My Kind of Country

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

Sounds like last century: Pam Tillis live in Switzerland

Last month our friend Thomas Kobler reported on a recent Suzy Bogguss concert in Switzerland. Our current Spotlight Artist Pam Tillis has also just paid a visit to that beautiful country, and Tom has kindly shared another review with us.

We must have been real good here last year, since I cannot think of any other reason, why on earth Lorrie Morgan in March, Suzy Bogguss in April and now Pam Tillis in June all should find their way across the Atlantic to Switzerland to play us some of the best 90’s country that there is.

So far, the last one in line of those 90’s greats was Pam Tillis on the big stage in the huge white tent of the 20th (Anniversary) International Trucker & Country Festival in Interlaken on June 29. If the name of that place rings a bell, you might have heard it on TV. It is the pretty resort in between two alpine lakes just around the corner from that dramatic north face of the Eiger mountain, where Clint Eastwood had been hanging around quite a bit in the 1975 spy thriller The Eiger Sanction.
As usual at festivals, the slots can be more or less favourable. Pam Tillis’s slot was a slightly tricky one. She came on after the Bellamy Brothers – whose country music is quite similar to popular German hit-radio tunes except for pedal steel and language. (The Bellamy Brothers’ 70‘s hit song ‘Let Your Love Flow’ is the biggest German hit single of the last forty years or so, according to a representative audience poll in a popular German TV-show a couple of years ago. Here it is called ‘Ein Bett im Kornfeld’, sung by German singer Jürgen Drews.) Hence, coming on after them and their Swiss friends – which gave them almost something like “home field advantage” – at around 11 p.m. was probably not the most desirable slot.

However, Pam Tillis could not be bothered and hit the stage with two more women beside and a further four musicians behind her. In a glittery white blouse, matching dangly earrings and glittery tight blue jeans, tucked into – you might have guessed – glittery black knee-high boots, she looked as shiny, proper and attractive as it could get.

Consequently, she started her show warning not to leave anything hanging around – especially not your heart – only to think over the whole mess love life can bring a couple of minutes later and ending up wondering: ‘How Gone Is Goodbye’. It most likely was not very far, but far enough to consider flirting with the ‘Shake The Sugar Tree’ experience. In the end, things sounded as if they got worked out because next came ‘Sweetheart’s Dance’ just before things turned somewhat sour again, making her shout ‘Don’t Tell Me What To Do’, and coming to the conclusion that ‘Life Has Sure Changed Us Around’. . So far, so good. In a pre-concert interview Pam Tillis told CountryStyle:

“I love to express all kinds of feelings, be it through music or acting.”

No doubt, I thought after this opening selection of songs.

Then came a series of covers consisting of ‘Ring Of Fire’, ‘Walking After Midnight’ and Dolly’s ‘Do I Ever Cross Your Mind’. Had not Carlene Carter performed an absolutely stunning ‘Ring Of Fire’ the night before, I might have enjoyed Pam’s take more.

Turning back to her own material, she picked things up with the never recorded ‘Dance To The Sweet Rhythm Of Mine’, and reiterating her heart‘s desire unmistakably when continuing, ‘I Sure Could Use Your Company Now’. Something ‘Blue Rose‘s’ been dreaming of too, right afterward. Still one of those songs that almost make you want to thank the good Lord for the pedal-steel and Pam Tillis a lot.

After that, the concept of the playlist got more difficult to read, but ‘Calico Plains’, ‘Band In The Window’, ‘Put Yourself In My Place’, ‘Train Without A Whistle’ and the funky-bitter and witty ‘Cleopatra Queen Of Denial’ did not make you miss any greater underlying scheme at all. She delivered these songs grippingly, supported by a fine band in which the multi-talented Mary Sue Englund stood out playing second fiddle, keyboard and acoustic guitar as well as providing background vocals and Lorrie Morgan’s part in the duet ‘I Know What You Did Last Night’ from the remarkable Grits and Glamour song catalog. In fact, I found it quite difficult to read my hastily scribbled notes for this review because I was somewhat afraid of missing a single moment of that part of the show.

After ‘Early Memories’, a running around ‘Pony’, the insightful ‘I Know What You Did Last Night’ and a good look at her ‘Vida Loca’ in general, it was almost 1 a.m. when her doubts about whether ‘Memphis’, the southern summer nights or just her and him being a little frisky were to blame for a doubtless great time there. Closing the night with wanna holding hands Beatles-style a little later was a rather charming, innocent and fitting encore in the light of what had happened there in Memphis.

Well, what really can you say after such a show? I felt, it might have been an even better concert than perhaps some during her country radio heydays in the 90’s had been, for it included so much of the music from a long and distinguished career of a wonderful artist and most charming person (with quite a particular taste when it comes to sunglasses, I found out at the media event). Or inversely: If Pam Tillis and her band had such a good time in Switzerland as the fans around me and I had during her concert – they must have had a blast.

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Concert Review: An Unexpected Visitor from Nashville

suzyinconcertLongtime MKOC reader and commenter Tom had the good fortune to see our spotlight artist Suzy Bogguss in concert in Switzerland recently. He wrote the following review for the German magazine Country Style,and has graciously allowed us to reprint it, for the first time in English.

I almost did not trust my eyes: Suzy Bogguss in concert in Laufen, Switzerland. This was almost too good to be true and Laufen too small a place off the beaten track to believe it right away. But as it turned out, Suzy Bogguss, Pat Bergeson and Charlie Chadwick had been on their way to the Salerno Guitar Festival in Italy and someone with good enough connections got them to stop over in this small town in Switzerland for a gig – and what fine concert it turned out to be.

All 400 or so eyes in the small auditorium of Laufen’s beautifully restored Culture & Arts Center “The Old Slaughterhouse” checked out the big bass that was lying quite lost on the dimley lit stage, just waiting to be picked up by the right kind of arms. Then the promotor, Martin Meier, entered the stage and introduced Suzy and her fellow musicians. No sooner had he ended his laid back speech, they stepped out of the dark and kicked things off with “Outbound Plane” followed by “Aces” – still one of the most difficult country hits to understand. Then again, three-way ties have never been an easy thing to understand in the first place. If that was a beautiful start, it surely got even better when she made a real little vocal gem out of Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone”. In between the songs, she had a blast interacting with the audience and her companions – Pat Bergeson playing acoustic lead guitar and Charlie Chadwick being eventually reunited with his bass. Both of them are excellent musicans and witty entertainers.

After that, Suzy Bogguss, dressed in simple blue jeans and blouse, started to play songs from her latest album American Folk Songbook. “Shenandoah” was the closing title before the mid-session interval. Her superb voice, her sincere delivery and Pat Bergeson’s lonesome harmonica made the audience in that small venue almost believe that they found themselves at a confederate camp fire at the eve of a civil war battle. For a few minutes, it felt as one had been traveling back in time to a far away place.

After the interval classics like “Wayfaring Stranger” and a bunch of cowboy and rodeo tunes were played, before the bluesey “Eat at Joe’s” led on to some of her jazzy material. Rounding off the show were her big chart-hits “Letting go”, which she introduced from a mothers point of view, whose son had left home not too long ago to go to college. “Drive South” and “Hey Cinderella” were the closing numbers before they disappeared into the dark again, receiving a big hand of applause before a series of encores and more applause finished off a nothing less than most excellent and very charming gig out in the sticks of Switzerland.

ACM Award predictions

The Academy of Country Music is announcing its annual awards live on TV on Sunday. Here are our predictions and hopes for the ceremony:

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift

Jonathan: First off, let the Carrie Underwood backlash begin. And end. I agree with the fans who love her, but she didn’t make enough of a splash in 2011 to be considered here. At least you need to release a solo single. I agree with this list as it features most of the big players in country music right now. I would’ve included Zac Brown Band here as musicianship should win out over star power. But I can’t say any of these artists don’t deserve it from a numbers perspective.
Will Win: Taylor Swift – it’s still a fan voted award and she has the largest fan base for these kinds of contests.
Should Win: Blake Shelton – not because of his radio hits but because he’s the only one here to ascend to the next level in 2011. He makes country music look cool on The Voice, too. He may not have a strong catalog of singles but we could do far worse in Hollywood’s ideal of country music.

OH: I think I would also lean to Blake Shelton here. Chesney, Aldean and Swift have all had bigger tours and more impressive sales, but Blake has been representing country music to a mass audience thanks to his TV exposure. However, this being a fan-voted category, I think Taylor Swift will be Sunday’s winner, with only the fast-rising rocker Jason Aldean likely to challenge.

Razor X: Taylor Swift has this one in the bag, as it’s fan voted again this year.

Note: Voting is still open for anyone who wants to make their contribution. Read more of this post

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 240,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 10 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

2011 CMA award predictions

The Country Music Association annual awards ceremony will take place on November 9th, 2011, presented by the pairing of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who have become something of a fixture in that role in the past few years. Last year Brad also triumphed by winning the Entertainer of the Year title for the first time. The show will feature performances from many of the nominees, plus American Idol Scotty McCreery and pop star Lionel Richie, who has been recording duets with country stars for release next spring.

Here are our thoughts about who will walk away smiling next Wednesday night, category by category:

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton: Jonathan Pappalardo, Occasional Hope, Razor X, J.R. Journey
Taylor Swift
Keith Urban

Occasional Hope: I feel this is a genuinely open category this year. Brad Paisley is the reigning Entertainer, having finally won the long overdue title last year, and is clearly popular with voters. However, I think he has passed his peak both commercially and (more importantly) artistically, with relatively disappointing sales figures for recent albums, although he continues to do well at radio with a #2 and two #1 hits over the period. He is also one of the top earners in country music, alongside Taylor Swift. Teen favorite Swift won the title controversially in 2009, then was largely ignored last year, and is back again with a brace of nominations. She undoubtedly has the biggest international and pop profile of all the nominees, as well as the biggest sales, with over three million copies sold so far of Speak Now in the U.S. and platinum or multi-platinum status in a number of other countries, some (like the Philippines) with little exposure to country music. She has also toured successfully overseas this year. Of course, that makes her an international pop star as much or more than a country star who has gotten lucky with pop airplay; how far should that sway the CMA?

I have a sneaking suspicion that Jason Aldean could be a big winner this year overall. He’s had a good year, with one of the best-selling albums (over 1.5 million sales), and his brand of country-rock, while far heavier on the rock than the country, has carved out a niche in the market for himself. I’m not a fan myself, but he is undeniably one of the big names in country music at the moment, with two #1 and a #2 hit single from this album, and a crossover AC hit thanks to his duet with Kelly Clarkson. But my gut feeling is that it’s a bit soon to win the top award this year. Blake Shelton, despite his title as reigning Male Vocalist, is the other surprise nominee, and he could just swing it based on the impact he has had as an ambassador for the genre, with his TV role on The Voice. He has also had two #1 singles with ‘Who Are You When I’m Not Looking’ and ‘Honey Bee’, and the frankly baffling inclusion of his poorly selling EP among the Album nominees signals that the Association voters are keen to reward him.

Razor X: It’s hard for me to get very excited about any of these nominees, but Shelton seems to be on a hot streak so I think he will win. And if I have to root for one of these nominees, I’d probably go with him.

Jonathan: This is a case of the veterans versus the newcomers. Urban hasn’t won since 2005 and I don’t expect that drought to end this year. Paisley (who should win) and Swift are strong contenders, but their steady success isn’t enough to help them prevail. It comes down to Shelton versus Aldean, and in a battle between the country rocker and the TV star, Shelton walks away with his first Entertainer trophy.

J.R. Journey: I think Paisley and Urban are just slot-fillers at this point in their careers, so they’re out. Jason Aldean had a strong year and so did Taylor Swift, but neither exploded into the mainstream – Taylor’s been there for several years now – like Blake Shelton, with a major television and soundtrack push. He’s on a major upswing, and that ought to sway voters enough to give him the edge.

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Book Review: ‘Buck Owens – The Biography’ by Eileen Sisk

The following review was written by MKOC reader and commenter Ken Johnson:

Buck Owens – The Biography

Author: Eileen Sisk
Publisher: Chicago Review Press

If you only know about Buck Owens via his amazing catalog of hit recordings and songs or his hayseed “Hee-Haw” persona, you truly don’t know the REAL Buck Owens. Author Eileen Sisk went behind the public facade to reveal a complicated, difficult, contradictory, vindictive, manipulative yet occasionally generous man who knew how to completely control his image long before publicists became a required member of every country performer’s staff. Singer/songwriter Gene Price perhaps summed up the Buck Owens story best when he told Sisk that she was about to “write a book about a very bad man who made very good music. “

Sisk relates how she began writing her book with Buck’s blessing after a face-to-face meeting at his Bakersfield, California headquarters in early 1997. Concerned that focusing primarily on his music would make for a boring read, Buck desired an entertaining book that would concentrate on his unpredictable and occasionally sensational personal life. True to form, three years later permission to write his story was abruptly withdrawn without warning or explanation. Rather than abandon the three years that she had already invested in the project, Sisk decided to label her work as an “unauthorized” biography. She enlisted the assistance of a former member of Buck’s “Buckaroos” band Doyle Holly who acted as her liaison to former Owens’ subordinates and encouraged them to go on the record and be forthcoming with their memories.  Because Holly was quoted “everything with Buck is fifty percent bullshit and fifty percent truth” the resulting story is probably closer to reality than if Buck had fully participated and exercised complete editorial control.

Born just two months before the stock market crash that caused the Great Depression, Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens entered the world in Sherman, Texas on August 12, 1929. The book details how despite two birth defects and serious childhood illnesses including a serious brain infection, Buck persevered. By his early teens he had become proficient on several musical instruments. Buck loved to tell about dropping out of school to help his poor struggling family and often compared his own story to the Steinbeck classic The Grapes Of Wrath. However it was the first of many fabricated tales that Buck would create throughout his career. Despite the hard times, his father was always able to find work to fully support his family. Though life may have been difficult it was far from the dire situation that many other depression-era families faced.

Young Buck found plenty of time for female companionship, an activity that would continue in excess throughout his lifetime. Contrary to what Buck wanted his fans to believe, Bonnie Owens was not his first wife. Sisk uncovered Buck’s first marriage at the age of sixteen that produced a daughter that he never knew. Buck would sire at least eight more children, both in and out of wedlock, but only publicly acknowledged three of them.

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Album Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Trisha Yearwood’

To kick off our run-down of Trisha Yearwood’s albums, here’s a guest contribution from long-time friend of My Kind of Country, Michael Allan. Stay tuned for more on Trisha Yearwood this month. – J.R. Journey

Produced by Garth Fundis and released on the premier country label of the 90s, MCA, Trisha Yearwood’s eponymous debut album is also her most commercially successful studio release. It peaked at #2 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, #31 on the all-genre Billboard 200 and is certified double platinum. It also served as an excellent predictor of what was to come over the next couple of decades and remains one of the strongest debut albums ever released by a masterful song interpreter.

The album kicks off with her debut single, “She’s in Love with the Boy” which rocketed to the top of the charts, making Yearwood only the second female to ever score a #1 hit with her debut single. Driven by an instantly memorable chorus, “She’s in Love with the Boy” is an up-tempo story song about the small town love of Katie and Tommy. Rejected by Kenny Rogers before finding its way to Yearwood, I can’t think of a better example of the right song finding the right artist. An immediate classic, it unfortunately also seems to be the only memory many radio stations seem to have of her catalogue today. Too bad; they’re missing out on the more than 100 great songs that followed this track over the next 20 years and will be reviewed as Trisha Yearwood month continues at MKoC.

Fourth single and second track on the album, “The Woman Before Me”, covers the effect the titular character has had on our vocalist’s man. With a slight AC feel to it, Yearwood’s voice is in fine form and “The Woman Before Me” is fairly representative of what many of her ballad hits sound like.  The third track was also the album’s third single. “That’s What I Like About You” is a fun number, sort of like the lyrics of Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine” meeting the sound of Yearwood’s own “Wrong Side of Memphis”.

The second single released from the album is up next. Written by Pat Alger and Garth Brooks, with the latter also singing background vocals, “Like We Never Had a Broken Heart” is a tender, piano laden love song. As a listener, one might even feel like they’re intruding on something sexy. Perhaps a sign of what lay ahead for the future couple?

Co-written by Hal Ketchum and one of the most commercially successful songwriters of the decade (and whose well she would revisit later), Kostas, “Fools Like Me” is a bluesy, smoldering piece that I can almost envision Yearwood singing in a smoky lounge somewhere. The song has the vibe of a torch song from another era.

Written by Brooks and Mark D. Sanders, “Victim of the Game” rivals Brooks’ own version from his No Fences album. The aspects of heartbreak are universal and there’s a twist at the end a la Tanya Tucker’s “It Won’t Be Me”. The themes are classic, but Yearwood sells them as new.  “When Goodbye Was a Word” is a ballad with a dreamlike, fantastical essence to it and the clarity of Yearwood’s voice is impressive.

In “The Whisper of Your Heart” Yearwood’s powerhouse vocals again sell some rather unremarkable lyrics. They’re good, but in lesser hands, the song’s common “Daddy/Grandpa/Bartender/Wise Old Man Told Me So” theme might fall flat.

After the feisty “You Done Me Wong (And That Ain’t Right)”, “Lonesome Dove” closes the album. The track is a final display of Yearwood’s ability to sing with conviction, perfect tone and pitch and to go from whisper to full throttled wail in a matter of seconds.

Recorded in 1990 and released in the summer of 1991, it’s hard to believe that Trisha Yearwood was only in her mid twenties at the time of her debut. The astounding control of her instrument on some well-chosen songs is a pretty good description of Trisha Yearwood’s career. This was only the beginning.

Grade: B+

The album is still widely available at amazon.

Album Review: Alan Jackson – ‘What I Do’

Written by Jordan Stacey.  – J.R.

After having a very successful run in the early 90’s most “hat acts” faded away toward the end of the decade in favor of the crossover artists like Shania Twain. Alan Jackson however, was able to keep his success going and while there’s no telling what it was that kept him in the spotlight, I would credit his continued output of high quality material along with his masterpiece album Drive. Throughout the rest of the decade he put out many albums that attracted a lot of attention. However with his major hits Drive and  Greatest Hits II on one side, and his artistic adventures Precious Memories and Like Red On A Rose on the other, What I Do was kind of ignored in the grand scheme of things.

Sure, the first two singles went Top 5 and the other two both made it to #18, but when talking about Alan in the 00’s What I Do is unjustly left out of most conversations; even his weakest album, When Somebody Loves You, gets more press writing.  What I Do, like every single Alan Jackson album, was certified gold by the RIAA.  It would eventually go platinum as well.  To date, Jackson has released 13 studio albums, all of which have gone gold or better, including his covers and gospel albums.  It’s also worth mentioning that 12 of these have sold over 1 million copies (and several going into multi-platinum status), with 2005’s adult contemporary-leaning Like Red On A Rose stopping short of platinum, but still moving over half a million copies to earn its own certification.  Such is the star power of Alan Jackson, and the consistency of good to great material in his catalog throughout his career.

This particular album was released September 9, 2004, and is one of the strongest albums Alan recorded in the past decade. It’s one of the albums I reference when I am talking about how traditional country should have evolved. There’s your drinking songs (‘Strong Enough’), your love songs (‘If Love Was A River’), your religious song (‘Monday Morning Church’), honky tonk song (‘Burnin’ The Honky Tonks Down’) and your country ditty (‘The Talkin’ Song Repair Blues’).

Now while I think very highly of this album, I do know why it is the least talked about album. It hits every note it’s supposed to, it sounds great, with Alan delivering every song in his signature delivery. However that’s the problem, there was nothing new on this album; it’s a strong collection of songs that we’ve unfortunately all heard before. Most of these songs sound like you could insert them on the four previous albums he’d released and they’d fit right in. Consistency is great, look what it’s done for George Strait; he’s rarely experimented with his sound and he’s now one of the most successful country singers in history. Alan though has done more or less the same throughout his career but this is the first album where it’s so strongly felt.  Fifteen years into your career is about when taking risks should be done – which he did on his next three albums.

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Single Review: Jessica Harp – ‘A Woman Needs’

Written by Jordan Stacey.  – J.R.

Jessica Harp was once one half of The Wreckers along with Michelle Branch. After one successful record they decided they’d go back to pursuing their solo careers. Jessica looked to be off to a good start last year with her first song, ‘Boy Like Me’, climbing nicely when it suddenly died out at #30 on the charts. She comes back this time with the title track to her delayed debut album A Woman Needs. Much like her first single this one is an uptempo song with a catchy driving beat. What probably killed ‘Boy Like Me’ was that while catchy it was a little hard to relate to it. The first verse was inventive if hard to follow. This song sounds much less convulted while sacrificing some of the inventiveness.

Girl power anthems were all the rage back in the 90’s with Shania Twain and Jo Dee Messina leading the way. They’ve more or less gone away at this point with the last one in recent memory being Bomshel’s ‘Fight Like A Girl’ which also peaked at #30. However this one feels like a hit, it has the same clear voiced performance that drove most of Twain and Messina’s biggest hits, it’s catchy as hell, and just judging by my little sister and her friends singing along to this one I can see the target audience eating this up.

Jessica sounds fun and lively on it, the music doesn’t blend together for the most part, and it’s relatable, all the things hit songs are made of. Is it a great song that’ll be remembered in ten years? Probably not. It’s a good sounding single that should get Jessica the hit she’s been looking for.

Grade: B

Album Review: – Gary Allan ‘Tough All Over’

Written by Jordan Stacey.  – J.R.

Album number six for Gary Allan should’ve been a much happier proceeding than what it turned out to be. He was coming off of two platinum albums, and three number one hits. For most artists this would be a cause for celebration. While recording his sixth studio album Gary was dealt a really bad hand in life. His wife of 3 years took her life. Reports said he had no idea what led her to make that decision and throughout this album Gary is still questioning what happened.

The album opens up with the title track, a rocking little number called ‘Tough All Over’. Written by Odie Blackmon and Jim Lauderdale, this is the happiest we’ll see Gary for the remainder of the album. It’s one of the weaker tracks, but serves its purpose of getting you ready for a really heavy and hard to listen to album.

For the lead single and second track Gary chose to cover frat-rock band Vertical Horizon’s ‘Best I Ever Had’. It’s a testament to his vocal talent that he’s able to turn such a song into a heartbreaking ballad. The lyrics to this one always struck me as a perfect fit for his situation. There’s been a lot of rock songs covered by country singers but this is one of the few that actually merits some listening. The song continued his streak of hits making it into the top 10 peaking at #7.

As we move deeper into the album the pain Gary was in while recording starts to become clearer. ‘I Just Got Back From Hell’, written by Gary with Harley Allen, has a stripped down feel without actually being stripped down. This is the song that most obviously deals with his wife’s death. With lines like “Well, I’ve been mad at everyone, including God and You / When You Can’t Find no one to blame you just blame yourself” and Forgive me if I had any part / if I ever broke your heart in two / forgive me for what I didn’t know / for what I didn’t say or do” we find Gary still doesn’t know what he did wrong.  A missed opportunity for a great single here, but it was probably too personal to Gary to be released.

The next two tracks speak of the end of marriages. The first, ‘Ring’, sounds bleaker than if it had been recorded by any other artist. It’s not meant to be a happy song really, but due to the circumstances it was recorded in, it sounds almost haunted. The way Gary sings the lyrics it almost sounds like he’s going crazy.  The second song, ‘Promise Broken’, is referencing marriage vows and other broken promises. It’s a good song but on this album it gets caught between two of the stand out tracks and seems to get lost.

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Single Review: Coldwater Jane – ‘Bring On The Love’

Written by Jordan Stacey.  – J.R.

When an artist is signed to a major label you tend to think there’s got to be something about them that got them noticed. Was it because they have amazing voices? Great songwriting? Strong Personality? Maybe they are great performers; whatever it is there had to be something to get them picked out of all the artists trying to get in the same place they are. That’s why I always find it weird when a new artist comes out who doesn’t show any of these attributes.

Mercury’s newest artist, Coldwater Jane, is exactly the type of artist I’m talking about. They show the basic country twang in their voices, which is sadly enough to stand out on country radio at the moment, but their first single, ‘Bring On The Love’, is a throw away song whose lyrical depth basically states “love is great”. There’s no narrative to the song and the music is filler at best. It all kind of blends together after the third time the chorus is repeated. I’ve listened to it about 10 times so far and can honestly say the only part of the lyric that stands out is “don’t take a genius to figure out”, cause that perfectly describes the song.

What Coldwater Jane stands to bring to the genre remains to be seen, but with a lot of female duos trying to break through at the moment they’re going to have a tough time finding an audience if they don’t come to the table with better material than this. Here’s hoping that the Court Yard Hounds show all these girls how it’s done.

Grade: D

You can listen to the song here. It also is available for purchase at amazon’s mp3 store.

Single Review: Alan Jackson – ‘It’s Just That Way’

Written by Jordan Stacey.     – J.R.

I don’t know how he does it but Alan Jackson has a way of turning the simplest things into ear candy. A mediocre song like ‘Country Boy’ was turned into something that I actually found myself enjoying. Even knowing all this, reading the opening lines to his new single had me worried.

That old sun comes up every morning / and goes back down at the end of every day / It’s Just That Way / Stars show up every evening, man in the moon comes out to play / It’s just that way

Reading them out loud had me thinking that this was to be a song even Alan couldn’t make work. But lo and behold, he uses just the right phrasing to turn a somewhat typical lyric into something that sounds so much deeper. This isn’t anything we haven’t heard before, especially in this current country radio climate where the more family friendly a song is the quicker it becomes a hit. This is much like George Strait’s #1  “It Just Comes Natural”, a list of things that everybody knows to be true then comparing it to how he loves somebody.

It should fare just as well as Alan is one of the most consistent hit makers in the industry. It’s a simple equation: take an inoffensive lyric that appeals to a mass audience, add Keith Stegall’s traditional production, mix in Alan’s almost magical turn of phrase and watch it skyrocket to the top. It may not be the best hit he’s ever had but it sure isn’t the worst. It’s plainly average, which fits right in with what people seem to want. For better or worse.

Grade: C+

“It’s Just That Way” is written by Vicky McGehee, Kylie Sackley & Keith Stegall. It can be purchased on iTunes and Amazon.

Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Real Fine Place’

Here’s another guest contribution from our long-time friend, and frequent collaborator Michael Allan.

Released shortly after the title cut became her fourth #1 hit, Sara Evans’ Real Fine Place debuted atop the Billboard Country Albums Chart (and at #3 on the all-genre Billboard 200) in October of 2005. It is her most recent studio effort and contains four Top 40 singles, including her last Top Ten hit to date.

The album opens with its third single, ‘Coalmine’, which, due to some unfortunate timing, peaked at #37. (It was released right around the same time as the Sago coal mine disaster in West Virginia.) It’s a shame more people weren’t able to hear the song because, thanks to its fiddles and sly lyrics, it paints a better portrait of small town life and serves as a better ode to hard working, blue collar men than anything on country radio in 2009. No offense, Justin Moore, Billy Currington, Jason Aldean, Jason Michael Carroll, et al.

The album’s second track and lead single is the title cut. Written by Radney Foster, it serves as a strong example of pop country done right. The song’s bouncy vibe makes you want to turn up the volume, put down the top and go for a cruise – sing along with the breeze in your hair and then… press repeat.

Second single and third track is the deliciously scathing ‘Cheatin’. It’s a humorous ( without venturing into novelty territory) lesson that living well is the best revenge… even better than taking a baseball bat to a cheating boyfriend’s car headlights. This fun song would have been right at home on a country radio playlist in the early 90s.

‘New Hometown’, a plea to the protagonist’s lover to give up the city life for something a little more rural, ironically doesn’t sound very country at all. However, Evans voice is in fine form and her tone is clear.

‘You’ll Always Be My Baby’ was the final single and peaked at #13 on the charts.  It is one of my least favorite songs on the album. The three arc story song is so predictable, uninspired and generic that it sounds like it was assembled in a factory somewhere in Nashville. Despite having served as a co-writer on this song, Evans deserves better material than this.

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Mountain country magic: A tribute to Patty Loveless

Photo by Nicole Spaller, patty-loveless.net

Photo by Nicole Spaller, patty-loveless.net

When we announced Patty Loveless as our Spotlight Artist, all of us here at My Kind of Country were very excited about the opportunity to write about one of our favorites.  In past months, we’ve brought in Guest Contributors to help out with the reviews.  But this month, all the reviews were snatched up pretty quickly by the regular staff, so we didn’t have room for our guest writer friends to share their thoughts with you on Patty’s albums.  But we have one reader who is admittedly a bigger fan of Miss Patty Loveless than any of us and he came up with his own idea for an article, just so he could be part of October’s Patty coverage.  Stephen Fales, who you will all know as Steve from Boston, composed the following piece as a tribute to his favorite singer.  We’re glad to have him as a Guest Contributor here at My Kind of Country, and hope you enjoy his tribute to a peerless artist.

– J.R. Journey

No one has done more to bring the mountain sound to modern country music, and few with such compassion and grace as Patty Loveless. There have been accounts of fans trying to thank Patty for the profound impact that her music has wrought in their lives, and all they were able to manage were tears when they tried to speak. Patty, with genuine humility and understanding, attributes this transfomative effect to “the power of music”. Indeed, music is a divine gift, the language of the angels and of the heart. But this is not just any music, and Loveless is not just any singer.

Patty Loveless has been blessed with one of the purest, most authentic and profoundly resonant mountain-country voices in the music world. It is an echo of her own empathetic heart, and seems to emanate from the very depths of her Appalachian soul, and the voice of Patty Loveless touches people right to the core of their being.

Loveless’ warm Appalachian alto is rich and expressive, and her gentle Kentucky drawl and twangy mountain timbre come as naturally to her as breathing. Her skillful phrasing, measured melisma, and mature sense of nuance convey a depth of emotion that is extraordinary, almost otherworldly. She is a true vocal virtuoso and knows both restraint and abandon. Patty Loveless inhabits the heart of a song, and has no need to resort to histrionics or ostentatious vocal gymnastics. She is all about the music, and allows her music to speak for itself.

At times Patty’s musical pendulum swings deeply to the countryside, as with her album Sleepless Nights and at others, to the mountainside, with offerings such as her Mountain Soul albums, but she never settles for the middle road of mediocrity. On the contrary, Loveless has found her golden mean with a unique mountain blend that combines the best of both traditions. This is best exemplified on her On Your Way Home, and Dreamin’ My Dreams albums, but it is pervasive throughout her catalog. It is real mountain-country music, and Loveless is perhaps it’s most inspired and accomplished practitioner.

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Soundtrack Review: George Strait – ‘Pure Country’

George Strait has an extensive catalog, so just narrowing down which albums of his to write about for our spotlight was a daunting task in itself.  Then there’s the work that goes along with profiling a legendary artist like George Strait – making sure we hit all the high points as well as the lows, though Strait has admittedly less lows than most artists.  Most of the credit for this month goes to Razor X and Occasional Hope, who tirelessly championed this month’s spotlight while I just kinda watched from a distance and then wrote what they told me to.  All bloggers should be so lucky to have two hard-working and dedicated team members.

We’ve also been lucky to have some excellent guest contributors in past months too, including Michael Allan, and now for the second time Chad has agreed to share his thoughts on George Strait’s landmark soundtrack album to his big screen film of the same name.  To read more about the film, check out Juli Thanki’s Celluloid Country review at The 9513.  But first, check out Chad’s review for the soundtrack. There’s lots more George Strait coverage coming this month and also be sure to enter our giveaway for a chance to win a copy of George Strait’s 50 Number Ones.

– J.R. Journey

pure countryI guess I should start by saying that I’m a George Strait fan. I grew up in Texas, where that’s basically a moral imperative. However, I’m not a huge fan of George Strait as an album artist. Rather, I think he’s a great singles artist (as evidenced by his record setting string of #1 hits, two of which happen to be on this soundtrack.)

That being said, its interesting to take a look back at this CD, which has sold more than any other Strait record to date. In reading about some of the stats about this CD, I was surprised to learn that there were only three singles officially released to radio because, at the time, I remember our local Fort Worth country stations playing several more songs from the soundtrack than that (including ‘Baby Your Baby’, ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends,’ and ‘Overnight Male’).

Rather than talking about each track individually, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the record as a whole, especially since it has been his most popular in the record store. In many ways, this CD falls right in line with other Strait records. ‘I Cross My Heart’ (one of Strait’s best love songs, in my opinion),’Baby Your Baby’, “The King of Broken Hearts,” and “When Did You Stop Loving Me” could have all easily found their place on any other George Strait record. They have consistent themes, instrumentation, and delivery with most of the rest of his catalogue, especially up to this point.  (If you haven’t already, check out Lee Ann Womak’s version of ‘King of Broken Hearts’ from her latest CD. While I don’t usually think anyone can out sing Strait on a song, she comes pretty close.)

However, there are a few departures—most notably, ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ and the lead track (and second single) ‘Heartland’.  Taken in the scope of the movie, these differences make sense as they’re reflective of the derailment of Strait’s character, Dusty, and the slick, overproduced stage act he was resisting. Listening to these songs outside of the movie leaves more to be wanted, especially coming from George Strait. Both tracks are loud with too much instrumentation. And to be honest, I’ve always felt like Strait was a ½ beat behind the music on both of these tracks.

So while I personally think the record, outside of the context of the movie, is pretty uneven, it does contain some great Strait singles, only a few of which actually made it to national radio. I still can’t quite figure out why this is his most popular record—is it just on the basis of the lead single and love song, ‘I Cross My Heart’?  (It was a huge wedding song at the time.) Was it because of the novelty of seeing George Strait, who usually comes off as shy and quiet, on the big screen in his first real acting debut?

Whatever the reason, it’s a grouping of satisfactory Strait songs that just don’t happen to stand out as a whole looking back at them now.

Grade: B

Who I am is who I wanna be

To finish up our Reba coverage this month, we wanted to talk about what she’s been up to for the past decade, since she’s only released 3 studio albums in that time – and I don’t count any of them among essential listening.  You should check out her take on the Kenny Rogers-penned ‘Sweet Music Man’ from her Greatest Hits 3 disc though.

In 2001, Reba took to New York to play Annie Oakley in Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, earning rave reviews and several theater awards.  Later that Fall, the ‘Reba’ television show premiered on the WB Network, and spent 6 years as the network’s highest-rated sit-com.  I asked my buddy Michael Allan to write about the show for us, and here’s what he had to say about it:

– J.R. Journey

reba show 1In the fall of 2001, traditional three-camera sitcoms with laugh tracks and live studio audiences were still big business. Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, Will & Grace and Frasier were all regular visitors to the Nielsen Ratings’ Top 20. So Reba McEntire and her family packed up their bags and moved to Hollywood to get a piece of the pie and conquer television. The result provided the WB network with it first (and only) sitcom hit since its launch in 1995:

Reba served as co-executive producer and starred as Reba Hart, a real estate agent and divorced mother of three in Houston. She was the (often sarcastic) voice of reason in the chaos that was her family life. Christopher Rich (of Murphy Brown fame) played her dim witted and vain ex-husband, dentist Brock Hart and Joanna Garcia (Privileged) was their oldest daughter, Cheyenne – a ditzy, shallow teenager who discovered she was pregnant by her boyfriend, high school football star Van Montgomery (Steve Howey) in the pilot episode. Van was far from bright but he had a good heart and proved to be an excellent father. The two married and ultimately had a daughter named Elizabeth. A storyline in later seasons focused on Cheyenne dealing with alcoholism. Garcia and Howey would later appear together in the music video for “Every Other Weekend”, Reba’s duet with Kenny Chesney and/or Skip Ewing.

Reba’s middle child Kyra was played by Scarlett Pomers. Kyra inherited her mother’s red locks and biting sarcasm. She was also musically inclined, unlike her mother. A running joke on the show was Reba Hart’s poor singing skills. I’m not sure, but I think Reba did perform on the show once or twice. Remind me in the comments section if you can remember. Over the course of the show’s run Pomers dealt with an eating disorder and had to miss most of Season 5. It was addressed light heartedly when she returned at the beginning of Season 6. Reba asked Kyra, “Where have you been?” to which she responded, “I went to get something to eat.” At another point in the same episode Van asked Kyra, “Where are you going?” and she answered, “I’m going to grab something to eat.” Van replied, “Ok. See you next year!” Pomers later became an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association.

The role of Reba’s youngest son Jake was filled by Mitch Holleman.

The breakout star of the show, however, was Melissa Peterman as Brock’s much younger hygienist and eventual second wife, Barbara Jean. Barbara Jean also finds out that she is pregnant in the series’ first episode. However, her and Brock’s son Henry and Reba’s granddaughter were rarely used in storylines and as such were seldom seen on the show. Barbara Jean was loud, boisterous, over the top and, in my opinion, her relationship with frenemy Reba provided the show with its strongest laughs. Her character would later work as a weather girl. After the show’s cancellation Peterman went on to open some of Reba’s concerts with her comedy routine and she can currently be seen as the host of CMT’s The Singing Bee.

Park Overall (Empty Nest) also played in a handful of Season 1 episodes as Reba’s best friend Lori Ann. Other notable guest stars over the years included Dolly Parton, Patrick Duffy, Kelly Clarkson, JoMarie Payton-Noble, Richard Kind, Wendy Malick, Bryan Callen, Leslie Jordan and James Denton.

The show premiered on October 5, 2001, a few weeks before the release of Reba’s third Greatest Hits collection, I’m a Survivor, the title track of which served as the sitcom’s theme song. While the reviews weren’t as harsh as they had been for other artists that had tried their hand at a weekly television series (cough cough Bette Midler, Dolly Parton), it was never a critical darling. However, due to its family friendly themes and placement on the Friday night schedule, it became the WB’s top rated sitcom. The show usually averaged 3.5 – 4.5 million viewers and fared particularly well with the Women Age 18-49 demographic. Repeats also held up strongly in the ratings. However, due to the considerably lower availability of the WB network, Reba usually ranked in the 100s and I have to question its potential (or lack thereof) on a major network like CBS or NBC.

And while Reba isn’t Lucille Ball by any stretch of the imagination, she certainly held her own in the strong ensemble cast. She won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Female Performer in a New Television Series in 2002 and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy in 2004. Reba (the show itself, not the woman) was also nominated for two cinematography Emmys in 2005 and 2006.

reba show 2

In 2006 the WB and UPN merged to form a new network, the CW, and Reba was cancelled after five seasons. However, to avoid a fine in the syndication contract, the show was suddenly renewed for a 13-episode sixth season. Even though it was the CW’s #1 sitcom, Reba didn’t exactly align with their vision for a younger, more hip image and the final episode aired on February 18, 2007. All six seasons of Reba are available on DVD and reruns air from 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM and 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM on the Lifetime television network as well as on Ion.

With 125 episodes produced, it’s hard not to see Reba as a success. However, during its run Reba only released one studio album (2003’s Room to Breathe). So while it may have increased her profile, I think it detracted from her music career. In fact, the summer of 2002 was the first one in which she didn’t tour in 25 years. Today the show provides a great way to wind down after a busy day. It doesn’t require a lot of thought or knowledge of a plot heavy background to catch a viewing and you’re guaranteed at least a few laughs.

Album Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Soon’

tanyatuckersoon

Continuing with our Tanya Tucker coverage, this review was written by a guest contributor, Michael, who is also a frequent commenter here at My Kind of Country.

When I was a boy, my mom and I scored front row seats to a Tanya Tucker concert but she cancelled the show.  My mother never forgave her, and I won’t tell you the name she still uses to refer to Tucker today, but I couldn’t stay mad at Tanya for long after purchasing this CD. In fact, along with Martina McBride’s The Way That I Am, Soon was one of the very first CDs I ever bought. A twelve-year-old’s well spent allowance money at Target became an investment that continues to pay off today

This was six years before Faith Hill was rolling around in the sheets for the music video to “Breathe” and long before Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles took on the role of a mistress that stands up for herself, there was “Soon”. In the summer of 1993 Tanya Tucker released the scandalous, racy video for the first single and title track of her upcoming album Soon. The steamy clip featured Tucker and her lover thrashing around in bed and was banned from daytime airings on CMT and TNN.  In fact, a search for the video on YouTube today requires age verification to watch it and be warned, it may still make you blush. Using the third person point-of-view, Tucker tells the story of a woman who has had a summer tryst with a married man. He has promised her that he will leave his wife soon but by Christmas he has still not followed through on his word and she spends the holiday alone. She finds no answer when she calls him and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that, as a teenager, the chorus after this verse was featured on my outgoing answering machine message for awhile.

Soon, I can’t talk to you right now
Soon, you’ll hear a beep and you know how to play this game
Leave your number and your name
And I promise I’ll call back … soon

By the final verse our protagonist has a renewed sense of strength and independence and has turned the tables on the man. Her New Year’s resolution is to make herself unavailable to him when he calls or comes by. Tucker’s voice conveys the heartache of what should be an unlikable character’s story and makes her sympathetic. “Soon” peaked at number two on the Billboard charts and none of Tucker’s singles in the in the 16 years since its release has reached a higher summit.

The second single released from the album was “We Don’t Have To Do This”. It just missed the top 10, stalling at number 11. The lush ballad is about a breakup that could have never been predicted at the beginning of the relationship. However, Tucker wonders if saying goodbye is even necessary at all. She gives one last emotional plea to save the relationship from their pride. Should all of the time, energy and effort they have put into it be in vain? Breakups are almost always messy. When is something worth fighting for and when is it time to let it go? Even when ending it is the right thing to do, it can still hurt. There may be relief but it could be clouded with a sense of failure. When it’s over, all we can do is hang onto our memories of the good times. Tucker sings with such passion that it makes me root for her and in the end, I hope they didn’t say goodbye.

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Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Tell Me Why’

We’ve been featuring Wynonna as our spotlight artist throughout the month of February.  So, continuing with that coverage, here is the very first contribution from guest writer (and faithful My Kind of Country reader) Chad McBride.

– J.R. Journey

tellmewhy

With her first CD, Wynonna ventured out on her own, but not too far from her roots as a member of The Judds. That CD received great reviews from non-country outlets, such as Rolling Stone, and earned Wynonna her first four top five singles as a solo artist. This CD capitalized on that success by both repeating some of the same sounds but also branching out in new ways. Of the ten songs on Tell Me Why, five would eventually be released as singles, all of which reached the top ten – a feat unheard of at the time. And just a look at the contributing songwriters highlights some top singer-songwriters to emerge in the 90s. In Wynonna’s words from her live CD/DVD, she was ‘on top of the world and at the time’ and ‘some of the top country acts of the 90s’ were opening for her.

While Tell Me Why resulted in all of this acclaim, more importantly, it showcases the first time Wynonna really branched out from traditional Judd’s acoustic country (still showcased with great emotion on ‘I Just Drove By’ here) to more pop/country, blues, gospel, and shades of rock.

The first song and single, ‘Tell Me Why’, did not stray too far from the country rock sound fans had become familiar with after ‘No One Else On Earth’ from her first CD. The second song on the CD, ‘Rock Bottom’, the fourth single released to radio, was the first to really showcase her soulful backup singers, which would become a centerpiece of her live shows to this day. ‘Only Love’, the lush ballad co-written by Marcus Hummon with Roger Murrah features some of the smoothest vocals performed on her early CDs and was another top hit on the CD.

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