My Kind of Country

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

Monthly Archives: April 2018

Classic Rewind: Bobbie Cryner – ‘You Could Steal Me’

Album Review: Ronna Reeves – ‘The More I Learn’

Ronna’s second album for Mercury was released in 1992. It was slightly more successful in gaining radio play, although there were still no bona fide hits.

The mid-paced title track, ‘The More I Learn (The Less I Understand About Love)’, was written by one of the most successful female songwriters of the era, Karen Staley, with Steve Dean, and it is radio friendly enough to have been a potential hit. Its #49 peak would make it the closest ever Ronna ever got to the charts.

Follow-up ‘What If You’re Wrong’, written by Austin Cunningham and Denise Davis, is a big ballad in which Ronna offers to set her a restless husband free:

If you think the magic is gone
I agree, maybe you should move on
If you’re sure that your love for me has really died
If there’s something still missing for you
Then there’s nothing more I’ll know to do
So I’ll have to go along with whatever you decide

But what if you’re wrong?

Some nice steel augments the song effectively. It peaked at a dismal #70, one place higher than the third and last single, the pacy ‘We Can Hold Our Own’, which is pleasant if unremarkable.

My favorite track is ‘Nobody Here To Love’, an excellent Bob Mc Dill ballad about the loss of love. There is a gentle Celtic feel to the fiddle arrangement on the verses behind Ronna’s vulnerable vocals, which then soar on the chorus:

I was living all alone
And though I had a heart of stone
You touched my hand and melted me
And I believed

It was you that made me see
What love could be
But I walked in today and no one was there
Now nothing matters after all

Funny how things work out
Can’t believe somehow
You could leave me now
Tell me, what were you thinkin’ of
‘Cause now that you taught me how
There’s nobody here to love

Another solid McDill tune, ‘Honky Tonk Hearts’, had been a minor hit for Dickey Lee in 1980, and was also recorded by John Anderson. Ronna’s version is pretty good. ‘I’ll Be Faithful To You’ is a sweet love song (written by Paul Kennerley) offering a second chance to someone who has been hurt by another. It was previously recorded by Don Williams. I also quite enjoyed the up-tempo ‘Heartbreak Shoes’.

‘Frontier Justice’, written by Bobby Fischer, Charlie Black and Austin Roberts, is a dramatic number in which Ronna seethes about being done wrong and lied to:

‘Cause you can’t hang ’em high
You can’t lay ’em low
The way you could a hundred years ago
When love and honor were the law of the land
If frontier justice prevailed today
My daddy and brothers would make you pay
That’s the kind of justice you’d understand

Ronna’s attitude is directed triumphantly at her lover’s ex in the upbeat ‘Bless Your Cheatin’ Heart’, an entertaining song written by Buddy Cannon and Jessica Boucher:

You know, it’s almost funny to see you standing there in tears
I just wanna thank you dear, because he no longer cares about you

You had everything you didn’t want but then somehow
He started looking good to you the minute he fell in my arms
And I’m obliged to you
And bless your cheatin’ heart

Sammy Kershaw duets with Ronna on ‘There’s Love On The Line’. Their voices work well together on this song (written by Jerry Fuller) about a separated couple laying phone tag as they try to make a connection again.

There was a lot of strong material on this album, and it’s one I enjoyed listening to.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Leslie Satcher – ‘Why Do I Still Want You?’

Week ending 4/28/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Oh Lonesome Me / I Can’t Stop Loving You — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Oh Lonesome Me — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1968: The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: Every Time Two Fools Collide — Kenny Rogers & Dottie West (United Artists)

1988: I’ll Always Come Back — KT Oslin (RCA)

1998: Bye, Bye — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2008: You’re Gonna Miss This — Trace Adkins (Capitol Nashville) 

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

Classic Rewind: Bill Monroe with Jim & Jesse – ‘It’s Mighty Dark For Me To Travel’

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)’

Album Review: Ronna Reeves – ‘Only The Heart’

Big Spring, Texas native Ronna Reeves released her debut album on PolyGram/Mercury Records in 1991. Only The Heart was a commercial dud, with the album and all four of its singles failing to chart.

Reeves’ debut single, the excellent steel laced chugger “Sadly Mistaken” was co-written by Byron Gallimore. The would-be power ballad “The Letter,” which followed, wasn’t very good or well-written.

The third single, “That’s More About Love (Than I Wanted To Know)” came with pedigree — Dickey Lee and Bob McDill co-wrote the mid-tempo ballad, which was originally released as a low-charting single by Nicolette Larson in 1986. Reeves’ version is good but hasn’t aged well through the years.

“Ain’t No Future In The Past,” a nice up-tempo rocker, ending the label’s promotional run with this album. The title track, a wonderful ballad, was written solely by Karen Staley.

In addition to the Lee/McDill co-write, Only The Heart had one more notable moment. Reeves covered country legend Ernie Ashworth’s classic “Talk Back Trembling Lips.” Her version is spellbindingly good and easily one of the best songs on the albums.

“I Could Be Loving You” is a well-executed and engaging uptempo rocker. “Sayin’ You’re Wrong Don’t Make It Right” is a wonderful example of 1990s country at its best. “If I Were You” features an almost identical story to Terri Clark’s classic of the same name, which would appear four years later. Clark’s take on the theme is better and far more polished. “Same Old Story” is an excellent Tony Arata ballad.

Only The Heart is a mixed bag with some truly great songs, some that are just okay, and not enough to make me excited to see where Reeves will head as an artist. I can see why it failed. The album just isn’t distinctive enough to stand out from the pack. She’s a great singer in search of better material.

Grade B+

Classic Rewind: Donna Ulisse – ‘If That’s The Way You Feel’

Classic Rewind: Ronnie Milsap – ‘That Girl Who Waits On Tables’

Album Review: Dawn Sears – ‘Dawn Sears’

With a secure livelihood as Vince Gill’s backing singer, and husband Kenny playing fiddle for Vince, Dawn recorded a self-released album in 2002. This is a pure country album, full of great songs superlatively sung. Listening to it makes one regret that Dawn had not enjoyed mainstream success.

A few country classics are included, There is a super version of honky tonk classic ‘A-11’. Connie Smith duets on an vibrant and assertive version of the Mel Tillis kissoff tune ‘Unmitigated Gall’. Amore obscure revival is ‘My Ears Should Burn (When Fools Are Talked About)’, a minor hit in the 60s for Claude Gray and written by Roger Miller. It is a great country shuffle about regretting cheating on an ex. A more recent cover is the wonderful gospel-tinged ‘Fit For A King’, written by Carl Jackson and Jim Rushing in high lonesome bluegrass style and recorded by several artists including Garth Brooks. Dawn’s stunning version is one of the finest readings and my favorite track here.

As far as I know all the other material was new. ‘No Place To Fall’ is a regretful ballad about a young widow scared for the future alone with her baby. The steel-dominated ‘The Lonely In Me’ is another beautiful song filled with sadness over a troubled relationship as the wife decides to leave her cheating husband.

‘Love In The Making’ is a pretty love song with a soothing melody. ‘Right Here In Heaven’ is a sophisticated loungy ballad about a happy marriage, beautifully sung. ‘Don’t Take Your Hands Of My Heart’, another love song, sounds like a Marty Robbins western ballad.

‘Barbeque On My Birthday’ is a lighthearted western swing which offers a nice change of pace.

In ‘Talk To Me’, Dawn appeals to a husband who is not interested any more. The closing track, ‘Sweet Memories’ is another outstanding ballad with some gorgeous steel courtesy of John Hughey.

This is an excellent album which I would strongly recommend to traditional country fans who appreciate great vocals.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: The Statler Brothers – ‘How Are Things In Clay, Kentucky?’

Album Review: Kacey Musgraves – ‘Golden Hour’

In my more than twenty-five years of listening to and absorbing country music, I’ve come to observe the many different artistic paths taken by artists who either desire to play in the vast wilderness of mainstream pop, double down on a commercial sound out of desperation for relevancy, morph into an artistic powerhouse or stay pigeonholed as a one trick pony unable to diversify.

Kacey Musgraves really hasn’t taken any of those paths on Golden Hour. She’s simply hit the reset button on a career that had devolved into parody, with songs like the half-baked “Biscuits” showcasing an artist tail-spinning artistically. There was little to enjoy about Pageant Material, and while it was traditional, it just didn’t hit the mark on any level. Musgraves had become a persona, losing sight of the fact she had to be a human being, too.

Those days are long gone. Golden Hour isn’t just a step in the right direction. The album is leaps and bounds ahead of anything she’s done in the wake of Same Trailer, Different Park.

Our first taste of the new music, “Butterflies,” is a beautiful ode to coming into one’s own through a budding relationship and a metaphor for her new direction:

I was just coastin’, never really goin anywhere

Caught up in a web, I was gettin’ kinda used to stayin’ there

And out of the blue, I fell for you

 

Now you’re lifting me up ‘stead of holding me down

Stealing my heart ‘stead of stealing my crown

Untangled all the strings ’round my wings that were tied

I didn’t know him and I didn’t know me

Cloud Nine was always out of reach

Now, I remember what it feels like to fly

You give me butterflies

 

Kiss full of color makes me wonder where you’ve always been

I was hiding in doubt ‘ill you brought me out of my chrysalis

And I came out new all because of you

Shane McAnally makes his sole appearance on the album courtesy of “Space Cowboy,” which wonderfully chronicles a relationship that had simply run its course:

You can have your space, cowboy

I ain’t gonna fence you in

Go on ride away, in your Silverado

Guess I’ll see you ’round again

I know my place, and it ain’t with you

Sunsets fade, and love does too

Yeah, we had our day in the sun

When a horse wants to run, there ain’t no sense in closing the gate

You can have your space, cowboy

 

After the gold rush, there ain’t no reason to stay

Shoulda learned from the movies that good guys don’t run away

But roads weren’t made to not go down

There ain’t room for both of us in this town

To prove she’s still the same woman we’ve come to know and love, Musgraves had to include one nod to her past, albeit with very different window dressing. “High Horse” is an excellent kiss-off to anyone who acts righteous and likely doesn’t even know it. This is her attempt at disco, and while the beat is infectious, I’m hearing EDM more than traditional disco. The track, no matter how well-executed, is a polarizing moment for mainstream country. I love it, so none of this truly matters to me.

The pop-infused “Happy & Sad” is another standout moment and my favorite thing Musgraves has ever done. The lyric may find her having a good time at a party, having an incredible time with a guy, but knows better than to fully give in:

Is there a word for the way that I’m feeling tonight?

Happy and sad at the same time

You got me smilin’ with tears in my eyes

I never felt so high

No, I’ve never been this far off of the ground

And they say everything that goes up must come down

But I don’t wanna come down

The brilliance of “Happy & Sad” is how Musgraves uses the story to display growth and maturity by writing from the perceptive of a woman her own age, who has had enough relationship experience to no longer allow the fairytale aspects of a new relationship cloud her judgment. She may have “never felt so high” but she’s introspective enough to know there’s always another side where the high wears off.

The banjo and steel infused “Oh What A World” is the evolution from “Happy & Sand” and finds Musgraves in the place where she can finally, and unequivocally, let go of any and all self-doubt:

Oh, what a world, don’t wanna leave

All kinds of magic all around us, it’s hard to believe

Thank God it’s not too good to be true

Oh, what a world, and then there is you

She’s clearly referring to her husband, musician Ruston Kelly, whom she married while in the process of writing and recording this album. Their relationship comes up again on the title track:

Baby don’t you know?

That you’re my golden hour

The color of my sky

You’ve set my world on fire

And I know, I know everything’s gonna be alright

Musgraves’ feelings for Kelly are at the center of “Velvet Elvis” a sonically adventurous ballad in which she defines their relationship as classic but kitschy. She admits she’s “only human” on “Wonder Woman,” in which the banjo returns to underscore an important admission:

But, baby, I ain’t Wonder Woman

I don’t know how to lasso the love out of you

Don’t you know I’m only human?

And if I let you down, I don’t mean to

All I need’s a place to land

I don’t need a Superman to win my lovin’

‘Cause, baby, I ain’t Wonder Woman

The banjo also plays a role in the sonic texture of the confectionary “Love Is A Wild Thing,” which stood out to me right off the bat when I initially listened to the album. I don’t hate but don’t love “Slow Burn” or “Lonely Weekend.” They aren’t weak tracks by any means, but I found Musgraves’ phrasing throughout both of them to be slightly annoying.

The album also boasts two piano-based ballads that offer a change of pace. “Mother” is an ambiguous and short lullaby. She closes the album with “Rainbow,” a song for anyone bearing the weight of the world on their shoulders, which she played at her grandmother’s funeral.

Like most of modern country, it’s difficult to classify Golden Hour. It debuted on the Billboard Country and Americana/Folk Albums charts, both at #1. It isn’t ‘traditional country’ by any means but I don’t hear any radical sonic shift from what Musgraves has been doing these past five years.

To me, Golden Hour is a singer/songwriter record from a woman exploring what it means to have found a love worth holding on to for decades to come. It chronicles the budding beginnings of a marriage that will likely blossom for many albums as the years go on.

Grade: A- 

Classic Rewind: Noel and Ben Haggard cover ‘The Running Kind/I’m A Lonesome Fugitive/It’s All In The Movies’

Album Review: Dawn Sears – ‘Nothin’ But Good’

Mark Wright produced Dawn Sears’ second album, Nothin’ But Good, which arrived on Decca Records in August 1994. She was the first artist signed to the label’s newly revived country music branch.

The investment proved moderately successful from the onset. The rockin’ “Runaway Train,” which was co-written by fellow spotlight artist Kim Richey, peaked at #52. Sears’ fortunes would, unfortunately, reverse, as the mid-tempo title track, co-written by songwriter-of-the-moment Kostas, failed to chart.

“Close Up The Honky Tonks” is a clean and precise cover of the Buck Owens classic. “That’s Where I Wanna Take Our Love” is a classically styled torch song, written by Dean Dean Dillon and Harlan Howard and flawlessly executed by Sears.

“No Relief In Sight” is a contemporary ballad about the inability to move on from a past relationship. “Uh Oh (Here Comes Love)” is an excellent ditty, with an infectious melody, co-written by Carlene Carter.

“Planet of Love,” easily a standout track, is a spellbinding torch song co-written by Jim Lauderdale and John Leventhal. “It was Too Late” returned Sears to the up-tempo stylings that comprise the majority of the album.

Around this time, Sears also became known for her collaborative work with her fellow contemporaries. She teamed with Tracy Byrd for the duet “Out of Control Raging Fire” (later covered by Patty Loveless and Travis Tritt) from his debut album and provided backing vocals for Vince Gill on I Still Believe in You.

The association with Gill would prove most fruitful as she would continue to guest on many of his albums, accompany him on tour, and join his Western Swing band The Time Jumpers along which her husband Kenny. Their friendship impacted this album with the brilliant traditional ballad “If I Didn’t Have You In My World,” which Gill co-wrote with Jim Weatherly.

The album’s centerpiece closed out the album. Sears would have just one writing credit on this album, “Little Orphan Annie,” which she wrote solo. She wrote the tune in tribute to her parents, who died far too soon. It’s as perfect and effective a country song as I’ve ever had the good fortune to hear:

I saw the love

In mama’s eyes

I saw the fear she tried to hide

She knew she’d never see the morning sun

She left this world so young

 

On a windy day

In my Sunday best

I watched them lay my dad to rest

After months of pain, I tried to help him through

But there was nothing I could do

 

I feel like

Little Orphan Annie

Left here all alone

Little Orphan Annie

Trying to be strong

Every night I kneel and pray

Lord help me through another day

Help me fill this empty heart

Please don’t let me fall apart

Give me the strength to be

Little Orphan Annie

 

I miss them more

Then I can say

It’s not supposed to be this way

All grown up I should understand

But the child in me

Can’t comprehend

There are moments of sheer brilliance on Nothin’ But Good that show why Sears was one of the best and most criminally underrated female artists to fly under the radar in the 1990s. Some of the uptempo material is aimed at commercial viability and is, therefore, filler, but the vast majority of the album is beyond excellent.

Sears would sadly exit Decca shortly after the release of this album.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: The Scott Family – ‘Love Remains’

Week ending 4/21/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Oh Lonesome Me / I Can’t Stop Loving You — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Oh Lonesome Me — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1968: Fist City — Loretta Lynn (Decca)

1978: Someone Loves You Honey — Charley Pride (RCA)

1988: I Wanna Dance With You — Eddy Rabbitt (RCA)

1998: Bye, Bye — Jo Dee Messina (Curb) 

2008: You’re Gonna Miss This — Trace Adkins (Capitol Nashville) 

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Singles You Up — Jordan Davis (MCA Nashville) 

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent – ‘This Wanting You’

Cover of a T Graham Brown song once recorded by George Jones.

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘Down To My Last Broken Heart’

Album Review: Ashley McBryde – ‘Girl Goin’ Nowhere’

Arkansas-born singer-songwriter Ashley McBryde emerged last year with her impressive Warner Brothers single ‘Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega’. This well written song about finding relief from a hard life was inspired by the co-writer’s real life story of meeting his future spouse. There is an optimistic mood which is counterpointed by a detailed and realistic picture of small town America. It is a really good song, well suing by Ashley. The only complaint I have is with slightly intrusive production. Jay Joyce, best known for his work with Eric Church (who helped to bring Ashley to the fore, and to whom she is being compared), is the guilty party here, and his rock background dominates on Ashley’s new album.

The most effective tracks are the quitter, more reflective ones (like ‘Dahlonega’). The title track is a delicate acoustic song about the struggles of making it as a musician and defying those who tried to discourage her early on and now pretend they always supported her:

“Don’t waste your life behind that guitar
You may get gone, but you won’t get far
You’re not the first
You won’t be the last
And you can tell us all about it
When you come crawling back”

Then the lights come up
And I hear the band
And where they said I’d never be
Is exactly where I am
I hear the crowd
I look around
And I can’t find one empty chair
Not bad for a girl goin’ nowhere

I need to thank my daddy
For that first set of strings
And all those folks who swore I’d never be anything

To the end, this remains understated and thoughtful, as does ‘Andy (I Can’t Live Without You)’. This is a realistic love song about a man who has his fair share of imperfections and irritating behaviour, but is still the love of her life. Apparently it is actually about Ashley’s male best friend and room mate rather than a romantic interest as such, but it feels more like a marriage.

You drink my whiskey without askin’
You put your boots up on my couch
It drives me crazy to remind you
More than once to take the garbage out
You used my good towels on the dog
That’s the only thing I’ve asked you not to do
Most days I’d love to lock you out
I can’t live without you

The kitchen table ain’t for business
I wish you’d put the bills where they go
I guess you’d need an invitation to the backyard
To see that it needs mowin’
You leave your whiskers in the sink
And I’ve told you ’til I’m black and blue
You never worry what our neighbors think
I can’t live without you

‘Cause you’ve got my back
Even when I’m wrong
You’re the only one who knows me and my heart can’t get along
I got reasons to cry and can’t tell you which one
But you don’t ask no questions
You just hold me ’til I’m done
And when I’m lookin’ to fight
You flat refuse
I can’t live without you

You’re always voicin’ your opinion
You play your guitar way too loud
And God, I reckon it would kill you
To lift a finger and help me clean this house
You know your jokes ain’t all that funny
But I’ll keep on laughin’ if you want me to
Nobody understands why I love you
I can’t live without you

A very stripped down arrangement allows the song to shine.

These three tracks are all fantastic and strongly recommended by me.

Elsewhere the sound is more rock-influenced. ‘Radioland’ is a catchy country rock ode to the joys of music encountered as a child. ‘The Jacket’ is a very nice mid-paced tribute to a beloved old article of clothing symbolic of Ashley’s father’s life.

‘American Scandal’ is a sultry rock ballad comparing a relationship to an illicit one (specifically President Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe); I didn’t particularly like this lyrically, although it was well sung; and the production was heavy handed. It leads into the bluesy soulful ‘Southern Babylon’, again a good song but not to my taste, with hushed vocals and supernatural-inspired lyrics.

‘Living Next To Leroy’ is an excellent song about high school friends whose lives are destroyed by crystal meth “on the dark side of the country” – very powerful lyrics but spoiled by the heavy electric guitar – although perhaps its very dissonance is making a point.

‘El Dorado’ on the other hand is too loud and busy from the start, although there is an engaging lyric about life on the road. ‘Home Sweet Highway’, abut being on the way home is a bit more restrained and all the better for it. ‘Tired Of Being Happy’ is a pretty good song about an encounter with a recently married ex, and offering him a way out, once more rather smothered by the backings.

Ashley McBryde is an extremely talented artist with very strong songwriting skills. However some of the arrangements on this record don’t work for me. Those who do like more rock influences in the country should find much to love in this album, and I think it’s worth checking out even if that doesn’t apply.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Dawn Sears – ‘What A Woman Wants To Hear’

Dawn Sears’ debut album on Warner Brothers Records was released in 1991. Barry Beckett acted as producer. ‘San Antone’, her very first single for Warner Brothers, having failed to chart the previous year, it was removed from consideration for the album, but if you want to hear this very retro Patsy Cline style ballad, you can check it out on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIAyvGo_-DQ

However, the label retained the second single, although it too had made no chart impact. ‘Till You Come Back To Me’ was another beautifully sung slow ballad, but slightly more contemporary in style, and was written by Mike Reid and Troy Seals. Dawn’s vocals soar on this big ballad.

Dawn showed she was as good with up-tempo material with a committed cover of Highway 101’s ‘Good Goodbye’ (a track on that band’s debut album a few years earlier and co-written by Paulette Carlson). Dawn’s version uses the same arrangement as the original, but she delivers the attitude believably. Warner Brothers’ last unsuccessful attempt at getting Dawn on the radio came with ‘Tell Me I’m Crazy’, another Mike Reid tune (co-written this time with Rory Michael Bourke). This sophisticated loungy ballad is exquisitely performed, and was later covered in very similar style by Shelby Lynne.

‘Odds And Ends (Bits And Pieces)’ had most recently been recorded by Lynne on her own 1989 debut album, but was an older classic, written by Harlan Howard. It is another slow paced ballad which was ideally suited to both artists’ vocal ability.

A number of the other tracks were either covers or were later picked up by other artists. The classic Hank Williams hit is treated very authentically and highly enjoyable. ‘He’s In Dallas’ was recorded by Reba McEntire on her 1991 album For My Broken Heart, and was later covered by fellow Spotlight Artist Linda Davis. A mournful ballad about the failure of a relationship and the collapse off all the protagonist’s dreams for her future, as she returns home to her mother in Minnesota, disconsolate. Dawn’s vocal is exceptional.

The title track (coincidentally a song co-written by Davis) is another excellent ballad yearning to be treated well, which should have been a big hit for someone. This is another of the highlights on this album. ‘Old Fashioned Broken Heart’ is a great traditional country heartbreak ballad written by Donny Kees and Terri Sharp, is superb, and one of my favorite tracks here, assisted by some nice fiddle.

She delivers up some western swing on the assertive ‘No More Tears’, and sultry blues on ‘Could Be The Mississippi’, showing her range.

This was a very good album which slipped beneath the radar.

Grade: A-