My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Too Cold At Home’

Following a 1988 independent release that garnered little attention, Mark Chesnutt signed with MCA Records the following year and made his major label debut in 1990. Producer Mark Wright took a play-it-safe approach, putting together a track listing of original and cover songs that were solidly within the neotraditionalist movement, which was still the dominant influence in mainstream country music at the time.

The title track had been released as Mark’s debut single two months prior to the album’s appearance at retail. “Too Cold At Home”, written by Bobby Harden, had been turned down by another Beaumont, Texas native, George Jones, who nevertheless gave Mark his stamp of approval in the album’s liner notes. Set to a simple, traditional country melody, it is an instant classic that tells the tale of an unhappily married man who is passing time in a bar because it was “too hot to fish, too hot for golf, and too cold at home.” The record quickly climbed the charts, peaking at #3 and established Mark Chesnutt as a major new star. MCA quickly followed up this success with the release of “Brother Jukebox”, a song that was already familiar to Keith Whitley fans, having appeared on an album released shortly after Whitley’s untimely death the prior year. Chesnutt was not and is not as expressive a vocalist as Whitley, but Mark’s version of “Brother Jukebox” became his first chart-topper. It remained in the #1 position on the Billboard country singles chart for two weeks in February 1991.

Three more singles were released from the collection, all of which reached the Top 10: the western-swing flavored “Blame It On Texas”, which peaked at #5, “Your Love Is A Miracle” (the weakest song on the album) which reached #3, and “Broken Promise Land”, a Waylon Jennings cover that climbed to #10 but deserved to chart much higher.

MCA had reportedly planned to release “Friends In Low Places” as a single, but rival label Capitol beat them to the punch with the release of Garth Brooks’ version in July 1990. It may have been a missed opportunity for Mark and MCA, but it was just as well, since Chesnutt’s version lacks the passion and intensity of Brooks’ definitive recording. Had Chesnutt’s version come out first, it’s unlikely that the song would be remembered as a classic today.

Twenty years after its release, two things strike me as I listen to this album: (1) its brevity; it clocks in at just over 30 minutes and (2) how much better the labels were at picking singles in those days. Though I personally would not have chosen “Your Love Is A Miracle” as a single, there isn’t much to argue about regarding the label’s other choices: the remaining singles were the strongest songs on the album — unlike today when the opposite is often true — and there aren’t any standouts among the album cuts that should have been released to radio.

Though Chesnutt doesn’t show a great deal of stylistic diversity on this album, it’s a solid debut nonetheless, with only two weak songs — “Your Love Is A Miracle” and “Too Good A Memory” among the set. Fans apparently agreed; the album reached #12 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, and earned platinum certification for sales exceeding a million units. The title track remains the song for which Chesnutt is best known.

Too Cold At Home is still in print and available on CD and digitally from Amazon and iTunes.

Grade: B+

10 responses to “Album Review: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Too Cold At Home’

  1. J.R. Journey June 8, 2010 at 11:41 am

    It’s telling that an album that only went as high as #12 on the charts could sell platinum in the early ’90s.

    I knew Chesnutt recorded ‘Friends In Low Places’, but I didn’t know it was slated as a single. I definitely agree that Garth’s version is much, much stronger. This is a really great album in itself though, and one of the 3 Chesnutt albums I still play regularly. Like you said, the singles are classics, and the rest of the album is nearly as good.

    • Occasional Hope June 8, 2010 at 12:55 pm

      In some ways I actually prefer the more low key aspects of Chesnutt’s version of Friends In Low Places. Broken Promise Land is my favourite track.

    • kevin w June 8, 2010 at 11:57 pm

      “It’s telling that an album that only went as high as #12 on the charts could sell platinum in the early ’90s”

      I think soundscan had yet to be used.

  2. Leeann Ward June 8, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    “Broken Promise Land” is my favorite too.

    Chesnutt’s version of “Friends in Low Places” is just languid/uninspired.

  3. Michael June 8, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    I generally prefer female artists to male, but Mark is one whose albums I consistently collected in the 90s. I’ve held onto his first three and agree that “Broken Promise Land” is the strongest track from this one. I guess I don’t mind “Your Love Is a Miracle” as much as you though, Razor. It’s not really great, but it’s not awful either. It’s just kind of there… which may actually be the worst offense possible for a song. That’s how I feel about much of what’s played on country radio today. I don’t love it but I don’t care enough about it to hate it. It’s only because playlists are so small and I have to hear the same few songs over and over again that I start to actively dislike songs.

    • Razor X June 8, 2010 at 8:06 pm

      I don’t intensely dislike “Your Love Is A Miracle”; I just think it’s weaker than the other songs on the album.

      • Michael June 9, 2010 at 1:27 am

        Sorry, Razor. I shouldn’t have put words in your mouth. I read the review and interpreted it one way in my mind, but should have referred back to the original writing before commenting. Looking forward to the next review. Longnecks and Short Stories contains my all time favorite Chesnutt song (“I’ll Think of Something”).

        • J.R. Journey June 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm

          ‘I’ll Think Of Something’ and ‘Old Country’ are my 2 favorites from Chesnutt. Hard to pick between them.

  4. Leeann Ward June 9, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    I just realized that Chesnutt and Brooks also both recorded “It Pays Big Money.”

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