My Kind of Country

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

Monthly Archives: September 2011

Classic Rewind: Rosanne Cash sings her father’s hit ‘I Still Miss Someone’

Album Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘King’s Record Shop’

Released in August 1987, King’s Record Shop was one of Rosanne’s most successful albums and her last collection of all-new mainstream country material before she parted ways with Nashville and began to release less commercial music in the singer-songwriter mode. Named after a record shop in Louisville, Kentucky, owned by Gene King, the younger brother of Pee Wee King (of “Tennessee Waltz” fame), it became her second gold album — her first since 1981’s Seven Year Ache, and the first time in country music history that an album by a female artist produced four #1 hits.

Like most of her previous albums, King’s Record Shop was produced by Rodney Crowell and is an eclectic mix of country, rock, and pop, drawing upon the talents of songwriters from both inside and outside the Nashville community, as well as some of Cash’s and Crowell’s original compositions, and one from Rosanne’s famous father, the Man In Black himself. The first single, “The Way We Make A Broken Heart” had been recorded a few years ago as a duet between Rosanne and the song’s writer John Hiatt. Rosanne’s solo version is pop-country perfection; something about the arrangement and Rosanne’s performance is reminiscent of Patsy Cline. It quickly became her sixth #1 hit and remains my all-time favorite Rosanne Cash recording. The second single, a cover of Johnny Cash’s 1961 hit “Tennessee Flat Top Box”, has become one of Rosanne’s best-loved recordings. She recorded it at Crowell’s suggestion, unaware that her father had written it; she had been under the impression that it was an old song that had long been in the public domain. Today it is one of her best-remembered hits, along with “Seven Year Ache”, and is one of the most traditional offerings in her catalog.

“If You Change Your Mind”, written by Rosanne with Hank DeVito, was the album’s third single. It hasn’t aged as well  as some of the other songs on the album, primarily due to the somewhat intrusive drum machine that is present throughout the track, but it is nonetheless a very well-written and well-performed song. I recall being initially somewhat less enthusiastic about the fourth and final single, “Runaway Train”, but over the years I have come to appreciate it for the well-written masterpiece that it is. Though less rooted in country music than the other singles, its lyrics are rich with imagery, using a runaway train as a metaphor for a relationship spiraling out of control. It was written by John Stewart (not the guy from The Daily Show on Comedy Central), who had become well-known as a member of The Kingston Trio in the 60s, and as the writer of the 1967 Monkees hit “Daydream Believer”.

The success of King’s Record Shop is impressive, partly because it does not fit the neotraditionalist template that had a firm grasp on Nashville at the time. It’s a carefully assembled collection of pop, rock, and a handful of songs that were just country enough to be accepted by country radio. Columbia made wise decisions in choosing the singles — as evidenced by the fact that all four were chart-toppers — in stark contrast to today, when an album’s worst and least-interesting tracks are commonly sent to radio. The album cuts of King’s Record Shop are more experimental in nature (though “Rosie Strikes Back” had the potential to be a hit single), reflecting Rosanne’s tastes which often fell outside the realm of country music. Among the more interesting cuts are her own composition, the introspective “The Real Me” and Rodney Crowell’s “I Don’t Have To Crawl”, which had previously been recorded by Emmylou Harris. Also enjoyable is “Rosie Strikes Back” in which the narrator urges a battered woman to flee from an abusive relationship. Less interesting are “Somewhere, Sometime”, which was written by Rosanne, the rocker “Green, Yellow and Red” and Benmont Tench’s “Why Don’t You Quit Leaving Me Alone”, which closed out the original version of the album.

The album’s 2005 re-release includes three bonus tracks: “707”, which had been the B-side of “The Way We Make A Broken Heart”, and live versions of “Runaway Train” and “Green, Yellow and Red”. None of these tracks is worth buying the album over again if you already have the 10-track original version.

Prior to 1987, I’d enjoyed listening to Rosanne’s radio hits, but it was King’s Record Shop, or more specifically “The Way We Make A Broken Heart”, that finally compelled me to buy one of her albums. It remains the best album in her catalog, and I’ve always thought it was a pity that she didn’t do more music in this vein before changing direction.

Grade: A-

It is easy to find, if you don’t already have it, from vendors such as Amazon and iTunes, and worth adding to your collection.

Classic Rewind: Rosanne Cash – ‘Rules Of Travel’

Week ending 9/17/11: #1 singles this week in country music history

1951: Always Late With Your Kisses — Lefty Frizzell (Columbia)

1961: Tender Years — George Jones (Mercury)

1971: Easy Loving — Freddie Hart (Capitol)

1981: Older Women — Ronnie McDowell (Epic)

1991: Brand New Man — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2001: I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2011: Barefoot Blue Jean Night — Jake Owen (RCA)

Week ending 9/17/11: #1 albums this week in country music history

1966: Buck Owens and His Buckaroos – Carnegie Hall Concert (Capitol)

1971: Lynn Anderson – You’re My Man (Columbia)

1976: Waylon Jennings – Are You Ready For The Country? (RCA)

1981: Oak Ridge Boys – Fancy Free (MCA)

1986: Hank Williams Jr. – Montana Cafe (Warner Brothers)

1991: Garth Brooks – No Fences (Capitol)

1996: LeAnn Rimes – Blue (Curb)

2001: Toby Keith – Pull My Chain (Dreamworks)

2006: Rascal Flatts – Me and My Gang (Lyric Street)

2011: Jake Owen – Barefoot Blue Jean Night (RCA)

Album Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘Rhythm & Romance’

Following 1982’s Somewhere In The Stars, Rosanne Cash went on a hiatus from recording, partly fueled by drug addiction. A successful stint in rehab in 1984 yielded a sober Rosanne and her first album in nearly 3 years. Rhythm & Romance, which hit shelves in May 1985, returned Cash to the top of the country charts with two of its singles; two more would hit the top 5. The album itself became her second #1 on the country albums chart, and the lead single earned Cash her first Grammy Award, for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.  Rodney Crowell was joined in the production booth by David Malloy this time out.  As the title suggests, the songs relay the wax and wane of romantic relationships and the production sticks to a rhythmic, beat-driven dance-pop sound for most of the album.  Cash would write or co-write all but two tracks here.

The plucky and direct “I Don’t Know You Don’t Want Me”, which features Vince Gill prominently on harmony, finds the singer touting her amorous attitude and good looks before questioning the on again-off again nature of her relationship. Drum machine high in the mix, with plenty of electric piano behind it, the pure pop sound is a fitting showcase for Cash’s fade-the-last-syllable-of-each-word singing style. After hitting the top of the country singles chart, the track would win Cash her first Grammy.  The second single follows the same sound profile as the first so much that the pair become indecipherable during their first 20 seconds.  “Never Be You”, another chart-topper, isn’t as strong a lyric and without any lyrical punch, the sound becomes stale really fast.  My favorite among the singles are the confidence-laced “Hold On” and “Second To No One”. The former employs the piano more than the percussion for its melody while the latter with its laid back structure is led by vocals and a gentle acoustic guitar. Both hit #5 on the singles chart.

Cash’s songwriting is featured on this album more than any of her releases so far; she wrote the bulk of the tracks here, co-writing with Vince Gill on “Never Alone”, an I’ll-love-you-even-if-you-leave track that’s marred by its synthetic ’80s sound full of slicy electric guitars. One of the first instances of the sound the singer would later cultivate into the second phase of her career can be heard on the elegant “My Old Man”. The lyrics cast a light of realization of mortality coupled with admiration for the narrator’s weathered father, and the tinkling piano and light touch of strings gives it an air of melancholy reflection.

The sounds found on Rhythm & Romance have aged like a bowl of bananas, but the themes visited are universal and keep the best of the songs relatable. I don’t consider it a must-have in Cash’s catalog, but it is certainly ripe for cherry-picking, which is unfortunate since it hasn’t been released digitally, but was re-released as a 2-for-1 with its preceding album Somewhere In The Stars. You can buy them at amazon.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper – ‘Big Midnight Special’

Former Opry member Wilma Lee Cooper died on 13 September. Here is a 1963 performance of one of the hits she had in the 1950s with her husband Stoney:

Classic Rewind – Donna Fargo ‘Country Singer’s Wife’

This is from The Melody Ranch Show in 1967. Fargo was still a schoolteacher, and this marked her first ever television appearance:

Classic Rewind: Lefty Frizzell – ‘Saginaw, Michigan’

A rather short version of one of Lefty’s biggest hits:

The studio version of the full song is here:

The songwriter Don Wayne died on 12 September.

Classic Rewind: Rosanne Cash and Carl Perkins – ‘What Kinda Girl’

Single Review: Trent Tomlinson – ‘A Man Without A Woman’

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from former Lyric Street artist Trent Tomlinson, best known for ‘One Wing In The Fire’ which just missed the top ten back in 2006. Now signed to independent label Skyville, he is back with a solid new single.

Structured as a simple three verse song with a different story presented in each, all on the theme of the helplessness of a man without a woman in his life. Apparently,

That’s a man without a woman
Lonely and lost, no use at all
A boat without an ocean
Talk about somethin’
That ain’t much good for nothin’

As so often with this kind of song, each of the stories feels a little underwritten individually, and their differing circumstances do feel a bit disjointed.

In the first verse we have a 25-year-old single man who spends his free time drinking and his working hours dealing with the consequent hangover. This is the least fleshed out section, because there is no indication of the back story: is he “without a woman” because his girlfriend has left him, or has he spent so much time partying he has never managed to settle down in the first place? In the second verse a thirtysomething is struggling to look after his home and kids while his presumably more competent wife is away. It is possible that this is a sequel to the first verse, with the same guy having grown up, as it follows on from the first verse and chorus with the lines,

Wakes up and he’s 36
Got a house, two cars and kids

However, Lonely Man #3, who carries the emotional weight of the song, is clearly a new character, a man in his eighties who has been widowed and misses the love of his life, and is just waiting to die.

But any lack of depth is compensated for by an attractive, gentle tune and the excellent performance. A fine, plaintively delivered vocal is sympathetically supported by the solidly country production with prominent fiddle and steel. This is really enjoyable listening, and there should be more singles like this on country radio.

Grade: A-

The song is streaming at Tomlinson’s Skyville artist page.

Classic Rewind: Dick Feller – ‘Georgia Bound’

Country Heritage Redux: Dick Feller

An expanded and updated version of an article originally published by The 9513.

About eight years ago I was attending a performance by the late great Vermont singer/songwriter Bernie Whittle when he launched into “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.” I wasn’t familiar with the song but it seemed to me that it could have come from the pen of only one writer – Dick Feller. A little research confirmed my assumption.

Dick Feller was never a big recording star, but during the 1970s he provided numerous hits for other people. Possessed of rare wit and sensitivity (a product of his rural Missouri upbringing), Feller could write poignant ballads and novelties with equal facility. For a period of time, he was a staff writer for Johnny Cash. Prior to that, he was the touring band leader/lead guitarist for Warner Mack. He even played lead guitar on most of his own recordings and appeared as guitarist on sessions by a number of other artists, including Mel Tillis and Mike Auldridge. From my exposure to Dick’s guitar playing, I rate him just barely below the Chet Atkins class as a fingerpicker guitarist.

Among Feller’s serious songs, John Denver hit with “Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)” (#10 Country / #36 Pop), Johnny Cash had success with “Any Old Wind That Blows” (#3 Country) and “Orleans Parish Prison” (#52 Country), and Ferlin Husky recorded “A Room For A Boy – Never Used,” (#60 Country) a song that should have been a much bigger hit than it was.

I’m not sure whether to classify Dick’s biggest copyright as serious or humorous, but there are few songs more familiar than “East Bound and Down,” a huge country hit (#1 Cashbox /#2 Billboard) for co-writer Jerry Reed that was featured in the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit, and received continuous play by country bands everywhere for at least the next 25 years. I know of at least 33 cover versions, most recently by the Road Hammers.

Despite his facility with the serious songs, Dick Feller seemed to prefer looking at the humorous side of life with his music. Songs such as “Lord, Mr. Ford” (a #1 Country hit for Jerry Reed) and “The Night Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel For Single Girls Burned Down” (a minor hit for Tex Williams) seemed more in keeping with that outlook.

He issued three albums during the 1970s with four songs charting on Billboards Country charts : “The Credit Card Song” (#10), “Makin’ The Best of A Bad Situation” (#11), “Biff, The Friendly Purple Bear” (#22 – a song that appeals to all ages), and “Uncle Hiram and the Homemade Beer” (#49). The first three saw some action on Billboards Pop charts, as well.

Feller mostly wrote on his own, but when he did co-write, it was usually with writers who shared his humorous outlook on life, such as Sheb Wooley (a/k/a Ben Colder), Jerry Reed and most notably the late, Atlanta humorist Lewis Grizzard. Dick toured with Grizzard and was the opening act for the “Evening With Lewis Grizzard” stage show. Their most notable musical collaboration was “Alimony,” a subject Grizzard knew well.

In addition to the aforementioned artists, Dick Feller’s songs have been recorded by a diverse group of artists that include Bobby Bare, The Kingston Trio, Ray Stevens, Earl Scruggs, Mac Davis, Lee Greenwood, Ed Bruce, Burt Reynolds, Julie Andrews, Arthur Godfrey, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Aaron Tippin, June Carter Cash and countless others.

Wouldn’t you love to hear Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley or George Strait tackle these lyrics:

I stepped out of the shower and I got a good look at myself
Pot bellied, bald-headed, I thought I was somebody else
I caught my reflection in the mirror of the bathroom door
I just don’t look good naked anymore!

So… I’m goin upstairs and turn my bedroom mirror to the wall
I hung it there back when I was trim and tall
I’d stand there and smile and flex and strut until my arms go sore
But I just don’t look good naked anymore!

From “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore”, available on Centaur Of Attention.

Discography

The Dick Feller discography is pretty slim but each album is filled with wry (and sometimes silly) humor, clever lyrics and songs full of profound thoughts, sometimes disguised as humor

VINYL
All vinyl, of course, is out of print but worth hunting down. To the best of my knowledge Dick Feller issued only four vinyl albums

Dick Feller Wrote… (United Artists, 1973)
No Word On Me (Elektra, 1974)
Some Days Are Diamonds (Elektra/Asylum, 1975)
Audiograph Alive (Audiograph, 1982)

DIGITAL
Centaur Of Attention (Cyberphonic, 2001)
Although originally released as a CD, it currently is available only as a digital download from http://www.cdbaby.com. The album contains versions of all four of Dick’s charted hits, plus some other humorous songs

Check out www.dickfeller.com for more information on Dick Feller.

Classic Rewind: George Jones – ‘Once You’ve Had The Best’

We’d like to offer happy birthday wishes to the Possum, who turns 80 today. In a career spanning more than 55 years, he had a record on the charts nearly every year from 1955 to 2002. Fourteen of those records reached the #1 slot. This offering reached #3 in 1973:

Album Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘Somewhere In The Stars’

Rosanne’s follow-up to her breakthrough with Seven Year Ache was released in 1982, when she was expecting her second child. Produced as before by Rodney Crowell, she continued her incorporation of elements from other genres, although less successfully than before.

The first and most successful single, Crowell’s ‘Ain’t No Money’, peaked at #4 on Billboard. It is a midpaced song which doesn’t sound very country but is one of the better songs on the record, sung confidently. The loungy, jazzy ‘I Wonder’, written by Asleep At the Wheel’s Leroy Preston, was another top 10 hit (#8), and is well done if, once more, with little country influence.

The last single, 1983’s ‘It Hasn’t Happened Yet’, reached only #14, and is a bit dull despite a committed vocal. It is one of two John Hiatt songs, the second being ‘I Look For Love’. The latter is not very good, very repetitive with an unattractive and now very dated 80s synth-pop production. ‘Down On Love’ is a surprising AC-style, although very good, ballad written by Gordon Payne (a former sideman for Waylon Jennings) and Don White, which is very sweetly sung belying the disdain of the lyric. The mid-tempo ‘Oh Yes I Can’ written by Susanna Clark and John Reid is even closer to 80s pop, and I don’t like it much.

The highlight of the album is the gentle ‘Lookin’ For A Corner’, which Rosanne and Rodney wrote together, a resigned-sounding ballad with quite pretty instrumentation. I also quite like the dreamy title track, Rosanne’s only solo composition this time around.

A cover of Tom T Hall’s classic ‘That’s How I Got To Memphis’ is also good, with Johnny Cash making a gravelly cameo appearance. The Amazing Rhythm Aces’ cynical ‘Third Rate Romance’ is also pretty well done with a slightly Caribbean feel to the production and an understated, sultry vocal. Country fans may know the song better from Sammy Kershaw’s hit 90s version.

Sandwiched in between two of Rosanne’s most commercially successful records, this saw a slowdown in her career, but it was to prove only a temporary blip. It is readily available in CD format, both on its own and as a 2 for 1 with the follow-up, Rhythm And Romance. It is not her best work on Columbia (and certainly not to my personal taste), but if you want to track it down, it’s fairly easy to find.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Alan Jackson – ‘Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning’

In memory of all the lives lost ten years ago today:

Week ending 9/10/11: #1 singles this week in country music history

1951: Always Late With Your Kisses — Lefty Frizzell (Columbia)

1961: Tender Years — George Jones (Mercury)

1971: Good Lovin’ (Makes It Right) — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1981: (There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1991: Brand New Man — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2001: Austin — Blake Shelton (Giant)

2011: Remind Me — Brad Paisley with Carrie Underwood (Arista)

Week ending 9/10/11: #1 albums this week in country music history

1966: Buck Owens and His Buckaroos – Carnegie Hall Concert (Capitol)

1971: Lynn Anderson – You’re My Man (Columbia)

1976: Waylon Jennings – Are You Ready For The Country? (RCA)

1981: Kenny Rogers – Share Your Love (Liberty)

1986: Hank Williams Jr. – Montana Cafe (Warner Brothers)

1991: Garth Brooks – No Fences (Capitol)

1996: LeAnn Rimes – Blue (Curb)

2001: Various Artists – O Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack (Lost Highway)

2006: Trace Adkins – Dangerous Man (Capitol)

2011: Pistol Annies – Hell On Heels (Columbia)

Classic Rewind: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Paulette Carlson – ‘Loving On The Side’

This is a live version of one of the songs on the second of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s seminal Will The Circle Be Unbroken albums. Paulette was lead singer of Highway 101.

Classic Rewind: Rosanne Cash – ‘Blue Moon With Heartache’