My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton – ‘The Sweetest Gift (A Mother’s Smile)’

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Classic Rewind: The Whites – ‘Making Believe’

Classic Album Review: Roger Miller – ‘Roger Miller’

This eponymous album, released by MCA in 1985, would prove to be the last album of original material that Roger would release during his lifetime. All of the songs were written or co-written by Roger, and seven of the album’s ten tracks were taken from the highly acclaimed Broadway musical BIG RIVER for which Roger wrote the words and music. In 1985, Roger won three Tony Awards for best musical score, best music and best lyrics. The play, based on Mark Twain’s book Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was revived on Broadway in 2003 and has since been performed by various amateur, high school and college theater groups. It is well worth seeing if it comes your way.

The soundtrack for the play sold well, and many of the songs work outside the context of the play. For me the revelation was hearing Roger perform his own songs with a sympathetic background featuring many of Nashville’s finest studio musicians, including John Jarvis (keyboards), Billy Joe Walker, Jr. (acoustic guitar), Reggie Young & Larry Byrom (electric guitar), Hoot Hester (fiddle) and Jim Horn (sax and flute). The redoubtable trio of Curtis “Mr. Harmony” Young, Colleen Peterson, and Mary Miller (Roger’s wife) provide the background vocals. Strangely, there is no steel guitar but that particular instrument really was not an essential part of Roger’s music.

The album opens up with five songs from the play BIG RIVER starting with “River In The Rain”, a lovely ballad comparing the flow of the Mississippi to life itself:

River in the rain
Sometimes at night you look like a long white train
Winding your way away somewhere
River I love you don’t you care

If you’re on the run winding some place
Just trying to find the sun
Whether the sunshine, whether the rain
River I love you just the same

But sometimes in a time of trouble
When you’re out of hand
And your muddy bubbles roll across my floor
Carryin’ away the things I treasure
Hell, there ain’t no way to measure
Why I love you more than I did the day before

Next up is “Hand For The Hog”. This song really doesn’t stand apart from the play; however, the song is so quintessentially Roger Miller that it would have been criminal for Roger not to include it on the album. This is Roger the scat singer at his finest:

Ya say, a hog ain’t nothin’ but a porky thing
Little forked feet with a nosey ring
Pickle them feel folks
How about a hand for the hog

If you took a notion I’ll bet
A good hog would make a hell of a pet
You could teach him to ride and hunt
You could clean him up and let him sit up front

In the scheme of things the way things go
You might get bit by the old Fido
But not by the gentle, porker friend.
How about a hand for the hog

A feller and a hog had a comedy act
The feller was terrible as a matter of fact
But that hog was so funny
How about a hand for the hog

If you took a notion
I’ll bet you could teach a hog to smoke a cigarette
Well, it might take a little bit of time
But hell, what’s time to a hog

The third track is my favorite song from the play, “Leavin’s Not The Only Way To Go”. This song is a haunting ballad that should have been a hit for someone. I am not aware of anyone releasing the song as a single; however, Merle Haggard recorded the song on his 2005 album Chicago Wind.

Do the mornin’s still come early, are the nights not long enough?
Does a tear of hesitation fall on everything you touch?
Well, it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go

Maybe lyin’ at your feelin’s, grow accustomed to the dark
By mornin’s light, it just might solve the problems of the heart
And it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go

People reach new understandings all the time
Take a second look, maybe change their minds
People reach new understandings every day
Tell me not to reach, babe, and I’ll go away

But do the mornin’s still come early, are the nights not long enough?
Does a tear of hesitation fall on everything you touch?
Well, it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go

“Guv’ment” was sung by John Goodman in the original cast play. It’s not much of a song but it echoes the sentiments of many.

Well, you dad gum guv’ment
You sorry so and so’s
You got your damn hands in every pocket
Of my clothes

“You Oughta Be Here With Me” is another lovely ballad of forlorn longing and loneliness:

If you think it’s lonesome where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me
If you think there’s heartaches where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me

CHORUS:
Because with you I’m whole, without you I’m cold
So if you think about me where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me

If teardrops are falling where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me
Loneliness calling where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me

The first five songs comprise side one of the original vinyl album/audio cassette release. Side two opens up with “Some Hearts Get All The Breaks” the first of three songs not from BIG RIVER. This song is a mid-tempo contemporary country ballad, with 1980s production values with synthesizer in the mix. The 80s production is not as noticeable on the tracks from BIG RIVER which has its own dynamic.

I guess I’ll never learn
Some Hearts got love to burn
I guess that’s what it takes
Some hearts get all the breaks

We’re back to BIG RIVER for “Arkansas”, a nostalgic but humorous story song that is performed with some interruptions in the play:

Arkansas, Arkansas
I just love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas

Well, I ain’t never traveled much
But someday when the money’s such
I’d like to see the world and all
And take a run through Arkansas

Grandpa he was always good
I’d play horsey on his foot
He’d tell me when I’d get tall
We’d both go see Arkansas

Arkansas, Arkansas
I just love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas

The next two songs are not from the play. You probably could not get away with a title like “Indian Giver” given our current hyper-sensitive politically correct environment.

The title of the next song “Days of Our Wives” would likely be barely acceptable, but the song is an up-tempo song somewhat reminiscent of the Glen Campbell hit “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife” or perhaps Bobby Russell’s “1432 Franklin Park Circle Hero”. The arrangement features some mariachi style horns and makes a nice change of tempo.

So fly away heart on the wings of make-believe things
It’s nice to pretend and maybe cry at the end
She watches the soaps and sometimes just sits there and cries
Like sands through the hourglass so are the days of our wives

Fittingly, the album closes with yet another song from BIG RIVER, “Muddy Water”, a song of wanderlust and perhaps escape.

Look out for me, oh muddy water
Your mysteries are deep and wide
And I got a need for going some place
And I got a need to climb upon your back and ride

You can look for me when you see me comin’
I may be runnin’ I don’t know
I may be tired and runnin’ fever
But I’ll be headed south to the mouth of the Ohio

Look out for me, oh muddy water
Your mysteries are deep and wide
And I got a need for going some place
And I got a need to climb upon your back and ride

To the best of my knowledge this album has never been available in a digital format. The Broadway cast BIG RIVER soundtrack album has remained in print forever in various formats. The play is well worth seeing and the Twain’s story of Huckleberry Finn is worth passing down to subsequent generations. If you are not familiar with the Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Finn saga, you should read the books first, then tackle this album or the soundtrack album (or both) as it will greatly enhance your appreciation for the story.

Many of Roger’s performances of the songs on Roger Miller are available on You Tube.

This album isn’t Roger’s best album but it is a good one and represents the last chance to hear new material from Roger Miller. Roger would pass away from lung cancer in 1992 without having recorded any more studio albums. The man was a musical treasure and probably still ahead of the times.

Classic Rewind: Jeannie Seely – ‘I’m Still Not Over You’

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn – ‘I’ve Got Texas In My Heart’

Classic single spotlight: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Old Violin’

In a world of interesting individuals, there probably were none that were more interesting than Johnny Paycheck. Starting off as a young hellion, Paycheck got. progressively wilder as time went by. While his chaotic life was reflected in his music, at some point in his life even Paycheck realized that things had gotten completely out of control.

The torture in his soul and regrets in his life could never be better exemplified than in his masterpiece (from his 1987 Mercury album Modern Times)@

“Old Violin” as written and performed by Johnny Paycheck:

Well, I can’t recall, one time in my life,
I’ve felt as lonely as I do tonight.
I feel like I could lay down, and get up no more,
It’s the damndest feelin’; I never felt it before.

Tonight I feel like an old violin,
Soon to be put away and never played again.
Don’t ask me why I feel like this, hell, I can’t say.
I only wish this feelin’ would just go away.

I guess it’s ‘cos the truth,
Is the hardest thing I ever faced.
‘Cos you can’t change the truth,
In the slightest way. I tried.

So I asked myself,
I said: “John, where’d you go from here?”
Then like a damned fool,
I turned around and looked in the mirror.
And there I saw, an old violin.
Soon to be put away and never played again.
So one more time, just to be sure,
I said: “John, where in the hell do you go from here?”
You know that when a nickel’s worth of difference,
And I looked in the mirror, that’s when I knew.
That there I was seein’, an old violin.
Soon to be put away, and never played again.
And just like that, it hit me,
That old violin and I were just alike.
We’d give our all to music,
And soon, we’d give our life.

Classic Rewind: Tammy Wynette and Mark Gray – ‘Sometimes When We Touch’

Album Review: Tim McGraw & Faith Hill – ‘The Rest of Our Life’

It’s no secret that two of the most influential artists that have shaped my understanding and love of country music is Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. Their love story was the first celebrity love story I bought into as a kid and the one that has lasted the longest. Hill, especially, remains one of my favorite artists.

Count me among those who found it puzzling that McGraw would exit Big Machine to be a little fish in a big pond at Sony Nashville. His artistic credibility had reached new heights in 2016 and he was back in the Male Vocalist of the Year race at the CMA Awards. You do have to commend him for giving that up to help re-launch Hill into the mainstream. His heart was definitely in the right place.

But the first taste of new music from the pair, the Adult Contemporary “Speak To A Girl” was not. The ballad may have shot to #19, but it exposed Hill’s newly-acquired rasp in her lower register. Her inability to hold onto notes in her lower register was painful to hear and distracted by the message of the song, which wasn’t all that thought out anyways.

The title track, and second single, wasn’t much better. It throws the pair further into pop territory, with a lyric (co-written by Ed Sheeran) that attempts to trace a romantic relationship. The lyric is terrible, especially in the Hill-led second verse:

I’ve been making plans for children

Since I’ve been looking in your eyes

I even have names picked out for them

Daughter’d be Rose

Son it’d be Ryan

The pair debuted two of the tracks on their tour last summer. “Break First,” is a mid-paced ballad of temptation (dominated by an electronic drum loop) in which a couple is eying each other from across the room. “Telluride,” is a funky up-tempo change of pace, and while it shares a name with a track from Set This Circus Down, it is most definitely a different song.

The majority of the album is dominated by songs that just aren’t that great or worth adding to your collection. “Devil Callin’ Me Back” strips them of their individually and highlights everything that’s wrong with modern commercially-focused music. “Roll The Dice” is an electronic mess while “Love Me To Lie,” in which Hill sings lead throughout, is at least okay.

“Sleeping In The Stars” lets the pair’s harmonies shine through. “Cowboy Lullaby” is a somewhat well-written song and a good vehicle for McGraw, but I can’t help but think it would’ve sounded a lot stronger with a far less watered down arrangement.

The final two tracks were co-written by Lori McKenna and I cannot help but hold them to a higher standard. She reunited with The Love Junkies on “The Bed We Made,” which actually has bones, but likely would’ve been more appropriate for someone younger and not a couple who has been married for twenty-one years.

“Damn Good At Holdin’ On,” which McKenna wrote with Barry Dean, is the album’s strongest track by a mile. I don’t like the chorus that much, but this is the closest Hill and McGraw come to rekindling the magic of their previous duets.

The lack of that magical spark found on “It’s Your Love” or “Let’s Make Love” is truly what sinks The Rest of Our Life. Hill and McGraw are far better than most of the material they pulled together for this album. They don’t need to craft an entire album of love songs – we all get it by now. If they had diversified, with another “Angry All The Time,” or at least put effort into finding even a couple artistic moments to sprinkle amongst the radio fodder than all might not have been lost. But as it stands, The Rest of Our Lives is beneath both of them. They’ve more than proven they can do a heck of a lot better than they do here.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Tanya Tucker, Paul Davis and Paul Overstreet – ‘I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love’

Album Review: Teea Goans – ‘Swing, Shuffle And Sway’

Continuing our catch-up of some of the great 2017 albums we didn’t get round to reviewing, the fourth album released by modern traditionalist and Opry favourite Teea Goans may be her best yet. Teea has an excellent clear, sweet voice, with strong emotional interpretative skills.

Much of the material consists of covers, but Teea avoids ground which is too well worn. One of the best known songs is a lovely cover of the Don Gibson-penned Ronnie Milsap classic ‘(I’d Be) A Legend In My Time’, which has a stunning vocal and classy arrangement led by steel guitar with some tasteful strings added in. Country standard ‘You Don’t Know Me’ is a perfect fit for Teea.

Teea’s version of the opener ‘Go Down Swingin’’ (originally a minor hit for the all-girl group Wild Rose in 1990) is on the jazzier side of western swing with a bit of scatting thrown in at the start. ‘Steel Guitar Rag’ is an old Bob Wills tune which Tees performs vivaciously.

Previously cut by Ray Price (one of Teea’s primary influences) and Gene Watson, ‘A Way To Survive’ is a great traditional country shuffle, with some lovely fiddle and steel. ‘Heart Over Mind’ is a fine Mel Tllis song which was a hit for him in 1970.

She recruits 90s star Mark Wills as her duet partner on a charmingly playful take on ‘It Ain’t Nothin’’, which completely reinvents the Keith Whitley hit. A mid-tempo Don Williams hit from the 1980s, ‘That’s The Thing About Love’ is more adult contemporary than country, but well sung. ‘Tell Me I’m Crazy’ is a ballad which was recorded in the 90s by both Dawn Sears and Shelby Lynne. Teea’s version has an innocent sweetness belying the desperation of the lyrics.

‘Just Because She Always Has’ is a delicately sung ballad offering a gentle warning to a neglectful but complacent husband that things might be about to change. This beautiful song may be my favorite track.

Churchy piano leads into the confident handclapping gospel of ‘I Know The Lord Will Stand By Me’. In a more contemporary style is the emotional ballad ‘Mercy walked In’.

This is an excellent album which I strongly recommend.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: George Jones – ‘Amazing Grace’

Week ending 1/13/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales): Great Balls of Fire — Jerry Lee Lewis (Sun) 

1958 (Disc Jockeys): The Story of My Life — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1968: For Loving You — Bill Anderson & Jan Howard (Decca)

1978: Take This Job and Shove It — Johnny Paycheck (Epic)

1988: I Can’t Get Close Enough — Exile (Epic)

1998: A Broken Wing — Martina McBride (RCA Nashville) 

2008: Our SongTaylor Swift (Big Machine)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Like I Loved You — Brett Young (Big Machine)

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent – ‘Alone Together Tonight’

The song’s about three minutes in, but the chat is worth listening to first.

Classic Rewind: Sylvia – ‘I Never Quite Got Back From Loving You’

Classic Rewind: Don Williams – ‘I’ve Been Loved By The Best’

Single Review: Sugarland – ‘Still The Same’

Sugarland has reunited in an effort to reverse Jennifer Nettles’ commercial fortunes after her most recent solo album failed to produce any big hits. This is her last-ditched effort to remain a major piece of the mainstream conversation. The optimist in me was cautiously excited that this reunion would mean their return to quality music (and a reunion with their strongest writing partner Bobby Pinson) that would finally wash us clean of the bad taste The Incredible Machine left in our mouths.

The bad taste is as strong as ever. “Still The Same” is repetitive, dirty and completely devoid of personality. The production continues down their well-traveled road of borrowing heavily from the arena rock playbook (complete with muddled noise and computer-generated drum loops) written by U2. They make a half-hearted attempt at another “Stuck Like Glue” style “breakdown” and reduce the bridge to a bunch of oohs.

If anything this song does achieve its objective. They are “Still The Same.” Not much has changed in the seven years since The Incredible Machine. That might be comforting to some fans, but it isn’t to me. Now, I’m not going to write off the artistic credibility of their comeback on one song. It’s a right these days that artists will often release the worst song off their album as the lead single. I still have hope that an “Already Gone” or a “Stay” lurks around the corner. It isn’t high hope, but I still have it.

Grade: C-  

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘Someone Loves You Honey’

Johnny Cash: A Look Back

We lost Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash within months of each other back in 2003, so 2018 marks a very sad 15th-anniversary farewell to the “Man In Black”.

The release last year of UNEARTHED, a nine album 180 gram vinyl box set (originally released on CD two months after his death) of unreleased tracks recorded by Rick Rubin, (it features some interesting pairings such as Fiona Apple providing guest vocals on Cat Stevens’ “Father & Son,” and the late Joe Strummer’s duets with Cash on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”) provides us with a excuse to take another look back at his career.

While modern country radio has no use for the likes of Johnny Cash, preferring more commercial fodder, other sections of the music industry have kept his music alive, whether on Willie’s Roadhouse (Sirius XM Radio) or through the musical press. Cover bands continue to play his music and while younger so-called country singers play music that bears little connection to country music, his music remains a staple of Roots-Rock, Texas Red-Dirt and Bluegrass performers

Make no mistake about it: Johnny Cash was a huge commercial success, despite his own apparent lack of concern about how commercial his music was at any given moment–Cash’s inquisitive artistry meant that he flitted from realm to realm, sometimes touching down in areas with limited commercial appeal.

Cash had 24 songs reach #1 on the Billboard, Cashbox or Record World country charts (often all three), but unlike more chart-oriented artists including Webb Pierce, Buck Owens, Sonny James, Alabama, Conway Twitty or George Strait, Cash never ran off a long string of consecutive #1s, with his longest streak being four during 1968 when “Roseanna’s Going Wild,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “A Boy Named Sue,” and his iconic “Folsom Prison Blues” all reached the top of one of the charts.

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Classic Rewind: Vern Gosdin – ‘Mother Country Music’

Album Review: Flatt Lonesome – ‘Silence In These Walls’

The increasingly impressive bluegrass/country band Flatt Lonesome’s fourth album was another gem of last year’s releases, just missing my top 10. Most of the songs were written by Kelsi Robertson Harrigill and/or her husband Paul, and they lean to the downbeat, even depressed.

The opening ‘All My Life’ is a reflective and rather downbeat ballad about living with depression, sung beautifully by Kelsi Harrigill.
I’d rather live in a lie than to die with the truth

‘I’m Not Afraid To Be Alone’ is a nice song with the protagonist unimpressed by her about-to-be-ex’s tearful attempts to get her to stay.

‘It’s Just Sad’, written by Wyatt McCubbin and Jason Hursey, is a resigned tune about facing life after a broken relationship, with a lovely fiddle line and a truly gorgeous vocal which makes it my favorite track.

The bleak ‘Cry Oh Cry’ is raw in its despairing determination:

You’ve broken my heart for the last time you’ll see
You don’t have to go home but you do have to leave
Stop talkin’
Start walkin’
Get up off your knees
You don’t get to ask me why
I’ve cried the last tear that I’ll cry

‘Gently Please Tell Me Goodbye’ has a beautiful tune and tender vocal. ‘Falling’ is a delicate, sophisticated sounding, almost jazz ballad. A plaintive cover of the obscure Glen Campbell album track ‘Where Do You Go’ is quite nice in a folk-country style with very pretty harmonies. The bouncy religious tune ‘Happy Til He Comes’ provides the album’s most upbeat moment.

Brother Buddy Robertson takes over the lead vocals for the pleasant ‘Build Me A Bridge’ (written by James Chamberlain, Wade Kirby and Wyatt McCubbin). ‘Highway Of Pain’ has a very traditional bluegrass feel, and is a cover of a song written by Glenn Dauphin of the California bluegrass group High Country, and recorded by several other bluegrass bands. The spiritual ‘Draw Me Near’ has Buddy’s strongest vocal, backed by his sister’s harmonies, and a more contemporary feel, with a lovely melody. Classic country cover ‘You’re The Reason’ makes for a fun closer.

This is a fine set of songs, mostly slow and on the sad side lyrically, well played throughout and sung quite beautifully. Technically bluegrass, it has a lot to offer country fans.

Grade: A