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-.