Vern’s days of major chart success were about over by the time Nickels and Dimes and Love was released in March 1993, not surprisingly for an artist 58 years old. Although the hits had largely stopped, the excellent recordings continued in abundance. This album has a little different history behind it than Vern’s other Columbia releases as producer Rick Hall took Vern to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to record this album.
Vern had been off the charts for over a year when Columbia released ”Back When” as a single. Since the single only reached #67, Columbia gave up on Vern. Without major label backing, there would be no more chart singles for Vern Gosdin, and no more major label albums, except for various hit collections.
The album opens with the title track, a nostalgic look at the early years of a successful relationship, when times were tough and money was in short supply. This song falls in the usual medium-slow groove that Gosdin favored. The song may be familiar to some as a track on John Michael Montgomery’s Life’s A Dance album.
Remember when pocket change was all we had
And all those calls from the corner phone booth collect to mom and dad
And that old worn out couch was called our bed
When our cuisine was pork and beans, baloney and day old bread.
Remember that damn old car that kept on breaking down
And all the times it left me stranded thumbing all over town
And that old weekly paycheck just never stretched enough
Back in the times of nickels and dimes and love.
Although not a hit, the Hugh Prestwood-penned “Back When” was an excellent song, yet another nostalgic look back, but this time at a relationship that is struggling. I’m not sure that the song ever would have been a huge hit, but it likely would have been a top twenty record had it been released a few years earlier. Tempo of the song would be described as medium fast and a banjo is discernable along with outstanding fiddle and steel guitar.
Back when these cloudy hearts were sunny skies
And there were stars, not teardrops in these eyes
We wouldn’t even let the moon get blue
Darling I swear we need to get back to – back when
“Where The Tall Grass Grows” follows up the theme of looking back, this time on a relationship, his own, that is over. This song would be recorded by several artists, including George Jones and Ricky Van Shelton.
There’s three bedrooms, hardwood flooring and the kitchen’s new
It’s got everything a family needs with a backyard view
Ask anyone where it is, everybody knows
Who used to live here, where the tall grass grows.
The first three songs were all outside material. We now come to the first of five songs Vern co-wrote. Jukeboxes were, at one time, a frequent topic of country songs. The year 1993 saw two such songs chart in Doug Supernaw’s excellent “Honky Tonkin’ Fool” (a song that deserved better than being marooned at #50) and Joe Diffie’s “Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox” (it reached #3). Vern’s nice medium-tempo ballad , “Bury Me In A Jukebox”, would have made a good single release as it is a better song than either the Diffie or Supernaw songs.
I’ve been hangin’ in here every night since you’ve been gone
This old honky tonk’s become my home away from home
I even got my favorite chair
It always sits right here
There by the jukebox, where I don’t feel so alone
Every time I put my money in
I hear the saddest song
My friends on the jukebox don’t mind if I sing along
So bury me in a jukebox when I die
Every time I think of her I get so lonesome I could cry
And it takes me up to heaven when they play made in heaven
Bury me in a jukebox when I die
Another piece of outside material, this time from the trio of Auldridge, Nicholson and Trils, “Any Old Miracle” is another slow ballad, this one of a distressed man asking God for a small miracle, this miracle in the form of some help in forgetting a lost love.
It’s late, and I sure do hate to bother you
But I know you’re the only one
Who knows what I’ve been goin’ through
It’s her, keepin’ me up all night again
And Lord I just had to call on you
To ask a favor of a friend
Any ol’ miracle that you could send me down
Don’t go to too much trouble Lord
What ever you might have around
‘Cause I’m never gettin’ over her
Without some help from you
I’m gonna need a miracle
Any ol’ miracle will do
“I Like My Country Music Kinda Rock”, another Vern co-write, is a bit disingenuous, since I’ve seen little evidence that Vern ever had much rock in his soul. This song would be best described as up-tempo country, with very country instrumentation. I really like the song and feel it might have made a good single.
“Two Good People With a Love Gone Bad” is a fine duet with Janie Fricke. Written by Vern Gosdin, Buddy Cannon and Dean Dillon, this slow ballad shows just how good a duet can sound when a pair of excellent, compatible voices are paired up.
Vern’s composition “What Are We Gonna Do About Me” attempts to show the perspective of a the child in divorce proceedings. The perspective of the child is a sad perspective, no doubt, when the topic is divorce. My folks were married for 54 years so it’s not a matter I personally ever had to face. “Gone in a Heartbeat” is another slow ballad provided by other writers. A cautionary ballad about taking someone for granted.
“Better Time to Say Goodbye” reunites songwriters Cannon, Dillon and Gosdin, and closes the album with a sad slow ballad, this one detailing the final act of the break-up.
Few artists have ever exited a record label with such an exquisite album. The album is a bit of a downer, but there’s not a song on the album that I don’t like. I really loved the duet with Janie Fricke but I don’t think there is just one standout track. Vern is in great voice throughout, and the accompaniment is solid country throughout. While I think Vern was still officially signed to the label for another year or two, Columbiawould issue no further albums of new material. I would give this album a solid “A” – if you want to give it an A+, I won’t argue.