My Kind of Country

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

Week ending 10/13/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Bobbie Gentry – Ode To Biliie Joe (Capitol)

1972: Charley Pride – A Sunshiny Day (RCA Victor)

1977: Elvis Presley – Moody Blue (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Garth Brooks – The Chase (Capitol)

1997: LeAnn Rimes – You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs (Curb)

2002: Elvis Presley- 30 #1 Hits (RCA)

2007: Rascal Flatts- Still Feels Good (Lyric Street)

2012: Little Big Town – Tornado (Capitol)

Single Review: Gary Allan – ‘Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)’

After nearly two years of inactivity following a shake-up at UMG Nashville, Gary Allan’s label home, the singer has finally returned with new music. “Every Storm” is the lead single from a new album titled Set You Free due early next year.  Early in his career, Allan fashioned himself as country music’s resident dark horse, singing songs of the underdog with a delivery that is equal parts been-there conviction and gravelly determination.  That formula translated to magic with songs like “Smoke Rings In The Dark” and “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful”. But can it also sell a light at the end of the tunnel message? Apparently so.

There’s a low-key organ framing the first verse for the obligatory melancholy in a Gary Allan single which gives way to a chorus of inspirational messages. Fortunately, the song latches onto its groove with a steady back beat in the second verse.  Likewise, the female backing vocals remind me of Levon Helm’s contribution to Martina McBride’s “Cry On The Shoulder Of The Road”, adding a weathered texture to Allan’s somewhat lifeless delivery.

Grade: B+

Songwriters: Gary Allan, Hillary Lindsey, Matt Warren

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Week ending 9/29/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Johnny Cash – Greatest Hits Volume 1 (Columbia)

1972: Charley Pride – A Sunshiny Day (RCA Victor)

1977: Elvis Presley – Moody Blue (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: LeAnn Rimes – You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs (Curb)

2002: Dixie Chicks- Home (Sony)

2007: Kenny Chesney- Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates (RCA)

2012: Little Big Town – Tornado (Capitol)

Week ending 9/15/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Jack Greene – All The Time (Decca)

1972: Jerry Wallace – To Get To You (Decca)

1977: Elvis Presley – Moody Blue (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Hank Williams Jr. – Born To Boogie (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: Trisha Yearwood – Songbook: A Collection of Hits (MCA)

2002: Dixie Chicks- Home (Sony)

2007: Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2012: Carrie Underwood – Blown Away (Sony/Arista)

Week ending 9/8/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Wynn Stewart – It’s Such A Pretty World Today (Capitol)

1972: Donna Fargo – Happiest Girl In The Whole U.S.A. (Dot)

1977: Elvis Presley – Moody Blue (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Hank Williams Jr. – Born To Boogie (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: LeAnn Rimes – Blue (Curb)

2002: Toby Keith- Unleashed (Dreamworks)

2007: Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2012: Dustin Lynch – Dustin Lynch (Broken Bow)

Classic Rewind: Waylon Jennings – ‘You Ask Me To’

Week ending 9/1/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Wynn Stewart – It’s Such A Pretty World Today (Capitol)

1972: Donna Fargo – Happiest Girl In The Whole U.S.A. (Dot)

1977: Waylon Jennings – Ol’ Waylon (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Hank Williams Jr. – Born To Boogie (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: Tim McGraw – Everywhere (Curb)

2002: Toby Keith- Unleashed (Dreamworks)

2007: Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2012: Zac Brown Band – Uncaged (Atlantic)

Week ending 8/25/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Jack Greene – All The Time (Decca)

1972: Donna Fargo – Happiest Girl In The Whole U.S.A. (Dot)

1977: Waylon Jennings – Ol’ Waylon (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: Tim McGraw – Everywhere (Curb)

2002: Toby Keith- Unleashed (Dreamworks)

2007: Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2012: Colt Ford – Declaration of Independence (Average Joe’s)

Random playlist: current album cuts edition

Here are five songs from five current albums I couldn’t help but take notice of when they were released. Have a listen, then share your own favorite tracks from current albums in the comments.

Alison Krauss & Union Station – “Lie Awake”
from Paper Angels, 2011

Written by Alison’s brother Viktor with Angel Snow, “Lie Awake” is set to an Appalachian folk song tempo usually reserved for yarns about murder, madness, and desolation.  In this brooding tale of long gone wrong, the intensity of the singer’s vocal, framed by the ominous dobro plucking and her own forlorn fiddling, speaks of torments untold if she doesn’t get out before dawn.

Zac Brown Band – “Sweet Annie”
from Uncaged, 2012

Like Zac Brown, I know what it’s like to have a ‘sweet Annie’. You probably do too. She’s the girl you put on the shelf for your career, another woman, or just because you’re not ready to commit. But her honeyed southern drawl and if-you-love-him-you’ll-forgive-him nature keeps drawing you back. She’s your go-to girl when the world falls in on you. And God bless her heart, she still hasn’t realized it’s only during those times of dire circumstance you come around.  To tell us about this Annie, the guys surround the verses’ breezy fiddles with the band’s airtight (and dig those repeating) harmonies.  Zac Brown has made this kind of apologetic tale of wanderlust his wheelhouse.

Miranda Lambert – “Nobody’s Fool”
from Four The Record, 2011

This is another song about two ex-lovers and their chance meeting out on the town, made memorable by its unforgettable hook: “When they ask I’ll just say he’s nobody/And me, well I’m nobody’s fool“. It follows the sonic template of last year’s “Heart Like Mine” where a lighter touch would have better served the sharp lyrics. Here, Lambert has a perfect vehicle for her pipes with Chris Stapleton’s bar-fly narrative.  The pain in her Texas drawl is apparent as she sings of eating her heart out while trying to ‘play it all cool’.  While she aches with regret for what she’s lost, there’s a doggedness in her delivery as she fires off the chorus with her chin firmly planted outward.

Kellie Pickler – “Where’s Tammy Wynette”
from 100 Proof, 2011

As the singer looks to country’s First Lady for guidance in life, this shuffling honky-tonk number features lines like “I’m gonna search that midnight radio/’Til I find something that hurts ” that show the romanticization of an icon/heroine as opposed to another hackneyed name dropping from the list of recommended honky-tonk heroes.

Alan Jackson – “Look Her In The Eye and Lie”
from Thirty Miles West, 2012

The hook is pure common horse sense, delivered with a knowing wink. The advice – “You may not get over some loves in your life/But as you get older, you’ll know wrong more than right” – coupled with Jackson’s seasoned wisdom, belies the profundity of the lesson learned.  It’s a perfect example of the classic Alan Jackson sound of sweeping medium tempo neotraditionalism and the wittiness demonstrated in his trademark self-effacing humor that makes me wonder who’s gonna fill his shoes.

Classic Rewind: Reba – ‘Please Come to Boston’

Week ending 8/18/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Jack Greene – All The Time (Decca)

1972: Donna Fargo – Happiest Girl In The Whole U.S.A. (Dot)

1977: Waylon Jennings – Ol’ Waylon (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: Tim McGraw – Everywhere (Curb)

2002: Toby Keith- Unleashed (Dreamworks)

2007: Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2012: Zac Brown Band – Uncaged (Atlantic)

Single Review: Kelleigh Bannen – ‘Sorry On The Rocks’

Listening to Capitol/EMI newcomer Kelleigh Bannen’s debut single sounds like you’re hearing the amalgamation of Martina McBride, Sara Evans, the Dixie Chicks, and virtually every female country act to hit it big at the turn of the century.  The sound here isn’t vintage, but certainly a throwback to the mass appealing sounds of a boom era for females in country music.  A crisp, neotraditional sound leads the Nashville native’s precise singing, and everything about this track reeks of committee planning.

The gist of the confrontation in the lyrics comes from the place where Lee Ann Womack’s “Last Call” meets your garden variety I’m-kicking-you-to-the-curb, frisky female goodbye song (think: “You Can Feel Bad”, “A Little Gasoline”, “Bye Bye”).  A pair of clever lines – “pretty words don’t mean too much, coming from the bottom of a glass” and “I’ve finally had enough/It’s clear you’ve had way too much” – keep the exchange interesting and make you think ‘hey this girl’s clever and will probably win this argument’.

But on the downside, producer Paul Worley uses those moments to crank the drums way too loud and invites the singer to reach outside her low-register comfort range.  Neither of those sonic missteps is the song’s major liability, however. While the narrating character in “Rocks” comes across and sensible and likable, she lacks the garrulous tenacity demanded on today’s airwaves. After all, she isn’t threatening to shoot, set fire to, or maim this clueless drunk who’s called her up in the middle of the night.  She simply tells him to kiss off. That, coupled with the tired and predictable production snaps is where your commercial liability lies.

Endearing, it is. Pleasing to the ears, it is. A big fat flop at country radio? I’m afraid so.

Grade: C

Listen here.

Week ending 8/11/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Jack Greene – All The Time (Decca)

1972: Charley Pride – The Best of Charley Pride, Vol. 2 (RCA)

1977: Waylon Jennings – Ol’ Waylon (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: Tim McGraw – Everywhere (Curb)

2002: Toby Keith- Unleashed (Dreamworks)

2007: Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2012: Zac Brown Band – Uncaged (Atlantic)

Single Review: Gwen Sebastian – ‘Met Him In a Hotel Room’

Before competing on this season of NBC’s The Voice, Gwen Sebastian had already released four albums for the Lofton Creek label and two singles that failed to chart.  Now she’s under Blake Shelton’s wing and on tour with him, and back with her first single release since the network TV exposure.

Her latest finds an acoustic guitar plucking the melody on the verses as the singer narrates the story. Like her Lofton Creek releases, the production here is kept to a folksy acoustic sound, with lonesome fiddle flourishes accentuating the melancholy of the song. Sebastian’s vocal is equal parts Tammy Wynette tear-soaked delivery and Taylor Swift pitch-jumping limitations.

The song’s plot easily trumps the singer’s performance. What begins as an apparent telling of a torrid love affair in a hotel room is actually revealed to be a story of a woman’s intended suicide. There’s a neat one-two punch in the transition from first verse to chorus when the listener is finally let in that she’s not meeting anyone there. No, she came to this “seedy part of town” to end her own life armed with “a bottle full of sleeping pills and a long, long list of sins”.  The lack of a final conclusive act allows the plot to remain ambiguous, as it should be. Listeners are free to decide the narrator walked out of the hotel room with a renewed faith in God, and the more macabre can just as easily conclude she went to on to the afterlife to meet “Him (in a hotel room)” after reading a passage from the ubiquitous hotel Bible and then swallowing that bottle of pills.

Between Sebastian’s less-than-commercial pipes and the song’s heady subject matter, I’m not sure even being under Shelton’s superstar wing can lift this singer to commercial success with the mainstream.  It’s better than most of what’s on radio today, and fits into my own narrow demographic of a good country song.  I’ll be playing it if country radio won’t.

Grade: B

Listen here.

Week ending 8/4/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Jack Greene – All The Time (Decca)

1972: Charley Pride – The Best of Charley Pride, Vol. 2 (RCA)

1977: Waylon Jennings – Ol’ Waylon (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: Tim McGraw – Everywhere (Curb)

2002: Darryl Worley – I Miss My Friend (Dreamworks)

2007: Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2012: Zac Brown Band – Uncaged (Atlantic)

Single Review: Toby Keith – ‘I Like Girls That Drink Beer’

Toby Keith’s last single “Beers Ago” went off the charts as quickly as it came, and he’s back again singing about the suds with his latest “I Like Girls That Drink Beer”.  But it’s not what you’d expect from the title, especially given Keith’s recent string of throw-away party anthems fueled by booze. He’s singing here about your genial aw-shucks country boy shedding the “high-rise life” for a “little down home lovin”, and using the “girls that drink beer” to personify the kind of woman who will be the antithesis to his current love affair. The song’s lyrics, co-written with regular Keith collaborator Bobby Pinson, are little more than another twist on a reliable country music theme. Yet it still works very well here.

“Beer” kicks off with its freewheeling chorus, and proves why Toby Keith is country music’s reigning king of honky tonk melodies. Keith’s confident swagger carries his vocal performance; gone are the growls, harrumphs and spitted lyrics that have plagued his singles lately. The singer’s winning vocal comes backed by a dyed-in-the-wool country sound where audible steel guitar flourishes are paired with a pair of hoedown-worthy fiddles to frame the track. The men in Keith’s target audience will surely be relating and singing along, and even the ladies don’t have to shed any dignity to enjoy this one.

Grade: B+

Listen here.

Week ending 7/28/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Jack Greene – All The Time (Decca)

1972: Charley Pride – The Best of Charley Pride, Vol. 2 (RCA)

1977: Waylon Jennings – Ol’ Waylon (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: Tim McGraw – Everywhere (Curb)

2002: Kenny Chesney – No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems (BNA)

2007: Brad Paisley – 5th Gear (Arista)

2012: Zac Brown Band – Uncaged (Atlantic)

Back to the seasons (and songs) of my youth

None of my relatives on either side were musicians. I have a cousin who plays piano in his church, but that’s about it. Music in my family came from the radio. In the late 1980s when compact discs were first becoming more popular, my Grandma Journey – always a one-step-ahead kinda woman – began amassing the first CD collection I ever saw, back when the CDs came packaged in cardboard boxes three times the height of the plastic jewel case, for record store display purposes I later deduced. Anyway, grandma’s favorites were tongue-in-cheek classic country songs. Weekends with her, we’d sit at the table in her dining room, playing rummy while a string of tunes from Buck Owens and George Jones played from that huge black player with the dancing orange lights. Songs like “Act Naturally” and “Under Your Spell Again” were regulars, but the one we heard most was Jones singing about the girl he loved in “Saginaw, Michigan”. Grandma was always quick to point out the song’s payoff line to me, in case I missed it this time. “See, he didn’t really find any gold in Alaska”, she would explain. “He lied to that guy so he could marry the daughter and go off and be happy.” She was a big fan of the underdog, my grandma. I knew back then that she and her songs were cool, and I still think so.

When I was five years old my dad bought a tow truck and began a towing service. Going along with him on a run was all I wanted out of life back then. Afternoons and weekends, I spent a lot of my youthful existence in that old blue Chevrolet tow truck while the tape deck schooled me on classic albums from Hank Williams Jr, Randy Travis, and others. But the one I remember best was the old white cassette – if you remember cassette tapes, you’ll remember they were white before record labels decided translucent plastic was more stylish – of Alabama’s Roll On. Released just months after I was born in January 1984 when Alabama was arguably the hottest band in the U.S., the set housed 4 consecutive #1 singles. I couldn’t get enough of the title track back then, but two album cuts stand out to me most now. The band’s southern rock influence is evident on the flick-your-bic-worthy “I’m Not That Way Anymore”. It’s a tale of road-weary musicians grown tame and leaving behind their wild and crazy ways, told behind hushed electric guitar solos with the guys’ airtight harmonies and written by the four band members. Even though I didn’t understand the lyrics, I was taken with slow-burning feel of the song. What you hear on the album was recorded live in Dallas and so was the accompanying music video, though it was never released as a single. The other song that made the biggest impression on me was closing track “Food On The Table”, a simplistic espousing of the staples in life. Its outlaw country-inspired back beat is coupled with an ’80s pop melody that crawls into your brain and stays there. I barely play it anymore, but hardly a week goes by that I don’t find myself tapping a foot and singing “we had food on the table and shoes on our feet…”

My timeline for these memories begins sometime in 1989. I know that because I also have a clear memory of George Strait’s “Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye”, making its chart run at the time, being played several times a day. These days, with a niece and nephew both five years old this Summer, knowing that the songs they hear today could be the ones that stay with them until they’re grown, I find myself resisting the urge to only play the top 40 stations and songs for them when either one is with me. Sure, they can and do sing a long with Katy Perry’s big, catchy choruses and know every word to Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” – it’s edited in my market to remove the words “bullet” and “gun”. But I also want them to hear about a Cajun’s temper when he’s ‘really got trouble like a daughter gone bad’ and the story of Tommy proposing to Katie outside the Tastee Freez. Like me, maybe they’ll wonder if those boys ever make it to the church on Cumberland Road, and they may well have those ‘big old wheels keep rolling through their mind’ too. I wonder if they will relegate the songs I play for them as old-people-music, and find their own way into country music’s past and present. It is a family tradition. Or will they come to appreciate the songs I played them are boss, or whatever slang term the kids are using for great and awesome when that day comes.

Share your first recollections of music and the people who shared it with you in the comments.

Week ending 7/21/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Buck Owens and His Buckaroos – In Japan (Capitol)

1972: Charley Pride – The Best of Charley Pride, Vol. 2 (RCA)

1977: Waylon Jennings – Ol’ Waylon (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: Tim McGraw – Everywhere (Curb)

2002: Kenny Chesney – No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems (BNA)

2007: Jason Aldean – Relentless (Arista)

2012: Kenny Chesney – Welcome to the Fishbowl (Blue Chair/Columbia)

Week ending 7/14/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Sonny James and the Southern Gentlemen – Need You (Capitol)

1972: Charley Pride – The Best of Charley Pride, Vol. 2 (RCA)

1977: Waylon Jennings – Ol’ Waylon (RCA)

1982: Alabama – Mountain Music (RCA)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: Tim McGraw – Everywhere (Curb)

2002: Kenny Chesney – No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems (BNA)

2007: Brad Paisley – 5th Gear (Arista)

2012: Kenny Chesney – Welcome to the Fishbowl (Blue Chair/Columbia)