My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Marty Robbins – ‘Begging To You’

Album Review – Gene Watson – ‘Sometimes I Get Lucky’

0215albums006Sometimes I Get Lucky came just two years after Gene Watson scored his biggest and only number one hit, “Fourteen Caret Mind.” While immensely successful, the album, nor anything else Watson released after it, was that successful again.

“You’re Out Doing What I’m Here Doing Without,” a jaunty honky-tonker, was the first single peaking at #2. I quite like this one even though it hasn’t aged too well. Watson brings a nice energy to the track and I love the ribbons of steel woven throughout.

The title track was the second single and didn’t fare as well, peaking at #9. It’s an excellent steel-laced country shuffle that has Watson channeling Merle Haggard both sonically and vocally. The steel guitar is especially engaging and hooks the listener in from the beginning.

While the majority of country music was caught up in the watered down pop of the Urban Cowboy era at the time, Watson proved the exception. Sometimes I Get Lucky is purely a honky-tonk record with both steel and twangy guitars delightfully peppering the arrangements and making for a Big City esque sound.

Album opener “Speak Well of Me” is the perfect example; a weepy steel led number about a man pleading with his ex to only say nice things about him to their children. “She Makes Leaving Look Easy” is another great track, this time about a woman with ease about her during a break-up. Watson’s vocal is silky smooth and weaves through the track with the effortless of the woman leaving.

The rest of the ballads are ear catching but still somewhat interchangeable. “You Waltzed Yourself Right Into My Life” and You Put Out An Old Flame Last Night” are nice steel-led numbers while “Thinkin’ ‘Bout Leavin’” is more of the same except for the addition of a twangy guitar. All are good, but somewhat blend together.

“You’re Just Another Beer Drinkin’ Song” is the album’s only truly upbeat number and it’s a fabulous mix of steel and rip-roaring twangy lead guitar. “If I Were You I’d Fall In Love With Me,” isn’t as charging, but it’s just as infectious.

Overall Sometimes I Get Lucky is very engaging and enjoyable album from one of the best honky-tonk singers the genre has ever produced. The song selection is high and Watson’s voice is in fine form throughout. Another winner in his catalog.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘No One Will Ever Know’

Classic Rewind: Charlie Louvin – ‘Think I’ll Go Somewhere (And Cry Myself To Sleep)’

Gene Watson interview revisited

Gene WatsonIn 2009, I had the opportunity to interview Gene for the now quiescent http://www.9513.com after the release of his A Taste of The Truth album.

***

PWD: I read recently in an interview that was done on another website concerning your interest in automobiles. I won’t rehash that territory, but being a fan of autos, do you have any particular favorites among the racing circuits – either CART, Indy, or NASCAR?

GW: Well, I watch drags. I like NHRA and I like NASCAR, too. I’m a John Force fan – the whole team in the drag racing field. I’m a huge fan of Carl Edwards. I like all types of racing. But NASCAR and drag – NHRA – would probably be my favorites [PWD note: as of 2011, Gene still owned and operated a body shop].

PWD: I’ve noted that some of the European labels have done a good job of getting some of your older recordings back in print. I have no idea who Hux Records is, but they became my favorite label when they started reissuing some of those old Capitol albums of yours. How did that come to be?

GW: I don’t know. You know, that was negotiated through Capitol Records. Unfortunately, I don’t own the masters. If I did, they would be available through me… Hux has been real good to put these selections together. They’re usually on a dual album set. The people that are fortunate enough to find them, they tell us how proud they are to have them back because a lot of those songs are out of print. You can’t buy them any more, so it just kind of gave them a new life when Hux came back with them.

PWD: Are there any plans for any of your MCA, Epic, or Warner Brothers cuts to be reissued?

GW: Yes, in fact I’m planning on going in the studio as quick as possible and starting to redo all of that stuff. Bring it back with better quality and all that and still keep the original Gene Watson feel on it. That’s one of our definite plans for the future, and hopefully within the next few months. [PWD note: this project was released as The Best of The Best - Twenty Five Greatest Hits in 2012. Gene used the original arrangements and as many of the original musicians as he could find – a definitive A+.]

PWD: I’ve seen recently that some of your recordings are available on the website for Tee Vee Records, King Records, Gusto – those labels. Are those new recordings or are those reissues of some of the older stuff?

GW: They’re reissues of the recordings from Capitol and Step One Records…

PWD: I thought it’d be interesting to maybe get you to discuss some of the recordings of the past. Would you mind?

GW: Okay.

PWD: Let’s see how it goes. I’m going to ask you first off about my absolute favorite Gene Watson recording – and there are about ninety-five others that are in second place – but the one that just really grabbed me when I first heard it was “The Old Man and His Horn.” It sounds like there should be a story behind that one.

GW: Well, there is. The same guy [Dallas Harms] that wrote “Paper Rosie” and “Cowboy’s Don’t Get Lucky All the Time” for me wrote that song and it’s been an extremely difficult song to follow through with. The recording was a little bit different because of the horns. We had trouble tracking them in studio – we laid down all the tracks at Bradley’s Barn here in Nashville – and when we recorded, we had trouble getting the horn on the track, so what we did was to lay down all the rest of the tracks, even including my vocal. Then, after we sought out the horn player that we wanted to use, we found that we couldn’t use trumpet, it was too brash. By the time we found what we wanted to do, we came back up to Sound Emporium – Jack Clement’s recording studio – and we went in and we put it on. Actually, what that is is a flugelhorn – it’s a little bit more mellow and everything.

PWD: I was wondering about that, it didn’t quite sound like a trumpet to my ear, but I don’t have a classically trained ear.

GW: Yeah, we tried trumpet, but it was too shrill, too brash, and cutting too hard. So we thought on it and looked around and done some research and everything and we wound up using a flugelhorn on it. Of course, you know, I can’t hire a horn player just to travel the road with me just to play one song, so it automatically became a thorn in my side as far as reproduction on stage. So what we did was, at that time I had my steel guitar player get an attachment to put on his steel guitar and we would do that horn part on the steel. It did work pretty good for a while. We had a lot of requests for that song and I appreciate you liking it.

PWD: It’s my favorite, although I must admit I’ve liked everything you have recorded. I remember first hearing, I guess it was around January or February of 1975, a song called “Bad Water” that I don’t think did a whole lot, but the follow-up, which I think was also originally on Resco, was “Love In The Hot Afternoon.” That was a great record and very different from what anyone else was recording at the time.

GW: “Bad Water,” that was a song that was originally out by Ray Charles’ background singers The Raelets. I decided to do it up country and believe it or not, that was the first song I ever had that got in the national charts. That got Capitol Records’ attention and when we re-released “Love In The Hot Afternoon” on Capitol they signed me to a long-term contract and that song turned out to be a giant for the year 1975.

PWD: I remember it well. It seemed to be on the air all the time in the area in which I live, which is Orlando, Florida. And it seemed like it was getting quite a bit of airplay on stations that weren’t country radio stations.

GW: Yeah, it was a good song for me.

PWD: … Do you have any particular favorites among the songs you’ve recorded?

GW: I’ve always had the freedom to pick and choose all of my material myself and it seems like to pick one as a favorite would be like picking one of your kids. .. There’s something about all of them that got my attention that I like. I’m not saying that all of them came out as favorites, but there was, anytime I recorded a song, there was something about it that I appreciated. “Farewell Party” is by far the most requested song that I’ve recorded, but I still like to do “Got No Reason Now For Going Home” and “Paper Rosie” and “Fourteen Carat Mind” and all that.

PWD: I think “Farewell Party” was your first #1, going to the top on Cash Box. If I recall correctly, that was a Lawton Williams song.

GW: Yeah, it was.

PWD: And it seems like years before your record I remembered hearing Little Jimmy Dickens do it.

GW: There were several people that had recorded it. Waylon Jennings, for one. Billy Walker and George Jones recorded it as had a lot of other artists.

PWD: I guess it took your touch to make a hit out of it though.

GW: I guess so. Because it’s sure been a good one for me.

PWD: It has. That and “Fourteen Carat Mind” are songs you still hear country bands performing all the time.

GW: That was a #1 hit in 1982, “Fourteen Carat Mind” was. I’ve been extremely fortunate and I owe all the thanks to the fans out there, and of course you guys who play the music. I try my best to record the best material I can and then it’s up to the folks whether it hits or not.

PWD: Do you have any songs that you recall that were offered to you first that you passed on that later became big hits?

GW: Oh yeah. Oh Lord, I heard “The Gambler” before Kenny Rogers did it. “The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time.” There’s been a lot of them, but that doesn’t mean that these songs would have been hits for Gene Watson. I mean they were hits for the people that recorded them, but there are Gene Watson hits and then there are other people’s hits and a lot of times it’d be like another artist recording “Farewell Party.” There were a lot of them before me that didn’t make it. When I recorded it, fortunately for me, it did. That’s kind of the trend that you have to look at when you’re considering material to record. You need to be careful and pick songs that you think are right for you.

PWD: One of the later hits that you had that I really liked, and haven’t been able to find it on CD, was “Don’t Waste It On the Blues.” That was a little different for Gene Watson.

GW: Yeah, it was a little uptown swing thing, almost modern jazz. I love that kind of stuff. I’m a lover of that type of music and it was a great song for me. Best I remember, I think it was a Top Five song.

PWD: …Did you ever have a song that you recorded that you just thought, “This has hit written all over it,” and then it stiffed for some reason or another?

GW: There have been several like that. In fact, I try to have that attitude every time I go in the studio, thinking that I’ve got a hit. You know that a lot of them are more capable of being hits than others, but that happens quite occasionally.

PWD: One that struck me that should have been a big hit that wasn’t, was a song you did titled “Carmen,” which I think was on your first or second Epic album.

GW: Yeah, that was a big song. In fact, that’s still a real big song overseas. When we were in Ireland and England and Scotland, the people over there just love that song and we always get requests for it when we go over there, but the title I think hurt the song a little bit in being confused with the old song of Marty Robbins’ called “Carmen.” Not that his was bad, but it was a hit and every time everybody saw the title they automatically thought that I had covered Marty’s song and that hurt it a whole lot.

PWD: Another Epic song I thought should have been a hit was “Honky Tonk Crazy”, a song local bands here in Florida often cover.

GW: Great song. That was my last album for Epic Records, and yeah, I thought it should have been a hit too. I really did. You can look down in that album and I was extremely proud of that whole album. I think everything in that album was really fantastic. Of course, it was produced by Billy Sherrill. I just thought it was a good album. I thought we should have got more response. I’m not sure we got all the help from Epic Records that we deserved, but for some reason or another, who knows why, it didn’t quite make it as good as we thought it would.

PWD: Were your parents musical people?

GW: My whole family was musical.

PWD: So you grew up listening to country music? Perhaps other forms of music ?

GW: Gospel, country, country gospel, and blues. I used to sing the blues and everything, so yeah, my whole family was musically inclined.

PWD: Who were your favorite artists when you were growing up?

GW: Oh I don’t know, I listened to all of them. Boy, back then they had the Top 10 on Sunday and I loved Lefty Frizzell. I thought he was fantastic, and Webb Pierce, Carl Smith, Faron Young. When Hag come in to play, oh it kind of ruled everything else out.

PWD: I’m not sure I’d agree with you there, but I liked all those names that you mentioned.

GW: Well I don’t mean ruled it out, I’m just talking about the new…I think Merle Haggard was more of an extension of Lefty Frizzell. I always loved Lefty, I loved his smooth approach. I liked the way he recorded things, and Ray Price, what can you say about him? I had a lot of favorites and it would be hard to pick one of them.

PWD: How about among the younger artists?

GW: I think one of the best artists out there is a guy by the name of Joe Diffie. I think he’s one of the finest vocalists that you’re going to find out there. My good friend Joe Nichols is a fantastic artist. There are several of them out there that I really, really admire and I appreciate what they do. There’s more of them out there that I don’t appreciate, but there’s some of them that’s got great talent and they’re for real.

PWD: I remember about a year or two ago you opened a show for Brad Paisley, didn’t you?

GW: Yes.

PWD: That must have been a little different experience with the type of audiences and venues he plays.

GW: My thing is my thing and I do it no matter who I’m working with, or opening for, or closing for or whatever. We never plan a show. I always hit the stage and the band, the only way they know what I’m going to do next is the way I introduce it to the people, and it was fun, it really was. I think the world of Brad. He’s a great artist and it was a real pleasure getting to work with him, but you know we do what we do and he does what he does and we all try to be successful at it.

PWD: … Any plans for perhaps a duet album with one of the leading female singers, say Rhonda or Alison or someone like that? I think that would really come off well.

GW: Well I think that a duet album is a possibility and the most likely duet partner, I would say at this time, would be Rhonda, if she would accept, and I think she would because we’ve both been on the same page as far as that goes and who knows, we might put that together. We’ve both talked about it. [Note: it happened!]

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘Climb Higher’

Week ending 6/14/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

1954 (Sales): Slowly – Webb Pierce (Decca)

Johnnie and Jack, 19421954 (Jukebox): Slowly – Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Oh Baby Mine (I Get So Lonely) — Johnnie & Jack (RCA)

1964: Together Again — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1974: I Will Always Love You — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1984: Someday When Things Are Good — Merle Haggard (Epic)

1994: That Ain’t No Way To Go — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2004: Redneck Woman — Gretchen Wilson (Epic)

2014: Play It Again — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2014 (Airplay): Play It Again — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘Nothing Sure Looked Good On You’

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘Should I Come Home (Or Should I Go Crazy)’

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Old Loves Never Die’

oldlovesAlthough his name is rarely mentioned as one of the leaders of the New Traditionalist movement, Gene Watson was among the relatively small number of artists that stayed true to country music’s roots while the rest of the genre was deeply entrenched in Urban Cowboy pop. 1981′s Old Loves Never Die was about as out of touch with the mainstream trends of the day as it could get, and was as tradtional as the music that Ricky Skaggs and George Strait — two artists usually named as the era’s holdouts against the trend toward pop — were making at the time.

Co-produced by Gene with Russ Reeder, Old Loves Never Die wasn’t a huge seller — it peaked at #57 on the albums chart — but it has the distinction of producing two of his best remembered hits, “Speak Softly (You’re Talking To My Heart)” and “Fourteen Carat Mind”, his only chart-topper. The latter, which was written by the great Dallas Frazier with Larry Lee, was released in October and reached #1 in January 1982. It spent 19 weeks on the chart altogether. “Speak Softly” wasn’t quite as big a hit, but it still charted at a respectable #9.

In keeping with the standard practice of the time, only two singles were released from the album. “Fourteen Carat Mind” and “Speak Softly” are hands down the album’s two best songs, but I also quite liked the title track, which could easily have been another hit single, and “Nothing About Her Reminds Me of You”, which is sort of in the same vein as Merle Haggard’s “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)” — the protagonist has moved on to a new relationship and though his new partner may not be the love of his life, at least she isn’t breaking his heart the way his ex did.

Although I enjoyed all ten of the album’s songs, the production is a bit dated on some of its ballads. The vocal choruses are more restrained here than on some of Watson’s earlier projectes, but the keyboard arrangements on “Till Melinda Comes Around”, “Lonely Me” and “The Sun Never Comes Up” betray the album’s age.

Unfortunately, Old Loves Never Die has never been released on compact disc or as a digital download. Used vinyl copies are available, but most modern music fans probably won’t hear this album in its entirety until one of the European reissue labels decide to dust it off and give it another chance in the marketplace. If and when that happens, it’s worth picking up a copy.

Grade: A -

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘Pick The Wildwood Flower’

Album Review – Miranda Lambert – ‘Platinum’

MirandaLambertPlatinumMidway through Miranda Lambert’s new album Platinum comes a jarring exception to the rule as daring as the twin fiddles that opened Lee Ann Womack’s There’s More Where That Came From nine years ago. The one-two punch of a Tom T and Dixie Hall composition coupled with a glorious arrangement by The Time Jumpers has yielding “All That’s Left,” a rare nugget of traditional western swing with Lambert channeling high lonesome Patty Loveless. Besides producing one of the years’ standout recorded moments, “All That’s Left” is a crucial nod to our genre’s heritage, and the fulfillment of the promise Lambert showed while competing on Nashville Star.

Suffice it to say, there’s nothing else on Platinum that equals the brilliance of “All That’s Left,” since Lambert never turns that traditional or naturally twangy again. Instead she opts for a fifteen-slot smorgasbord, mixing country, pop, and rock in an effort to appeal to anyone who may find his or her way to the new music. In lesser hands the record would be an uneven mess, but Lambert is such an expert at crafting albums she can easily pair western swing and arena rock and have it all fit together as smaller parts of a cohesive whole.

The main theme threading through Platinum is one of getting older, whether for purposes of nostalgia, or literally aging. She continues the nostalgia trip she began with fantastic lead single “Automatic” on “Another Sunday In The South” as she recruits Jessi Alexander and fellow Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe to reminisce about the good ‘ol days of 90s country music, among southern signifiers like lazy afternoons and times spent on the front porch. The only worthwhile name check song in recent memory, “Another Sunday” cleverly weaves Restless Heart, Trace Adkins, Pam Tillis, Clint Black, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and song namesake Shenandoah through the lyrics without pandering or sounding cutesy. I only wish she had referenced Diamond Rio and had producer Frank Liddell pepper the track with more of a 90s throwback production, which would’ve fit slightly better than the soft rockish vibe the track was given.

Lambert actually does recapture the Patty Loveless-like twang on “Old Shit,” Brent Cobb and Neil Mason’s love letter to the appealing nature of antiques. The framing technique of using the grandfather and granddaughter relationship coupled with the organic harmonica laced organic arrangement is charming, and while I usually don’t advocate for swearing in country songs, it actually works in this case and seems more appropriate than any of the cleaner words they could’ve used instead.

The aging side of getting older, which Lambert and company began tackling with “Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty” on Annie Up last year, is far more prevalent a force on Platinum. As has become customary for Lambert, she wrote thumping rocker “Bathroom Sink” solo. The lyric is scathing, detailing scary self-loathing that builds in intensity along with the electric guitars. Lambert’s phrasing is annoying, though; punctuating the rimes so much they begin to sound rudimentary. While true, “Gravity’s a Bitch,” which Lambert co-wrote with Scotty Wray, just doesn’t feel necessary to me. I think being outside the track’s demographic target aids in my assessment, but I do enjoy the decidedly country meets bluesy arrangement.

When the press release for the album said the title track was ‘Taylor Swift pop’ I was admittedly worried, no matter how many times I got down with the dubstep of “I Knew You Were Trouble” or the bubblegum of “22.” Since Max Martin isn’t anywhere near this album, “Platinum” is more “Red” than anything else, and the infamous ‘what doesn’t kill you only makes you blonder’ lyric is catchy as hell. Similarly themed and produced “Girls” is just as good, and like “Gravity’s a Bitch,” it’ll appeal quite nicely to the fairer sex.

The rest of Platinum truly defines the smorgasbord aspects of the album, with some conventional and extremely experimental tracks. Lambert co-wrote “Hard Staying Sober” with Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird and it ranks among her finest moments, with the decidedly country production and fabulously honest lyric about a woman who’s no good when her man isn’t present. “Holding On To You,” the closet Lambert comes to crooning a love song, is sonically reminiscent of Vince Gill’s 90s sound but with touches that makes it all her own. While good it’s a little too bland, as is “Babies Making Babies,” which boats a strong opening verse but eventually comes off less clever than it should’ve and not surprising enough for me.

Ever since Revolution, production on Lambert’s albums has to be taken with a grain of salt, which is unfortunately still the case here. I’m betting, more than anything since Brandy Clark and Lambert co-wrote it together with Heather Little, that “Too Rings Shy” has a strong lyric underneath the unlistenable production that found Lambert asking her production team to go out and lyrically record circus noises. It’s a shame they couldn’t make this work, since they pulled it off with Randy Scruggs reading the Oklahoma Farm Report in the background of “Easy Living” on Four The Record. There’s just no excuse why the track had to be mixed this intrusively.

Polarizing more than anything else is Lambert’s cover of Audra Mae’s “Little Red Wagon,” which I only understood after listening to Mae’s original version. Given that it’s a duet with Little Big Town, I know most everyone expected more from “Smokin’ and Drinkin,’ and I understand why (the approach isn’t traditional), but I really like the lyric and production, making the overall vibe work really well for me. The same is true about “Something Bad,” which isn’t a great song, but works because of the beat, and interplay between Lambert and Carrie Underwood. The two, even on a marginalized number like this one by Chris DeStefano, Brett James, and Priscilla Renea, sound extremely good together.

Nicolle Galyon and Jimmy Robbins teamed up with Hemby to write the album’s most important track, a love letter Lambert sings to Priscilla Presley. While the concept is questionable on paper, the results are a revelation and give Lambert a chance to directly address what she’s been going through since her husband’s career skyrocketed on The Voice. At a time when most artists of Lambert’s caliber are shying away from singing what they’re going through, Lambert is attacking her rise in celebrity head on with a clever lyric, interesting beat, and an all around engaging execution that makes “Priscilla” this album’s “Mama’s Broken Heart.”

Even without the added punch of co-writes with her fellow Nashville Star contestant Travis Howard or the inclusion of a bunch of artistic covers from the pens of Gillan Welch, Allison Moorer, Carline Carter, and others – Platinum ranks high in Lambert’s catalog. She’s gotten more introspective as she’s aged but instead of coasting on past success or suppressing her voice in favor of fitting in or pleasing people, she remains as sharp as ever tackling topics her closest contemporaries wouldn’t even touch. I didn’t care for this project on first listen, but now that I completely understand where she’s coming from, I’m fully on board. All that’s left is my desire she go even more country in her sound, but Platinum wouldn’t be a Miranda Lambert record without the added touch of Rock & Roll.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Rosanne Cash and Johnny Cash – ‘That’s How I Got To Memphis’

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Between This Time And The Next Time’

between this time and the next timeIn 1981 Gene moved from Capitol to MCA, but his debut album for the new label was broadly similar to his earlier work. Gene co-produced with Russ Reeder.

There is a honey-sweet vocal on the title track, a tenderly seductive and quite unrepentant cheating song, involving two lovers whose weekly meetings seem too far apart:

Let’s take what this moment has to offer
Let’s fill every need we feel inside
Reach out and turn the lights down low
Then reach me every way you know
Let’s make sure before we leave that we’re both satisfied

It’s a beautiful performance and was a top 20 single. The song was written by Canadian country singer Ray Griff, who also recorded it.

The second and last single ‘Maybe I Should Have Been Listening’ is a wonderful regretful fiddle-led ballad as a man is haunted by memories of his ex, lamenting

Here you are back on my mind where you stay quite a lot
Bringing back all the old memories I thought I’d forgot
I just keep finding you with me and I don’t know why

Now I know leaving means one goes and one stays behind
I can’t escape from you no matter how hard I try
Maybe I should have been listening when you said goodbye

This one didn’t quite make it into the top 20. Both singles are excellent songs and recordings, and deserved to do much better.

The sardonic mid-tempo ‘I’m Telling Me A Lie’ finds another protagonist struggling with his memories of an ex in the aftermath of a breakup, when drinking away the pain by day won’t let him sleep at night.

The wistful New York-set ‘Come Back Home’, written by Joe Allen and Dave Kirby, is beautifully sung but with a slightly intrusive string arrangement. Once again, Gene plays the part of the one left behind, as he pleads with her to return. ‘Down Here On My Knees’ is another lovely, delicately sung ballad, with Gene begging his discontented wife not to leave. The steel-laced ‘Even At Its Worst It’s Still The Best’ has another up-and-down relationship, but one that is still just about hanging together.

Written by Tom T. Hall, ‘Three’ is the story of a newly wed couple entering on parenthood only to meet with tragedy. The anxious father’s chain smoking as she endures a labor neither she nor the baby survives has perhaps dated a little, but the story’s emotion is timeless and heartwrenching, as the narrator is left “a lonely One who wanted to be Three’. Last month we mentioned several times that Tom T Hall was a better writer than singer, and this is the perfect combination of song and singer with Gene adding further levels of emotion through his vocal.

‘The Look In Baby’s Eyes’ is a sultry ballad with a slightly dated Nashville Sound production but a great vocal.

As usual with Gene, the ballads dominate (not a bad thing since he is so good at them). There are only a couple of more up-tempo numbers.

‘We Got A Bad Thing Goin’’ is about a hookup between Gene’s bad guy who ‘ain’t never had a job’ and plans on robbing the local bank and a wealthy woman. Written by Wayne Carson and Don Tankersley, it’s a bit out of character with Gene’s usual romantic ballads, and the backing vocals are dated, but it is quite entertaining.

The Wynn Stewart song ‘I’m Gonna Kill You’ raises the tempo with its murderous threat to a wife with “cheating bedroom eyes”, who he intends to “bury … in a box about half your size”. I love almost everything Gene Watson sings, but here he sounds a little too cheerful, where someone like Johnny Paycheck would have made it genuinely threatening.

This is a great album. Sadly, it has never been released digitally or on CD, but if you have access to other formats, it’s well worth getting hold of. Hopefully it will get a re-release as several of Watson’s other albums have done.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘Farewell Party’

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘My Heroes Have Always Been Country’

my heroes have always been countryA new album from Gene Watson always is cause for celebration, and My Heroes Have Always Been Country is no exception to the rule. What you get with this album is eleven excellent traditional country songs sung by one of the best male vocalists in the business. Although Gene is now seventy years old, his voice is still in fine shape although perhaps pitched a little lower than in his prime.

The album kicks off with Dottie West’s biggest copyright as a songwriter, “Here Comes My Baby Back Again”. The song won Dottie a Grammy in 1965 and provided her with her first solo top ten record in 1964. Gene’s version is true to the spirit of the original recording although minus the ‘Nashville Sound’ trappings of strings and choral accompaniment. I don’t know if the effect was intentional, but the female backing singer, Cindy Walker, sounds like Dottie West would in singing harmony on the choruses of this song. Producer Dirk Johnson’s work on keyboards is prominently featured in the arrangement as are the fiddle of Aubrey Haynie and the steel guitars of Mike Johnson and Sonny Garrish.

Here comes more tears to cry
Here comes more heartaches by
Here comes my baby, back again
Here comes more misery
Here comes old memories
Here comes my baby, back again

“Don’t You Believe Her” comes from the pen of Nat Stuckey. While never a hit single, both Ray Price and Conway Twitty had nice recordings of the song as album tracks

She can give you a reason to live if she wants to She can make you forget other loves that you have known She has two lips and two arms that thrill you as very few do And if you want her to give them to you, just ask and she will

Don’t you believe her – I did and soon she’ll be leaving me
Don’t you believe her – if you do then soon she’ll be leaving you too

It takes a brave man to cover Johnny Paycheck’s “Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets” (a number seven hit for Paycheck in 1977) but Gene is up to the task. In fact I actually like Gene’s version better than the original.

Gene has been featuring Hank Cochran’s “Make The World Go Away” in recent performances, and why not? Although the song was a hit at least three times (Timi Yuro, Ray Price, Eddy Arnold) it is a great song well worth hearing again. Gene’s version is a little more straight-forward country than the Price or Arnold versions, but Gene is as skilled and nuanced a singer as either Ray or Eddy and delivers a memorable performance of the song.

“The Long Black Veil” receives a dramatic, but not melodramatic, reading from Gene Watson that burnishes the Danny Dill / Marijohn Wilkin classic with a new luster. I think Lefty Frizzell would approve of Gene’s version.

I suppose you can’t do an album of modern classic country without reaching into the Merle Haggard song bag. In this case Gene has pulled out a tune written by Glenn Martin and Hank Cochran titled “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)”. Gene has always been the master of the medium-slow ballad and this song is no exception.

No, it’s not love, not like ours was, it’s not love
But it keeps love from driving me mad
And I don’t have to wonder who she’s had
No, it’s not love but it’s not bad

Haggard took “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)” to number one in November 1972.

Gene reached deep into the George Jones catalog and found the Sandra Seamans / Kay Savage-penned “Walk Through This World With Me”. The song spent two weeks at number one in 1967 and is one of the many great songs that George recorded for the Musicor label. For my money, the best George Jones recordings came from the United Artists and Musicor labels during the 1960s. I prefer George’s recording but just by a hair.

Walk through this world with me,
Go where I go
Share all my my dreams with me,
I need you so
In life we search and some of us find
I’ve looked for you a long, long time

And now that I’ve found you,
New horizons I see
Come take my hand
And walk through this world with me

Those of us over 60 remember “(Turn Out The Lights) The Party’s Over” as the song ‘Dandy Don’ Meredith sang on ABC Monday Night Football as soon as the game was out of hand and the winner inevitable. Younger folks may remember hearing the venerable songwriter Willie Nelson sing it in concert. After hearing Gene’s version, you’ll think of it as a Gene Watson classic.

“I Forget You Everyday” was written by Merle Haggard but was never issued as a single. The truth is that during his peak years Merle Haggard was writing more great songs than he could ever get around to issuing as singles. Consequently, this song languished as an album cut on one of Hag’s fine Capitol albums, unheard to any but those who purchased the album. I hope Gene issues this as a single, although I don’t expect radio will play the song.

Memory is a gift a man can’t live without
And in times we can’t control the things we think about
So sometimes I still remember you in every way
But for a little while I forget you every day

“Count Me Out” was written by Jeanne Pruett, a song that she recorded for RCA during the mid-1960s. It didn’t chart for her and Marty Robbins’ 1966 recording of the song only reached number fourteen but it’s a really good song and kudos to Gene for unearthing it.

Taking me for granted was your first mistake
And that was the beginning of my last heartache.
And then you added insult to my injury
When you started treating me just as you please.

Count me out of future plans you might be making.
No more foolish chances am I taking.
You played love’s game too rough.
As for me, I’ve had enough
‘Cause the going’s got too rough so count me out.

Gene closes out this album with a song commonly associated with Buck Owens. Although Buck never issued the record as a single, he did cut it as an album cut and kept it in his live shows for a decade. Orville Couch co-wrote “Hello Trouble” and took it to number five in 1962. In 1989 the Desert Rose Band took it to number eleven on both the US and Canadian country charts. The song is a short (1:55) up-tempo song that makes a perfect closing note for yet another fine album. While cheerful in its sound and feel, the narrator of the song knows that the cheer is but of short duration.

Gene Watson covers no new ground in this recording, instead doing what he does best, singing good and great songs as well as anyone ever will sing them.

Producer Dirk Johnson’s production is solidly modern traditional country with fiddle and steel featured prominently throughout. In lieu of the symphonic strings featured on the original versions of some of these songs, fiddlers Aubrey Haynie and Gail Rudisill-Johnson have created some nice string arrangements that complement the songs without overwhelming them.

Although hardly an essential part of the Gene Watson canon (except to the extent that every Gene Watson album is essential), it will please all of his many fans and hopefully gain him some new fans.

Grade: A (or 4.5 Stars)

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘Cowboys Don’t Get Lucky All The Time’

Album Review – Gene Watson – ‘Beautiful Country’

36182171Beautiful Country, released in 1977, was Gene Watson’s fourth album for Capitol Nashville. While none of its single reached the top 5, they were still among the most successful of his career.

Lead single “The Old Man And His Horn” is a 70s classic and a perfect story song about a guy’s relationship with the horn that helped him invent the blues. For a recording from the late 70s it’s only moderately dated, which is a nice change of pace, and Watson gives a straightforward vocal that nicely sells the story.

“I Don’t Need A Thing At All,” which peaked at #8, was the most successful of the singles. An excellent honky-tonk ballad, the track would’ve been a slam-dunk if it wasn’t for the heavy piano based arrangement and had a nice helping of steel guitar instead. Nonetheless it is a wonderful song and Watson gives another of the stellar vocals he’s known for.

Just like “The Old Man and His Horn,” final single “Cowboys Don’t Get Lucky All The Time” peaked at #11. The jaunty number about a woman putting a hard-partying cowboy in his place is quite good but a victim of its era with intrusive background vocalists and a rambling nature that’s high on story but low on structure and hook.

Unlike the album’s final single, Beautiful Country is low on energy and high on balladry mostly utilizing heavy piano in the production beds. This technique tends to weigh the album down, but it was quite popular when the record was released thirty-seven years ago.

Two of the numbers, though, thankfully help to challenge this trend. “I’d Love To Live With You Again” is pure honky-tonk down to the glorious fiddle and weeping steel. The lyric, about a man wanting to get back with his woman, matches the production perfectly although there is a heaviness to the proceedings that’s hard to ignore, but not too in the way of blissful enjoyment.

“It Don’t Hurt Me Half As Bad” is even better, with ample fiddle leading the way and none of the heaviness that penetrates “I’d Love To Live With You Again.” Watson seems more engaged vocally as well, giving a livelier performance different from anything on the rest of the album. Steel can also be heard in the background of “Hey Barnum and Bailey,” and it helps Watson give yet another engaging vocal.

Beautiful Country is a somber album musically with few surprises among its ten tracks. Watson, though, is in excellent form throughout and there are a few highlights to breakthrough the late 70s sheen that permeates the recording. While the album is hard to find today, it was released as a 2-for-1 with Watson’s second album Because You Believe In Me, though the Hex label in 2005.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Billy Joe Shaver – ‘You Just Can’t Beat Jesus Christ’

Week ending 6/7/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

1954 (Sales): Slowly – Webb Pierce (Decca)

ronniemilsap1954 (Jukebox): Slowly – Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly – Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Together Again — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1974: Pure Love — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1984: Honey (Open That Door) — Ricky Skaggs (Epic)

1994: Don’t Take The Girl – Tim McGraw (Curb)

2004: Redneck Woman — Gretchen Wilson (Epic)

2014: Play It Again — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2014 (Airplay): Play It Again — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

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