My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Warner Mack

Album Review: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘Backroads’

backroadsRicky’s fourth studio album was released in 1991, and certified platinum before the end of the year. As usual, it was dominated by beautifully sung ballads and a pure country production.

The first three singles continued his admirable chart record by hitting #1. First came ‘Rockin’ Years’, a melodic duet with Dolly Parton (also included on her then-current album Eagle When She Flies). It is a gently melodic ballad about growing old with the one one loves – pretty and delicate with a lovely steel intro. However, I find the rocking ‘I Am A Simple Man’ rather dull. The third chart topper was the gentle tearjerking tribute to a father-son relationship, ‘Keep It Between The Lines’.

A nice, steel-dominated cover of Warner Mack’s downbeat ballad ‘After The Lights Go Out’ only reached an unlucky 13, but deserved better. The pleasant but not that memorable uptempo title track then made it back to #2.

My favorite of the non-singles is ‘Some Things Are Better Left Alone’, a fabulous ballad written by Roger Murrah and Larry Shell about the enduring power of an old flame endangering present happiness:

Every time I stir the ashes
That old fire begins to burn
When I wake those sleepin’ memories
Those old feelings still return

Oh, I shouldn’t think about you
But my heart keeps hangin’ on…

All the smoke from burnin’ bridges
Makes it hard to catch my breath
But the precious love I’m missin’
Is chokin’ me to death

Oh you’re still my strongest weakness
And I’ll love you ’til I’m gone
But I’ll have to remember
Some things are better left alone

Almost as good is the lesser-known classic ‘Who’ll Turn Out The Lights’, a solid country Wayne Kemp/Mack Vickery song previously recorded by George Jones, Conway Twitty, Ronnie Milsap and Mel Street among others. Ricky’s version is great. ‘If You’re Ever In My Arms Again’ is a nice wistful ballad written by Bobby Braddock.

‘Call Me Up’ was the obligatory rockabilly number. More to my taste, ‘Oh Heart of Mine’ is a likeable uptempo tune with a bluegrass feel, which was written by Allen Shamblin and Bernie Nelson.

The cute little terrier shown on the album cover was the Sheltons’ own pet, Lucky, who they found starving and abandoned while househunting on first moving to Nashville. She also appeared in the video for ‘Keep It between The Lines’.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives – ‘Saturday night/Sunday Morning’

saturday night sunday morningMarty Stuart’s latest album is something of a departure. It is really a double album: one disc, representing Saturday night, mixes a return to the kind of energised country rock he was doing in the 90s with the more traditional country of recent albums; the second, for Sunday morning, is gospel – not the country gospel of his other gospel album this year, but Southern church gospel.

Of the rocking country songs, the driving ‘Jailhouse’ (a metaphor for a bad marriage) which opens is by far the best. ‘Sad House, Big Party’ is also pretty good. The rockabilly ‘Geraldine’ is a bit too loud and busy for me, although the performance is committed and it’s fairly catchy. The echoey ‘Look At That Girl’ is definitely too loud, and boring besides, and I didn’t like it at all.

There are several effective covers of classic country songs, which are among my favourites. I liked a wailing version of ‘I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome’ (written by Hank Williams and Bill Monroe), complete with train whistle effects to illustrate the song’s imagery.

Best of all is a lovely sensitive cut of an obscure George Jones song, ‘Old Old House’, with lovely steel. Marty and the band do another great job on the less well remembered ‘Talking To The Wall’, written by Warner Mack and recorded by Loretta Lynn among others.

His soulful version of Charlie Rich’s sultry ‘Life Has Its Little Ups And Down’ is also excellent, but I wasn’t as keen on the blues of ‘Streamline’ which closes disc 1, although the band plays with real virtuosity.

‘Rough Around The Edges’ is a great honky tonker written by Marty himself about a man whose honky tonk lifestyle is caching up with him. ‘When It Comes To Loving You’ is a mid-paced ballad about helplessly loving one who has left and is another very fine new Stuart song, but the instrumentation is a bit loud at times, occasionally swamping the excellent vocal.

Disc 2 is clearly a labour of love; but it has little to offer the country fan. I did quite like ‘Boogie Woogie Down The Jericho Road’ and the slow ‘Long Walk To Heave’ .If you like traditional Southern gospel do check it out, as it’s very well performed with guests including gospel legend Mavis Staples. However, I doubt I’ll be revisiting it as it’s just not the kind of music I choose to listen to.

I rather wish the two projects had not been conceived of as a pair, but released as separate albums. The Saturday Night section is some of the best music Marty has ever made; Sunday Morning is very well done, but it’s not country.

Grade: Disc 1 A+
Disc 2: B+

Country Heritage Redux: Dick Feller

An expanded and updated version of an article originally published by The 9513.

About eight years ago I was attending a performance by the late great Vermont singer/songwriter Bernie Whittle when he launched into “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.” I wasn’t familiar with the song but it seemed to me that it could have come from the pen of only one writer – Dick Feller. A little research confirmed my assumption.

Dick Feller was never a big recording star, but during the 1970s he provided numerous hits for other people. Possessed of rare wit and sensitivity (a product of his rural Missouri upbringing), Feller could write poignant ballads and novelties with equal facility. For a period of time, he was a staff writer for Johnny Cash. Prior to that, he was the touring band leader/lead guitarist for Warner Mack. He even played lead guitar on most of his own recordings and appeared as guitarist on sessions by a number of other artists, including Mel Tillis and Mike Auldridge. From my exposure to Dick’s guitar playing, I rate him just barely below the Chet Atkins class as a fingerpicker guitarist.

Among Feller’s serious songs, John Denver hit with “Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)” (#10 Country / #36 Pop), Johnny Cash had success with “Any Old Wind That Blows” (#3 Country) and “Orleans Parish Prison” (#52 Country), and Ferlin Husky recorded “A Room For A Boy – Never Used,” (#60 Country) a song that should have been a much bigger hit than it was.

I’m not sure whether to classify Dick’s biggest copyright as serious or humorous, but there are few songs more familiar than “East Bound and Down,” a huge country hit (#1 Cashbox /#2 Billboard) for co-writer Jerry Reed that was featured in the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit, and received continuous play by country bands everywhere for at least the next 25 years. I know of at least 33 cover versions, most recently by the Road Hammers.

Despite his facility with the serious songs, Dick Feller seemed to prefer looking at the humorous side of life with his music. Songs such as “Lord, Mr. Ford” (a #1 Country hit for Jerry Reed) and “The Night Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel For Single Girls Burned Down” (a minor hit for Tex Williams) seemed more in keeping with that outlook.

He issued three albums during the 1970s with four songs charting on Billboards Country charts : “The Credit Card Song” (#10), “Makin’ The Best of A Bad Situation” (#11), “Biff, The Friendly Purple Bear” (#22 – a song that appeals to all ages), and “Uncle Hiram and the Homemade Beer” (#49). The first three saw some action on Billboards Pop charts, as well.

Feller mostly wrote on his own, but when he did co-write, it was usually with writers who shared his humorous outlook on life, such as Sheb Wooley (a/k/a Ben Colder), Jerry Reed and most notably the late, Atlanta humorist Lewis Grizzard. Dick toured with Grizzard and was the opening act for the “Evening With Lewis Grizzard” stage show. Their most notable musical collaboration was “Alimony,” a subject Grizzard knew well.

In addition to the aforementioned artists, Dick Feller’s songs have been recorded by a diverse group of artists that include Bobby Bare, The Kingston Trio, Ray Stevens, Earl Scruggs, Mac Davis, Lee Greenwood, Ed Bruce, Burt Reynolds, Julie Andrews, Arthur Godfrey, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Aaron Tippin, June Carter Cash and countless others.

Wouldn’t you love to hear Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley or George Strait tackle these lyrics:

I stepped out of the shower and I got a good look at myself
Pot bellied, bald-headed, I thought I was somebody else
I caught my reflection in the mirror of the bathroom door
I just don’t look good naked anymore!

So… I’m goin upstairs and turn my bedroom mirror to the wall
I hung it there back when I was trim and tall
I’d stand there and smile and flex and strut until my arms go sore
But I just don’t look good naked anymore!

From “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore”, available on Centaur Of Attention.

Discography

The Dick Feller discography is pretty slim but each album is filled with wry (and sometimes silly) humor, clever lyrics and songs full of profound thoughts, sometimes disguised as humor

VINYL
All vinyl, of course, is out of print but worth hunting down. To the best of my knowledge Dick Feller issued only four vinyl albums

Dick Feller Wrote… (United Artists, 1973)
No Word On Me (Elektra, 1974)
Some Days Are Diamonds (Elektra/Asylum, 1975)
Audiograph Alive (Audiograph, 1982)

DIGITAL
Centaur Of Attention (Cyberphonic, 2001)
Although originally released as a CD, it currently is available only as a digital download from http://www.cdbaby.com. The album contains versions of all four of Dick’s charted hits, plus some other humorous songs

Check out www.dickfeller.com for more information on Dick Feller.

Classic Rewind: Warner Mack – ‘Sitting In An All Night Cafe’

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’

Loretta’s sixth studio album was released on Decca in September 1966. It marks a significant advance in her career, as her first album to hit #1 on the country album chart. Produced by Owen Bradley, there is no doubt that this record is solid country from the first note to the last. Loretta wrote half the twelve tracks, mostly without assistance.

The title track is one of Loretta’s classic hits, a confident rebuttal to a woman making moves on Loretta’s husband, and one of my personal favorites, as she firmly declares:

Sometimes a man’s caught lookin’
At things that he don’t need
He took a second look at you
But he’s in love with me

This song strikes the perfect attitude, balancing awareness of male frailty with faith in love, and like many of Loretta’s best songs, drawn from real-life experience (although not directly autobiographical – it was inspired by a couple at one of her shows). It was the only hit from the album, but it was a significant one, reaching #2.

Equally assertive is a sassy country cover of Nancy Sinatra’s then-current pop hit ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’, written by Lee Hazlewood. Loretta’s own ‘Keep Your Change’ is a cheerfully assertive up-tempo riposte to an ex wanting to crawl back; it is not as good as the title track but still entertaining and full of attitude as Loretta tells the guy she doesn’t want him back, and asks witheringly,

What happened to the scenery
That looked so good to you?
Did you get tired of the change you made -
Or did she get tired of you?

Not everything is assertive. The B-side of ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’ was the hidden gem ‘A Man I Hardly Know’ (covered a few years ago by Amber Digby). This song has a honky tonk angel as the protagonist, a woman seeking refuge from her heartbreak in the arms of strangers.

‘God Gave Me A Heart To Forgive’, which Loretta wrote with Bob and Barbara Cummings (her only co-write on the album), shows a more vulnerable side to Loretta as she plays the long-suffering wife of a husband who stays out all night leaving his wife lonely at home, with the attitude of the title track sadly wanting; the protagonist of this song is more of a doormat:

You brought me every misery that there is
But God gave me a heart to forgive

You hurt me as much as you can
Then you tell me that you’re just weak
Like any other man
Still you’re the only reason that I live
And God gave me a heart to forgive

Although it wasn’t written by Loretta, Bobby Harden’s ‘Tippy Toeing’ (about getting a restless baby to sleep) feels autobiographical for the mother-of-six, and has a bouncy singalong nursery rhythm perfectly suited to the subject matter.

An interesting inclusion is Loretta’s take on the then unknown Dolly Parton’s plea to a lover planning to leave, ‘Put It Off Until Tomorrow’, which is rather good, with Loretta’s voice taking on more vibrato than usual. This may be one of Dolly’s first cuts as a writer. Dolly’s own version of the song was released as a single in 1966 (and appeared on her debut album the following year), but failed to chart. Loretta’s ‘The Darkest Day’ is a less memorable look at a woman left by her man.

Another fine song with a classic feel is ‘Talking To The Wall’, about a woman who leaves the man she believes is not happy with her, and is trying not to admit she regrets it:

But I might as well be talking to the wall
When I tell myself I’m not missing you at all

It was customary for country artists to record covers of current and recent hits by other artists in the 1960s, and the songwriter Warner Mack had his own hit with the song in 1966 (#3 on Billboard). Loretta also chose to cover one of his older hits, the pained ‘Is It Wrong (For Loving You)’, which was a top 10 hit in 1957.

‘It’s Another World’ is a not very memorable perky love song, a cover of a hit for Loretta’s mentors the Wilburn Brothers (#5 in 1965), with double tracked vocals retaining the duo feel of the original. A much better Wilburn Brothers cover is their 1966 top 10 hit ‘Someone Before Me’, a classic style lovelorn ballad here given a gender switch in the lyrics so that it is about a woman loving a man still hung up on his ex, which is another one I like a lot. It was a top 10 hit for the Wilburn Brothers in 1966, but Loretta’s version is superior:

Someone before me still turns you inside out
When we’re together she’s all you talk about
You’re always wanting me to do the things she used to do
Someone before me sure left her mark on you

I’ve tried to get inside your heart but I don’t have a chance
Now I can see she’s still on your mind with every little glance
You’re living on old memories
My love can’t get through to you
Someone before me sure left her mark on you

The Osborne Brothers recorded a beautiful version the following year for their album Modern Sounds Of Bluegrass Music.

Loretta at her peak has the reputation of being more of a singles artist than an albums one, but this classic album is pretty solid throughout and one which I really enjoy. It has been re-released in its entirety on a budget CD and is also available digitally.

Grade: A-

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