My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘My Gospel Roots’

Gene Watson has released a gospel album previously (Jesus Is All I Need, in 1997, repackaged under various titles since), but his new release in that vein is his best in a religious vein. Still a stunningly good singer belying his seven decades, he has selected some excellent songs, and avoided too much well worn material. The arrangements are as traditional country as one would expect from one of Gene’s secular records, and Dirk Johnson, who has been producing his music for some years, is in charge again this time.

The best song is the high lonesome ‘Fit For A King’, a story song about a homeless preacher, which was written by Jim Rushing and Carl Jackson, and previously recorded by a number of artists, most famously Garth Brooks. Gene’s version of this modern classic is tenderly observed and ornamented by beautiful harmonies from co-writer Jackson and the bluegrass singer Val Storey. Wonderful.

The promotional single, ‘Old Roman Soldier’ gives a voice to one of the soldiers present at the Crucifixion. A somber story with an inspirational twist, it is beautifully delivered by Gene, assisted again by Jackson and Storey. Another highlight is an exquisite reading of the emotional plea ‘Help Me’, which is repeated from Gene’s last album.

Some of the songs are old favorites which Gene remembers singing at church as a boy. The Southern Gospel hymn ‘Where No One Stands Alone’ is sung with careful sincerity. The beautiful ‘In The Garden’, another hymn from early 20th century America, gets a fuller more orchestrated arrangement.

The traditional ‘Swing Wide Them Golden Gates’ picks up the pace and is very catchy with some lively piano backing. Gospel standard ‘Satisfied’ is taken at a brisk pace. ‘Clinging To A Saving Hand’, another classic country gospel tune, is very nicely done.

‘Praying’ was originally written by Hazel Houser for the Louvin Brothers, and also recorded by Gene’s peer Vern Gosdin in the 80s. It is a sweet song about a sinner who is the subject of his poor mother’s prayers. ‘Til The Last leaf Shall Fall’ is an obscure Sonny James song which is pretty good.

‘Call Me Gone’ is a passionate ballad about longing for Heaven, which is a cover of a song by the Southern Gospel group The Hinsons. It features another outstanding vocal from Gene. The Isaacs provide harmonies on the Dottie Rambo-penned ballad ‘Build My Mansion (Next Door To Jesus)’, which is very pretty. ‘He Ain’t Gone For Good’, a new song co-written by producer Johnson, is a solid song about the Resurrection.

This album is thoroughly recommended to anyone who likes religious music.

Grade: A+

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Christmas Rewind: Mo Pitney – ‘O Holy Night’

Week ending 12/16/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): My Special Angel — Bobby Helms (Decca)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You — Ray Price (Columbia)

1967: It’s the Little Things — Sonny James (Capitol)

1977Here You Come Again — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1987: The Last One to Know — Reba McEntire (MCA)

1997: From Here to Eternity — Michael Peterson (Reprise)

2007: So Small — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

2017: Meant to Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Warner Bros.)

2017 (Airplay): Ask Me How I Know — Garth Brooks (Pearl)

Christmas Rewind: Joey + Rory – ‘Let It Snow (Somewhere Else)’

Christmas Rewind: Sara Evans – ‘At Christmas’

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘Strong Weakness’

Released in 1982 by Elektra/Curb, Strong Weakness was the fourth studio album released during the 1980s and by the eighth overall studio album release. Buoyed by some strong singles, the album was the fifth straight top twenty country albums chart release for the brothers.

The copy of the album I am using for this review is a cassette tape which means the song sequence may vary from the vinyl or CD releases of the album and the information on the packaging is minimal.

The album opens up with “Strong Weakness” which was the fourth single and least successful single released from the album, topping out at #15. Written by David Bellamy, the song has a loping beat with relatively simple instrumentation (there is a nice steel guitar break) and a melody that is not terribly memorable by Bellamy standards.

I’ve got a strong weakness
Baby, I’m gone on your sweetness
Oh baby, stoned on your love
I’ve got a chillin’ fire

Baby, I’m gone on desire
Oh baby, stoned on your love
Baby, I’ve got to say
Baby, I’ve got to say

You’re good when you’re bad.
I’ve got a strong weakness
Baby, I’m gone on your sweetness
Oh baby, stoned on your love

Next up is “Doin’ It The Hard Way”, a gentle slow ballad about the ups and downs of a relationship. It’s a nice song but nothing that would ever be considered for release as a single.

“When I’m Away From You” was the second single released from the album, soaring to #1. The song was written by Scottish rocker Frankie Miller (not to be mistaken for the American country singer who hit in 1959 with “Family Man” and “Black Land Farmer”) and previously recorded by Kim Carnes. The imagery of the lyrics is very interesting:

When I’m away from you
Well, I can’t stay still
My thoughts won’t move from the way I feel
It happens time and time again
And the circle never ends

When I’m away from you
Well, it hurts to say
My sense has gone so far away
I’m up all through the night
And I can’t tell wrong from right

When I’m away from you I see great big clouds
In the fog and rain all the lonely crowds
They seem to be so blue
Every night I’m missing you

When I’m away from you well the sun don’t shine
The mood don’t come
The words don’t rhyme
When I’m away from you I can’t let go
And you know, oh, you know

“I Love Her Mind” was the third single off the album and reached #4. Written by David Bellamy the song features a Jamaican beat but is otherwise a slow ballad. I’m not sure you could get away with these lyrics in today’s overly politically correct environment, but the concept is interesting:

Forget about her eyes
That dance around
Like diamonds in the night

Forget about her hair
That cascades like a fountain
In the moonlight

And don’t think of her sweet lips
That leave me just as drunk
As any wine

Though her body is immortal
I love her mind

“Almost Jamaica” has a Caribbean vibe to it and might have made a decent single. Although missing the Caribbean vibe, “Lazy Eyes” also might have made a decent single.

“Number Two” is mid-tempo song told from the perspective of a man who knows that he is not the man of his woman’s dreams.

I’m not saying that the Bellamy Brothers presaged “Murder On Music Row” with “The Night They Killed Country Music” but the concept is close. I could not find the lyrics for this song but there is a video clip available on the internet.

“Long Distance Love Affair” revisits a familiar theme, in fact there are a number of songs with this title. This song is presented as a very country ballad.

The album ends with “Redneck Girl” which was the first single off the album. This up-tempo song, written by David Bellamy sailed to #1 and is perhaps the most memorable song off the album, with strong lyrics and an easily remembered melody. The song remained a favorite of bar bands for over twenty years and has a staple of country dance clubs seemingly forever

Hey, redneck girl likes to cruise in Daddy’s pickup truck
And a redneck girl plays her heart when she’s down on her luck
Living for a Friday afternoon
She’s gonna show one ole boy that weekend moon

And I pray that someday I will find me a redneck girl
A redneck girl likes to stay out all night long
She makes sweet rock’n’roll while she listens to the country songs
She’s waitin’ on that moment of surrender
Her hands are calloused but her heart is tender

And I pray that someday I will find me a redneck girl
Hey, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
Give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl

Yeah, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
Yeah, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl

A redneck girl got a name on the back of her belt
She’s got a kiss on her lips for her man and no one else
And a coyote’s howling out on the prairie
First comes love, and then comes marriage

And I pray that someday I will find me a redneck girl
Yeah, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
Give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
You got to give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
Yeah, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl

While not every song on the album is great, all of the songs are at least good and, for the most part, this is an unmistakably country album which I would rate as a B+ or A-

Christmas Rewind: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Bells Will Be Ringing’

Christmas Rewind: Suzy Bogguss – ‘You’re A Mean One Mr Grinch’

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2017

While the mainstream sinks further away from country music, I have found some great music this year. It is marked, however, that much of the best music harks back to the past in one way or another. Another difference from radio trends is that half of the top 7 are female artists. Here are my favourite full length albums of 2017:

10. John Baumann, Proving Grounds

An overlooked gem I never got round to reviewing in the summer, this release from a young Texas singer songwriter of the troubadour type was full of high quality songs. Definitely an artist to watch.

Highlights: ‘Old Stone Church’, ‘Lonely In Bars’, ‘Here I Come’, ‘The Trouble With Drinkin’’, ‘Meg’

9. Chris Stapleton, From A Room, vols 1-2

While his music is not traditional country, it is a lot better than most mainstream efforts these days. Chris Stapleton has a great voice and is a superb songwriter, and wife Morgane’s harmonies add the final touch. I am counting these two almost-full length albums as one for the purpose of this list.

Highlights: ‘Up To No Good Livin’’, ‘Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning’, ‘Either Way’, ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’, ‘Scarecrow In The Garden

8. Conway Twitty – Timeless

The recently re-released recordings are a delightful reminder of what country music used to be. Arrangements laden with steel, great songs and Conway’s emotive vocals all contribute to a wonderful album, with only a couple of less stellar moments.

Highlights: ‘Lost Her Love) On Our Last Date’, ’15 Years Ago’, ‘Next In Line’


7. Gene Watson – My Gospel Roots

This only came out on 8 December, just in time to make my year-end list. It is an excellent religious album from one of the best living country vocalists, with an interesting selection of material. The full review will be posted on Friday.

Highlights: ‘Fit For A King’, ‘Help Me’, ‘Old Roman Soldier

6. Charley Pride – Music In My Heart

The legend’s 2017 album is his best music in years. He is in fine voice and the songs are great.

Highlights: ‘Standing In My Way’, ‘I Learned A Lot’, ‘The Way It Was In ‘51’, ‘It Wasn’t That Funny

5. Jason Eady – Jason Eady

A thoughtful, often compelling collection of songs from one of my favorite singer-songwriters.

Highlights: ‘Barabbas’, ‘Where I’ve Been’, ‘No Genie In This Bottle’, ‘Black Jesus’, ‘Why I Left Atlanta’, 40 Years


4. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy

The Texan singer-songwriter released another great record this year, mixing attitude and heartbreak in eqal measures.
Highlights: ‘Bottle By My Bed’, ‘I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight’, ‘Trophy’, ‘Pass The Pain’

3. Alison Krauss – Windy City

Alison Krauss’s beautiful voice on a country leaning collection of standards, beautifully prodiced and exquisitely sung. Flawless.

Highlights: ‘You Don’t Know Me’, ‘River In The Rain’, ‘Losing You’, ‘Gentle On My Mind’, ‘All Alone Am I’, ‘Please Don’t Tell me How The Story Ends’


2. Rhonda Vincent and Daryle Singletary – American Grandstand

A delightful pairing of one of bluegrass’s best female vocalists with country traditionalist Daryle Singletary. Rhonda’s voice blends even better with Daryle than it did with Gene Watson https://mykindofcountry.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/album-review-gene-watson-and-rhonda-vincent-your-money-and-my-good-looks/ a few years ago. Magnificent.

Highlights: ‘We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds’, ‘One’, ‘A Picture Of Me Without You’, ‘After The Fire Is Gone’, ‘American Grandstand


1. Erin Enderlin – Whiskeytown Crier

The singer-songwriter’s latest album is a superb collection of story songs. My only reservation is that several of the songs have appeared upon her previous releases, but this is a truly excellent album.

Highlights: ‘Broken’, ‘Caroline’, ‘His Memory Walks On Water’, ‘The Coldest In Town’, ‘Ain’t It Just Like A Cowboy

Christmas Rewind: Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert – Home (Christmas)

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘Sons of the Sun’

The Bellamy Brothers’ sixth studio album was also released in 1980 and continued the duo’s winning streak with two high performing singles. The lead single, and album opener, “Lovers Live Longer” hit #3. They returned to the top with “Do You Love as Good as You Look,” which sat comfortably in their signature style.

The album boasts many enjoyable traditional-leaning moments among the ten tracks. “It’s Hard to be a Cowboy These Days” is a western-themed ballad with lovely interjections of dobro throughout. Other standout moments include the pure honky-tonk “Classic Case of the Blues” and the deliciously uptempo “Honey, We Don’t Know No One in Nashville.” All three are excellent and well-worth checking out. I also really liked “Givin’ Into Love Again” and “Illusions of Love.”

The record as a whole is stamped with the Urban Cowboy sounds of the era, so tracks like “Dancin’ Romance,” which finds its roots in R&B are thrown into the mix. Also adventurous is “Spiders and Snakes,” which relies on a funky groove to drive the melody. The somewhat intriguing “Endangered Species” is a lush ballad that tastefully displaces their harmonies.

There seem to be more nods to traditionalism here than Occasional Hope found on the album’s predecessor, which makes for an enjoyable listening experience. There are some truly excellent moments here and much more to like than dislike. I would check out the whole album while paying particular attention to the album’s more worthy moments.

Grade: A-

Christmas Rewind: Vince Gill – ‘Christmas Time Is Here’

The song starts at 3.30

Album/EP Review: Jeff Bates – ‘Troublemaker’

I’m a fan of Jeff Bates’ deep voice and strong songwriting, so I was pleased to see he had released a new 7 track recrd, halfway between an album and an EP.

‘If I Get Drunk Tonight’ is an emotional ballad well suited to Bates’ vocal abilities. It is an excellent lost love song in which the protagonist wonders if he can drink away his pain:

If I get drink tonight
Will I find relief?
Will I close my eyes
And finally get sleep?
Will I stop hurtin’,
Or does the whiskey just lie?
I’ll know tomorrow
If I get drunk tonight

This is great, and my favorite track.

Another excellent song, ‘Leaving Town’ is a closely observed look at a dying small town where there are no jobs or futures left.

They built a bypass and it passed us by
All our hopes and dreams dried up and slowly died
We boarded up our memories one window at a time
Now nobody ever comes
Even the river runs from this leaving town

Also very good with a great vocal is the regretful ‘Ain’t Goodbye Good Enough’, about an ex who seems annoyed he isn’t begging her to come back:

You don’t want me, I know
But you won’t let me let you go
You cut me deep and you keep cutting more
You already took your love
Ain’t goodbye good enough?

You’re so angry and I really don’t know why
You’re the one who wanted it this way

The title track, about a hot girl, is disappointing – lacking in melody with too much echo on the chorus and annoying production elements. Also suffering from intrusive production was the otherwise attractive love song ‘Rest Of My Life’.

Much better, ‘Meetin’ My Maker’ is a sweet song about a grandpa with little time for organised religion but who finds God “out in the wild wood”. The set closes with ‘Judging Judas’, a powerful mid-tempo critique of hypocrisy:

Got my religion and I pray religiously
Then I do what I want to
When I get up off my knees
I search my brother and I don’t like what I find
He sees the same thing when he looks into my eyes
And we keep judging Judas while we hang from the same tree
Your sin is greatest cause you don’t sin like me
Reap what we sow and we sow what we reap
And we keep judging Judas while we hang from the same tree

We’re all born innocent then we learn to feel the shame
And then we hide our guilt behind a wall of blame…
We teach love and peace then we take our hate to war

It’s a shame this is not a full length album, but with the exception of one or two tracks it is worth catching up with.

Grade: A-

Christmas Rewind: Kenny Rogers – ‘Children Go Where I Send Thee’

Week ending 12/9/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): My Special Angel — Bobby Helms (Decca)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: It’s the Little Things — Sonny James (Capitol)

1977Here You Come Again — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1987: Somebody Lied — Ricky Van Shelton (Columbia)

1997: Love Gets Me Every Time — Shania Twain (Mercury)

2007: So Small — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

2017: Greatest Love Story — LANco (Arista)

2017 (Airplay): Greatest Love Story — LANco (Arista)

Classic Rewind: Alan Jackson – ‘Let It Be Christmas’

Classic Rewind: Paulette Carlson – ‘Whiskey If You Were A Woman’

A Highway 101 hit:

Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Good Old Days’

If popular culture is to be believed, it seems the 1990s is the hottest decade right now. Most of the ‘new’ television shows are reboots of classics from the era, including Full House and Will & Grace, with the originals casts reprising their roles. In popular music, if you were a major player 20-25 years ago, then its suddenly fashionable to return with new music and slews of concert dates.

In country music, this trend extends to the return of Faith Hill and Shania Twain with their first new music in more than a decade while Garth Brooks is wrapping up his massive three-year tour this month in Nashville. Even Dixie Chicks came home to the United States with their first tour in ten years. What’s old is new again or rather the music that defined my childhood is suddenly hip again.

It would be a stretch to place Tracy Lawrence at the same level since he was never a global superstar or wheeled much influence on an international stage. But he was one of the most consistent and traditional artists in his day, with a catalog that more than stands up to anything released by the artists who may have eclipsed him in status.

To celebrate this resurgence, Lawrence has released Good Ole Days, which recognizes what he refers to as a ‘hunger for the music from my era.’ The album pairs him with modern day country artists singing his hits. The whole concept does seem like a gimmick, a cash grab for the gullible fan unaware they are likely only lining the pockets of the executive who dreamt up this project. But really it’s a chance to finally hear country’s current class sing real well-written songs for the first time in their careers. I jumped at the chance to review this album simply so I could hear how these artists sound when forced to interrupt the actual country music. I’ve always had a theory that there is talent there if these artists had the proper vehicle to show it off.

This is the proper vehicle because instead of the artists making these songs their own, with their typical non-country producers and such, they have to stick within the confines of the original arrangements, including the steel, fiddle, and twang. Without the ability to hide, every weakness would be on the table.

Luke Bryan tackles Lawrence’s 1991 debut “Sticks and Stones” and handles it well. I wasn’t impressed with Jason Aldean’s take on “Just Can’t Break It to My Heart,” his voice was a bit too dirty, but the energy was good.

I remember reading in Quotable Country, on the dearly-departed Country California, Justin Moore says if he had a say he would make an album in the vein of I See It Now. He goes back a bit further here with “Alibis” and knocks it out of the park. Moore is a great country singer and it’s a shame he has to reside in this current climate.

Dustin Lynch sounds exactly like a young Lawrence on “Texas Tornado,” which is kind of scary. His performance isn’t excellent, but it’s damn close. I was surprised Miranda Lambert, who has been known to belt this out in concert, wasn’t singing it but that could’ve been label politics.

Probably the newest artist featured here is Luke Combs, who just hit number one with “When It Rains It Pours.” There’s no mistaking he’s a country singer and he easily pulls this off. The same is true for Chris Young, but he sounds like he’s just going through the paces on “If The Good Die Young.” If he had just let go the results could’ve been incredible.

The legend of Tim McGraw is he moved to Nashville on May 9, 1989, and has always said he’s more of a storyteller while Keith Whitley is a singer. I agree wholeheartedly, but his performance of “Time Marches On” is bland. In contrast, Easton Corbin shines on “Paint Me A Birmingham.”

Kellie Pickler’s talent is wasted on “Stars Over Texas,” which finds her regulated to singing the chorus. As the sole female voice on the whole album, you would’ve thought she’d be allowed more of a presence. I didn’t care for her vocal either, which makes her sound like a little girl.

There are two new songs in the mix. Brad Arnold, the lead singer of Alternative Rock band Three Doors Down (think ‘Here Without You’) joins Lawrence on the title track, which is being billed as his “country music debut.” The song, which also features Big & Rich, is a faux-rock disaster. The military-themed fiddle drenched ballad “Finally Home,” which features Craig Morgan, is better but not really for my tastes.

Good Ole Days is a great concept with lousy execution. These tracks are collaborations between the singer and Tracy Lawrence which doesn’t work on any level. Get rid of Lawrence entirely and turn this into the proper tribute album it’s screaming to be. His nasally twang is insufferable and pointlessly distracting. The lack of female artists in the mix is also troubling, as you don’t need just men to sing these songs.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Bellamy Brothers – ‘If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body’

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘You Can Get Crazy’

Released in 1980, the Bellamy Brothers’ fifth studio album does not sound very country and is certainly a long way from traditional, but appealed to radio and record buyers in the urban cowboy era, and cemented their star status.

Both the single hit #1 on the Billboard country charts. I did not like the lyrics of ‘Sugar Daddy’ at all, although it is quite pretty melodically with an attractive arrangement. ‘Dancin’ Cowboys’ has a pleasant lilting melody and a steel drum effect, and is one of the duo’s better remembered songs.

There are a few more country moments. ‘Comin’ Back For More’ is a lovely ballad about the ups and downs of a relationship which is strong at its core. ‘Let Me Waltz Into Your Heart’ is a gentle love song ornamented with steel guitar, which is my favorite track.

‘Dead Aim’ is very pop-influenced and not very interesting. I strongly disliked ‘Naked Lady’, another very pop number.

‘Foolin’ Around’ is a midpaced quite catchy rather poppy song about teenagers in love, with a faintly comedic edge – filler, but not bad. ‘I Could Be Makin’ Love To You’ is pleasant sounding about a musician missing his sweetheart, but the hook underwhelms. ‘You Can Get Crazy With Me’ is a nice love song.

‘Fast Train Out Of Texas’ is a pacy story song about a bad boy from Amarillo spending his life running from the side effects of his love life, which is quite entertaining.

This isn’t really a record I would return to, but it was all well done and if you like the Bellamy Brothers in general this would be worth checking out.

Grade: B-