My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Josh Turner – ‘I Serve A Savior’

Josh Turner’s deep religious faith has underpinned his career, from his astonishing debut single ‘Long Black Train’. It comes as no surprise that he has now recorded a gospel album – or indeed that ‘Long Black Train’ makes another appearance.

Josh wrote the title track with Mark Narmore. It is quite a nice song set to a gentle melody in which he sets out the story of salvation and affirms his own commitment. It is one of only two new songs on the album, although some choices are less familiar than others. The other is actually the album’s one misstep. ‘The River (Of Happiness)’ was written by Josh’s wife Jennifer and son Hampton, and the whole family sings along live (apart from Josh himself). The song itself is not bad. Unfortunately the children can’t all sing In tune.

My favorite track is a measured, deeply sincere, reading of the Hank Williams classic ‘I Saw The Light’, backed by the sweet harmonies of Sonya Isaacs. I also loved the less well known ‘I Pray My Way Out Of Trouble’, a charming song written by Loretta Lynn and Teddy Wilburn. It was recorded by the Osborne Brothers in the 1960s, and Bobby Osborne contributes harmonies to this version.

There is a solid version of spiritual ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ which allows Josh to showcase the furthest reaches of his deep voice. ‘Without Him’ Is from the Southern Gospel tradition and has an emotional soulful vocal.

Classic hymns ‘Great Is Your Faithfulness’, ‘How Great Thou Art’ and (the best of the three) ‘Amazing Grace’ are all performed with reverence to tasteful arrangements. A more unusual inclusion is the short (very short if you’re thinking of it as a song, at only 42 seconds) ‘Doxology’ composed In the 17th century by Bishop Ken. Josh sings this quite simply and completely acappella. Really, this ought to close the set, but a retread of the sunny ‘Me And God’ (from Your Man) follows it.

Impeccably sung, arranged and produced, if not very original, this is a fine record with appeal for fans of Josh Turner or Christian country music.

Grade: A-

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Classic Rewind: Jamey Johnson and Lee Ann Womack – ‘Give It Away’

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘Bottle Of Tears’

Single Review: Tenille Townes — ‘Somebody’s Daughter’

The newest acquisition to Nashville’s storied Columbia label, which rebranded as Columbia Nashville in 2007 after it was purchased by Sony Music, is Tenille Townes, a 24-year-old country singer hailing from Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada.

Over the summer, I had the honor of attending a private concert by Townes atop a prestigious vineyard in Napa Valley, CA. She was the featured entertainment for night one of a two-night wine auction I’ve been fortunate to attend for the past three years. She sang acoustic, with just a guitar, giving the audience a perfect sense of both her voice and her personality.

She opened the show with what has become her debut American single, “Somebody’s Daughter,” which went for adds at country radio just after Labor Day. As she explained at the event, the song tells the story of a homeless girl she spotted on the side of the road:

I drive home the same way

Two left turns off the interstate

And she’s always standing

At the stoplight on 18th Street

She could be a Sarah

She could be an Emily

An Olivia, maybe a Cassidy

With the shaky hands

On the cardboard sign

And she’s looking at me

 

Bet she was somebody’s best friend laughing

Back when she was somebody’s sister

Counting change at the lemonade stand

Probably somebody’s high school first kiss

Dancing in a gym where the kids all talk about someday plans

Now this light’ll turn green and I’ll hand her a couple dollars

And I’ll wonder if she got lost or they forgot her

She’s somebody’s daughter

Somebody’s daughter

Somebody’s daughter

Townes co-wrote the song with Barry Dean and Luke Laird, two of the better songwriters in Nashville at the moment. Laird is not without his critics, but he has won Lori McKenna’s seal-of-approval, and the songs they’ve collaborated on together have been fantastic. He’s also turned in above-average work with both Eric Church and Miranda Lambert. Dean has also worked with McKenna, penning some great songs.

I really like the story, especially the way the three of them crafted it, with utmost sincerity. The lyric cleverly jumps out at the listener, with nice turns-of-phrase, and the melody commands attention. “Somebody’s Daughter” is It’s hardly revelatory or destined to become a classic, but it is a great modern mainstream country record. It’s a cut above typical and actually has something to say.

Problem is, for the most part, the listener cannot extract any of that. “Somebody’s Daughter” was put through the Nashville machine in order to maximize its chances at airplay. Jay Joyce’s production drowns the song in unnecessary noise that hinders Townes’ ability to showcase her voice, or the lyric, properly. I can’t fault Columbia Nashville for concentrating on their bottom line, as that’s all label executives care about anyways, but they’re doing Townes a disservice here. I don’t dislike Joyce when he’s working with Church, but he almost always fails every other artist he produces. They, more often than not, deserve better than his best inclinations.

There are some great bones here, and I wish Columbia Nashville had sought fit to pair her with Lambert’s production team, Frank Liddell and Glenn Worf. They would’ve known how to make this a great record overall, much like they did with Lambert on “Heart Like Mine.”

“Somebody’s Daughter,” in this state, is a missed opportunity. Townes has talent, and a great voice, but you’d hardly know it since it isn’t being properly showcased here. Joyce has produced a record that is too loud and too processed. It’s too bad.

Grade: B 

 

Classic Rewind: Trace Adkins ft the West Point Glee Club – ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’

Today we commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War, and remember all those who have died in other wars.

Week ending 11/10/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: City Lights — Ray Price (Columbia)

1968: I Walk Alone — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1978: Sleeping Single In A Double Bed — Barbara Mandrell (ABC)

1988: Runaway Train — Rosanne Cash (Columbia)

1998: Wide Open Spaces — Dixie Chicks (Monument)

2008: Just A Dream — Carrie Underwood (Arista Nashville)

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

2018 (Airplay): She Got The Best of Me — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

 

Classic Rewind: Emmylou Harris – ‘Lady Of The Rose’

A very young pre-fame Emmylou:

Classic Rewind: Kitty Wells – ‘I Heard The Jukebox Playing’

Album Review: Kathy Mattea — ‘Pretty Bird’

Kathy Mattea had a decent run as a mainstream country artist, enjoying a string of top twenty records that ran from 1986 through 1995. This run included four number one records with “Eighteen Wheels and A Dozen Roses” being the 1988 CMA Single of the Year. Kathy was the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year for 1989 and 1990.

Kathy Mattea has always been difficult to pigeonhole as a performer. Never a truly traditional country singer, she was able to come close enough to gain acceptance from country radio for over a decade, although by 1990 her sound was drifting into Americana territory as “Where Have You Been” and “Time Marches On” would demonstrate. After a while, she gave up on getting radio airplay and started focusing on making interesting music. Her most noteworthy album of the last decade was 2008’s Coal, a fine bluegrass collection of songs depicting the trials and tribulations of the men (and women) whose lives depend on coal.

Pretty Bird is only Kathy’s second album in the last decade and her first in six years. The album was produced by Tim O’Brien (Hot Rize, Earls of Leicester) for the Thirty Tigers label (essentially an independently produced album with Kickstarter helping to fund the effort) but while Tim is intimately associated with bluegrass, this album would barely qualify as newgrass. It is, however, a fine album that finds the fifty-nine-year-old Mattea in fine voice.

The album opens up with “Chocolate On My Tongue” a whimsical tune by Oliver Wood about life’s small pleasures. I would describe the song as folk music.

Sittin’ on the front porch, ice cream in my hand

Meltin’ in the sun, all that chocolate on my tongue

That’s a pretty good reason to live

Pretty good reason to live

Sittin’ in the bathtub, hi-fi playin’ low

Diggin’ that Al Green, well you must know what I mean

That’s a pretty good reason to live

Pretty good reason to live

Next up is the only song that was ever a huge hit for anyone, Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe”. Anyone who was listening to AM radio in 1967 knows just how ubiquitous was this song, charting high on the pop, country, easy listening and R&B charts in the US and reaching the top fifteen or better throughout the English speaking world.

“Mercy Now” comes from the pen of Mary Gauthier. Other than the presence of steel guitar, this slow ballad sounds like folk-(quasi) gospel. I like the song a lot and will need to check more into Gauthier since I am not that familiar with her.

 My father could use a little mercy now

The fruits of his labor fall and rot slowly on the ground

His work is almost over, it won’t be long, he won’t be around

I love my father, he could use some mercy now

My brother could use a little mercy now

He’s a stranger to freedom, shackled to his fear and his doubt

The pain that he lives in is almost more than living will allow

I love my brother, he could use some mercy now

Jesse Winchester penned “Little Glass of Wine” a slow introspective ballad given an acoustic treatment on this album. I wouldn’t want to hear an entire album of similar material but the sing fits well within the context of this album

Little glass of wine, you’re oil on my flame

Shy of the sunlight, hiding your shame

And many, many tears, the number is sublime

Shall stain a woman’s bosom, for a little glass of wine

As soon as you learn that you don’t live forever

You grow fond of the fruit of the vine

So here is to you and here is to me

And here is to the ones we’ve left behind

“He Moves Through The Fair” is an acoustic folk ballad performed by Kathy with only an acoustic guitar as accompaniment. The song is about a wedding that never took place, although what happened to the betrothed is unclear.

“Saint Teresa”, a Joan Osborne composition is a grittier song, open to interpretation.

“This Love Will Carry”, a Dougie MacLean composition, is a nice endeavor that perfectly suits Mattea’s voice. The songwriter sings harmony vocals on the track. I really like the song although I cannot imagine a time in which it would be considered worthy of release as a single:

 It’s a thin line that leads us and keeps us all from shame

Dark clouds quickly gather along the way we came

There’s fear out on the mountain and death out on the plain

There’s heartbreak and heartache in the shadow of the flame

 

This love will carry

This love will carry me

I know this love will carry me

The strongest web will tangle, the sweetest bloom will fall

And somewhere in the distance we try and catch it all

Success lasts for a moment and failure’s always near

You look down at your blistered hands as turns another year

“October Song” was written by Kathy’s husband Jon Vezner. Jon has never done Kathy wrong with his songs and this dreamy but regretful reverie about a lost love is right up her alley:

And when at last I drift asleep, those dreams of you

Come back to keep me

Wishing I were lying in your arms

Those memories of when we made love

Are just so hard to let go of

Who am I supposed to be

When there’s so much of you in me

Vezner also penned “Tell Me What You Ache For”, a penetrating look at life and love. Vezner is definitely a poet at heart:

It doesn’t interest me what kind of job you got

Where you eat or where you shop

The kind of car you drive

It doesn’t interest me how big a house you own

What I really want to know

Is what makes you come alive

I don’t want to talk about

How your future’s all planned out

That isn’t what it’s all about to me

 

Tell me what you ache for

Tell me what you wait for

Tell me what you long for

What you’re holding on for

Tell me what you’re dreaming

What would give your life real meaning

You’ve been afraid to pray for

Tell me what you ache for

“Holy Now” is a mid-tempo song with some observations on the state of religion. This is followed by “I Can’t Stand Up Alone” written by Martha Carson, who was a huge gospel music star during the 1950’s, best known for “Satisfied.” Martha was the favorite gospel singer for many country singers including Connie Smith, Kitty Wells, Sonny James and many others. Kathy’s voice does not have the power that Carson had, but she does a very nice job with the song

 One of these days I’m gonna take a vacation

To a quiet and a peaceful shore

And I’ll cool my feet in those crystal waters

Where I won’t have to work anymore

 

‘Cause my burden has got a little heavy

Till I can’t stand up all alone

I must lay my head down on one strong shoulder

‘Cause I can’t stand up all alone

No, you can’t stand up all by yourself

You can’t stand up alone

You need the touch of a mighty hand

You can’t stand up alone

The album closes with “Pretty Bird”, written by Hazel Dickens, a folk singer who wrote of the lives of coal miners and their families. This song is not about coal miners per se but you can read much into the lyrics, which urge the pretty bird to fly away to freedom. The song is performed a cappella.

This is not my favorite Kathy Mattea album although I would consider it to be very good with thoughtful lyrics about serious topics. A few more up-tempo songs would have helped but I suspect that I will revisit this album often, a few songs at a time.

Grade: B+

Complete song lyrics can be found here

Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard – ‘If I Could Only Fly’

Classic Rewind: Lee Ann Womack – ‘The King Of Broken Hearts’

Album Review: Dillon Carmichael – ‘Hell On An Angel’

20-something newcomer Dillon Carmichael from Kentucky (a nephew of John Michael Montgomery and Montgomery Gentry’s Eddie Montgomery) has just released his much-anticipated debut album, produced by Dave Cobb for Riser House, an Sony-backed independent label. His family pedigree suggests a mixture of traditional, 90s country and a bit of southern rock, and that is exactly what you get. Dillon co-wrote 8 of the 10 tracks, but the real star here is his rich deep baritone voice.
Initially I was a bit disappointed that it omits last year’s fabulous ‘Old Songs Like That’, a wonderful steel-laced tribute to great country songs of the past which I strongly recommend downloading in its own right. Also jettisoned but available separately is ‘Made To Be A Country Boy’ from early this year, a nice relaxed reflection on the influence of his childhood on him.

The album opens rather unexpectedly with the sound of a tornado warning siren as Dillon then launches into ‘Natural Disaster’, a brooding lonesome ballad about life’s failures. Written by Anthony Smith and Chris Wallin, it is one of only two tracks not co-written by Dillon, but makes for a magisterial introduction. The other outside song, Jon Pardi co-write Country Women’ is a lyrically cliche’d country rock number.

The title track ventures further into southern rock territory on the theme of ‘Mama Tried’, and is really not my cup of tea. ‘Old Flame’, which Dillon did write and is in fact his only solo composition here, is a slow, bluesy number which builds into southern rock.

Much more to my taste, the lead single ‘It’s Simple’ is a pretty ballad about the simple pleasures of life. ‘Dancing Away With My Heart’ is a lovely love song which I liked a lot.

Dillon’s mother helped him write ‘Hard On A Hangover’. This is a very good song about a man’s sneaking round which is punished when his wife leaves him:

I woke to the sound of a door slam
She left her wedding ring on the nightstand
With a note that told me it was over
That girl sure is hard on a hangover

I then realized my new-found freedom
And I pawned the wedding rings ’cause I don’t need ’em
And I blew the cash down at the Whiskey Barrel
And then I headed to the house, my honky tonk special

And then I woke to the sound of a tow truck
She said, “That car’s in my name, so you’re out ofluck”
I thought when she left, it was over
That girl sure is hard on a hangover

Even better and more traditional is ‘That’s What Hank Would Do’, a presumably autobiographical song about the life of an aspiring country songwriter which becomes a tribute to Hank Williams, set to a deeply authentic arrangement. This is really wonderful:

I pulled into Nashville writin’ songs for the radio
But chasin’ a sound didn’t work
I had to stick to what I know
And then I asked myself
What would Hank do?
He’d say “In with the old and out with the new”

He’d shoot you straight like his whiskey
Put pedal steel on everything
Write a song with three chords and the truth
Make you believe it when he sings like he’s talkin’ straight to you
That’s what Hank would do

’Might Be A Cowboy’ is the reflective and convincingly sweet love song of a rodeo rider:

I might be a cowboy, but I’ll never ride away

The record closes with ‘Dixie Again’, a slow bluesy piano ballad about losing and finding oneself:

I lost my direction but I kept pushin’ on
Took a left at the right and a right at the wrong
I’ve shot for redemption and I missed every time
Got to get back to someplace south of the line

This is an impressive debut from an artist with a great voice and some strong country instincts.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Vern Gosdin – ‘Chiseled In Stone’

Classic Rewind: Blake Shelton covers ‘The Gambler’

Album Review: The Earls of Leicester — ‘Live at the CMA Theater’

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to see almost all of my radio heroes in live performance with three notable exceptions. One of those, Ernest Tubb, I simply was unable to see. Another, Sammi Smith, I had purchased the tickets to see her perform but the show was canceled and she died before the show was scheduled to take place.

The third exception involved Flatt & Scruggs. My father had been transferred to the UK in January 1969 and Flatt & Scruggs were slated to be the headliners at the First International Festival of Country Music to be held at the Empire Pool (Wembly Stadium) on April 5, 1969. Dad purchased the tickets for us to go; however, by the time the festival took place, Flatt & Scruggs had split up and we had to content ourselves with a six-hour show that included Bill Anderson & The Po Boys, Phil Brady & The Ranchers, Wes Buchanan, Larry Cunningham & The Mighty Avons, George Hamilton IV, The Hillsiders, Jan Howard, Loretta Lynn & her stage show, Merrill Moore, Orange Blossom Sound, John Wesley Ryles, Conway Twitty & The Lonely Blue Boys and Charlie Walker.

While I never did get to see Flatt & Scruggs, in November 2017, I got to see the Earls of Leicester perform at the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch / Bluegrass Festival in Palatka Florida. For ninety mesmerizing minutes Jerry Douglas (dobro) and his crew of Charlie Cushman (banjo & guitar), Shawn Camp (lead vocals & guitar), Johnny Warren (fiddle), Barry Bales (bass) and Jeff White (mandolin) transported the listener and breathed life into the truly classic repertoire of Flatt & Scruggs.

The Earls of Leicester perform only the music of Flatt & Scruggs circa 1954-1965, but they are far from being either a cover band or tribute band as they have updated the Flatt & Scruggs sound (mostly due to improved recording technology) while breathing new life into the music and remaining true to the spirit of the original recordings. Most importantly, they are having fun and their infectious joy at performing the music permeates every rack. None of the members of this ensemble can be said to be imitating members of Flatt & Scruggs Foggy Mountain Boys, but they are absorbed into the music.

Live At The CM Theater was recorded in February 2018, only I few months after I saw them in Palatka and features essentially the same program I saw a few months earlier. The recording opens with “Salty Dog Blues”, the very track that Flatt & Scruggs used to open their famous Carnegie Hall concert. From that point forward the band goes through a solid program of Flatt & Scruggs favorites. While each member of the band takes the role of one of the Foggy Mountain Boys at no point are any of them referred to on stage any name but their own.

Basically Shaw Camp takes Lester Flatt’s spot in the band, Charlie Cushman, a marvelous music musician who spent years in Mike Snider’s comic group takes Earl Scruggs role. Jerry Douglas handles the Josh Graves role, Jeff Whites takes Curley Seckler’s role, Barry Bales steps in for Cousin Jake Tulloch and Johnny Warren takes his father Paul Warren’s place in the pantheon.

This is a wonderful album that I have listened to continuously for about two weeks now. I am not sure when I will take it out of my player – perhaps never.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Linda Davis and the Whites – ‘Do You Know My Jesus’

The songs starts almost three minutes in.

In Memoriam: Dave Rowland (1944-2018)

Dave Rowland, the lead singer of the group Dave & Sugar, passed away this week, aged 74, from complications following a stroke. Dave & Sugar are best known for a string of 16 singles that charted between 1975-1981. Here are some highlights:

“Queen of the Silver Dollar” (#25, 1975), their debut single:

“The Door Is Always Open” (#1, 1976), their second single and first chart-topper. (FYI: Jamey Johnson most recently recorded it on That Lonesome Song in 2008):

Dave released a solo album aptly titled Sugar Free, in 1982. Here’s a track from that album, “It’s Hard to Just Stop Lovin'”:

In Memoriam: Freddie Hart (1926-2018)

You may have heard that Freddie Hart passed away Oct. 21, aged 91. I wanted to link to Paul W. Dennis’ Country Heritage piece on him, which provides background about his career. Here are some highlights:

Easy Lovin’ (#1, 1971), his first chart-topper and signature song:

My Hang-Up Is You (#1, 1972):

Super Kind of Woman (#1, 1973):

Week ending 11/3/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: City Lights — Ray Price (Columbia)

1968: Next In Line — Conway Twitty (Decca)

1978: Sleeping Single In A Double Bed — Barbara Mandrell (ABC)

1988: Darlene — T. Graham Brown (Capitol)

1998: Honey, I’m Home — Shania Twain (Mercury)

2008: She Never Cried In Front of Me — Toby Keith (Show Dog Nashville)

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

2018 (Airplay): She Got The Best of Me — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

Classic Rewind: Keith Whitley – ‘When You Say Nothing At All’