My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Jason Eady – ‘AM Country Heaven’

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Classic Rewind: Pistol Annies — ‘Best Years of My Life’

Album Review: Trisha Yearwood — ‘Let’s Be Frank’

It is always nice to encounter new music from Trisha Yearwood, one of the best female vocalists of the pre-millennial generation of country singers. While I would have preferred to have new country music from Ms. Yearwood, I really can’t complain about an album dedicated to the music of Frank Sinatra.

Frank Sinatra was such an omnipresent force in the music I heard growing up, that I find it hard to believe that it has been over twenty years since his death on May 14, 1998. Arriving on the scene in the mid- 1930s Frank continued to have hit records into the early 1980s. Along with Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra is one of the four faces that would belong on a Mount Rushmore of classic pop music (some would insert Perry Como, Joe Williams. Mel Torme or Tony Bennett alongside Crosby and Sinatra but this is my Mount Rushmore). Sinatra recorded for RCA (technically these were issued as Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra), Columbia, Capitol, and Reprise/Warner Brothers. The A&R Director at Columbia was Mitch Miller, who was somewhat addicted to novelty songs and tended to pander to the pop market. Disgusted, Sinatra left Columbia for Capitol, determined to record only quality material. The Capitol and Reprise recordings are chock full of good material. Perfectionist that he was, Sinatra often re-recorded past material, usually bringing a new slant to the material, whether in orchestration, time signatures or approach. None of Sinatra’s remakes could be described as dreary or inferior.

In making this album, Trisha Yearwood has selected eleven songs that Sinatra sang over the course of his long career plus one new song. The album opens up with “Witchcraft”, a top twenty pop hit from 1957, written by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh. It would be difficult to top Frank’s recording but Ms. Yearwood gives it a really good effort.

“Drinking Again” is a song I associate with Dinah Washington, one of the most soulful R&B singers ever. I like Yearwood’s version (and Frank’s version, too); however, neither version measures up to the Dinah Washington recording. Sinatra’s version is fairly obscure, appearing on several Sinatra sampler albums and anthologies.

Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen were among Sinatra’s favorite songsmiths, both separately and together. “All The Way” appeared in the film The Joker Is Wild and the song received the 1957 Academy Award for Best Original Song. It reached #2 on Billboard’s airplay charts and is a song that Sinatra would revisit several times. Trisha does a fine job with the song giving a properly nuanced delivery.

“Come Fly With Me” was the title track to one of Sinatra’s biggest albums, reaching #1 in the US and #2 in the UK in 1958. The song was not released as a single but it is a very well known song – if Billboard had charted album tracks, this song, with a swinging arrangement by Billy May, undoubtedly would have been a hit. Trisha does not swing with quite the flair of Sinatra (who does?) but she does a more than satisfactory job with the song.

Nobody associates “(Somewhere) Over The Rainbow” with Frank Sinatra, and although Sinatra recorded E.Y. Harburg’s classic song for Columbia in the mid-1940s, Frank would have been the first to tell you that the song forever belongs to Judy Garland. Sinatra version had the sort of ‘Hearts and Flowers’ arrangement that Columbia’s Axel Stordahl was known for, and Yearwood follows the same approach. Her version is very good, with an understated ending but I would have picked another song for this album.

“One For My Baby” is what Sinatra called a ‘saloon song’. A saloon is one of the last places I would expect to find Trisha Yearwood and while she does a nice job with the song, she does not imbue the song with the sense of melancholy that Frank breathed into this Johnny Mercer classic:

 It’s quarter to three

There’s no one in the place

Except you and me

So set ’em up Joe

I got a little story

I think you should know

We’re drinking my friend

To the end

Of a brief episode

Make it one for my baby

And one more for the road …

 

You’d never know it

But buddy I’m a kind of poet

And I’ve got a lot of things

I’d like to say

And when I’m gloomy

Won’t you listen to me

Till it’s talked away

Well, that’s how it goes

And Joe I know your gettin’

Anxious to close

 

And thanks for the cheer

I hope you didn’t mind

My bending your ear

But this torch that I found

It’s gotta be drowned

Or it’s soon might explode

Make it one for my baby

And one more for the road

George & Ira Gershwin created “They All Laughed” back in 1937 for the film Shall We Dance starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Ginger sang the song in the movie and it is a perfect fit for Trisha. While I would not regard this as a Sinatra song (he recorded once, in 1980, as part of his rather odd Trilogy: Past Present and Future album), there is no doubt that Trisha does a superlative job with the song.

 They all laughed at Christopher Columbus

When he said the world was round

They all laughed when Edison recorded sound

They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother

When they said that man could fly

They told Marconi

Wireless was a phony

It’s the same old cry

They laughed at me wanting you

Said I was reaching for the moon

But oh, you came through

Now they’ll have to change their tune

They all said we never could be happy

They laughed at us and how!

But ho, ho, ho!

Who’s got the last laugh now?

“If I Loved You” was a Rodgers & Hammerstein song from the Broadway musical Showboat. Again it is not especially thought of as a Sinatra song, although he recorded it for Columbia and Capitol, but, it is a nice song that Trisha handles well.

 If I loved you,

Time and again I would try to say

All I’d want you to know.

If I loved you,

Words wouldn’t come in an easy way

Round in circles I’d go!

Longin’ to tell you,

But afraid and shy,

I’d let my golden chances pass me by!

Soon you’d leave me,

Off you would go in the mist of day,

Never, never to know how I loved you

If I loved you.

“The Man That Got Away” is another Judy Garland classic, this time from the pens of Harold Arlen & Ira Gershwin. Sinatra sang it as “The Gal That Got Away” but it works better from the feminine perspective, and I prefer Trisha’s version to Frank’s version.

“The Lady Is A Tramp” is a Rodgers & Hart composition from the play Babes In Arms. Trisha sings the song from the feminine perspective, and while the song works better sung from the masculine perspective, the main problem is that Trisha simply doesn’t swing as well as Sinatra.

“For The Last Time” is the only new song on the album, written by Trisha Yearwood and her husband Garth Brooks. It is a very good, but not great, song that Sinatra might have recorded as an album track. I am impressed that they came up with a song that could fit Sinatra’s milieu.

The album closes with “I’ll Be Seeing You”, a song written by Sammy Fain and Irvin Kahal in the late 1930s. While the song was huge hit for Bing Crosby and for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra, Sinatra very much liked the song and also recorded the song for Columbia and Capitol. He also featured it in concert

I’ll be seeing you

In every lovely summer’s day

In everything that’s light and gay

I’ll always think of you that way

 

I’ll find you in the morning sun

And when the night is new

I’ll be looking at the moon

But I’ll be seeing you

This is a very nice album indeed and I would give it an A-, docking it very slightly for some errant choices in material as regards Sinatra. That said, the arrangements are very good to excellent, and the musical accompaniment is excellent (unfortunately my copy is a digital download so I do not have a list of the musicians) and the songs are fine exemplars of well-crafted songs. This album will likely appeal more to fans of classic pop/pop standards than to fans of either traditional country or modern country but I would recommend the album to anyone interested in hearing the magic that occurs when an excellent vocalist is paired with worthy material.

Classic Rewind: Carter Family — ‘In The Pines’

Week ending 1/12/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: City Lights — Ray Price (Columbia)

1969: Daddy Sang Bass — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1979: Lady Lay Down — John Conlee (ABC)

1989: Change of Heart — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1999: You’re Easy On The Eyes — Terri Clark (Mercury)

2009: Here — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

2019: Speechless — Dan + Shay (Warner Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Speechless — Dan + Shay (Warner Nashville)

Classic Rewind: Raul Malo – ‘Tennessee Waltz’

Classic Rewind: Shania Twain — ‘Still Under The Weather’

Rare performance of a song from her debut album:

Album Review: Bill Anderson — ‘Anderson’

Bill Anderson released his 72nd album last September. It wasn’t until last weekend when he hosted and performed on a new episode of Country’s Family Reunion on RFD-TV that I was finally inspired to review it.

The song he performed on the show was the album’s lead single, the fantastic “Everybody Wants To Be Twenty-One,” which he co-wrote with Jamey Johnson, who joins him on it. The somber ballad is about the passage of time, with Anderson and Johnson singing:

The young wish they were old and

The old wish they were young

Everybody wants to be twenty-one

“Everybody Wants To Be Twenty-One” begs to be covered by either George Strait or Kenny Chesney, who a few years ago would’ve had a major hit with it. He continues in a reflective mood on “Old Things New,” in which he sings about playing records from the 1950s, calling old friends, and taking photos of his departed wife out of the drawer to put back on display. He’s taking old things and making them new and taking stock of his life as it is in the present moment.

He continues the theme on “Thankful,” a brilliant ballad in which he lists everything that matters to him including his more than fifty years in country music where the universe has allowed him the opportunity to live in Nashville, where he’s been able to write songs that have morphed into standards and become a legend of the Grand Ole Opry. But, in his eyes, those things pale in comparison to the folks he’s been able to entertain all these years:

For without you life wouldn’t mean a doggone thing

And I’d just be a singer with no song to sing

A wounded bird grounded with a broken wing

I’m thankful that none of that is true

cause most of all I’m thankful for you

“Thankful,” which is tastefully presented with beautiful ribbons of steel guitar throughout, is one of three cuts Anderson wrote solo. “Dixie Everywhere I Go” is an intimate conversation between a bartender and a customer, a man who moved to Buffalo from the South. The customer explains to the barkeep how he takes his southern upbringing, Dixie as he refers to it, wherever he travels. Turns out the barkeep also has a Dixie, a woman he loves. The lyric is very good and engaging, although the multiple meanings of the word Dixie are a bit cutesy for my taste.

The third of Anderson’s solo cuts is “Something To Believe In,” a list song about needing the tried-and-true in life. The Harmonica-laced “Dead To You” finds Anderson single, after his woman severed ties, making it clear she never wants anything to do with him again. He clearly wants to win her back, but clearly doesn’t know what to do. He co-wrote the ballad with John Paul White, who has made quite the career for himself in the Americana realm since The Civil Wars disbanded a number of years ago.

The harmonica makes another appearance, this time on “Watchin’ It Rain,” a mournful ballad about a man devastated in the wake of his woman walking out on him. The track is depressing and slow, with a moody bluesy undertone that fits nicely with the lyrics.

He reverses the sad tone on “That’s What Made Me Love You,” a traditional country ballad led by twin fiddles, steel guitar, and a lyric in which he lists all the things that endears him to his woman. Anderson’s vocal didn’t have enough twang for me, but other than that, this is one of the many standout tracks on the album.

“Practice Leaving Town” puts such a clever spin on the traditional breakup song, it’s amazing it hasn’t already been written before. Anderson sings of man in a relationship that’s clearly on the rocks. Neither party has the courage to end things for good, but he knows it’s coming so he fires up his “gettin’ out of dodge pickup” and drives “about fifty miles” before turning around. The relationship may or may not ever officially end, but if it does, he’ll know exactly what he’ll do and where he’ll go.

The album’s brilliance continues on “The Only Bible,” in which Anderson, in a co-write with Tim Rushlow, introduces us to Norman, a man Anderson actually went to college within Athens, Georgia. As he puts it, Norman wouldn’t attend church or go to a bible study because he felt they were full of hypocrites and fools who would talk the talk but wouldn’t walk the walk. Norman wanted people to lead by example every day since “we may be the only Bible someone ever reads.”

The only time the album deviates from its charted course is on “Waffle House Christmas,” which Anderson co-wrote with Erin Enderlin and Alex Kline. The song is a charming and humorous tale about a family displaced on Christmas morning after the tree caught on fire and the turkey burned to a crisp. They check into a motel and venture to the local Waffle House to salvage what’s left of the day. A video, which prominently featured Enderlin and Tanya Tucker, was popular this past holiday season.

“Waffle House Christmas” is an excellent addition to the album and a welcomed change of pace. Anderson typically leans heavy and serious and while it may have benefited from some lighter tunes, it’s a wonderful album of quality country music. I don’t think the majority of the songs lend themselves to repeated listenings for me, many are the “if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it” type of songs, but there isn’t a clunker in the bunch.

In the press materials for the album, Anderson said by album 72, many would assume he’d just mail it in, which he says isn’t the case. He certainly didn’t mail it in at all. The only crime here is that the album has flown so low under the radar it’s all but been overlooked. I highly recommend checking it out for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Michael Ray, Carly Pearce, and Ricky Skaggs — ‘When You Say Nothing At All’

Two stars from the newest generation, who also happened to just get engaged, are joined by Skaggs on a Keith Whitley classic:

Classic Rewind: Alison Krauss — ‘A Little Past Little Rock’

Alison covers the Lee Ann Womack’s classic at the ASCAP Country Awards, 11/12/18:

Our Country Heritage: The Statler Brothers

It is hard to believe that it has been over 16 years since the Statler Brothers announced their retirement; however when they retired they really meant it. Since 2003 Don Reid has written some books, co-authoring one book with older brother Harold Reid but little else has been heard from Harold and virtually nothing from Phil Balsley. The fourth Statler, Jimmy Fortune was ten years younger than Don Reid and fifteen years younger than Harold Reid and Phil Balsley, so he chose to pursue a solo career. Fortune still performs today, sometimes in conjunction with Dailey & Vincent or other bluegrass acts.

We take country music groups for granted as there have been many successful such acts over the years, with the Oak Ridge Boys, Exile, Restless Heart, Shenandoah, Alabama, Sawyer Brown, Old Dominion and other acts following in the Statler Brothers’ footsteps. While there had been vocal groups before the Statler Brothers, those groups had either been cowboy groups such as The Sons of The Pioneers, The Oklahoma Wranglers (a/k/a The Willis Brothers) and Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage, or else gospel groups such as the Chuck Wagon Gang, The Blackwood Brothers or The Oak Ridge Quartet (from which sprang the Oak Ridge Boys).

Indeed, even the Statler Brothers started out as a gospel group using the name the Kingsmen, changing their name when a west coast group had a hit with a song titled “Louie, Louie”. During this period the group consisted of the Don Reid(lead vocals), Harold Reid (bass vocals), Phil Balsley (harmony vocals) and Lew DeWitt (high tenor vocals). Although the Don usually sang lead vocals, on many songs each member would sing lead on a verse. Because of his unique soaring high tenor, sometimes Lew DeWitt would be the lead on a song.

By that time, the Statler Brothers had already become associated with Johnny Cash and were no longer performing strictly as a gospel group, experimenting with secular music, often novelties. They would remain on the road with Cash from 1963 to 1971 and were signed to Cash’s label Columbia Records from 1964-1969. In 1965 the group scored its biggest ever hit with DeWitt’s “Flowers on the Wall,” which went #2 country / #4 pop was a huge seller internationally and won a Grammy. Subsequent singles for Columbia did not reach that level of success although novelties “Ruthless” and “You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith, Too” both reached the top ten.

The Statlers signed to Mercury in 1970, find their sound and milieu almost immediately, aided by expert production by Jerry Kennedy, who had helped resurrect the career of Jerry Lee Lewis. Tapping into America’s longing for more peaceable times, the Statler Brothers embarked on a series of albums, dealing with nostalgia in its many forms, while also embracing more modern themes and occasionally some gospel music. Although the group wrote much of its own material, they also used outside material, both new and old, both country and pop in their quest for quality material. From 1970 through 1982 the group charted 36 singles, 17 of which made the top ten (8 into the top five) and another 10 of which reached the top twenty.

In 1983 Lew DeWitt dropped out of the group after battling Crohn’s disease for many years. DeWitt had been missed a number of dates in 1982 and had spotted Jimmy Fortune as a worthy replacement. When DeWitt dropped out, Fortune slid easily into the group. DeWitt had a brief remission from Crohn’s and pursued a solo career but the remission was brief and by 1990 DeWitt had passed away from complications of the disease.

The substitution of Fortune into the lineup added an additional quality songwriter and provided a brief upsurge in the group’s fortunes. While the group had consistently been near the top of the charts only “Do You Know You Are My Sunshine” had reached #1 for the Statlers while DeWitt was in the group. The group would have three more #1 singles, all on songs penned by Fortune (“Elizabeth”, “My Only Love”, and “Too Much On My Heart” but after 1985, radio increasingly turned to younger acts – the last top ten record would be “More Than A Name On The Wall” (about a mother visiting the Vietnam War Memorial to see her son’s name).

Although radio lost interest, The Nashville Network (TNN) did not, and the group hosted a television series for 1991-1998. Although the show’s ratings remained high throughout, new ownership really had no interest in country music and discarded most of TNN’s programming.

The Statler Brothers were the first vocal group to have sustained success in country music (I should note that the Oak Ridge Boys pre-date the Statler Brothers, but they remained a gospel group until 1977). While modern-day country acts seem unaware of the Statler Brothers, their influence on bluegrass has been strong, with Dailey & Vincent being strong proponents of their music and always including several Statler songs in live performance. The Statler Brothers were probably the first country music act to transfer the genre’s tendency toward nostalgia from a rural to a suburban setting. Kurt Vonnegut referred to them as “America’s Poets”. Moreover, the group stayed together unlike many groups which seemed to have a revolving door of group members.

Discography 

Vinyl records were the format in which recordings for the Lew Dewitt years were issue. The material on Columbia is pleasant, but the group was still finding its way. I have all of the Mercury albums featuring Lew DeWitt and I regard all of them as priceless treasures. Unfortunately, most of the CDs featuring DeWitt are anthologies that also include the Jimmy Fortune years. The Statler Brothers website does have a four-CD set featuring the group’s first eight albums on Mercury – it sells for $49.95. It is a little pricey but if all you have heard is the radio hits, this is a great place to examine the depth and breadth of the group’s talent.

Actually, I could make the same comment about the Jimmy Fortune years – mostly it is anthologies that are available, but because Jimmy’s entire tenure with the group falls into the digital era, used CDs can be found with a little effort. I will say that the albums of the Jimmy Fortune period tend to be less interesting as albums, although the singles remained strong. I would stay away from the Farewell Concert album which sounds very rushed as if the boys couldn’t wait for the show to be over.

The Statlers continued to issue some recordings after their tenure with Mercury (later Polygram) was over. Some of these recordings can be found on their website.                                                         

Classic Rewind: Garth Brooks – ‘Boy Going Nowhere’

Garth covers Ashley McBryde:

In Memoriam: Steve Ripley dies at 69

Ripley was the lead singer of The Tractors. The group is best known for their iconic debut single “Baby Likes To Rock It,” which hit #11 in 1994:

A year later The Tractors released their Christmas album, which featured a holiday-themed take on the song entitled “Santa Claus is Comin’ (In A Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train):”

The album also featured “The Santa Claus Boogie,” written solely by Ripley:

The Tractors are perhaps also known for their spirited cover of the Rolling Stones classic “The Last Time.” which served as the lead single from Stone Country: Country Artists Perform the Songs of the Rolling Stones:

Classic Rewind: Ricky Skaggs and friends — ‘Black Eyed Suzie, Highway 40 Blues, Country Boy’

From the 52nd CMA Awards last November. In honor of his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Keith Urban is filling in for Vince Gill, who was under the weather and had to cancel at the last minute:

Album Review: Catherine Britt – ‘Catherine Britt & The Cold Cold Hearts’

Australian country singer Catherine Britt released one of my favorite albums of the 21st century, 2006’s Too Far Gone. Unfortunately, although it was intended as her breakthrough into the US mainstream, it failed to hit a chord with radio, and she returned to her homeland, where over time her music diverged from her early traditionalism to a more Americana influenced sound. Last year she reunited with her first producer, Australian country legend Bill Chambers, and returned to her musical roots with a set of mainly self-penned material combining traditional country sounds and lyrics deeply rooted in Australian soil and inspired by a recent battle with breast cancer.

The opening ‘Red Dirt’ draws on her Australian heritage for a sunny song about travelling in the Outback. An upbeat tune and optimistic lyrics are backed by charming harmonies. ‘Troubled Kind’ is similarly charming and inspired by Catherine’s travels around Australia with her husband in a camper van. In ‘Bush TV’ she lyrically ponders the beauties of her own back yard.

‘Where You Gonna Go’ draws on blues and gospel as Britt offers a devastating critique of someone who has betrayed their friends and values in the interest of fame:

All you care about is fame
Where you gonna go when you got no name?

What’s there for you on the other side?
What’s there for you when you’ve lost your pride?
Someday you’ll see when it’s too late
When all your real friends have gone away…

The mountain you climb is only so high
The poison you drink will one day run dry

‘Too Hot To Just Quit’ is a lovely song about someone pondering their own “seeking out all of the hard choices” in life. Also filled with thoughtful regret is the gentle waltz ‘Young In All The Wrong Ways’. This co-write with Bill Chambers is another highlight with a gorgeous mandolin-laced melody and insightful lyrics:

When you only
Drink to get drunk and you’re lonely
So you don’t wanna stop and you know
Deep down it’s true what they say
And I’m told I’ve still got so much life to live
It’s only beginning but I feel 100 years old today

Cause I was young in the wrong ways
And that was just yesterday
No, I don’t wanna grow up
But I don’t wanna slow down
Well I’m not quite old enough
To feel like I’ve played enough
I’m not ready to grow up
But I don’t want to stay
Young in all the wrong ways

Written with Adam Ackerly and Brooke McClymont, the airy ‘I’m Not Ready’ defies mortality and expresses Catherine’s remaining hopes for the future.

‘Met My Match’ is a deeply romantic song about unexpectedly finding one’s soulmate.

The album’s one cover is Fred Eaglesmith’s country-blues ‘I Like Trains’.

I mentioned the folky ‘The River & The Gum’ in my list of favorite album tracks of 2018. Proceedings come to a close with ‘Coalmine’, a story song written with Bill Chambers.

This is a great return to form for Catherine Britt, and I warmly recommend it.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Mark Wills – ‘I’ll Fly Away’

Week ending 1/5/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: City Lights — Ray Price (Columbia)

1969: Daddy Sang Bass — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1979: Tulsa Time — Don Williams (ABC)

1989: Hold Me — K.T. Oslin (RCA)

1999: You’re Easy On The Eyes — Terri Clark (Mercury)

2009: Here — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

2019: Speechless — Dan + Shay (Warner Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Speechless — Dan + Shay (Warner Nashville)

 

Classic Rewind: Courtney Patton – ‘Little Black Dress’

Classic Rewind: Faron Young – ‘It’s Four In The Morning’

Classic Rewind: Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town – ‘Elvira’