My Kind of Country

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

Monthly Archives: March 2019

Classic Reind: John Conlee – ‘Walking Behind The Star’

A tribute to law enforcement officers:

Week ending 3/30/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

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

1969: Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass — Buck Owens and his Buckaroos (Capitol)

1979: I Just Fall in Love Again — Anne Murray (Capitol)

1989: Baby’s Gotten Good At Goodbye — George Strait (MCA)

1999: How Forever Feels — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2009: It Won’t Be Like This for Long — Darius Rucker (Capitol)

2019: Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Doghouse’

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Domestic Life’

Classic Rewind: Paul Overstreet – ‘When You Say Nothing At All’

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘The Carpenter’

Classic Rewind: Chris Stapleton – ‘Amanda’

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Live At Billy Bob’s Texas’

Released by Smith Music in 1999 (it was recorded January 2, 1999), long after the end of Conlee’s years as a hit-maker (his last chart record having occurred nine years earlier), Live At Billy Bob’s Texas serves as a useful recap of Conlee’s career and as an exemplar of John Conlee in live performance.

While the sound quality of the recordings is slightly below that of the studio recordings and Conlee’s voice, at least on this evening, sounded a bit shopworn, the set still shows Conlee for the masterful showman that he is. Moreover, John gives the audience complete versions of his hits, neither the truncated versions often found on live recordings and nor the vapid hits medleys that often plague live recordings. There is one medley among the seventeen song selections but that medley is of the Willie Nelson standard “Night Life” and the Percy Mayfield classic “Please Send Me Someone To Love”, neither song a John Conlee hit.

The remainder of the record is essentially John Conlee’s fifteen biggest hits. Crowd noise is sufficient to let the listener know that this is a live recording, but not so loud as to be intrusive. The band is Billy Bob’s house band augmented by the great Weldon Myrick on steel guitar. My biggest complaint about the band is the somewhat cheesy keyboards of Micky G, but that is but a minor annoyance.

The album opens up with “Common Man” and closes with “I’m Only In It ForThe Love”. All told this album sees John performing his fifteen biggest hits, the medley noted above and Conlee’s last chart hit from 1990, “Doghouse”. In fact until recently, this album was the only place to find “Doghouse”, a much underrated record that would have been a bigger hit had it been released earlier in Conlee’s career.

The man’s in the moon, the cats in the cradle and I’m in the dog house
It never would have happened if my best friend wasn’t such a loud mouth
She’s heard things that she don’t like about my nights out
Now she’s on me like old cheap suit, I’m in the dog house

The dogs eating good and he don’t care
I’m chewing bones in the cold night air
The whole thing seems just a little unfair
There he sits in my favorite chair

I do prefer the studio versions, but for a live album, this is a good representation of John Conlee’s talent and his performance persona. I only had the opportunity to see him in live performance one time, early in his career when he was still largely doing other peoples’ hits, so it is nice to have a live show that is a good career retrospective. Here we have a confident professional putting on a really good show.

Grade: B+

Track List

1. Introduction
2. Common Man
3. Busted
4. Domestic Life
5. Old School
6. Lady Lay Down
7. Dog House
8. Miss Emily’s Picture
9. I Don’t Remember Loving You
10. The Carpenter
11. Backside Of Thirty
12. As Long As I’m Rockin’ With You
13. Friday Night Blues
14. Lay Around And Love On You
15. Rose Colored Glasses
16. Night Life / Please Send Me Someone To Love
17. Got My Heart Set On You
18. I’m Only In It For The Love

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Got My Heart Set On You’

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus’

John Conlee’s only studio album of wholly new material since 1989 was a religious album released in 2004. It is impeccably sung and produced throughout.

Much of the material is familiar, but a few new songs were included. ‘They Also Serve’, written by Tony Seibert and drawing of the words of the poet John Milton, is a tribute to the sacrifices of military wives and families,

That unsung corps of warriors who stay behind and wait

Prayin’ by the phone to learn their loved one’s fate
But they’re still in the war, let there be no mistake
They also serve, those who stand and wait

‘What Else Does He Have To Do’ is an emotional piano-led ballad about Jesus.

‘Pass It On’, written by Harley Allen, is a strong song about the influence we all have on those around us:

Grandfather smoked and had a taste for booze
Next thing you know granddaddy’s son did too
And when that boy had children of his own
Addiction was the only seed he’d sow

Pass it on
Pass it down
We all leave more than a headstone in the ground
Pass it on
At the end will you leave them all your love or all your sin
You can make it right or wrong
Pass it on

He had a special name for every man
For any one that wasn’t just like him
His children used the words they heard from Dad
“If they’re not just like we are we don’t like that”

The third verse brings in Jesus and the transmission of Christian witness.

The Sonny Throckmorton song ‘Safely In The Arms Of Jesus’ is a nice cheerful number set to an upbeat hymnlike tune. Dickey Lee’s ‘Peace Within’ has a lovely soothing melody.

The hymns chosen are all treated with understated reverence. A medley of ‘Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus’ and ‘Softly And Tenderly’ opens proceedings, and another of
‘Amazing Grace’ is set to the strains of an organ backing, and ‘Peace In The Valley’ is piano-led. A tasteful string arrangement backs ‘The Old Rugged Cross’. Conlee’s takes on ‘I Know Who Holds Tomorrow’, ‘His Eye Is On The Sparrow’, ’Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ and ’Farther Along’ are lovely too.

The pace picks up for the urgent ‘This Old House’ and for a closing medley of ‘I Saw The Light’ and ‘I’ll Fly Awy’.

This album really feels like a labor of love.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Bread And Water’

Week ending 3/23/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

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

1969: Only The Lonely — Sonny James (Capitol)

1979: I Just Fall in Love Again — Anne Murray (Capitol)

1989: New Fool At an Old Game — Reba McEntire (MCA)

1999: You Were Mine — Dixie Chicks (Monument) 

2009: Sweet Thing — Keith Urban (Capitol Nashville)

2019: Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Old School’

Classic Rewind: Alan Jackson – ‘Dallas’

Classic Rewind: Mel Tilis – ‘Coca Cola Cowboy’

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Common Man’

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Fellow Travelers/Country Heart’

John Conlee’s career was one of the casualties of the wave of young stars emerging in the late 80s swept away the old guard. Columbia having dispensed with his services, he signed a deal with prominent independent label Sixteenth Avenue, which had also recently picked up superstar Charley Pride.

He decided to ‘Hit The Ground Runnin’’, a nice upbeat tune about moving on with some cheerful accordion. Next up was the reflective ‘River Of Time’, written by Larry Cordle and Jim Rushing (although iTunes miscredits it having confused it with the Judds’ song of the same name). This song looks at the changes in attitude brought as one grows up and older:

I was 16 and strong as a horse
I didn’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin’
But I knew everything of course
I turned 21 totin’ a gun
And losing some good friends of mine
I was crossing my first dreams of sorrow
On the way down the river of time

This river rolls like a rocket
It don’t meander and wind
Ain’t a power on earth that can stop it
We’re all swept up in the grind
So find your companion
The one that will love you
All the way till the end of the line
It’s the dearest of dreams
In the great scheme of things
Goin’ down the river of time

I woke up at 30 and started to worry
About the glaring mistakes of my past
I still had high aspirations
But I knew that I’d better move fast
Now I’m starin’ at 40 and oh Lordy Lordy
I’m still a long way from the top
I’ve still got the heart but I’m fallin’ apart
Reachin’ the hands of the clock

Both tracks received enough airplay to chart in the 40s.

The third single was ‘Hopelessly Yours’ written by Keith Whitley, Don Cook and Curly Putman. It had been cut a few years earlier by George Jones, and was a bona fide hit a few years later for Lee Greenwood and Suzy Bogguss. Conlee’s version is melancholy and very effective, but despite its quality it got little attention from country radio. The final, non-charting, single was even better. ‘Don’t Get Me Started’ is an emotional ballad written by Hugh Prestwood which portrays the lasting sadness of lost love:

Well, thank you for askin’
I know you mean well
But friend, that’s a story I’d rather not tell
To even begin it would take all night long
And I’d still be right here and she’d still be gone

So don’t get me started
I might never stop
She’s just not a subject that’s easy to drop
There’s dozens of other stories I’ll swap
But don’t get me started on Her
I might never stop

You see, deep in my heart is a dam I have built
For a river of tears over love I have spilled
And the way I make certain that dam will not break
Is to never look back when I’ve made a mistake

Prestwood contributed a number of other tunes to the set. ‘Almost Free’ is about a relationship on the brink:

Last night you pushed me a little too far
I was not coming back when I left in the car
There was a time, an hour or two
I was feeling so free – from you
I picked up a bottle and drove to the Heights
Parked on the ridge and I looked at the lights
The engine was off and the radio on
And the singer sang and I sang along

And I was almost free
There almost wasn’t any you-and-me
I was almost free
Whole new life ahead of me
Almost free

Sunrise rising over the wheel
Bottle’s empty and so is the feel
This car knows it’s the wrong thing to do
But it’s driving me home – to you
Maybe I’m too much in love to be strong
Maybe you knew I’d be back all along
If I could be who you wanted, I would
If I could forget I’d be gone for good

It’s just too hard to walk your line
Maybe baby I’ll cross it next time

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Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘I’m Only In It For The Love’

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘American Faces’

American Faces was John Conlee’s ninth studio album, and second for Columbia. Released in February 1987, the album reached #16 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, his last top twenty-five album, all of his previous albums having reached at least #22. Three singles were released from the album in “Domestic Life” (#4), “Mama’s Rockin’ Chair” (#11) and “Living Like There’s No Tomorrow” (#55). After “Mama’s Rockin’ Chair” no John Conlee single would ever again reach the top forty.

Although by this time Conlee had established himself as a major country artist with a long string of hits, the country music market was becoming increasingly youth-oriented and at forty-one years of age, Conlee didn’t fit the “handsome hunks and sweet young things” profile that Nashville was marketing at the time. Too bad, as the quality of Conlee’s recorded output remained high.

The album opens with “Domestic Life”, Conlee’s last top ten hit. That song, with its saxophone riffs and lyrics addressing typical Conlee concerns like everyday life and dreams, is a worthy addition to his canon of hits.

Cruising in my Station Wagon
Trying to keep my muffler from dragging
Sometimes it seems so defeating
As I’m hustling to make it to the Cub Scout meeting

I dream about Mexico
Where all the pretty people go
But we’re on a budget that just won’t budge
Not much money but a whole lot of love

Living that domestic life
Happy children and a pretty wife
Our Cocker Spaniel’s always having puppies
How could anybody be so lucky?

“Slow Passin’ Time” is a quiet ballad about the passage of time with a mildly Caribbean feel to the arrangement. The song would have made a good single, as evidenced by Anne Murray’s Top 40 success with the song a few years later

We both had our dreams when we left that sleepy little town behind
Things have gotten so mixed up, I tell you I’ve forgotten mine
It all had something to do with money and a better way of life
When that old alarm goes off it’s getting hard to open our eyes

Oh, but somewhere in my mem’ry the afternoon sun’s hangin’ in the trees
And the sun is comin’ up from the gulf coast on a sultry breeze
You and me, we’re together in a porch-swing state of mind
Lovin’ each other to the rhythm of slow-passin’ time

“Love Crazy Love” features some nice saxophone lines in the accompaniment

“American Faces” is one of those nostalgic songs that would have likely been a hit if released as a single after 9/11. The song is a medium slow ballad. “American Faces” might have seemed like a cynical flag-waver in the hands of a less capable vocalist, but Conlee sings it confidently and comfortably giving the song a finely nuanced performance.

Met a black man down in Memphis with lines on his face that looked like the Mississippi
He was the son of a slave, the father of a PhD
He’d squint his eyes at the new day sun, spit tobacco from a toothless gum
And say “Boys, it’s a good day to be free”

American faces I have seen, American voices I have listened to
They’re a lot like me and you
They’re all red, white or blue
American faces I have seen

Saw a veteran in a halfway house, a monkey on his back and the whole world on his shoulder
On his dresser was a medal and a picture of a long lost friend
He’d won a purple heart when he lost his mind but he’s kept his dreams since 69
That one day he’ll be coming home again

“Faded Brown Eyes” is a very slow ballad that I regard as filler. It is an okay song about a life of disappointment and a faded relationship.

“Mama’s Rockin’ Chair” is one in a long list of “mother songs” and stalled just shy of the Top Ten. It is deserved a better fate. It describes a trip many of us remember taking

When I think of my childhood days
Growing up in the small town USA
The fondest of my many memories
Is that a front porch rocking chair

And all of us children gathered there
Waiting our turn to climb up on Mama’s knee
With her imagination
Around the world she’d take us
With the stories of the places she knew we’d never see

In Mama’s rocking chair
She could a take us anywhere
To a tropical island
Or a snow covered mountain
Or a desert caravan

“It’s Not Easy Being Fifteen” is an interesting song about the difficulties in the passage of the teen years. The song is a slow ballad bears repeated listening.

“I Can Sail To China” is a slow ballad about a man experiencing a breakup. The catch line is ‘I can sail to China on the tears I’ve cried for you’. I like the song as an album cut.

I do not know why “Living Like There’s No Tomorrow (Finally Got to Me Tonight)” was chosen as the album’s third single as I regard it as one of the weaker songs on the album in terms of commercial appeal, as it just wasn’t what radio was playing at the time, although five or six years earlier (think Con Hunley) it would have fit in better. The arrangement is good (nice saxophone work), the song has a strong blues feel to it and Conlee sings it well. The song died at #55, a harbinger of things to come for Conlee.

The album closes with “Right Down To The Memories”, another nostalgic ballad, this one of a man looking back with great fondness at this life with his partner.

Time turns the ashes into diamonds
And then the diamonds into dust
But even time can’t steal the magic
That’s here between the two of us

‘Cause I love you right down to the memories
And I need you right now in my arms
You’ll always be the greatest gift that God has ever given me
Right down to the memories

This album wasn’t Conlee’s strongest album, but John Conlee is always an effective singer and always treats his songs with respect. I would give this album a B+

Track List & Songwriters
Domestic Life (Martin/Harrison)
Slow Passin’ Time (Rocco / Burke / Black)
Love Crazy Love (Deborah Allen / Rafe Van Hoy)
American Faces (Nelson / Nelson / Boone)
Faded Brown Eyes (Reid / Martin)
Mama’s Rockin’ Chair (MacRae / Menzies)
It’s Not Easy Being Fifteen (Curtis)
I Can Sail To China (Grazier)
Living Like There’s No Tomorrow (McBride / Murrah)
Right Down To The Memories (Bogard / Giles)

Jerry Bradley, Ray Stevens, and Brooks & Dunn to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame

The annual announcement ceremony took place this morning. It was supposed to be hosted by Reba McEntire, but what she had assumed was laryngitis is actually a strep infection. She’s also had to postpone a few concerts over the past week. Hopefully, she’ll still be able to host the ACM Awards on April 7.

The press conference begins at 32:23 minutes in: