My Kind of Country

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

Monthly Archives: October 2010

Breaking News: Randy Travis and Lib Hatcher call it quits

According to reports in The Washington Post and The Boot, Randy Travis and Lib Hatcher, his wife of 19 years, are divorcing. The Boot broke the story late on Friday and apparently it has flown under the radar all weekend.

Classic Rewind: Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, June Valli, & Cowboy Copas – ‘Reuben, Reuben’

Week ending 10/30/10: #1 singles this week in country music history

1950: I’m Movin’ On — Hank Snow (RCA)

1960: Alabam — Cowboy Copas (Starday)

1970: Run, Woman, Run — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1980: I Believe In You — Don Williams (MCA)

1990: Friends In Low Places — Garth Brooks (Capitol)

2000: The Little Girl — John Michael Montgomery (Atlantic)

2010: Roll With It — Easton Corbin (Mercury)

Classic Rewind: Trisha Yearwood pays tribute to Reba – ‘You Lie’

Classic Rewind: Hank Thompson – ‘Whoa Sailor!’

Album Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love’

Following 2001’s Inside Out, Trisha Yearwood took a four-year break from recording, before reuniting with longtime producer Garth Fundis for 2005’s somewhat lackluster Jasper County. Two singles were released from that collection; both failed to crack the Top 10, though the album did sell enough copies to earn gold certification. Shortly thereafter Yearwood signed with the newly-formed Big Machine Records, ending a sixteen-year stint with MCA Nashville. When an artist leaves the label where he or she scored his or her greatest achievements, it can mark the beginning of a period of renewed vigor or the beginning of declining commercial fortunes. In Trisha’s case, both are true; 2007’s Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love is the finest album of her career, but unfortunately, it is also her least commercially successful.

The album opens with the title track and lead single, an uptempo rockabilly number with a dash of blues and gospel, reminiscent of the type of song The Judds had become known for two decades earlier. It seemed like the perfect vehicle to reestablish Yearwood at country radio, and with the heavy promotion expected for a debut single on a new label, it seemed assured to become a smash hit, but surprisingly it stalled at #19.
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Classic Rewind: Ray Price – ‘I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today’

Single Review: Blake Shelton – ‘Who Are You When I’m Not Looking?’

Blake Shelton’s latest single (the second from his second Sixpak EP, All About Tonight), is a revival of a song which might so easily have become a hit for one of his rivals. Joe Nichols recorded it a few years a go on his under-rated Real Things set (whose promotion was affected by his treatment for addiction issues), but never released it as a single. Written by Earl Bud Lee with John Wayne Wiggins (briefly a recording artist himself with sister Audrey), this is a sweet love song to a lover the protagonist is not yet completely familiar with, he speculates sweetly how she behaves unobserved. Does she let herself go in relaxation or anger?

There is a sweet fascination with the other which epitomises the early stages of a relationship, where infatuation is just beginning to develop into wanting to know the whole person. In this case she seems to be rather a restrained person in public, and even reserved with her new boyfriend. In the song’s most memorable image, he notes she is someone who will

Hold yourself together like a pair of bookends

She clearly keeps something back from him, and his tenderly expressed desire to know more about her is a promising sign for the longevity of their possible future together.

I think this version is better than Joe Nichols’ original, which was pleasant enough but lacked impact vocally. Here, Blake’s soothingly sultry, seductive vocals on this track bring out the message of the song, with a grainy quality coming out in his voice just once or twice. The lovely scaled-back production gives the languid ballad a very laid back feel which makes it stand out amongst the overwhelmingly up-tempo repertoire of country radio, and a far cry from the power ballads which take the few ballad slots apparently available. I suspect it is only Blake’s current hot hitmaking status that has enabled such a lovely low-key number to be promoted to radio with a genuine chance of becoming a hit.

The newest member of the Opry, Blake is coming off two straight #1 hits, both radio-friendly up-tempo numbers with fairly limited long term appeal. I hope this much quieter, more subtle song can do as well, as it shows a deeper side to him, just as his fiancée Miranda Lambert, famed for her assertive rockers, reached new heights with her summer smash ‘The House That Built Me’. I suspect that his song may possibly hold more appeal for female listeners than his last couple of hits, aimed at a rowdier audience.

Blake is also currently enjoying his first CMA nomination as Male Vocalist of the Year; it was something of a surprise inclusion, and he may be an outside bet for the win next month, but if he continues to produce material in this vein and of this quality, he would be an even more convincing contender for the next round of awards shows, when this song would be considered as part of Blake’s output in the nomination period. I don’t think it is a truly great song, but it is a good one, and the vocal performance is one of Blake’s finest to date.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Becky Hobbs – ‘Talk Back Trembling Lips’

Classic Rewind: Sylvia – ‘Nobody’

Single Review: Gwyneth Paltrow – ‘Country Strong’

“Country Strong” is a very conventionally-produced power anthem, with fluffy lyrics performed by a beautiful blonde singer. In other words, it has all the trappings of a potential smash hit. Having grown weary of the steady onslaught of outside-the-genre celebrities trying to crack the country music market in recent years, I was initially more than a bit skeptical upon learning that Gwyneth Paltrow was releasing a single to country radio. Therefore, I was a pleasantly surprised after listening to the song to discover that Paltrow proves herself to be a competent, if non-distinctive, vocalist, though admittedly the excellent harmony vocals provided by Vince Gill and Patty Griffin help to camouflage Paltrow’s vocal shortcomings. I may revise my opinion of Gwyneth’s singing depending on how her live performance on the upcoming CMA Awards show goes, but in the studio, at least, she is definitely up to the task.

Written by Jennifer Hanson, Tony Martin and Mark Nesler, and produced by Byron Gallimore, “Country Strong” is the title track of a new soundtrack album being released by RCA this week, to promote the upcoming motion picture of the same title. In the film, Paltrow portrays a fallen country star, struggling to recover from alcoholism and rebuild her career. Tim McGraw co-stars as her manager and husband.

There is nothing particularly memorable or interesting about this record, and in fact, a strong case can be made that the last thing country radio needs right now is another generic, relentlessly positive female empowerment anthem. However, since the track’s purpose is solely to act as a promotional tool for a movie, and since Gwyneth Paltrow is not normally known as a singer, I’m prepared to cut her and the record a little slack. And since, presumably, Paltrow’s character triumphs over her adversities by the end of the film, the positive message is entirely appropriate.

A music video of “Country Strong” can be viewed on YouTube. The single can be downloaded from iTunes and Amazon. The soundtrack album, which also contains contributions from Chris Young and Patty Loveless, Ronnie Dunn, Sara Evans, Trace Adkins, Lee Ann Womack, and others is also available from Amazon.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Trisha Yearwood – ‘How Do I Live’

Album Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Inside Out’

In 2001, Trisha took another break from working with Garth Fundis, choosing to co-produce Inside Out with Mark Wright. It is one of her most pop sounding productions, with heavy use of string sections and a punchy sound, but the material is strong and Trisha’s vocals cannot be criticized. On the whole I think it is a vast improvement over Real Live Woman, my least favorite of Trisha’s albums. Lyrically the tone of the record leans towards survival in the face of adversity, and refusal to regret past choices.

After the disappointing chart performance of the singles from Real Live Woman, it must have been a relief when the debut single from the new project stormed to the top 5. That was ‘I Would’ve Loved You Anyway’, a strongly sung ballad where Trisha defiantly declares in the painful aftermath of a failed relationship that yes, she would do it all again if she had the choice. The production is a bit heavier than necessary, but Trisha’s interpretation is effective at subtly conveying the emotion.

The title track stalled outside the top 30. It is one of Trisha’s more pop-leaning records, a love song written by the unusual combination of rocker Bryan Adams and Gretchen Peters, with jerky rhythms and features a guest vocal from Don Henley. It is a far cry from the magic of Trisha’s previous collaboration with Henley, the classic ‘Walkaway Joe’.

The third and last single was one of my favourite tracks, but sadly did not perform as well on radio as it deserved to do. The intense ‘I Don’t Paint Myself Into Corners’, written by the talented Rebecca Lynn Howard with Trey Bruce, is an excellent big ballad with a metaphorical lyric about discovering self-sufficiency and survival, with an intense vocal from Trisha with Vince Gill supporting on harmony:

I never knew just how far a soul could fall
Like a rock, couldn’t stop, didn’t try
I locked myself behind shades of misery, yeah,
But when I let you go I set myself free

And I don’t paint myself into corners anymore
In a brittle heart of clay
I threw my brushes away
The tools of the trade that chained your memory to me are out the door
I don’t paint myself into corners anymore

Howard had recorded this song herself on her debut album the previous year, and Trisha picked up another great song from that record, the weeper ‘Melancholy Blue’, written by Tom Douglas and the legendary Harlan Howard. This portrays woman who has lost her lover and is lost herself as a result. She wanders around the country trying to find a path for herself, and we learn in the hushed last verse:

Now and then I go back to Biloxi
Whenever I feel brave
Visit that little country church down there
Lay some flowers on your grave
You sure got a hold on me
I don’t know what to do
I ain’t got no future
I can’t see my future without you

This is the highlight of the album, with Trisha’s delicately understated vocal supported by a tasteful string arrangement, and both these tracks stand amongst Trisha’s finest moments.

I also very much like Jude Johnstone’s wistful piano-led ‘When We Were Still In Love’ about lost hopes, which closes the album on an emotional low but a musical high. Another very fine track, but one with the opposite message, is the optimistic ‘Second Chance’, written by Irene Kelley, Clay Mills and Tony Ramey. Trisha’s vocal is superb on a song which tempts the listener to think it might have been addressed to Garth Brooks, with whom she was just embarking on a relationship following their respective divorces:

Here is your second chance
Take it and fly

Another highlight is a faithful cover of Rosanne Cash’s sophisticated and melodic ‘Seven Year Ache’ (a #1 from 1981), with Rosanne herself on harmony and the odd solo line.

‘Harmless Heart’ is another fine AC sounding ballad, written by Kim Patton Johnston and Liz Rose with a fine and subtle vocal perfectly interpreting the lyric, and tasteful strings. Trisha’s character has been rebuffed in love by a man afraid of commitment, and is hurt but not vindictive, as she gently tells him:

I meant every word I said
But what’s the use?
You believe whatever you want to…

You set me up to fail the test
And prove that you were right
“Everyone lets you down”

Matraca Berg and Ronnie Samoset’s ‘For A While’ is a mid-tempo number about the process of gradually getting over someone, which is uncompromisingly turn-of-the-millennium contemporary both in its lyrical details and in its musical setting; not really to my personal taste but very professionally done.

There are some tracks where the heavy production is too much, particularly the very pop/rock opening track ‘Love Alone’ (although it has an interesting lyric about self-reliance and the expected strong vocal) and the echoey ‘Love Me Or Leave Me Alone’. Hugh Prestwood’s lonesome bluesy wailing ‘Love Let Go’ gets a heavy production which totally overwhelms Prestwood’s typically poetic lyrics; I think I would have liked this if it had a more stripped down or acoustic treatment but as it is it stands as one of my least liked of Trisha’s recordings.

The album hit #1 on the country album charts, and has been certified gold. However, after the failure of the last single, Trisha took a break from making music for the next few years and concentrated on her personal life.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Linda Ronstadt – ‘That’ll Be The Day’

Week ending 10/23/10: #1 singles this week in country music history

1950: I’m Movin’ On — Hank Snow (RCA)

1960: Alabam — Cowboy Copas (Starday)

1970: Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1980: I Believe In You — Don Williams (MCA)

1990: Friends In Low Places — Garth Brooks (Capitol)

2000: Kiss This — Aaron Tippin (Lyric Street)

2010: All Over Me — Josh Turner (MCA)

Classic Rewind: Johnny Rodriguez – ‘Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)’

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘I See The Want To In Your Eyes’

Album Review: Joey + Rory – ‘Album #2’

Joey + Rory’s long-awaited sophomore effort was released last month. The appropriately-titled Album #2 finds the duo joining forces once again with producer Carl Jackson, and using the same primarily acoustic-based formula that worked so well for them on their 2008 debut album The Life Of A Song, which we reviewed last month as part of our coverage of the new New Traditionalists.

The most noteworthy change from The Life Of A Song, is that Rory, who wrote ten of the album’s twelve tracks, is featured more prominently here, occasionally chiming in to share lead vocals with Joey, and taking the lead completely on “My Ol’ Man”, a moving tribute presumably written about Rory’s own father. Rory is not a particularly gifted vocalist, but the well-written material and understated production more than compensate for his vocal shortcomings.

The album opens with the title track, a witty number about the pressures a fledgling country music act faces as it tries to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump:

This last year’s been a whirlwind, but we’re doing well we’re told,
Been up and down the highway, and on the radio
Sold a lot of our first record, we even had a hit
Now the big wigs back in Nashville say we better kick it up a bit
The critics all are waiting, to see what we will do
For much anticipated album number two.

Some say to go more country, some say we should turn pop
They’ve all got their opinions, on how to take us to the top
Our new image consultant, says we need a fresh hairdo,
As if that’s gonna make or break album number two …

In a similar vein, “Baby I’ll Come Back To You” offers a clever when-hell-freezes-over theme and manages to name-check a number of country stars in a manner that would have made The Statler Brothers proud:

Now I’m not saying there’s no chance at all
But it don’t take no crystal ball
To see the chance is mighty slim, Chris Gaines or me are coming back again
When Willie gives the weed up, and cuts off all his hair,
When George Jones finally says he need’s his rockin’ chair,
When Dolly gets a breast reduction down a size or two,
Then maybe, just maybe, maybe I’ll come back to you

And later they indulge in a little self-deprecating humor with:

When we sell a million copies of album number two,
Huh? We’ve sold how many?
I said maybe, just maybe, maybe I’ll come back to you.

Like its predecessor, Album #2 is a rather quiet affair, managing to avoid the traps of over-production and engaging in the loudness war, which plague so many contemporary country albums. The stripped-down, mostly acoustic arrangements and Joey’s understated vocal performance work exceedingly well on tracks such as “Born To Be Your Woman”, “The Horse Nobody Could Ride”, “Farm To Fame”, and “Where Jesus Is.” It doesn’t work quite as well on “God Help My Man”, which cries out for a feistier performance. I would have loved to have heard what Loretta Lynn would have done with this song back in her heyday.

“You Ain’t Right”, which is one of only two songs in the collection contributed solely by outside songwriters, is a decent song that suffers in comparison to Randy Travis’ superior version. The album’s biggest misstep, however, is the closing track, “This Song’s For You”, on which the duo collaborates with the Zac Brown Band. It is the only track on the album not produced by Carl Jackson. Instead, Keith Stegall is in the control booth. Often criticized for supposedly pandering to fans, “This Song’s For You” is not unpleasant to listen to and might actually work well live on the concert stage, but it seems out of place with the rest of the album. Because of the difference in style and its placement as the last track, it almost seems like a bonus track. However, it was released as the album’s lead single, in an apparent hope that the Zac Brown Band’s current popularity would result in some radio airplay. The strategy was not successful, however, as the single failed to enter the charts.

The second single, the more typical “That’s Important To Me” was sent to radio this month. At this time, it has yet to appear on the charts. None of Joey + Rory’s singles, aside from their debut “Cheater, Cheater” have charted. I suspect that this will be continue to be the case with any future singles released from this album, as they are not in the vein in which country radio is currently interested. However, the album managed to reach #9 on Billboard’s sales-based Top Country Albums chart, which suggests that Joey + Rory may have managed to find a niche of devoted fans that will buy their records, even if they don’t produce any radio hits.

Overall, I like Album #2 better than the first album. It is widely available and is currently available for download at Amazon for the bargain price of $5.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Jean Shepard – ‘Seven Lonely Days’

Classic Rewind: Trisha Yearwood – ‘You Don’t Have To Move That Mountain’