My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘Your Heart’s Not In It’

Classic Rewind: Ricky Skaggs – ‘Highway 40 Blues’

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘He’s A Heartache (Looking For A PLace To Happen)’

Classic Rewind: Lacy J Dalton – ‘Crazy Blue Eyes’

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘You Don’t Know Love’

The later bluegrass arrangement of the 1980s hit:

Album Revew: Janie Fricke – ‘Sleeping With Your Memory’

1981 saw a change of producer for Janie, with Jim Ed Norman taking up the reins from Billy Sherrill for Sleeping With Your Memory. The result was incrased success for her on radio and with the industry – Janie would be named the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1982.

The lead single was ‘Do Me With Love’, written by John Schweers. A bright perky slice of pop-country, this rather charming song (featuring Ricky Skaggs on backing vocals although he is not very audible) was a well-deserved hit, peaking at #4. Its successor, ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby’, was Janie’s first chart topper. It was written by fellow country starlet Deborah Allen with rocker Bruce Channel and Kieran Kane (later half of the O’Kanes). It’s quite a well written song, but the pop-leaning production has dated quite badly, and Janie’s vocals sound like something from musical theater.

Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Homeward Bound’ is given a folk-pop-country arrangement which is quite engaging (Ricky Skaggs multi-tasks on this song, contributing fiddle, mandolin and banjo as well as backing vocals), but I’m not quite sure I entirely buy Janie as the folk troubadour of the narrative. The Gibb brothers (the Bee Gees) had some impact on country music by dint of writing songs like ‘Islands In The Stream’ for Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, and their ‘Love Me’ is a very nice mid-paced ballad.

Janie sings Larry Gatlin’s sensitive ballad ‘The Heart’ beautifully; Larry and one of his brothers add backing vocals. The arrangement is swathed with strings, and the overall effect is fairly Adult Contemporary in style, but the track is a fine showcase for Janie’s lovely voice. The wistful ballads ‘Always’ and ‘If You Could See Me Now’ are also impeccably sung. The title track is a downbeat ballad about coping with a breakup, and is quite good, though not very country.

‘There’s No Future In The Past’, written by Chick Rains, is a very strong ballad about starting to move on, which I liked a lot despite the early 80s string arrangement. The closing ‘Midnight Words’ is fairly forgettable.

While this is not the more traditional side of country with heavy use of strings and electronic keyboards, it is a good example of its kind with some decent song choices, and Janie was starting to find her own voice.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Vern Gosdin – ‘Jesus Hold My Hand’

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘It Ain’t Easy Being Easy’

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Friday Night Blues’

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby’

EP Review: Justin Payne – ‘Coal Camp’

West Virginia native Justin Payne’s new release is a concept EP about life in coal mining country which is well worth hearing, although it focusses more on domestic aspects than on the industry itself. Payne, whose day job is as a coal mine electrician, is a strong singer and excellent songwriter who wrote every one of the six songs, and imbues them with his real life experiences.

The opening ‘Growing Old’ is a reminiscence of growing up in a loving and hard working but poverty stricken family, full of precise details and emotional underpinning, then counterpointed with harder times today with a drug blighted countryside. A wistful fiddle solo adds to the reflective mood.

The tender ‘Holler Home’ is about the return home to the “green rolling hills of West Virginia” and the protagonist’s wife after too long an absence. ‘Miner’s Soul’ soothes the fears of a miner’s wife.

The gentle sounding but incisive ‘Make A Little Time’ is about fatherhood in a coalmining family. ‘Piece Of My Life’ is a thoughtful consideration of the importance of family, and protecting the children from the harsh reality of the mines. Along the way is a resigned critique of the country music business:

My friends all call me crazy
And say to leave this place behind
“You need to pack ‘em songs to Nashville, son
And auction off a piece of your life”

But that town don’t understand me
No, they don’t like my kind
They don’t care about the truth down there
And they don’t deserve a piece of my life

This is possibly the highlight of an album with no weak points.

The record closes with the catchy ‘The Mines’, where a toe-tapping tune complete with accordion counterpoints a sometimes gloomy lyric.

Every song here is excellent, and this record is very highly recommended. I rarely call an album flawless, but I can’t find anything to criticise here.

All the album proceeds will go to food banks in West Virginia.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Prairie Oyster – ‘I Don’t Hurt Anymore’

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘Do Me With Love’

Album Review: Joe Nichols – ‘Never Gets Old’

Joe Nichols, once one of the standard bearers for real country music, seemed to have lost his way of recent years – or to have been forced from it by record label politics. On losing his major deal, he signed to the big independent label Broken Bow, who proceeded to release a number of frankly bad tracks as singles which were largely ignored by radio. Those have been forgotten without trace, and find no place on Joe’s debut album for the label, heralded with talk of a return to more traditional sounds, which naturally caused me to have considerable expectations of the record.

The true lead single, the title track, is a delightful return to form for Joe. A gently midpaced love song, it may not make waves at radio, but will satisfy real country fans. The rather charming ‘I’d Sing About You’ is another attractive love song with some nice fiddle. I very much liked ‘This Side Of The River’, with the protagonist declaring he is very happy with his current life and in no rush to make it to the next world. Celtic pipes add a spiritual flavor. ‘Breathless’ is also quite nice though not as memorable. ‘So You’re Saying’ is a relaxed chat-up number with a nice tune.

‘Girl In The Song’ is another pleasant love song, although the production is unsympathetic. This is also a problem with the sexy ‘Hostage’, which Joe doesn’t really sell. Much worse is the awful bro-country ‘Tall Boys’, no doubt left over from the sessions which produced the jettisoned singles.

The best track is ‘Billy Graham’s Bible’, an excellent love song repeated from Joe’s last album Crickets. Perhaps this revival is a sign to its being selected as a single. Another highlight, ‘We All Carry Something’, is a moving semi-story and partly religious song written by Westin Davis and Justin Weaver about the pain and scars of hard lives.

A likeable cover of the Dierks Bentley album cut ‘Diamonds Make Babies’ (a Chris Stapleton co-write) works really well for Joe, showcasing his playful side. Another cover, also with comic intent, is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard. ‘Baby Got Back’ was originally a controversial rap song in the early 90s. Joe somehow manages to make it sound like a (very) country song in terms of melody, vocal and instrumentation (although the lyrics are still somewhat offensive in a bro-country way). Southern comedian Darren Knight guests with some spoken interjections taking a different angle. I am left speechless by this track, but do give it points for at least sounding country.

So this album is still something of a mixed bag, but on the whole it is a step back in the right direction for Joe.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Lorrie Morgan – ‘Dear Me’

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘From The Heart’

Janie Fricke’s third Columbia album (her last to be produced by Billy Sherrill) was only modestly successful. It bears all the hallmarks of its era, but on the best tracks Janie’s beautiful voice shines through. This makes the record’s shortcomings all the more frustrating, as it is so evident that she could have done so much better.

There were two top 30 singles. The first, the very poppy mid-tempo ‘But Love Me’, is marred by horribly intrusive production which makes an otherwise harmless peppy number unlistenable. Infinitely better is Janie’s version of the classic ‘Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)’, which is truly excellent.

Another highlight is the traditional country ballad ‘One Piece At A Time’ (surprisingly written by Randy Jackson). Addressed to the protagonist’s ex, the singer proudly explains how her true love has healed the hurt and banished the memory of her predecessor:

I built a brand new love with the pieces I found
I put him together one piece at a time
What was once yours and his is now his and mine
I’ve erased all those memories that you left behind

‘Some Fools Don’t Ever Learn’ is another very good song with a strong vocal, although some aspects of the production sound dated today.

Unfortunately most of the rest of the album is disposable pop- country, with Janie’s vocals all too frequently breathy and undersung, and songs like ‘Falling For You’ boring and with little or nothing about them one might describe as country.

The vocals are much stronger on ‘My World Begins And Ends With You’, but the song itself is syrupy and bland and the arrangement dated.

‘A Cool September’ (written by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton) is a heavily orchestrated loungy jazz number which Janie sings quite well, but not in a country style at all. The biggest disappointment is with Janie’s lackadaisical cooing treatment of the standard ‘When I Fall In Love’; she has the vocal chops to really deliver on this song, but she fails to dive it any oomph at all. She seems to be trying too hard to sound pretty to invest it with any real emotion. The same goes for . ‘This Ain’r Tennessee And He Ain’t You’ is a good song which sounds a little too much like something from musical theater – carefully and thoughtfully delivered, but a little detached from the song’s raw emotion.

Reba McEntire, another rising star but one who would soon surpass Janie, also recorded ‘Gonna Love Ya (Till The Cows Come Home)’. Janie’s version is pretty but forgettable and lacking in passion.

There were glimmers of potential in this album which pointed to something significantly better than the sum of the album.

Grade: C-

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘Above All’

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘I’ll Need Someone To Hold Me When I Cry’

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘Please Help Me, I’m Falling’

Classic Rewind: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘He’s Got You’