My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Dierks Bentley and Harley Allen pay tribute to the Louvin Brothers – ‘I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby’

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘The Mavericks’ (1990)

the mavericksThe Mavericks’ debut album, released in early 1991 on the Miami-based Cross Three label, was not widely circulated until after their major label debut on MCA in mid-1992, but those who had the opportunity to hear the album, see the band in live performance, or hear the single “This Broken Heart” played on the radio in South Florida and Central, could tell that something interesting was about to happen.

As a band, the Mavericks were an oddity, coming from South Florida, hardly a hotbed for country music, with a Cuban-American lead singer who wrote all of the songs on the debut album, and had a voice reminiscent of Gene Pitney or Roy Orbison, a pair of prominent pop singers of the 1960s.

Often, early efforts by performers result in albums prove to be embarrassing when revisited later. Not so with The Mavericks which features an array of interesting songs four of which (“Mr. Jones”, “The End of the Line (Jim Bakker)”, “This Broken Heart” and “A Better Way”) would be reprised on their major label debut album From Hell To Paradise. The lead vocalist, Raul Malo, was still finding his voice, but it was clear that he was getting there. The band at this time consisted of singer Raul Malo, guitarist Ben Peeler, bassist Robert Reynolds; and drummer Paul Deakin. This would be the only album on which Peeler, a competent but somewhat pedestrian electric guitar player, would appear. By the time the next album appeared, he had been replaced by David Lee Holt.

In fairness to Ben Peeler, when he was playing acoustic guitar, steel guitar, dobro, mandolin or banjo, his work was very nice.

The album opens with “You’ll Never Know” an upbeat song that would have fit in the repertoire of Ricky Nelson during the 1950s & 1960s. It’s a very rock & roll but with fiddle and steel featured prominently in the mix.

“End Of The Line (Jim Bakker)” would be repeated on From Hell To Paradise using essentially the same arrangement. Another up-tempo song, Malo’s vocal is a bit more tentative on this album and the guitar is more acoustic.

“This Broken Heart” is a great song that would be repeated on From Hell To Paradise and likely would have charted if released as a single on a major label. This initial version features a somewhat more languid arrangement that would appear on the next album and Malo puts a little less muscle in his vocal than would later be the case. Disc jockeys around Central Florida would occasionally play either this track or the version from the following album, after the band reached prominence.

“Mr. Jones” would also appear on From Hell To Paradise with a nearly identical arrangement but with a more assertive vocal by Malo. It’s a good mid-tempo song.

“Tomorrow Never Comes” is a nice up-tempo jog-along country ballad of the kind that Buck Owens might have tackled in the 1960s. Debbie Spring’s fiddle is featured prominently at points throughout the song.

This is followed up by “The Lonely Waltz” which is, as advertised, a waltz. It’s not a great song but it is a good song with some nice mandolin work by Ben Peeler and harmonica by Homer Wills. I should note that Peeler seems most effective when playing acoustic guitar or mandolin on this album.

“Watch Over Me” is a very up-tempo number that kicks off with a fiddle, quickly joined by banjo – the melody and tempo are really too upbeat for the rather melancholy lyrics.

“A Better Way” has a kind of 50s country feel to it, a ballad with steel guitar serving as the lead instrument. This song would be reprised on From Hell To Paradise taken at a very slightly faster tempo but again with more forceful vocals by Malo.

In contrast “Another Lonely Life (Paul’s Song)” feels more like a folk ballad with a nice harmonica work by Homer Wills.

“I Don’t Care (If You Love Me Anymore)” is another loping ballad followed by the very up-tempo “Keep Moving On”, again with a melody that doesn’t quite fit the lyrics. I think that if Malo were to record this song again he would slow it down and put a little more emotion in the his vocals, which sound very detached emotionally.

“I’ll Give You Back (When You Belong To Me)” features some nice fiddle on a western swing melody. Again, sad lyrics coupled with a happy melody that does not quite fit the lyrics.

The album closes out with the very folk sounding “Strength To Say Goodbye”.

I like this album, which I purchased just before their major label debut, and would give it a B but if Malo were to simply strip out his original vocals and re-record them with his more mature vocal style of just a few years later, this would be a much better album, worthy of a B+.

Comparing this album with From Hell To Paradise which was issued just a year and a half later, the most striking thing is the growth in Malo’s vocal prowess. For an apt comparison check out Roy Orbison’s rather wimpy vocals on his Sun Records recording of “Ooby Dooby” with Roy’s powerful vocals on “Only The Lonely”. This is a group that started out good and got much better quickly predicated mostly upon the lead vocalist’s rapid maturation process and the decision to use some outside material, rather than sticking with exclusively Malo’s compositions.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘What A Crying Shame’

Single Review: Jana Kramer – ‘I Got The Boy’

i got the boyI was thoroughly underwhelmed by actress Jana Kramer’s first foray into country music. But her latest single is much more like it.

While she isn’t the greatest of vocalists, she is perfectly adequate on this understated song, which she delivers convincingly with a throaty almost bluesy quality which reminds me a little of Julie Roberts or the early work of Faith Hill. The emotion of the song rings true. The tasteful production (thanks to Scott Hendricks) is as understated as the song is simply yet perfectly constructed (with the exception of slightly awkward scansion in the first verse).

On the surface about memories and a past relationship, this is really all about the experience of growing up. The protagonist reflects on a long-past, perhaps long-forgotten teenage romance when she sees the man he has grown into. There are no regrets or sense of loss for what has passed, as she compares the affectionate memories she has with the other woman’s present day experiences.

I got the first kiss
She’ll get the last
She’s got the future and I got the past
I got the class ring
She’s got the diamond and a wedding band
I got the boy
She got the man

It may be stretching the songwriters’ intentions a bit far to lay too much stress on this aspect, but it is interesting as part of the possible backlash against bro-country with its extended male adolescence, to see the comparison here between the young man as a teenage boy in a baseball cap, as so often sported by today’s male country stars well into their 30s (including Jana’s former fiance the dreadful Brantley Gilbert), and driving the ubiquitous pickup truck. The man in this song has laid these things aside as he grows up and commits to marriage. Can this be a complete coincidence?

The song was written by established songwriters Connie Harrington and Tim Nichols with Jamie Lynn Spears, another aspiring artist with an acting background. I really like both song and performance, and would be thrilled to see it do well. Of course it has several strikes against it as far as country radio is concerned – it’s sung by a woman, and one who is talking as an adult; it’s not loud or a party anthem, but the kind of song about real life which used to be at the heart of the genre; and it’s good. I hope it can beat those odds.

Listen to it here.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Little Jimmy Dickens – ‘It May Be Silly (But Ain’t It Fun)’

Spotlight Artist: Raul Malo and The Mavericks

The-Mavericks-caro-2The Mavericks date back to 1989 when the band was founded in Miami by lead vocalist Raul Malo, guitarist Ben Peeler, bassist Robert Reynolds, and drummer Paul Deakin. The group released an independently produced album in 1991 before signing with MCA who released their first major label collection the following year. During the interim, Ben Peeler left the group and was replaced by David Lee Holt.

In its earliest days, the band was part of the alternative music scene in Miami, focusing mainly on punk with a heavy Latin influence, which undoubtedly came about in part due to Raul Malo’s Cuban heritage. They had moved in a more country direction by the time they signed with MCA. Their first charting single was a cover of Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin'” which peaked at #74 in 1992. Their MCA debut album From Hell to Paradise didn’t garner a lot of critical or commercial attention, but things began to change with 1994’s What A Crying Shame, when the title track reached #25 and two subsequent singles (“O What A Thrill” and “There Goes My Heart”) cracked the Top 20.

The Mavericks’ music was always eclectic and though three of their albums achieved gold or platinum certification, they never received much support from country radio. They never scored a Top 10 hit in the US, although three of their singles – “What A Crying Shame”, “O What A Thrill” and “Here Comes The Rain” cracked the Top 10 on the Canadian country charts. 1995’s “Blue Moon” reached #15 on Canada’s adult contemporary charts and 1998’s “Dance The Night Away” cracked the Top 5 in the United Kingdom. Stateside, their biggest hit was “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down”, which peaked at #13.

The Mavericks left MCA following the release of 1998’s Trampoline and signed with British-based Sanctuary Records. That union yielded one album in 2003. After that they disbanded and the individual members pursued solo careers. A reunion tour in 2012 resulted in a new record deal with the Valory Music Group, which released In Time in early 2013. The album produced one charting single “Born To Be Blue”, which peaked at #46. The group’s second album for Valory, Mono, was released last month.

The Mavericks have undergone a number of personnel changes over the years, with Malo and Deakin the only remaining founding members. We hope you will enjoy our look back at their work, as well as some selections from Raul Malo’s solo discography, during the month of March.

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Clinging To A Saving Hand’

Week ending 2/28/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

mel-mcdaniel-200-0707091955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

1965: I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: I Care/Sneaky Snake — Tom T. Hall (Mercury)

1985: Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On — Mel McDaniel (Capitol)

1995: Old Enough To Know Better — Wade Hayes (Columbia)

2005: Bless The Broken Road — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

2015: Take Your Time — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Sun Daze — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

Classic Rewind: Jeannie C. Riley – ‘Return To Harper Valley PTA’

A sequel to the Tom T. Hall-penned classic:

Classic Rewind: Alan Jackson – ‘Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow’

Soundtrack Review: Various Artists – ‘Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me’

GC_ART_COVER_IllBeMe_Soundtrack_2015.01.15_FNL-2After going public with his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2011, Glen Campbell embarked on a final tour in support of his then recently released Ghost On The Canvas album. Director James Keach followed Campbell, capturing the journey for his film Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me.

The documentary, released last August, centers on Campbell’s struggles with the disease and goes behind the scenes of the tour. An EP co-produced by Dann Huff, consisting of five tracks, including three by Campbell himself, accompanied the film. A full-length soundtrack was released earlier this month.

The album includes “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” which Campbell wrote with the soundtrack’s co-producer Julian Raymond. His final studio recording, the track took home the Best Country Song Grammy and was nominated for an Oscar while its music video will compete for an ACM Award in April.

An aching piano ballad “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is the haunting reflection of a man with a fading memory, singing to the wife he’ll leave behind. With that premise the hook is rather unapologetic, which matches his bluntly authoritative vocal performance.

Campbell also has four other songs on the soundtrack. “All I Need Is You” is an AC leaning string-soaked ballad while “The Long Walk Home” harkens back to his classic work with beautiful flourishes of gently strummed acoustic guitar.

The other two songs come from an historic concert Campbell gave at The Ryman Auditorium. “A Better Place” is a beautiful mid-tempo number while the other is a soaring rendition of “Wichita Lineman.” Campbell gives a deeply effecting vocal performance on his classic tune, even ending with a haunting wail of “and I’m doing fine,” which has the audience erupting in cheers.

Apart from the man himself, the soundtrack features a revelatory turn by The Band Perry on a cover of his 1967 hit “Gentle On My Mind.” The band shines with the banjo drenched backwoods arrangement that nicely modernizes the tune without sacrificing the unique qualities that endeared it to audiences more than forty-five years ago. The track appears in two versions, which are both excellent. I prefer the ‘single version,’ though, because it leads off with the banjo (opposed to a solo vocal opening by Kimberly) and gets to the goods much faster.

Campbell’s daughter Ashley takes the lead on the soundtrack’s remaining two songs. “Remembering” is beautiful autobiographical ballad, accentuated with ribbons of dobro and acoustic guitar, about her promise to keep her father’s fading memories alive. “Home Again” picks up the pace, with gently rolling banjo, and tells the tale of a daughter that has seen the world and now desires to go back to where she came from.

The highlight of Ashley’s tracks is how the production perfectly frames her voice, which has a sweet quality not unlike that of another Ashley (Monroe). The rest of the record is excellent, too, because it serves as the perfect snapshot of a man’s poignant reflections as he’s robbed of the life he’s always known.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Lee Ann Womack – ‘The Wrong Girl’

Album Review: Aaron Watson – ‘The Underdog’

the underdogAlthough it is an independent release, our Spotlight Artist’s brand new album The Underdog is produced by the always reliable Keith Stegall, who does a great job.

Aaron Watson should have been a huge star years ago, but he has been plowing his own furrow making real country music in Texas, and doggedly building up a fanbase. He addresses his career in the part-spoken valedictory ‘Fence Post’, touching on the fight between compromise and integrity, and the current state of country music. A record executive is shown telling Aaron he “don’t have what it takes to make it here in Nashville”, before coming back once Aaron has honed his skills and developed his fanbase to what even a record company man can see is “commercial appeal”. Aaron’s response, in both adversity and triumph, is to affirm:

I’d never sell my soul to rock and roll and rap and wear those tight skinny jeans
‘Cause you know I’d rather sing my old songs than be a puppet on a string
I’ll wear what I wanna wear
I’m gonna sing what I wanna sing
Heaven knows all I need is my faith, my friends, my fans and my family
Besides I’d rather be an old fence post in Texas than the King of Tennessee

The somber opening ‘The Prayer’ is a powerful imagining of the conversion of Johnny Cash:

There’s the man in white
His words are painted red
There’s power in his blood
And only truth in what he said
There’s the man in black
With the beetle in his vein
Lying flat on his back this is the prayer he once prayed

He said
My mountain is a molehill
My throne’s a busted chair
His crown is turned to rust and it’s all tangled in my hair
This high horse that I ride on is gonna buckle at the knee
On my castle made of sand
I cannot be the King of Peace

This is a quite remarkable song, and it’s brave to sequence such a challenging song right at the beginning of the album.

As powerful, and even more moving because it is so personal, is ‘Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song)’, a wistfully poetic elegy to Aaron’s daughter Julia, who died soon after birth in 2011. The admirable title track may be addressed to his other children, offering sensible life advice about leading a good life, ranging from not living on credit, to reacting to adversity. Family memories are explored in the warm hearted ‘Family Tree’.

On the lighter side, a brace of songs were inspired by Aaron’s wife. ‘Wildfire’ is a pleasant mid-paced love song which is catchy and attractive if not earth-shattering, while ‘Blame It On Those Baby Blues’ is similarly likeable. ‘That Look’ is quite pretty, and has the honor of being Aaron’s first single to chart on Billboard. ‘One Of Your Nights’ is my favourite of the love songs, a sweet song about returning to her loving arms after a bad day.

The rapid paced ‘Freight Train’ is quite a good song about separation from a loved one due to the needs of his career but is so fast and one-note melodically it’s hard to decipher the lyrics. ‘Getaway Truck’ is an up-tempo love song which could do with a bit more melody. The perky ‘That’s Gonna Leave A Mark’ is more melodic.

Aaron’s Texas roots influence ‘That’s Why God Loves Cowboys’, a respectful and perhaps somewhat idealised tribute to cowboys and cowgirls and their care of the environment. It also has a smooth attractive melody. ‘Rodeo Queen’ is written from the point of view of a lovelorn rodeo clown, and is the only track where I don’t really like the production/vocal arrangement although it’s an interesting story.

Overall, an excellent album from one of the most underrated performers in country music.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Aaron Watson – ‘July In Cheyenne’

Album Review: Ralph Stanley & Friends – ‘Man Of Constant Sorrrow’

man of constant sorrowJust after the release of the very similarly titled tribute I reviewed recently comes another project, this one featuring the man himself, produced by Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale. Mostly the guests sing lead with Dr Ralph harmonising, but some are true duets too.

There is some overlap in personnel (of those associated personally and professionally with Dr Ralph) but almost none with songs. The smooth-voiced Nathan Stanley duets with his grandfather on ‘Rank Stranger’ to great effect. Ricky Skaggs shows up again here with Carter Stanley’s ‘Sweethearts In Heaven’ and combines plaintive emotion with a solid driving rhythm.

The big country names all do a fine job. Josh Turner delivers a solid lead vocal on the joyful ‘We Shall Rise’. Dierks Bentley is excellent and sounds very authentic on the high lonesome ‘I Only Exist’. Lee Ann Womack is exquisite leading on ‘White Dove’.

The producers join Ralph on a three part harmony on ‘I Am The Man, Thomas’ with Stanley on lead vocal. Americana favourites Gillian Welch and David Rawlings join Dr Ralph on the traditional ‘Pig In A Pen’, which is very enjoyable.

I’m not much of a fan of Robert Plant, but his voice combines surprisingly well with Ralph’s on the ethereal ‘Two Coats’, and the effect is very haunting. Rock singer Elvis Costello has never had much of a voice, and while his duet with Ralph on ‘Red Wicked Wine’ isn’t at all bad, it is more or less saved by Stanley’s emotional heft, and the fact that Costello mostly doesn’t get to sing solo.

Fellow bluegrass veteran Del McCoury joins Ralph on the Jesse Winchester tune ‘Brand New Tennessee Waltz’. Modern jug band Old Crow Medicine Show join Ralph on ‘Short Life Of Trouble’.

‘Hills Of Home’ is a mostly-spoken eulogy to Ralph’s late brother, the troubled Carter Stanley, which is genuinely moving.

This release is currently a Cracker Barrel exclusive but hopefully it will get a wider relase at some point.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Moe Bandy – ‘Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life’

Single Review: Ashley Monroe – ‘On To Something Good’

10897474_10152665343499290_10152665343189290_32068_427_bAnother day, another artist gifting us the first taste of their forthcoming album. This time it’s Ashley Monroe, timing this new single to come just as her ridiculous duet with Blake Shelton ascends to upper levels of the country charts.

Ashley Monroe will always be a step above every attempt mainstream Nashville makes to break her through to the big leagues. “Like A Rose” is a masterpiece, one of the best singles of the decade thus far, and criminally unheard by those who only know her from “Lonely Tonight,” “Bruises,” or her work as one-third of the Pistol Annies.

“On To Something Good” attempts to be the middle ground between the two, occupying a space we’ve yet to see her in. On the onset the track feels like the most frivolous thing she’s ever recorded. Without a compelling story for Monroe to sink her teeth into, we’re left with the least amount of depth she’s ever displayed on a solo single.

So, why does “On To Something Good” work so well? Well, Monroe had the smarts to retain Vince Gill and Justin Niebank, the team behind Like A Rose. They gift us with a slinky psychedelic production that’s easily the most engaging of almost any single currently vying for our attention. It’s upbeat, cool, and the perfect match for Monroe’s perfectly effervescent vocal.

We’ve often seen female artists try to pull of contentment, but few do it is effortlessly as Monroe. She straddles the fine line between genuine and schmaltzy, drawing us in to feel her happiness right along with her. Monroe makes it looks easy, but she’s in a rare class.

Is “On To Something Good” Monroe’s finest moment? No, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less engaging than anything else she’s ever done. I cannot wait to hear the rest of this album.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Woman, Walk The Line’

Album Review: Aaron Watson – ‘Deep In The Heart Of Texas – Aaron Watson Live’

deep in the heart of texasThis was Aaron Watson’s ninth album and second live album. Like his three albums immediately preceding this album, it would reach Billboard’s Country Albums chart, peaking at #47 in 2009.

The real test of any artist is how they sound in live performance. With modern recording technology it is possible to make anyone sound decent on a recording, even if they can’t carry a tune in a bucket. On this album Watson proves he needs no such tricks to carry him.

Deep In The Heart Of Texas – Aaron Watson Live features songs from Aaron’s previous studio albums. The album opens up with three up-tempo songs “Love Making Song” (from Angels & Outlaws) “Heyday Tonight” and “Except For Jessie” (from San Angelo), before Aaron pauses for breath and tells a little story about “Hearts Are Breaking Across Texas”, a nice ballad from Angels & Outlaws.

Next Aaron picks up the tempo with the medium-fast ballad “Rollercoaster Ride” which was one of my favorites from Angels & Outlaws, followed by “Angels & Outlaws” (prefaced by a few comments) and followed by the lovely ballad “San Angelo” and the mid-tempo country rocker “All American Country Girl” (from San Angelo).

By now you’ve probably noticed that the first eight songs all came from the San Angelo or Angels & Outlaws albums. There will be more songs from these albums, but next Aaron covers the Waylon Jennings classic “Bob Wills Is Still The King”. Aaron gives this song a western swing arrangement that I would probably like better if I hadn’t heard Waylon’s version – it’s good but in arranging it as a swing song, it seems (to me at least) that Aaron lost Waylon’s original melody).

Next follows a brief narrative “Grandad, Paw Paw, John Pop & Mr. Pete” that serves as an introduction to the slow ballad “Barb Wire Halo” (also from Angels & Outlaws). The mid-tempo “3rd Gear & 17″ (from San Angelo) is next followed by an extended fiddle introduction to the up-tempo “Wake Up and Smell The Coffee” (from Angels & Outlaws) and the slow ballad “Unbelievably Beautiful” (from San Angelo).

Aaron Watson takes a moment to pay tribute to America’s military veterans with “Thanks For Freedom” which serves as a spoken introduction to the Merle Haggard classic “The Fighting Side of Me”.

“Lonely Lubbock Lights” is from Aaron’s 2002 album shutupanddance, a slow ballad about the choices faced by many musicians – the girl or the road.

At one time “East Bound and Down”, written by Jerry Reed & Dick Feller as Jerry Reed’s calling card from the movie Smokey & The Bandit, would have been familiar to everyone in the US, but Jerry Reed has passed away in the last few years and country stations today consider an oldie to be a song from before 2013 but after 1995, so this song is not as ubiquitous as once was the case. Aaron does a nice job with this song but the problem with covering Jerry Reed songs is that they were written with Jerry Reed in mind and there is nobody past or present who reminds me of Jerry Reed.

Next up is “Breaker Breaker One Nine” (from Angels & Outlaws) is the perfect continuation to “East Bound and Down” both in subject matter and in tempo.

“Off The Record” is a slow ballad about divorce from shutupanddance. Aaron would reprise this song as a duet with Charla Corn on his 2012 album Real Good Time. It’s a beautiful song deserving of the additional exposure,

I got a letter from your lawyer
And you got one from mine
They say It’s gonna be final
Once we sign that dotted line

We’ll I guess we’ll get our freedom
And a so called fresh new start
But when you take half of everything
You’ll be taking half my heart
Our love got lost somewhere in life’s complications
Torn between two lawyers and all their legal litigations

“Orphans of The Brazos Band” is a spoken track in which Aaron introduces his band. The album concludes with “Restless”, an up-tempo song from The Honky Tonk Kid.

Aaron Watson’s milieu is live performances, so this is an effective representation of his music. Like all live albums, the songs are often taken at different tempos with instrumental breaks that vary from the studio recordings of the same songs. There is audible crowd noise so the sound is not as pristine as with the studio recordings, but this is a very enjoyable album from start to finish.

Track List
01. Love Makin’ Song
02. Heyday Tonight
03. Except for Jessie
04. Hearts Are Breaking Across Texas
05. Rollercoaster Ride
06. Angels & Outlaws
07. San Angelo
08. All American Country Girl
09. Bob Willis Is Still the King
10. Grandad, Paw Paw, John Pop & Mr. Pete
11. Barbed Wire Halo
12. 3rd Gear & 17
13. Wake Up & Smell the Coffee
14. Unbelievably Beautiful
15. Thanks for Freedom
16. The Fighting Side of Me
17. Lonely Lubbock Lights
18. East Bound and Down
19. Breaker Breaker One Nine
20. Off the Record
21. The Orphans of the Brazos Band
22. Restless

Classic Rewind: Aaron Watson – ‘Raise Your Bottle’


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