My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘Kiss An Angel Good Morning’

Album Review: Mac Wiseman and Friends – ‘I Sang The Song: Life Of The Voice With A Heart’

If you consider Bill Monroe and those who recorded with his early bands to be Generation 1A in Bluegrass, with those immediately followed in his wake to be Generation 1B (Reno & Smiley, Flatt & Scruggs (Lester & Earl personally were 1A), Carter & Ralph Stanley, Bobby & Sunny Osborne, Jim & Jesse McReynolds, Jimmy Martin), then the last surviving member of generation 1A is Mac Wiseman.

Born in 1925, Mac Wiseman is the great survivor: he survived polio, the Great Depression, Molly O’Day, Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, Dot Records (as an executive) Rock ‘n Roll, The Hootenanny Era, The WWVA Jamboree, the WSM Grand Ole Opry and The Nashville Sound. Along the way he forged a stellar career as a solo artist recording pop, country and bluegrass music. He was friends with Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard and Gordon Lightfoot, helped organize the CMA and has been inducted into both the Country and Bluegrass Music Halls of Fame.

This album arises from a series of interviews (or perhaps visits) Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz had with Wiseman in which they discussed his life, listened to his stories and realized that many of the stories would make good songs. All songs are credited to Wiseman, Cooper & Jutz with the exception of the last track on the album.

Mac was past ninety years old when this album was recorded, no longer is very mobile and his voice isn’t quite what it was even a few years ago. Consequently Mac does very little singing on this album, his contributions mostly limited to the beginning or the end of some of the tracks.

Instead a phalanx of his admirers and colleagues do most of the singing with Shawn Camp, Buddy Melton, Junior Sisk, and Ronnie Bowman, among the featured vocalists. Needless to say these vocal performances are terrific. From outside the field of bluegrass, several other vocalists were enlisted.

The album opens up with “The Guitar” a song about Mac’s first guitar, a mail order guitar from Sears, and his experiences in leaning the guitar. Sierra Hull and Justin Moses do the singing on this song (Mac takes a refrain at the end). Sierra (mandolin) and Justin (banjo.fiddle, dobro) team with Mark Fain (bass) and Thom Jutz (guitar) to serve as the backing band for the entire project, with Jutz and Cooper providing harmony vocals on some of the tracks.

“Somewhere Bound” is next up, a song about Mac’s childhood dreams of seeing the world, Buddy Melton, Milan Miller and Andrea Zonn provide the vocals.

“The Wheat Crop” opens and closes with Mac singing a chorus of “Bringing In the Sheaves”, followed by this song about the responsibilities and problems of managing the wheat crop. Junior Sisk, Sonya Isaacs Yeary and Becky Isaacs Bowman provide the remaining vocals.

Jim Lauderdale has always been one of my favorite singers and I firmly believe that if he had come along in the 1950s or 1960s he would have been a huge country music star. “Barefoot ‘Til After the Frost” recounts Mac’s childhood as a school boy. I can’t personally identify with the song, but my father and anyone who grew up in rural America during the Great Depression certainly could – I can remember Dad speaking of this very thing.

“Manganese Mine” is the tale of a property owner taken advantage of and conned nto selling his mineral rights too cheaply. A sad story too often repeated, especially in Kentucky and West Virginia.
The trio of Melton, Miller and Zonn return for “Three Cows and Two Horses” are Mac’s homespun story of the fortunes of many rural families.

“Simple Math,” sung by Jim Lauderdale, is one of my two favorite songs on the album. The song follows Mac’s experiences breaking in as a professional musician including his big break playing with the great Molly O’Day. Lauderdale, who can sing anything and everything is the perfect vocalist to relate the pithy truths of Mac’s observations (“You Can’t Spend The Money You Don’t Have, That’s How It Works – It’s Simple Math”.

Junior Sisk and Ronnie Bowman join up to sing the sing the religiously-themed “Crimora Church of The Brethren”. The song is about going to church during the Great Depression.

“Going Back To Bristol” is my other favorite from the album, and the song currently getting the most airplay. Sung by Shawn Camp, the song is an excellent summary or snapshot of Mac’s career. Shawn Camp was originally pushed as a country artist by Reprise around 2000, but it didn’t take (too much bluegrass in his soul) so he returned to his first love and has had great success as a bluegrass artist, In addition to his solo endeavors (song writer, Grammy winning record producer, etc.), Shawn is the vocalist for the Earls of Leicester.

I’m not really a John Prine fan, but there is no questioning that he has a great appreciation for the music of Mac Wiseman and he and Mac are friends (in 2007 they cut a terrific album together of mostly classic country songs titled Standard Songs for Average People). John was a perfect choice to sing the title cut, the gentle ballad “I Sang The Song”. Prine has the weathered voice necessary to convey the optimistic but weary lyrics.

“I Sang The Song” was originally planned as the last cut on the album, but the decision was made to reprise Mac’s first hit from 1951 (and the only song on the album written entirely by Mac himself) “”Tis Sweet To Be Remembered”. Mac is joined by Alison Krauss on the choruses, a fitting end to the album.

Although these songs fit together to tell Mac’s life story, the fact is that each of the songs works as a stand-alone song, a remarkable achievement indeed, I picked out two of the songs above as my favorites, but the truth is that I love all of these songs and all of the performances. Modern day country music fans may not be too familiar with bluegrass artists but the pickers and singers on this album are an elite group paying proper homage to a truly legendary performer.

Grade: A++

Classic Rewind: Roy Acuff and Melba Montgomery – ‘Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain’

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘A Sunshiny Day With Charley Pride’

A Sunshiny Day With Charley Pride was released in 1972, and produced as usual by Cowboy Jack Clement. The album’s sole single, sitting on top of the country charts for three weeks in the summer of 1972, was the Ben Peters song, ‘It’s Gonna Take A Little Bit Longer’, set to a jaunty medium tempo, it proclaims the narrator’s enduring love despite his lady’s departure. It’s a highly likeable recording with a Cajun flavor, which still stands up very well today. Peters also contributed the title track, a suitably sunny tune about happiness which is pleasant to listen to but a little bland lyrically.

‘She’s Helping Me Get Over You’ is a classic country song, written by A L “Doodle” Owens and Hal Bynum about finding a new love and getting past an older, stronger but toxic one which still has a pull on him. This is my favorite song on the album. The same pair wrote ‘One More Year’, a powerful plea from a husband to his wife to last through some more hard times:

Sweetheart, I know I’ve never made one dream come true for you
If you’ll just walk through one more storm our sunshine may appear
But if we wake up tomorrow and you don’t see a rainbow
Sweetheart, why can’t we try it one more year?

Texan rockabilly artist Al Urban provided a couple of fine ballads. ‘When The Trains Come In’ is an excellent ballad about loneliness with a haunting whistle and harmonica accompaniment. Even better is the steel led ‘You’re Wanting Me To Stop Loving You’, a gentle but firm reproach to the wife who is leaving him.

Johnny Duncan’s ‘Nothin’ Left But Leavin’’ is another highlight, an excellent song with echoes of a more bitter version of the classic ‘My Elusive Dreams’:

Tonight it’s so cold, the rain is fallin’
But it’s still not as cold as your love for me
That’s why I’m walking down this highway
And a diesel going my way
Will take me far from you and you’ll be free

There was nothin’ left but leavin’ for us in Tulsa
But then again the same was true out in LA
Seems like trouble always finds us
So I broke the tie that binds us
There was nothin’ left but leavin’ anyway

We tried to find our dreams in New Mexico
But the answers just weren’t there in Santa Fe
And we could blame it all on Texas
But the problem now with us is
We never had what we thought anyway

There was nothin’ left but leavin’ any longer
And I finally found the strength to walk away
Tell the kids their daddy loves them
They’ll understand I’m thinkin’ of them

‘Put Back Your Ring On My Hand’, written by Glenn Ash, is another excellent track, a regretful song in which the protagonist is desperate for a second chance. Also good is the melodic ‘Seven Years With A Wonderful Woman’, a wedding anniversary paean optimistically hoping for another 70 years together. (Charley had actually been married to wife Rozene since 1956 and they are still happily married, so this one was clearly heartfelt.) It was written by the Reverend Roland W Davisand is set to a hymnlike tune.

‘Back To The Country Roads’, written by Richard Jarvis, is quite nice, but the most disposable track on the record.

Charley is in excellent voice throughout, and Jack Clement knew how to keep the Nashville Sound relatively restrained. This is a strong album which is worth hearing, and can be found now on one of those excellent value multiple-album CDs we have mentioned before.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Joe Nichols and Lee Ann Womack – ‘We’re Gonna Hold On’

A cover of a George Jones/Tammy Wynette classic:

Album Review: Lonesome River Band – ‘Mayhayley’s House’

The Lonesome River Band are a veteran band on paper, but have seen many changes of personnel over the years. As one expects from this band, the instrumental playing is brilliant but tasteful, with banjo star Sammy Shelor anchoring the sound. Both the current lead singers are outstanding too – the smoky characterful baritone of Brandon Rickman (one of my favorite singers across country and bluegrass) almost matched by the strong, if less distincive, tenor of Jesse Smathers.

A number of well known country songs get a bluegrass treatment . Crystal Gayle’s early hit ‘Wrong Road Again’ is delightful. The Don Williams hit ‘Old Coyote Town’ is given an absolutely beautiful reading by Brandon Rickman. Western Swing classic ‘Ida Red’ becomes a pacy bluegrass romp. A less well known cover, ‘Hickory Hollow Times & County News’ was on Charley Pride’s 2011 album Choices. Rickman’s warm vocals suit the song’s sweet nostalgia.

‘As The Crow Flies’, a plaintive Billy Yates/Melba Montgomery love song which Yates has recorded, has another lovely vocal from Rickman. The lyric refers to both the title bird and to blackbirds, both of which make a more ominous appearance in ‘Blackbirds And Crows’, an excellent murder ballad about a possesive husband and restless wife he just can’t bear to let go:

Blackbird sat on a fence line
Crow flew through the sky
I whispered low into Eva’s ear
Eva you’re gonna die

She’s a half a mile out, a quarter across
Beneath those wheatfield rows
And no one knows who put her there
But the blackbirds and the crows

Folks come by and we sit around
And I tell them how she’s gone
I tell them how she packed her bags
And wrecked our happy home
Lord I tell them she’s down in Atlanta
Doin’ cocaine and God only knows
But Eva’s not gone
She’s here with me
Right here where she’ll always be
With the blackbirds and the crows

It was written by Don Humphries.

The atmospheric title track, an Adam Wright song based on a true story, is about a rural Georgia psychic from the mid 20th century, to whom the album as a whole is dedicated.

‘Diggin’’ is a pretty good mid-tempo song about struggling to make ends meet that manages to sound bright despite the despairing lyric. The similarly upbeat ‘As Lonesome As I Am’, written by Matt Lindsey and Shawn Camp, is a more overtly optimistic song about expecting things can only get better. ‘I Think I’m Gonna Be Alright’ sees the protagonist coping well enough with a breakup.

Some fantastic fiddle (from Mike Hartgrove) leads the fast paced ‘Lonesome Bone’. ‘It Feels Real Good Goin’ Down’, written by Gary Nicholson and Shawn Camp, is a vibrant drinking-away-the-pain song. Thw album closes with a frenetic arrangement of the bluegrass standard ‘Fly Around y Pretty Little Miss’.

This is an excellent album which should appeal to country fans with an interest in bluegrass.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘I’d Rather Love You’

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘I’m Just Me’

In many respects, Charley Pride was the George Strait of his day: a consistent hit maker who frequently hit #1, whose music rarely offered surprises but never disappointed his fans. 1971’s I’m Just Me was no exception. It reached #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and also produced two number one singles: “I’d Rather Love You” and the title track. The former spent three weeks at the top of the chart and was written by Johnny Duncan. It finds Pride speculating about how things might have turned out had he never met the live his life. The title track, written by Glen Martin, is a catchy, feel-good fiddle and steel number that is as unpretentious as the title suggests. It has a slight Bakersfield feel to it, despite the occasional chiming in by the Nashville Sound-style vocal chorus. In between these two singles, RCA released “Did You Think to Pray” from Pride’s gospel album, which broke his string of consecutive #1s.

In addition to “I’d Rather Love You”, Johnny Duncan contributed two other numbers. “(In My World) You Don’t Belong”, about a married man who struggles to come to terms with his infidelity. It includes a subtle string arrangement which is a bit of a departure for a Pride recording. “Instant Loneliness” is more traditional. I’m not sure why it wasn’t released a single; perhaps Duncan wanted to release the song himself, though he does not appear to have done so.

Unlike many albums of the era, I’m Just Me doesn’t rely too heavily on covers of recent hits by other artists. The one exception is a very nice rendition of “Hello Darlin'” which rivals Conway Twitty’s original version. The entire album is a solid effort, though it is slightly more heavily produced than Charley’s previous work. Thankfully these old albums are finally being re-released so they can be heard by fans of traditional country who are too young to remember when they were first released. I’m Just Me is available on an import collection with three other early Charley Pride albums.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Glen Campbell ft Henry Mancini – ‘All His Children’

Week ending 7/22/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Four Walls — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1967: With One Exception — David Houston (Epic)

1977It Was Almost Like a Song — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1987: I Know Where I’m Going — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1997: Carrying Your Love With Me — George Strait (MCA)

2007: Lost in This Moment — Big & Rich (Warner Bros.)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Craving You — Thomas Rhett featuring Maren Morris (Valory)

Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard – ‘It Makes No Difference Now’

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘I Wonder Could I Live There Anymore’

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Did You Think to Pray’

Produced by Jack Clement and released in 1971, Did You Think To Pray was Charley Pride’s first gospel album. The album, which emerged at the height of Pride’s popularity, hit #1 and was certified Gold.

Despite his goodwill with country radio, his previous six singles had been chart toppers,  Pride could only get the album’s sole single to #21. “Let Me Live” has a strong lyric about the guidance of God’s love, but a melody that leaves much to be desired. The song takes a bizarre and jarring turn halfway, turning from a simple ballad into a gospel rave and back again.

The title track, which opens the album, preaches about the power of prayer. The track is somewhat overwrought and brought down by the heaviness of the background vocalists and what appears to be a low humming throughout.

The album kicks into high gear with Pride’s spirited take on “I’ll Fly Away.” The fiddle is a perfect accompaniment for the backing vocalists who join Pride throughout. Also fantastic is his banjo-drenched take on “Angel Band,” one of the album’s strongest tracks. “Whispering Hope” is also fantastic, with Pride channeling Jim Reeves.

Pride gets back to preaching on “Take Time out for Jesus,” which is heavy-handed but otherwise excellent. The melody is inviting and draws you right in. The confessional “Jesus, Don’t Give Up On Me,” finds Pride hoping for redemption after failing to heed his own advice.

“The Highway Leads to Glory” is about the journey, and it’s glorious. His take on the oft-covered “The Church In The Wildwood” is of similarly high quality. The album closes with “Lord, Build Me a Cabin in Gloryland,” which retains the album’s winning ways.

Apart from a couple of moments that get the album off track, Did You Think To Pray is an excellent recording, gospel, secular or otherwise. It’s well worth checking out if you want to hear it again after many years or are just discovering it for the first time.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Patty Loveless – ‘Timber I’m Falling In Love’

Single Review: Brandy Clark – ‘You’re Drunk’

It’s about time I let you in on a little secret. I’m always clamoring for new releases from Brandy Clark. When my local record store didn’t carry Live From Los Angeles this past Record Store Day, I went online and was able to secure the final copy at Bull Moose Records in New Hampshire.

I’m also still finding additional nuances in Big Day In A Small Town more than a year since it was released. I only recently uncovered the brilliance of “Since You’ve Gone To Heaven,” a track I had initially failed to understand in any concrete way. Brandy Clark isn’t just one of the strongest songwriters to come along this decade. She’s one of the greatest contemporary voices in country music, achieving an equal footing with the likes of Gretchen Peters, Matraca Berg, Bobbi Cryner and Lori McKenna.

Clark is adding to her legacy with “You’re Drunk” a staple of her live show and an outtake from the sessions for Big Day In A Small Town. The story goes that she never took the song seriously until she cut it, the track didn’t fit the vibe of the album and she had to find a way to get it out.

While I’m glad it’s out there, I’m thrilled it didn’t make the album. “You’re Drunk” is an outtake for a reason – it’s shallow, far too contemporary and lacks Clark’s overall distinctiveness. “You’re Drunk” feels undeveloped in a “Girl Next Door” sort of way, trying to be clever without really packing any significant punch.

Her work with Shane McAnally (they co-wrote this with Josh Osborne) has been incredible – the pair wrote “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven” together – but this feels like it’s dripping with McAnally’s influence and not in a good way. The production and overall vibe is far more “American Kids” than “Last Call” or “Follow Your Arrow.”

That being said, “You’re Drunk” isn’t terrible. It’s found a proper home as an outtake, where it belongs, and not the anchor to a new album, like the one consisting solely of drinking songs she wants to do at some point. I’ll give her a pass for this. It’s an outtake and nothing more. Even Brandy Clark doesn’t have to hit it out of the park every time she’s up at bat.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘I Didn’t Think Of You At All’

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Charley Pride’s 10th Album’

Released in June 1970, Charley Pride’s 10th Album was actually his ninth album of new material as his actual ninth album was the hits collection The Best of Charley Pride.

Only one single was released from the album, Dave Kirby’s “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone”, but there were three or four other songs that were worthy of single release. The album reached #1 on Billboard’s Country Albums charts (also #1 in Canada), and went to #30 on the all-genre’s charts, becoming Charley’s fourth consecutive and sixth total gold albums. I strongly suspect that had Sound Scan been around, this album would have tracked higher.

The album opens up with “Able Bodied Man”, the Bill Rice – Jerry Foster composition about an itinerant laborer who moves from job to job, all the while working hard to keep his marriage working. It’s a truly great song and one I would have liked to see released as a single

If I had more education now I’d have made a better life for me and you
But just simple manual labor is the only kind of work that I can do
The bus is loadin’ for Missouri so I guess I’d better go
I’ll call you just as soon as I can
I’ll be sending you a ticket cause I think I’ll get a job
If they’re looking for an able bodied man
And remember I’m your able bodied man

Next up is Bill Rice’s “Through The Years”, a nice slow country ballad about a relationship that has grown stronger through the years. The song had no potential as a single, but makes a nice complement to the album.

“Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone” would be Charley’s best remembered song had “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” never come along. The song reached #1 for two weeks and was his biggest pop hit up that time. The song became an immediate favorite of country cover bands everywhere. Doug Sahm recorded the song twice (once with the Texas Tornados) and Larry Cunningham & The Mighty Avons had success with the song in the UK and Ireland. There was even a rough Swedish translation of the lyrics that became a hit in Sweden.

Rain drippin’ off the brim of my hat,
It sure looks cold today.
Here I am a-walkin’ down 66,
Wish she hadn’t done me this way.

Sleepin’ under a table in a roadside park,
A man could wake up dead;
But it sure seemed warmer than it did
Sleepin’ in my king-size bed.

[Chorus]
Is anybody goin’ to San Antone or Phoenix, Arizona?
Any place is all right as long as I can forget I’ve ever known her.

The nest three songs are basic slow country ballads: Jerry Foster’s “The Thought of Losing You”, Jack Clement’s “I Think I’ll Take A Walk”, and the Hugh X Lewis composition “Things Are Looking Up”. All three are nice songs with vivid imagery, but none would be considered as singles material.

Charley picks up the tempo a little with Bill Foster’s “Special”, a train song of wanderlust. There was a time when a song such as thius one would have been a viable single, but by 1970, that time was probably was past.

The only thing I really own is what you see me wearing on my back
The only friends I’ve ever known are the kind you meet along a railroad track
The kind you bum tobacco from and view the world through a boxcar door
A friend who talks and makes you laugh has nothing much but gives you half

And maybe you don’t see him anymore
Special I hear your lonesome whistle whine
It’s calling me
Special keep moving me on down the line

Alex Zanetis, who wrote several of Jim Reeves’ big hits, wrote a “Poor Boy Like Me”. Thematically it was too similar to several of his earlier singles for Charley to have released the song as a single. Ditto for the Allen Reynolds-Dickie composition “(There’s) Nobody Home To Go Home To”. I would have thought that someone would have taken a chance on one of these songs, both excellent album tracks.

I have no idea why RCA chose not to release “This Is My Year For Mexico” as a single. The song screams hit single. Crystal Gayle recorded the song in 1975 and reached #13 on Record World, 16 on Cashbox and 21 on Billboard, but her career had not reached high gear yet (it was her second biggest hit at that point in her career). Released later in Crystal’s career it would have been a huge record, as it would have been for Charley had it been released as a single. As it was, the song received considerable airplay, although Billboard did not track album tracks at the time. Bluegrass superstar Dale Ann Bradley has the song on an upcoming album and several other bluegrass acts have recorded the song.

I no longer notice if you’re wearing perfume
I quit smoking, girl, you never even knew
And the road is full of young and restless people
And their full of the energy to move

[Chorus]
Its a habit for us to stay together
We sit and watch the nightly shadows grow
Every day last year I left for California
This is my year for Mexico

At the time I purchased the album (July 1970) I noted the album had only ten tracks and had a playing time of around 27 minutes, a bit of a short-change. On the other hand I would rather have 27 minutes of music that ranges from very good to excellent than 35 minutes of drivel. There is not a song on this album I dislike – a solid A.

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone?’

EP Review: Jake Worthington – ‘Hell Of A Highway’

Released 18 months after his debut, the young traditional country singer Jake Worthington’s second EP is a further step forward. His rich mature voice, which belies his youth (he is still only 21) is matched here by some excellent songs.

The energetic honky tonker ‘How Do You Honky Tonk’ opens proceedings, with a name drop for Mark Chesnutt, and is very reminiscent of Chesnut’s 90s work. The mid paced ‘Big Time Lonesome’ is about coping with a broken heart, and is another very good song.

The highlights are two sad ballads. ‘A Lot Of Room To Talk’ is an instant classic, a lovely sad ballad about a man discovering the loneliness of an empty house following his wife’s departure:

I should’ve listened more to her more
When she was still around
I guess I got what I deserved
I sure do hear her now
What good is pride now that she’s gone
When did our house stop being home
Now there’s too many what if opportunities I missed
And a lot of room to talk

Lots of steel guitar adds the final touches.

Also outstanding is the title track, which sees another woman leaving, and a man left behind:

Said I’d give you all the space that you wanted
Just didn’t know you want so much

So tonight I’m playing my guitar
And I’m crying like a country song
Sitting here staring out the window
Wondering how’d you ever get so gone
Must be one hell of a highway you’re on

The final track is a pleasant if inconsequential love song, ‘Don’t Think Twice’, sung well.

This is a highly enjoyable and solidly country EP. Add it to Jake’s previous, self-titled EP, and you have an album’s worth of material.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘I’m So Afraid Of Losing You Again’