My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘It’s about Time’

its about timeTracy left MCA after the release of 1998’s I’m from The Country, but he got an immediate second chance with another major label, RCA. The move meant a new producer, Billy Joe Walker Jr, who does a solid if unspectacular job balancing commercial sheen and Tracy’s more neotraditional instincts.

The piano-led ‘Put Your Hand In Mine’ is about a father on the brink of divorce, whose small child’s farewell gift (a drawing of his own hand) leads the father to try to revive the marriage, remembering better times, written by Skip Ewing and Jimmy Wayne. Some may find it overly sentimental, and it is rather, but it is saved by an intensely emotional vocal. The tune peaked just outside the top 10. The somewhat pacier title track has a similar feel both emotionally and in its arrangement, with a father realising he needs to spend time with his loved ones, but it is not as effective.

The other singles released, a punchy cover of ‘Love, You Ain’t Seen The Last of Me’ (a top 10 hit for actor turned 80s country star John Schneider) and ‘Take Me With You When You Go’ gained less interest at radio, failing to reach the top 40. The latter is a pleasant melodic ballad

‘Can’t Have One Without The Other’ (written by Gary Scruggs and Shawn Camp) has a quirky charm and an arrangement similar to that which appeared on Camp’s fine Lucky Silver Dollar album a couple of years later, suggesting it is copied from the writer’s demo. Camp’s other co-write on the record is a ballad about struggling to get over an ex, ‘Every Time I Do’, which is quite a nice song with a contemporary country vibe, allowing Tracy to exercise a falsetto.

‘Something To Brag About’ is not the Bobby Braddock penned classic duet (a top 20 hit for Charlie Louvin and Melba Montgomery in 1970) but a playful new song from hitmakers Al Anderson and Jeffrey Steele about needing material goods to impress a potential love interest. the arrangement is dominated by an accordion, giving it a Cajun twist.

Tracy’s traditional roots are shown in a solid cover of the classic ‘Undo The Right’, a 1968 top 10 hit for Johnny Bush, which was written by Willie Nelson and Hank Cochran. This is a real highlight, a passionate, pained demand to the woman who has done him wrong:

If you can’t say you love me, say you hate me…
It’s too late to say your heart is filled with sorrow
You can’t undo what’s done
Why do you try?

If you can’t undo the wrong
Undo the right

The other highlight is more contemporary in its stylings. ‘A Little Love’, a story song with a big chorus, which boast Tracy’s one of finest ever vocal performance, was written by Pat Terry and Tia Sillers. He exudes passion as he tells the story of a woman whose dreams of love and fulfilment have never come true, and who, attending her brother’s wedding reflects on her own thwarted romance:

I don’t have to have it all
I’m not asking for the world
I don’t need a star to fall
I just need a little light
Someone shining in my life
Cause in the dark when you’re afraid
A little love can go a long, long way

When it’s lonely in your life
And you’ve almost lost your faith
A little love can go a long, long way

‘Ain’t It Just Like A Woman’ is another well-sung ballad with a strong emotional heft. ‘Proud Of Me’ is a pretty ballad about a working man and his relationship with his wife and a more traditional feel.

Overall, this was a solid album. used copies are very cheap, so it’s well worth seeking out.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Glen Campbell and Larry Gatlin – ‘Farther Along’

Week ending 7/19/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

rogermiller1_2501954 (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: He Thinks I Still Care — Anne Murray (Capitol)

1984: I Don’t Want to Be a Memory — Exile (Epic)

1994: Foolish Pride — Travis Tritt (Warner Bros.)

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

2014: Beachin‘ — Jake Owen (RCA)

2014 (Airplay): Beachin‘ — Jake Owen (RCA)

Classic Rewind: Tracy Byrd – ‘Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo’

Classic Rewind: B. J. Thomas – ‘(Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song?’

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘I’m From The Country’

imfromthecountryI’m From The Country was Tracy Byrd’s fifth and final album for MCA. Like its predecessor, it was produced by Tony Brown. The album attempted to regain Byrd’s stalled commercial momentum. It succeeded in getting him back into the Top 10 at country radio, but it was his first album not to earn at least gold certification. Although he’d enjoyed a fair amount of success during his tenure at MCA, he hadn’t really broken out from the pack, and the label doesn’t seem to have put a lot of effort into promoting this end-of-contract collection from which only two singles were released.

That being said, the #3-peaking title track is one of Byrd’s best remembered hits. The radio-friendly “I’m From The Country”, written by Marty Brown, Stan Webb and Richard Young of The Kentucky Headhunters is a typical 90s line-dancing style tune but it has aged well. The follow-up single “I Wanna Feel That Way Again” is nice ballad, though more pop-leaning than most of Byrd’s material. It reached #9.

As is often the case, there were some album cuts that hit single potential but were overlooked. The best of them is the up-tempo “Walkin’ the Line”, while “I Still Love the Night Life” — about a man who has settled down to the dismay of his rowdy friends — is a close runner-up. It was written by Kelley Lovelace and Brad Paisley, who was still a year away from making his major label debut. The somewhat pedestrian ballad “On Again, Off Again” is the album’s weakest link, but the remainder of the tracks, while not particularly memorable, are at least solid efforts.

I’ve always thought that Tracy Byrd was a talented vocalist whose material was somewhat inconsistent. I’m From The Country is no exception, but it does have enough very good (though not necessarily great) moments to recommend it.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Gary Stewart – ‘An Empty Glass’

Album Review: Robby Hecht – ‘Robby Hecht’

robbyhecht_album_coverFor his first collection since 2011’s Last of the Long Days, singer/songwriter Robby Hecht turned to producer Lex Price to help him achieve the lush sound he desired. The resulting eponymous album is a quiet collection of songs that pack a significant punch.

Hecht, who hails from Knoxville, TN, knew music was his calling around age 18 and he spent the next decade of his life turning it into his career through travels in Europe and a stint in San Francisco before making his way back to Music City.

After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Hecht was truly able to find himself and gain the confidence he needed to begin a solo career in earnest, with his new album marking the latest step in his journey.

Robby Hecht isn’t an album to be taken lightly, treated as background music while you enjoy a shindig or drive in your car. The quiet simplicity draws you in, commanding your attention in the way only the most finely crafted albums can.

Excellent lead single “New York City” is one of those songs, tracing the psychedelic hold the Big Apple has on those who’ve walked it’s streets and ridden it’s subways. Through various pleas, Hecht begs the city to give him the hope he can only find within himself. Similarly themed “I Don’t Believe It” finds a man going through a series of repeating lines in an effort to keep from facing the bitter truth and continue a life in denial.

Nashville writer Amy Speace co-wrote “The Sea & The Shore” with Hecht and the results are a quietly haunting tune about impossible love. The sparse production – just soft acoustic guitar with ribbons of light piano – works wonderfully to compliment Hecht’s delicate yet commanding vocal. “Cars and Bars” traverses nearly identical ground sonically, while also featuring a nicely engaging story about an encounter with a girl that wasn’t destined to be anything more than a one-time meeting. Hecht’s tender vocal conveys a hint of sadness among his recollection of that day.

“Feeling It Now” is slightly faster in tempo with jazzy elements incorporated into the production track. It’s an excellent number about contentment that perfectly conveys one of the hardest emotions to convey properly in a song. “The Light Is Gone” falls on the opposite end of the spectrum and concerns the end of a relationship as indicated through his lovers’ eyes, which painfully illustrate the lack of love she currently feels for him.

One of the album’s standout tracks is “Papa’s Down The Road Dead,” a rockilin’ reflection on the passage of time – someone close to you may’ve died, but life goes on without exception. My other favorite track on Robbie Hecht is “Soon I Was Sleeping,” the only number on the record to contain steel guitar in the backing track. It’s a pure country number about a woman who’s moved on from her ex, with the gorgeously painful flourishes of steel wonderfully extenuating Hecht’s ache.

I freely admit that when I first heard Robbie Hecht I was overcome by the lushness of it, leaving the arrangements feeling somewhat too sleepy for my tastes. But the quietness actually works in his favor, allowing his delicate voice to shine in a way that big production values would’ve squashed. Hecht is an incredibly emotional singer, albeit in a quiet way, and this album is the perfect showcase for his abilities. He may be outside what is traditionally considered country music (and not in a 2014 Nashville sense), but his album works nonetheless. He isn’t the noisiest guy around, but as a singer/songwriter he shouldn’t be ignored.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard – ‘What Have You Got Planned Tonight, Diana?’

Classic Rewind: Tracy Byrd and Johnny Paycheck – ‘Don’t Take Her (She’s All I’ve Got)’

Single Review: Terri Clark: ‘Some Songs’

some songsTerri Clark has a new crowdfunded album due out later in the year on her own label in association with Universal. The title track has been launched as the first single and is a pretty good advertisement.

The premise is that songs work best in a specific context: driving down a highway in a convertible with the wind in your hair, a seedy bar, a laid-back beach, a church, a romantic dance. Terri’s brisk vocal rattles out the various situations in the lyrics then soaring on the melodic chorus:

Some songs need a highway
Some songs need a church
Some songs need a tear
Some just need to feel the hurt

There are some faint echoey effects with the backing vocals which are slightly and pointlessly annoying, but they are unobtrusive enough to be bearable, and the production is otherwise tastefully understated with Terri’s muscular vocal taking center stage. There is a bright airy feel which works perfectly for the first verse’s driving these, but perhaps realizes the bar room and church less effectively. I found it a little disappointing, too, that the only song to be referenced by name (and as one sung in a bar with a sawdust floor) was not a country song of any description but rock band Train’s ‘Drops Of Jupiter’. It seemed out of place.

Overall, though, while it’s not one of my favourite Terri Clark records, this is a nice little song, well put together and performed, with a radio friendly feel.

Grade: B

Listen here.

Classic Rewind: Lyle Lovett – ‘Cowboy Man’

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘Big Love’

Tracy_bigloveMy first Tracy Byrd album was his fourth, Big Love. Released in the fall of 1996, the project was once again produced by Tony Brown.

The major radio hits came courtesy of the first and second singles, both of which were recorded previously by other artists. The title track, written by Michael Clark and Jeff Stevens, came first and peaked at #3. An excellent uptempo declaration of man’s feelings, it was recorded by Chris LeDoux on his Haywire album two years prior.

Gary U.S. Bonds and Jerry Williams’ “Don’t Take Her She’s All I Got” peaked at #4. Under the title “She’s All I Got,” the song was first recorded by R&B vocalist Freddy North in 1971, and Tanya Tucker would release a “He’s All I Got” version in 1972. The song had its highest chart peak in 1971 by Johnny Paycheck, who took it to #2 on the country charts. Byrd does an excellent job with his cover, turning the tune into a blistering honky-tonker complete with glorious drum and steel guitar work.

Two more singles were released from Big Love although neither reached the top ten let alone the top five. “Don’t Love Make A Diamond Shine,” a honky-tonker written by Craig Wiseman and Mike Dekle, peaked at #17. The track is such a bland and generic example of the period that it’s hardly surprising it was met with such a cool reception at radio. “Good ‘Ol Fashioned Love,” a pleasant neo-traditional number, peaked at #47. Written by Mark Nesler and Tony Martin, it has the makings of a good song, but it marred in overwrought sentimentality.

Nesler and Byrd teamed up to write “Tucson Too Soon,” a neo-traditional number interesting only for the fact the guy is regretting leaving, not merely packing up to move on. Nesler wrote “Driving Me Out of Your Mind,” an ear-catching honk-tonker, solo.

Harlan Howard teamed with Kostas for “I Don’t Believe That’s How You Feel,” an excellent number Byrd copes with brilliantly. The mariachi horns took me by surprise as does Byrd’s choice in recording this, a number that seems primed for Dwight Yoakam. Harley Allen and Shawn Camp co-wrote “Cowgirl,” a beautifully produced western swing number with arguably the dumbest lyric on the whole album.

“If I Stay” comes from the combined pens of Dean Dillon and Larry Bastian. The mid-tempo number could’ve been a little more country, but it’s excellent nonetheless. Chris Crawford and Tom Kimmel’s “I Love You, That’s All” is the traditionalists dream, and a great song at that.

Big Love is a solid album from Byrd, showcasing his willingness to grow with the times and adapt his sound for the changing definition of what it took to have hit singles in 1996. There’s nothing revelatory about Big Love in any way but it is a rather enjoyable listening experience.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Roy Acuff – ‘The Great Speckled Bird’

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Week ending 7/12/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

Anne_Murray1954 (Sales): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

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

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Even Tho — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: My Heart Skips A Beat — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1974: He Thinks I Still Care — Anne Murray (Capitol)

1984: Somebody’s Needin’ Somebody — Conway Twitty (Warner Bros.)

1994: Wink – Neal McCoy (Atlantic)

2004: Whiskey Girl — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2014: Somethin’ Bad — Miranda Lambert with Carrie Underwood (RCA)

2014 (Airplay): My Eyes — Blake Shelton ft. Gwen Sebastian (Warner Bros.)

Classic Rewind: Connie Smith with Kitty Wells – ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’

Connie Smith pays tribute to the Queen of Country Music in a 2010 clip from The Marty Stuart Show:

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn – ‘I Won’t Forget You’

Single Review: Kacey Musgraves – ‘The Trailer Song’

a79d7d3ac9769604c51ae1c7002daad439759ad6ffa4664b7e510fcb078f1d0f_largeAren’t there times you wish you could just reveal your true feelings about a situation without the fear of consequence? Like shooting your cheating spouse or burning down your house to eradicate the problems threatening your very existence? For us pedestrians it’s human nature to ponder the inexcusable. For country singers, it’s fodder for three and a half minutes of entertaining bliss.

Kacey Musgraves has found herself in a pickle. She’s single and ready to mingle. Problem is she lives in a trailer park one section of white picket fence away from the neighborhood gossip, a woman who thinks she’s a two-timin’ floozy. So with co-writer Brandy Clark firmly in her corner, Musgraves sets off to put the woman, and her not-so-subtle habits of egg “borrowing” and “bird” watching, in her place.

What “The Trailer Song” does well is to articulate a mundane truth of our everyday existence, set it against a decidedly country backdrop, and keep the proceedings from falling into the clichéd trappings of the lifestyle. Much like Clark’s own “Pray To Jesus,” it’s a lot harder than it may seem on the surface to make fun of “The Trailer Song” simply because it mentions doublewides. The writers aren’t using the trailer park as a country signifier but rather the key to these women’s daily reality. That subtle distinction gives these characters authenticity and keeps them from dissolving into caricatures held hostage by their lifestyle.

Mercury Nashville and Musgraves herself probably have their valid reasons why this worthy waltz wasn’t included on Same Trailer Different Park. The production is a lot simpler, and makes far better use of steel guitar than most of the songs on her major label debut. The overall track has a bit of an unfinished quality to it, like we’re hearing a demo, but that only adds to the overall charm.

Grade: A

Listen 

Songwriters: Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, Kacey Musgraves

Classic Rewind: Tracy Byrd – ‘Heaven In My Woman’s Eyes’

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘Love Lessons’

lovelessonsTAfter enjoying tremendous commercial success with 1994’s No Ordinary Man, Tracy Byrd stumbled a bit with the following year’s Love Lessons, which failed to produce any major hits. Of its four singles, only the title track reached the Top 10, peaking at #9.

The album found him working once again with Tony Brown, who had produced some of his early hits from his debut album. First out of the box was the catchy line-dance number “Walking To Jersusalem”, which peaked at #15, a far cry from the #2-peaking “Keeper of the Stars” that had preceded it. The title track was the album’s biggest hit, but it is a bit dull and far from memorable. Much better is “Heaven In My Woman’s Eyes”, which sounds like something out of Merle Haggard’s catalog, but was actually written by Mark Nesler. I also liked “4 to 1 in Atlanta” which finds the protagonist preparing to visit Georgia in search of Ms. Right.

Love Lessons is one of those albums which is neither great nor terrible, and thus not very memorable. It lacks the compelling material of its predecessor. Tracy still sounds a lot like George Strait on a lot of the tracks. All of the songs are at least good, and today they might be considered great, but they did not stand out in era in which country music routinely turned out much higher quality material than it does today. There is no “Keeper of the Stars” or “Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous” on this collection with the exception of two numbers written by two of country music’s greatest songwriters: “You Lied To Me” by the great Bill Anderson and “Don’t Need That Heartache” by Kostas and Melba Montgomery. Both of these songs are head and shoulders above anything else the album has to offer.

Love Lessons is not essential listening but is worth the small cash outlay required to obtain a used copy.

Grade: B

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