Remember Skip Ewing? He was briefly a star in his own right, scoring four top 10 country hits in 1988-1989. When his singing career fizzled out in the 1990s, he turned to life as a professional songwriter, and this proved to be a great career decision. Skip has had several hundred cuts by other artists, many of them big hits. He hasn’t recorded for over a decade, apart from playing Reba McEntire’s duet partner on the radio version of ‘Every Other Weekend’ (one of his own compositions), and a rather odd-sounding album for children.
He has now released this album, apparently the first of three along similar lines. It is not a conventional Greatest Hits album, rather it contains a mixture of re-recordings of his early hits and his own versions of songs made famous by others. Skip is not one of the outstanding vocalists, but his voice has an urgency and commitment which is very effective, and a very listenable tone. Musically, he was never a hardcore traditional artist, but his style is what I would categorize the acceptable face (or sound) of pop-country, with production which is never too heavy.
The retreads of his own hits both come from Skip’s excellent debut album, The Coast Of Colorado, released in 1988 on MCA. This is no longer commercially available, but it may be possible to find used copies. (Notable tracks include the first versions of some of Skip’s best songs – the desperately sad ‘Autumn’s Not That Cold’, subsequently recorded to great effect by Lorrie Morgan, and the more measured regret of ‘A Lighter Shade Of Blue’, which has been covered by both Reba McEntire and Shelby Lynne). The urgent, pop-leaning ‘Your Memory Wins Again’ was Skip’s debut single, which reached #17; this is probably the track I enjoyed least on the original record, and is only okay here. Infinitely better is the excellent story song, ‘The Gospel according To Luke’, which squeezed into the top 10 in 1989. This track is preceded by a spoken introduction explaining the inspiration behind the song.
I have always been interested in hearing songwriters tackling their own material, since even if they are not as good technical singers as the artist who brought the song to a wider audience, they can sometimes bring a unique personal connection to the song. Excellent examples here are Skip’s treatment of two songs which provided Bryan White with enormous hits in the 90s, ‘Someone Else’s Star’ and ‘I’m Not Supposed To Love You Anymore’. The hit versions were a little too melodramatic for me, but Skip brings an intimate reading which makes them sound like new (and great) songs. I was surprised to find these ended up being my favorite tracks on this release (with ‘The Gospel According To Luke’), closely followed by ‘Love, Me’. Skip can’t challenge Collin Raye’s vocal on the latter song, but his version is nonetheless immensely engaging. This is an instance where the song’s original inspiration by Skip’s own family means his recording has a real emotional authenticity.
Skip fares less well when his vocals are compared to those of Randy Travis on two midtempo numbers recorded by the latter on his 1998 release You And You Alone, namely ‘The Hole’ (one of Randy’s last top 10 hits) and the jaunty ‘Stranger In My Mirror’ (which only made it to #16 but deserved a much better chart performance). Skip’s versions are pleasant enough, but not memorable. I did enjoy his charming low-key version of the story song ‘Little Houses’, a top 10 hit for Doug Stone in 1995.
There is one new song, the rather boring ‘I’m In’, and Skip covers a favorite song in ‘The Way I Am’ (a hit for Merle Haggard but written by songwriting great Sonny Throckmorton), which is not bad but feels rather pointless. The album closes with a classical guitar instrumental, which I could have done without. On the whole, though, this is an interesting and worthwhile release which I enjoyed.
Read a fascinating interview with Skip here.
Buy the CD and hear brief clips here or direct from Skip’s website.