My Kind of Country

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

Monthly Archives: August 2018

Classic Rewind: Carl Smith – ‘There She Goes’

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Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Live at Billy Bob’s’

Smith Music Group’s Live at Billy Bob’s series has proven to be a really mixed bag of albums. Virtually all of the recordings feature top name artists of the past – usually of the not-too-distant past, The recording sound quality is variable (usually decent, sometimes much better) but the bands vary in that sometimes the artist uses his own band (Merle Haggard and his Strangers) but often the band is a few musicians that the artist brought with them augmented by the house band. The Doug Stone set seems to have caught him on a night when he had a cold because he sounded terrible, yet I saw him a few months later doing a largely acoustic set and he sounded terrific. The albums all contain 14-18 songs, usually the artist doing the hits with perhaps one or two other songs included.

Earl Thomas Conley – Live At Billy Bob’s follows the usual pattern being comprised of sixteen songs, all but one of the songs being top ten hits for Earl (the exception is “Hard Days & Honky Tonk Nights” which died at #36). The album was recorded in 2004, at which point Earl (or ETC, if you prefer) was already 63 years old and had suffered some vocal erosion. ETC still can sing better than most but there is definitely some loss of vocal quality and it sounds like on one song “What’d I Say” that the song was sung in a lower key than on the original recording.

Here is the track list (* Billboard #1 country chart hit):

Somewhere Between Right and Wrong *
Your Love’s On The Line *
Don’t Make It Easy For Me *
Angel In Disguise *
Chance of Lovin’ You *
Hard Days & Honky Tonk Nights
What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)*
Holding Her and Loving You *
Once In A Blue Moon
Brotherly Love
Heavenly Bodies
What I’d Say *
Fire & Smoke *
Love Don’t Care (Who’s Heart it Breaks)*
Shadow Of a Doubt
I Can’t Win For Losin’ You *

This is not the album I would recommend to someone unfamiliar with ETC’s work as there are better introductions to his music. It is, however, always interesting to hear an artist in a live setting. I would give this somewhere between a B and a B+

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘What I’d Say’

Album Review: Shooter Jennings – ‘Shooter’

I’ve never been much of a fan of Shooter Jennings, who has seemed to ride on the coat tails of being Waylon Jennings’ son without the same talent, or actually making country music himself. But his latest release draws much more directly on his heritage. While the weak point remains his vocals, which are limited (he sounds rather like a louder Bill Anderson on the quieter songs), this is a rather good album.

It opens with the exciting rockabilly ‘Bound To Git Down’ which is loud and fast and brassy and highly entertaining. Lyrically it traces Shooter’s musical past performing rock in LA, but it makes for a great opening track.

Next up is the engaging ‘Do You Love Texas?’, which was released as a single in aid of Hurricane Harvey relief. A selection of Texas musicians join the call-and-response chorus on this feel-good ode of love to the state. Shooter’s vocal limitations so not detract from this track with its homemeade feel.

‘D.R.U.N.K’ is a relaxed medium tempo number about the joy of alcohol, with a number of lyrical nods to country songs including ‘Whiskey River’. I enjoyed this. ‘I’m Wild & My Woman Is Crazy’ is an enjoyable up-tempo tune.

‘Living In A Minor Key’ is a very nice heartbreak ballad with lovely harmonies and steel guitar, with a tribute to Hank Williams. A better singer would make this a modern classic.
The mid-paced ‘Fast Horses & Good Hideouts’ is rather good, with its nostalgic longing for childhood innocence. ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ is a pleasant love song.

I really didn’t care for the bluesy Southern rock ‘Shades & Hues’, where Shooter’s vocal flaws are more evident. ‘Denim & Diamonds’ closes the set with a rather boring mid-paced song.
While this isn’t an attempt by Shooter to recreate his father’s sound, and nor should it be, it is much better than I was expecting. However, the decision to include nine tracks shortchanges purchasers.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: The Judds – ‘Why Not Me?’

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Should’ve Been Over By Now’

In 1998 Earl decided to return to the studio after a seven year break, with independent label Intersound; the tracks from that album (entitled Perpetual Emotion) were rereleased in 2003 on Smith Entertainment as Should’ve Been Over By Now, with the set list juggled and one added song.

‘Scared Money Never Wins’ was released as a single in 1998, but did not chart. Conley wrote the midpaced contemporary country song with Randy Scruggs and Bat McGrath, and it is a pretty solid song about taking chances. The pair also wrote ‘Don’t Want To Be In Love Without You’, a pensive number about holding on to a relationship.

Conley and McGrath were joined by Clint Daniels to write ‘The Closer You Are’, and with Rick Ferrell for ‘I Ain’t Crazy’. The former is a nice ballad, but I don’t care for the double tracked echo of the backing vocals. The latter is mid-paced and quite pleasant.

My favorite of the new 1998 recordings is ‘You Don’t Have To Live with It’, a vinrant mid-tempo number written by ETC, Ferrell and Steve Clark. The protagonist rejects some unwanted advice from a well-meaning friend as to moving on.

He also chose to revisit a number of his past hits. ‘Holding Her And Lovin’ You’ is a classic, and the new version is beautifully done. The remake of the soulful ‘I Can’t Win For Losing You’ benefits from a more restrained and less breathy vocal and less dated production, and I prefer it to the original. ‘Once In A Blue Moon’ has more passion than the original, and again I prefer it. ‘Your Love’s On The Line’ is solid with a more tasteful production than the hit. The up-tempo ‘Don’t Make It Easy For Me’ is less to my taste but it okay.

The 2003 release added the new title track ‘It Should’ve Been Over By Now’, written by Conley and Scruggs. This is a nice song about falling in love unexpectedly with someone who was meant to be a passing fling.

This is a strong collection which makes a decent introduction to Conley’s work.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)’

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Once In A Blue Moon’

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Yours Truly’

Richard Landis, who was best known at the time for his work with Lorrie Morgan, produced Earl Thomas Conley’s eighth studio album, Yours Truly, released in June 1991. It was Conley’s final album for RCA, his final to chart (it peaked at #53), and his first not to produce a #1 hit since he joined the label ten years earlier.

The album was preceded by “Shadow of a Doubt,” an excellent and engaging uptempo rocker co-written by actor and singer Tom Wopat. It peaked at #8 yet deserved to go much higher.

The second single “Brotherly Love” was a duet he had recorded with Keith Whitley back in 1987 for the intended follow-up album to L.A. To Miami Whitley had recorded with his producer at the time, Blake Mevis. He convinced RCA to shelve the project, leaving the recordings unreleased.

In 1991, the vocals Whitley and Conley had recorded for “Brotherly Love” were rescued and given a new arraignment by Whitley’s next producer, Garth Fundis. The track served as the lead single for his first official posthumous release, Kentucky Bluebird. It peaked at #2 and was nominated for the CMA Vocal Event of the Year award in 1992, where it lost to “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For A Long, Long Time)” by Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt.

In a recently unearthed interview Whitley gave to Ralph Emory in 1987, before the album with Mevis was shelved, in fact it was even due for a September release when they spoke, Whitley said it was Joe Galante’s (The head of RCA) idea he record a duet with a male artist on the label. Galante suggested Conley. The excellent ballad, about “a bond that brother’s know” had originally been recorded by Moe Bandy in 1989 and Billy Dean in 1990. Whitley and Conley’s version was the first and only time the song had been recorded as a duet.

Conley’s commercial fortunes would greatly diminish after “Brotherly Love.” His next two singles would be his last to chart, although neither would peak very high. “Hard Days and Honky Tonk Nights,” which he co-wrote with Randy Scruggs, was a rather strong song, buried in production that was dosed in fiddle, yet just too loud. “If Only Your Eyes Could Lie” was a wonderful steel-drenched ballad in his classic style, updated for modern times. The single peaked at 36 and 74 respectively.

The ballad “You Got Me Now” opens the album as a bridge between his classic sonic textures and the updated sound Landis brought to the record. The song is unspectacular but good. “One of Those Days” is also solid, but it lacks a layer of emotion from Conley. The dobro-infused “Keep My Heart On The Line” is an infectious mid-tempo number that wouldn’t have been out of place in Whitley’s hands at all.

The cleverly titled “You’re The Perfect Picture (To Fit My Frame of Mind)” is easily the most traditional I’ve ever heard Conley, and the results are spectacular. This uptempo honky-tonker just might be the best moment he ever committed to record. “Borrowed Money” sounds like something John Anderson might have recorded at the time, and while the two artists are hardly alike, Conley does exceptionally well with this song. “I Want To Be Loved Back” is good, but the distracting, cheesy, and unnecessary backing vocalists are incredibly jarring.

Yours Truly is an excellent album, which to my ears, has aged remarkably well. I love seeing artists with a somewhat updated sound and Conley shines here. “Brotherly Love” is the standout track and well deserved big hit. Go to YouTube and stream everything else. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Blake Shelton – ‘Savior’s Shadow’

Week ending 8/25/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Blue, Blue Day — Don Gibson (RCA)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Already It’s Heaven — David Houston (Epic)

1978: Talking In Your Sleep — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1988: The Wanderer — Eddy Rabbitt (RCA)

1998: I’m Alright — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2008: Should’ve Said No — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

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

2018 (Airplay): Drowns The Whiskey — Jason Aldean Feat. Miranda Lambert (Broken Bow)

Classic Rewind: Don Williams – ‘I Recall A Gypsy Woman’

A 1976 UK hit for Don:

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Nobody Falls Like A Fool’

Classic Rewind: Kitty Wells – ‘There’s Poison In Your Heart’

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Chance Of Loving You’

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘The Heart Of It All’

Released at the heart of the New Traditional era in 1988, The Heart Of It All did not stray too far from ETC’s accustomed wheelpath, although producers Emory Gordy Jr and Randy Scruggs made sure the arrangements were a bit less AC than previously. He was still a reliable hitmaker beloved by country radio, with singles destined to reach #1, and the first four singles from this album followed the pattern.

The lead single is a nice ballad written by Bob McDill and Paul Harrison about a woman tied to an unworthy husband, who she loves regardless. ETC’s hushed vocals are lovely, and the production fairly restrained.

Harmonies from Emmylou Harris make any song better, and the next single was the lovely duet ‘We Believe In Happy Endings’, another McDill song about keeping a marriage going, but a more positive one. It had been a top 10 solo hit for Johnny Rodriguez a decade earlier. This is one of my favorite ETC recordings.

‘What I’d Say’, written by Robert Byrne and Will Robinson, is another excellent ballad. This one faces up to the immediate afterbreak of a breakup, with the protagonist uncertain how he would react if he met her unexpectedly.

What would prove to be Earl’s very last #1 hit was Thom Schuyler’s ‘Love Out Loud’. A more upbeat tempo enlivens a sincerely sung song about an inarticulate man who nevertheless loves his lady. It is my least favorite of the singles from this album, but not a bad song.

The long run of #1 and 2 hits, dating back to 1982’s ‘Somewhere Between Right And Wrong’ was to come to a juddering halt with this album’s fifth single, which peaked at a very disappointing #26. It was the first time ETC had attempted more than four from one album, but the main problem may have been the underlying shifts in country radio. He would experience only two more top 10s, one of which was a posthumous duet with Keith Whitley. ‘You Must Not Be Drinking Enough’ is actually a fine song which deserved better, and more traditional sounding than much of ETC’s oeuvre (despite being a Don Henley cover). A soulful vocal is backed up with steel guitar as ETC offers advice to a lovelorn friend, or perhaps himself:

You keep telling yourself she means nothing
Maybe you should call her bluff
You don’t really believe it
You must not be drinking enough …

You keep telling yourself you can take it
Telling yourself that you’re tough
But you still want to hold her
Must not be drinking enough

You’re not drinking enough to wash away old memories
And there ain’t enough whiskey in Texas
To keep you from begging “please, please, please”
She passed on your passion, stepped on your pride,
Turns out you ain’t quite so tough
Cause you still want to hold her
You must not be drinking enough

The rambunctious ‘Finally Friday’ would be a single for George Jones a few years later. ETC’s version is more restrained, but the accordion-led production lends it a happy Cajun feel which works pretty well.

ETC co-wrote three songs, two of them with producer Randy Scruggs. The title track, ‘Too Far From The Heart Of It All’, is quite a pretty ballad on a religious theme although the meaning is not very clear. ‘Carol’ is a tender, thoughtful ballad about a man who regrets having left his wife years ago:

If I could turn back time to yesterday
I’d be coming home this time to stay …
I guess I never felt this way before
Feeling like a stranger at my own door
I wouldn’t have to ask you how you’ve been
And I wouldn’t have to fall in love again

Carol
No one has replaced you
I’ve never looked a day beyond goodbye
And Carol
Time could not erase you
It’s only made me wish I’d never tried

Guess some of us just don’t know when to stop
Reaching out for something we ain’t got

‘No Chance, No Dance’, written with Robert Byrne, is a brassy uptempo tune about not playing things safe.

Byrne teamed up with Tom Brasfield to write ‘I Love he Way he Left You’, an AC leaning ballad hoping a woman who has been hurt by a previous relationship will end up with him.

This is one of ETC’s best albums and it is definitely worth checking out.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Statler Brothers – ‘Too Much On My Heart’

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Angel In Disguise’

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Too Many Times’

Earl Thomas Conley was coming off of another of his biggest hits “Once In A Blue Moon,” when he readied his sixth album, Too Many Times. It was his first album in two years, the longest he had gone without a proper studio album since his career began. Mark Wright joins Nelson Larkin as co-producer, on what would be ETC’s last big album, peaking at #3.

All but one of the singles topped the charts. The outlier was the first single, the title track, a very smooth and pop/R&B flavored duet with Anita Pointer. It peaked at #2 despite not resembling country music at all.

The second single, “I Can’t Win For Losin’ You” follows a similar sonic path, but sets itself apart with an excellent and memorable chorus. “That Was A Close One” is also of high quality. “Right From The Start” is the album’s strongest single overall, with a production that slightly ups the tempo and allows ETC to dip into his more distinctive lower register.

“Dancin’ With The Flame” is even more uptempo, and while it’s still smooth, it’s a nice change of pace. “Attracted To Pain” has some intrusive muscular guitar on it that gives ETC something to work with, but proves to distract overall.

“Many Forgiving Years” is the most country-leaning song on the album thus far, even if it doesn’t sound like it in the least. The same is true for “I Need A Good Woman Bad,” one of the album’s more excellent offerings both vocally and lyrically. “Preservation of The Wild” is also wonderful, a bit dark, and would’ve worked splendidly in Hank Williams Jr’s hands. “If Leavin’ Was Easy” is also very, very good.

Too Many Times is a strong album, with a handful of some truly great songs, most of which were buried as album tracks. I have a hard time buying most of this as being country, but this is what some of the genre still sounded like in the crossover period when the New Traditionalist Movement pushed out the Urban Cowboy era. All of the tracks can be streamed on YouTube, which I highly recommend doing.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Jamie Wilson – ‘I Can’t Even Walk’