My Kind of Country

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

Monthly Archives: August 2017

Classic Rewind – Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘Better Move It On Home’

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Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Labor of Love’

Like most other veteran acts, Janie Fricke was struggling to remain commercially relevant as the 1980s drew to a close. After scoring her final #1 hit, “Always Have, Always Will” in 1986, she suffered a sharp decline in her chart success, from which she never recovered. Although she had shifted to a more traditional sound, Labor of Love, her major label swan song, still had its share of songs that were more pop-leaning than radio was interested in at the time.

Two singles were released from the album – ironically the two weakest songs on the disc and neither one reached the Top 40. “Love Is One of Those Words”, from the usually reliable songwriting team of Holly Dunn, Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters, is a rather lackluster synthesizer-heavy ballad that was completely out of step with the more traditional fare being offered on radio. It peaked at #56. The second single was the Dave Loggins composition “Give ‘em My Number” which is probably my least favorite single of Fricke’s career. It attempts to be bluesy and sassy, and while she skillfully pulled off that style a few years earlier with “Always Have, Always Will” this time around her performance seems forced and the song just does not work for her. It charted a little higher than “Love Is One of Those Words”, landing at #43. It would be Janie’s final single for Columbia Records. Fortunately, the rest of the album is much better. It’s tempting to point fingers at the label for choosing the wrong singles but even if they had made different choices, it likely would have made little difference. Radio had moved on to newer artists and was finished with Janie Fricke, no matter what kind of musical choices she made.

“What Are You Doing Here With Me” is a very pretty ballad from the husband and wife songwriting team of Bill Rice and Mary Sharon Rice. It casts Janie as the other woman – or perhaps a would-be other woman, the extent to which the relationship has progressed is unclear. At any rate she has grown weary of listening to her partner singing the praises of his perfect wife and family, and rightly asks him if things are so wonderful at home, “What are you doing here with me?” “Walking On the Moon” is an upbeat tune about young love and was country enough to have had hit single potential. It is my favorite song on the album and likely would have been a hit if Janie had stumbled across it a few years earlier.
A handful of other songs on the album were recorded by other artists at one stage or another. “I Can’t Help The Way That I Don’t Feel” had appeared on Sylvia’s 1985 album One Step Closer. It’s the type of ballad that is best served by minimal production, and that is where Janie’s version falters. It starts off well but the chorus is too bombastic. “One of Those Things” would become a Top 10 hit for one of its writers, Pam Tillis, in another two years. Janie’s version compares admirably to Pam’s. I would have released it as a single. She also does a stellar job on the album’s closing track, Steve Earle’s “My Old Friend the Blues”, which would later appear on a Patty Loveless album.

One other song, “Last Thing I Didn’t Do”, though not one of my favorites, is noteworthy as one Janie’s very few songwriting credits. She wrote the song with Randy Jackson, who I believe was her former manager and ex-husband (and not the former American Idol judge). Aside from this bit of trivia, there’s nothing particularly interesting about the song itself.

Labor of Love is a solid, if slightly uneven capstone to Janie’s major label career. Although none of its songs qualify as essential listening, it’s still an album that Janie’s fans will want to give a spin, if they haven’t already.


Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘I’ll Walk Before I Crawl’

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Saddle The Wind’

The rise of the New Traditionalists in the late 1980s meant that the sooth pop-country which had served Janie well earlier in the decade was sounding dated. Janie was also now over 40, as younger artists came forward, and radio abandoned her, with no really successful singles from her 1987 album After Midnight. She took on the challenge with gusto, adapting to a much more traditional country style for 1988’s Saddle The Wind, with the help of producer Steve Buckingham. She was still, incidentally, using the new spelling of Frickie, which she had adopted for Black And White.

There were three singles to promote this album. Unfortunately, none did very well, but they are all excellent songs, beautifully sung and unmistakeably real country. ‘Where Does Love Go (When It’s Gone)’ is a brisk Peter Rowan song with a bright upbeat feel despite a lyric pondering the reasons for a breakup.

‘I’ll Walk Before I’ll Crawl’ is a lovely mid-paced ballad (written by Gidget Baird and Linda Buell) gives a cheating husband an ultimatum. The third and last single, ‘Heart’, was written by the ultra-successful writing team of Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet. It is an excellent song about a woman desperately tempted to cheat on her husband.

On a somewhat similar theme, Hank Cochran’s classic ‘Don’t Touch Me (If You Don’t Love Me)’ explores the draw of sexual desire knowing the loved one cannot offer what the protagonist needs:

Your hand is like a torch each time you touch me
That look in your eye pulls me apart
So don’t open the door to heaven if I can’t come in
No, don’t touch me if you don’t love me, sweetheart

Your kiss is like a drink when I am thirsty
Oh and I’m thirsty for you with all my heart
But don’t love me, then act as though we’ve never kissed
Oh, don’t touch me if you don’t love me, sweetheart

Janie’s intense vocal is superlative on this song.

Several other classic covers are also included. Willie Nelson’s ballad The Healing Hands Of Time’ is another true classic song given an exquisite vocal, with some tasteful steel and piano. The album opens with a sprightly version of the Western Swing ‘Sugar Moon’ which is delightful, and Janie also revives the up-tempo ‘Crazy Dreams’, one of Patsy Cline’s lesser known early recordings.

‘I’m Not That Good At Goodbye’, a much recorded song written by Bob McDill and Don Williams, has another excellent vocal from Janie. ‘If I Were Only Her Tonight’, written by McDill with Bucky Jones and Dickey Lee, is another fine song about unrequited love and the pull of an old flame.

There is a Marty Robbins Mexican flavor to the title track, with Spanish guitar accompanying a story song written by the album’s producer Buckingham, about a star-crossed border romance with a bandido.

Janie had a truly lovely voice, but at her commercial peak she was too often buried under poppy production. In this album she finally married her voice to great production and songs, making this by far her best work. I would recommend it to anyone.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘Cold Summer Day In Georgia’

Album Review: Natalie Hemby – ‘Puxico’

Natalie Hemby, Dean Dillon to Miranda Lambert’s George Strait, released her debut album back in January. The album, seven years in the making, is the musical accompaniment to a documentary she produced about her hometown of Puxico, Missouri. Hemby solely composed each of the project’s nine songs.

Hemby opens the album wonderfully, with the folksy tones of “Time-Honored Tradition,” a jaunty uptempo number about her longing for “kindred town filled with good company.” Said town ultimately goes through a “Grand Restoration,” in which the past and present beautifully collide to bring a sense of history into the modern day. She gets the sentiment right on “Worn,” a characteristic she gives to “the finer things worth keeping,” but I could’ve done with a more interesting execution. Similarly rudimentary is lead single “Return,” which details the idea that you need to get away in order to fully appreciate your life back home.

“Lovers On Display” is one of many relationship-centric tunes on Puxico. The simplistic ballad is an appealing dissertation on love, using carnival imagery to evoke innocent romance. The ambiguous steel drenched “This Town Still Talks About You” is a brilliantly heartbreaking reminder that a person’s presence can be alive and well even if they aren’t physically present. Our minds aren’t so lucky, as Hemby points out in “I’ll Remember How You Loved Me,” which says memories fade but we never forget love.

The love, or really praise, for “Cairo, IL” is a big reason why I decided to finally listen to Puxico. The gorgeous ballad, a tribute to a long abandoned ghost town, is considered one of the best country songs released this year:

All the fields are flooded up to Highway 51

Illinois is coming ’cross the bridge where the Old Ohio was

Don’t look away, it will be gone

 

Kentucky and Missouri, a trinity of states

Nothing’s in a hurry ’cept the water in between the rising banks

Oh nothing moves but nothing stays

Where the longing for the leaving and the welcome-home receiving join

Still I’ll keep driving past the ghost of Cairo, Illinois

 

She used to be a beauty back in 1891

After Fort Defiance, now she’s weathered by the river and the sun

She’s still around but she is gone

 

Where the longing for the leaving and the welcome-home receiving join

Still I’ll keep driving past the ghost of Cairo, Illinois

The lyric is simple, and the song itself is very quiet, but the hook does pack a nice punch. I probably enjoy “Ferris Wheel,” a track Faith Hill recently featured in her Instagram Stories when Hemby was scheduled to open up for her and Tim McGraw on a recent Soul2Soul tour stop, even more. The steel-drenched ballad, which has a lovely and inviting melody, is far and away my favorite track on the album.

On the whole, Puxico is a very strong album and a wonderful introduction to Hemby and her personal style. I just found it to be a bit too sing-song-y in places and some of the songs could’ve been more complex. I kept comparing her, in my head, to Kacey Musgraves, which I’m having a hard time shaking.

But, that being said, this is an album well-worth checking out.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘Where Does Love Go (When It’s Gone)?’

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘After Midnight’

(NOTE: After Midnight was the second album in which Fricke changed the spelling of her name to Frickie. She made the adjustment after being annoyed with mispronunciations of her name 

Following the chart topping success of Black and White, Janie Frickie’s career began to decline. The new traditionalists movement of the late 1980s all but whipped her countrypolitan stylings off the radio and thus she struggled to gain traction with her singles. 1987’s After Midnight was Fricke’s first album not to produce a top 20 hit.

As was customary, two singles were released from the album. “Are You Satisfied,” a mid-tempo bluesy ballad with Frickie’s voice in top form, stalled at #32. The thickly produced and slower paced “Baby You’re Gone” fared worse, hitting #63. It was the first single of Fricke’s career to miss the top 30 entirely.

The album also features “From Time to Time (It Feels Like Love Again),” a duet with Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers. The power ballad, which features horns, hit #21 as a single from his Partners album, which was released the same year.

Frickie turns in one of her strongest vocal performances on “I Hurt,” a stunning steel-drenched number reminiscent of something Reba McEntire would’ve recorded during this time period. “I Don’t Like Being Lonely” also features steel guitar and a lot of percussion. “Teach Me How To Forget” is more of the same, an expertly executed power ballad with forceful vocals and production.

“If I Didn’t Care” is soaring and lounge-like, with strings and distinct echoes of Patsy Cline. “My Eternal Flame” retains a countrypolitan vibe updated for the time period. “Nobody Ever Loved Me So Good” is more of the same while “It Won’t Be Easy” might be the album’s most traditional-minded number.

After Midnight is an excellent album, even if the production feels out of place for the current trends of the era. The lack of variation is the album’s sole downfall, with ten songs that all fit within the same production and tempo. If anything the production gives Fricke room to sour, turning in some of the strongest vocal performances of her career.

Grade: A

 

Classic Rewind: Johnny Cash – ‘The Reverend Mr Black’

Week ending 8/26/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: I’ll Never Find Another You — Sonny James (Capitol)

1977Way Down — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1987: Why Does It Have to Be (Wrong or Right) — Restless Heart (RCA)

1997: Come Cryin’ to Me — Lonestar (BNA)

2007: Never Wanted Nothing More — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Do I Make You Wanna — Billy Currington (Mercury)

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘Easy To Please’

Classic Rewind: Lyle Lovett – ‘This Old Porch’

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Black and White’

Released in June 1986, Black and White saw a strong directional shift in Janie’s music toward a more nuanced and adult approach to music. There is more blues influence evident than in her earlier recorded efforts. This was Janie’s eleventh album (her last name was spelled ‘Frickie’ on the album cover). Norro Wilson produced the album.

Although I regard this album as Janie’s masterpiece, some of the songs are marred by 1980s production. Also this album marked the end of her as a chart force. “Always Have, Always Will”went to #1, but the second single “When A Woman Cries” only reached #20, and no future Janie Fricke single would ever again reach the top twenty. Some would argue that the New Traditionalist movement shoved Janie aside, but I suspect that her age had as much to do with it as newer, younger faces arrived.

Side one of the original vinyl album opens up with “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore”. Written by Clyde Otis and Ulysses Burton, the song has a long history, having been a pop hit for Ben E. King in 1968, with numerous covers including Billy Joe Royal’s #2 country hit in 1990. Janie does a nice job with the song.

Let’s not fight it anymore
Unpack your bags and close the door
Girl, I’ll never leave you
Though you lied right from the start
I can’t convince my foolish heart
Not to believe you

You’ve got two good men strung out
And there’s not the slightest doubt
That other men have loved you before
But you drew your face away
I dream of Heaven and I live in Hell
Till I can’t take it anymore

“He’s Breathing Down My Neck” is a mid-tempo ballad with a very jazzy feel to it. I think this is the weakest song on the album and it’s not at all bad.

Kent Robbins wrote “Take Me Like A Vacation”, an interesting song taken at mid-tempo. The song was later covered by Lynn Anderson. “Nothing Left To Say” is a slow ballad about the end of a relationship. The song is really well sung by Janie, a very nice album track. “Coming Apart At The Seams” is the story of a breakup that the narrator wants no part of, and cannot accept.

Thus ends side one of the original vinyl album. Other than the first track, none of the songs themselves are anything special but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Side two opens with the best song Janie Fricke ever recorded, the bluesy “Always Have, Always Will”. The song reached #1. There is some lovely steel guitar on the track by former Buckaroo Tom Brumley.

It seems funny I remember your number
After all this time
And I know that it’s late
And I hope that I’m not out o’ line
But for some crazy reason
I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout you all day
And every three hours now
I’ve been thinkin’ of somethin’ to say

Ilove you like a fool
Always have, always will
But you know that it’s just my point of view
But I love you still
Always have, always will
Always have, always will love you

“Don’t Put It Past My Heart” is a mid-tempo song about a woman’s warning to her lover telling him to not take her for granted. This would have made a good single.

“When A Woman Cries” was released as a single, topping out at #20. Written by Buck Moore and Mentor Williams, I would have expected the song to be a bigger hit.

The album closes out with a pair of slow ballads. “He’s Making A Long Story Short” and “I’d Take You Back Again”, one of the few songs penned by Ms. Fricke.

The key to this album is that the songs are all situated in such a way as to let Janie show off her vocal prowess without overstraining her voice. Fricke is in good voice throughout, and while parts of the production sound a bit dated, at no point are the arrangements cluttered and obtrusive. Unlike her prior albums, which were simply collections of songs, this album sets a mood and does it well.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘She’s Single Again’

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Music In My Heart’

Music In My Heart is Charley’s first new album since Choices, which was issued in 2011. Charley is now 79 years old; however, his voice seems to have hardly aged at all. I suspect that he may have lost a little off the top of his range but the quality of what remains is outstanding.

Noted songwriter Billy Yates served as the producer of this album, as well as providing several of the songs and singing background on a few of the songs. Yates provides Charley with an updated version of the Nashville Sound minus the strings and soulless vocal choruses. Such stalwarts as Mike Johnson, Robby Turner and Scotty Sanders handle the steel guitar, while Stuart Duncan handles fiddle and mandolin.

The album opens up with the Tommy Collins classic “New Patches” that served up the last top ten single for Mel Tillis back in 1984.

Now and then an old friend tries to help me
By telling me there’s someone I should meet
But I don’t have the heart to start all over
‘Cause my heart is laying at another’s feet

[Chorus:]
You just don’t put new patches on old garments
I don’t want no one else on my mind
I just don’t need nobody new to cling to
I still love someone I’ve known a long long time

“Country” Johnny Mathis (1930-2011), so named so as to not be mistaken for the pop singer of the same name, is nearly forgotten today, but he was a fine songwriter and “Make Me One More Memory” is a fine mid-tempo song, handled with aplomb by Pride.

Take my heart, my soul, my heaven
Take my world away from me
All I ask is one last favor
Make me one more memory

Ben Peters provided Charley with many big hits so it is natural for Pride to raid the Ben Peters songbag for material. Co-written with son Justin Peters, “Natural Feeling For You” is the kind of ballad that could have been a hit during the 1970s or 1980s.

“All By My Lonesome” reminds me of the 1992 Radney Foster song “Just Call Me Lonesome”, although this song comes from Billy Yates and Terry Clayton. This is a mid-tempo ballad with a solid vocal by Pride.

All by my lonesome
Heart broke and then some
Watchin’ ol’ re-runs
On my TV

Drinkin’ and cryin’
So close to dyin’
I’m next to no one
All by my lonesome

Thanks for sendin’ someone by to see if I’m alright
I appreciate your concern tonight
But I don’t need no company
To offer up their sympathy
If it ain’t you then I would rather be

All by my lonesome
Heart broke and then some
Watchin’ ol’ re-runs
On my TV

“It Wasn’t That Funny” was written by Yates and Dobby Lowery. The song is a lovely ballad about an almost breakup, that a couple experienced and can laugh about now, but brought moments of anguish along the way.

Lee Bach penned “The Same Eyes That Always Drove Crazy”, a mid-tempo ballad of a chance meeting after years of separation. This song would have made a good single at any point before about 2005. The song features some really nice steel guitar by Mike Johnson and piano by Steve Nathan.

Billy Yates and Billy Lawson chipped in the introspective ballad “I Learned A Lot”, in which the narrator relives the lessons he’s learned from losing his previous love. The song first appeared on Billy’s album Only One George Jones.

“You’re Still In These Crazy Arms of Mine” was written by Lee Bach, Larry Mercey and Dave Lindsey. The title references what was on the jukebox the first time the narrator met his love. The song has a nice Texas shuffle arrangement (the song references the Ray Price classic “Crazy Arms” and mentions taking out Ray’s old records). Again, this is another song that would have made a good single in bygone years.

“The Way It Was in ‘51” was written by Merle Haggard and was the title track for one of the Hag’s great albums and was the B-side of Hag’s “The Roots of My Raising”.

Sixty-Six was still a narrow two-lane highway
Harry Truman was the man who ran the show
The bad Korean War was just beginning
And I was just three years too young to go

Country music hadn’t gone to New York City yet
And a service man was proud of what he’d done
Hank and Lefty crowded every jukebox
That’s the way it was in fifty one

“Lee Bach” wrote “I Just Can’t Stop Missing You”, a nice ballad that makes for a good album track but wouldn’t ever have been considered for a single. This song apparently has keyboards mimicking the sound of strings giving it more of a Nashville Sound production than the other tracks on the album.

“Whispering Bill” Anderson wrote “You Lied To Me” a song that I don’t think he ever recorded, but Tracy Byrd recorded it on his 1995 album Love Lessons. Charley does a bang up job with the song

You looked at me as only you can look at me
You touched my cheek and told me not to cry
But you said you’d found somebody you loved more than me
And you told me I’d forget you by and by

But you lied to me, yes you lied to me
You said time would close the wound that bled inside of me
But every breath I take brings back your memory
You said I’d forget you, but you lied to me

“Standing In My Way” comes from Billy Yates and Jim McCormick, an interesting ballad of self-recriminations.

The album closes with a spritely up-tempo number from “Country” Johnny Mathis, “Music In My Heart”.

I really liked this album. In fact I would regard this as Charley’s best album in over twenty years. I like the song selections, I like the arrangements and I like Charley’s vocals. Radio won’t play these songs but they should – it’s their loss! Maybe Willie’s Roadhouse will play it – after all octogenarian Willie believes in giving the youngsters a chance. This album doesn’t have a dud among its tracks – solid A.

Classic Rewind: Tammy Wynette and Glen Campbell – ‘My Elusive Dreams’

Single Review: Lee Ann Womack – ‘All the Trouble’

Although she is best known to the masses for her massive crossover hit “I Hope You Dance”, Lee Ann Womack has built a reputation as one of only a very select few female artists that adheres to country music’s traditions. John Rich once referred to her as this generation’s Tammy Wynette. I’m not sure I quite agree with that assessment; my first reaction was that she was more like a Patty Loveless, but I’ve come to realize that a case can be made that she is this generations’ Emmylou Harris, putting artistry and tradition ahead of commercial concerns and earning universal respect from her peers. Let’s just pretend that 2002’s Something Worth Leaving Behind never happened; she has more than redeemed herself for that misstep.

Lee Ann is releasing a new independent album in October and there have been rumors that she is moving in an Americana direction. It’s a little hard to say based on the advance single “All the Trouble,” which is different from her usual fare. I’d call it country blues with a touch of gospel rather than Americana; in fact, it sounds like something that The Judds might have had success with in their heyday.

Written by Lee Ann with her bandmates Adam Wright and Waylon Payne, “All the Trouble” begins with Lee Ann singing the chorus acapella at a the lower end of her register and slowly builds in intensity. During the first, mostly acoustic verse, she sounds beaten down:

The deck is stacked against you
Life’s a losing hand
Even when you think you’re up
You’re right back down again
Either way you play it
The house is gonna win.

By the second chorus, she kicks it up a notch, sounding more like the Lee Ann of old.

I’ve got all the trouble I’m ever gonna need
And I just don’t want no more.

By this point she’s singing more intensely, desperately searching for a happy ending. It’s about a full octave higher than the beginning of the song, which is quite effective in giving the listener a full sense of her emotions. The background vocalists provide a gospel feel which gives the whole song a sense of hope. Unfortunately, at this point the production becomes a lot busier and louder than it was at the beginning and I feel that this is a case where less would have been more.

“All the Trouble” is not perfect, but it’s everything that contemporary mainstream country is not: substantive, well-written, and well sung from the female point of view. I’m looking forward to hearing the full album.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard ft Janie Fricke – ‘A Place To Fall Apart’

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘The First Word In Memory’

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘The First Word In Memory’

Janie Fricke’s ninth album, The First Word In Memory, was released in August 1984. In accordance with her previous efforts, the album was produced by Bob Montgomery.

The album produced two singles, both of which were ballads. The string heavy “Your Heart’s Not In It” was Fricke’s sixth #1 hit. The title track, which was bogged down by clunky backing voices, peaked at #7.

Sandwiched between them was the brilliant “A Place To Fall Apart,” her collaboration with Merle Haggard, the second single from his album It’s All In The Game. Fricke’s contributions to the chart-topping ballad are slight at best, she barely sings alone at all, which I find odd given her stature as a prominent hit maker at the time.

“Talkin’ Tough” opens the album strong, in mid-tempo. “One Way Ticket” kicks up the tempo even more, would’ve made an excellent choice for a single and likely would’ve done very well. “First Time Out of the Rain,” which puts the album back into string-heavy ballad territory, is also very good.

The rockish production of “A Love Like Ours” is dated to modern ears, but Fricke delivers the barnburner flawlessly. The same can easily be said for “In Between Heartaches,” another standout cut on the record. “Another Man Like That” is another ballad, but a welcomed change with muscular opposed to lush accompaniment. “Without Each Other” is an ear-catching uptemo duet with Benny Wilson while “Take It From The Top” is a striking piano ballad.

Listening through The First Word In Memory, I regard it as a missed opportunity on the part of Columbia. The album is peppered with very strong material and yet two of the record’s most mediocre ballads were released as singles. There was a chance here to showcase another side of Fricke’s artistry and they blew it.

Columbia’s mismanagement aside, Fricke and Montgomery crafted an excellent and engaging album that nicely holds up 33 years later. There’s a definite 1980s sheen, but it doesn’t distract from any of the material.

Grade: A