My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Blake Mevis

Album Review: Doug Stone – ‘In A Different Light’

in a different lightDoug’s tenth album was released in 2005 on independent label Lofton Creek. he co-produced the album with John Mills and label boss Mike Borchetta (father of Scott). The main drawback to being on an independent label turned out to be a shortage of good new songs. It also sounds as if it was produced on the cheap, with a rather compressed sound in places and the vocals have a tendency to sound staccato. A number of songs were tried as singles, but unsurprisingly none gained any traction.

On the positive side, my favourite track, ‘Let The Light Shine On You’ is lovely, a very sweet romantic ballad written by Randy Boudreaux and Blake Mevis paying tribute to a woman who has supported her husband for years, and this track is worth downloading. The wistful piano ballad ‘How Do I Get Off The Moon’ about coping with a breakup (another Boudreaux song, co-written with Kerry Kurt Phillips and Donny Keen) is also quite pretty and tenderly sung, but the shoddy engineering/audio issues spoil it sonically. On the same theme, ‘The Beginning Of The End’ is well-sung and not a bad song.

Unfortunately most of the new songs are boring and many are over-produced to boot. The heavily orchestrated ‘Everything’ is probably the best of the rest, being pleasant but rather bland, on the well-worn theme of satisfaction with one’s simple life. ‘Time’ is overproduced and not very interesting. ‘World Goes round also boring, but worse, it is overproduced and poppy, with an unnaturally staccato vocal, and generally really bad. ‘To Be A Man’ is boring and far too loud.

The paucity of good new material was countered by including a number of covers of non-country songs. An unexpectedly soulful cover of the standard ‘Georgia On My Mind’ is rather good, while ‘Only You (And You Alone)’ is okay. ‘Tell It Like It Is’ is a 60s hit for R&B artist Aaron Neville which was also a minor hit at that time for Archie Campbell and Lorene Mann, and a #2 country hit for Billy Joe Royal in 1989. Doug’s version is jazzy and sophisticated and quite good although not really country. Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ is also quite nicely done, although the effect is too staccato for my taste. ‘Millionaire’ is a sprightly tongue-in-cheek Dixieland jazz/ragtime number about trying to become a kept man, with saxophone which would be quite fun if not for the uncomfortable amount of vocal processing evident, with disconcerting shifts in volume.

Finally, he revisited a couple of his older successes. The title track makes pleasant listening but completely redundant, while ‘Why Didn’t I Think Of That’ feels rushed.

Overall this is rather a disappointment. Used copies are available fairly cheaply, but I couldn’t really recommend it to anyone but a Doug Stone superfan. I love Stone’s voice – but sadly not this record.

Grade: C-

Album Review: Vern Gosdin – ‘If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong (Do It Right)’

1983 saw a new label for Vern, Compleat, and a real comeback.  This was his first album for the label, and was produced by Blake Mevis.  The production shows some signs of its era with liberal but not overwhelming use of string sections and sometimes slightly dated sounding arrangements of the backing vocals, clearly patterned after Janie Fricke’s contribution to earlier Gosdin records, but it allows that voice to shine. 

The classic title track is a stunning song, with a beautifully understated vocal which is, like many of Vern’s recording, a masterclass in singing country music.  Bitter but weary of fighting it, Vern addresses a wife he knows is planning on cheating on him:

There’s a closet full of dresses that I bought you
And here’s the keys to the new car in the drive
And before you leave our room
Put on your best perfume
If you’re gonna do me wrong, do it right

Oh, the next time the phone rings
I won’t answer
I don’t wanna be the fool I was tonight
I don’t wanna know the truth
I don’t wanna see the proof
If you’re gonna do me wrong
Do it right

The pain is palpable. It was Vern’s biggest hit to date, and quite an achievement for an independent label, albeit one distributed and promoted by the major Mercury, and although a peak of #5 was still four spots lower than it deserved. It might have been known as one of George Jones’s classic hits, as Vern and co-writer Max D Barnes had pitched it to the Possum, but he had unaccountably failed to record it. That seems like a real missed opportunity, which Jones acknowledged when he finally got around to covering it on his 2005 set Hits I Missed – but then we would never had heard Vern Gosdin’s own superb version.

Matching its predecessor’s performance, second single ‘Way Down Deep’ picked up both tempo and mood with a positive love song Vern wrote with Max D Barnes and the latter’s son Max T Barnes. It’s very good with a happy feel as it celebrates falling in love, but lacks the emotional intensity which makes Vern’s best work his heartbreak ballads, and is one of my less favourite tracks here.

The wistful ‘I Wonder Where We’d Be Tonight’ was the third top 10 from the album, making it his most consistent and successful release to date. Vern ponders regretfully what might have been if he hadn’t broken up with an ex he still loves, delivering another perfectly executed vocal on an excellent song.

The record is packed full of now-classic recordings. ‘Tennessee Courage’, which Vern wrote with his brother Rex (who died in 1983 aged just 45 after recording backing vocals for this album) is beautiful but sad, portraying a man taking refuge from his loneliness in a bottle of whiskey:

Now my good friend Jack Daniels stands tall on the shelf
And he’ll go to war with my troubles
And he’ll never desert an old friend when I’m hurt
And needin’ some Tennessee courage

Straight 90 proof can alter the truth
Put hair on your chest in a hurry
I know I’ll survive
Raise hell for a while
With the help of some Tennessee courage

The song was later covered by Keith Whitley in his posthumously released I Wonder Do You Think Of Me, the latter’s alcohol-induced death giving an added poignancy to the choice. Vern also repeated his exquisite AMI top 10 hit ‘Today My World Slipped Away’, a song always worth hearing again. The lesser known ‘I’ll Try’ is almost as good, Vern offering a warm and supportive helping hand to someone in pain:

I’ll try to help you understand what love is all about
And why the things you want so bad
You seem to do without
And if your heart should start to cry
As you watch dreams inside you die
And you need someone to tell you why
I’ll try

‘Favorite Fool Of All’ has a devoted Vern all too aware he is fooling himself that his faithless lover will not break his heart like those of all her past conquests.

If the sad songs are the best, there is also some happy material worth hearing. ‘I Couldn’t Love You More’ is a touching love song with a pretty tune, and ‘My Heart Is In Good Hands’ is also nice. While there really isn’t a bad track, the closest we get to filler is with ‘I Feel Love Closin’ In’, a pleasant enough chugging ballad about falling in love, and even this is tenderly sung making it sound good.

This outstanding album was released on CD in 2001 on Vern’s own VGM label and this version is still fairly easy to find. One of the greatest singers country music has ever seen, and high quality material, make this a must-have.

Grade: A+

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Strait From The Heart’

straitfromtheheartGeorge Strait’s sophomore effort finds him repeating the same winning formula of his debut, from teaming up once again with producer Blake Mevis, to working a pun based on his last name into the album title. Released in June 1982, Strait From The Heart attempts to strike a balance between Strait’s traditional country roots and the Urban Cowboy sound that was prevalent in the early 80s.

“Fool Hearted Memory”, written by Byron Hill and Blake Mevis was the album’s first single. Released a month in advance of the album, this mid-tempo number holds the distinction of being the first in what was to become a very long string of #1 hits for George Strait. It was his fourth single release in total, and the third to peak inside the Top 10. By this time, Strait was beginning to develop a solid reputation as a traditionalist singer, so the next single release, took some by surprise. “Marina Del Rey” was written by Dean Dillon and Frank Dycus, and no one was more surprised than they when Strait fell in love with the song. They’d figured he wouldn’t be interested in this contemporary-sounding romantic ballad. A big departure from Strait’s previous work, “Marina Del Rey” employed a full string section, while the fiddle and steel that had figured so prominently on his earlier singles took a back seat. Despite being more in line with what radio was playing at the time, “Marina Del Rey” didn’t perform quite as well on the charts as Strait’s previous two singles, missing the Top 5, but still peaking at a very respectable #6. Though it was a pivotal record in Strait’s career at the time, “Marina Del Rey” hasn’t aged as well as most of his other hits; the production sounds dated to modern ears, particularly the singing seagull sound effect employed at the end, which is something that Strait objected to at the time. “Blake promised me that he would take the singing bird out at the end of it, which he didn’t do,” Strait said. ” And I’ve always hated that.”
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Album Review: George Strait – ‘Strait Country’

Strait CountryIt was clear right from the start that George Strait was going to be a big star, when his very first MCA single, ‘Unwound’, was a top 10 hit in 1981. It was one of no fewer than six songs on his debut album, Strait Country, to be co-written by Dean Dillon, then a young singer-songwriter with a handful of minor hits of his own on rival label RCA. He was to become the songwriter most associated with Strait’s early success. ‘Unwound’ and the second single, ‘Down And Out’, which was a little less successful, only reaching #16, were both written by the songwriting partnership of Dillon with Frank Dycus, whose contribution has probably been overlooked in comparison.

Both singles were uncompromisingly country, at a time when pop-influenced sounds were battling with more traditional ones after the success of the Urban Cowboy soundtrack. ‘Unwound’ is a hard country lament shot through with piercing fiddle, as the narrator sets in for a night’s drinking in response to his wife seeing through all the lies, complaining “that woman that I had wrapped around my finger just come unwound”. The wilder ‘Down And Out’ continues the theme, with the protagonist really settling in to his night’s drinking, as he explains:

“Well, I’m out on a tear, ’cause she’s tearin’ me apart
If I look rough on the outside you oughta see my heart.”

Dillon and Dycus also wrote the closing track, ‘Her Goodbye Hit Me In The Heart’, a less memorable but still decent song about a tough guy who finds a woman leaving hits him harder than he expected. They also teamed up with the album’s producer, Blake Mevis, to write ‘Friday Night Fever’, a good-humored tale of a husband enjoying a weekly night out while his homebody wife stays in watching Dallas on the TV.

The couple in ‘She’s Playing Hell Trying To Get Me To Heaven’, written by Dean Dillon again, this time with Charles Quillen and David Wills, are more conflicted about their differing tastes in life, as our protagonist tells us without much regret:

“Well, I promised to go to church with her about a month of Sundays ago
Well, here it is, Sunday again, and I ain’t been once in a row ….

There’s only 10 commandments but I’ve broke at least 11
She’s playing hell trying to get me to heaven.”

I’m a big fan of Dean Dillon as a songwriter, but he probably got one credit too many on this album, with the inclusion of ‘I Get Along With You’. The only remarkable thing about this pleasant but forgettable song is that it took five writers, including Dillon and Dycus, to create, and while George’s vocal is warm, the backing vocals on the track are rather dated.

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Album Review – Keith Whitley: A Tribute Album

Keith whitley tributeOne of the problems with making a tribute album is how far the participants are prepared to bring something of themselves to the interpretation, and how far they are so concerned to pay their respects the artist being honored, that the end result is little more than very tasteful, high-class karaoke.

The tribute album produced by BNA, the successor to Keith Whitley’s record label RCA, in 1994, five years after his death, does sometimes fall into that trap, but it makes one or two decisions which mark it out, too. The highly respected Randy Scruggs took on production duties, with Lorrie Morgan as executive producer. Another of those involved was songwriter Byron Hill, who says on his website that the project was the one he enjoyed working on most in his period as A&R director for BNA (1993-1994).

Some of the hottest artists of the mid 90s were recruited for the project, and most of them give respectful versions of some of Keith’s best-known songs, which speak well of their admiration of Keith, but fall a little flat when compared to the originals. Alan Jackson takes on ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’; Tracy Lawrence tries ‘I’m Over You’; Joe Diffie sings ‘I’m No Stranger To the Rain’; and Mark Chesnutt tackles ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’. They are all fine singers in their own right, and their versions of Keith’s hits are pleasant enough to listen to, but the overriding adjective which comes to mind while listening is ‘nice’. They lack something of the passion Keith brought to them, and perhaps this is because they were thinking of the act of tribute they were paying rather than the song itself. I suspect that if any one of these gentlemen had independently decided to record the song on one of his own albums, it would have had a different approach and more life. I think what is missing is inspiration.

Diamond Rio are a little more successful bringing something new to their track, ‘Ten Feet Away’, one of the better songs on LA To Miami. This is partly because the natural advantage of being a harmony-based band automatically brings a new feel to a song popularised by a solo singer, and partly because the new version has better production. Also very pleasing and not overawed by the task is the duet by Keith’s old friend Ricky Skaggs with Marty Raybon, lead singer of Shenandoah, on ‘All I Ever Loved Was You’, the least familiar of all the covers. This traditional-sounding bluegrass waltz was written by Ricky’s mother Dorothy Skaggs, and originally recorded by Keith and Ricky as precociously talented teenagers on their 1971 set Second Generation Bluegrass.

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Album Review: Keith Whitley – ‘Kentucky Bluebird’

Kentucky BluebirdRCA had a lot of unreleased Keith Whitley recordings in the vaults, and in 1991 the label got his last producer, Garth Fundis, to work on a number of these, leading to the release of Kentucky Bluebird. The album is a bit of a hodgepodge, comprising a mixture of these re-produced tracks, snippets from radio interviews of primarily historical interest, and a few tracks from Keith’s earlier RCA albums. A total of 15 tracks are listed, but only eight were new songs. The material is not of such a consistently high material as his two masterworks, Don’t Close Your Eyes or I Wonder Do You Think Of Me, but Garth Fundis did a pretty good job making it sound like a reasonably cohesive project.

Five tracks were taken from the sessions for the jettisoned album Keith recorded with Blake Mevis as a follow-up to LA To Miami, with new backings recorded under Fundis’ oversight. The label obviously regarded these as the most commercial tracks, and two were picked as singles to promote the album. The more successful of these was ‘Brotherly Love’, a duet with Earl Thomas Conley, which reached #2 on Billboard. Conley was rather a curious choice of duet partner, as although he had been a massive star in the 80s, he was at the tail-end of his hitmaking career, he was quite a bit older than Keith, and his soulful style had little in common with Keith’s traditional country and bluegrass influences. However, their voices blend together surprisingly well on a touching if slightly sentimental tale of brotherhood.

Keith’s last ever hit single (making #15) was the pleasantly inoffensive but rather forgettable pop-country ballad ‘Somebody’s Doin’ Me Right’, written by Fred Knobloch, Paul Overstreet and Dan Tyler. It feels rather like an out-take from LA To Miami, as does the undistinguished stuttering rocker ‘Going Home’, which was written by Troy Seals and actor John Schneider (who had himself been pursuing a career in country music with some success in the 80s). You can see why Keith was not altogether happy with the album they were planned for.

The best of the Mevis-originating tracks is the rather lovely ‘That’s Where I Want To Take Our Love’, written by Dean Dillon (who later recorded it himself) and the legendary Hank Cochran. Keith gives a beautifully tender interpretation of this reflective dream of settling down and making a home in the country: “They’ll know just what country means ‘fore they go off to town”, he sings of his imagined future children.

RCA had never given Keith much opportunity to record his own songs, but he did write songs, and three tracks here are based on demos he recorded for his publishing company, Tree, although only two of them are songs he co-wrote himself. ‘Backbone Job’ was written by Keith with Kix Brooks, and has a jaunty tune belying a serious lyric about searching for honest manual work in a hi-tech world.

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Album Review: Keith Whitley — ‘L.A. to Miami’

latomiamiAfter the commercial failure of his RCA debut mini-album, Keith Whitley changed directions somewhat, moving away from traditional country and more towards a more contemporary (i.e., commercial) sound. The result was 1985′s L.A. to Miami, produced by Blake Mevis, who had produced some of George Strait’s early work. At that time, country radio was still more receptive to more pop-oriented music; the neotraditionalist movement was not yet quite in full swing. That would change about a year later when Randy Travis burst onto the scene. Ironically, one of the songs that propelled Travis to stardom — “On The Other Hand” — had been previously recorded by Whitley, and is included in this collection. At first it seems like the perfect match between singer and song, but Whitley’s version pales in comparison to Travis’. This is one of the very few examples in which Whitley seemed to be phoning in his performance.

Another song to file under “Ones That Got Away” is the Dean Dillon composition “Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her”, which would go on to become a #1 hit for George Strait the following year. Whitley’s version was never released as a single. His vocal performance is stellar, and this version could have been a hit had RCA released to radio before MCA beat them to the punch with Strait’s recording.

It must have been extremely frustrating for the struggling artist to watch two songs from his album become #1 hits for other artists, particularly when the first single from the album, “I’ve Got The Heart For You” performed about as well as Whitley’s previous singles, peaking at #57. Whitley’s fortune would change, however, with the next single release “Miami, My Amy”, which was written by Dean Dillon, the legendary Hank Cochran, and Royce Porter. With this typical mid-80s country-pop record, Whitley cracked the top 20 for the first time. “Miami, My Amy” climbed to #14. The remaining singles, “Ten Feet Away”, “Homecoming ’63″ and the somewhat autobiographical (though not penned by Whitley himself) “Hard Livin’” all reached the top 10.

My favorite track on the album is “That Stuff”, written by Sonny Curtis and Ron Hellard. This track is less pop-oriented and is a bit closer to the type of music Whitley would go on to record in the future.

The change in musical direction paid off from a commercial standpoint; L.A. to Miami reached #26 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. But artistically it is a mixed bag. Too many of the songs are marred by slick, heavy-handed 80′s production, complete with saxophone and electronic keyboards, and there is no escaping the fact that Whitley’s voice was better suited for more traditional material. Keith himself had mixed feelings about this album; he and Mevis teamed up to record another album in the same vein, but upon its completion, Keith asked RCA to shelve the album and allow him to do more traditional material.

Twenty-four years after its release, L.A. to Miami is not a bad album — there is no such thing as a bad Keith Whitley album — but it sounds very dated to twenty-first century ears. It is interesting primarily because it shows Whitley’s progression as an artist; it’s definitely not his best work and not the place to start a collection of Keith’s music. In fact, if there’s one album in the Whitley catalog to be skipped over, this is it.

Grade: B-

Watch a live performance of “Miami, My Amy”:

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