My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Sammy Kershaw – ‘Labor Of Love’

Sammy’s 1997 album Labor Of Love was produced by Keith Stegall, and has a slightly less neotraditional and more commercial feel than his earliest work. The material is a bit of a mixed bag, with some excellent songs and some less successful efforts.

One of the best was the choice of lead single. ‘Love Of My Life’ is a beautiful, tender love song written by Stegall with Dan Hill, with a tasteful, sensitive reading by Sammy. The classy contemporary piano-led ballad was to be one of Sammy’s biggest hits, peaking at #2. It was, however, his last ever top 10, and the only real hit from the record.

It was a particular shame that the brilliant ‘Matches’ (my favourite track here, written by Skip Ewing and Roger Springer) failed to creep into the top 20. An outstanding story song, ‘Matches’ compellingly relates the tale of a love affair that starts in a bar-room encounter and ends with loneliness and arson. The disillusioned protagonist sounds almost resigned despite the dramatic situation, and the conversational recounting of the tales helps to make it believable:

Today when I came home
My key was hollow in the door
There was nothing but a worn-out book of matches on the floor…

Until tonight they’d only lit a single cigarette
Now one by one I’m striking them to help me to forget
And everybody at the Broken Spoke
They all thought my crazy story was a joke
Now they’re all out in the parking lot staring at the smoke…

Baby, all that’s left of our love now is ashes
Thank God you left the matches

Peaking just outside the top 30, ‘Honky Tonk America’ is a decent mid-tempo Bob McDill song which paints a convincing picture of a working class crowd escaping from their daily life.

The final single, another top 40, was the quietly reflective ‘One Day Left To Live’, written by Dean Dillon, John Northrup and Randy Boudreaux. It is about the scare of facing potential mortality inspiring the protagonist promising to devote himself to loving the wife he has been taking for granted. The appealing lyric and understated vocal are very attractive, and this should have done better.

The beaty title track, written by Larry Boone and Billy Lawson, urges the need to work at love. It’s a bit generic sounding not too bad, with plenty of energy and commitment.

In recent years we’ve been overwhelmed with highly generic songs lauding the joys of being young in the country. ‘Cotton County Queen’, an earlyish example of the type with a linedancers’ beat, has nothing to recommend it and is the weakest song here by far. On the same theme of affectionate teenage memories of small town life, but more interesting and attractive, ‘Shootin’ The Bull (In An Old Cowtown)’ was written by Monty Criswell and Michael White.

Criswell and White were also responsible (with Lee Miller) for a pretty good ballad, where unrequited love is revealed for the first time, ‘Arms Length Away’.

The Cajun flavored ‘Little Did I Know’ is a catchy but lyrically slight story song about Jolina, a cheating woman whose beauty and lying promises of fidelity have the lovesick protagonist wrapped around her finger, right up to the point she leaves him standing at the altar. The up-tempo ‘Roamin’ Love’, a solo composition from the point of view of a man complaining about the wayward ex who has been running around with all her husband’s friends, is quite enjoyable with some nice fiddle and honky tonk piano in the arrangement. It is a rare solo Sammy Kershaw composition. He also co-wrote the forlorn ‘Thank God You’re Gone’, a rather good lost love ballad, as he is happy only his ex won’t see him collapse.

Despite only boasting one big hit, this was Sammy’s third platinum album and his highest charting position. Overall this is a reasonably solid album with some real highlights (especially ‘Matches’). As used copies can be found very cheaply, it’s worth picking up acopy.

Grade: B+

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4 responses to “Album Review: Sammy Kershaw – ‘Labor Of Love’

  1. Jonathan Pappalardo November 14, 2012 at 9:09 am

    “Matches” is probably my favorite Kershaw track. I know everyone is head over heels for his earlier “Yard Sale” and it’s certainly worthy if that praise, but “Matches” is easily one of the most underrated gems in his catalog. The video is wonderful, too.

  2. Razor X November 14, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    “Matches” doesn’t quite work for me. I find the lyrics to be a bit forced; the thought of an entire house being emptied out except for a single matchbook found on the floor just doesn’t ring true to me somehow.

    • Luckyoldsun November 17, 2012 at 12:26 am

      “the thought of an entire house being emptied out except for a single matchbook found on the floor just doesn’t ring true…” (And I suppose thie fact that this one little old matchbook is still around from the beginning of their relationship–and is still full of matches!– doesn’t ring “true” either.)

      The question is does the emotion ring true?
      I think the songwriter meant the story line as an allegory.
      At least that’s how I’ve always taken it.

      But I do think “Yard Sale” is more of a classic country record.

      • Jonathan Pappalardo November 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm

        The song is framed around the idea of the matchbook as a symbol of the relationship. Thus, the idea she’d leave the matchbook rings perfectly true to me. It was the thing that bonded them together in the first place (like the love letter in GS’s “Check Yes Or No”), and by leaving it behind, it created a full circle moment in the relationship. She left behind the one thing that started it all. Maybe she kept it was a souvenir all these years but found it meaningless when she up and left. Leaving behind the defining symbol of their relationship allowed her to move on.

        That it still had matches in it, that’s also plausible to me – she could’ve kept it in a jewelry box or what not and (obviously) never used it. That makes a lot of sense, people find things like that very sentimental which outweighs any thoughts to ever use the item.

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