My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Trisha Yearwood – ‘She’s In Love With The Boy’

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Back To The Well’

back to the wellFor his last record to date, released in 2006 on Universal South, Lee Roy Parnell followed the pattern set by its predecessor and indulged his blues/soul roots without even lip service to country music.

The pattern is established by the funky bluesy title track, which has a strong groove but is a bit busy for me. There are, however, four very worthwhile tracks.

‘Old Soul’, the best song on the album (written by Lee Roy with Tony Arata and also recordfed by Patty Loveless), is a laconic ballad with a tastefully understated arrangement, depicting a teenage mother forced to grow up too soon and leave behind the carefree dreams of youth. A tasteful arrangement supports the sensitive lyric.

I also quite liked ‘Don’t Water It Down’, which offers a brassy take on some homespun philosophy with some cool piano and gospel-style backing vocals. It’s not very deep, but there is a charming exuberance which sells it.

‘Daddies And Daughters’ (the only attempt at a radio single and another Arata co-write) is a tender and heartfelt tribute to a paternal relationship, which sounds very personal. Parnell’s own daughter adds backing vocals.

‘Saving Grace’ is a pretty love ballad with inspirational elements.

The rest all blurs boringly together for me. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this, as it’s well performed and good of its kind. It just doesn’t work for me.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Linda Davis – ‘Let’s All Go Down To The River’

Week ending 9/27/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

donwilliams1954 (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: I Wouldn’t Want To Live If You Didn’t Love Me — Don Williams (Dot)

1984: Let’s Chase Each Other Around The Room — Merle Haggard (Epic)

1994: Third Rock From The Sun — Joe Diffie (Epic)

2004: Days Go By — Keith Urban (Capitol)

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

2014 (Airplay): Where It’s At (Yep, Yep) — Dustin Lynch (Broken Bow)

Classic Rewind: Billy Joe Shaver – ‘Willy The Wandering Gypsy And Me’

Classic Rewind: The Kendalls – ‘If You Break My Heart’

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Sundown Heaven Town’

Sundown_heaven_townTim McGraw got off to as bad a start as any could ever dream of when introducing his thirteenth album to the world this past winter. The first single, Mark Irwin, James T. Slater, and Chris Tompkins’ “Lookin’ For That Girl” was a smooth hip/hop meets R&B ballad with McGraw desperately pleading for relevance by pandering to trends in order to score airplay. Then came the album’s title, Sundown Heaven Town, which carries with it racial connotations so horrid, everyone in McGraw’s camp should’ve known better and avoided completely unnecessary controversy.

By the time “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” dropped this spring, McGraw needed the course correction the single ultimately gave him. The elegantly sparse ballad, co-written by Tom Douglas, Jaren Johnson, and Jeffery Steele, is McGraw’s finest single in seven years thanks to an assist from Faith Hill and a charming tale about home. McGraw and Hill are deservedly vying for both Single and Musical Event of the Year at the upcoming CMA Awards.

Just this month Big Machine released the third single from the album, a Marv Green, Hillary Lindsey, and Troy Verges penned tune entitled “Shotgun Rider.” The track, while it sounds good with a shuffle beat, is middle of the road at best and hardly memorable. The problem is keen McGraw fans will remember a different tune with the same name appearing on his Let It Go album in 2007. That “Shotgun Rider,” a duet with Hill, was far more country and less wordy than this tune.

McGraw treated fans to another of the album’s tracks, Canadian country singer/songwriter Deric Ruttan’s “City Lights” when he performed on The Voice this spring. The track is excellent, and while louder, recalls the best of his 90s/00s work. Also classic McGraw is “Overrated,” a sonically progressive muscular ballad penned by Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, and Rivers Rutherford. The chorus is strong and memorable and he gives a nicely commanding performance reminiscent of “Unbroken” from 2001. Big Machine would be smart to release this as a single.

Newcomer Catherine Dunn, who also happens to be McGraw’s cousin, joins him on “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools,” a pure country album highlight that has a bit too much electric guitar, but adds a nice helping of steel about halfway through. While she’s regulated to singing harmony, Dunn adds a nice texture to the track that helps balance McGraw’s gruffness. It’s just weird to me he isn’t singing with Hill, who also would’ve been perfect here.

I also like “Words are Medicine,” a good pop-country number that I might’ve loved had someone like Jennifer Nettles sang it. As it is McGraw does well with it, but his vocal lacks a subtly a better song interpreter would’ve brought to it. “Last Turn Home” is just too loud and McGraw gives an annoying vocal performance on it, which is unfortunate.

“Portland, Maine” finds McGraw with a smoothed processed vocal that does little to give him any credibility. The lyric, by Abe Stoklasa and Donovan Woods, is idiotic, with the laughable hook of “Portland, Maine I don’t know where that is.” The track is ripe for parody and completely beneath McGraw’s talents. “Still On The Line” isn’t any better, with an arrangement that leans far too pop for my tastes.

Also terrible is “Dust,” an embarrassing slice of bro-country dreck unsurprisingly co-written by two-thirds of the Peach Pickers. McGraw co-wrote “Keep On Truckin’” with The Warren Brothers and Bill Daly. Like most of the dreck in mainstream country music, it’s another laundry list number that spends a lot of time saying next to nothing. Andrew Dorff’s “Sick of Me” isn’t awful, but McGraw’s vocal is grating and the song’s structure is annoying.

A deluxe edition of Sundown Heaven Town gives the listener an additional five tracks. McGraw gives a tender vocal on the piano ballad turned overproduced social conscious track “Kids Today,” he turns the volume up to eleven on “I’m Feeling You,” mixes organic country with too much rock on “The View” and ventures into Lady Antebellum territory with “Black Jacket.” I wanted to love the Kid Rock assisted “Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs,” but the lyric was embarrassingly juvenile and the production far too progressive for my tastes.

As a whole, Sundown Heaven Town is a mixed bag, with McGraw getting a few things right, but still taking a lot of wrong turns along the way. I was a rabid fan of his from 1996-2007, but as the trends in mainstream country have changed, and he along with them, I’ve lost interest. He’s nicely evened out with Sundown Heaven Town, though, with the McGraw of “Truck Yeah” thankfully not showing up here. While he does need a new, far less rockified sound, this is his best album since Let It Go, which is saying a lot these days.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Mary Kay Place – ‘Baby Boy’

Actress Mary Kay Place had a sideline as a country singer. This was her biggest hit (#3 in 1976):

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Tell The Truth’

tellthetruth2001’s Tell The Truth was Lee Roy Parnell’s first post-major label release, the one that obstensibly “freed” him to record whatever he wanted without regard to commercial concerns. It is no surprise that the album isn’t particularly country; even in his hit-making days Parnell was no traditionalist. Tell The Truth is a combination of delta blues, blues rock, boogie, and blue-eyed soul but has only the loosest connection to country music. Lee Roy co-wrote nine of the album’s ten tracks and produced the project along with John Kunz. He was joined by a number of guest artists, none of whom are connected to mainstream country, but all of whom are highly respected in their own genres.

Albums like this are always difficult to review. The credits of Tell The Truth contain the names of some of music’s most respected musicians and songwriters, but this type of music is really not my cup of tea and I found listening to it to be quite a chore. Overly long songs always annoy me, even when they are songs that I like. Many of the tracks on Tell The Truth clock in at more than five, six or even seven minutes. The album produced one single, “South By Southwest”, performed as a duet with Delbert McClinton, who seems to have been an inspiration for the entire project. The single failed to chart, not suprisingly since it doesn’t fit in comfortably with any major radio format.

Although I didn’t care for much of Tell The Truth, it does contain some songs that I did enjoy. In general, the ballads and the quieter numbers were the ones I enjoyed more: “Breaking Down Slow”, on which Parnell was joined by blues singer Bonnie Bramlett was nice, as were the title track (a co-write with Tony Arata), and the Gretchen Peters-penned “Love’s Been Rough On Me”. I also enjoyed the rollicking gospel number “Brand New Feeling”, performed with the Mississippi Mass Choir.

Although Tell The Truth doesn’t really coincide with my personal taste, the talent of Lee Roy Parnell, the supporting musicians and the songwriters is not in question. Parnell is in good voice and the songs are all well produced and well performed, if you like this sort of thing. It’s worth seeking out if you’re looking for a change of pace record, but fans like me who would just prefer to keep it country will probably want to pass on this one.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘South By South West’

Album Review: Junior Sisk & Ramblers’ Choice – ‘Trouble Follows Me’

trouble follows meOver the past few years Virginia’s Junior Sisk and Ramblers’ Choice have been making quite a name for themselves in bluegrass. Sisk was named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year last year. His latest album is an excellent example of his work, and has great appeal for bluegrass fans who like songs with substance alongside sparkling musicianship.

The vibrant opener ‘Honky Tonked To Death’ is a great mixture of uptempo bluegrass vocals and arrangement and a honky tonk country song, written by Bill Castle. The unrepentant protagonist blames the break up of his marriage on his drinking habits:

I guess our love began to die when I found swinging doors
And every night I stayed out late it died a little more

The rhythmic ‘Don’t Think About it Too Long’ celebrates making music. It is co-written by Ronnie Bowman, who also wrote the high lonesome ballad ‘A Cold Empty Bottle, a story song about a man whose broken heart (and love of sad country songs) only feed his alcoholism.

‘I’d Rather Be Lonesome’ is a plaintive up-tempo disclaimer of love for an unfaithful woman. ‘Gonna Make Her Mine’ is perkier, about a shy man’s determination to declare his unrequited love for a neighbour’s daughter.

The title track, written by Sisk, is a fast-paced story song about a hard-pressed farmer who turns to crime after losing his farm. He ends up in a new prison built on his former home.

The slower ‘Walk Slow’, written by Tom T Hall and his wife Dixie, takes a more contemplative, philosophical approach, advising living like a small child to appreciate life fully.

‘Frost On The Bluegrass’ is about the enduring pull of home. ‘Jesus Walked Upon The Water’ is a briskly delivered acappella gospel quartet.

An eclectic selection of covers wounds out the set. The perfectly-constructed country classic ‘All I Have To Offer You Is Me’ works well, while the band also takes on a Carter Stanley tune, the mournful yet up-tempo ‘Our Darling’s Gone’. Most unexpected is a version of Michael Martin Murphey’s ‘What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round’, which also suits a bluegrass interpretation. The band’s Jason Tomlin takes lead vocals on this one.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Sammi Smith – ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’

Single Review: Josh Turner – ‘Lay Low’

lay lowEvery year there seem to be fewer and fewer traditionally rooted country singers on mainstream labels still making a play for radio attention. Josh Turner is one of the holdouts, so it’s always good to hear from him, even if his material is sometimes less ambitious than one would ideally like. The precipitous recent decline in lyrical themes makes his conservative approach all the more welcome. Even in better times for country music Josh’s richly burnished bass-baritone voice would stand out.

His newest single, ‘Lay Low’ paints a comforting picture of the tranquillity to be found in a rural retreat with a loved one, a million miles away from the dispiriting partying songs we hear too much. Although Josh didn’t write the song (reliable songwriting team Tony Martin, Mark Nesler and Ross Copperman are responsible), it was apparently written especially for him and was inspired by a cabin owned by Josh and his wife. A pretty melody and sincere vocal make this a breath of fresh air on the airwaves, and raise hopes for Josh’s new album.

The production is given a little radio friendly gloss which will hopefully make it palatable for DJs while retaining the song’s country roots, and allowing Josh’s great vocals to shine (although I regret to say that I hear traces of vocal processing in some places – completely unnecessary. It isn’t the best thing he’s ever recorded, but it is a decent song and has a welcome maturity in its approach to

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: George Jones – ‘You Gotta Be My Baby’

Single Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘She Won’t Be Lonely Long’

Hits_and_Highways_AheadLee Roy Parnell wrapped his major label career in 1999 after Career Records folded back into Arista and released Hits and Highways Ahead, Parnell’s sole career retrospective. At just twelve tracks, it featured his biggest hits over the past nine years and unsurprisingly left off any offerings that didn’t ignite at radio.

To help promote the album, which like all of Parnell’s other works didn’t chart very high, the label released a single. “She Won’t Be Lonely Long,” written by Bob McDill, didn’t reverse Parnell’s commercial fortunes and became his final single to chart, peaking at #57.

Over the years I’ve found that many of the songs I really enjoy were written by McDill, who in turn is one of my favorite writers. His “Gone Country,” and Alan Jackson’s subsequent hit recording is one of my favorite singles of the 90s. It’s a masterpiece through and through. So I wasn’t surprised McDill also penned one of my favorite Parnell recordings, “On The Road.”

“She Won’t Be Lonely Long,” which isn’t to be confused with Clay Walker’s 2010 hit, sadly cannot be added to my list of favorite McDill songs. Lyrically, the song is ok, with the story of a woman coming out of a breakup lonely, but not for long.

My problem is the production, which retains Parnell’s signature electric guitar, but smothers the track in a Texas-styled arrangement far too Delbert McClinton for my tastes. This style of country isn’t in my sonic wheelhouse, so I have to really, really like it for songs in this vein to hit me just right. Also, nothing about this track is commercially country by 1999 standards either, so I’m amazed it charted at all.

Parnell had a great tenure on Arista and Career Records, with some excellent material to show for it. “She Won’t Be Lonely Long” is far from that standard, and a low note for which to end the commercial phase of his career.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: The Statler Brothers – ‘On The Jericho Road’

Week ending 9/20/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

jimglaser1954 (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: You’re Getting To Me Again — Jim Glaser (Noble Vision)

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

2004: Days Go By — Keith Urban (Capitol)

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

2014 (Airplay): American Kids — Kenny Chesney (Blue Chair/Colubmia)

Classic Rewind: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Heart’s Desire’

Classic Rewind: Keith Whitley – ‘Hickory Wind’

A rare glimpse of the young Keith Whitley:

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-

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