My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘Born To Be Blue’

Newly reunited in 2012:

Album Review: Wade Hayes – ‘Go Live Your Life’

go live your lifeCancer survivor Wade Hayes has released his first project since announcing his recovery.

The title track draws on his experiences facing mortality, and is a fine song about seizing the moment, but the production, while not overwhelming, is a bit heavy handed in places for my liking. Bookending the album is the similarly themed ‘If the Sun Comes Up’, in which Wade contemplates the reaction of his loved ones if he died.

‘Love Knew Better’ is potentially rather charming, but a tune and arrangement very reminiscent of the McCarters’ 1989 hit ‘Up And Gone’ are smothered by the mix – as are the lyrics, which seem to tell the story of a thwarted wedding.

The production is also slightly too loud on ballad ‘She Is Home’, a sweet tribute to the protagonist’s wife, but it is saved by a nice sincere vocal. ‘Here And Her’ is a sad and pretty ballad about coping in the aftermath of a broken heart, but once more a more striped down production would have let it shine more. ‘Wrecking Ball’ is just not very interesting.

Much better, ‘Bluebonnet Blues’ has a lovely old fashioned slow western swing feel, while ‘Let You Go’ is a beautiful lost love ballad with a relatively restrained arrangement.

Another highlights is the amusing ‘Remember The Alimony’, which as the title suggest is a jaundiced warning against repeat attempts at marriage:

Once upon a time she was Mrs Right
Then she took all you had

Remember the alimony
The high cost of matrimony
Before you plan another ceremony

‘Old Dirt Road’ is a lovely memory of a rural childhood the protagonist was all too keen to leave behind, but views in a different light with mature eyes.

There are some good songs here, and Wade is in good voice, but the production is too often heavy handed and obtrusive.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Martina McBride covers Garth Brooks – ‘The Dance’

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘Mono’

Album Cover_TheMavericks_MonoPassion, not purpose, leads the way on The Mavericks newest release, their eighth. Listening to old vinyl led them to record the album Monaural, where channels are filtered from a common signal path. Their mission is to take each listener on their own unique journey, and come away with a project that sounds almost precisely how it was recorded.

Nico Bolas teamed with Raul Malo to produce the album, appropriately titled Mono. The pair also helmed In Time, a critical masterpiece that garnered the strongest reviews of the band’s career. Malo, who had a writing credit for each of the songs on In Time, composed eleven of Mono’s twelve tracks.

Horns, courtesy of Max Abrams, find their way onto the majority of the songs found on Mono. I’m not personally a fan of this production choice, but they do help The Mavericks achieve the Cuban meets Tex-Mex style they only hinted at during their prime in the mid-1990s.

Album opener “All Night Long,” solely written by Malo, is the first single. He brings urgency to the track, turning what could’ve been a simple love song into a primal plea from a man to his woman. The horns are annoyingly grating, but I love the overall salsa vibe they successfully achieved.

Varying expressions of love find their way onto the majority of the horn drenched tracks. Energized by a bright mariachi-styled arrangement, “Summertime (When I’m With You)” compares feelings to seasons with the protagonist lamenting how he’d enjoy them more in the company of his woman. Malo’s vocal pairs perfectly with the subtlety of the content, which is distinctly straightforward. “Stories We Could Tell,” about a meeting between strangers, wonderfully evokes 1950s doo-wop. The production is quite busy, but feels perfect for jiving on a dance floor. The jazzy “Do You Want Me To” also feels ripped from a club, with a striking arrangement. I only wish Malo had turned in a subtler vocal, with some sultry tenderness.

Salsa creeps in again on “What You Do (To Me),” a cheekily executed exploration about the effects of love on the male psyche. Malo and Alan Miller capture the dizziness perfectly while Malo effortlessly links the arrangement and his vocal, giving each a fair amount of needed energy. Bonus cut “Nitty Gritty,” written by Doug Sahm twenty-three or so years ago, finds our leading man trying to rationalize why his woman left him. She didn’t enjoy the ‘nitty gritty’ of his life and thus bolted the first chance she had. While not a love song, “Waiting For The World To End” carries a similar tone and features ear catching turns of phrase that keep it distinguishable.

“Out The Door” is easily one of the strongest tracks on Mono and The Mavericks at their classic best. Malo wrote the fire out of the simple lyric, which is about his visceral reaction once she walks away for good. It would’ve been a home run for them during their 1990s heyday, but the busy production keeps it very good to great. “What Am I Supposed To Do (Without You)” covers nearly identical ground, expect now that she’s gone, he wonders how he’ll be able to go on. The treatment is excellent, giving the band space to showcase their harmonies on the catchy yet mournful pop leaning ballad. The wistful “Let It Rain” strips the way the noise, but nicely retains the mournful cry in Malo’s voice. “Pardon Me” is beautifully tender, with a man seeking room to display his out of character emotions.

Mono is a very interesting album, one that retains The Mavericks’ signature ability to defy convention around every turn. The use of horns isn’t my favorite and most of the arrangements are very cluttered, but they did manage to sneak in a few tunes that are a worthy addition to their legacy. It’s also wonderful to see one of the most eclectic bands in country music’s recent history unapologetically maintaining their title. The Mavericks have always been masters at what they do; making amateurs of anyone who dare try to imitate their sound.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, June Carter and Anne Murray – ‘Put Your Hand In The Hand’

Classic Rewind: Raul Malo sings Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’

Week ending 3/28/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

Roger Miller Getty GAB Archive 19701955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: King of the Road – Roger Miller (Smash)

1975: Before The Next Teardrop Falls — Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot)

1985: Seven Spanish Angels — Willie Nelson with Ray Charles (Columbia)

1995: This Woman And This Man — Clay Walker (Giant)

2005: That’s What I Love About Sunday — Craig Morgan (Broken Bow)

2015: Take Your Time — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Mean To Me — Brett Eldredge (Atlantic)

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘If I Didn’t Have You’

Classic Rewind: Raul Malo – ‘You’re Only Lonely’

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘In Time’

in timeAfter almost a decade ploughing their individual furrows, the Mavericks reunited in 2012 and released a much-anticipated comeback early in 2013 on Valory Records. Arrangements are generally heavy on the horns, and the songs, all written or co-written by Raul, don’t quite stand up with the best of their earlier material, but it is a solid record filled with energised performances by a band clearly happy to be back together.

The lead single ‘Born To Be Blue’ is quite good, but didn’t crack the top 40 on the country airplay chart. The only other single, ‘Back In Your Arms Again’, a co-write with Gary Nicholson and Seth Walker, has a strong Latin influence, and didn’t chart at all.

‘Lies’ is an up-tempo country rocker, written with Al Anderson and Bob DipIero. It’s an excellent song lyrically, but lacks melody and the arrangement or mix is too loud and relentless. ‘Come Unto Me’, sung partly in Spanish, with a full-on Spanish version tacked on to the end of the record, incorporates Latin and rock aspects, and is pretty good. ‘As Long As There’s Loving Tonight’ and ‘Dance In The Moonlight’ are examples of the band’s feelgood party numbers – enjoyable and no doubt even more so live.

By far my favourite track, ‘In Another’s Arms’ is a tender ballad showcasing Raul’s voice at his soaring best and is tastefully produced. The languid ‘Forgive Me’ is another beautifully sung ballad.

‘Amsterdam Moon’ and ‘That’s Not My Name’ have a retro pop feel which is not my cup of tea, but well done. I enjoyed ‘Fall Apart’, which has a bouncy polka-style accordion-led accompaniment backing an unrepentant lyric about risking hurt for the sake of love. ’All Over Again’ has a similar joie de vivre, and a lyric about defying a helpless love for the woman who insists on breaking his heart repeatedly.

At over eight minutes, ‘Call Me When You Get To Heaven’ is far too long while not really getting anywhere interesting, and feels self-indulgent to me.

This isn’t a particularly country album, but is it is an enjoyable one which fans of the band should catch up on if they missed it.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Wynn Stewart – ‘Wishful Thinking’

Album Review: Raul Malo – ‘Lucky One’

51unuMG0UHLLike much of Raul Malo’s solo efforts — as well as his later work with The Mavericks — 2009’s Lucky One is not a country album, but that’s not to say that there isn’t much to recommend it. In fact, I would much rather listen to it over pretty much anything that gets airplay on today’s country radio. If pressed to categorize the album under a neat label, I would probably say that it is the type of music that used to be marketed to adults before pop music became overly bland and dependent on electronic sounds and studio technology, the sort of music that could regularly be heard on Top 40 radio 30 or 40 years ago, but is largely without a commercial outlet today.

Malo co-produced the album with Steve Berlin and had a hand in writing all of its 12 tracks. The album produced two non-charting singles. The first was the somewhat bland title track, which opens the set. I was a bit apprehensive upon hearing it the first time, thinking that it was the first of a dozen tedious songs to get through, but things took pleasant change of direction beginning with the second track, “Moonlight Kiss”, which was the album’s second single. Malo’s voice is often compared to Roy Orbison, but his performance on this track is reminiscent of Elvis Presley. The background vocals are a little kitschy but overall the song is very catchy and enjoyable.

Malo channels Dean Martin on the easy-going and relaxing “You Always Win”. But on the majority of tracks he is back to his trademark Orbison-esque sound. The standout track is the ballad “Crying For You”, on which he delivers a stunning vocal performance. The rockabilly-flavored “Lonely Hearts” is about the closest Malo comes to country music on this album.

I can only take adult contemporary music in limited doses; the lack of country instrumentation usually results in a sound that is too bland for my liking. Malo avoids falling into that trap with Lucky One. The songs are all well sung and the album is tastefully produced, and the restrained use of horns compensates for the lack of fiddle and steel. Malo’s tenor, however is the glue that holds the album together. He and Berlin wisely let his voice shine, never letting the production overwhelm it.

Lucky One is one of the best non-country albums I have ever listened to. It’s extremely rare that a non-country album gets a thumbs up from me, but this one does. It may not be to everyone’s taste but it certainly deserves a listen.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks and Trisha Yearwood – ‘Something Stupid’

Single Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘I Remember You’

i remember youThe second single from Trisha Yearwood’s Prize Fighter is a much better song than its predecessor, and is perhaps the standout on the album, although it’s certainly not commercial as a single in today’s market.

A delicate stripped down arrangement has Trisha’s voice accompanied solely by an unobtrusive acoustic guitar (played by co-writer Caver) and strings (a single cello dominating), with Trisha’s sister Beth singing harmony

Written by relative unknowns Nashville-based Canadian songwriter Kelly Archer, Ben Caver and Brad Rempel (a member of Canadian country duo High Valley), this is a deeply emotional song about love and the loss of bereavement. Yearwood’s interpretation is clearly informed by the recent death of her mother.

I’m still disappointed that Trisha appears to be guided by her husband’s business plan in releasing so few new songs packaged with remakes. But that aside, this is as close to perfect a record as it gets: an outstanding song and a stunning vocal by one of the all-time great singers, who is still at the peak of her powers, perfectly supported y by the tasteful arrangement.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: MIchael Martin Murphey and Paul Overstreet – ‘Long Line Of Line’

This song was a #1 hit for Michael Martin Murphey in 1987. He performs it here (about three minutes in) with its writer, Paul Overstreet:

Single Review: Pete Scobell Band Featuring Wynonna Judd – ‘Hearts I Leave Behind’

t235083818-i969744519_s400The patriotic tend from the early 2000s seems to be in a mini resurgence, thanks to Zac Brown Band’s cover of the Jason Isbell-penned “Dress Blues” and Pete Scobell Band’s “Hearts I Leave Behind,” a duet with Wynonna Judd. The latter hit #1 on iTunes the week it was first available for download.

Scobell, a seventeen-year veteran of the US Navy, served six deployments as a Navy SEAL. A married father of three, he served as the opening act for Judd’s Stories and Song tour. When I saw them March 8, they performed their duet during Judd’s encore.

Travis Meadows originally composed the reflective ballad about the struggles he’s faced in his own life. A teenage cancer survivor, he lost his brother in a drowning accident and beat addiction after four stents in rehab. The track eventually made its way to Scobell, who had it with him when he was on tour with the widow of his close friend, American Sniper Chris Kyle. Taya had a visceral reaction to the tune and begged him to record it in honor of Chris’ memory. She essentially felt the track perfectly represented her husband.

“Hearts I Leave Behind” is a delicate acoustic ballad, accentuated with erethral ribbons of organ woven through gentle strums of acoustic guitar. The band elevates the track, kicking in halfway through with lighter accompaniment.

The gorgeous track perfectly blends Scobell and Judd’s voices, when one would expect Judd to overpower the proceedings much like Jennifer Nettles always tends to do when collaborating. But she’s an even more remarkable singer then she lets on because she’s in faultless control of her gifts. When most singers would go for the belt, she quiets down, handling the lyric with masterful precision.

On first listen, “Hearts I Leave Behind” can sound a bit schmaltzy. It takes a few listens before the spiritual aspects of the lyric reveal themselves and you realize this is a song about love and how we never really leave those back on earth who knew us when we were here. It’s a powerful message, presented delicately.

Grade: A

Listen Here

 

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘Dance The Night Away’

This was an international hit for the band:

Album Review: Raul Malo – ‘After Hours’

51tOoPsggiLThere is always risk in releasing an album of “covers”. First, the possibility always exists that the material is too familiar to attract much attention. Second, there is the risk of being unfavorably compared to the earlier versions of the material being covered.

After Hours mostly avoids the first risk by focusing on material from before 1973, ensuring that most of the audience will not be terribly familiar with the material. The second risk is more problematic as there are some definite misfires in the tempos at which some of the songs are performed.

The album opens with “Welcome To My World”, a ballad generally associated with either “Gentleman” Jim Reeves or Dean Martin, two of the premier balladeers of the twentieth century. Jim Reeves had a smooth, velvety voice capable of conveying warmth like few others (Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Ray Price) ever could. Dean Martin was the King of Cool with great warmth but a more casual feel to his vocals than Reeves could achieve. If you have not heard either Reeves or Martin perform this song, then you will really like Malo’s performance. Raul does not have the warmth of his predecessors, but does an admirable job with the song and the accompaniment is excellent.

“(Now and Then) There’s A Fool Such As I” is a slight misstep, taken at a tempo that is too fast and bouncy for the sad lyrics. This song was a big hit for Hank Snow in 1952 and was covered by some guy named Elvis Presley (himself a big Hank Snow fan) a few years later. A honky-tonk style piano takes a break in the song but the basic arrangement is big band swing.

Malo gets back on track with the Kris Kristofferson classic “For The Good Times”, a song which revitalized Ray Price’s career in the early 1970s. Again, I prefer Ray’s version, but Raul’s take is very nice.
Steel Guitar is heard on this song toward the very end of the song

The two newest songs on the album come from the pen of Dwight Yoakam. The first of these is “Pocket of A Clown”, a song that just missed the top twenty for Dwight in 1994 (it reached #4 on the Canadian country chart). Raul’s arrangement is a little slower than the original and has a 40s/50s feel to the horn arrangements.

“Crying Time” was written by Buck Owens, who regarded the song as album filler. A few years later Ray Charles resurrected the song causing Buck to add it to his set list (usually as part of a medley). It’s a great song, and Malo does it justice, although he can’t deliver it with the same soul that Ray did (no one else could either).

A serious misstep follows with the Hank Williams classic “Cold Cold Heart”. It certainly is possible to treat the song as a pop song (Tony Bennett sold millions of copies with his cover) but here the tempo is much too fast and much too happy for such a morose set of lyrics

“You Can Depend On Me” is the oldest song on the album written sometime before 1931 by Charles Carpenter, Louis Dunlap and jazz piano great Earl “Fatha” Hines. The song was recorded by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Nat King Cole. In 1961 Brenda Lee took it to #6 on the pop charts. Malo handles this song quite effectively. The basic arrangement would be that of cocktail lounge jazz.

Oh if you ever, if you ever need a friend
I’ll be right by your side until the end
And you can depend on me
You can depend on me

My favorite song on the album is “Husbands and Wives”, which was written by Roger Miller and went top five country, #2 adult contemporary and top thirty pop for Roger in 1966. Subsequently, the duo of David Frizzell and Shelly West had a top twenty county hit with it in 1981, and Brooks & Dunn took it to #1 country and #36 pop in 1998. This song features steel guitar as part of the instrumentation, the only truly country sounding song of the album. For me, it as a toss-up whether Neil Diamond’s album track from his 1971 album Stones or Raul’s version on this album is my favorite version of this song.

The angry words, spoken in haste
Such a waste of two lives
It’s my belief, pride is the chief cause and the decline
In the number of husbands and wives

Speaking of Roger Miller, one of the last songs Roger wrote was a co-write with Dwight Yoakam on “It Only Hurts Me When I Cry” a #7 country hit for Yoakam in 1991. Again, Malo uses an arrangement very similar to Dwight’s original and performs the song well. There are horns on this track and they serve to create a swinging effect, even though the tempo is no faster than the Yoakam original.

The album closes with a very nice rendition of the Hy Heath-Fred Rose composition “Take These Chains From My Heart”, best known as a posthumous #1 hit for Hank Williams in 1953, and in 1963, a #8 pop hit Ray Charles (Ray’s version also reached #5 in the UK). The accompaniment on this final track starts out with just a single guitar then expands with the subsequent verses, but remains at all times uncluttered, with tasteful saxophone and piano solos between the vocals.

After Hours is an enjoyable album which I would rate as good, but not great, as it is marred by the tempo errors noted above. Malo is in good voice throughout and he is accompanied by what could be essentially described as a jazz quintet of himself on guitar, Robert Chevrier on piano, Jay Weaver on bass, Tom Lewis on drums and Jim Hoke on sax, clarinet and steel guitar. The album was recorded live, with only Hoke being overdubbed occasionally (it’s tough to play three instruments simultaneously). Malo and producer Evan York, keep the focus on the melodies and lyrics, never obscuring either.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Wynonna – ‘Anywhere With Jesus’

Week ending 3/21/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

16174412_1287061723731955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

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

1975: Before The Next Teardrop Falls — Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot)

1985: Crazy For Your Love — Exile (Epic)

1995: This Woman And This Man — Clay Walker (Giant)

2005: Nothin’ To Lose — Josh Gracin (Lyric Street)

2015: Take Your Time — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Just Gettin’ Started — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

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