Daryle Singletary is a man with a genuinely great voice, who might have been one of the best of the neotraditional country singers of the 1990s in terms of sheer vocal ability. Sadly, his chart career was based on fairly mediocre material, and he only had three top 5 hits. I only really got interested in him when he released the excellent Ain’t It The Truth in 1998, which was not a commercial success and proved to be his last on a major label.
This decade, he has released two albums mainly consisting of high-quality covers, but now he is back with an album of original material on E1 Music (the independent label formerly known as Koch).
I was concerned about the likely quality of the material and direction of the album when I heard the title, but I need not have been concerned. The album, produced by Greg Cole, who was responsible for Daryle’s covers sets, with label executive Chuck Rhodes, is pretty solid country throughout, and complements Daryle’s rich, textured voice well. Although the songs are not all instant classics, they are almost all good, with a couple of real highlights.
The title track is indeed as rocking as Daryle gets, which is to say uptempo country with a very faint southern rock flavor, the latter mainly courtesy of Charlie Daniels’ sizzling fiddle solo and occasional vocal interjections. The song itself is a fun number written by Paul Overstreet and Sonny Tillis about a farmer who forestalls foreclosure on his land by giving up the actual farm (selling the cows to a neighbor and building a stage in place of the barn), and putting on weekly country music shows there instead. It pays off for our hero big time – “they say the old coot’s got a million stashed”.
The most unusual track, and one which seems to be made for a video, is ‘She Sure Looks Good In Black’, written by Dale Dodson and Billy Lawson. This opens with an old country preacher (played by Christian music artist and Nashville session musician Gordon Mote) speaking at what turns out to be the funeral of the narrator, and telling us that the lady in the front row broke up with the deceased just a few weeks earlier; then we get a couple of lines from ‘Amazing Grace’ sung acapella in the voice of an elderly choir member (performed by Glen Duncan), before Daryle starts singing in the persona of the corpse. This may be my favorite track, as Daryle’s classic country voice tells us to a suitably mournful tune (with Rhonda Vincent on harmonies),
“My mama hates her, my daddy blames her,
My sister swears it’s all an act
But if she had wore [sic] red
She could have raised the dead
But my Lord, that woman sure looks good in black”
Billy Lawson must be Daryle’s favorite songwriter at the moment, as he co-wrote no less than five of the twelve tracks (oddly all sequenced togther as tracks 7-11). One of the best is ‘Real Estate Hands’ (this one written with Terry Skinner). This song sounds just like something George Jones would have recorded in his heyday, and although Daryle isn’t quite a George Jones, he does a very good job on a real tearjerker of a hardcore country song, again backed up by some very prominent harmonies from Rhonda Vincent. The protagonist returns to the marital home, now empty and up for sale:
“How can you put a price on someone’s piece of life, I’d like to know?
Somethin’ so precious can’t be bought or sold
Like that corner of the bedroom where we made love and plans
There’s a thousand memories that are now in real estate hands”
Lawson’s co-writer Billy Yates recorded ‘If I Ever Get Her Back’ on his 2001 album If I Could Go Back, and it is a pretty good song about regrets for a lost relationship and resolving to do better if given another chance:
“I’m gonna straighten up my act if I ever get her back
I’m gonna break these old habits just like I broke her heart”.
Lawson is also responsible (with Ed Hill) for my least favorite moment on the album, the silly, cliched ode to southern women, ‘They Know How To Grow ‘Em’. I have heard worse songs on the theme, and if one does not listen too closely to the lyrics it offers a good uptempo change of pace, with Daryle sounding a little like John Anderson. Daryle co-wrote one song with Lawson, ‘She’s A Woman’, an affectionate tribute (I assume) to Daryle’s wife Holly. The song is sweet if a little predictable, as he looks at a woman’s vagaries, apparently so puzzling to a man, but Daryle’s vocal delivery is so sincere it sells the song.
The lead single, ‘Love You With The Lights On’ is a romantic ballad, pleasant but unremarkable lyrically, but sung with a tender warmth. Very much in the same vein, but a song I am warming to more the more I hear it, is ‘Background Noise’, a lovely-sounding song about love silencing the tumult of everyday life in the city:
“747 takin’ wing so low and loud that I can’t hear myself think
Sirens blastin’, fire engine roar,
It’s like that until I walk through the door.”
The sweet (possibly over-sweet for some) story song ‘That’s Why God Made Me’, written by Harley Allen and Jimmy Melton, was recorded last year by newcomer Shannon Walker, but Daryle’s vocal gives the song some added grit which helps to dispel some of the sentimentality. The song tells the story of childhood friends :
“Their parents called it puppy love, but puppies know the deal
Jamie and Jen knew it was real.”
The story plays out a little predictably (if perfectly for country radio)with Jen getting pregnant in high school (by another boy), and Jamie stepping in to marry her. An unnecessary children’s choir appears on the final chorus, addressed to the child, but is fortunately low in the mix (there are only four of them).
I rather like the gospelly feel of ‘Going Through Hell (With You Again)’, surprisingly written by Jimmy Wayne with Don Poythress and Wynn Varble. This offers an unusual reason for seeking God, as the protagonist rejects his ex in the next world as well as the present one:
“Think I’m gonna fall down on my knees now
I’m gonna beg the Lord to forgive me of my sins
‘Cause one of these days, girl, we’re all gonna leave this world
And I can’t stand the thought of going through Hell with you again.”
Mixed in with the newer songs are two well-known covers, but they are less successful than the covers Daryle has recorded previously. He does a good job on Vern Gosdin’s ‘How Can I Believe You (When You’ll Be Leaving Me)’, supported by more strong harmonies from Rhonda Vincent, but this version pales in comparison to the heartbreaking original. The album closes with John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’, on which Daryle does not sound quite connected to the song.