My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Gary Allan

Classic Rewind: Gary Allan – ‘Watching Airplanes’

Album Review: – Gary Allan ‘Tough All Over’

Written by Jordan Stacey.  - J.R.

Album number six for Gary Allan should’ve been a much happier proceeding than what it turned out to be. He was coming off of two platinum albums, and three number one hits. For most artists this would be a cause for celebration. While recording his sixth studio album Gary was dealt a really bad hand in life. His wife of 3 years took her life. Reports said he had no idea what led her to make that decision and throughout this album Gary is still questioning what happened.

The album opens up with the title track, a rocking little number called ‘Tough All Over’. Written by Odie Blackmon and Jim Lauderdale, this is the happiest we’ll see Gary for the remainder of the album. It’s one of the weaker tracks, but serves its purpose of getting you ready for a really heavy and hard to listen to album.

For the lead single and second track Gary chose to cover frat-rock band Vertical Horizon’s ‘Best I Ever Had’. It’s a testament to his vocal talent that he’s able to turn such a song into a heartbreaking ballad. The lyrics to this one always struck me as a perfect fit for his situation. There’s been a lot of rock songs covered by country singers but this is one of the few that actually merits some listening. The song continued his streak of hits making it into the top 10 peaking at #7.

As we move deeper into the album the pain Gary was in while recording starts to become clearer. ‘I Just Got Back From Hell’, written by Gary with Harley Allen, has a stripped down feel without actually being stripped down. This is the song that most obviously deals with his wife’s death. With lines like “Well, I’ve been mad at everyone, including God and You / When You Can’t Find no one to blame you just blame yourself” and Forgive me if I had any part / if I ever broke your heart in two / forgive me for what I didn’t know / for what I didn’t say or do” we find Gary still doesn’t know what he did wrong.  A missed opportunity for a great single here, but it was probably too personal to Gary to be released.

The next two tracks speak of the end of marriages. The first, ‘Ring’, sounds bleaker than if it had been recorded by any other artist. It’s not meant to be a happy song really, but due to the circumstances it was recorded in, it sounds almost haunted. The way Gary sings the lyrics it almost sounds like he’s going crazy.  The second song, ‘Promise Broken’, is referencing marriage vows and other broken promises. It’s a good song but on this album it gets caught between two of the stand out tracks and seems to get lost.

Read more of this post

Album Review: Gary Allan – ‘See If I Care’

Seven years after his debut single hit the charts, Gary Allan’s career was showing serious signs of heating up.  His previous two studio albums had gone platinum and he had the year before scored his first #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart. Consequently, he was nominated for the CMA’s Horizon Award just before his fifth album, See If I Care, hit stores in September 2003.  Like its predecessor, See If I Care would give Gary another platinum frame for his wall, and would spawn 2 chart-toppers and another top 15 hit.  The album debuted at its peak on the Billboard Country Albums chart at a respectable #2 slot, meanwhile scratching the top 20 in the all-genre chart.

‘Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey’, the rocking album opener finds the singer drowning his sorrows with black label whiskey while telling all his friends and fellow barflies white lies about how happy he is.  The Steeldrivers would later record a bluegrass version of the tune.

‘I Can’t Do It Today’ is a John Rich co-write with fellow Muzik Mafia members Vicky McGehee (a member of the Gretchen Wilson posse) and Rodney Clawson.  Gary slips into falsetto vocals perhaps a little too often in the bluesy kiss-off number, and the melody is a little clunky.  It’s placement at the beginning of the set is awkward as it is definite filler.

Gary would earn his second consecutive #1 with the album’s lead single, the poignant ‘Tough Little Boys’.  The almost-saccharine lyric is a bit of a departure from the material we’re used to hearing from Allan.  It’s a neat, three-act story song revolving around the story of a little boy who grows up and hurts and cries again when he becomes a dad.  The message of just how much macho men love their families, but can’t put their feelings into words, has always resonated well with the country audience and this is certainly one of the better attempts at tugging at country fans’ heartstrings.

The disc’s title track is more akin to the sound Allan had crafted for himself in previous albums.  ‘See If I Care’ finds the singer hiding his heartache with mock sarcasm.  The burning delivery from Gary gives real character to the brilliant Jamie O’Hara lyric.

Read more of this post

Album Review: Gary Allan – ‘Alright Guy’

Alright Guy, Gary Allan’s second album at MCA, is more than alright in many ways. It debuted at #4 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart on its release in October 2001, and brought Gary his first No. 1 with the album opener ‘Man to Man’. Produced by Tony Brown & Mark Wright, it’s one of several of Allan’s albums to be certified platinum as well. I think the success of the album is reflected in the quality of the album’s unreleased tracks rather than the singles that charted.

The driving beat and rhythmic lyrics of the lead-off single ‘Man of Me’ (a George Teren and Rivers Rutherford song) weren’t enough to drive it beyond #18 on the charts. That seems fair given that though the lyrics describe how ‘lovin’ you made a man of me’, the music doesn’t get beyond a teen rock number, complete with a screaming ‘wow’ on the very paragraph proclaiming ‘goodbye to my blind immature days’.

‘The One’ came close to being the one that hit the top of the charts first for Allan. Coming in at #3, it’s a kind and loving gentleman’s ballad written by Karen Manno and Billy Lee. Allan isn’t going to rush his girl who has been hurt before, but instead promises,

I’ll fill those canyons in your soul
Like a river lead you home
And I’ll walk a step behind
In the shadows so you shine
Just ask it will be done
And I will prove my love
Until you’re sure that I’m the one

It is a beautiful song, but the production is too heavy on the dreamy echo effects and background vocals for my taste. The interplay between Gary’s vocals and the melodic acoustic guitar line would have been enough.

Third time’s the charm, apparently. ‘Man to Man’, the third single off the album, was Allan’s first #1 on Billboard. Written by Jamie O’Hara, it’s sung by “the guy who got the girl” to “the guy who lost her”. It makes me think of a pool hall kind of scene in which the “loser” confronts the singer who turns and points out who’s really at fault and who’s really the better man. With lines like Were you ever there when she needed you, and Who cheated who/You’re the one to blame, he takes on the bully point for point.

The line that has always stood out to me, partly because of Allan’s great vocal on it, is She’s a real woman, not a doormat for you.

Again, the production is what gets in the way for me – the pop drums and background vocals don’t add to the character’s strength at all. And Allan’s cry-ee-eye-ee sends me back to 50s pop. However, it’s very sing-able and relatable with a catchy chorus and a recognizable intro – the stuff that often does well at radio.

The best songs on the album weren’t released to radio though. ‘Devil’s Candy’, one of 5 Harley Allen songs Gary has recorded, has a great hook and some great fiddle: I’ve always had a sweet tooth for the devil’s candy. Fiddles seem to exemplify that fiery battle with temptation, and this song’s no exception.

Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Gary Allan – ‘It Would Be You’

Album Review: Gary Alan – ‘Smoke Rings In The Dark’

Gary’s label, Decca, folded in 1998, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for his career. Gary, together with the majority of his labelmates (which included Lee Ann Womack and Mark Chesnutt), were transferred to sister label MCA. That meant a change in producer. Mark Wright remained on board, but Byron Hill was relegated to associate producer, with the experienced Tony Brown taking charge. He helped bring a smoother, more commercial sound, with a more layered production and the use of strings. Radio success continued to be mixed, but sales were good, and Smoke Rings In The Dark, released in October 1998, became Gary’s first platinum album.

The outstanding title track, released as the first single, only reached #12 on Billboard, but is one of Gary’s best-remembered hits. Written by Rivers Rutherford and Houston Robert, it marked a stylistic development for Gary heralded by the previous album’s ‘Baby I Will’. It sounds dreamy and sexy, belying a pain-filled lyric about the dying embers of a relationship:

I’ve tried to make you love me
You’ve tried to find a spark
Of the flame that burned
But somehow turned to
Smoke rings in the dark

The loneliness within me
Takes a heavy toll
Cause it burns as slow as whiskey
Through an empty aching soul
And the night is like a dagger
Long and cold and sharp
As I sit here on the front steps
Blowing smoke rings in the dark

I’m not gonna wake you
I’ll go easy on your heart
I’ll just touch your face and drift away
Like smoke rings in the dark

This is one of Gary’s finest moments on record and by far the best track on the album.

His inconsistent streak with radio persisted, as the follow-up, the intense Jamie O’Hara-penned ‘Lovin’ You Against My Will’ stagnated in the 30s. While it is a good song with a slow burning appeal, it lacks melodic interest and the vocals sound a little processed.

Read more of this post

Album Review: Gary Allan – ‘It Would Be You’

Gary’s second album for Decca was released in May 1998, and was in many ways a continuation of the approach taken on Used Heart For Sale, but with generally better material. Like that record, it was produced by Mark Wright and the songwriter Byron Hill who had helped Gary get his deal.

The title track and leadoff single was another top 10 hit for Gary, a brooding song about a woman who epitomises the worst kind of heartache:

If it was a full moon it would be a total eclipse.
….
But if we’re talking ‘bout a heartache, it would be you

Following the pattern of his debut, the ensuing singles performed disappointingly, failing to make the top 40. ‘No Man In His Wrong Heart’ is a fine song (written by Ronnie Rogers and Trey Bruce) which deserved to do much better, a tenderly delivered tale of resisting temptation one night while affirming the protagonist’s love for the woman at home. The third and final single, ‘I’ll Take Today’ (previously recorded by Tanya Tucker) is based on a similar situation, in this case with the protagonist running to an old flame, and telling his loved one that his ex is no threat to their relationship:

Old times, next to you, can never come close
I’ll take today over yesterday, any day

Gary Allan’s love songs are never saccharine – there is usually some kind of pained undercurrent of a troubled past which, together with the grainy tone of his voice adds a real sense of authenticity to the romantic sentiments. In similar vein is the mellow-sounding Jamie O’Hara/Gary Nicholson song ‘I Ain’t Runnin’ Yet’, which has a man used to shying away from anything approaching commitment and now taken unawares by his feelings. If Decca had not closed down, perhaps this would have been a fourth single.

‘Don’t Leave Her Lonely Too Long’ (a single for co-writer Marty Stuart in 1989) picks up the tempo. It is one of two cuts from Kostas, the other being ‘Red Lips, Blue Eyes, Little White Lies’. Both songs are pretty good, and bring some variety to the record, but individually neither is particularly distinctive.

Read more of this post

Album Review: Gary Allan – ‘Used Heart For Sale’

Country music enjoyed a huge renaissance with the New Traditionalist movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s, but by the mid-90s, it had begun to backslide and the lines between country and pop once again became more blurred. Gary Allan’s 1996 debut for Decca Records was a notable exception to the rule. Produced by Mark Wright and Byron Hill, Used Heart For Sale is a throwback to the Bakersfield sound, reflecting Gary’s traditionalist leanings and the experience he gained while paying his dues in southern California’s honkytonks.

Things got off to a strong start with the lead single “Her Man.” Previously recorded by Waylon Jennings but not released as a single, Gary’s version of the Kent Robbins tune reached #7 on the Billboard country singles chart. Unfortunately, none of the subsequent singles — “Living In A House Full of Love”, “From Where I’m Sitting” and “Forever And A Day” — fared as well on the charts. None of them managed to crack the Top 40, probably due in part to Gary’s newcomer status; he was not yet an “automatic add” at country radio. Another obstacle was that country radio had begun to resist playing traditional-based music, a trend that continues to the present day. However, it is safe to assume that “From Where I’m Sitting” would have been a monster hit had it been released by one its co-writers, Garth Brooks. It’s one of the less traditional songs — and one of the weakest — on the album, but Garth’s star power would likely have carried it to the top of the charts. In the hands of a newcomer like Gary Allan, however, it faltered and stalled at #43. It’s a rather forgettable ballad, most likely chosen as a single based on the Brooks connection.

Used Heart For Sale boasts a strong roster of songwriters: George Ducas, Jim Lauderdale, John Levanthal (aka Mr. Rosanne Cash), Faron Young, Billy Sherrill, and Glenn Sutton all made contributions, as did producers Byron Hill and Mark Wright. Gary himself shared songwriting credits with Jake Kelly on the title track, which is one of my favorites from the album. Sherrill and Sutton wrote “Living In A House Full Of Love,” which had been a Top 5 hit for David Houston in 1965. Gary’s version of the Faron Young classic “Wine Me Up” is another highlight of the album. Tanya Tucker included it on her recent covers album, which got me to thinking that she’d be an ideal duet partner for Gary.

The bluesy “Wake Up Screaming” closes the album. It’s the least traditional-sounding song in this collection, foreshadowing a style that Gary would use more frequently in subsequent albums. This one would have fit perfectly on 1999′s Smoke Rings In The Dark, perhaps more comfortably than it fits on this album.

Despite producing only one bonafide hit, Used Heart For Sale sold respectably, earning gold certification from the RIAA. Not as well known as Gary’s later albums, it is an overlooked gem in his discography. Decca Nashville folded in 1998, but Gary was transferred to the roster of Decca’s parent label, MCA which re-released Used Heart For Sale. It is still in print and is available both digitally and in CD form from retailers such as Amazon and iTunes.

Grade: A-

Spotlight Artist: Gary Allan

By the age of 13, Gary Allan Herzberg – he takes his stage name from his middle name – was already playing the club circuit in his native southern California area.  The young man from Li Marada, CA began his music career as a child, always having a guitar around the house.  “I don’t remember not playing the guitar”, recalls the singer, “It was just always there.”  By age 15, Gary had caught the attention of executives at A&M Records, but decided against the deal, opting to finish his education and pursue his music career when his skills were more honed.

The late 1980s and early 90s found Gary playing the club scene once again.  In 1993, a chance meeting with Byron Hill lead to his first demo recordings in Nashville.  After a 1995 Los Angeles showcase, the singer was offered a deal on the newly-revived Decca Records country division.  He recorded his first 2 albums for the label before it was absorbed into Universal Music Group and Gary was moved to MCA Nashville, with Decca being shut down once again.  He has recorded for MCA since then.

His first album for Decca, Used Heart for Sale, yielded the top 10 ‘Her Man’ and was certified gold.  He’s since charted 18 top 40 hits on the Country Singles chart, including 3 #1′s.  With six gold albums – three platinum – to his credit, Allan has proved a consistent hit-maker and record seller while retaining a fresh and soulful sound.  He will release his eighth studio album, Get Off On The Pain, March 9.

Throughout his career, Gary Allan has infused traditional country music with the Bakersfield sound and West Coast rock, to mostly renowned critical acclaim.  And there’s good reason for that: he’s really that good.  His mainstream success is a bit puzzling, but nonetheless refreshing.  Throughout the month of February, we’re going to explore the music of Gary Allan, revisiting the songs that made us fans and the ones that reminded us of of his raw talent.  We hope you enjoy the music from one of the few standout talents left in mainstream country music.  If you’re not familiar with it already, now’s a great time to start.

Some hidden treasures of the decade

At the end of last year, I shared a list of my favorite 50 singles of the decade. Some of them were big hits, others more obscure, but at least in theory they got some attention at the time. Now that the decade is well and truly over, I thought I would mention some hidden treasures – album tracks that you probably only heard if you’re a fan of the artist, and purchased the full album. Some of them are from albums and artists that were more successful than others. I’ve omitted anything that made it to radio (even if it wasn’t a hit) as I considered those for my last list, and I have also left out anything from an album which made our collective Albums of The Decade list, although I have included tracks from other albums by artists who appeared on both of those lists. I have restricted my list to one track per artist named.

40. ‘Cold All The Time’ – Irene Kelley (from Thunderbird, 2004)
Songwriter Irene Kelley has released a couple of very good independent albums, showcasing her own very beautiful voice as well as her songs. This is a gently resolute song about a woman stuck in a bad relationship, summoning up the courage to make a move.

39. ‘All I Want’ – Darius Rucker (from Learn To Live, 2008)
There is still a chance that this might make it to the airwaves, as Darius’s platinum country debut is his current release. As a whole, the material was a little disappointing, but this great song is definitely worth hearing, and not only because it’s the mos country song on the album. It’s a jaundiced kiss-off to an ex, offering her everything as “all I want you to leave me is alone”.

38. ‘I Met Jesus In A Bar’ – Jim Lauderdale (from Country Super Hits Volume 1, 2006)
Songwriter Jim Lauderdale has released a number of albums of his own, in more than one country sub-genre, and in 2006 he issued two CDs on one day: one country, the other bluegrass. This great co-write with Leslie Satcher, a melancholy-tinged song about God and booze, also recorded by Aaron Watson, comes from the country one.

37. ‘A Train Not Running’ – Chris Knight (from The Jealous Kind, 2003)
Singer-songwriter Chris Knight co-wrote this downbeat first-person tale of love and a mining town’s economic failure with Stacy Dean Campbell, who also recorded a version of the song.

36. ‘Same Old Song’ – Blake Shelton (from Blake Shelton, 2001)
These days, Blake seems to attract more attention for his girlfriend Miranda Lambert and his Tweeting than for his own music. This song, written by Blake’s producer Bobby Braddock back in 1989, is an appeal for country songs to cover new ground and real stories.

35. ‘If I Hadn’t Reached For The Stars’ – Bradley Walker (from Highway Of Dreams, 2006)
It’s probably a sign of the times that Bradley Walker, who I would classify as a classic traditional country singer in the Haggard/Travis style, had to release his excellent debut album on a bluegrass label. This love song (written by Carl Jackson and previously recorded by Jon Randall) is all about finding happiness through not achieving stardom.

34. ‘Between The River And Me’ – Tim McGraw (from Let It Go, 2007)
Tim McGraw is not one of my favorite singers, but he does often have a knack for picking interesting material. It was a travesty that the best track on his 2007 album was never released as a single, especially when far less deserving material took its place. It’s a brooding story song narrated by the teenage son of a woman whose knack seems to be picking the wrong kind of man, in this case one who beats her. The son turns to murder, down by the river.

33. ‘Three Sheets In The Wind’ – Randy Archer (from Shots In The Dark, 2005)
In the early 9s, Randy Archer was one half of the duo Archer Park,who tried and failed to challenge Brooks & Dunn. His partner in that enterprise is now part of The Parks. Meanwhile, Randy released a very good independent album which has been overlooked. My favorite track is this sad tale of a wife tearing up a husband’s penitent note of apology and leaving regardless.

32. ‘It Looked Good On Paper’ – Randy Kohrs featuring Dolly Paton (from I’m Torn, 2007)
A forlorn lost-love ballad from dobro player Kohrs featuring exquisite high harmonies from Dolly. the ret o the record is very good, too – and you can listen to it all on last.fm.

31. ‘Mental Revenge’ – Pam Tillis (from It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis, 2002)
After her mainstream stardom wound down, 90s star Pam Tillis took the opportunity to record a real labor of love: a tribute album to her father Mel. This bitter diatribe to an ex is my favorite track.

30. ‘You Don’t Love God If You Don’t Love Your Neighbour’ – Rhonda Vincent (from The Storm Still Rages, 2001)
A traditional country-bluegrass-gospel quartet take on a classic rebuke to religious hypocrites, written by Carl Story. The track isn’t the best showcase of Rhonda’s lovely voice, but it’s a great recording of a fine song with a pointed message.

Read more of this post

Decade in Review: Occasional Hope’s Top 50 Singles

Inevitably, anyone’s list of their favorite singles of the decade is going to be more mainstream-oriented than one of the best albums over the same period, just because independent artists are less likely to get their singles played on radio, and they tend to release fewer. My list doesn’t consist solely of hits, but a good proportion did get the success they deserved.

50. I Still Miss Someone - Martina McBride featuring Dolly Parton.
Martina recruited Dolly Parton to sing harmonies on her cover of this Johnny Cash classic on her Timeless album in 2006. It didn’t appeal to country radio, but it is a lovely recording.

49. How Do You Like Me Now?! - Toby Keith
The only song where Toby Keith managed to exercise his giant ego yet seem appealing at the same time. This #1 hit from 2000 is meanspirited but somehow irresistible. The video’s a bit heavy-handed, though.

48. I Hope You Dance - Lee Ann Womack
The enormous crossover success of Lee Ann’s signature song in 2000 set her on the wrong path musically for a while, but that doesn’t detract from the song itself, a lovely touching offering to LeeAnn’s daughter, featuring additional vocals from the Sons of the Desert.

47. You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This - Toby Keith
Toby is a very hit-and-miss artist for me, but he makes his second apearance in this list with my favorite of his singles, the tender realization on the dancefloor that a friend might be turning into a romantic interest. It was another #1 hit, this time in 2001. It has another terribly conceived video, though.

46. The Truth About Men - Tracy Byrd
Tracy Byrd recruited Blake Shelton, Andy Griggs and Montgomery Gentry to sing on this comic song about gender differences. Of course it’s not universally true – but it’s quite true enough to be funny. The single was a #13 hit in 2003, and is one of the few singles of recent years to inspire an answer song – Terri Clark’s ‘Girls Lie Too’, which was an even bigger hit the following year but has worn less well.

45. I Wish - Jo Dee Messina
Jo Dee Messina’s glossy pop-country was very accomplished but not always to my taste. But I did love this relatively subdued ballad which appeared only on her Greatest Hits album in 2003, and reached #15 on Billboard, with its neat twist as the protagonist bravely wishes her ex best, before admitting, “I wish you still loved me”.

44. Does My Ring Burn Your Finger - Lee Ann Womack
This biting reproach to a cheating spouse, written by Buddy and Julie Miller, was the best moment on Lee Ann’s bigselling I Hope You Dance. It was the least successful single from it, however, only reaching #23 in 2001.

43. Long Black Train – Josh Turner
Josh is one of the few traditionally oriented artists currently on a major label, although he has often recorded material which is not quite worthy of his resonant deep voice. His debut single was a heavily allusive religious song about sin which, although it only got to #13 in 2003, really established him as a star.

42. One More Day – Diamond Rio
A #1 hit from 2001 about bereavement and longing for more time with the loved one who has been lost, this touching song has heartfelt vocals and lovely harmonies from one of the best groups in country music over the past 20 years.

41. Another Try – Josh Turner and Trisha Yearwood
A classy ballad about hoping for better luck in love from two of the best mainstream singers around, this reached #15 in 2008, but should have been a #1.

40. I Still Sing This Way – Daryle Singletary
In 2002 Daryle had a single out called ‘That’s Why I Sing This Way’ (written by Max D Barnes) declaring himself a real country singer (“Mama whupped me with a George Jones record, that’s why I sing this way”). Five years later Daryle himself co-wrote this sequel, which I like even more, as he looks wryly at the music industry’s demands for glitz and glamor. He tells his manager he’s fine with a change of image – but he can’t change the way he sings.

Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Gary Allan – ‘Songs About Rain’

2009 album recommendations, album previews

2009 has been interesting, a crappy year for mainstream country music overall, but I would say a good year for other genres. Since the year is 75% over, I just wanted to share some of my picks from the year so far (inside country music and out) and a look at a few upcoming albums. Note: these are albums I’ve been enjoying, some may not appeal to you guys, but these albums have been played heavily by me. I also didn’t include albums I’ve reviewed, but most of those are still played a lot by me… Here are some recommendations from 2009 so far:

the long way home terri clarkThe Long Way Home by Terri Clark -Her indie debut reminds me of Fearless, only better. There are some really great tracks hidden in here- it’s a shame it won’t be heard by almost everyone. Favorite Track: “A Million Ways To Run” -This song is a look into the mind of someone at what seems to be an AA meeting- and it sounds real, not contrived.

mi planMi Plan by Nelly Furtado -She got me into Spanish music, and this album has some gorgeous cuts with great guests. Favorite track: “Bajo Otra Luz” which features Julieta Venegas & La Mala Rodriguez -This song has a great beat while the lyrics tell of how one sees their life “under another light” after their ex leaves them.

live-on-insideLive On The Inside by Sugarland -Cool live album that proves Jennifer sounds as good, if not better live. Favorite track: “Circle” -This cover just sound like it was made to be covered by Sugarland, it’s got energy and sounds great with the mandolin in the background. Jennifer’s voice just soars, while staying restrained, not to mention you can’t even tell it’s live.

breakthrough colbie caillatBreakthrough by Colbie Caillat -She’s not deep, but this album is very pleasant and good after a long day of classes. Her voice is pleasant and the songs are fun and she never really tries to be more than that. Favorite track: “Begin Again” -A catchy chorus with great acoustic-pop instrumentation makes for a very enjoyable song.

twangTwang by George Strait -Solid, as usual, but better than Troubadour by far. It’s definitely a George Strait album! Favorite Track: “Beautiful Day For Goodbye” -A man laments how nice the weather is while his lover leaves, definitely a heartbreaker akin to “Living For The Night”. I personally prefer “Living”, but I didn’t want to recommend the first single!

destination_lifeDestination Life by Rhonda Vincent -She’s so talented, and this album just sounds awesome. It’s very fresh and all of the players are just amazing. Favorite track: “Stop The World (And Let Me Off)” -This oft-covered song has a great flamenco feel mixed with bluegrass instruments, a true treat that I wasn’t expecting from Rhonda Vincent.

middle cyclone neko caseMiddle Cyclone by Neko Case -She’s different, but this album is a little more straightforward with lyrics that are easier to get. Honestly, I wish I had bought tickets to see her in New York City, but I didn’t quite get too… Lame. Favorite track: “This Tornado Loves You” -This opener has some cool opening guitar work that segues into lyrics comparing the narrator to a tornado that loves… or is she really a tornado?

Here are some upcoming albums that I’m looking forward to:

mountain soul iiMountain Soul II by Patty Loveless -Honestly, I’ve already heard it, and it’s really good. I like it better than Mountain Soul, but that’s my personal opinion, and I bet most people will disagree with me on that point. My favorite track right now is “Diamond And The Crown” which features Emmylou Harris on harmonies. (September 29th)

revolution miranda lambertRevolution by Miranda Lambert -I love the first two singles, and 15 tracks is like one-and-a-half times Crazy Ex-Girlfriend! I’ve heard the album has some really good songs, and I recommend Wal-Mart’s soundcheck performances where she performs a few of the new songs. Hopefully the fact that it’s loud doesn’t bug me, but I don’t think it will. (September 29th)

memoirs of an imperfect angel mariah careyMemoirs Of An Imperfect Angel by Mariah Carey -The lead single “Obsessed” had strange autotune, but the second single is a cover of “I Want To Know What Love Is” and is pure ballady goodness with gorgeous vocals, something Mariah Carey does well.I liked her past two albums, so I think I’ll like this one too. (September 29th)

Shakira_She_Wolf_2009She Wolf by Shakira -Yeah, I know, “WHAT?” This album is supposed to be like electro dance-pop with asian influences- whatever that means, but if it’s all like “She Wolf”, I’ll love it. I love the title track, and sometimes I get in the mood to dance, and this album seems like it’ll be too much fun. I think I just like it when someone howls in the middle of a song… (October 5th)

play on carrie underwoodPlay On by Carrie Underwood -I’m the rare one that likes “Cowboy Casanova”, but I’m hoping this album will be much better than Carnival Ride, but I’m not keeping my hopes up. I think everyone’s hoping for an album of “I Told You So”s, but I bet when it comes out her anti-fans will be the ones saying “I told you so…” (November 3rd)

Sugarland Gold And GreenGold And Green by Sugarland -Being the massive Sugarland fan I am, I found out they were making a Christmas album, and I was actually excited- something a Christmas album never does for me. It includes the five Christmas songs that were included on the Wal-Mart re-release of Enjoy The Ride, plus five new songs written by the duo. Two Sugarland albums in two months? I’ll take that. (October 13th)

As-of yet untitled… by Alicia Keys -The first single, “Doesn’t Mean Anything” (Listen to it here) is really great, very meaningful and gorgeous- it bodes well for this project. (Winter 2009)

As-of yet untitled… by Gary Allan -I like him and his voice, although I disliked Living Hard, we’ll see about this one. (2009)

So what about you guys? Favorites of 2009 so far? Upcoming ones that you’re ready for?

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Livin’ It Up’

livinitupGeorge Strait’s winning streak, which began in the 1980s, showed no signs of abating as the 1990s began. The Country Music Association named him Entertainer of the Year for the second year in a row in 1990, and that same year he released what went on to be the biggest hit single of his career. “Love Without End, Amen”, the lead single from his 1990 album Livin’ It Up, became his 19th #1 hit overall, and the first multi-week #1 of his career, spending five weeks in the top slot in June and July. This feat is particularly impressive considering that at the time Strait was an artist about to enter his second decade on the charts. At a stage in his career when most artists begin to experience a commercial decline, Strait’s commercial fortunes were continuing to expand.

Written by Aaron Barker (who also wrote Strait’s earlier hit “Baby Blue”), “Love Without End, Amen” examines the relationship and unconditional love between a father and a son. In the first verse, the protagonist is a child afraid to face his father after getting into a fight at school. In the second verse, he finds himself in the role of father, when his own son finds himself in similar circumstances. In the third verse, the singer dreams that he has died and is ready to face his maker on Judgment Day. Between each verse is the chorus that delivers a simple yet profound message:

Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love
A secret that my daddy said was just between us
You see, daddies don’t just love their children every now and then,
It’s a love without end, amen.

Livin’ It Up was released in May 1990, while the lead single was still climbing the charts. It became Strait’s ninth consecutive #1 album. The cover art shows a confident Strait, in a tuxedo and jeans, and proudly displaying a belt buckle that acknowledged his status as the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year. His Ace in the Hole band joined him on two tracks — the Harlan Howard-penned “Someone Had To Teach You”, which opens the album, and “She Loves Me (She Don’t Love You)”, which was written and originally recorded by Conway Twitty. Eight years later, it would also be covered by Gary Allan. Strait was also joined once again by steel guitarist Paul Franklin and the legendary Johnny Gimble, who played fiddle throughout the album.

The second single released from the album was “Drinking Champagne”, written by Bill Mack, a DJ who wrote LeAnn Rimes’ breakthrough hit “Blue”. A perfect showcase for Strait’s crooning, this tune features some saxophone, an instrument I normally dislike on a country record, but in this case it works nicely. “Drinking Champagne” peaked at #4 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.

No George Strait album would be complete without a Dean Dillon song or two, and Livin’ It Up is no exception. Dillon contributed two cuts this time around — “I’ve Come To Expect It From You”, which was co-written with Buddy Cannon, and ” We’re Supposed To Do That Now And Then”, which was co-written with David Anthony and Joe Royer. “I’ve Come To Expect It From You” was the third single released from the album, and like “Love Without End, Amen”, it spent five weeks at #1.

Joining an already impressive list of songwriters on this album is the legendary Carl Perkins, who wrote the retro-sounding “When You’re A Man On Your Own”, one of my favorite songs on the album.

Livin’ It Up demonstrated a shift, albeit a very subtle one, from Strait’s 80s work. It is less Western-swing oriented and a little more radio-friendly than most of his 80s albums, but “radio-friendly” was not yet a pejorative term in 1990. The neotraditionalist movement was still in full swing, though this was about to change in the near future. Strait and co-producer Jimmy Bowen managed to put together a very satisfying album that was contemporary by the standards of the day, without being overproduced, and which still holds up nearly two decades after its release.  Still readily available from Amazon and iTunes, it is a worthy addition to any country music lover’s collection.

Grade: A

Recommendation: Should have been a hit

gary allanI’ve heard several people say that Gary Allan’s ‘Half of My Mistakes’ should have been released to radio. I’m inclined to agree with them.  It was my favorite track on his Living Hard album from the first listen, and has held that spot ever since.  While the album housed 3 successful singles, with each declining slightly from their predecessors in quality and success, I was still hoping for ‘Half of My Mistakes’ to be released right up until I heard that he had a new single from a new album coming out.

I still haven’t given up all hope.  Brad Paisley and Keith Urban recently released singles from albums that were a couple years old and Garth Brooks took a track from a decade-old album to the top 10 in 2000.  So there’s still a chance that Gary’s team could pull this song out and release it to radio.  That would make me happy.

What songs from recent albums do you think got looked over and would have been hits?  And what do you think about an artist digging back into their catalog to release a radio single anyway?

Album Review: Kim Williams – ‘The Reason That I Sing’

williamskimI’ve mentioned before that I always enjoy hearing songwriters’ own interpretations of songs which they have written for other artists. The latest example comes from Kim Williams, a name you should recognize if you pay attention to the songwriting credits. Kim has been responsible for no fewer than 16 number 1 hits, and many more hit singles and album tracks over the past 20 years. Now he has released an album containing his versions of many of his big hits, together with some less familiar material.

The album is sub-titled Country Hits Bluegrass Style, although the overall feel of the record is more acoustic country with bluegrass instrumentation provided by some of the best bluegrass musicians around: Tim Stafford (who produces the set) on guitar, Ron Stewart on fiddle and banjo, Adam Steffey on mndolin, Rob Ickes on dobro, and Barry Bales on bass, with Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford providing harmony vocals. Kim’s voice is gruff but tuneful, and while he cannot compare vocally to most of those who have taken his songs to chart success, he does have a warmth and sincerity which really does add something to the songs he has picked on this album.

Kim includes three of the songs he has written for and with Garth Brooks, all from the first few years of the latter’s career. ‘Ain’t Going Down (Til The Sun Comes Up’), a #1 for Garth in 1993, provides a lively opening to the album, although it is one of the less successful tracks, lacking the original’s hyperactivity while not being a compelling or very melodic song in its own right. ‘Papa Loved Mama’ is taken at a slightly brisker pace than the hit version, and is less melodramatic as a result – neither better nor worse, but refreshingly different. ‘New Way To Fly’, which was recorded by Garth on No Fences, also feels more down to earth and less intense than the original, again with a very pleasing effect.

The other artist whose repertoire is represented more than once here is Joe Diffie. The lively western swing of ‘If The Devil Danced In Empty Pockets’ (written with Ken Spooner) with its newly topical theme of being well and truly broke is fun. Although ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ (from the 1992 album Regular Joe) was never released as a single, this tender ballad about separation from a loved one has always been one of my favorite Joe Diffie recordings. Kim’s low-key, intimate version wisely avoids competing vocally, but succeeds in its own way.

One of my favorite hit singles this decade was ‘Three Wooden Crosses’, a #1 hit for Randy Travis in 2002, which Kim wrote with Doug Johnson. A movie based on the story is apparently in development. I still love Randy’s version, but while Kim is far from the vocalist Randy is, this recording stands up on its own terms, with an emotional honesty in Kim’s delivery which brings new life to the story.

Read more of this post

Recommendation: Songs about rain

The (2008) members of Blackhawk, Michael Randall, Henry Paul, and Dave Robbins

The (2008) members of Blackhawk, Michael Randall, Henry Paul, and Dave Robbins

It’s raining again today in southern Ohio, and it has been for the better part of a week now.  A couple days ago, during a particularly torrential downpour, I was sitting here listening to music and decided to search the word ‘rain’ in my media library.  And I have to say I was surprised at just how many songs I had with rain in the title.  I didn’t count songs like Alan Jackson’s ‘Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow’ or Merle Haggard’s ‘Rainbow Stew’, and I still have 27 songs with ‘rain’, ‘raining’, or some variation of the word as part of their song title.

Here’s what I have:

  1. Blackhawk – ‘I Sure Can Smell The Rain’ 
  2. Clint Black – Like The Rain’
  3. Conway Twitty with Sam Moore – ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’
  4. Dolly Parton – ‘Steady As The Rain’
  5. Eddie Rabbit – ‘I Love A Rainy Night’
  6. Garth Brooks – ‘Everytime That It Rains’
  7. Gary Allan – ‘Songs About Rain’
  8. Gary Allan – Yesterday’s Rain
  9. Gretchen Wilson – ‘Raining On Me’
  10. Gretchen Wilson – ‘When It Rains (I Pour)’
  11. Jo Dee Messina – ‘Bring On The Rain’
  12. The Judds – ‘Rockin’ With The Rhythm Of The Rain’
  13. Julie Roberts – ‘Rain On A Tin Roof’
  14. Keith Urban – ‘Raining On Sunday’
  15. Keith Whitley – ‘I’m No Stranger To The Rain’
  16. Reba McEntire – ‘It Always Rains On Saturday’
  17. Rodney Crowell – ‘I Wish It Would Rain’
  18. Ronnie Milsap – Smoky Mountain Rain’
  19. Shania Twain – ‘Raining On Our Love’
  20. Shelby Lynne – ‘The Rain Might Wash Your Love Away’
  21. Tammy Wynette – ‘Crying In The Rain’
  22. Tanya Tucker – ‘Lovin’ Somebody On A Rainy Night’
  23. Trisha Yearwood – ‘Georgia Rain’
  24. Trisha Yearwood – ‘Come Back When It Ain’t Rainin’
  25. Vern Gosdin – ‘Is It Raining At Your House’
  26. Vince Gill – ‘Rhythm Of The Pouring Rain’
  27. Willie Nelson – ‘Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain’

Rainy day songs have long been a staple of country music, as much as the singing cowboy, train songs, and drinking songs.  And whether the rain is used as a metaphor for heartbreak (‘I’m No Stranger To The Rain’) or setting a romantic mood (‘I Love A Rainy Night’, ‘Raining On Sunday’) or just for a reason to party (‘Rockin’ With The Rhythm Of The Rain’, ‘When It Rains’), precipitation and country music have collaborated nicely.

So what are your favorite rain songs?  And what can you think of to add to my list?

Listen to Blackhawk – ‘I Sure Can Smell The Rain’.

Listen to Keith Whitley – ‘I’m No Stranger To The Rain’.

J.R.’s End of 2008 List: Top 20 Singles

heidi120. Heidi Newfield – Johnny & June

Epic.  That’s the only word to describe this song.  Newfield’s performance is perfection, but the production – a throwback to the Meatloaf power ballads of the 80s – could have easily fallen into cheesy name-dropping semantics.  I am usually the first one to spit at a Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings (or Kris Kristofferson) reference in a country song.  Unless, this is coming from someone I believe really does love the music of said artist.  For instance, every time Alan Jackson sings ‘I wanna hear some Jones’, I believe him. But this isn’t about dropping the name Johnny Cash into a song just to sell it.  This is a beautiful ode to the love story of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, and Newfield makes me believe she is paying homage rather than pandering.

jamey19. Jamey Johnson – High Cost Of Living

This is a great country song, plain and simple.  And one of the best hooks I’ve ever heard as Johnson sings in his gravelly tone, ‘The high cost of living/Ain’t nothin’ like the cost of livin’ high’.  He then goes on to explain in great detail the mistakes he made – and with stark candidness.  A real country song.  

gary18. Gary Allan – Learnin’ How To Bend

I admit, I wasn’t immediately sold on this one like I was ‘Watching Airplanes’, but the more I listened to it, it really grew on me and I grew to appreciate it for the great tune it is.  Superb vocals from Gary, even as he acends into near fasletto in the chorus.  

george117. George Strait – Troubadour

Out of all the fabulous and countless hits in the catalog of George Strait, this will be the one I remember him for best. This entire song just seems to sum up his entire time on earth. In lesser hands, this song could wind up sounding inferior and insincere, but when it’s George, you know it’s the truth, and by god, he’s been there and back. Catchy chorus too.

dolly116. Dolly Parton – Backwoods Barbie

Like ‘Troubadour’, I think this song sums up the life and times of Dolly Parton as well as can be done in three and a half minutes. And it shows us that she has a lot better grasp on her larger than life persona and caricature looks than any of us. ‘I’m just a backwoods Barbie, too much make up, too much hair/But don’t be fooled by thinking’ that the goods are not all there’. Never underestimate Dolly Parton. I pity the fool who would.

Read more of this post

Chris’s End of 2008 List: Top 30 Singles

This is my 2008 top-30 singles post! First, about my singles list, I attempted to avoid songs that could still impact the charts more, songs like Miranda Lambert’s “More Like Her” or Little Big Town’s “Good Lord Willing”. I made some exceptions as you’ll soon see, but I tried to keep it to songs that peaked on the charts in 2008. Anyway, here are my top 30 singles of 2008! If you read my albums post, I’m warning you, this post is even longer…

That Don’t Make Me A Bad Guy

30. “She Never Cried In Front Of Me” – Toby Keith

- It’s not very country sounding, but Toby gives a great performance to a very good sad song. It’s probably my favorite song from him.

Long Trip Alone

29. “Trying To Stop Your Leaving” – Dierks Bentley

- Dierks is doing what he does best, it has energy, but still has meaning and great singing. A very solid single from a great album.

Fearless

28. “Love Story” – Taylor Swift

- Yeah, I did it, Swift’s on my list! I actually love this song, it’s creative and different from other artists, but I’m young so I may be biased. I also love the sound, especially the fiddle near the end that I find myself whistling. 

Read more of this post

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 112 other followers