My Kind of Country

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

Spotlight Artist: Alabama

alabamaA long time ago, back in 1969, there were three cousins in Fort Payne, Alabama, who decided to form a band. The band kept practicing and perfecting their craft, eventually becoming a proficient bar band, traveling the southeastern US and landing an extended gig at the Bowery in Myrtle Beach, SC. For part of this period they used the name Wildcounty but eventually the band became known simply as ‘Alabama’. They not only wrote some of their own material, but came up with a unique sound that eventually attracted the interest of the Dallas-based MDJ label. The release in 1979 on MDJ of “My Home’s In Alabama” reached #17 and got the folks at RCA Records interested in them, so much so that they signed to RCA in March 1980, beginning an extended period of huge success.

At the time they arrived on the national scene in 1980, I was not a big fan of the band, but as time went by, I developed a strong respect for the band and a deeper appreciation of their music and their status as trailblazers in vocal group country music.

This is not to say that there had not been vocal groups in country music before. Far from it, as groups such as the Sons of The Pioneers, The Willis Brothers, The Four Guys, The Oak Ridge Boys and, most notably, the Statler Brothers had been having considerable success for years before Alabama arrived.

The Willis Brothers and Sons of the Pioneers came out of the western (or western movies) tradition and really are separate and distinct from mainstream country music. The Four Guys, The Oak Ridge Boys and The Statler Brothers came out of the gospel music traditions, and even when performing mainstream country music they frequently still sounded like gospel groups. In the case of the Oak Ridge Boys and The Statler Brothers, when commercial country success abandoned them, they turned back to recording more gospel music.

Alabama was unique. They did not arise out of the western or gospel traditions but were a bar band that played in front of noisy barroom audiences, wrote their own material, covered the likes of Merle Haggard, and developed a synthesis of soft rock and country music that brought a new audience to country music. That new audience was a younger audience that had grown up on rock music but perhaps felt that rock had become too weird or perhaps simply had grown up with both rock music and country music and appreciated the synthesis that Alabama had developed.

Unlike most rock music of the time, Alabama’s music was both melodious and harmonious. Unlike most country music of the 1960s and 1970s, Alabama’s music was good dance music in a way that the music of Jimmy Dickens, Roy Drusky and Jim Reeves never could be. Plus Alabama had three really good vocalists, even if RCA insisted that Randy Owen be the lead vocalist on most tracks.

In addition to bringing a younger audience to country music, they were a huge influence on the genre as over the next decade, more and more vocal bands entered the scene, cautiously at first with Atlanta coming on the scene in early 1983, followed by more significant bands such as Exile, Restless Heart, Shenandoah, Diamond Rio, Sawyer Brown and many others.

Alabama would have an uninterrupted run of success from 1980 thru 1999, after which time the top ten hits ceased. Along the way they would enjoy thirty-three #1 singles with six other singles reaching #2, six more reaching #3 and two more getting stranded at #4. Many of their singles reached #1 in Canada including a few late 1990s singles that did not reach #1 in the US (eh?).

Alabama was lead singer Randy Owen (b. 1949) and his cousins, Teddy Gentry (b. 1952) and Jeff Cook (b. 1949). For many years it was thought by most fans that drummer Mark Herndon was a member of the group, but years after the group retired, it was revealed that he was but a paid employee of the group.

Some of my older comrades may disagree, but when I listened to Alabama’s music, I always felt that I was listening to country music, if a somewhat different form of the genre. There are many album tracks which have a far more traditional sound than some of the singles. There are fiddles and steel guitars on many tracks and while the three members of Alabama were good songwriters, they did not hesitate to record good outside material.

Join us as we look back at the career of Alabama.

Classic Rewind: Waylon Jennings – ‘You Ask Me To’

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘This Time’

220px-WaylonJenningsThisTimeThis Time marked a turning of the tide for Waylon Jennings. He had grown annoyed with the executives at RCA who continued to police his recording sessions although he supposedly had full creative control. For this project Jennings took matters into his own hands and recorded This Time at Tompall Glazer’s Hillbilly Central studio.

Willie Nelson, who co-produced the album, contributed four cuts to This Time. The results are mixed, with “Pick Up The Tempo, an exuberant mid-tempo number about a band in need of a little more pep, as my favorite. “It’s Not Supposed To Be That Way” is a tender ballad that could’ve used a soaking of steel and more confidence from Jennings vocally. “Walkin” has the steel, and is very good lyrically, although the track itself does nothing for me. Nelson randomly joins Jennings on the closing seconds of “Heaven or Hell,” which is good but not my cup of tea.

Billy Joe Shaver supplied “Slow Rollin’ Low,” another mid-tempo song. I admire Shaver’s lyric and the choice to soak the tune in harmonica, but other than that I’m somewhat indifferent to the whole proceedings.

“If You Could Touch Her At All” was written by Lee Clayton. The track plays like a classic Jennings song – deep vocal, excellent guitar work, and a nice full production bed. For me, it’s night and day in comparison to the other tunes and one of my favorite tracks on the album.

“Slow Movin’ Outlaw” is a stunning Dee Moeller ballad about our changing world and the struggle to find our place within it. The sentiment is timeless even if the production is a bit dated. Jennings also gives a heartbroken vocal that’s completely in service to the lyric.

“Mona” is one of Jennings’ first associations with Miriam Eddy, who solely composed the exquisite ballad. Eddy’s lyric, about a man confronting his girl about the love she doesn’t feel he’s giving her, is truly wonderful. Jennings would later marry Eddy, who had changed her name to Jessi Colter by then.

The remaining two songs are the most notable moments on This Time. “Lousania Women,” the first song recorded for the album, is an excellent mid-tempo ballad by JJ Cale, allowed Jennings to give a smooth vocal unlike anything else on the album. The other one is the title track, a song Jennings had written five years prior. RCA rejected it as rubbish at the time. As this project’s sole single, the track became Jennings’ first chart topper.

For me, I’m finding it hard to put aside my personal feelings and give an objective critique of this album, which I’m sure, is of very high quality. I just cannot get past who uneven I feel it all is, with too much going on to prevent a cohesive sound. I expected more from Nelson’s tracks, especially since they also appeared on Phases and Stages that same year.

This Time is unfortunately a let down as far as I’m concerned. There are a few bright moments but nothing I would deem essential.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Trisha Yearwood – ‘You Don’t To Move That Mountain’

Week ending 8/29/15: # singles this week in country music history

do-not-reuse-glen-campbell-1970-bb35-billboard-650-21955 (Sales): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Yes, Mr. Peters — Roy Drusky & Priscilla Mitchell (Mercury)

1975: Rhinestone Cowboy — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1985: Real Love — Dolly Parton with Kenny Rogers (RCA)

1995: You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: House Party — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Loving You Easy — Zac Brown Band (Southern Ground/BLMG/Republic)

Classic Rewind: Moe Bandy and Becky Hobbs – ‘Let’s Get Over Them Together’

Classic Rewind: Waylon Jennings – ‘The Taker/We Had It All’

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Honky Tonk Heroes’

honky tonk heroesWaylon’s 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes was his tribute to the songs of hellraising singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, who was new to Nashville and wrote every song but one. The songs proved ideally suited to Waylon’s increasingly rebellious persona.

The one non-Shaver tune, ‘We Had It All’, perhaps included as a more commercial option for a single, was only a modest hit, sneaking into the top 30. A fairly heavily strung emotional ballad penned by Troy Seals and Donnie Fritts, it is well sung by Waylon, but the arrangement makes it feel out of place on this particular album.

The mid-tempo ‘You Ask Me To’, a Jennings/Shaver co-write, was more successful, peaking at #8. It is a charming declaration of unconditional love, which was also picked up by Elvis Presley.

The rollicking harmonica-led title track pays cheerful tribute to those

“Lovable losers, no account boozers
And honky tonk heroes like me”

The more subdued and regretful steel-laced ballad ‘Old Five And Dimers (Like Me)’ is perhaps the best song on the album. It also served as the title track for Shaver’s own debut album the same year, which included the writer’s take on a number of the songs chosen here.

‘Willy The Wandering Gypsy And Me’ paints the portrait of a pair of wild-living ramblers, following the mantra,

“Movin’ is the closest thing to bein’ free”.

The same theme is visited in ‘Low Down Freedom’, with the narrator ready to run out on his latest girl, despite realising his quest for “freedom” has actually cost him “everything I’ll ever lose”.

Shaver wrote ‘Omaha’ with Hillman Hall (brother of the more famous Tom T.). The roamer in this song has started to feel homesick for Nebraska after a spell in California, part of it in jail, and is going back home. Another jailbird, the protagonist of ‘Ain’t No God In Mexico’ finds himself in trouble south of the border.

‘Ride Me Down Easy’ is yet another song about the hardships of a good hearted rambling man’s life:

It’s been a good month of Sundays and a guitar to go
Had a tall drink of yesterday’s wine
Left a lot of good friends some sheeps in the wind
And satisfied women behind.

Ride me down easy Lord, ride me on down
Leave word in the dust where I lay
Say I’m easy, come easy go
And easy to love when I stay

’Black Rose’ is a dramatic story song about temptation and sin:

When the Devil made that woman
Lord, he threw the pattern away
She were built for speed
With the tools You need
To make a new fool every day.

Way down deep and dirty
On the darker side of shame
I caught a cane cuttin’ man and a bottle of gin
With a rose of a different name.

The Devil made me do it the first time
The second time I done it on my own
Lord, put a handle on a simple headed man
Help me leave that black rose alone.

This classic album is the real dawn of Waylon the “Outlaw”. It is also a genuinely great record which deserves to be heard.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Rex Allen, ‘Son, Don’t Go Near The Indians’

Concert Review: Loretta Lynn in Cohasset, MA

IMG_5128

Loretta Lynn escorted by her daughter Patsy onstage at the South Shore Music Circus, August 22, 2015

In the immortal words of the almighty Chris M. Wilcox, we need to revere the living icons of country music and ‘Love ‘em while They’re Here.’ His 2012 piece is a subtle battle cry of sorts, a wake up call to seek out concerts the talent we’re fortunate still has the energy and stamina to traverse the country and put on shows. Wilcox’s article is met with added urgency for the mere fact a good number of the artists he cited have died since it was published.

One legend still going strong, at 83, is Loretta Lynn. I had the good fortune of seeing her live for the first time last Saturday, August 22, at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, MA. I’ve seen many a legend there through there through the years and have witnessed many incredible evenings of music under their tent. But this may’ve been the most special night of all.

The night began with Lynn’s daughter Patsy taking the stage with some housekeeping and other general announcements. She got the crowd going with talk of an autographed box set and lyric book available at the merchandise booth. Once she was done, Lynn’s band The Coal Miners (which features her son) took the stage for some opening numbers to get the crowd going. They began with a feisty “Mama Tried” and ended with “Good As I Once Was.” The pair is random on paper, but the Toby Keith hit really isn’t terribly far off from the Merle Haggard classic sonically.

I was pleasantly surprised when Patsy returned with her sister Peggy for a couple of tunes. They opened with a contemporary number before closing with the crowd pleasing “Tulsa Time.” I was kind of remise they didn’t perform “Nights Like These,” but I was likely the only one in the crowd to distinctly remember their sole “hit” from the late 1990s.

Once Loretta came out to a standing ovation, she literally didn’t let up for just over an hour. A blessing of country music from her era is the length of songs. At about two minutes or so each, you can cram in quite a bit in a short amount of time. And boy did Lynn give us everything she’s got.

I’m not as familiar with everything in her vast catalog, but I was surprised just how many of her hits I was familiar with, at least on some level. Lynn ran through the requisite classics – “Fist City,” “The Pill,” “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin,’” “You’re Lookin’ At Country,” “Blue Kentucky Girl” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” Lynn executed each of her iconic songs with precision – no false notes or signs her voice has significantly aged.

The poignant “Dear Uncle Sam,” which she said she wrote at the start of the Vietnam War was an emotional highlight. For a forty-nine year old song, the message in “Dear Uncle Sam” rang loud and clear. Everyone was chocked up when she got to the final verse. It was a lesson that great songs really do stand the test of time.

IMG_5122Lynn didn’t go off a set list, which allowed for audience requests. I hate that distracting option, but it didn’t hinder the flow at all. No matter what we through at her, she gave all the gusto she had. Her son joined her on “Feelings,” the only one of the duets with Conway Twitty that was performed. Lynn also gave a gorgeous reading of “Love Is The Foundation” and added even more humor to “One’s On The Way” by upping the number of kids in the title (“Four’s on The Way”). I’ve always found that song to be a little cutesy, but it’s one of the most honest portrayals of motherhood in country music history.

The only negative aspect of the evening, and it was very minor, was Lynn’s overall attitude. She seemed a little sad – frustrated when she didn’t feel her voice was making it. Lynn explained to the audience how she’s much better when she’s sung on consecutive nights opposed to coming back after three or so weeks without a performance. Towards the end of the hour she had to rest and her band took over with a couple more songs. Once they made the decision to have Lynn sing “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” you knew the once-in-a-lifetime night was drawing to a close.

The concert was magnificent. I truly couldn’t have asked for anything more from a woman who’s given so much goodness to the betterment of country music. It would’ve been wonderful to hear her talk more about the individual songs, (she did say no one would probably remember “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” after she performed it), but she chose to fit in as much music as she could instead. There’s no arguing about the gift of hearing great music instead of a lot of talking. She also focused solely on the hits, leaving out tracks from Still Country and Van Lear Rose.

What surprised me, though, was how modern everything sounded. I didn’t feel like I was listening to tracks designed for a 1960s/1970s musical landscape. Lynn’s songs are so expertly composed they transcend decades and trends. No matter what generation you were from, and there were some kids in the audience, you could relate to what Lynn was singing. It’s a good thing, too, because five new albums are coming – Patsy teased them at the start of the night.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to have had this rare chance to see Loretta Lynn live. If she hadn’t come to that venue, I never would’ve sought her out. I urge anyone who’s never been to one of her shows to run if given the chance. Chris M. Wilcox is correct, we really do have to love ‘em while they’re here.

Classic Rewind: Lee Ann Womack – ‘Either Way’

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Lonesome, On’ry and Mean’

51VGuWwwc+L._SS280-21973’s Lonesome, On’ry and Mean was a pivotal album in the career of Waylon Jennings. It was his first release after gaining some significant creative control over his music, following some hard-fought negotiations with RCA. He produced most of the album himself, but interestingly, did not write any of its songs. We begin to see the “outlaw” Waylon, beard and leather vest included, emerge for the first time. The album has a much rawer, more organic sound than was typical of the era, though it is not completely free of Nashville Sound trappings.

Three of the album’s tracks had been recorded a few years earlier and were gathering dust in the RCA vaults. “Gone To Denver” was written by Johnny Cash and Red Lane. It had been recorded in 1970 and produced by Danny Davis — a producer with whom Waylon had clashed. Davis was known for heavily orchestrated, overproduced recordings, but “Gone To Denver” is not one of them, consisting of a tasteful electric guitar track, some harmonica and a touch of pedal steel. “Lay It Down”, written by Gene Thomas and produced by Ronny Light, is an understated number featuring the legendary Ralph Mooney on steel. Waylon’s buddy Willie Nelson provided the third older cut, “Pretend I Never Happened”, which includes a Nashville Sound-style chorus. It was released as a single and reached #6.

Waylon produced the rest of the album himself. “You Can Have Her” was the album’s other single, which reached #7. It too, has a Nashville Sound-style chorus and some strings. Perhaps despite having mostly caved to Waylon’s demands, RCA was hedging its bets and playing it safe with the records it was releasing to radio. My favorite song on the album is the title track, which I had always thought was released as a single, but apparently it was not. Mickey Newbury’s “San Francisco Mabel Joy” is a real gem. Waylon’s cover of “Me and Bobby McGee”, written by his pal Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, is a by-the-numbers reading of the song — certainly not bad, but not particularly memorable.

“Me and Bobby McGee” closes out the original album. The 2003 CD re-release includes three bonus tracks. I could have done without the Tex-Mex flavored “The Last One To Leave Seattle”, a Waylon co-write with Steve Norman, but I enjoyed “Laid Back Country Picker” and his cover of Wynn Stewart’s “Big, Big Love” is excellent.

The Outlaw movement wouldn’t officially get underway for a couple of more years, but the seeds were clearly sown with this collection, which is well worth checking out.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Waylon Jennings – ‘Good Hearted Woman’

The original version of a song better known from the duet with Willie Nelson.

Classic Rewind: Baillie & The Boys – ‘The Lights Of Home’

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Ladies Love Outlaws’

ladies love outlawsMany of Waylon’s early albums have been made available during the digital. For some reason one of my very favorite albums, Ladies Love Outlaws, has never been made available except as an mp3. There is a CD available bearing this title but it is not this album, instead being a sampler album of miscellaneous tracks.

Released in September 1972, the album reached #11 on Bilboard’s country album charts despite being relatively bereft of single releases, with only a cover of an old Buck Owens hit “Under Your Spell Again” with wife Jessi Colter being released as a single (it reached #39) .

In his autobiography Waylon says that RCA released the album without his consent and he regarded most of the tracks as being little more than demos or ‘scratch’ tracks. That may be true, but Waylon’s demos are superior to 90% of what I hear on the radio these days.

The album opens with the title track, written by Lee Clayton, which was never issued as a single by Waylon, although the song received considerable airplay in my area. Jimmy Rabbitt & The Renegades had a marginally successful single with the song in 1980. Waylon and Jessi are mentioned in one of the verses of the song.

Jessi liked Cadillacs and diamonds on her hands
Waymore had a reputation as a lady’s man
Then one night, her light of love finally gave a sign
Jessi parked her Cadillac and got herself in line

‘Cause ladies love outlaws
Like babies love a bunch of stray dogs
Ladies touch babies like a banker touches gold
Outlaws touch ladies somewhere deep down in their soul

Next up is a cover of the Three Dog Night song “Never Been To Spain”. The song and arrangement fit Waylon’s voice well, but the vocal clearly is not intended as a final vocal. Hoyt Axton wrote the song.

“Sure Didn’t Take Him Long” is a Waylon Jennings composition about the rounder who stole his woman.

My long and lean and hungry looks really used to turn her on
Till she found two hundred pounds or true love muscle and bone
I made up my mind to keep what was mine, he made up my mind I was wrong
To take my Ann took a hell of a man but it sure didn’t take him too long

“Crazy Arms” is one of the great country songs, a major hit for Ray Price and a song that has been recorded by dozens of country artists. Waylon’s steel guitar player Ralph Mooney co-wrote the song and I think Waylon included the song on the album as a tribute to him.

“Revelation” is simply the best song on the album, although releasing religious songs as singles in the early 1970s was normally a career killer. Bobby Braddock wrote the song, which Joe Nichols included on an album a few years ago. Joe’s version is good but no one will ever top Waylon’s dramatic version

Somewhere in Vietnam a 19-year-old soldier walked out of a barroom
And he said “I must be seeing things, that bourbon hit me like a baseball bat”
In Belfast Ireland a little lady dropped her shovel in her garden
She raced across the yard and ask her neighbor Mrs Clancy what was that

In Memphis Tennessee a teacher raised the window closest to the river
And the children in her classroom swore they’d heard a choir singing down the street
In Washington DC a private secretary’s lips began to quiver
And the President just put aside his papers and rose quickly to his feet

I lay in a cheap motel in the arms of someone else’s woman
When a loud explosion rocked the room and turned the morning into night
I jumped out of bed and ran into the street with hardly any clothes on
As the sky lit up my heart stood still and I could feel my face was turnin’ white

All at once the clouds rolled back and there stood Jesus Christ in all his glory
And I realized the saddest eyes I’d ever seen were lookin’ straight at me
I guess I was awakened by the penetrating sounds of my own screamin’
And it didn’t take me long to stumble out of bed and fall down on my knees
As tears rolled down my face I cried dear God I’m thankful I was only dreamin’
And if I never go to hell, Lord, it’ll be because you scared it out of me

Larry Collins and Alex Harvey wrote “Delta Dawn”, which was Tanya Tucker’s debut single in 1972, and was an international pop hit for Helen Reddy in 1973. Because of those two versions, listeners tend to think of the song as a ‘female’ song but Waylon sings it well with the right amount of empathy in his vocals.

“Frisco Depot was a Mickey Newbury song that Waylons tackles with aplomb. The song is a slow ballad with steel guitar and acoustic guitar dominating the mix

“Thanks”, co-written by Irish folk singer Phil Coulter and Scottish folk singer Bill Martin, is a quiet folk song, or perhaps a song of praise for one of life’s more important treasures:

Sunday morning in the valley we would gather for the service
Emily Jane would run to meet me, she’d smile at papa kinda nervous
All the people came from miles around, I can still hear the sound
As they sang thanks to the Lord for the sun up in the sky
For the corn that’s growing high and for the child that didn’t die
Thanks to the Lord for the crops and for the farm
For the strength in my right arm and for keepin’ us from harm
Thanks, thanks, thanks, thanks, thanks, to the Lord for a girl like Emily Jane

“I Think It’s Time She Learned” is credited to Waylon Jennings and Mirriam Eddy (aka Jessi Colter). The song features a nice steel guitar introduction by Ralph Mooney, and is a song about a man leaving a woman who never returned his love for her.

How many times must I tell her
How many times must I say
I won’t be around to pick her up again
From now on she’ll have to find her own way.

How many years have I loved her
While she stood by so unconcerned
But the things she don’t know I’ll teach her when I go
She’s been wrong and I think it’s time she learned.

The album closed with the Buck Owens-Dusty Rhodes classic “Under Your Spell Again”, performed as a duet with wife Jessi Colter.

“Never Been To Spain” is the weakest track on the album mostly because of the rough vocals, and even it isn’t a bad track.

I’m calling this an A- because there are little finishing touches that could have greatly improved the album.

Classic Rewind: Dixie Chicks – ‘I Hope’

Hurricane Katrina devistated the Gulf Coast ten years ago today. Dixie Chicks provided Country Music’s most powerful response, via one of their greatest singles:

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘Baptism’

Week ending 8/22/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

tumblr_lq9ewnZ1pX1qa9uo9o1_1280-21955 (Sales): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care/Your Good For Nothing Heart — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Yes, Mr. Peters — Roy Drusky & Priscilla Mitchell (Mercury)

1975: Wasted Days and Wasted Nights — Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot)

1985: Highwayman — The Highwaymen (Columbia)

1995: You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: House Party — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Kiss You In The Morning — Michael Ray (Warner Bros./Atlantic)

Classic Rewind: Waylon Jennings – ‘Brown Eyed Handsome Man’

Classic Rewind: Jennifer McCarter and the McCarters – ‘Betcha Gonna Love Me’

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