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.