbreak in song as a singer, he was also an extremely fine songwriter, who co-wrote most of his best known songs, including ‘Chiseled In Stone’ and ‘Set ‘Em Up Joe’. Composed and recorded just after Vern’s marriage broke up, Alone is full of songs of lost love, all but one co-written by Vern. Most are agonized ballads, a style perfectly suited to Vern’s intense but subtle delivery. Vern’s voice was at its very best. The production, from Bob Montgomery, who was also at the helm for Vern’s big breakthrough album Chiseled In Stone the previous year, is pure country, perfectly in sympathy with Vern’s voice and the nature of the songs, and heavy on the steel guitar.

The one song Vern did not share in writing is the title track, contributed by his regular writing partner Max D Barnes. This opens as an agonised ballad with weeping steel guitar – “Alone – at a table for two”.
Although the song ends happily with the girl he fears has left him showing up after all, just late for their date and “my heart started beating once more”, the feel of the song is redolent of the anguish of loss and loneliness revealed throughout the set.

Barnes also co-wrote with Vern the opening track ‘That Just About Does It’, a resigned take on a marriage with nothing left but tears, which was a top 5 single. They also wrote the despairing ‘I’m Only Going Crazy’, as Vern addresses his ex-wife:

“Take the house, take our dreams, take the car, take everything,
Things just won’t be the way they were before
Take it all, take your time, take what’s yours, take what’s mine,
Where I’m going I just won’t need it anymore …
I’m only going crazy
I’ve already made the turn”

Songwriting great Hank Cochran also teams up with Vern on several tracks. ‘Take Me Home To Alabama’ has the narrator longing to return home, and although the lyric does not spell out why he has been away or why he wants to go home now, some unspoken sorrow fills every mournful note. The pair are joined by Mack Vickery for the top 10 hit ‘Right In The Wrong Direction’, a sardonic midtempo number addressed to an errant wife:

“Well your office called to say you wouldn’t be long
Since when did your boss get a jukebox of his own
When I called to see how long you’d be they said you’d been long gone
You’re headed right in the wrong direction, honey, if you wanna come home”

Less successful is the Caribbean feel of ‘Tanqueray’, where the theme of attempting to drink away the unhappy memories on a beach is set to steel drums rather than steel guitar. I think this song, written by Vern, Cochran, Mack Vickery and J Vest, would have worked better for Vern given a more conventional country production. It was a failure when released as a single.

One of the finest songs is ‘Do Me A Favor’, a bitter reproach to the woman leaving and her attempts to rationalize her departure, set to a devastatingly slow ballad tune drenched with steel, and is the product of a threeway writing session between Vern, Cochran and Buddy Cannon:

“All these favors you say you are doing,
Like your staying would just hold me back
But your leaving could be my ruin
Honey let me say this about that

 

Do me a favor, don’t do me no favors
If your favor means the end of my dreams”

Buddy Cannon, another regular collaborator with Vern, also cowrote the first single from the album, Vern’s last #1 hit, ‘I’m Still Crazy’, with Vern and Steve Gosdin, who I presume is a relative. There are no real uptempo cuts on the album, but this track picks up the pace a bit. It’s still about losing a loved one: he used to be crazy over her, but now “I’m still crazy, but I’m not over you”. Vern and Buddy teamed up with Mike Baker to write ‘Paradise ’83′, in which a vacation fails to take the protagonist’s mind off his loss, as “for me there’s been no paradise since 1983″. This is another desperately sad ballad immaculately performed by Vern.

Vern and Buddy also wrote the closing track, ‘You’re Not By Yourself’, yet another beautifully realized expression of losing a loved one:

“You’re leaving without a reason,
At least a reason you just won’t say,
You won’t tell me where you’re going or if you’re going to stay
And if you thought your leaving would kill me
Honey would you still go anyway?
And if you thought your staying would save me
Oh, I’m ready to be saved.

 

You say you’re not leaving for somebody else
I guess I believe that is true
And if you find your future is the past that you left
And if you’re all alone you’re not by youself”.

Grade: A+

This album is not formally available, but cheap used copies are easy to get hold of.

And if you want a taster of Vern, Country California is offering a giveaway of his Super Hits at the ‘Last Vern Gosdin Giveaway’.

Also check out “The Voice” Remembered: A Tribute to Vern Gosdin at The 9513.

Recommendation: Hillbilly songs

lorettalynnLast week my recommendation took on an Urban Cowboy theme. This week I want to go back a little farther to the true hillbilly singers. Some people – particularly those from this bygone era – took the term as an insult. Hillbilly was usually said in disdain by the oh-so sophisticated Yankees and anybody else who just didn’t understand the lifestyle. Coming from the hills of Appalachia, the dusty plains of Tornado Alley, and the vast wilderness of the Northwest United States, these hillbillies created a music that was widely commercially successful by the early 1960s, prompting even more hillbilles to dream of Nashville and success in the music business. Loretta Lynn was chief among these.

Lynn was born in Butcher Holler, Kentucky, just outside the town of Pikeville.  The daughter of a coal miner, married at 13, she had 5 children by the time she was 19. Loretta Lynn (and her generation) are really the last of the true hillbillies.  Her music drips with the kind of energy that only comes from desperate isolation.  Today’s ‘hillbillies’ are too much a benefactor of interstates of the internet to really appreciate the hardships their parents and grandparents experienced.

Yeah I’m proud to be a coal miner’s daughter/I remember well the well where I drew water/The work we done was hard, at night we’d sleep cause we were tired

So my recommendation today is the ultimate hillbilly anthem, a touch of true Americana — not the subgenre of country music — but Americana as in a slice of the American lifestyle.  Loretta Lynn wrote ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ in early 1969, and after its release in 1970 it quickly became her signature song.  The song tells of Loretta’s early life in the hills of Kentucky; reading the Bible at night, scrubbing clothes on a washboard, and getting a new pair of shoes come Winter after her Daddy sold a hog.  This lifestyle is now gone with the wind, but will forever be remembered in song.

So what are your favorite hillbillly songs?  And what do you think makes them authentic?

Listen to Loretta Lynn – ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’.

Single Review: Tanya Tucker with Jim Lauderdale – ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here’

tanya_tuckerWhen Tanya Tucker enlisted the aid of Pete Anderson to produce an album covering classic country songs, it was perhaps inevitable that at least one Buck Owens song would be included in the project. Anderson is, of course, famous for his work with Owens’ friend and protege Dwight Yoakam. He also produced Sara Evans’ 1997 debut album Three Chords and the Truth which also included an Owens cover.

“Love’s Gonna Live Here” is the advance single from the forthcoming album My Turn , and Tucker’s first release to country radio since 2003′s “Old Weakness (Coming On Strong)”. Tucker is joined by the criminally underrated Jim Lauderdale, who provides guest vocals, and at times sounds like he is channeling the spirit of old Buck himself. As always, Tucker is in good vocal form. This version deviates from the 1963 original slightly in that the steel guitar is featured prominently (as it should be) in the break between verses.

The Bakersfield sound is so closely associated with Buck Owens, it is impossible to hear one of his songs, even a cover version, without thinking of him. From the first note of the FenderTelecaster, the listener immediately knows that this is a Buck Owens song. As a result, Tucker doesn’t quite succeed in making it her own, but she is hardly alone in that respect. Where she does succeed is in providing a faithful and respectful version of a timeless classic.

“Love’s Gonna Live Here” is available as a digital download from all of the major digital retailers, including iTunes and Amazon MP3.

Songwriter: Buck Owens

Grade: B+

1989 Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Sweet Sixteen’

Sweet SixteenAfter making a surprise 180° turnaround with 1988′s pop-oriented Reba, the singer alienated many traditional country fans, and Sweet Sixteen was an attempt to recapture them. Now, Sweet Sixteen is in no way a traditional album the way The Last One To Know was a traditional album, but it’s still considerably more country than Reba. With some fiddle and steel (and, inexplicably, a lot of sax), Reba set out to reel in some old fans, while keeping the new ones she gained with Reba. The question is: did she succeed in making an album that appeals to all groups?

The set opens with the lead single, a cover of  The Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown”, in which Reba assumes the part of a third woman, who desperately wants the male in the song, but he’s too busy being “Cathy’s Clown”. Surprisingly it works, and in this writer’s opinion, the song has never sounded better. Apparently, the general public thought so too, as this became a smash #1 hit. The second track, “‘Til Love Comes Again”, a top 5 hit, offers a more traditional arrangement, which works in Reba’s favor. It has sadly become one of Reba’s more obscure hits, and is unfortunately not a song that today’s radio audience is familiar with.

“It Always Rains On Saturday” is a song Reba penned with the writers of “Whoever’s In New England” (Kendal Franchesci and Quentin Powers), and it pleases me to say that it’s completely on par with the classic that it inevitably will be compared with. Reba is listed as a co-writer on 3 of the album’s tracks.  The narrator is a single mother who feels very lonely when her son goes off with his father on weekends.

On Monday the sun really shined
On Tuesday the weather was fine
Wednesday and Thursday went by
By Friday the clouds filled the sky

Instead, she uses the weather as a metaphor for what’s going on inside her mind, which is a very interesting ploy that really works.

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Class of ’89 Album Review: ‘Garth Brooks’

garthbrooksdebutGarth Brooks’ debut album is the only diamond-selling Class of ’89 album.  It’s success was eclipsed only by Garth Brooks’ own album releases into the early 1990s.  While the album peaked at only #2 on the country albums chart and #13 on the all-genre chart, its singles sent Garth Brooks’ star soaring into the stratosphere, where it has remained since.  Producer Allen Reynolds, with whom Garth had worked exclusively for his entire career (save for his venture into the Chris Gaines alter ego) delivers some of the most traditional recordings of Garth’s storied career for this album and makes for some awesome tracks that still sound great twenty years after their release.

The album opens with the swinging ‘Not Counting You’ which was written by Garth and served as the album’s third single. This song sounds like it would be perfectly at home on any of George Strait’s records from the time, and was perhaps Garth’s tribute to his Stetson-wearing hero.  ‘I’ve Got A Good Thing Going’ is a stone-country lament complete with twin fiddles and is still one of my favorites.  The first #1 hit from this release is up next in the now-classic ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’.  One of my favorite things about Garth Brooks was the instant recognizability of his songs, and this was the first example of that.  With the first strum of the guitar licks, it’s evident you’re listening to this chestnut.

The elegant ‘Everytime That It Rains’ follows.  Garth relates the story of two old flames who meet again years later to share a dance.  While dancing they realize the flame of their love is long gone as he sings ‘If we ever had a flame/Now it’s over and only the memory remains‘.  I always thought it was a shame this song was never released to radio.  The story of a young man who leaves his Daddy’s Alabama farm for the lights of the big city before coming home to raise his family makes the basis for ‘Alabama Clay’, another excellent traditional story song.

Co-written by Garth with Larry Bastian, ‘Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)’ is a song anybody over 21 can relate to at one point or another and was the album’s lead single.  It was also Garth’s first top 10 hit, peaking at #8 on the charts.  This song rekindled the career of Chris LeDoux in the mainstream with the line ‘a worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze/Seem to be the only friends I’ve left at all’.  Vivid imagery, a killer hook, and a singable melody make this a radio staple still today.

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1989 Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Back In The Fire’

backinthefire11989 was supposed to be a new start for Gene Watson. He had been one of relatively few traditional country artists flying the flag for real country during the Urban Cowboy era of the earlier 80s, so the neotraditional revival should have given him a great opportunity. He signed to Warner Brothers, and a management deal with Lib Hatcher, Randy Travis’ manager (and later wife). Sadly, after a promising start, it didn’t quite work out and, like George Jones, he ceased to be a presence on the charts. The management deal collapsed too, as Hatcher was, understandably, more focused on Randy’s career.

Regardless of commercial success, though, Back In The Fire is a very fine record. It was given a good, solid country production by the reliable team of Paul Worley and Ed Seay, supplemented by Gregg Brown, who is credited in the liner notes with picking the songs. Gene is in great voice, and the songs are mostly superb and ideally suited to Gene’s style. It was the first Gene Watson album I ever bought, and it made me a fan.

The opening track, ‘Don’t Waste It On The Blues’, is a relaxed jazzy swinger with a seductive vocal about a night too nice to waste on being depressed (“there’s nothing like a walk in the moonlight to let love run away with your heart”). It was released as the lead-off single, reaching #5 on Billboard late in 1988. The title track, a pleasantly sultry mid-tempo number about returning to an old flame composed by Mike Reid and Rory Michael Bourke, one of the most successful writing combinations of the period, was released as the follow-up, but disappointingly only just made the top 20. To be fair, it is not a very memorable song, although the vocal is great. In fact these first two singles are my least favorite tracks on the album.

Gene’s last ever top 40 hit was a much better song than either of these – the thoroughly enjoyable ‘The Jukebox Played Along’, written by Ken Bell and Charles Quillen. It is one of those songs whose lyric references other great country songs and singers; in this case tied to a tale of the heartbroken protagonist finding his valiant efforts to drown his pain by excessive consumption of alcohol undermined by another patron of the bar feeding the jukebox and playing a load of sad songs (or as the song puts it, “I must have heard ten dollars worth of hell”). The songs cited make a pretty great playlist for the broken-hearted: ‘Crying Time’, ‘You Were Always On My Mind’, ‘Born To Lose’, ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’, ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’, ‘There Goes My Everything’, ‘Golden Ring’, ‘Singing The Blues’ and rather amusingly, Gene’s own signature hit ‘Farewell Party’. Also mentioned are a couple of more then-recent hits for the benefit of younger listeners, Randy Travis’ ‘Diggin’ Up Bones’, and Ricky Van Shelton’s ‘Somebody Lied’.

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Class of ’89 Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘State Of The Heart’

stateoftheheart1Singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter’s second album (her first album saw no singles released from it) and it’s four breakthrough top 20 singles gave her a solid place in the Class of ’89.  Originally released through Columbia Nashville, State Of The Heart rose to #28 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and has been certified gold.  

State of the Heart contains the beginnings of Carpenter’s transition from folk into country and features her signature rich lyrics in a mix of both styles. She wrote every song on the album with the exception of ‘Quittin Time’ and a bit of co-authoring from John Jennings on ‘Never Had It So Good.’ 

‘How Do’ kicks off the set with a high energy dance tune that’ll get your feet tapping and your heart pumpin’. It’s a country version of “How do you do” and one of those “I’d like to meet you” numbers, perfect for a Honky Tonk, summed up best in the line, ‘Here’s a local girl/Who wants to show you around’. There’s some great instrumental solo work on this one which made it to #19 on the Hot Country Singles chart.  I don’t know what its competition was on radio, but this one deserved to go higher. 

She slows it down, but only a bit, with the next one, ‘Something Of a Dreamer’. Its lilting acoustic guitar picking and her clear folksy voice give it that optimistic dreamer feel. For some reason I could hear Trisha Yearwood doing a great cover of this one. Carpenter’s lyrics paint a poetic picture of love from afar and the chorus is catchy:

    ‘She’s something of a dreamer 
    Something of a fool 
    Something of a heartbreak 
    When she gives her heart to you’

‘Dreamer’ rose to #14 and was her 4th top 20 from this album on the Hot Country Singles chart. 

Next up is ‘Never Had It So Good’ which has a great hook: ‘You never had it so good babe/I never had it so bad’. It made it to #8 on the chart as the second single released to radio, but personally I think the hook is the best part of it. It’s just not as interesting as the first two cuts which have much more to offer instrumentally and lyrically. And Mary doesn’t sound as invested in this one either. 

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Is it guilty in here?

The E.N.D., by The Black Eyed Peas

The E.N.D., by The Black Eyed Peas

I have a confession to make- it may destroy any credibility I might have had here and it may drive away readers, but here it is: I’m addicted to the song “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas. On Tuesday a friend of mine sang two lines of the song, before I had even heard it, and when I heard the whole song, I got hooked. I know it’s a nonsensical and terrible song, but it’s so infectious that I can’t stop, I even know all the words…

So it’s weird, but I like having it stuck in my head, no matter how embarrassing, I actually love the song! This hasn’t happened since Sugarland released “All I Want To Do” over the summer. After the song came out, I went on a 10 day backpacking trip and that song was constantly playing over and over. At one point I whistled the song, and it actually started getting stuck in other people’s heads- even when they’d never heard it before! Then I looked around on the internet to see this song getting lambasted, so I felt like I couldn’t say that I liked it because so many others hated it!

Want to hear some more of mine? “Feel That Fire” by Dierks Bentley, “Lucky 4 U (Tonight I’m Just Me)” by SHeDAISY, “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” by Beyoncé and “Love Story” by Taylor Swift. Obviously these songs tend to be not very country, but still, I want to know:

What songs are your guilty pleasures?

If you really want to hear it, here’s a link to see the music video for “Boom Boom Pow”. I sire hope none of you like it…

Week ending 4/25/09: #1 this week in country music history

Charley Pride

Charley Pride

1949: Candy Kisses — George Morgan (Columbia)

1959: White Lightning — George Jones (Mercury)

1969: Galveston — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1979: Where Do I Put Her Memory – Charley Pride (RCA)

1989: The Church on Cumberland Road — Shenandoah (Columbia)

1999: How Forever Feels — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

The ‘Playlist’ feature

georgestraitLast Thursday’s ”Playlist” feature on George Strait seems to have been well received, so we’ll be making more posts like this about other artists in the future. In addition, whenever possible, we’re going to publish the playlists we discuss in the iTunes store under “iMixes”, for anyone who wants to purchase all or some of the songs. None of us here makes any money off this; it’s just done to make it more convenient for those who want to add these songs to their music collections. The George Strait playlist can be found here. More will be added as other artists are discussed. Be sure to visit the iTunes store and rate these iMixes.

Brad Paisley ‘Playlist’ album

paisleyThis topic came up a few weeks ago when we were discussing the Brad Paisley and Sara Evans duet “New Again”. Some of you were looking for the song as a digital download. We were able to find it on the new Brad Paisley “Playlist” collection, but it was only available in CD format. I just discovered that the album is available digitally at Walmart MP3:

Missing from radio?

randytravis2A comment made by Kevin at Country Universe got me to thinking more about the minuscule playlists of today’s country radio stations.  Satellite radio almost seemed like a savior for the format at one point, but since that idea didn’t really catch on with the mainstream even enough to affect the Top 40, hope for the classic country stations that popped up on subscriber radio has since been lost.  It’s always been beyond me why so many radio stations have consistently-shrinking playlists.

Every station (even the one in your town) will have a list (albeit undersized) of recurrents from the past 15-20 years they still play regularly.  But this list is usually limited to artists who are still making waves or are favorites of the program director for that station.  Much has been said about the small playlists at radio – across all genres.  And the consensus always seems to be the same: the listeners want a wider variety.  So why aren’t program directors and music consultants listening?  And why can’t we hear hits from the 1950s and 60s mixed in with today’s hits?

The first question is the hardest to answer.  Radio is obviously a business and their goal is to acquire – and keep – as many listeners as possible.  More listeners mean the commercials are worth more money.  So it’s understandable that radio chooses to play it safe.  However, there are several downsides to this, not the least of which being the shrinking playlists.  But this play-it-safe approach also makes it harder for new artists to break through and for veteran artists to take many risks.  A good example of this is Alan Jackson’s Like Red On A Rose album.  Jackson has been a radio staple since his debut album, but  the two singles released performed poorly, with neither reaching the top spot at radio, and a third single not being released.  As a result the album became Alan’s first not to reach platinum status.

Now, even though some stations still play selected classic country songs, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a station playing anything recorded before 1980.  I think the main reason for this is that the sounds of country music have evolved so much over the past 3 decades that there’s a huge schism between classic and contemporary.  The classics that do hold up alongside today’s hits don’t sound as vastly different from their contemporary counterparts.  Those that do are relegated to the classic stations.

On one hand, you have artists like Randy Travis and Dolly Parton, both of whom delivered excellent albums last year and both had songs as good or better than the current Top 40.  Neither Travis or Parton were able to score a significant radio hit from their latest releases.  Then we have artists like Tanya Tucker and Hank Williams Jr. whose hit-making days are also past and aren’t releasing singles to radio with the consistency they used to.  Still, Tanya and Bocephus made the kind of records that stand the test of time.  Their music should still be played today alongside the latest hits.   

What artists do you think should still be played on the radio that are being ignored right now?  And why do you think their music can stand the test of time?

Single Review: Hank Williams, Jr. – ‘Red, White & Pink Slip Blues’

Artwork for Hank Williams, Jr's new single "Red, White & Pink Slip Blues"

Artwork for Hank Williams, Jr's new single "Red, White & Pink Slip Blues"

Here at My Kind of Country we tend to discuss music that we enjoy, which is why very negative single and album reviews are rare here.  I’ve never been a huge Hank Williams, Jr. fan; he’s made some music that I’ve really liked as well as some I just couldn’t stand.  I’ve never bought any of his albums.   And I think we’ve all become a little jaded over the past several years from the string of often mediocre patriotic songs and songs like “Shutting Detroit Down” that seem to pander to country music’s perceived conservative fan base.   For those reasons, I was apprehensive when J.R. asked me to review the new Bocephus single, “Red, White & Pink Slip Blues.”   I hadn’t heard the song yet and really wasn’t sure what to expect but I didn’t have high hopes that I would really like it very much.

Now that I’ve actually heard the song, I’m pleasantly surprised to find that I quite like it.  It’s easily the strongest single Hank Jr. has released in years.  The heavily blues-influenced production complements his strong vocal performance and helps to convey the feelings of desperation that the protagonist is feeling in the aftermath of losing his factory job.   The pain is apparent when he sings, “I paid my bills, I paid my dues, I paid my share of taxes too.  Now I can’t even buy my baby shoes.”  The song ends with the background singers asking, “Is anybody listenin’?” and Bocephus saying, “Politicians, we’re talkin’ to you.”   But to the credit of  Mark Stephen Jones and Bud Tower, who wrote the song, it avoids self-pity and perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t try to assess blame on another group of people.  The protagonist is venting, and expressing feelings of frustration that too many people are feeling these days.

It’s a pity that song is unlikely to get much attention from country radio, because it’s the perfect antidote to the mindlessly positive fluff that is permeating the airwaves there.

And now, having dutifully completed this review, I’m off to buy some Bocephus music for the very first time.

Grade: A

“Red, White & Pink Slip Blues” is available as a digital download from iTunes and Amazon.

1989 Album Review: George Jones, One Woman Man

onewomanmanToday is St. George’s Day. Following on from Razor X’s great George Strait playlist, I’m taking a look at the ultimate country George: George Jones, and linking it to our look back at 1989.

George is rightly regarded by many fans as the greatest country singer of all time, with a rich, expressive voice capable of unfettered emotion. He can deliver a heartbreak ballad better than almost anyone. His career started in the 1950s, and although his voice has lost some of its power, he was still recording a couple of years ago. In 1989 he was coming to the end of his hitmaking career, although he still had a decade ahead releasing albums on a major label. Although country radio was open to traditional sounds at that time, they had already started to prefer younger faces as the video era kicked in.

The set gets off to a great start with a lively cover of the title track, a hit for Johnny Horton in the 1950s, with George showing the range of his voice from a low growl in the verse to a high hillbilly wail on the chorus. It was his first top 10 hit for a couple of years, reaching #5. Sadly, it was also his last ever top 10. This may be partly due to an unfortunate coincidence. The label had planned that the follow-up single would be another cover, Hank Cochran’s exquisite and much-recorded ‘Don’t You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurting Me)’. George’s version is, of course, superb, and certainly should have been a massive hit. Unfortunately for George, fellow-veteran Ronnie Milsap had hit on the same idea, and his version (also very fine) was released as a single before George’s label, Epic, had the chance to send his to radio. The song went to #1 on Billboard for Ronnie.

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Playlist: Favorite George Strait songs

George Strait

George Strait

Thursday, April 23rd, is St. George’s Day. George is the name of the patron saint of England. One of the most prominent of the military saints, legend has it that George slayed a dragon that had been terrorizing the people of Silene, in modern-day Libya, doing so on the condition that they convert to Christianity.

And of course, George is also the name of a few very important figures in country music, so this seemed like a good opportunity to dig a little bit into the back catalog of one of them. What follows is a chronological listing of some George Strait songs that, while not necessarily essential or definitive, are my personal favorites:

1. Amarillo By Morning (1983). Included on Strait’s 1982 sophomore album Strait from the Heart, “Amarillo by Morning” was released as a single in early 1983. It had previously been recorded by one of its co-writers Terry Stafford in 1973, Chris LeDoux in 1975 and Asleep at the Wheel in 1981. All of those renditions, however, were eclipsed by Strait’s. This is the first George Strait song I can remember hearing on the radio that really made an impact on me. At the time I didn’t realize it was a song about a rodeo rider. The lines “I hope that judge ain’t blind”, and “I ain’t rich, but Lord I’m free” made me think it was a song about someone who had been wrongfully imprisoned and was hoping to appear before a judge to have the conviction overturned. Eventually, I figured out that wasn’t what the song was about, but it remained a favorite anyway.

2. Right or Wrong (1984). This old Bob Wills classic has been recorded countless times. My collection includes versions by Merle Haggard and Reba McEntire with Asleep at the Wheel, but Strait’s version was the first one I ever heard. It is the only version to have gone to #1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart. It topped the chart in early 1984, becoming Strait’s fourth #1 hit.

3. Let’s Fall To Pieces Together (1984). The follow up to “Right or Wrong”, this was Strait’s fifth #1 hit. I’ve always thought it was a shame that he and producer Ray Baker only made one album together.

4. Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind (1984). The title track to Strait’s 1984 album, this marks the beginning of the “modern” George Strait. It was his first single to be produced by Jimmy Bowen, and by this time he’d begun to develop his trademark crooning-style, which was a much more relaxed style than some of his earlier releases. This song had been turned down by Reba McEntire, who didn’t feel comfortable singing it because of the line about “cold Fort Worth beer.”

5. Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her (1986). The lead single to the album #7, this song was previously recorded by its composer Dean Dillon, who has written many, many hits for George Strait. It was also included on Keith Whitley’s 1985 album L.A. to Miami, but wasn’t released as a single. This is one of Strait’s best vocal performances. He captures perfectly the pain and torment of the protagonist, who regrets having walked out on a woman that he comes to realize too late that he still loves.

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Special spotlight – 9 to 5: The Musical

The Marquis in New York City, taken by yours truly!

The Marquis in New York City, taken by yours truly

Last week I had the opportunity to go to New York City to tour and visit, for the first time in my life. We did all the usual tourist things, but my favorite part? Going to see the brand new musical, 9 to 5. It was in the Marquis Theatre, right on Times Square, right in the middle of the bustling center of the city. Based on the 1980 film Nine to Five, starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin, with music written by Dolly herself, it was quite a treat. The musical even features the song “Backwoods Barbie”, from Dolly’s latest album.

Now I’m sure many of you have seen the movie, but I had not, so I had no idea what it was about, making it a fresh experience for me. For those of you who don’t know much about the plot, 3 women in an office, circa 1979, deal with their lying, hypocritical and egotistical boss. The plot has a lot to do with independent women in a place and time that was harsh to women.

Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block and Megan Hilty

Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block and Megan Hilty.

The 3 starring roles were played by Allison Janney (From the West Wing), Stephanie J. Block (Was Elphaba in Wicked, previously) and Megan Hilty (Was Glinda in Wicked previously) and they were all fantastic. They could all sing, of course, but Megan Hilty had an especially big *ahem* dress to fill, seeing as she plays Dolly’s role. They excelled, with Hilty doing an entertaining Dolly impression, and they were all very entertaining to watch!

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1989 Album Review: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken Volume Two’

200px-circle_ii_album_coverAlongside our reviews of albums produced by the ‘Class of ’89′, we’ve been taking the opportunity to look in depth at some of the other great albums released that year. Perhaps the most ambitious of those was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s second Will The Circle Be Unbroken project, which harks back to the early days of country music and shows how that heritage was still influential.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band started out in the California folk-rock movement of the 1960s. They revealed their country leanings in 1972 when they produced a legendary triple LP entitled Will The Circle Be Unbroken in collaboration with some of the seminal figures of bluegrass and old-time country music, including Roy Acuff, Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family, bluegrass great Earl Scruggs and many others – mostly artists who were past their commercial peaks. If the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had never again ventured into country music, this album alone would have sealed their place in the music’s history.

In the 1980s, however, after a period using the name the Dirt Band, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band rebranded themselves and forged a very successful career in contemporary country music. In 1988, they decided the time had come to produce a follow-up to their classic. Many of the original collaborators had died, and this time the guests included some contemporary acts and some artists from outside country music altogether, or who were from related genres. The album liner notes say, “This time they drew the circle bigger”, and talk about “the many hyphenated hybrid styles writers have used to describe all sorts of American music that comes from the heart. Big enough to embrace gospel, blues, honky tonk, Cajun and traditional folksong”. In other words, the term might not have been invented yet — but in many ways this was perhaps one of the the first self-consciously Americana albums. The result was a little more commercial-sounding than the original, but it strikes a fine balance between showcasing musical history and showing that that heritage was a living thing. Read more of this post

Q&A with Tanya Tucker

Tanya Tucker

Tanya Tucker

Yesterday, The 9513 included in their news roundup a Q&A session with Tanya Tucker about her upcoming covers album, My Turn, which will be released on June 2nd on Saguaro Road Records. I just stumbled upon a more complete version of that interview. Particularly interesting was her revelation that she’s only partnering up with Time-Life for this one project. I’d still like to know when the long anticipated Lonesome Town will see the light of day.

Click here to read the interview.

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