My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Highway 101 – ‘Paint the Town’

51uqPseH44L1989’s Paint the Town, the third entry in Highway 101’s discography, was the band’s final full length album before Paulette Carlson’s departure as lead singer. Like its two predecessors it was produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay. The songwriting credits boast a number of prestigious names including Kix Brooks, Matraca Berg, Pam Tillis, Bob DiPiero, Gretchen Peters, and Roger Miller. While not quite as commercially successful as their previous albums, the material is top notch and it received a warm reception from country radio.

“Who’s Lonely Now”, written by Don Cook and a pre-Brooks & Dunn Kix Brooks was the lead single, and it quickly became the last of Highway 101’s four chart toppers. It was followed by my all-time favorite Highway 101 song, “Walkin’, Talkin’, Cryin’, Barely Beatin’ Broken Heart”, which was written by Justin Tubb and the great Roger Miller, who made a memorable guest appearance in the song’s video. Despite the mournful sounding title and subject matter, it’s a bouncy uptempo tune with plenty of pedal steel. It peaked at #4 and was the band’s last excursion into the Top 10. “This Side of Goodbye” just missed the Top 10, peaking at #11.

The rest of the album is a mix of contemporary and traditional country. On the contemporary side are the opening track “I Can’t Love You Baby” and “Rough and Tumble Heart”, a Pam Tillis co-write that Tillis would cover herself a few years later. More traditional are the plaintive Gretchen Peters-penned “I’ll Paint the Town” (blue, not red — this is no party song) and a gorgeous, version of James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James”, which closes the album. Featuring acoustic guitar, harmonica, a touch of pedal steel and a stellar vocal performance by Paulette Carlson, the track is simply stunning and a good example of why it pays to dig a little deeper into any artist’s catalog to find the hidden gems that are overshadowed by the radio hits.

The album is a mere ten tracks, which was standard for the day, and plays for just over 33 minutes. Though lean and mean it may be, the songs are all winners, with just one dud. “Midnight Angel” had been a Top 20 hit for Barbara Mandrell in 1976. I’ve always liked the song very much and at first it seemed like a number that Carlson could easily nail, but the Highway 101 version is surprisingly lackluster. It’s probably my least favorite track on any of the band’s first three albums. That one misstep aside, however, Paint the Town is top-notch affair that sounds as fresh today as it did when it was first released 26 years ago.

Grade: A

One response to “Album Review: Highway 101 – ‘Paint the Town’

  1. Ken December 10, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    I’m with Razor – there’s really nothing not to like here. One of the major highlights of this album for me once again is the contribution of steel guitar player Tommy Spurlock. His playing elevates the quality of every song that he touches. His crisp clean licks can be compared to Ralph Mooney who gets my vote as the best steel player of all time. Tommy is magnificent here. As integral as he was to the Highway 101 sound he should have been made an “official” member of the act.

    The first two singles mirrored their album versions however “This Side Of Goodbye” received a remix and an edit. More punch was added to the drums & rhythm track and the ending was faded about 12 seconds earlier. That tweaking did make the song sound better on the radio but it was not the strongest selection verified by the fact that it was the first single to miss the top ten since their very first hit. A good song but not especially memorable. A better choice would have been the steel-drenched “If Love Had A Heart” which was relegated to “B” side status for the “This Side Of Goodbye” single release. It sounds similar to the tracks from their excellent first album.

    By the way a lost “B” side connected with this album was “Don’t It Make Your Mama Cry.” Issued on the flip of “Who’s Lonely Now” it never received an album release.

    I share Razor’s opinion of their retro-revival of a 1960’s Johnnie Wright single as the best song on this album. Following the tragic death of Jack Anglin in a 1963 car accident his singing partner Johnnie Wright continued as a solo recording act. The very first song that Johnnie recorded was issued as his second single in early 1964. The song featured Johnnie & Jack’s backup band The Tennessee Mountain Boys who received label credit on the Decca single “Walkin’ Talkin’ Cryin’ Barely Beatin’ Broken Heart.” That song peaked at #22 in June 1964 and was included on Johnnie’s most successful album in 1965 “Hello Vietnam.” Here’s Johnnie’s great recording:

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