My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Terri Clark – ‘Some Songs’

some songsI’ve always regarded Terri Clark as one of those performers whose material frequently fell short of her potential as a peformer. In her defense, radio only seemed to want up-tempo “attitude” type songs from her — something she admittedly did quite well from the very early days of her career. But her attempts to release more substantive material were not well received, and commercial concerns being what they are, she stuck with what worked for her. When she went the indie route five years ago, theoretically freeing her from major-label constraints, I thought we’d finally get a chance to hear the real Terri Clark, singing the types of songs that she really wanted to do, but most of her efforts since then have been disappointing.

Some Songs, her latest effort that was released earlier this month, sounds as though she hasn’t totally abandoned the idea of scoring radio hits, and the title track is currently at #20 on the Canadian charts. The album is a collection of mid-tempo songs, half of which were co-written by Terri. There are no fiddles and barely any steel guitar to be heard, although the banjo, the current “keep it country” instrument of choice, is used liberally throughout the album. The album is more soft rock than country, no doubt due to the influence of producer Michael Knox. To be fair, everything on Some Songs is far better than the garbage Knox regularly churns out with Jason Aldean, but if that isn’t being damned by faint praise, I don’t know what is.

The album is a collection of decent – with a few very good – songs that never quite becomes more than a sum of its parts. The production, though it could have been much worse, relies too much on electric and slide guitars, and tries too hard to be middle-of-the-road. It is Terri’s voice, which sounds as lovely as ever, that keeps the songs firmly rooted in country music. But by far, the album’s biggest flaw is its lack of variety; nearly all of the songs are mid-tempo or somewhere between mid- and up-tempo. It could have benefited tremendously from the inclusion of a couple of more ballads, which would have provided a much-needed change of pace.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t some good songs here, the best being “I Cheated On You”. Though the title sounds like it might be a tearful confession from an errant spouse, it is in fact, an up-tempo number written by Brent Anderson, Brandy Clark and Forrest Whitehead, which finds an unrepentant Clark gleefully informing her two-timing husband that she has just gotten even with him – the type of “attitude” song at which Terri still excels. The nostalgic “Bad Car”, another Brandy Clark co-write with Jason Saenz, is also quite good, and “Better With My Boots On”, which Terri wrote with Connie Harrington and Deric Ruttan, sounds like something she might have recorded back in her major label days. The rest of the songs are neither great nor terrible, buty they tend to bleed together, the type of songs that tend to play in the background and you don’t really remember them afterwards. Some Songs is by no means a bad album, but Clark can and has done better. I keep hoping that she has at least one more great album left in her but this one isn’t it.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: George Hamilton IV – ‘Abilene/Fort Worth, Dallas Or Houston’

RIP George Hamilton IV, who died yesterday.

Revisit Paul W. Dennis’ Country Heritage article on Hamilton.

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Every Night’s A Saturday Night’

LeeroysaturdayLee Roy Parnell released his fifth album, Every Night’s A Saturday Night, in June 1997. Parnell co-produced the project, his second release for Arista imprint Career Records, along with his touring band The Hot Links.

The album produced three singles yet failed to generate any top ten hits. Parnell and Gary Nicholson co-wrote “Lucky Me, Lucky You,” which peaked at #35 and “All That Matters Anymore,” which stalled at #50. Sandwiched between them was “You Can’t Get There From Here,” written by Tony Arata, which reached #39. While I’m not crazy about the final single, the other two are excellent, and deserved to further Parnell’s radio career for at least another year.

George Strait covered Parnell and Cris Moore’s “One Foot In Front of the Other” on It Just Comes Natural in 2006. Parnell’s vocal on the original is far less energetic than Strait’s, but the overall track is quite good. Trisha Yearwood joins Parnell on “Better Word for Love,” a surprisingly tender ballad. Her background vocal contributions to the track are wasted as she’s barely audible, and the song wouldn’t demand a close listen if she wasn’t a part of it.

Parnell dives back into the Bob McDill songbook and pulls out “Tender Touch,” a steel and electric guitar soaked mid-tempo ballad that lacks the special touch McDill usually gives his compositions. He also revives Merle Haggard’s “Honky Tonk Night Time Man” from 1974. Parnell presents his version in Jam Band style, complete with electric guitar, but also stays true to Haggard’s original. It’s an excellent cover based on his mix alone.

Guy Clark co-wrote “Baton Rouge,” an excellent country shuffle that suffers from Parnell’s unexpectedly weak vocal. The title track is a typical workingman’s rocker and the album’s lone instrumental, the bluesy “Mama Screw Your Wig On Tight,” was nominated for a Grammy.

Judging from the co-producing credit from Parnell’s road band, I expected Every Night’s A Saturday Night to retain the live energy of a concert, thus being excessively rock in nature. That’s probably a fact of the changes within the genre in the past seventeen years. I was pleasantly taken aback by how clean this album sounds, crisp and comfortable. Not every lyrical composition is a memorable masterpiece, but the overall quality of Parnell’s fifth album is very high.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘On The Road’

Album Review: Fayssoux – ‘I Can’t Wait’

fayssouxFayssoux Starling McLean is best known to country fans for her gorgeous harmonies on some of Emmylou Harris’s iconic 70s recordings like ‘Green Rolling Hills Of West Viginina’. She was silent for years, but re-emerged in 2008 with a well-received solo album. The follow-up, on Red Beet Records, is a lovely country-folk confection mixing some well-chosen covers with her own new songs. Her rich, warm voice is tastefully supported by acoustic backings.

The soothing title track is a lovely inspirational song written by Kieran Kane (once of The O’Kanes) with Sean Locke and Claudia Scott. The ballad ‘When The Thought Of You Catches Up With Me’ was previously recorded by its writer David Ball, but Fayssoux brings a new delicacy and sweetness to it which works beautifully.

A lovely understated version of ‘Mama’s Hungry Eyes’ is a real highlight, with Fayssoux convincingly selling the story as though it was her own. Donna Ulisse’s delicate harmony is the perfect ornamentation. ‘Some Things Are Too Good To Last’, written by Jim Lauderdale, is another fine song with sweet harmonies.

‘I Made A Friend Of A Flower Today’ a very charming folky duet with Tom T Hall, who wrote it. This is another favorite track for me.

‘My Brain’ has a jazz rhythm and the vocal is a bit breathy. ‘Hell On A Poor Boy’ (written by poet R B Morris) is bluesy in a wistful way.

Fayssoux wrote a number of the songs with musician/journalist Peter Cooper and/or Thomm Jutz. ‘Golightly Creek’ is a nicely observational song about finding peace by returning to her birthplace.

‘Running out Of Lies’ is a melancholy depiction of the permanent damage caused by earlier heartbreak:
A temporary fix left a scar that’s everlasting

‘The Last Night Of The War’ has an authentic traditional folk feel with its post-Civil War setting.

She wrote ‘Find Your Own Light’ solo, and this is a deeply introspective song about finding oneself. ‘Ragged Old Heart’ is a little more upbeat with a bright tempo, although it too deals with a damaged individual.

This is a lovely record, drawing deeply from the wells of the best country and folk music.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band – ‘She Belongs To Me’

Fellow Travelers: Eric Hilliard “Ricky” Nelson (1940-1985)

Ricky NelsonThe late 50s and early 1960s saw many so-called heart throb artists pushed off on the American teenage population. Most of them were very attractive guys who had a strong visual appeal to teenage girls, but had minimal singing talent, which meant that they had a few hits before their fans moved on to other artists .

Ricky Nelson was one such artist, who also had the advantage of a weekly platform on his parents popular television show THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET. Unlike most of his teen-throb counterparts, Ricky Nelson had real talent and was able to sustain his musical career throughout his short life, charting 53 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1957 and 1973.

WHO WAS HE ?

Ricky Nelson was the younger son of big band leader Ozzie Nelson and Ozzie’s featured singer (and later wife) Harriet Hilliard Nelson. Ozzie’s band was very successful, having many hits including a #1 record in 1935 with “And Then Some”. From 1944 onward, Ozzie & Harriet were involved in the THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET, initially on radio and then from 1952 to 1966 on television. Starting in 1949 Ricky and his brother David had roles as themselves on the show.

After his death, Ricky’s sons would score a #1 record recording as the group ‘Nelson’, making the Nelson family one of two answers to the trivia question “what musical family had #1 pop records in three consecutive generations?”.

Ricky Nelson’s recording career began in 1957 when he covered the Fats Domino hit “I’m Walking'” b/w “A Teenager’s Romance”. Both sides charted in the top four. From there Ricky would have eighteen top ten records through the end of 1963 including two #1s in “Poor Little Fool” (1958) and “Travelin’ Man” (1961). Ricky’s records were always noted for having a really tight band with ace guitarist James Burton featured on most of his records.

In addition to his family’s television show, Ricky Nelson appeared in several films including the classic western RIO BRAVO with John Wayne.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC ?

Ricky Nelson recorded and release many country songs both as singles and as album tracks. County radio played many of his singles with five of them charting country including his #10 cover of Hank Williams’ “My Bucket’s Got A Whole In It” and “Poor Little Fool” which reached #3.

Several of Ricky’s pop hits that did not chart on the country charts, were either country songs such as “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” or songs written by songwriters such as Baker Knight who came to be identified with country music. Moreover, many of Ricky’s songs have been covered as album tracks by country acts including such songs as “Hello Mary Lou” , “Travelin’ Man”, “Lonesome Town” and “Never Be Anyone Else But You”.

After the “British Invasion” wiped out the early rock & rollers and the “Philly Cream Cheese” doo-woppers, Ricky Nelson went more overtly country in his musical quests, recording a pair of straight ahead country albums for Decca, BRIGHT LIGHTS AND COUNTRY MUSIC and COUNTRY FEVER, both really solid albums.

Toward the end of the 1960s and tired of being considered an “oldies” act, Nelson revamped his name and image, becoming Rick Nelson and putting together the Stone Canyon Band, a country-rock band which featured former Buck Owens’ Buckaroo Tom Brumley on steel guitar. The band issued five albums, all of which charted. The fourth and most successful album 1972’s GARDEN PARTY charted both pop and country and also charted in Canada. The featured single “Garden Party” was Rick’s first top ten single in nine years reaching #6 (also #1 on the adult contemporary chart and #1 on the Canadian pop chart). “Garden Party” would prove to be Rick’s last real hit.

When Rick died in a small plane crash on December 31, 1985, millions mourned. He was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and has also been elected to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Classic Rewind: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘I’m Holding My Own’

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘We All Get Lucky Sometimes’

we all get lucky sometimesLee Roy Parnell’s fourth album saw him repeating the pattern of the records which had seen him enjoy commercial success. There was one backroom change, though: a sideways move from Arista proper to the subsidiary imprint Career Records.

The lead single ‘A Little Bit Of You’ is a mid-tempo love song with a radio-friendly tune, written by hitmakers Trey Bruce and Craig Wiseman. It just missed the top spot on the charts, peaking at #2. ‘When A Woman Loves A Man peaked ten spots lower, at #12, but I think it’s a better song. A classy soulful ballad, it features Trisha Yearwood’s backing vocals, although they’re quite low in the mix.

‘Heart’s Desire’ was another big hit, reaching #3. It’s an excellent example of one of Parnell’s slower numbers, rhythmic and blusey but not overwhelmingly so, with a mellow feel. ‘Givin’ Water To A Drownin’ Man’ proved to be Parnell’s last top 20 hit. It’s another strong track in Parnell’s wheelhouse, although the Merle Haggard namedrop seems rather random. The title track also got some airplay but didn’t make the top 40. It’s a mid-to-up-tempo chugger, stronger on groove than substance, but enjoyable enough.

‘Saved By The Grace Of Your Love’ is a gentle ballad written by Parnell with Mike Reid, which is very pretty. ‘I Had To Let It Go’ is a pretty good story song involving losing a loved one and giving up booze.

The Delbert McClinton/Gary Nicholson song ‘Squeeze Me In’ is best known to country fans from Trisha Yearwood’s version. Parnell’s take is okay (and there’s some great piano), but I like Trisha’s better.

‘Knock Yourself Out’ has a blues groove which is quite catchy with call-and-response vocals and is quite enjoyable without being very memorable. It would have worked well live. ‘If The House Is Rockin’ is a straightforward slice of rock ‘n roll with exuberant honky tonk piano.

The album closes out with an instrumental; featuring accordion great Flaco Jiminez. Not my thing, but impressive playing.

Overall, a solid album which should appeal to anyone who likes the singles.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: June Carter Cash, Johnny Cash, Pop Staples – ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’

Week ending 9/13/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

Trisha1954 (Sales): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Jukebox): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1964: I Guess I’m Crazy — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1974: Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1984: Tennessee Homesick Blues — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1994: XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl) — Trisha Yearwood (MCA)

2004: Girls Lie Too — Terri Clark (Mercury)

2014: Burnin’ It Down — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

2014 (Airplay): Bartender – Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

Classic Rewind: Patty Loveless – ‘It’s What You Don’t Do’

Classic Rewind: Don Gibson – ‘Woman (Sensuous Woman)’

Classic Rewind: Johnny Paycheck – ‘I Feel Like Crying’

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘On The Road’

ontheroad1993’s On The Road was Lee Roy Parnell’s third studio album and his last to be released on the main Arista label (subsequent releases would bear the Career imprint, an Arista subsidiary). Scott Hendricks, who had co-produced Parnell’s previous album, took over sole production duties, while Lee Roy shared songwriting credits on six of the album’s ten tracks. Unlike most of his 90s contemporaries, Parnell was neither a New Traditionalist nor a huge record seller. He did, however, score a handful of enduring radio hits, the most memorable of which is the Bob McDill-penned title track, which deals with three different instances of people who are ready to leave their unfulfilling lives behind in exchange for adventure into the unknown. Released in August of 1993, it was a perfect summertime single and it eventually peaked at #6. It’s one of my favorite Lee Roy Parnell songs.

“On The Road” was followed by another big hit, Tony Arata’s “I’m Holding My Own”, a midtempo number that was released in January 1994. It reached #3. He seemed to be on a roll as far as radio was concerned, but the album’s subsequent singles, both remakes of older country hits, didn’t fare as well. He beefed up his country credentials with a cover of the Hank Williams classic “Take These Chains From My Heart”, which is performed as a duet with Ronnie Dunn. I don’t ever remember hearing this on the radio and was surprised to learn that had been a single, and although not a huge hit it peaked at a very respectable #17. Even in the more traditional 90s, Hank Williams was a little too retro for country radio. His voice and Dunn’s blend together well and listeners who aren’t paying close attention might fail to notice that there are two people singing the song.

The album’s fourth and final single was a remake of “The Power of Love”, one of Charley Pride’s least country-sounding records, but a good choice for Parnell’s soulful voice. This one should have been a bigger hit, but it stalled at #51, far below the #9 peak of Pride’s original version from a decade earlier.

In another one of the album’s best songs, “Straight and Narrow”, Lee Roy and co-writer Tony Haselden rationalize — and make a compelling case for — occasionally skipping church in order to go fishing and other pursuits of life’s simple pleasures. The bluesy party anthem “Fresh Coat of Paint” is also quite good.

The album does contain two duds, both of which are Parnell co-writes with Gary Nicholson. “Straight Shooter” is a bit of bubble gum pop that sounds like a leftover from the Urban Cowboy days, while “Wasted Time”, in addition to being just plain dull, is based on the false premise that “there is no such thing as wasted time.” Well, yes, actually, there is. While neither of these are terrible songs, they both fall into the category of non-descript filler.

While not an oustanding album, On The Road is a good example of Lee Roy Parnell at his commercial peak. Cheap copies are readily available and it’s worth a listen.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Barbara Mandrell – ‘Standing Room Only’

Concert Review: Sara Evans and Kiley Evans at the South Shore Music Circus

IMG_3885Sara Evans is an incredible vocalist. That at least was evident when she took the stage August 29 at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, MA. Evans turned in one brilliant performance after another, wrapping her comforting twang around a majority of her most recognizable singles.

She opened the show with “Born To Fly” before treating the audience to a brisk set of her career during the new millennium. This fantastic overview ranged from “Perfect” and “I Keep Looking” to “Real Fine Place To Start” and “As If” with ease. She loaded the set with uptempo tunes, bringing out lesser faire like “Coalmine” and enjoying the audience’s eruption during “Suds In The Bucket,” which followed a brief synopsis of her upbringing on the Missouri farm; a life with three older brothers and four younger sisters.

In the beginning Evans stuck with the music, pausing after a generous strand of songs before engaging the audience. While I normally enjoy banter, Evans has a way of coming off slightly disingenuous, like a performer fulfilling a job, and not a singer giving a whole-hearted performance. This is just Evans’ way; a fact that hasn’t changed in the three years since I last saw her live (and wrote a concert review of her show).

She was quick to mention that 2011 performance, a herculean feat where she arrived late to the venue (Cape Cod Melody Tent) via private jet, with her tardiness blamed on a combination of her kids and the Birmingham, Alabama airport she was flying out of. Her circumstances this time weren’t much better – sick kids she claimed she had to spank – but she was able to get to the venue on time, even if she fell asleep (or so she alleged) during hair and makeup.

An attempt to joke about the revolving circular stage (which the South Shore Music Circus and sister venue Cape Cod Melody Tent are known for) fell flat, but she was able to creep everyone out with a story about lice going around at her daughter’s school. Evans is a mother after all, with tweens and teens, so sharing stories of that world isn’t necessarily unwelcomed.

And for all her banter (she didn’t even know how to pronounce the town she was performing in, which was written out taped to the stage for her), she actually focused heavily on the music. Evans brought the audience back a few years and reflected on her marriage before launching into “A Little Bit Stronger,” mentioning how grateful she was to us fans for helping make it one of her biggest hits. She also graced us with her cover of Rod Stewart’s “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” which made me happy, as I never expected her to sing it. The same went for “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus,” which came early on. I would’ve figured Evans would’ve forgotten all about that song by now.

Those who saw my review of Slow Me Down this past March (and engaged in a healthy debate on Engine 145), would most likely be surprised I would even attend an Evans concert. Despite what I said, out of anger toward her musical direction, I do love her and have been a fan ever since seeing the “Three Chords and the Truth” video on CMT seventeen years ago. She graced us with three new cuts from her latest project; her Isaac Slade assisted duet “Can’t Stop Loving You” (a duet with her phenomenal backup singer/guitarist), the title track, and brand new single “Put My Heart Down.” I actually do like the new single, and it is one of the more memorable tracks on the new project. All were sung well during the show, too.

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Classic Rewind: Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent – ‘Your Money And My Good Looks’

Fellow Travelers: Frankie Laine (1913-2007)

frankie-laine-09Born Francesco Paolo LoVecchio, Frankie Laine didn’t see his career as a professional singer reach high gear until after the end of World War II, by which time he was already past thirty years old. Despite this, Frankie Laine put together a recording career that lasted over sixty years, recording for Mercury during the 1940s, Columbia during the 1950s and ABC during the 1960s with numerous one-offs thereafter for a variety of smaller labels.

WHO WAS HE?

Frankie Laine was arguably the biggest pop star of the period between the end of World War II and the breakthrough of rock and roll in 1956. From 1947 through 1956 he charted 60 songs with three #1 records and an additional thirteen that reached the top ten. His biggest hits of the period “That Lucky Old Sun”, “Mule Train” and “Cry of The Wild Goose” became standards covered hundreds of times. During that period he was the most successful American artist on the British pop charts, charting nineteen times between 1952 and 1956 with three chart toppers on different songs than reached #1 in the US.

Frankie Laine made numerous television appearances during the early days of television and had his own shows in 1950, 1954-1955 and 1955-1956. He had a very distinctive voice that lent itself well to pop ballads, rhythm & blues, jazz and country songs. He also recorded songs for a number of movie soundtracks, including the films High Noon and Blazing Saddles.

Frankie Laine had a strong sense of right and wrong. In addition to recording rhythm and blues songs, he was an early supporter of the civil rights movements of the 1950s and ’60s. He was the first white artist to appear on The Nat King Cole Show, waiving his fee for appearing and he joined several African-American artists who gave free concerts for Martin Luther King’s supporters during the march to Washington.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC?

Although he never charted on the country charts, Frankie Laine recorded many country songs and some of his hits were covered by country artists such as Tennessee Ernie Ford for major country hits. Frankie’s last #1 record (1969 – #1 Easy Listening / #24 pop) “You Gave Me A Mountain” was written by Marty Robbins. One of his #1 records on the British charts, “Hey Joe” was a cover of Carl Smith’s 1953 hit.

In 1990 and 1991 the German Bear Family label collected Frankie’s more western-oriented country songs (mostly Columbia recordings) onto two CDs titled On The Trail and On The Trail Again. I highly recommend both of these collections. While the arrangements are often more Hollywood than country, in the hands of a master craftsman like Laine, they are masterful performances.

Classic Rewind: Lee Roy Parnell & Shelby Lynne – ‘Who Will The Next Fool Be’

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