My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Johnny Paycheck – ‘I Did The Right Thing’

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘Different Things’

different thingsAfter leaving RCA, Tracy struck out on his own. His last album to date was released on his own label in 2006). Freedom from commercial concerns led him to his most mature work, and the best album of his career. He produced the set alongside Mike Geiger, and they did a fine job showcasing the songs tastefully.

My very favourite track is the incisive and gloriously judgmental cheating song, ‘Cheapest Motel’ in which a man loses everything after a fling:

They used the Bible for a coaster
And it never crossed their mind
Maybe they should have opened it
Instead of that high dollar wine

But he ends up exchanging his happy marriage and family for a lonely existence:
The cheapest motel in town cost him everything

It was written by Cole Deggs, Mike Geiger and Trey Matthews. It was the lead single, and got a little airplay, but really deserved to do much better.

Almost as good, the sober realisation of the title track shows a man who has come to understand his failings. He looks back on a lifetime’s rash choices, now that his marriage is collapsing.

What I want is to give up
Just let go and walk out on us
What I need is to see this through
Oh, and find a way back to you

The last thing that I reach for every evening
Is a woman who I can’t reach any more
Time has worn the new off of the feeling
And right now I wanna just walk out the door
But what I want and what I need
Have always been different things

This excellent song was written by John Ramey, Brice Long and Bobby Taylor, and is interpreted with the just the right amount of resignation by Tracy. A stripped down production gives it the perfect support.

A similarly rueful attitude dominates ‘She Was Smart’, in which a rich man finds out money isn’t enough to make up for his lack of commitment to his girlfriend.

Sweet but not overly sentimental, ‘Just One Woman’ is a ballad with a spoken introduction about an old man’s lifelong love for his wife. Also rather sweet, ‘A Cowboy And A Dancer’ is a story song in which a cowboy down on his luck meets a girl whose dreams of musical theatre stardom have sputtered out by working as a stripper to put herself through college. A shared ride out of Texas turns into romance.

‘Saltwater Cowboy’ is a lighthearted and likeable beach song. ‘The Biggest Thing In Texas’ is a fun little slice of western swing which allows Tracy to affectionately dig at his fellow Texans’ pride in their home state:
Pride is the biggest thing in Texas

‘Better Places Than This’ the second and last single sadly failed to chart, but it is an entertaining honky tonker with sadness at its heart. In response to being thrown out of a second-rate bar where he’s been drowning his sorrows a little too long, the protagonist declares:

Keep your old cold shoulder and your lukewarm beer

I haven’t lost anything here I can’t live without
Can’t you see everything’s already gone that I ever cared about?

I’ve been thrown out of better places than this
I know where to go and I know what to kiss
I’ve heard it all before from my sweet angel’s lips

‘Before I Die’ offers up a bucket list with a wistfully delivered lyric and lovely melody. Not outstanding, but nicely done.

The closing ‘Hot Night In The Country’ is a rare Tracy Byrd co-writing credit (alongside Mark Nesler and Tony Martin) but is a bit dull. ‘The More I Feel Rockin’’ is a cheerful mid-tempo celebration of refusing to slow down despite growing older – pleasant filler but enjoyable enough.

Overall, though, this is the best album Tracy has ever recorded, and is an essential purchase. That makes it all the more disappointing that he has gone silent since its release.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Tracy Byrd – ‘Different Things’

Album Review: Jade Jack – ‘Off The Record’

off the recordIt’s always exciting to discover a new artist, especially one who make the kind of music I like the best. I had just that experience when I came across Jade Jack on youtube, and this album fulfils that promise. She’s not yet quite as good as, say Amber Digby, as her voice, while sweet and listenable, still has the lightness of youth, but she is the same kind of artist. Her selection of material is great; and the production is pure traditional country with plenty of fiddle and steel. She grew up in a musical family, and started fiddle lessons at the age of four, beginning to perform in public soon afterwards.

That youtube song was a cover of Doug Stone’s classic ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box’), and a beautifully sung version is included on this album. In fact, she currently plays fiddle in Doug Stone’s band, and throws in a catchy Celtic-style instrumental to show off her skills.

There are two George Jones covers: a pretty, delicate version of ‘Once You’ve Had The Best’ and a strong take on ‘The Grand Tour’. ‘A Woman’s Man’ is a Leona Williams song lyrically along the lines of Loretta Lynn’s ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’, and Jade’s version is very enjoyable. Leona is reportedly one of Jade’s influences, and one can hear it in some of her phrasing, particularly on this song. The arrangement also recreates the original, particularly the steel playing.

A couple of other songs were co-written and previously recorded by the underrated Ken Mellons. The gorgeous sad ballad ‘I Can Bring Him Back’ was a single for Mellons in 1994 (as ‘I Can Bring her Back’), while he recorded the midtempo ‘Institute Of Honky Tonks’ (with a cameo from George Jones) on his 2004 album Sweet, more recently re-released under the title Just What I’m Wantin’ To do). I prefer the meatier male version on the latter song, but Jade’s version (with a few minor lyric changes to suit a female voice) is very good. ‘I Can Bring Him Back’ is beautifully done.

She clearly has a penchant for cheating songs, and there are some excellent ones here, which are the highlights of the album. The outstanding ‘I Can’t Help It If He Can’t Stop Loving Me’ is unrepentantly addressed to her lover’s new wife:

I’m not stealing him from you
Just doing what he wants me to
And I can’t help it if he can’t stop loving me
I can’t stop him if that’s where he wants to be
There must be something here he really needs

A great song, and perhaps Jade’s most impressive vocal performance.

In ‘I’m Dynamite’ she warns a potential adulterous lover not to let anything get started before they go too far and too many innocent parties get hurt in the fallout:

The flame of love is burning
Just begging to be used
I’m dynamite so please don’t light the fuse
You can’t undo the damage that I’ll do
And the first thing I’ll destroy will be you

Also great is ‘I Had A Husband’, in which the protagonist discovers a very unwelcome secret her man has been keeping:

I should’ve known better but I couldn’t see
The game he’d been playin’ with her and with me
Loving two women and livin’ two lives
Well, I had a husband
But he wasn’t mine

In ‘Go Away’ she addresses a husband who has betrayed her, wanting to take him back but aware turning him away will save her heartbreak in the long run.

‘No Reason To Quit’ declares drinking to forget beats sobering up and rejoining her circle of friends who are now shunning her, because “I’ve got no reason for living right”.

Finally, ‘Tijuana Grass’ is a rather unexpected song about the possible effects of legalising marijuana.

You can get this excellent album in either CD or download formats from Jade’s website. It is highly recommended.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Elvis Presley – ‘Moody Blue’

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘The Truth About Men’

truthaboutmenBy 2003, Tracy Byrd was struggling to remain commercially viable so he and co-producer Billy Joe Walker, Jr. took a three-pronged approach for his RCA swan song,The Truth About Men, which combines the neotraditional sounds for which he had become well known with more contemporary material and a pair of novelty songs that they hoped would allow them to further capitalize on the success of the prior year’s #1 hit “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo”.

First out of the box was the tongue-in-cheek but blatantly honest title track that bravely declares how men (allegedy) really feel: “We ain’t wrong, we ain’t sorry, and it’s probably gonna happen again.” Written by Paul Overstreet with Rory Lee Feek and Tim Johnson, and with guest vocals provided by Andy Griggs, Blake Shelton and Montgomery Gentry, “The Truth About Men” didn’t reach the lofty heights of “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo”, peaking at #13. And no doubt everyone involved had some explaining to do to their wives. Novelty tunes tend to wear thin after repeated listenings, but this is a fun song that I’ve always enjoyed. The follow-up single, “Drinkin’ Bone”, which is one part novelty tune and one part party song, fared much better. It landed at #7, marking the last time that Byrd would chart inside the Top 10. Playing it safe and pandering to radio’s growing interest in less substantive songs, RCA released the Carribbean-flavored “How’d I Wind Up In Jamaica”. The production is a bit cluttered on this one and by the time of its release, Byrd was on his way out at RCA, so the single received little promotion and stalled at #53. A missed opportunity was the Rodney Crowell composition “Making Memories of Us”, which should have been released as a single. Byrd’s version is much better than the version Keith Urban took to #1 two years later.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag. The steamy “You Feel Good” is my least favorite song on the album. I admit to being put off by the reference to Byrd sleeping in the nude in the opening line, and that made me really not want to listen much to the rest of the song, but the real problem is that it requires a more soulful performance than Byrd delivers. Conway Twitty could probably have made this song work. “That’s What Keeps Her Getting By” and “When You Go” are attempts to move along with the musical times but both are forgettable filler, as is the power ballad “Somewhere I Wanna Go”. On the other hand, I quite enjoyed the Keith Stegall-penned “Tiny Town” and “Baby Put Your Clothes On”, which was written by Paul Overstreet, Bill Anderson, and Buddy Cannon. Not surprisingly, Byrd is at his best when he’s singing more traditional songs.

The album closes with a live version of “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo”, which not surprisingly works well in a concert setting.

The Truth About Men marks the end of the major-label phase of Tracy Byrd’s career. It was a modest success, peaking at #5 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart but it failed to earn gold certification. It isn’t his very best work, but it contains enough worthwhile songs to warrant purchasing a cheap used copy.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Don Williams – ‘I’ve Got A Winner In You’

Fellow Travelers: Elvis Presley

elvis presleyHe was known as the “Hillbilly Cat”, but whether you know him as the “Hillbilly Cat”, the “Tupelo Mississippi Flash” or simply as “The King”, there is no doubt that Elvis Aron Pesley was the most important American Pop Singer during the second half of the twentieth century.

Some thought of him as the white hillbilly singer who sounded black, but that really wasn’t true. Elvis was the singer who, more than anyone else, helped meld the three great strains of American pop music (Tin Pan Alley, Rhythm & Blues and Country) into a unified whole. Who else could idolize Hank Snow, adore the music of Dean Martin and yet adapt the songs of artists such as Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and “Big Mama” Thornton into hits played by everyone.

Who Was He?

Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was the biggest star in American pop music during the second half of the twentieth century – for the period from 1930 onward, only Bing Crosby surpassed him in the number of hit records. According to Billboard reseacher Joel Whitburn through the year of his death (1977) Elvis had 113 top 40 pop hits with 38 top ten singles and 20 that reached number 1. If you include charted songs that missed the top forty, there are at least another 20 songs plus some songs that charted on various genre charts. Although singles were the primary focus during his peak years, he sold hundreds of million album units world-wide during his career.

Elvis Presley’s early hits such as “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “(You Ain’t Nothing But A) Hound Dog” continue to be staples of rock acts and rockabilly revival acts to this day.

What Was His Connection to County Music?

Elvis Presley had a magnificent voice with a wide range enabling him to cover the entire tenor and baritone ranges thus opening up to him the ability to sing country music, gospel music and pop standards, something many of his contemporaries could not do.

His first country #1 came in 1955 with “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” , a straight country song that did not chart on the pop charts. Such monster pop hits as “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel” reached #1 on the country charts and lingered there for many weeks.

Along the way, songs that were not aimed at the country charts continued to chart country and his songs remained on DJ playlists throughout his career.

Through the end of 1977, Elvis charted 68 songs on the county charts of which 57 reached the top 40. Toward the end of his career he consciously had turned to county music and in 1977 three of his singles reached #1 on the Billboard and/or Cashbox County Charts (“Moody Blue”, “Way Down” and “My Way”).

More importantly, the entire generation of country stars who followed him for the next three decades, knew his songs, performed them in live concert and often recorded his songs.

His records and albums continue to sell world-wide to this day and continue to chart on occasion. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is fully qualified for both honors

He was something special indeed.

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn – ‘Who Says God Is Dead?’

Week ending 7/26/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

BobbyBareMain1954 (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: Marie Laveau — Bobby Bare (RCA)

1984: Just Another Woman In Love — Anne Murray (Capitol)

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: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Sticks And Stones’

Classic Rewind: Jean Shepard – ‘Come On Phone’

Album Review: Sammy Kershaw – ‘Do You Know Me? A Tribute to George Jones’

Do You Know MeIt would be futile to attempt to quantify the number of male country singers over the past 40 years or so that have cited George Jones as a major influence on their careers, so it was inevitable that tribute albums would begin to appear following the Possum’s death last year. There is perhaps no one more suited to singing an album of Jones covers than Sammy Kershaw, who not only is among the more sincere of the self-proclaimed Jones proteges, he is also the one who sounds the most like Jones.

Do You Know Me? A Tribute To George Jones was produced by Kershaw himself and released last week on his own imprint Big Hit Records. It consists of twelve songs that span the most successful stretch of Jones’ long and distinguished career, from 1955’s “Why Baby Why” to 1985’s “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”. Casual fans of both Jones and Kershaw could easily and understandably be duped into thinking that Jones himself is the performer on these recordings. More serious fans won’t have any problem distinguishig the difference, but the comparison is a bit unfair, if only because Jones made most of these recordings when he was in his vocal prime, while Kershaw is at a point where the wear and tear on his vocal chords is beginning to show. He sounds the most like Jones on uptempo numbers such as “Why Baby Why”, “White Lightnin'” and “The Race Is On”. The ballads are well done and mostly faithful to the originals, but Kershaw can’t quite match the magic that Jones and Billy Sherrill achieved on numbers such as “The Grand Tour”, “Once You’ve Had The Best” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” It should be pointed out, however, that nobody could and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing more justice to these songs than Sammy does.

My favorite track is “When The Grass Grows Over Me”, a song written by Don Chapel that Jones took to #2 in 1968. That same year Jones repaid the favor by running off with Chapel’s wife Tammy Wynette. Georgette Jones, the only child that resulted from George and Tammy’s six-year marriage joins Sammy on “Near You”, an old pop standard that dates back to 1947. It woas originally recorded by its composer Francis Craig, and later covered by the likes of The Andrews Sisters, Roger Williams, Andy Williams, and several others. George and Tammy recorded it in 1974 when their marriage was in the midst of crumbling. Released in 1977 after the couple had divorced, it reached #1 on the Billboard country singles chart. Georgette is not the singer her mother was, but she sounds enough like Tammy to make her an ideal duet partner for Kershaw. With a little background noise and if one doesn’t listen too closely, one could almost believe that it’s George and Tammy singing.

In addition to the covers of Jones’ classic material, Do You Know Me? contains two new songs, including the title track, which is biographical ballad written for Jones by Johnny Holland and Billy Lawson, which he never got around to recording. Nobody could sing this song as credibly as Kerhsaw does, and had he not recorded it for this album, it likely would never have seen the light of day, which would have been a shame. The album closes with another ballad “The Route That I TooK”, a “Choices” -like number written by Sammy himself which talks about the Possum’s tendency not to do things the easy way.

Nothing on this album is likely to ever find its way to mainstream country radio airwaves, but it is a labor of love that truly deserves to be heard and it’s a must-have for any George Jones or Sammy Kershaw fan.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Tracy Byrd – ‘Cheapest Motel’

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘Ten Rounds’

TenroundsTracy Byrd’s second album for RCA Nashville, Ten Rounds, saw a reversal of commercial fortunes that got Byrd back in the game at a time when he needed the support of country radio to remain relevant. Released in 2001, the album was once again co-produced by Billy Joe Walker, Jr.

A Rivers Rutherford co-written slice of terrible country rock entitled “Good Way To Get On My Bad Side,” a duet with Mark Chesnutt, was issued as the lead single. Hardly memorable and wholly generic, the track peaked at #21. While the track could be seen as an early indication of the genre’s future, Walker and Byrd get one thing right – the loudness, despite heavy electric guitars, is kept to a minimum.

The Spanish flavored “Just Let Me Be In Love” returned Byrd to the top ten for the first time in three years when it peaked at #9. Byrd returns to form here with a triple punch – memorable lyric, forceful vocal, and wonderfully listenable production.

The third and final single, “Ten Rounds With Jose Cuevro,” a lively honky-tonker, topped the charts giving Byrd his first number one single in eight years and his second chart topper to date. The ruckus nature of the track coupled with Byrd’s immersion into the character helped propel the single’s success at radio. While the novelty wears off after repeated listenings, the track isn’t without modest commercial charms.

The remainder of Ten Rounds balances tenderly produced ballads with rowdy up-tempo numbers. The latter group leaves much to be desired, especially “Summertime Fever” and “Somebody’s Dream,” which are pure dreck. Thankfully the other uptempo numbers are far more listenable and delicately produced.

The former provide moments where Ten Rounds shines as bright as it’s going to with tracks that are great, but nothing revelatory. Surprisingly, three of them are covers – “Wildfire” is the Michal Martin Murphy song from the 70s, “How Much Does The World Weigh” was previously recorded by Sammy Kershaw, and “Keeper of the Stars” is an updated version of his signature song. The covers are good, but he brings nothing new to them except for “Keeper of the Stars,” which comes off more country than the original. “Needed,” as close to neo-traditional as the record gets is good, too.

All and all Ten Rounds is a squarely commercial country album aimed at positioning Byrd as a major player for continued airplay on country radio. While that objective was achieved, Byrd and Walker could’ve amassed a far more memorable collection of songs that were stronger both sonically and lyrically. As it stands, Ten Rounds is nothing more than a mixed bag that gets more wrong than right.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Rodney Crowell ft Rosanne Cash and Emmylou Harris – ‘Shame On The Moon’

Classic Rewind: Joy Lynn White – ‘True Confessions’

Album Review: Flatt Lonesome – ‘Too’

tooI was very impressed by young Florida-based bluegrass band Flatt Lonesome’s debut album, although it came my way a bit too late for me to review it. Their second is just as good.

The vocals are shared between siblings Buddy, Kelsi and Charli Robertson, who form the heart of the band, while they and their bandmates (who include Kelsi’s husband Paul Harrigill) are all excellent musicians. The girls are both fine singers, and one of them has a particularly lovely voice. Buddy’s lead vocals are a bit more generic. The siblings’ harmonies are excellent throughout.

Charli sings the opening ‘So Far’ backed up by the sibling harmonies, a pacy slice of high lonesome which is a joy to listen to despite the downbeat lyric. ‘Make It Through The Day’ is a yearning ballad with a delicate arrangement, which is beautifully interpreted and a real highlight. My favorite track is the sad ‘I Thought You Were Someone I Knew’, a ballad with a lovely melody and a rueful lyric about discovering a lover’s true character the hard way. This is outstanding.

‘Never Let Me Go’ is a very charming mix of western swing and bluegrass written by Kelsi, with close harmonies. The girls also harmonise prettily on the wistful ‘Letters Have No Arms’, an old Ernest Tubb song which works perfectly for them. More unexpectedly, ‘I Can’t Be Bothered’ (a Travis Howard song which was a hidden gem in Miranda Lambert’s debut album) gets an inspired bluegrass makeover.

‘I’m Ready Now’ written by the band’s banjo player Paul Harrigill, is typical uptempo positive bluegrass gospel . The other religious song included, ‘He Still Hears’, is more contemplative and emotional, a tender ballad written by the siblings’ father, a minister.

Buddy takes the lead on four tracks. ‘Dangerous Dan’ is an entertaining story song about a hard-pressed Depression era outlaw who ends up finding God. The lonesome wail of heartbreak song ‘It’s Probably Just Her Memory Again’ is also pretty good. He is brisk on ‘Slowly Getting You Out Of the Way’. ‘How Long’ is a breezy prison song written by California folk rocker J D Souther which has a slightly different feel to the rest of the record.

This band is one of the brightest rising stars in bluegrass, and has much to appeal to acoustic country fans. This is an excellent album (as indeed was their debut).

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Patty Loveless ft Vince Gill – ‘If My Heart Had Windows’

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-

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 124 other followers