My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Blue Pearl’

After only very minor chart success (according to Record World) and only modestly better success at Warner Brothers, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) signed with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with his producer at GRT Nelson Larkin.

Although largely forgotten, Nelson Larkin was a talented songwriter and independent record producer and studio owner who seemed to truly understand what Conley was about.

Three singles were released from the album: “Dreamin’s All I Do” (#32), “Middle Age Madness” (#41) and “Stranded On A Dead End Street” (#26); and while this did not represent overwhelming chart success, for a minor independent label it was quite respectable and enough to push the album to #20, a very significant achievement which caught the attention of major label RCA, which purchased all of Earl’s Sunbird masters.

“Fire & Smoke”, released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40. Meanwhile, the album reached #20, a rare occurrence for an album released on one of the smaller independents.

The album opens with “Too Much Noise (Trucker’s Waltz)” a slow ballad which is not really a truck driving song despite the title.

There’s a hell raising cowboy
In your truck driving heart
You’ve got the world narrowed down
To four lanes
But how could diesel blooded horses
Ever drag you apart
From the only girl who could ever
Ease your pain
She would follow your dreams
To the farthest extremes
But she needs more than just someone
To be true to
While it seems you just need someone sane
Who can drive all that noise
From your brain

Next up is “Silent Treatment” which RCA would later release as a successful single on the first RCA album Fire And Smoke.

“Dreamin’s All I Do” was the first single from the album, and likely would have been a major hit had it been an RCA release. I love the song, which is a bit of a dreamy ballad.

I woke up crying, I thought I had a dream
But you would not answer up when I called your name
I ran to my window but all I saw was rain
I know you’re going somewhere girl I can feel the pain
But I wouldn’t dream of sleeping with anyone but you
And anyone who knows me knows that I love you
No I wouldn’t dream of sleeping with anyone but you
But anyone can tell you dreamin’s all I do

“Stranded On A Dead End Street” was the album’s third single and built on the momentum of the first two singles. A up-tempo love song, it represents the kind of material I wish Earl had tackled more often.

“You Don’t Have To Go Too Far” features rather more steel guitar than most of Earl’s songs. This song is a mid-tempo declaration of love.

“Fire And Smoke” would prove to be Earl’s first #1 record when released on RCA. “Played This Game Enough To Know The Score” is a medium-fast ballad about a fellow who knows that his current romance won’t last.

“Blue And Green” is gentle ballad about a romance that has failed and the participants far apart.

“Middle Age Madness” is about an older woman who still dreams of a romance that may never occur. This was the second single and likely would have been a bigger hit with a major label behind it.

“This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me” is a song that Earl wrote and pitched to Conway Twitty, who took it to the top of the charts. I like Earl’s recording, which is the most traditional sounding Earl Thomas Conley track I’ve ever heard. It is nearly as good as Conway’s version.

She wore that falling out of love look
I even swore upon the Good Book
Still the last lie I told her was
The one she couldn’t believe
No more crying on her shoulder
She won’t even let me hold her
Cause this time I’ve hurt her more than she loves me

Four of these tracks would appear on Earl’s first RCA album, further proof of the strength of the album, which I would give an A-.

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2 responses to “Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Blue Pearl’

  1. Ken August 8, 2018 at 10:33 am

    One of the most successful independent label country albums ever released. Earl Thomas Conley wrote (or co-wrote) every song on this LP. It launched his first two big hits and paved his way to RCA where his career hit full speed.

    The three Warner Brothers single releases were all branded with a different version of his name – Earl Conley, Earl Thomas Conley and The ETC Band. After his Warner deal concluded those singles “Dreamin’s All I Do,” “Middle-Age Madness” & “Stranded On A Dead-End Street” were re-released on his “Blue Pearl” Sunbird LP under license from Warner Brothers. The B side of his second Warner single “When You Were Blue And I Was Green” was re-titled “Blue And Green” and also included on the LP with two unreleased Warner sides “You Don’t Have To Go Too Far,” and “Played This Game Enough (To Know The Score).” “My Love” released as the B side of his first and third Warner singles was not licensed for that LP and is a “lost” non-LP track along with all of Earl’s earlier GRT singles. I suspect that “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More (Than She Loves Me)” may have been recorded several years earlier as it was produced by Nelson Larkin & Dick Heard who co-produced Earl for GRT Records in the mid-70’s. The musical arrangement sounds a bit older than the other tracks. Paul is right that it pretty much mirrors Conway’s 1976 version.

    By my count only three tracks on “Blue Pearl” were specifically recorded for that release – the A sides of both Sunbird singles and “Too Much Noise (Trucker’s Waltz).”
    To be clear both “Silent Treatment” and “Fire And Smoke” were initially issued as Sunbird singles. After ETC was signed to RCA his Sunbird masters were purchased and both songs were issued on the RCA imprint – first on the “Fire And Smoke” album and later as B sides for two single releases.

    The songs issued as singles were definitely the best of the batch on this LP. I agree that “Dreamin’s All I Do” is a lost gem. Too bad that Earl did not revisit it later in his RCA career. “Stranded On A Dead-End Street” also deserved a better fate and would have been another excellent candidate for resurrection. One of my favorite tracks is another up-tempo song “Played This Game Enough (To Know The Score)” Catchy song that coulda shoulda been a single.

    Unfortunately this album has not yet been released on CD or for legal download.

    I’m with Paul and also rate this album an A-.

    • Ken August 15, 2018 at 2:10 pm

      I neglected to mention that there was one other single release from this Sunbird album.
      “You Don’t Have To Go Too Far” was issued as Earl’s first RCA single in August 1981. The B side was “Too Much Noise (Trucker’s Waltz).” However within a few weeks RCA issued a new single “Tell Me Why” with “Too Much Noise (Trucker’s Waltz)” on the B side.

      Not sure of the reason for the change but it may have been because “You Have Have To Go Too Far” was an unreleased track from Earl’s stint with Warner Brothers. Or perhaps the early reaction at radio was not what they had hoped for as the track failed to chart. Despite being issued as an RCA single the song was not included on Earl’s first RCA album “Fire And Smoke.”

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