My Kind of Country

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

Monthly Archives: February 2019

Classic Rewind: Scotty McCreery covers JMM – ‘Letters From Home’

Single Review: Reba McEntire — ‘Stronger Than The Truth’

You’ll have to go back twenty years to find the last time Reba McEntire introduced a new studio album with a ballad. It’s exceedingly rare, and a welcomed change of pace, especially when it introduces a project McEntire is calling one of the most country of her career.

She’s introduced the album with the title track, which was co-written by former Eden’s Edge frontwoman Hannah Blaylock and her niece Autumn McEntire. The song finds Reba in the wake of learning her husband has taken up with someone new:

I never dreamed of wantin’ more

Than a small town, simple life

A little money in our pockets

You’re my husband, I’m your wife

 

But then I fell in icy water

Standing in the grocery line

I overheard my name and yours

And one I did not recognize

 

Now everything I thought I knew is walking out the door

There’s a bottle on the table tellin’ me the only thing I know for sure

Is there’s not a sound, a sound as loud as silence

There’s not a blade sharper than a lie

There’s not a low lower than being the last one to know

You got a brand new start with someone new

And there’s no whiskey stronger than the truth

“Stronger Than The Truth” comes just four years after McEntire and her manager husband Narvel Blackstock divorced after 25 years, a decision she has said, “wasn’t her idea.” It’s an excellent lyric and I love how the writers take us back to her eighties hits, by overtly name-checking “The Last One To Know” and placing her in a grocery store line, like she was in “What Am I Gonna Do About You.”

This time around, though, she has a plan, even if it’s a faulty one:

The only thing I can do

Is pour a glass and pretend

That this pain’s gonna end

“Stronger Than The Truth” isn’t as dynamic as her biggest heartbreakers nor is it as traditional as I would’ve liked. Pedal steel and fiddle are in the mix, but their presence is too subtle for a ballad with such a mournful lyric. But “Stronger Than The Truth” is a formidable first taste of McEntire’s new album, which comes out April 5, two days before she returns as host of the 54th annual Academy of Country Music Awards.

Grade: B+

NOTE: To wet our appetites further, McEntire will be releasing a new song from the album every Friday until April 5. Last week she evoked “Have I Got A Deal For You” with the charming “No U in Oklahoma,” which you can hear HERE. 

Classic Rewind: Alan Jackson – ‘Better Class Of Losers’

Album Review: John Michael Montgomery – ‘Time Flies’

After he was dropped by Warner Brothers. JMM released one further album, 2008’s Time Flies, on independent label Stringtown Records. Recorded in his brother Eddie’s home studio, it was produced by Byron Gallimore with, for the most part, his trademark sheen and lack of subtlety.

The lead single (or at least the first song released, as it did not chart), ‘Mad Cowboy Disease’, is a tongue in cheek country rocker written by Jamey Johnson, Jon Maddox and Jeremy Popoff. JMM sings it with a commitment which carries off a sometimes silly lyric, and there’s even a fun nod to Mel Tillis in the song. Next up was ‘If You Ever Went Away’, an emotional ballad written by Randy Houser and Daryl Burgess. It is a nice song which JMM sings well, but a bit over-produced. ‘Forever’, which was an actual radio single and made it into the top 30, is a very boring AC song.

Jamey Johnson contributed another pair of songs. ‘What Did I Do?’ (written with George Teren) is a rocking love song – not bad but over-produced. ‘Let’s Get Lost’ is quite a pleasant ballad which Johnson wrote with Arlis Albritton and Jeremy Popoff.

‘Loving And Letting Go’, written by Greg Barnhill and Gary Hannan, is a rather dull AC ballad. ‘Fly On’ is better, a wistful ballad about loss.

Luke Bryan’s own career has led to considerable (and often justified) disdain from more traditional country fans, but his cowrite with Kelley Lovelace and Lee Thomas Miller included here, ‘With My Shirt On’ is actually rather good, with a wryly amusing lyric about noticing the ravages of middle age:

Remember Key West spring break
We were 21, in perfect shape
We stayed oiled up and half naked all week long
But that was 10 years and 20 pounds ago
Girl, you’re still a 10 but I’m somewhere below
So tonight can I make love with my shirt on?

Now you say our love has grown beyond the physical
And you tell me that you think I’m irresistible
Today I had a salad but I gave in and ate a roll
So tonight can I make love with my shirt on

The best tracks all cluster at the end of the set, with Gallimore reining it back a bit. The best is ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’, a powerful Chris Stapleton song which Stapleton himself finally recorded in 2017. JMM’s vocal is much less intense but it is a pretty good performance of a great song which feels believable, and there is a tasteful steel-laced arrangement.

‘All In A Day’ is a warmly sung song about the passage of time as a beloved grandfather comes to the end of his life, set to a soothing melody. Written by Daryl Burgess and Dan Denny, it provides he album’s title.

JMM co-wrote the charming autobiographical ‘Brothers Til The End’, about growing up playing country music in a family band with his parents and brother Eddie, and thein their rival country music careers, “chasing each other up and down the charts”.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Geezinslaw Brothers – ‘You Call It Country (I Call It Bad Rock And Roll)’

Album Review: Brandon Rickman – ‘Things Kids And Dogs Know’

Brandon Rickman, best known as a member of the Lonesome River Band, released an excellent solo album almost a decade ago. At last the follow up has arrived, and he mixes country and bluegrass to similar effect.

He opens with a nice cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s ‘Black Rose’. If anything it is a little too pretty and not quite forceful enough vocally, but the arrangement is a bluegrass delight.
The self-styled ‘front porch philosophy’ and faith of ‘Prayers Go Up’ is warmly sung and sweetly positive, and is very pleasing. The title track is also rather charming, celebrating simple values:

I think we’d all be a lot better off
If we thought with our hearts and gave our minds some time off
If we did what we did ‘cause we love what we love
Living would never get old
Then we would know things kids and dogs know …

Monsters are real
Magic is real
And car rides are better with your head out the window

‘By His Hands’ is a religious song and very nicely done.

‘Tunnel Tunnel’ is a vibrant bluegrass story song about a prisoner who tires to dig his way out of prison, with fatal results when it caves in on him and the warders seal it up behind him.

‘Lowdown Blues’ is one of those bluegrass songs which sound upbeat musically despite downbeat lyrics. ‘It’s In My Mind To Wander’ is about a man who has tired of roaming and sounds like a traditional tune.

‘It’s Easy As Sin’ is a western swing love song with some lovely fiddle. ‘One Step, Two Step’ is a charming Texas dancehall delight.

‘Train Long Gone’ is a Dennis Linde song Randy Travis recorded on his 2004 album Passing Through. The lovely ballad ‘Hearts Aren’t Made To Break’ (written by Roger Murrah and Steve Dean) was a hit for Lee Greenwood in the 80s.

This is a really appealing record with a lot to offer fans of both bluegrass and country.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Sammy Kershaw – ‘You’re Still On My Mind’

Paying tribute to George Jones:

Album Review: John Michael Montgomery – ‘Letters Fom Home’

Letters From Home was John Michael Montgomery’s [“JMM”] ninth studio album, and his third released on the Warner Brothers label. Released in April 2004, JMM’s career its downhill slide. Although the album charted reasonably well (#3 country /#31 all-genres), sales were tepid and the album received no RIAA certifications. There would be one more studio album (released in 2008) that charted poorly.

In the wake of 9/11 there were many patriotic songs released, a few quite good and many being little more than jingoistic flag wavers. This album features one of the better such songs in the title track, Tony Lane and David Lee’s “Letters From Home”. This song transcends the politics of the moment with a timeless, understated, but emotionally moving portrayal of a soldier at war, whose soul scorching daily grind is eased by news from family and friends back home. The song does not mention any politicians or villains by name, so in a sense it is a universal song that could apply to any soldier at any time in our nation’s history. The song soared to #2 country and would rise to #24 on the pop charts (the best showing ever for a JMM single) and its rise on the charts is commensurate with its quality.

My dearest son, it’s almost June
I hope this letter catches up with you
And finds you well
It’s been dry
But they’re callin’ for rain
And everything’s the same old same
In Johnsonville
Your stubborn old daddy
Ain’t said too much
But I’m sure you know
He sends his love

And she goes on
In a letter from home

I hold it up and show my buddies
Like we ain’t scared
And our boots ain’t muddy
And they all laugh
Like there’s something funny
‘Bout the way I talk
When I say, “Mamma sends her best, y’all”
I fold it up and put it in my shirt
Pick up my gun and get back to work

And it keeps me drivin’ on
Waitin’ on letters from home

Only one more single would be released from the album, “Goes Good with Beer” which peaked at #51. The song undoubtedly would have been a bigger hit had it been released during JMM’s heyday. As it was, it barely received any airplay in my part of the country.

Flat tire on the interstate
Too many nights of workin’ too late
Had a run in with an old memory
No, it ain’t been the best of weeks

But it goes good with beer and the Friday night atmosphere
Of this cross-town bar where the cars all get steered to
And it goes hand in hand with my
Crazy buddies and this three-piece band
And the pretty girls and the games we play and the smoke and mirrors
Yeah, troubles come, but they go good with beer, yeah, they do, yeah

I think that the mid-tempo ballad “That Changes Everything” would have made a good single, but I also think that the label regarded the title track as a fluke hit (or last hurrah), and had lost interest in JMM by this time. Moreover, JMM’s sound and production were getting more country at a time when country radio was viewing acts like Rascal Flatts and Jason Aldean as representing the epitome of country music. Billy Currington also recorded the song as an album track but I like JMM’s version better.

I said, “I know a shrimp boat captain out of Galveston”
I’ve been thinkin’ I’d go down and work for a spell
Oh, you never can tell it just might suit me fine
Spend some time out on the bay
But then there’s always cowboy work in Colorado
And I was thinkin’ that that just might be the thing
Make a little pocket change I figure what the heck
Ain’t nothin’ standin’ in my way
But then she smiled at me

Looked a while at me
And that changes everything
That’s a whole “nother deal
That puts a brand new spin
On this ole rollin’ wheel
That’s some powerful stuff
That’s a girl in love
And that’s one thing
That changes everything

This is a pretty decent album, which I would give a B+. The production by Byron Gallimore and JMM features Tom Bukovac on electric guitar, Mark Casstevens on banjo, Stuart Duncan & Larry Frankin on fiddle, mandolin, Paul Franklin on steel guitar, dobro, and Glen Worf on bass among the many fine musicians utilized on the album.

Track Listing

“Good Ground” (Bill Luther, Bob Regan, Naoise Sheridan) – 4:09
“Letters from Home” (Tony Lane, David Lee) – 4:27
“That’s What I’m Talking About” (Paul Nelson, Tom Shapiro) – 3:24
“Look at Me Now” (Mike Geiger, Vicky McGehee, D. Vincent Williams) – 3:22
“Goes Good with Beer” (Casey Beathard, Ed Hill) – 4:26
“Cool” (Harley Allen, Brice Long) – 3:38
“It Rocked” (Marty Dodson, Paul Overstreet) – 3:50
“That Changes Everything” (Lane, Lee) – 3:57
“Break This Chain” (Jim Collins, Billy Yates) – 2:52
“Little Devil” (Blair Daly, Danny Orton) – 3:47

Classic Rewind: John Michael Montgomery – ‘The Little Girl’

Week ending 2/23/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: Don’t Take Your Guns To Town — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1969: Until My Dreams Come True — Jack Greene (Decca)

1979: Every Which Way But Loose — Eddie Rabbitt (Elektra)

1989: I Sang Dixie — Dwight Yoakam (Reprise)

1999: I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing — Mark Chesnutt (Decca)

2009: Feel That Fire — Dierks Bentley (Capitol Nashville)

2019: Tequila — Dan + Shay (Warner Bros. Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): This Is It — Scotty McCreery (Triple Tigers)

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘A Horse Called Music’

Classic Rewind: John Michael Montgomery – ‘Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Us’

In Memoriam: Fred Foster (1931-2019)

Fred Foster, left, president of Monument Record Corp. and honorary chairman of the Music City section of the United Givers Fund campaign, looks on approvingly as one of the industry’s leading citizens, Chet Atkins, manager of RCA-Victor’s Nashville office, singing the first pledge card in the section Aug. 18, 1967. Joe Rudis / The Tennessean

Fred Foster was a country music legend. Over the course of his 60-year career, he founded Monument Records and helped launch the careers of Kris Kristofferson, Roy Orbison, and Dolly Parton. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016. He died on Wednesday, Feb 20, age 87.

Those are just some brief highlights. I could never sum up his pioneering career as well as Dave Paulson and Cindy Watts from The Tennessean, so I’ve linked to their fantastic obituary HERE.

 

 

 

Album Review: John Michael Montgomery — ‘Pictures’

The promotional cycle for John Michael Montgomery’s Brand New Me had come to an end when Atlantic Records closed their Nashville division in 2001. They weren’t ready to give up on him just yet, so Montgomery moved to their parent label Warner Bros. Nashville, where he reunited with Scott Hendricks for 2002’s Pictures.

The album charted three singles. “‘Till Nothin’ Comes Between Us” is a slick mid-tempo pop ballad, which features a smoothed over vocal from Montgomery. “Country Thang” is typical country-rock, beaming with southern pride. “Four-Wheel Drive” is the best of the bunch, with a nice steel and fiddle based melody, reminiscent of Brad Paisley’s work from the time period. The tracks peaked at #19, #45, and #52, respectively.

Harley Allen, who revived Montgomery’s career with “The Little Girl” appears here, as co-writer, along with Paul Overstreet, of “I Wanna Be There,” a contemporary ballad about a father’s prayer for his child as he or she goes through the phases of life — first words, first date, first heartbreak, etc. John Rich co-wrote “Believe In Me,” a mid-tempo promise of loyalty from a man to his woman.

Rivers Rutherford, a prominent songwriter during this era, was a co-writer of “Love and Alcohol,”  an uptempo cautionary tale where a man is warning a woman he’s been drinking so he’s not quite himself. “Love Changes Everything” is a charming but clichéd story of young love during the summer months on a farm. Montgomery is in a grateful mood on the upbeat “Got You To Thank For That,” which has a nice energy.

There’s nothing particularly interesting about the title track, which traces the love story of a couple through photographs and the memories they conjure up, all the while looking ahead to the memories yet to be made. “It Goes Like This,” which features Sixwire, a group that at the time had released their debut album, is an early sign of bro-country with the way it objectives the woman as nothing more than an object of desire.

I wouldn’t characterize Pictures as a bad album, but it is very generic and lacks even one song I could pull out as essential listening. It’s very typical of early-21st century commercial country music and I could hear shades of what Lonestar was cooking up during this time period. Pictures came on the back end of Montgomery’s career, where he was fighting to remain relevant ten years out from Life’s A Dance.

Radio had mostly moved on, actually to his brother and Troy Gentry, who were hitting their stride with “My Town” and “Hell Yeah.” No one was missing anything with Pictures, so this album’s lack of success was only a loss to his record label.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Reba McEntire – ‘I Know How He Feels’

Classic Rewind: Patty Loveless – ‘You Don’t Even Know Who I Am’

Album Review: John Michael Montgomery – ‘Brand New Me’

The last couple of singles from Home To You had not got the new millennium off to a good start for John Michael Montgomery, but later in 2000 he came up with his biggest hit for years.

‘The Little Girl’, written by Harley Allen, is a story song allegedly based on a true story about a neglected child who witnesses the fatal culmination of her father’s domestic violence, and later tells her loving foster parents she recognises a picture of Jesus as the one who protected her on the night her father killed her mother and herself. A gently soothing melody and harmonies from Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski make this a very pretty sounding song. It topped the Billboard country charts for three weeks.

The two other singles from JMM’s gold-selling 2000 album Brand New Me fell short in comparison. The up-tempo and rather rowdy country-pop ‘That’s What I Like About You’ was probably too much of a contrast in tone to do well while ‘The Little Girl’ was still getting a lot of radio play, and it isn’t a strong enough song to stand on its own. ‘Even Then’ (written by Pat Bunch and Shane Teeters) is better, a smooth AC-leaning love song which plays to JMM’s vocal strengths. However, neither song cracked the top 40.

‘That’s Not Her Picture’ is a beautiful pure country ballad written by Bill Anderson and Gary Burr, which was also recorded in 2000 by Jason Sellers, ex-husband of Lee Ann Womack, who was an aspiring artist at the time. A tasteful steel-led arrangement is perfect for the song and JMM sounds great on the poignant song abot a man who has torn up his ex’s real photos (presumably in anger or grief) and kept a standard shot sold with his wallet purely because it looks a little like her.

Another highlight is ‘Thanks For The G Chord’, written by Byron Hill and Mark Narmore, a tribute to a loving father who taught him music with other life advice.

Also very good is ‘Bus To Birmingham’, an emotional song written by Jess Brown and Tony Lane about a man watching his loved one leaving, thinking he has done the right thing driving her away:

I know she missed her mama
‘Cause that’s the kinda life she comes from
Ain’t no kinda life I’m ever gonna have
She said she’d call me from the station
But I’ll be gone before she gets there
And I’ll see her every time I’m lookin’ back

Heaven knows I ain’t no angel
And I don’t always do the right thing
And right now I know that she don’t understand
But I’ll sleep better knowin’
The only thing I ever loved
Is on that bus to Birmingham

Tonight I’ll slip back in the shadows
And I’ll sip a glass of whiskey
And I’ll try to keep from whispering her name
But there’s some highways I ain’t driven
And there’s some towns that I ain’t lived in
And there’s some times that I can’t get out of the rain

And Lord I can’t bear to break another promise that I made her
So I made out like I wanted her to go
And I’m better off believin’ that she’s better off without me
‘Cause I don’t want her to see me do her wrong

‘Weekend Superstar’ is a fun honky tonker with some nice fiddle about letting loose as a release from a hard week’s work.

The title track, which opens proceedings, is an upbeat song about survival, written by Kris Bergnes and Lee Thomas Miller. ‘Real Love’ (from the pens of Kent Blazy and Neil Thrasher) is a mid-paced country pop love song which is fairly forgettable.

The closing ‘I Love It All’, co-written by JMM himself with Blair Daly is a tribute =e to his love of his career as a musician, and is pretty good.

Overall, a pretty strong album which is worth finding, esecially if you like JMM.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Rhonda Vincent and Gene Watson – ‘Gone For Good’

Single Review: George Strait – ‘Every Little Honky Tonk Bar’

George Strait may have retired from touring but he is keeping his promise to keep on recording. This is the lead single for his upcoming new album, promisingly entitled Honky Tonk Time Machine. ‘Every Little Honky Tonk Bar’ is a cheerful up-tempo tribute to neighbourhood drinking spots, written by Strait with son Bubba and old friend Dean Dillon.

The first verse is actually a rather downbeat lyric , but the vibe is positive and bright:

Whiskey is the gasoline that lights the fire that burns the bridge
Ice creates the water that’s no longer runnin’ under it
Stool holds the fool that poured the whiskey on his broken heart
Cigarettes create the smoke that hides the lonesome in his eyes
The jukebox plays Hank “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”
Dance floor holds the folks tryin’ to forget who they are
And that’s what happens in every little honky tonk bar

Set to a slower melody this might have been an entirely different, sadder song, but a toe-tapping tune and briskly cheery delivery creates a positive atmosphere as we then move into a chorus and second verse celebrating the weekend party scene. Clearly the drinks have taken the first song to sink in and the protagonist has consumed enough to forget all his troubles.

backed by solid country instrumentation, I don’t see this making much headway on a ‘country’ radio which has veered as far off course as it has in recent years. However, it is a great treat for country fans, and whets the appetite for the full album. Listen now and you can download the single and a couple of other new tracks in advance of the album’s release on March 29.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Keith Urban and Chris Janson cover JMM – ‘Sold (The Grundy County Auction)’