It’s easy to get discouraged by the state of today’s country radio and the majority of major-label releases. But there are still artists out there making real country music, even if most of them are on independent labels and can be hard to track down sometimes. One singer I’ve been interested in for a while is Shane Worley, a Tennesseean with a rich baritone voice with strong echoes of Merle Haggard in his vocal stylings. He has in fact recorded a tribute album to Merle, Feeling Haggard, as well as a handful of albums of good original material over the past ten years or so.
Shane is exactly the kind of singer who would be regarded as too country for today’s country radio, but he has found a sympathetic home on the indie Country Discovery records, with label head and producer Mike Headrick responsible for all his recorded output. The production is solidly country, with the producer himself (a former Music Row session musician) playing steel, dobro, harmonica and bass, and providing several songs, starting with the opening track, ‘Two Beers Ago’, which he wrote with Ruthie Steele and D Hagan, with the late Vern Gosdin in mind. Shane isn’t quite Vern Gosdin, but he is a very good singer in his own right, and he dedicates his performance of this song, and the album as a whole, to Vern, who was one of his main influences. The song is an ironic yet agonized look at a man who gets a birthday call from his ex, takes to the bottle and finds it doesn’t help at all:
“I’ve been through hell
But I stopped missing you
Two beers ago.”
Also very good is Headrick’s ‘The Right To Be Wrong’, a classic-sounding (with the late, legendary, Don Helms guesting on steel) appeal for another chance by a man who has driven away his wife by his drinking:
“You have a right to be set free
If you can’t stay here with me
After all the pain I’ve caused you for so long
You have the right to make a stand
And to take off your wedding band…
Don’t make this one mistake
That will add to our heartache
Though it’s true you have the right to be wrong.”
Headrick’s other offerings are the enjoyable, if slightly unfocussed lyrically, ‘Sweet Revenge’, inspired by the old saying “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned”, and the cheerful love song ‘Out Of The Blue’, which has one memorable line (“I knew there had to be more to life than wishing I was dead”), but is the least distinguished cut on the album.
Shane himself is a pretty good writer, and composed four songs here, including the title track, a fabulously scathing indictment of the current country music business:
“Mister Purified Country, I’m layin’ the blame
You’ve corrupted the meaning of our music’s good name
You care more about good looks than singing good songs
And those of us who still care are looked down on as wrong
These days you don’t even have to know how to sing
They can doctor up your voice with their tricks and machines…
Mister Purified Country, who the Hell do you think you are?
Takes more than pyrotechnics and Pro-Tools to make you a star
You built an empire that’s based on big money instead of big dreams
So Mister Purified Country, don’t you call yourself country
You don’t even know what it means…
The power and the money made your songs number one
But your songs have no meaning, they mean nothing to you
Those Clear Channel playlist are all the same tune”
This is the only track featuring any vocal processing (on the word “Pro-Tools”, to underline the point).
He also wrote the excellent ‘Single Again’, which starts out sad and slow, but picks up the tempo in the chorus as the unrepentant honky tonker cheers right up once his lady has left:
“Yeah, I’m single again, thank God she’s gone
I can drink and listen to Hank and write me some feel-good songs
Her untimely leaving made me a happy man
So thank God and what’s-his-name
I’m single again
Yeah, she said, ‘I need a, quote, normal man, someone who’ll treat me right’
I said, ‘Honey, if that’s how you feel, you can go find him tonight’ “
I also loved ‘Is There any Love’, addressed to a woman who doesn’t want to work any more at salvaging a troubled relationship:
“Is there any love left for me?
Is there one remaining feeling in your heart?
Can I break the chains the past put on you,
Or climb the wall that keeps us far apart?
I’ve got to know, are we headed for the fall,
Or is there any love left at all?”
The uptempo ‘Talk Is Cheap’, the least good of Shane’s songs here, does offer a nice change of pace, as he delivers an ultimatum to a woman who’s obviously just stringing him along:
“You keep saying all you wanna do is love me
But I ain’t laid eyes on you in a week or more
All this blah blah blah and ya-de-da’s getting to me
Making me crazy and causing me to walk the floor
Talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words did
It seems lately all you wanna do is talk the talk
But you better take heed before I burn your playhouse down
Quit yapping and pay attention and learn how to walk the walk”
Another change of tone comes with the reflective and poignant ‘Soul Of A Lonely Man’, written by Jeff Masters and Randy Graham, as the protagonist resolves to turn around his life and find true love before he dies alone:
“I feel just like an unread book that’s been placed upon a shelf
I don’t want to die a lonely man without a love I never found
I just want someone to read this book before they lay me in the ground
When Jesus comes a-calling and the angels take my hand
I hope I’m never known in heaven as the soul of a lonely man …
Spent half my life with someone who never gave a damn
I can’t remember one time that she stood by my side
Nothing was ever good enough, she took away my pride
Gonna get myself together, gonna turn my life around
‘Cause I’m here to tell you, silence, that’s a mighty lonely sound”
Shane pays tribute to ‘Them Old Hank Williams Songs’ in a song written by former labelmate Lawrence Reynolds, which is another highlight:
“Lord, I love them old Hank Williams songs
Listen to that old jukebox a-playin’
But you gotta listen to what those words are sayin’
‘Cold , Cold Heart’ and ‘Nobody’s Lonesome For Me’
I think Hank knew he would never be free
From the love that brought him strife
And the sorrow that haunted his life”
The set closes with a couple of covers: a tender version of Dave Kirby’s extremely depressing dying man’s ode to a dead wife, ‘What Have You Got Planned Tonight Diana’, previously recorded by Merle Haggard; and outlaw classic ‘Lonesome On’ry And Mean’ (written by Steve Young but best-known is the version by Waylon Jennings), which enables Shane to show an unexpectedly aggressive side to his vocals.
I really like this album, and also recommend Shane’s earlier records: Heartaches And Lies, Shotgun House, Rosie’s On A Roll and What’s Goin’ On, all available from CDBaby.
You can try samples of some of the songs at the label website, and buy the record there or at CDBaby.