My Kind of Country

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

Goodbye time

For many years my love for country music was quite an isolated one, as I know very few people in my daily life who even like it. In 2008 I started to read The 9513, an excellent country music blog, and began chatting to other fans on the associated forum. One of the other members, J. R. Journey, invited me and two others, Razor X and Erik, to join him on a brand new blog at the beginning of 2009. That blog has been an enormous part of my life for the past ten years. The writing team has changed a bit over that time, currently consisting of myself, Jonathan Pappalardo and Paul Dennis who was previously a contributor of The 9513). One of the things which I was struck by when we started was how generous and welcoming other country music bloggers were.

Sadly, our time has coincided with the decline of real country music as a viable commercial genre, with the major labels putting out pop and rock music disguised as country, and ‘country’ radio having effectively been taken over by stealth. We have done our best to seek out what good music is still being made – and it is out there, plus delving into allied genres like bluegrass. Our weekly chart feature shows the contrast between the hits of years past and those of today all too graphically.

In the last couple of years it has become harder for all of us to find the time to contribute, and with regret we have decided that the time has come to call it a day. We would not have made it this far without you, the loyal readers. Not many of you comment, but we know you have kept on reading and, hopefully, enjoying our contributions. We intend to leave the blog up, so you still have the chance to revisit old posts, but there will be no new content after today.

I hope we have reminded you of, and introduced you to, some great music, through our selection of Spotlight Artists, new music reviews and classic rewind video clips over the past ten and a half years. We have produced over 7000 posts, and most of you read the blog scrolling down the main page. Over the past decade, the post most specifically searched-for was one of Paul Dennis’s series of Favorite songs of the 1980s. We will miss writing for you all, and hope you don’t miss us too much.

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Classic Rewind: Linda Ronstadt – ‘Desperado’

Classic Rewind: Tammy Cochran – ‘Angels In Waiting’

Album Review: Jennifer McCarter and the McCarters – ‘Better Be Home Soon’

Although the McCarters’ debut album had brought them some success, with top 10 hits, Warner Brothers thought they would do better if they modernised their sound a bit. They also decided that since Jennifer was very clearly the star of the group, she should get higher billing, and renamed the group Jennifer McCarter and the McCarters.

The first single from their second album Better Be Home Soon, produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay, was ‘Up And Gone’, a sprightly up-tempo tune which was their third and last top 10 hit, peaking at #9. It was written by Verlon Thompson and Bill Caswell. The same writing team provided the next single, ‘Quit While I’m Behind’, which reached #26. It is another entertaining song, about deciding to dump a rubbish boyfriend who is cheating on her. ‘Betcha Gonna Love Me’, written by Caswell with Don Singleton, is in similar vein musically.

The title track is a ballad which, oddly, is a cover of a song by Australian rock band Crowded House. Jennifer’s vocal is lovely, but radio was not receptive when it was released as the third single.

Also a flop was the last single, ‘Shot Full Of Love’. This song, written by Bob McDill, was recorded numerous times by artists including Don Williams, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Juice Newton, Nicolette Larson, Chris LeDoux and Billy Ray Cyrus, but has never been a hit. It is about a player with a past who is transformed by discovering true love, and perhaps worked a bit better for a male artist, but is beautifully sung here:

Once I had a heart cold as ice
Love to me was only for fun
I made the mark for each broken heart
Like notches on the butt of a gun

Once I had a trick up my sleeve
And a reputation all over town
I was heartless and cold wherever I go
And I shut down every young boy I found

Yes, I used to be a moonlight bandit
I used to be a heartbreak kid
Then I met you and the next thing I knew
There I was
Oh, shot full of love

Who’d have thought that someone like you
Could take a desperado like me
But oh, here I am
I’m as meek as a lamb
With my bleeding heart there at your feet

Sandy Emory’s song ‘I Haven’t Got A Prayer’ is a beautiful ballad with some pretty mandolin. ‘Mountain Memories’ is a charming throwback to the sounds of their first album.

‘Papa Sita’ is a sweet Mexican-flavored song written by Hugh Moffatt.

‘Slow Country Dance’ is a gorgeous waltz written by Mary Chapin Carpenter, who also recorded it:

Down at the bar a woman tells stories
Batting her eyes to someone not there
Her glass is half full (or maybe half empty)
Like the jokes told about her
When they think she don’t hear
Now the perfume is cheap and the makeup is careless
And the dress out of fashion for a woman her age
But she don’t give a damn for those who would cherish
A much lighter step or a much younger face

And love’s never easy or ever as true
When the changing of partners is no longer new
You lead with your heart, closing your eyes
And dance just to dance in three quarter time

The closing ‘I Don’t Wanna Cry Anymore’ is a great upbeat song written by Nancy Montgomery offering hope for the future.

This is not as good an album as the sisters’ debt, but it is still very good, and I would recommend it.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: The McCarters – ‘Quit While I’m Behind’

Album Review: The McCarters – ‘The Gift’

The McCarters were three young sisters from near Dolly Parton’s neck of the woods. The Gift, released in 1988 was truly a revelation resembling nothing else being played on the radio at that time. One critic described the album as the sequel to the Trio album that Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt had not gotten around to making yet.

High praise indeed and based on this album, the McCarters seemed to have a bright future ahead. The shimmering sibling harmonies and brilliant acoustic settings made this album something special and unique. I should note that this is NOT a bluegrass album, although I would not be surprised to hear the songs on bluegrass radio. With the exception of the piano and presence of drums, all of the instruments on the album are acoustic, played by such aces as Mark O’Connor (fiddle, viola, mandolin, mandola), Carl Jackson (acoustic guitar) and John Jorgenson (acoustic guitar, mandolin, mandocello). Jennifer McCarter was the lead singer on all songs, with younger twin sisters Lisa and Teresa providing the vocal harmonies.

The album opens up with “I Give You Music” a story ballad written by Dennis Adkins. This was the third single released from the album. It charted at a disappointing #28 (#16 in Canada).

Next up is “Timeless and True Love”, the debut single released in late 1987. Written by Austin Roberts, Charlie Black & Buzz Cason, the song soared to #5. The song is a very nice ballad featuring Mark O’Connor’s fiddle through the arrangement:

For mine is a timeless and true love
An endless river rollin’ on and on
Forever and ever for you love
Oh mine is a timeless and true love

Just look at how the mountains reach up to the sky
So strong against the hard winds as the years go by
My love is no less tender born of fire and steel
And the world could never change the way I feel

This is followed by a Bill Graham-Carl Jackson-Buddy Landon collaboration “Flower In The Desert”, a mid-tempo ballad with some excellent fiddling by Mark O’Connor. The song is album track with strong Appalachian overtones.

Lola Jean Dillon was a successful songwriter who wrote several of Loretta Lynn’s big hits and co-wrote with L. E. White the funny Conway Twitty / Loretta Lynn duet “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly”; “Where Would That Leave Us” is not a humorous but a fine ballad about a relationship that seems to be the salvation of the singer.

“I Know Love” comes from the pens of Randy Albright, Mark D Sanders and Lisa Silver. The song is a another slow ballad, nicely sung, but I do not think the song is anything special; however the next track “The Gift” by Nancy Montgomery is indeed something special .

Darling let me tell you the way I truly feel
A simple explanation from a heart so real
I have been the whole world over and sailed a thousand seas
And still come back to you

[Chorus}
Now I believe that gold is not so precious or so real
For I Have Seen The Miracle of Love As It’s Revealed
And When You Hear This Song I Hope That You Will See
The gift I give to you, my love forever true

“The Gift” would be the biggest hit reaching #4 (#2 in Canada). After that it would be downhill, as it would be for the rest of this album, four more songs that fit nicely in context with the album.

The Gift appeared at one of those brief moments in history when something as retro sounding as this album could break through, if only momentarily. In 1989 the ‘New Traditionalist’ movement (in reality the new honky-tonk traditionalist movement) would have its leading avatars appear thus wiping out the market for The McCarters’ music. In fact after the first two singles, the market had already turned away from the McCarters. A second album would follow and then it was over.

I would give this album an A+, but as much as I enjoyed the album at the time it was released, I realized that it was an outlier and unlikely to be repeated.

Classic Rewind: Waylon Jennings – ‘Mental Revenge’

Classic Rewind: Faron Young – ‘Occasional Wife/Your Time’s Coming’

Book Review: Randy Travis – ‘Forever And Ever, Amen’

Randy Travis was the first artist I fell in love musically, and one who saved country music in the second half of the 1980s from declining into pop-influenced irrelevance.

Randy’s new autobiography take us briskly through his childhood, blighted by a father who was an alcoholic bully, sometimes violent towards his wife and children, his youthful off-the-rails behaviour, and his joining forces with Lib Hatcher, the married mid-30s club owner who took charge of him and his career when he was barely 17. He admits he was sleeping with her when she was his court-appointed legal guardian when he was just 17 – we would certainly be calling this an abusive relationship if the genders were reversed, with no question. And that doesn’t even take into account the way Randy eventually discovered (post-divorce) just how badly she had been taking advantage of their relationship financially.

After they moved to Nashville Little Jimmy Dickens, a customer at the Nashville Palace, spotted his talent and gave him a chance to sing on the Opry. Ralph Emery was another early supporter. The young Randy, with only an eighth grade education, and not a very committed one at that, was rather naïve, signing anything Lib told him to. He comes across as very modest concerning his remarkable talent.

There is a lot of interesting detail both on Randy’s recordings and his touring. He comes across as a very nice, genuine person but not a very strong character, easily guided by his long term partner, who was in many respects the driver of his career. As we see his catapulting into stardom, it is clear that Lib Hatcher took advantage of Travis, viewing his success as her own. At times she undermined him, both controlling him by convincing everyone he had a number of allergies (he didn’t), and arguing with business contacts. On one occasion she had something close to a standup fight with George Jones’s wife Nancy, the latter coming off better. Randy wasn’t even allowed his own phone.

He did not think about breaking away until Lib’s attentions were distracted by another young man she could control, a young Irish pop singer. He found support from an old friend whose marriage was also on the rocks, and this blossomed into love. It was only after Randy filed for divorce that he began to see how much Lib had been taking advantage of his success financially. However, the divorce also led him into excessive drinking and things soon spiralled out of control, as we all remember from the lurid newspaper reports of public nudity while in a drunken fugue. Kyle Lehning and George Jones both tried to tell Randy he was drinking too much. When George Jones tells you you have a drinking problem – you really, really do.

The book is very well written, with the help of Ken Abraham. Randy is frank about his failings, accepting some responsibility for letting Lib control him, and acknowledging that he handled the new relationship with Mary a little irresponsibly at its outset. There is a bit too much medical detail following the stroke; while Randy appears to want to dispel thoughts that it was due to the drink problem, the level of detail is boring for the non-medical professional.

We end with details of Randy’s continuing recovery, and his gratitude for the support of fellow artists, with an element of redemption as he has mended some bridges burnt by Lib in earlier years. There are a couple of albums’ worth of unreleased recordings which may be released in due course, and my bet (given financial concerns set out in the book) is that this will be sooner rather than later; recent single ‘One In A Row’ is clearly one of these tracks.

This book is enlightening in many ways, and well worth reading.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Connie Smith – ‘Little Things’

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘I Got A Date’

What was to prove to be the girls’ final secular album was released in 1992.

‘What’ll You Do About Me’ is a vivacious up-tempo song written by Denis Linde. It had been recorded by a number of artists before, most notably Randy Travis on his best selling Always And Forever album, and as an early single for Steve Earle, but had not been a hit when the Forester Sisters tried it as the lead single for this album. Their version is entertaining but feels a little lightweight, and it was largely ignored by country radio. The song was revived a few years later to become a hit at last for Doug Supernaw, who got it to #16.

The title track was the only other single, although again it had limited success. Written by Dave Allen and Tim Bays, it is a rather contemporary jazzy pop tune with little to do with country music, but one with a lot of individuality as the newly single protagonist embarks on dating again. I could imagine this song doing well if someone like Shania Twain had recorded it a few years later. While not to my taste musically, it is well performed and the lyric is nicely observed.

Another up-tempo track with radio potential was ‘Show Me A Woman’, written by the legendary ‘Doodle’ Owens and Doug Johnson. It was later covered by Joe Diffie. The Foresters’ version is rattled out very fast:

Show me a woman who left a man
And I’ll show you a man with a drink in his hand
Doing all he can to survive
I’ll show you a man
You better not let drive

‘Redneck Romeo’ (written by Craig Wiseman and Dave Gibson and later covered by Confederate Railroad) is a tongue in cheek portrait of a good old boy looking for love:

He’s got a hundred keys hangin’ off his jeans
He knows they fit somethin’
But he don’t know what
He’s no cheap date
Spend his whole paycheck
Buyin’ drinks and playin’ that jukebox
Out on the floor he ain’t no square
He’s a romancin’ slow dancin’ Fred Astaire

The Caribbean-tinged story song ‘Wanda’ was written by K T Oslin and Rory Michael Bourke, and is about a women getting over a breakup by going on vacation.

As they often did, the girls included an old pop standard, in the shape of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’.

Much more to my taste is ‘Another Shoulder At The Wheel’, a lovely ballad written by Gary Burr and John Jarrard which is the best track on the album. ‘Help Me Get Over You’, written by Lisa Angelle and Walt Aldridge is another ballad, delicately sad. ‘Their Hearts Are Dancing’, written by Tony Haselden, is a sweet story of an elderly couple whose love has endured. ‘She Makes It Look Easy’ is an admiring, empathetic portrait of a single mom’s life.

This is perhaps my least favorite Forester Sisters album personally, but there are some attractive ballad and the rest is undoubtedly fun, and well done for what it is.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Forester Sisters – ‘Hammer And Nail’

Week ending 6/22/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: The Battle of New Orleans — Johnny Horton (Columbia)

1969: Running Bear — Sonny James (Mercury)

1979: Nobody Likes Sad Songs — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1989: I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party — Rosanne Cash (Columbia)

1999: Write This Down — George Strait (MCA)

2009: Then — Brad Paisley (Arista Nashville)

2019: God’s Country — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros. Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Whiskey Glasses — Morgan Wallan (Big Loud)

Classic Rewind: The McCarters – ‘The Gift’

Classic Rewind: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Muleskinner Blues’

Classic Rewind: Sweethearts of the Rodeo – ‘Blue To The Bone’

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘Talkin’ ‘Bout Men’

Talkin’ ‘Bout Men was the Forester Sisters’ eighth studio album for Warner Brothers, although it should be noted that this includes a Christmas album an a religious album. Released in March 1991, Talking About Men momentarily broke the downward slope of the previous four albums, reaching #16 on the charts. Four singles were released from the album, with only the sassy title track receiving much traction at radio, reaching #8 each reaching the top ten but none getting any higher than #7.

The album opens with “A Step In The Right Direction” a spritely mid-tempo number written by Rick Bowles, Robert Byrne and Tom Wopat (yes – that Tom Wopat). This track would have made a good follow up to “Men”. The song had previously been released as a single by Judy Taylor about a decade earlier, but that version barely cracked the charts:

Everybody knows that love’s like a swingin’ door
Comes and goes and we’ve all been there before
But you can’t get none till you’re back out on the floor

Well, that’s a step in the step in the right direction
Everybody knows that practice makes perfection
So, come on, let’s make a step in the right direction

“Too Much Fun” was the second single released and the actual follow up to the title track. It tanked only reaching #64. Written by Robert Byrne and Al Shulman, this is not the same song that Daryle Singletary took to #4 a few years later. This song is also a good-time mid-tempo ballad about a woman enjoying being free of a relationship. I would have expected it to do better as a single, but when as Jerry Reed put it, ‘when you’re hot, you’re hot and when you’re not, you’re not’.

Rick Bowles and Barbara Wyrick teamed up to write “That Makes One of Us”, the third single released from the album. The single did not chart. The song has acoustic instrumentation with a dobro introduction, and is a slow ballad about a relationship that is ending because only one is trying to keep it going. The song sounds like something the McCarter Sisters or The Judds (in their earlier days) might have recorded:

You’ve made up your mind
We don’t want the same thing
And that we won’t change things
Wishing there were ways
And there’s no use staying together
Nothing lasts forever
That’s what you say

And that makes one of us not in love
And that makes one of us who can’t give up
If you can walk away from the life we’ve made
Then that makes one of us

I still believe we’ve got something worth saving
I keep hoping and praying for another chance
You’ve held my heart and your gonna break it
Cause you wanna make it
A part of your past

Byrne and Shulman teamed up to write “Men”, the first single released from the album and the laast top ten single for the group, reaching #8. The song succeeded despite not truly fitting in with the ‘New Traditionalist’ movement that had taken over the genre. “Men” is a smart song that likely would have charted higher had it been released a few years earlier:

They buy you dinner, open your door
Other then that, what are they good for?
Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men
They all want a girl just like the girl
That married dear old dad, they make me so mad

Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men
Well, you can’t beat ’em up ’cause they’re bigger then you
You can’t live with ’em and you just can’t shoot ’em
Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men

They love their toys, they make their noise
Nothing but a bunch of overgrown boys
Men! I’m talking ’bout men
If you give ’em what they want, they never fall in love
Don’t give ’em nothin’, they can’t get enough

Men! I’m talking ’bout men
Well, you can’t beat ’em up ’cause they’re bigger then you
You can’t live with ’em and you just can’t shoot ’em
Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men

“Sombody Else’s Moon”is a nice ballad written by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Kent Robbins. This is not the same song that would be a top five hit for Collin Raye in 1993.

“It’s Getting Around” was written by Sandy Ramos and Bob Regan is an mid-tempo song with dobro leading the way for the acoustic accompaniment. It is a nice track that might have made a decent song. What’s getting around, of course, is goodbye.

Next up is “You Take Me For Granted”, a classic written by Leona Williams while she was married to Merle Haggard. It’s a great song that Haggard took to #1, and that Leona recorded several times over the years. The Forester Sisters have a nice take on the song, but it is not a knock on them to say that they are neither a nuanced as Haggard, nor as soulful as Leona Williams:

My legs and my feet
Have walked ’till they can’t hardly move from tryin’ to please you
And my back is sore
From bendin’ over backwards to just lay the world at your door.
I’ve tried so hard to keep a smile on a sad face while deep down
It’s breakin’ my heart
And as sure as the sun shines I’ll be a lifetime
Not knowin’ if I’ve done my part

‘Cause you take me for granted And it’s breakin’ my heart
As sure as the sunshines I’ll be a lifetime
Not knowin’ if I’ve done my part.

“The Blues Don’t Stand A Chance” is a slow ballad written by Gary Burr and Jack Sundred. The song is about a strong relationship that endures despite separation.

Tim Nichols and Jimmy Stewart combined to write “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled”, the third single released from the album. The song did not chart, and I’m not sure the reggae beat helped matters with country audiences. The lyric could be described as folk-gospel. I like the song but would have not chosen it for single release.

“What About Tonight” closes out the album. Written by John Jarrard and J.D. Martin, the song is a slow ballad that I regard as album filler. The highlight of the song is some nice steel guitar work by Bruce Bouton.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Men would prove to be the last big hurrah for the Forester Sisters. The title track would not only be the last top ten single but would also be the last single to crack the top fifty. Noteworthy musicians on the album include Bruce Bouton on steel and dobro, Rob Hajacos on fiddle, and Guy Higginbotham on saxophone.

I liked the album but it was definitely going against the prevailing trends at the time of its release. My favorite song on the album is “Step In The Right Direction” followed by “Men”. I would give the album a B+.

Classic Rewind: Oak Ridge Boys – ‘Y’all Come Back Saloon’

Album Review: The Forester Sisters — ‘Come Hold Me’

The girls released their seventh album in 1990 amidst an upheaval of change in the commercial country music landscape. Longtime acts from the 1980s were seeing their commercial fortunes diminish as a wave of hot, young, and mostly excellent talent became the focus of music row.

That being said, the lead single was a version of John Hiatt’s “Drive South” as a duet with Bellamy Brothers. While the song itself is excellent, Suzy Bogguss took it to #2 in 1992, it fails as a duet, couldn’t recapture the magic of “Too Much Is Not Enough,” and peaked at #63.

They rebounded creatively with the next single, “Nothing’s Going to Bother Me Tonight,” which is delightful, bluegrass-infused, and wonderfully uptempo. It, too, stalled at #63. One final single “Old Enough To Know,” a beautiful ultimatum, failed to chart.

In terms of the album cuts, I truly can’t praise them enough. The title track, a brilliant torch song led by the sisters’ exquisite harmonies, is spellbinding. “I Struck Gold” and “You’ll Be Mine” are both delightful mid-tempo ballads. “Between My Heart and Me” and “Better Be Some Tears” give the album some pep, Martina McBride subsequently recorded “Born To Give My Love To You,” a slower ballad, in 1995, and “You Can’t Have A Good Time Without Me” is a striking take on Western Swing.

The most notable aspect of Come Hold Me, in addition to its exceptional quality, is how it updates The Forester Sisters’ sound for the new decade. The arrangements, complete with steel, fiddle, and twangy guitars are perfectly early 1990s but still manages to sound fresh to modern ears. I wouldn’t categorize this as a commercial country album, but more in the alternative vein popularized by Kelly Willis.

I very strongly suggest seeking it out if you’re only familiar with the girls’ more popular work from the 1980s.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Forester Sisters – ‘Men’