My Kind of Country

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

Christmas Rewind: Mandy Banett – ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’

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Christmas Rewind: Alan Jackson – ‘Let It Be Christmas’

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

Classic Rewind: Travis Tritt – ‘Anymore’

Album Review: Rodney Crowell – ‘Christmas Everywhere’

If you’re tired of every Christmas album containing mostly the same old songs, this is the Christmas album for you. Every song is a Rodney Crowell original, and the mood is neither sentimental nor jolly.

The record opens with ‘Clement’s Lament (We’ll See You In The Mall’, sung by a syrupy sweet female duo, belying the ironic lyric pointing out the contemporary commercialisation of Christmas when “The season starts in August now“. The title is a nod to Clement Moore, author of ‘The Night Before Christmas’.

In the frantic ‘Christmas Everywhere’, a co-write with John Jorgenson, Rodney is a harried father complaining about the competing demands and wishes of all around him (while “Daddy wants a stiffer drink”. The pace shifts midway to allow a slow dreamy cameo from guest Lera Lynn before the tempo increases again but the tone changes again to a newly cheery Rodney embracing all the season entails. A lovely arrangement holds it all together, just about, but this is a very odd confection and definitely not playing it safe.

‘Very Merry Christmas’ is a rock jam with not much in the way of lyrics, which I could happily live without. ‘Christmas In Vidor’, an angry, dark and definitely not family-friendly take on the season in a troubled town in Texas (“that’s ash, that ain’t snow”) with spoken vocals from Rodney and his co-writer poet Mary Karr, is an outtake from the pair’s duet album a few years back. ‘Let’s Skip Christmas This Year’, another Karr collaboration, is rather better, with an upbeat tongue-in-cheek feel.

‘Christmas In New York’ is a downbeat reflection on Christmasses past and a lost relationship. The soulful jazz of ‘When The Fat Guy Tries The Chimney On For Size’ reassures a child that Santa really does exist.

Chuck Cannon co-wrote ‘Christmas Makes Me Sad’ opens with jolly Christmas music, but a downbeat lyric has a newly lovelorn protagonist expecting to

Spend my silent night alone

Also sad is the delicately mournful ‘Merry Christmas From An Empty Bed’, a moving duet with Brennen Leigh as a couple muse separately on the failure of their love while decorating for Christmas:

Brennen
Somehow I thought believing in our love would make it grow
And God knows faith can cover up a multitude of sins
But you wouldn’t let me in

Rodney
She learned to read my lies like tea leaves in a cup…

Now she’ll never know
How much I loved her so

This I excellent. I also very much liked ‘Christmas For The Blues’, another sad reflection on failed romance which is pure country. ‘Come Christmas’ is a simple, pretty song with a folky tune, the latter being composed by Rodney’s young granddaughters Adeline and Iris Brue.

The final track, the playful ‘All For Little Girls And Boys’ was written when Rodney’s own children were young. Three of his daughters sing along.

This is an ambitious and very different Christmas album. Not everything is to my taste, but it’s worth giving it a listen to see if you like it.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Josh Turner – ‘I Pray My Way Out Of Trouble’

Classic Rewind: Jim Ed Brown – ‘You Can Have Her’

Classic Rewind: Crystal Gayle – ‘Snowbird’

Classic Rewind: Ernest Ray Lynn and Loretta Lynn – ‘Mama’s Sugar’

Classic Rewind: George Strait – ‘When Did You Stop Loving Me?’

Classic Rewind: Patty Loveless – ‘You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive’

Classic Rewind: Miranda Lambert – ‘Tin Man’

Album Review: Kayla Ray – ‘Yesterday & Me’

Singer-songwriter Kayla Ray’s lovely second album was released back in May. This has been such a busy year I haven’t had time to review as much music as I would have liked, but starting to consider my albums of the year I thought this really needed to be covered in detail. Tastefully produced by Jason Eady in traditional country style with plenty of steel guitar and fiddle, the record showcases her rich voice and outstanding songwriting. Growing up in Texas, she spent some time working with legendary fiddler Johnny Gimble, and Johnny’s son Dick plays bass on this album.

Kayla wrote most of the songs herself. One of the exceptions is the engrossing story song ‘Rockport’, which opens the album and sets the tone. It tells the tale of two lovers whose hard backgrounds in Arkansas overshadow their lives. The other is one of my favorite tracks, a gorgeously steel-laden ultra-traditional Keith Whitley song called ‘Once A Week Cheaters’. It is a duet with Colton Hawkins, who has a great, mournful voice and I would like to hear more from.

My favorite of Kayla’s own songs is the weary litany of ‘Things Only Years Can Teach A Woman’. ‘Fair Warning’, an outstanding introspective story song about an abusive relationship.
Another duet, this time with an older-sounding female vocalist called Tifni Simons, ‘Red River Valley’s Run Dry’ is another absorbing story song with nice fiddle.

‘Magnolias In Springtime’ is a slow ballad about a country singer who has unexpectedly found the joy of love, with a number of song titles quoted.

In the title track she regrets the changes time has brought to a relationship. ‘Camel Blues’ ponders a breakup where fault lies on both sides. The sultry ‘I’m Still A Woman’ is the agonised lament of a troubled woman.

The tempo picks up with ‘Hell Of A Day To Drink All Night’, where Kayla’s tone shifts from its usual mellow warmth to raucous as she rattles her way through a hangover. The rapid paced ‘Pills’ lauds the local pharmacy and prescription medicines, somewhat tongue in cheek.

Finally, ‘1963’ pays a fond tribute to Kayla’s grandparents.

This is an excellent album, leaning to the more introspective side, but pure country in its backings and arrangements.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis: ‘Point Of Light’

The late President George Bush senior’s Point of Light Foundation inspired this inspirational Randy Travis hit:

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

Classic Rewind: Crystal Gayle – ‘It’s Like We Never Said Goodbye’

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘Cotton Fields’

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘I Didn’t Think Of You At All’

Album Review: Josh Turner – ‘I Serve A Savior’

Josh Turner’s deep religious faith has underpinned his career, from his astonishing debut single ‘Long Black Train’. It comes as no surprise that he has now recorded a gospel album – or indeed that ‘Long Black Train’ makes another appearance.

Josh wrote the title track with Mark Narmore. It is quite a nice song set to a gentle melody in which he sets out the story of salvation and affirms his own commitment. It is one of only two new songs on the album, although some choices are less familiar than others. The other is actually the album’s one misstep. ‘The River (Of Happiness)’ was written by Josh’s wife Jennifer and son Hampton, and the whole family sings along live (apart from Josh himself). The song itself is not bad. Unfortunately the children can’t all sing In tune.

My favorite track is a measured, deeply sincere, reading of the Hank Williams classic ‘I Saw The Light’, backed by the sweet harmonies of Sonya Isaacs. I also loved the less well known ‘I Pray My Way Out Of Trouble’, a charming song written by Loretta Lynn and Teddy Wilburn. It was recorded by the Osborne Brothers in the 1960s, and Bobby Osborne contributes harmonies to this version.

There is a solid version of spiritual ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ which allows Josh to showcase the furthest reaches of his deep voice. ‘Without Him’ Is from the Southern Gospel tradition and has an emotional soulful vocal.

Classic hymns ‘Great Is Your Faithfulness’, ‘How Great Thou Art’ and (the best of the three) ‘Amazing Grace’ are all performed with reverence to tasteful arrangements. A more unusual inclusion is the short (very short if you’re thinking of it as a song, at only 42 seconds) ‘Doxology’ composed In the 17th century by Bishop Ken. Josh sings this quite simply and completely acappella. Really, this ought to close the set, but a retread of the sunny ‘Me And God’ (from Your Man) follows it.

Impeccably sung, arranged and produced, if not very original, this is a fine record with appeal for fans of Josh Turner or Christian country music.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Jamey Johnson and Lee Ann Womack – ‘Give It Away’