My Kind of Country

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

Daily Archives: August 8, 2018

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Smokey Mountain Memories’

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Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Fire and Smoke’

Earl Thomas Conley made his debut on RCA Records, the label where he would reside for the bulk of his career and enjoy his greatest success, in the fall of 1981. That label debut, Fire and Smoke, was a success out of the gate.

The album was produced by Conley and his collaborator Nelson Larkin. RCA sent it’s first single to radio just over a year before the album hit store shelves. “Silent Treatment,” which Conley wrote solo, is a mid-tempo ballad about a woman giving her guy the cold shoulder, a tactic he says is “working on me.” It peaked at #7, giving Conley his first top ten hit.

The title track became Conley’s first of eighteen number one hits upon release in April 1981. Also solely written by the singer, it features a nice groove and tells the story of a love that was all “fire and smoke” when it was hot, and ash when the fire burned out.

The album’s third single, “Tell Me Why,” was written by John Booth Aclin. It features a muscular production consisting of forceful guitars mixed with steel. Although the lyric is unremarkable, the song peaked at #10.

RCA managed to squeeze one final single from the album, the excellent string-laced ballad “After The Love Slips Away.” It does sort of drone on without a chorus and is a bit slower than the radio offerings preceding it, two factors that may help explain why it stalled at #16. Wikipedia lists the song as “After The Love Slips Away / Smokey Mountain Memories,” the latter being an excellent banjo, fiddle and steel drenched down-home tribute to life amongst the titular mountain range in Tennessee.

“Too Much Noise (Trucker’s Waltz)” finds Conley straining to overcompensate with twang, in order to up the country credibility of the song. “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More (Than She Loves Me)” is a brilliant slice of classic country and one of the strongest cuts on the album.

“Your Love Is Just For Strangers (I Suppose)” is a smoothed over string-heavy unremarkable ballad. “Like Cinderella,” with its sinister vibe, is one of the album’s weaker offerings and one of my least favorite. “As Low As You Can Go,” with it’s spoken intro, is really just more of the same and another not to my taste.

Fire and Smoke is an album trying to be a little bit to everyone, and for the most part, it succeeds. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few instances of actual country music among the ten tracks, moments like “Smokey Mountain Memories” and “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More (Than She Loves Me)” that Conley executes with ease. It’s clear he was just getting started and finding his way.

Grade: B