My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Kelly Willis – ‘Looking For Someone Like You’

Fellow Travelers – Carl Perkins

‘One For The Money – Two For The Show – Three To Get Ready – And Go Cat Go’
carl perkins

If Elvis was the King, Carl Perkins was the commoner who became a widely respected elder statesman of rock and roll music. Much more of a country boy than Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins perhaps saw his shot at superstardom ruined by a car accident that killed Carl’s brother Jay and put Carl out of commission just as his hit “Blue Suede Shoes” ascended to the top of the country charts (it would reach #2 on the pop charts).

Who Was He ?

Carl Perkins (1932-1998) was talented songwriter, singer and musician who perhaps owed more to the country side of rockabilly than to the R&B influences of most early rock and rollers. Carl had only five songs chart on the pop charts with “Blue Suede Shoes” easily the biggest hit spending four weeks at #2. His other pop hits were “Boppin’ The Blues (#70), “Your True Love” (#67), “Pink Petal Pushers” (#91) and “Pointed Toes Shoes” (#93). Although his chart success was limited these songs, as well as non-charting songs such as “Matchbox”,”Honey Don’t” and”All Mama’s Children” were covered and performed by countless rock and roll and rockabilly acts for the next three decades. The Beatles recorded a large number of his songs. As a guitarist Perkins was revered and respected by some of the biggest names in the music business many of whom would eventually record tracks with him, including George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, NRBQ and Paul Simon. He appeared in live concert with Dave Edmunds and Eric Clapton. The list actually is endless so I’ll stop listing names now

What Was His Connection to County Music ?” (#70)

Carl was from the small Tennessee town of Tiptonville and remained a country boy at heart. Carl had fifteen country chart hits with six reaching the top twenty

He was well liked in the music community and while Carl was at a low point in his career (and in battling personal demons), Johnny Cash added Carl as parting of his road show package. Carl would spend ten years touring with Cash. While part of the Cash show, Carl penned “Daddy Sang Bass” which would spend six weeks as a country number one for Johnny Cash, and Tommy Cash would have a top ten record with another Perkins composition “Rise and Shine”. In 1991 the New Nashville Cats (Mark O’Connor, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs and Steve Wariner took Carl’s “Restless” back into the country top thirty.

Unlike some singers who sound good only when performing their own hits, Carl seemed to be able to sing anybody’s material and make sound as if it was especially composed for him. Virtually any Carl Perkins recording is worth hearing.

Classic Rewind: Marty Robbins – ‘Invitation To The Blues’

Album Review: Kelly Willis – ‘Kelly Willis’

kelly willisKelly’s third and final album for MCA was released in 1993. Tony Brown produced as before, but was joined by rock producer Don Was, and the overall sound is just a little rockier, but the record served up much the same recipe of brightly delivered country-rock as its predecessors, and met a similar fate commercially.

The singles were the breezy ‘Whatever Way The Wind Blows’ and a bouncy cover of the Kendalls’ ‘Heaven’s Just A Sin Away’. They should both have done better, as they have an infectious charm which one would think was very radio friendly.

The rueful Jim Lauderdale song ‘I Know Better Now’, about learning from bitter experience, is an excellent song, sung very well. ‘Up All Night’, written by Libby Dwyer is also pretty good, about a failing relationship which is as good as over.

My favourite track, however, is one of the few slower moments, the lovely ballad ‘That’ll Be Me’, a tender duet with singer-songwriter Kevin Welch, who wrote the song. The downbeat ‘World Without You’ (written by Kelly with Paul Kennerley) is also very good

‘Take It All Out On You’ is a cheerful mid-tempo love song which was somewhat ironically written by Kelly’s ex Mas Palermo and her new love interest (and now her husband) Bruce Robison. It’s fairly typical of her style at this period, with a chugging groove and a bright vocal. But you can’t help wondering about how the conversation went in the writing room.

‘One More Night’ is a chugging rocker written by Palermo with Bruce’s brother Charlie; it’s not bad but the production is a little heavy for my taste. ‘Get Real’ and ‘Shadows Of Love’ were written by Kelly with John Leventhal, but unfortunately neither is very interesting.

You can get used copies fairly cheaply, so if you enjoy a little rockier edge to your country, this is a good bet.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Dolly Parton & Friends – ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’

Week ending 8/9/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

bcc1954 (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: Dang Me — Roger Miller (Smash)

1974: Rub It In — Billy “Crash” Craddock (ABC)

1984: Mama He’s Crazy — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1994: Summmertime Blues — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2004: Somebody – Reba McEntire (MCA)

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

2014 (Airplay): Yeah — Joe Nichols (Red Bow)

Classic Rewind: The Oak Ridge Boys – ‘Dig A Little Deeper’

Classic Rewind: Hank Snow – ‘Among My Souvenirs’

EP Review: Shooter Jennings – ‘Don’t Wait Up (For George)’

artworks-000082005433-z3hlej-t200x200Not even a month after Sammy Kershaw released a full-length George Jones tribute comes an EP from Shooter Jennings celebrating The Possum. At just under twenty minutes long it’s a brisk collection and a thoroughly modern one at that.

Don’t Wait Up (For George) finds Jennings completely reimagining four of Jones’ classic hits in his own style, instead of just reciting them as they were written. The results are progressive modern rock, which isn’t surprising given Jennings’ catalog to date, but does little to honor Jones and his traditionalist leaning ways.

The project kicks off with the only original number, a song Jennings had written for Jones, who was going to include it on the forthcoming album he never got to record. “Don’t Wait Up (I’m Playing Possum)” is a wonderful lyric with a biting intensity that would’ve given Jones the space to turn in a killer vocal. The production here is crowded, but nicely restrained.

Jennings’ take on “She Thinks I Still Care” follows the pattern of the title cut, and pares progression with a tender country vocal. There’s a haunting vibe to the proceedings, too, accentuated by the steel guitar heard just underneath Jennings’ vocal. He’s purer on “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me” and acoustic on “Living In A Minor Key,” the best moments on the EP. When Jennings forgoes the overtly rock overtones, he allows the songs to shine.

The only obvious misstep comes with “The Door.” While Jones brought his usual pure country tendencies to the mournful ballad, Jennings lathers it in grotesque rock production that drowns the pain conveyed in the lyric. He could’ve done much better if he’d let the lyric shine through a bit more and kept the clutter to a minimum.

While not what I would expect from a tribute to Jones, Jennings does a good job of making these songs (minus “The Door”) his own without doing disservice to The Possum and his memory.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Ferlin Husky – ‘I’ll Baby Sit With You’

Album Review: Kelly Willis – ‘Bang Bang’

KellyWillisBangBangThe early 1990s were an interesting time for Kelly Willis. Razor X, in his review of her debut, motioned that Willis was signed to MCA in 1989 in an effort to expand the definition of country music. In accordance with her musical output at the time, MCA also went all out with a marketing campaign that saw Willis gaining national exposure both on news magazines and in movies, where she scored bit parts.

While the efforts at maximizing her exposure were well received, Willis never really caught on with the mainstream nor was she able to sell many records. That being said, MCA continued to try and her sophomore album Bang Bang was released just a year after Well Traveled Love. Produced once again by Tony Brown, the album contained a variety of songs from a mix of both left of center and mainstream songwriters.

For the album’s lead single, MCA went with “Baby Take A Piece of My Heart,” an excellent uptempo tune Willis co-wrote with Kostas, a male songwriter who was in high demand at the time. The tune, which peaked at #58, is Willis’ only charting song from her tenure with MCA and easily her best known single from this period of her career.

The second and third singles failed to chart. Kostas and Willis’ husband Mas Palermo co-wrote “The Heart That Love Forgot,” a mid-tempo guitar and drum centric number that is more Texas than Nashville country. Texas country singer/songwriter Joe Ely self-penned “Settle For Love,” an upbeat rocker that perfectly showcases Willis’ biting twang. While both are excellent songs, neither was in line with the radio trends of the era making it unsurprising they didn’t catch on.

The remainder of Bang Bang features mostly uptempo rockers that are heavy on drums, and while light on commercial country, are excellent just the same. “I’ll Try Again” is a honky-tonk rocker while “Too Much To Ask” and “Standing By The River” borrow from Gram Parsons’ signature style. The title track rocks just as hard although Brown smartly adds steel and electric guitars to give it needed spice.

My main complaint with Bang Bang lies with Brown’s production. His slick arrangements drown Willis’ distinctive voice when they should’ve been highlighting it instead. Problem is, as evidenced by “Sincerely (Too Late to Turn Back Now),” Willis hadn’t yet found voice as an artist. As good as the Steve Earle and Robert Earl Keen ballad is, her vocal isn’t nearly as confident as it would be if she recorded it today. The same is true for the sinister “Not Afraid of the Dark,” which seems out of place in comparison to the rest of the album.

Those concerns are elevated on “Hidden Things,” which proves she was already a gifted vocalist in 1991, and while she might not have completely understood how to best use her talents, she could turn in a stellar performance if given the right vehicle. Unlike the majority of the Bang Bang Brown’s production actually aids the track and frames her quite nicely.

It’s always a pleasure to go back and listen to early music from gifted artists, especially recordings made before they found their authentic voice within the industry. In the twenty-three years since Bang Bang it’s remarkable how much Willis has grown which is even more astonishing given that she was a knockout vocalist back then, too. This might not be the most essential album in her collection but it provides a fine listening experience and comes recommended for those looking to fully understand Willis as an artist.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Kelly Willis – ‘River Of Love’

Album Review: Jack Clement – ‘For Once And For All’

for once and for allThe legendary songwriter and producer Cowboy Jack Clement, most associated with Johnny Cash and Charley Pride, was the writer of a number of classic country songs. He could also sing a bit, and shortly before his death last August aged 82, he completed an album containing his own interpretations of some of his greatest songs. The result is a reminder of just what a remarkable songwriter he was, having composed all but one of these songs completely solo, between 1958 and 1969. The production is low key and sympathetic, predominantly but not completely acoustic, with many of his musician friends and admirers taking part.

His ageing voice retains a warmth which works perfectly for ‘I’ve Got A Thing About Trains’ with its affectionate nostalgia for a slower way of life and the passing of the railway era in the US. Old friends Bobby Bare and Dickey Lee add backing vocals. ‘The Spell Of the Freight Train’, backed by Old Crow Medicine Show, is less notable as a song, but has great trains-sounds by the fiddler and Vince Gill and Tim O’Brien on backing vocals.

The lullabyish melody and rambling lyric of the lost love song ‘Baby Is Gone’ (previously recorded by Charley Pride) are charming. Bobby Bare is on backing vocals.

The classic ‘Just Between You And Me’ is an undeniably great song. Clement’s own version is not as incisive as Charley Pride’s hit version, but makes for pleasant lietening. ‘Just A Girl I Used To Know’ is another all-time classic tune, which has been recorded many times, and deservedly so. The lovely harmonies of Emmylou Harris add sweetness, while Clement’s wearied vocal works well.

Clement’s phrasing is lovely on another great song, ‘I Know One’, backed by the harmonies of Rodney Crowell and Marty Stuart. An effective reading of the dark murder ballad ‘Miller’s Cave’ has a harmony vocal from its original singer, Bobby Bare, and finger-picked guitar from John Prine.

‘The Air Conditioner Song’ is a quirky novelty number’.

‘Got Leaving On Her Mind’ is more pedestrian vocally, although guitar maestro Duane Eddy plays an atmospherically brooding accompaniment. Dierks Bentley’s backing vocal is unfortunately indistinguishable. The gloomy ‘Let The Chips Fall’ also sounds a bit flat despite Vince Gill’s harmony. ‘Fools Like Me’ (with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings on backing vocals) is quite pleasant but not very memorable.

Clement was not personally a religious man, but he sounds as if he was on the quiet confessional ‘Jesus Don’t Give Up On Me’. Bluegrass great Del McCoury and Clement’s daughter Alison sing backing vocals, while the tasteful arrangement includes faint swells of an organ.

This is a worthy tribute to the talent of one of the great country songwriters.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Faron Young – ‘I Just Came To Get My Baby’

Song Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Pray for Peace’

reba - pray for peaceI read a quote once from Emmylou Harris that went something like “People tend to equate emotion in music with how hard the drum hits.” The drums aren’t being pounded in “Pray for Peace”, Reba McEntire’s first new music release in nearly four years. The drumbeat is right there through the entire four minute track and doesn’t even change tempo much. It is, like the song’s message, persistent.

Persistence and repetition are really the neatest aspects of this song. For the first two minutes, all you hear is the bass drum, a lonesome fiddle and Reba singing four words over and over, “please pray for peace”. Layers of production and guest voices are added after that, all leading up to a choir and a big finish.

Ronnie Dunn and Kelly Clarkson appear to do some serious scat-singing. Their efforts, for the most part, are just distracting.

Still, even with a full choir and the drums beating a bit harder, the production doesn’t take anything away from the song’s ultimate simplicity and unfortunately timely statement.  As Americans watch incidents like a jet being shot down in Ukraine and see Palestinian death tolls rising higher and higher each day, “Pray for Peace” is a tune that will resound with almost anyone who hears it. And it’s been smartly crafted and produced to do just that.

Grade: n/a

“Pray for Peace” is being offered as a free download at Reba’s official website.

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘Somebody’s Needin’ Somebody’

Album Review: Kelly Willis – ‘Well Travelled Love’

welltravelledloveDuring the second half of the 1980s, MCA Records signed a handful of roots-based artists that were considered to be outside of the mainstream, in the hopes of expanding the definition of country music. Artists such as Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, and Nanci Griffith were all signed to the label during that time. Kelly Willis, who joined the label in 1989 with the aid of Lovett and Griffith, somewhat falls into this fringe category, although her music was always much closer to the mainstream than the others mentioned. To further put things into context: Hat Acts were the popular trend in country music at the time, and most of the female artists who came to dominate the era — Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, and Trisha Yearwood — had not yet been signed to record deals. Reba McEntire, who was the marquee name female artist at MCA had yet to enjoy her first million-seller.

Willis’ debut disc, Well Travelled Love, if released today, would be relegated to the Americana category, but in 1990 it was considered a somewhat left-of-center country effort, perhaps in part due to Kelly’s slightly quirky vocal style, but also due to songs written by the likes of John Hiatt, Steve Earle and Kevin Welch, although more mainstream songwriters such as Paul Kennerley and Emory Gordy, Jr. are also represented. Willis’ then-husband Mas Palermo wrote about half the album’s songs. Paul Kennerley’s excellent and retro-sounding “I Don’t Want To Love You (But I Do)” was the album’s first single, that sadly failed to chart. A similar fate befell “River of Love”, which may have been too rockabilly for country radio’s taste at the time and “Looking For Someone Like You” likewise failed to gain any traction at radio.

Although I like all of these songs, I believe that some of the album’s other songs would have been better choices for singles. First and foremost is the Monte Warden and Emory Gordy, Jr. tune “One More Time”, a beautiful and steel-guitar drenched ballad that should have been considered very radio friendly at the time. Not releasing John Hiatt’s “Drive South” as a single seems like a missed opportunity; Suzy Bogguss took it all the way to #2 just two years later.
The title track, another Mas Palermo number, reminds me of “I’m In Love All Over”, the opening track to Reba McEntire’s Have I Got A Deal For You album. It’s an upbeat number with some excellent guitar picking and a strong vocal peformance from Kelly — the type of song that would perhaps work better in concert than on radio. “I’m Just Lonely”, Willis’ only songwriting contribution to the album (a co-write with Palermo) is also one of my favorites.

That an unsuccessful album by a largely unknown artist is available at all nearly a quarter century after its release is something of a minor miracle. Don’t expect to find any cheap used copies; Well Travelled Love can still be purchased on CD but at prices that will put a dent in your wallet. It is, however, available for download at much more reasonable prices and it is well worth seeking out.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins – ‘This Train’

Week ending 8/2/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

kittyred1954 (Sales): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Jukebox): One By One — Kitty Wells and Red Foley (Decca)

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

1964: Dang Me — Roger Miller (Smash)

1974: You Can’t Be A Beacon (If Your Light Don’t Shine) — Donna Fargo (Dot)

1984: Angel In Disguise — Earl Thomas Conley (RCA)

1994: Summmertime Blues — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2004: Live Like You Were Dying — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2014: Dirt – Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2014 (Airplay): Yeah — Joe Nichols (Red Bow)

Classic Rewind: Becky Hobbs – ‘Honky Tonk Saturday Night’

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 124 other followers