My Kind of Country

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

Monthly Archives: May 2015

Week ending 5/30/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

f4ac01695547e2a27830265b2fa433c0_lg1955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: This Is It — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1975: I’m Not Lisa — Jessi Colter (Capitol)

1985: Radio Heart — Charly McClain (Epic)

1995: What Mattered Most — Ty Herndon (Epic)

2005: Making Memories Of Us — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): A Guy Walks Into A Bar — Tyler Farr (Columbia)

Classic Rewind: Allison Moorer – ‘Send Down An Angel’

Classic Rewind: Allison Moorer ft Shelby Lynne – ‘Bring Me All Your Lovin”

Classic Rewind: Allison Moorer – ‘Pardon Me’

Album Review: Allison Moorer – ‘Down To Believing’

down to believingAllison Moorer’s first release since the end of her marriage to Steve Earle is filled with personal songs inspired by her life. She has long since left country music behind, and this is effectively genreless singer-songwriter fare.

There are a few tracks I really liked. The title track is a pretty, delicate ballad with a dreamlike feel about the final stages of the relationship:

Comin’ down wasn’t easy but we tried our best
Said we used it up and didn’t put any back
Now you look so surprised ‘cause there ain’t none left
And we’re just empty hearted and sad

I guess it comes down to believing and whether we do or we don’t
Guess it comes down to stayin’ or leavin’ and whether we will or we won’t

A haunting steel guitar adds to the melancholic mood, although the song’s structure is not conventionally country.

‘If I Was Stronger’ is a lovely sounding thoughtful piano-led ballad about the wearying effect of a bad relationship with no communication:

Wish there was something in my heart to give you
But I’ve felt around and nothing’s left
I’ve tried to dig deeper but I’ve hit the bottom
I got to let go and save myself…

I’m tired of talking cause you just ain’t giving
You turn away each time I speak
Now my soul is weary, threadbare and broken
And arms that were open feel so weak

If I was stronger I’d hold on longer
I’d be your saviour and I’d stay

‘Gonna Get It Wrong’ is another excellent song, stripped down both musically and emotionally, about surviving failure.

‘Blood’, inspired by Allison’s relationship with sister Shelby, offers a more positive view of love, and is pretty good. ‘Wish I’ isn’t bad, although the instrumental backing is a little overwhelming. Allison’s cover of John Fogerty’s ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain?’ is nicely sung but doesn’t really add anything to the song.

Of the tracks I really didn’t care for, ‘Like It Used To Be’ is angry, flat and lacking in melody. ‘I Lost My Crystal Ball’ has more life but is not for me. ‘Thunderstorm/Hurricane’ is more subdued in parts, but Allison’s voice sounds strained in others and I really disliked the rock backings. However, it was not the worst track for me – that was the very repetitive and pop sounding ‘Back Of My Mind’, which sounds like something Taylor Swift would do.

‘Mama Let the Wolf In’ was inspired by her autistic five year old son and is too loud and repetitive for my taste, but it has a certain power. ‘Tear Me Apart’ has a hypnotic rhythm which grabs the attention, although again it’s not the kind of thing I would choose to listen to. ‘I’m Doing Fine’ is just rather dull.

It’s hard to judge an album like this fairly, because while it is a strong artistic statement it doesn’t pretend to be a country record (notwithstanding the occasional use of steel guitar). Just because I don’t like a lot of it doesn’t make it bad per se – but I can’t honestly recommend something I don’t much like beyond a few tracks.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Allison Moorer – ‘Alabama Song’

Album Review: Connie Smith – ‘The Lost Tapes’

lost tapesDuring the 1960s and 1970s it was not uncommon for the various branches of the US Military to put together fifteen or thirty minute radio shows for use on country radio stations. Mostly these shows aired on smaller radio stations, usually in air slots where it was difficult for them to sell advertising. Some of these shows, such as COUNTRY MUSIC TIME (a recruiting tool for the US Air Force) and COUNTRY COOKING WITH LEE ARNOLD ( a recruiting program for the Army Reserves) featured some chatter with the weeks’ musical guests followed by some records by the musical guest. Others, such as NAVY HOEDOWN, featured chatter with the featured artist playing with the program’s band.

CONNIE SMITH – THE LOST TAPES comes from the NAVY HOEDOWN radio programs. Unlike most of the military recruiter programs, NAVY HOEDOWN would feature the same artist for four consecutive weeks. Each program was fifteen minutes long, and would feature some chatter with host Hal Durham (later to become the general manager of the Grand Ole Opry), some recruitment plugs and four songs. Marty Stuart is the producer of this reissue project. I remember hearing these programs sometime during 1973 or 1974 so they were probably recorded in 1972 or 1973, which was about the time Connie was moving from RCA to Columbia.

There are no revelations here, as the NAVY HOEDOWN program focused upon the artists’ hits and other songs familiar to the artist. What we do have is eleven excellent recordings of Connie Smith at her vocal peak singing songs. Below is the list of the songs on this project:

1. Just One Time
2. I Never Once Stopped Loving You
3. Louisiana Man
4. Cincinnati, Ohio
5. Just For What I Am
6. Once a Day
7. If It Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave It Alone)
8. Long Black Limousine
9. The Race Is On
10. Amazing Grace
11. How Great Thou Art

Songs 1-7 were songs that were singles for Connie Smith on RCA. Tracks 8 & 9 were hits for other artists and tracks 10 & 11 were gospel songs Ms. Smith has always sung. Cracker Barrel has a CD version with two additional songs, “Where Is My Castle ? ” (my favorite Connie Smith song) and the gospel song “He Touched Me”. The sound quality of the CD is better than the mp3 download.

There are no personnel listings with the digital downloads I obtained so I am guessing as to who plays on the sessions. The steel guitar player clearly is NOT Weldon Myrick, so that alone is enough to give the recordings a different feel than her RCA recordings. My best guess is that Pete Drake is playing the steel guitar. I think the fiddler is Johnny Gimble. From the liner notes, it seems that Marty Stuart is sure that Pete Drake was the steel player and Johnny Gimble was the fiddle player. I have no idea as to the identity of the other musicians on the sessions, but they are clearly members of Nashville’s A-Team.

Regardless of who is playing on the sessions, this is Connie Smith at the absolute peak of her powers with appropriate, but different enough instrumental backing to make this a desirable purchase for her fans. Definitely an A+ recording.

Classic Rewind: Tompall and the Glaser Brothers – ‘Trying To Outrun The Wind’

Album Review – Shelby Lynne – ‘I Can’t Imagine’

1035x1035-ShelbyLynne_FinalCover_RGBFor the first time in twenty years Shelby Lynne has recorded an album outside of Southern California, where she first found her artistic voice on I Am Shelby Lynne. The sessions for I Can’t Imagine, her fifth self-produced set, took place at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana.

The album continues Lynne’s penchant for jazzy acoustic ballads, a signature of her most recent work. The title track, a co-write with Pete Donnelly, was issued as the lead single. An excellent mid-tempo ballad, the track centers on a breakup with a woman friend sympathizing with the man, unable to comprehend what he must be feeling.

Lynne co-wrote half the album, while she authored the other half solo. On the self-penned tracks, Lynne finds herself exploring themes of exploration and self-examination. She desires to find herself within the woman she’s become on “Back Porch, Front Door” while she longs for her place in this world on “Son of a Gun,” which straightforwardly references her mother’s death. “Following You” centers on a flashback to her childhood, where she’s more observant of her father’s habits then she chooses to let on.

She finally breaks on “Paper Van Gogh,” the soaring centerpiece that opens the album with a defiant roar. Lynne leads with the record’s greatest statement, that little in her life is organic and real, a mantra that threads the personal confessions that follow. Rock thumper “Down Here” is the columniation of her five-track odyssey, where she seeks comfort in her relationship to God, the only person who knows who she feels truly knows her.

These tracks are wonderful explorations of Lynne’s broken soul, segmented into different fractions of her shattered spirit. While they transmit a decided lyrical heaviness, she keeps them approachable by giving each moment enough tempo to engage the audience. We hear her pain because prodding arrangements don’t bog us down.

Lynne finds some positivity in “Love Is Strong,” a co-write with Canadian Singer-Songwriter Ron Sexsmith. Even though her vocal may suggest otherwise, she feels newly born; an odd one-off on an album filled with despair. Her other co-write with Sexsmith, “Be In The Now” is the album’s lone anthem, a battle cry to enjoy the present for it isn’t as bad as the darkness that surrounds it.

“Sold The Devil (Sunshine)” is the lone track Lynne co-wrote with Mavericks guitarist Ben Peeler. The song rests on the brilliant metaphor “we sold the devil a dash of sunshine,” one of the greatest ways of describing desperation I’ve ever heard.

“Better,” the other track co-written with Donnelly, is an ambiguous ballad with a beautifully poetic lyric. The protagonist is stronger now that she’s without her man, better off now that he’s long gone.

I Can’t Imagine is as emotional an album as you’re going to find this year, a project that finds Lynne in a strong a voice as she’s ever been. It’s an incredible glimpse into her psyche as she battles the demons that have followed her for most of her life. It’s a journey well worth taking with an artist who gets better and better with each passing album.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Allison Moorer – ‘A Soft Place To Fall’

Album Review: Allison Moorer – ‘The Hardest Part’

412ARG3SR7LOne could easily be forgiven for confusing Allison Moorer for Shelby Lynne because their voices are remarkably similar. However, Moorer’s early music is a lot more rootsy than her older sister’s work at the same stage in her career. And while Lynne has mostly avoided discussing the violent murder-suicide that claimed the lives of their parents, Moorer tackled the issue head-on with her sophomore album.

Released in 2000 by MCA, The Hardest Part is an album of all original material written by Moorer and her then-husband Doyle Lee Primm, who co–produced the project with Kenny Greenberg. According to Moorer, it is not a factual recounting of her parents’ tragic story, rather it is a concept album about a disintegrating relationship and was inspired by what she saw her mother endure after she left Moorer’s alcoholic father. Surprisingly, this is not the downer of an album one might be expecting. While the songs are not lighthearted fare, they are, for the most part, typical break-up songs that have long been a staple of country music. Listeners who aren’t familiar with Moorer’s backstory won’t consider the album anything out of the ordinary.

Not surprisingly, the album’s more traditional tracks are my favorites, from the title track that opens the album, to “Is It Worth It” and “Feeling That Feeling Again”, which is the best song on the album. The more contemporary tracks, while enjoyable and still containing plenty of fiddle and steel, are a bit heavy on the strings and electric guitar for my liking.

The most moving song on the album is the one that directly addresses the night Moorer’s parents died. “Cold, Cold Earth”, a hidden track at the end of the album, is an acoustic murder ballad that is surprisingly sympathetic to her father. At times it comes close to excusing his actions. Attempting to reconcile with his family, Moorer’s father becomes despondent and “drunk with grief and loneliness, he wasn’t thinking straight”, and shoots his ex-wife and then himself when it becomes clear she isn’t interested in reconciling. Even as a work of fiction, it would be a sad story, but it’s absolutely tragic to think that the singer is recounting a personal experience.

The Hardest Part produced two radio singles, “Send Down An Angel” and “Think It Over” which charted at #66 and #57, respectively, but despite its lack of hits the album itself reached #26 on the albums chart. It’s a very good album that might have fared better if it had been released a few years earlier. In 2000 when Shania Twain and Faith Hill were having huge crossover hits, it wasn’t what country radio wanted. It is, however, well worth checking out.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne – ‘Slow Me Down’

This was Shelby’s last charting country single:

Single Review: Chris Young – ‘I’m Comin’ Over’

i'm comin' overI was very disappointed with Chris Young’s last album as, with the exception of a couple of tracks, the demands of commercial relevance seemed to have pushed out artistic considerations. I am encouraged to find his new single is a return to something significantly better (if not his very best work).

It is a nice sounding tune with an attractive melody, and the production is tastefully understated. It’s not super-traditional, but there is audible steel guitar and the instrumentation generally serves as backdrop to the vocal.

Young’s warm, inviting vocal is always appealing, and he is convincing selling this tale of love that just won’t die even though it doesn’t quite work as a relationship. They may have broken up, but when she calls late at night he rushes over to her place.

In some ways reminiscent of Lady Antebellum’s monster hit ‘Need You Now’, both melodically and lyrically, it lacks the latter’s undercurrent of regret or sense that it is a one-time only deal born out of desperation and loneliness. This one is a pattern which doesn’t look like ending any time soon, and Chris doesn’t sound at all sorry about it. Nor is there any alcohol involved – just as well when he’s driving to see his lover. Maybe the untold story is that it is the girl who is ambivalent about the relationship, as he asks her, or himself, the rhetorical question,

Why put out a fire when it’s still burnin’?

He wrote the song himself along with Corey Crowder (who also produced) and Josh Hoge, and it is neatly constructed and believable. We could do with a lot more like this on country radio and I hope it does well for Chris.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘I Find Jesus’

Week ending 5/23/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

hqdefault-21955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Girl On The Billboard — Del Reeves (United Artists)

1975: (Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song — B.J. Thomas (ABC)

1985: Step That Step — Sawyer Brown (Capitol/Curb)

1995: Gonna Get A Life — Mark Chesnutt (Decca)

2005: My Give A Damn’s Busted — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Raise ‘Em Up — Keith Urban ft. Eric Church (Hit Red/Capitol)

Classic Rewind: Jerry Lee Lewis – ‘She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye’

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne – ‘Tell Me I’m Crazy’

Album Review: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – ‘The Traveling Kind’

81BsXZt8UsL._SX522_Whether the medium is literature, film or music, sequels rarely live up to the reputations of the original projects they follow. For that reason and because both Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell have been known to experiment with a variety of musical styles, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I heard that they were teaming up for a second duets album. While The Traveling Kind isn’t quite as good as 2013’s Old Yellow Moon, it’s an example of a sequel done properly. It also, thankfully, finds them sticking more closely to their country roots than many of their post-commercial peak projects.

Recorded in Nashville last July and produced by Joe Henry, The Traveling Kind consists of eleven tracks. Rodney had a hand in writing nine of them, three of which include Emmylou as a co-writer. While I didn’t much care for the bluesy “Weight of the World”, their other two compositions (with co-writer Corey Chisel — the title track and the steel guitar-laden “You Can’t Say We Didn’t Try”, are excellent. I particularly enjoyed the duo’s take on “No Memories Hangin’ ‘Round”, Rodney’s 1979 composition that was originally a Top 20 hit for Rosanne Cash and Bobby Bare.

My favorite track is “Just Pleasing You”, a Crowell co-write with Mary Starr that sounds a lot like an old Hank Williams song with a tune that faintly resembles “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)”. Almost as good is “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now”. Both are sure to please fans who miss the way country music used to sound.

Only two tracks come exclusively from outside songwriters: “I Just Wanted To See You So Bad” is an uptempo and quite enjoyable Lucinda Williams song, and “Her Hair Was Red”, is a Celtic-tinged number by Amy Allison which is a perfect vehicle for Emmylou.

The entire album is tastefully and sparsely produced, with an emphasis on acoustic instruments, with very little assistance from backing vocalists. Unlike a lot of “duet” projects, Harris and Crowell actually sing with — as opposed to around — each other. It is a quiet album that never allows the production to get in the way of the songs. I highly recommend it for fans of both artists, as well as for any country fans are dissatisfied with modern country radio’s typical offerings.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne – ‘Another Chance At Love’

Album Review: Allison Moorer – ‘Alabama Song’

alabama songI was disappointed when Shelby Lynne abandoned country music as she had seemed to have so much unrealised potential. But just as she did so, her younger sister emerged, with just as good a voice but a more rootsy sound and more subtle approach. She was launched upon the public with her song ‘A Soft Place To Fall’, a beautiful ballad which appeared on the soundtrack of Robert Redford’s film The Horse Whisperer, and its Oscar nomination gave Allison a national platform when she performed it at the awards ceremony. A tenderly delivered song about seeking temporary comfort in an old love, it is, quite simply, beautiful with a melancholic undertone.

Allison Moorer’s debut album was launched on MCA in 1998, produced by her husband and regular cowriter Doyle “Butch” Primm and Kenny Greenberg. Allison and Primm wrote the majority of the songs together. The overarching mood is gently sad, and the majority of the songs are melodic ballads with steel guitar prominent in the tasteful arrangements.

‘Pardon Me’ is an excellent pained country ballad with lovely steel about struggling to understand a breakup, with the occasional tart line:

You say you’ve lost the love you felt for me
Well baby, you won’t find it if you leave

She is defiant again in ‘Set You Free’ as the ex is on his way out the door – or is it mere face-saving bravado?

In ‘I Found A Letter’ (a standout), the protagonist finds herself a betrayed wife who knows the sweet love letters were based on a lie. Later, in deeply melancholic mood, she decides it’s ‘Easier To Forget’ than dwell on the heartbreak of the past, backed up by the weeping sadness of the steel guitar. The loungy ballad ‘Tell Me Baby’ is less country, but very well performed, and another take on love and loss.

‘Call My Name’ dwells on the ongoing sorrow from a long-gone love (possibly dead). The album closes with the most downbeat song of the lot – the bleakly funereal ‘Is Heaven Good Enough For You’, which may have been inspired by her parents’ tragic death, although it does not address it specifically.

The up-tempo shuffle ‘The One That Got Away’ (a co-write with Kostas) is much more upbeat musically, with Allison sounding quite cheerful although it’s another song about a broken heart.

The wearied ‘Long Black Train’ (not the Josh Turner hit) is about struggling to make it in Nashville, and being ready to give up the dream and head back home. The wistful title track also yearns for home.

This is not a happy album, but it is a great one which deserves to be better known. I wish Allison had kept on in this vein.

Grade: A