My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Vern Gosdin – ‘Chiseled In Stone’

The New Traditionalist movement of the late 1980s returned traditional sounds to the country music radio airwaves and launched the careers of many new artists, but for the most part it did little to revive the flagging careers of veteran artists. Vern Gosdin was a notable exception; in 1987 he got a second shot at a major label deal when he inked a deal with Columbia — something that would never happen today to a 54-year-old singer with inconsistent chart success.

Vern’s first release for Columbia was 1988’s Chiseled In Stone, which was produced by Bob Montgomery. It contained ten tracks, nine of which were co-written by Vern, along with of some of Nashville’s finest songsmiths, including Hank Cochran, Max D. Barnes, and Dean Dillon. Up to this time, Vern had garnered a lot of critical acclaim and the respect of his peers, but now he finally began to enjoy a level of commercial success as well. His first Columbia single “Do You Believe Me Now”, released in late 1987, reached #4, becoming his first Top 10 record since 1984’s “Slow Burning Memory”. The protagonist in this dark tune has split with his ex. He’s told her in the past that he can’t live without her, and when he runs into her again by chance after hitting rock bottom, asks her, “Do you believe me now?” Imagine a story like that being told on country radio today. It was followed by what is perhaps his best-known hit, “Set ‘Em Up, Joe”, a tune he wrote with Cochran, Dillon, and Buddy Cannon. This one went all the way to #1, becoming the second chart-topper of his career (the first was 1984’s “I Can Tell By The Way You Dance”). The album’s third single was the album’s magnificent title track, which Gosdin wrote with Max D. Barnes. It tells the story of a quarreling couple; the husband storms out in anger and heads for the nearest bar to drown his sorrows. While there, he encounters a wiser and older man whose wife has died, and who helps the protagonist put things into perspective. Kenny Chesney would later revisit this theme, much less effectively, with 2002’s “The Good Stuff.” “Chiseled In Stone” only reached #6, but it should have gone all the way to #1.

Columbia released one more single in early 1989, “Who You Gonna Blame It On This Time”, which peaked at #2. In addition, there is a treasure trove among the album tracks, including “Is It Raining At Your House”, which was recently covered by Brad Paisley, a Western swing number called “Tight As Twin Fiddles”, “Nobody Calls From Vegas Just To Say Hello”, and “It’s Not Over, Yet” which isn’t my favorite track on the album, but is a close second behind “Chiseled In Stone”.

Chiseled In Stone was certified gold, proving that Vern could deliver the commercial, as well as the critical goods. It also served as testimony in an increasingly youth-obsessed industry, that an older artist could still make relevant, commercially viable music. It is this phase of Vern’s career with which I am most familiar, and it is his music from this era that I listen to most often. This is a beautifully crafted album without a single weak track. It deserves a place in every country fan’s collection. it is available digitally at a uncharacteristically ridiculous price from Amazon MP3 or at a much more reasonable price from iTunes. However, inexpensive new or used CD copies are the most economical choice for acquiring this fine album.

Grade: A+

7 responses to “Album Review: Vern Gosdin – ‘Chiseled In Stone’

  1. Occasional Hope April 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    A wonderful album.

  2. Ken Johnson April 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Great review of an album that is a “must have” for any true country music fan. Vern’s voice and his choice of material was never better than on this album and Bob Montgomery’s production was flawless.

    There actually was a fifth single release from this collection albeit a couple of years later. In 1990 Columbia released the album “10 Years Of Hits – Newly Recorded.” Because Vern’s Compleat and AMI recordings were not available on CD at that time he re-recorded new versions of them for that project along with a remake of his Elektra hit “Till The End” However the collection didn’t exactly live up to it’s name in the purest sense because mixed in with Vern’s brand new versions of hits from past record labels were brand new songs including “This Ain’t My First Rodeo” which was selected as a single release. That album also reissued “Is It Raining At Your House” from the “Chisled In Stone” album. Released as the follow-up single to “Rodeo” it peaked at #10 in early 1991 to become Vern’s final top ten hit.

  3. Occasional Hope April 23, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    BTW I should note that we aren’t reviewing the next Gosdin album Alone this time, as I did a review as our tribute when Vern died. If you want to catch up on that, it’s here:

  4. Ben Foster April 25, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Just out of curiousity, Razor, why do you feel “The Good Stuff” is a much less effective lyric than “Chiseled In Stone”?

    • luckyoldsun April 25, 2012 at 8:46 pm

      “You don’t know about lonely
      or how long nights can be,
      Til you’ve lived through the story
      that’s still livin’ in me,
      You don’t know about sadness
      ‘Til you’ve faced life alone,
      You don’t know about lonely
      ‘Til it’s chiseled in stone.”

      The Gosdin song has about a hundred words and when you hear it, they all sink in.
      When you hear the Chesney song, there’s no time for anything to sink in because he keeps throwing more lines at you–It feels like there are 500 words and I don’t remember any of them.

      • Paul W Dennis April 25, 2012 at 11:31 pm

        Quite right

        “Chiseled In Stone” and “The Last Letter” are the two saddest and most affecting songs I know. Both succinct and chilling – not a wasted word in either of them. “Last Letter” has been sung well by many – I don’t think many artists could pull off “Chiseled In Stone” . Fortunately, they don’t need to – the definitive version has already been recorded !

        • luckyoldsun April 26, 2012 at 12:28 am

          Jones did an album a few years ago called “Hits I Missed”–He covered a Vern song there–“If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong”–but could have done “Chiseled In Stone” instead. I have a feeling he may have reached the end of the line as a recording artist, so I don’t expect to hear him record this now.
          With some minor adjustments to the lyrics, I bet “Chiseled In Stone” could also work for a woman singer.

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