My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘Honky Tonk Attitude’

April 1993 saw the release of Joe Diffie’s third studio album on the Epic label. Honky Tonk Attitude would continue Joe’s ascent to country stardom as it produced 4 hit singles, the first 3 of them hitting the top 5.  Likewise, the album itself was Joe’s first to place inside the top 10 on the country albums chart, and would also be his first to earn platinum certification.  As Honky Tonk Attitude continued the success Diffie had earned with his prior albums, it found the singer shifting gears a bit, away from the ballad-heavy albums that came before it. Still, Joe ably wraps his warm and flexible baritone around a couple of decidedly traditional country numbers and a handful of up-tempo ditties ranging from clever to silly.

The lead single and title track to the album is one of several Joe Diffie singles that sort of gel together into one giant ball of loud in my head.  Other artists are guilty of this sort of overindulgence into up-tempo with wailing guitars and tongue-between-teeth lyrics.  Brooks & Dunn’s massive success with ‘Boot Scootin’ Boogie’ certainly helped fuel this wildfire of line dance-inspired country hits.  This tune about getting on your ‘Friday night, get right honky tonk attitude‘ peaked at #5 just about the time of the album’s release.

Proving that when given a better lyric, he could inject just the right amount of humor when the song calls for it, Joe’s performance on the clever ‘Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox (If I Die)’ finds the singer showing maybe why he recorded so many songs of this nature: he’s actually really good at them. This time he fared just a bit better with country radio, and rose to #3 with this single.  Still not breaking out of the novelty mode already set by this album, the next single tells the story of Billy Bob (repeatedly) painting his and Charlene’s name on the water tower to profess his love.  And to prove his devotion – and also make sure everybody could see it – he uses the bright green color of John Deere tractors.  It’s a rather endearing story song, and writer Dennis Linde draws on very specific images to give a very clear picture in your head as the song plays.  ‘John Deere Green’ would be the third top 5 single from Honky Tonk Attitude.

Finally, the fourth single, shifted gears and returned Joe to crooning a nostalgic country ballad.  One of 3 Diffie co-writes, ‘In My Own Backyard’ was written with Kerry Kurt Phillips and Andy Spooner.  A simple arrangement, with a crying fiddle featured prominently, it was perhaps too subdued for country radio, especially coming from a guy known for cranking it up.  It stalled just inside the top 20 at #19.  In the somewhat reused theme, the narrator is remembering the life he used to have with his wife and kids as he surveys the property:

Lord, I’d love to run back home
But there’s no one there for me
And that grass I used to hate to mow, sure is looking green

Joe also co-wrote ‘I’m Not Through Losing You’, this time with Chris Waters and Lonnie Wilson.  I’ve always thought the modern country arrangement and wistful melody set to the tale of a man’s holding on to a love long gone would have made for a great single release.  It brings to mind later hits by Diffie such as ‘A Night To Remember’ and would have certainly made an impression on the country charts, and could have served to break up the monotony of back-to-back novelty releases.  Though it may not have had the hit potential of ‘Losing You’, the elegant and mournful ‘If I Had Any Pride Left At All’ is perhaps the album’s best example of Joe’s vocal abilities.  In it, the man isn’t just thinking about his ex-wife, he’s still wearing the ring, calling her up when he needs a friend, going to visit her, and generally staying in her company any way he can think of, no matter the cost to his pride.

As a whole, this is an album that has several bright spots.  The singles may paint a different picture, but digging into the album cuts will turn up some great country songs. The problem with much of Diffie’s singles catalog is that the up-tempo songs just don’t stand the test of time, and ultimately overshadowed everything else. Honky Tonk Attitude lives up to its title in that it finds Joe Diffie firmly setting his sights on getting his music played in honky tonks and bar rooms where so many people were two-stepping in the early ’90s.  And he certainly succeeded in that regard.  The pay-off was that Joe Diffie became forever labeled the singer of silly country.  Listening to the entirety of Honky Tonk Attitude will prove that silly, crank-it-up country was his principle export, but there are other sides to Joe Diffie as well.

Grade: C+

Honky Tonk Attitude is available new and used (very cheap) and also digitally at amazon.

7 responses to “Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘Honky Tonk Attitude’

  1. Leeann August 10, 2010 at 9:46 am

    I’d personally give this album a higher grade. I like all the single releases though. “John Deere” Green” was the song that was going up the charts when I got into country music. Of the single releases, “In My Own Backyard” is a gem.

  2. Tom August 10, 2010 at 10:22 am

    …this is such a great “lesser album”. like leeann i love “in my own backyard”, i smile at “…the fool shoud have used red…”, i get tricked by the beginning of “prop me up…” and i like that “honky tonk attitude” really sounds like something out of a honky tonk. the variety of the songs and tempi are the ideal showcase for joe diffie’s great vocals. all in all, a case where the overall result is bigger than the sum of its parts.

  3. Ken Johnson August 10, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Unfortunately this album of primarily shallow, superficial material was created to appeal to the primarily shallow superficial boot scootin’ quasi-country music fans who filled the floors of country dance clubs in the early 1990’s. Making things even worse in this era were the horrible, monotonous extended dance mix versions of songs created to make them sound even less country than they already were.

    It’s unfortunate that a performer with Joe Diffie’s talent was forced to devalue himself this way. His record label steered him in this direction for their short term financial gain rather than looking at Joe’s long term career. No question that after selling out for this release most true country fans no longer took him seriously and regarded him as little more than a novelty act.

    A truly nice guy. Joe deserved much better.

  4. Pingback: American Idol Alumnus Casey James Goes Country; Tiny Texas Town Abuzz Over Racist “Song of the South.” | American Twang

  5. Per Kammersgaard August 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Amen to what Ken said..!

  6. Leeann Ward August 13, 2010 at 6:01 am

    I like this album better than Ken does.

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