My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘Sons of the Sun’

The Bellamy Brothers’ sixth studio album was also released in 1980 and continued the duo’s winning streak with two high performing singles. The lead single, and album opener, “Lovers Live Longer” hit #3. They returned to the top with “Do You Love as Good as You Look,” which sat comfortably in their signature style.

The album boasts many enjoyable traditional-leaning moments among the ten tracks. “It’s Hard to be a Cowboy These Days” is a western-themed ballad with lovely interjections of dobro throughout. Other standout moments include the pure honky-tonk “Classic Case of the Blues” and the deliciously uptempo “Honey, We Don’t Know No One in Nashville.” All three are excellent and well-worth checking out. I also really liked “Givin’ Into Love Again” and “Illusions of Love.”

The record as a whole is stamped with the Urban Cowboy sounds of the era, so tracks like “Dancin’ Romance,” which finds its roots in R&B are thrown into the mix. Also adventurous is “Spiders and Snakes,” which relies on a funky groove to drive the melody. The somewhat intriguing “Endangered Species” is a lush ballad that tastefully displaces their harmonies.

There seem to be more nods to traditionalism here than Occasional Hope found on the album’s predecessor, which makes for an enjoyable listening experience. There are some truly excellent moments here and much more to like than dislike. I would check out the whole album while paying particular attention to the album’s more worthy moments.

Grade: A-

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Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Good Old Days’

If popular culture is to be believed, it seems the 1990s is the hottest decade right now. Most of the ‘new’ television shows are reboots of classics from the era, including Full House and Will & Grace, with the originals casts reprising their roles. In popular music, if you were a major player 20-25 years ago, then its suddenly fashionable to return with new music and slews of concert dates.

In country music, this trend extends to the return of Faith Hill and Shania Twain with their first new music in more than a decade while Garth Brooks is wrapping up his massive three-year tour this month in Nashville. Even Dixie Chicks came home to the United States with their first tour in ten years. What’s old is new again or rather the music that defined my childhood is suddenly hip again.

It would be a stretch to place Tracy Lawrence at the same level since he was never a global superstar or wheeled much influence on an international stage. But he was one of the most consistent and traditional artists in his day, with a catalog that more than stands up to anything released by the artists who may have eclipsed him in status.

To celebrate this resurgence, Lawrence has released Good Ole Days, which recognizes what he refers to as a ‘hunger for the music from my era.’ The album pairs him with modern day country artists singing his hits. The whole concept does seem like a gimmick, a cash grab for the gullible fan unaware they are likely only lining the pockets of the executive who dreamt up this project. But really it’s a chance to finally hear country’s current class sing real well-written songs for the first time in their careers. I jumped at the chance to review this album simply so I could hear how these artists sound when forced to interrupt the actual country music. I’ve always had a theory that there is talent there if these artists had the proper vehicle to show it off.

This is the proper vehicle because instead of the artists making these songs their own, with their typical non-country producers and such, they have to stick within the confines of the original arrangements, including the steel, fiddle, and twang. Without the ability to hide, every weakness would be on the table.

Luke Bryan tackles Lawrence’s 1991 debut “Sticks and Stones” and handles it well. I wasn’t impressed with Jason Aldean’s take on “Just Can’t Break It to My Heart,” his voice was a bit too dirty, but the energy was good.

I remember reading in Quotable Country, on the dearly-departed Country California, Justin Moore says if he had a say he would make an album in the vein of I See It Now. He goes back a bit further here with “Alibis” and knocks it out of the park. Moore is a great country singer and it’s a shame he has to reside in this current climate.

Dustin Lynch sounds exactly like a young Lawrence on “Texas Tornado,” which is kind of scary. His performance isn’t excellent, but it’s damn close. I was surprised Miranda Lambert, who has been known to belt this out in concert, wasn’t singing it but that could’ve been label politics.

Probably the newest artist featured here is Luke Combs, who just hit number one with “When It Rains It Pours.” There’s no mistaking he’s a country singer and he easily pulls this off. The same is true for Chris Young, but he sounds like he’s just going through the paces on “If The Good Die Young.” If he had just let go the results could’ve been incredible.

The legend of Tim McGraw is he moved to Nashville on May 9, 1989, and has always said he’s more of a storyteller while Keith Whitley is a singer. I agree wholeheartedly, but his performance of “Time Marches On” is bland. In contrast, Easton Corbin shines on “Paint Me A Birmingham.”

Kellie Pickler’s talent is wasted on “Stars Over Texas,” which finds her regulated to singing the chorus. As the sole female voice on the whole album, you would’ve thought she’d be allowed more of a presence. I didn’t care for her vocal either, which makes her sound like a little girl.

There are two new songs in the mix. Brad Arnold, the lead singer of Alternative Rock band Three Doors Down (think ‘Here Without You’) joins Lawrence on the title track, which is being billed as his “country music debut.” The song, which also features Big & Rich, is a faux-rock disaster. The military-themed fiddle drenched ballad “Finally Home,” which features Craig Morgan, is better but not really for my tastes.

Good Ole Days is a great concept with lousy execution. These tracks are collaborations between the singer and Tracy Lawrence which doesn’t work on any level. Get rid of Lawrence entirely and turn this into the proper tribute album it’s screaming to be. His nasally twang is insufferable and pointlessly distracting. The lack of female artists in the mix is also troubling, as you don’t need just men to sing these songs.

Grade: B-

Jonathan Pappalardo’s Ten Favorite singles of 2017

While it does become harder and harder to assemble this list each year, it always amazes me that quality country music does exist, even if the upper echelon of the airplay chart screams otherwise.  Sit back and enjoy what I consider the ten best singles released this year:



10. Tanya Tucker – Forever Loving You

Go online and you’ll find countless videos of Tucker where she details the volatility of her relationship with Glen Campbell. She freely admits to the drug and physical abuse that defined their union, which became a cornerstone of her early 20s. Even after they split, and she went onto some of her greatest success, she clearly never truly got over him.

More than a tribute to Campbell, “Forever Loving You” is an exquisite love song. Tucker is in fine voice, which makes the longing for new music all the more aching. Why does this have to be a standalone one-off and not the lead track to a new album?

9. Alan Jackson – The Older I Get

Easily Jackson’s greatest achievement since “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore.” He’s in a contemplative mood, looking back in the year he received induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. If this is any indication, I look forward to whatever he chooses to do next.

8. Jon Pardi – She Ain’t In It

The best mainstream single of 2017 comes from the newly crowned CMA New Artist of the Year. The lyric isn’t earth-shattering, but the drenching of fiddle and steel more than makes up the difference. With his solid foundation in traditional country and his willingness to stay true to himself no matter the cost, Pardi’s future is bright. As of now, he’s one of the good guys.

7. Lee Ann Womack – Hollywood

A housewife is begging her husband to engage with her. He won’t bite except to dismiss her feelings or downright ignore their partnership. She’s exhausted from their loveless marriage, and the part he’s playing in it, so much so she wonders, “either I’m a fool for asking or you belong in Hollywood.” The first of two songs in this vein comes with that killer hook and Womack’s equally effective performance.

6. Alison Krauss – Losing You

Krauss revives a somewhat obscure Brenda Lee hit from 1965 and knocks it out of the park. The covers album that followed is just as rich and deeply satisfying.

5. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – If We Were Vampires

If life didn’t come with an expiration date, would we love as hard? Isbell asks that central question on the stunning centerpiece from That Nashville Sound. He proves mortality is actually a good thing, not something to be feared. For my ears, “If We Were Vampires” is the love song of the year.

 4. Chris Stapleton – Either Way

In my more than twenty years of seriously consuming country music, no song has stuck with me as long or had as great an impact on my psyche as “Either Way.” Lee Ann Womack brought it to life eight years ago in what still remains the song’s definitive version. Stapleton sings the fire out of it, too, but his greatest achievement is being the man who wrote it. He’s easily among the upper tier of the greatest country songwriters of his generation.

3. Brandy Clark – Three Kids No Husband

Clark teamed with Lori McKenna on an anthem for the women who assume all titles without a man to even the score. Both have recorded it, but it’s Clark who found the subtly within the lyric and ultimately drove it home.

2. Sunny Sweeney – Bottle By My Bed

Many songs have been written about the struggle for a woman to conceive, but none are as achingly beautiful as Sweeney’s tale of heartbreak in the wake of a miscarriage. A powerful and universal tale for anyone who has suffered the same fate.

1. Erin Enderlin – Ain’t It Just Like A Cowboy

I didn’t have a clear favorite single this year until I played these ten songs back-to-back when considering the rankings. Enderlin blows away the competition with her story of a wife realizing how foolish she is for staying with the cheating bastard who probably never loved her in the first place. A true country ballad for the ages.

Album Review: Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis – ‘Come See Me and Come Lonely’

Come See Me and Come Lonely, Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis’ second collaborative album, is strictly a covers record with their version of twelve classic country songs ranging from the familiar to the slightly obscure. I didn’t even have an inkling this record was in the works, so count me among the pleased, and surprised when news broke about the impending release this past summer.

The album was produced by Richard Landis, who has handled the majority of Morgan’s production duties for more than 25 years. While he maintains the essence of each song, he updates the arraignments just enough to give the album a contemporary flair that allows the album to feel modern and not note-for-note recreations of the classic recordings from which these compositions are most known.

His choices result in a very good album that unfortunately begins with K.T. Oslin’s romantic ballad “Do Ya” sung as a duel-lead duet. The results are ridiculous but Tillis does bring vigor to an otherwise lifeless song. I had no idea what to expect from another seemingly random choice, Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs.” They handled the song with ease, as though it was born from a Nashville honky-tonk.

Skeeter Davis’ version of “The End of the World” has always been too schmaltzy and slightly comedic for my twenty-first-century ears. Morgan and Tillis’ interpretation is gorgeous and brings the underlying heartbreak in the lyrics to the forefront. “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” is similarly excellent and a brilliant nod to Tillis’ sound and style from the early 1990s.

The title track is brilliant and actually improves upon the version Dottie West released in 1978. I like their rendition of “Walk Right Back” and love how the emulate the Everly Brothers with their close-knit harmonies.

Morgan all but knocks Sammi Smith’s “Saunders Ferry Lane” out of the park, but I’ll always wonder how it would’ve sounded without so much age on her voice. “Rose In Paradise” is a southern gothic beauty, anchored masterfully by Tillis. My favorite track on the album is “Summer Wine,” presented as a duet with Darryl Worley and an almost unrecognizable Joe Diffie.

Tackling anything written and sung by Roy Orbison is a feat and Morgan and Tillis fall short on “It’s Over,” which just isn’t to my tastes at all. An acoustic take on “Blanket On The Ground” would’ve allowed Morgan and Tillis’ harmonies to shine, whereas the version they gave us drowns them out with obtrusive clutter.

Come See Me and Come Lonely isn’t a perfect album but there are some stunning performances throughout. Morgan and Tillis are on top of their artistic game even if the arrangements are too loud on occasion. I highly recommend checking this one out.

Grade: A- 

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘House On Old Lonesome Road’

House On Old Lonesome Road was Conway Twitty’s third album since returning to MCA Nashville after six albums with Warner Bros. The record was released in 1989 and spawned three singles.

The lead radio offering, “She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind.” was a forceful Walt Aidridge-penned ballad that peaked at #2. The title track, a ballad reminiscent of “That’s My Job,” hit #19. “Who’s Gonna Know,” another bland ballad, stalled at #51.

Clinton Gregory had a #25 hit with “Play, Ruby, Play,” an excellent mid-paced number co-written by Tony Brown and Troy Seals when he released it in 1992. Twitty’s version provides the album with a much-desired change of pace. “Private Part of My Heart,” another Seals co-write (this time with Max D. Barnes), returns the album to the sounds of mid-1980s country somewhat successfully. “Pieces of You,” which Barnes co-wrote with Skip Ewing, is far and away the record’s most traditional number, with lovely doses of fiddle throughout.

“Too White To Sing The Blues,” co-written by Lacy J. Dalton, is reminiscent of Waylon Jennings. Karen Staley and Gary Harrison co-wrote the jaunty and ear-catching “Take Me Home to Mama,” a nice slice of modern honky-tonk. “Child With Child” is another of the sappy ballads for which Twitty had come to be known for during this period of his career. “Nobody Can Fill Your Shoes” feels a step out of touch and sounds just a couple years out of date.

I’m going to go out on a limb and reveal how truly out of touch I am. Given that House On Old Lonesome Road was released in 1989, at the height of the new-traditionalist movement, I had fully expected an album not unlike what Keith Whitley and Don Williams were turning out at the time. What I got instead was a kaleidoscope of sounds and textures attempting to showcase Twitty in the many different lights for which he found success that decade. There isn’t any truly outstanding number among these 10 tracks, although Gregory had the good sense to revive “Play, Ruby, Play.”

Grade: B

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Southern Comfort’

By the dawn of the 1980s, Conway Twitty had collected 23 solo number one singles and another five from duets with Loretta Lynn. Changes were afloat in the new decade, the least of which was a tweak in appearance, from his trademark pompadour hairstyle to the head of curls that would carry him through until his death in 1993.

Twitty parted ways with Decca/MCA Records after fifteen years with the label in 1981. He would release his next two albums on Eleketra, a move that would continue his success and allow Twitty to venture into new realms of his career. His first release for the label, Southern Comfort, would give him two more chart-topping singles. The album was produced by Jimmy Bowen.

The first single, “The Clown” was a slow and prodding ballad, typical of the period, with zero country signifiers. The follow-up, “Slow Hand” had been a big hit for The Pointer Sisters a year earlier. “Boy Next Door,” “Love And Only Love” and “It Turns Me Inside Out” are more of the same mid-paced to slow warmed over balladry.

“When Love Was Something Else” is an excellent change of pace, with twangy guitar added into the mix and noticeable effort to resemble country music. “She Only Meant to Use Him” employed the same techniques for another winning number. “Something Strange Got Into Her Last Night” continues the upward trend and could’ve easily been right at home under the care of Ronnie Milsap. “I Was The First” has an engaging melody I really enjoyed. The title track is an awful throwaway, with a cheesy lyric and intrusive background vocalists.

Despite the two singles, which Conway Twitty pursuits consider low points in his catalog, all hope is not lost with Southern Comfort. The majority of songs on the album are good and engaging, but not earth-shattering or remarkable. I wouldn’t rush to seek out a copy, the album can be easily streamed on YouTube, but it’s better than the singles and album cover would suggest.

Grade: B

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Look Into My Teardrops’

Look Into My Teardrops was the second album Conway Twitty released in 1966, as well as his second release for Decca Records. The album consists of many covers of then-popular hits, as was the tradition at the time.

The album produced two low to mid charting singles. The title track, which peaked at #36 is a lovely mid-paced number co-written by Harlan Howard. “I Don’t Want To Be With Me,” a wonderfully catch up-tempo number with an engaging melody, was self-penned and hit #21.

Nat Stuckley’s “Don’t You Believe Her” was recorded by both Ray Price, with whom it is most associated, and Gene Watson. Twitty’s version is excellent, although I would hardly recognize it’s him singing if I didn’t already know.

“Almost Persuaded” had been a signature #1 hit for David Houston that same year. Twitty’s take on the steel-drenched ballad is excellent. The same is true for “I Made Her That Way,” co-written by George Jones. Twitty also included Jones’ “Take Me,” which is as good as one would expect.

Twitty follows with his fabulous take on “The Wild Side of Life,” which Hank Thompson had made iconic fourteen years earlier. “There Stands The Glass” is arguably one of the hardest country songs to sing and Twitty, unsurprisingly, knocks it out of the park.

“If You Were Mine To Lose,” the album’s other Twitty original, is very good. If you’ve been following our #1 singles this week in country music history posts, then you know Bobby Helms had a massive #1 with “Fraulein” sixty years ago this year. Twitty reprises it here, with smashing results.

Howard’s “Another Man’s Woman” is an additional track original to Twitty. While very good, the song is far from iconic. The album closes with “Before I’ll Set Her Free,” which falls along similar lines, but with a very engaging lyric.

As far as albums from the 1960s that I’ve reviewed go, Look Into My Teardrops is one of the better ones. Twitty does a wonderful job throughout tackling both iconic and new songs. I highly recommend seeking it out if you’ve never heard it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘You Can’t Make Old Friends’

Kenny Rogers released his most recent album, You Can’t Make Old Friends, in October 2013. It was his inaugural release for Warner Bros. Nashville and first record of all new material in seven years.

The title track, co-written by Don Schlitz with Caitlyn Smith and Ryan Hanna King, reunited Rogers with Dolly Parton. The mostly acoustic ballad is a masterful look at two singers contemplating their advancing age, wondering how they’ll go on one day without each other. The song peaked at #57 as the album’s only single.

You Can’t Make Old Friends is peppered with contributions from some of the finest writers to emerge out of Nashville in the past thirty years. Schlitz appears again, alongside his longtime co-collaborator Paul Overstreet, on “Don’t Leave Me in the Nighttime,” which features accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco. The track is good but would’ve been a lot stronger had it been given a 1990s styled arrangement.

Allen Shamblin also has two cuts. He wrote the contented “All I Need Is One” with Marc Beeson and the reflective “Look At You” with Mike Reid. The latter is the stronger song by a mile, but pails in comparison to “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which is the pair’s masterpiece.

The album closes with Dan Seals’ “It’s Gonna Be Easy Now,” which he recorded on On The Front Line in 1986. Rogers’ version is a terrible mix of raspy vocals and an overbearing arrangement that drowns the song in faux-rock.

“When You Love Someone” comes from the pen of Gretchen Peters and composer Michael Kaman. Peters originally recorded the tune as a duet with Bryan Adams for the animated film Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron in 2002. The track, a tasteful ballad, is very good although it does get list-oriented.

Dave Loggins co-wrote “Neon Horses” with Ronnie Samoset. The song has good bones but flies off the rails when Rogers begins cooing “la la la” throughout. “Dreams of the San Joaquin,” co-written by Randy Sharp and Jack Wesley Roth is one of the album’s most well-written and strongest offerings.

A pair of tunes come from the minds of more contemporary songwriters. Casey Beathard co-wrote “You Had To Be There,” a dark ballad relaying a phone call between an absentee father visiting his son in prison. Power rocker “Turn This World Around,” which comes from Eric Paslay, Andrew Dorff and Jason Reeves, casts Rogers in a modern light that renders him unrecognizable. “‘Merica” is a national pride anthem that I found unappealing.

You Can’t Make Old Friends is far from a terrible album, but it is Rogers’ usual mixed bag of styles and sonic textures. He doesn’t make any wide sweeps but he does choose material that runs the gamut from great to good to awful. In other words, this is a typical Kenny Rogers album.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘Love Will Turn You Around”

Kenny Rogers’ thirteenth album, Love Will Turn You Around, was his second studio release since parting ways with longtime collaborator Larry Butler. The album, released in 1982, was a platinum-selling success.

The title track, one of my favorites in Rogers’ catalog, was issued as the lead single. The whimsical mid-paced ballad, the theme to his film Six Pack, peaked at #1 on both the Country and Adult Contemporary charts.

The second and final single, “A Love Song” was written and originally recorded by Lee Greenwood on his Inside Out album the same year. The lush ballad, which peaked at #3, is a bit too slow and delicate for my tastes.

Bobby Harden’s “Fightin’ Fire with Fire” is the story of a man being tormented by a woman named Diana and the new flame she’s literally rubbing in his face. “Maybe You Should Know,” composed by Peter McCann, is a forceful confessional from a man to his woman.

The funky R&B leaning “Somewhere Between Lovers and Friends” was co-written by Brent Mehar and Randy Goodrum, who were enjoying ample success during this period writing for everyone from The Judds and Anne Murray to Ronnie Milsap. With that degree of pedigree, it’s odd this wasn’t chosen as a single.

“Take This Heart,” by J.P. Pennington, moves Rogers’ further away from country with a lyric and melody that would’ve perfectly suited Crystal Gayle. The straight-up rock of “If You Can Lie A Little Bit” recalls his work with the First Edition. “The Fool In Me,” another Goodrum co-write (with Dave Loggins), is one of the album’s strongest tracks, complete with horns.

The best album cut on Love Will Turn You Around is closing track “I Want A Son,” co-written by Steve Dorff and Marty Panzer. The reflective ballad isn’t particularly country but that doesn’t diminish its quality in the least.

Love Will Turn You Around is a mixed bag at best, melding a slew of different styles both effective and ineffectively. The title track is the obvious classic and easily the most memorable cut from this set.

Grade: B

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘Love or Something Like It’

Kenny Rogers’ fourth album, Love or Something Like It, was released in July 1978. The record marked his fifth time working with Larry Butler, who would serve as his producer until 1980. This was his fourth consecutive number one album.

The album produced just one single, the title track, which Rogers co-wrote with his bandmate, Steve Glassmeyer. It’s a mid-tempo number with pleasing percussion and a nice groove. The song spent just ten weeks on the chart before cresting. Deryl Dodd subsequently covered it on Stronger Proof in 2005.

Three more of the album’s tracks were rich with alternative versions by other artists. B.J. Thomas, Sammy Davis Jr. and Tom Jones have also recorded the contemplative ballad “We Could’ve Been The Closest of Friends.” “Sail Away,” which features light touches of R&B, was originally released by Sam Neely in 1977 and again by The Oak Ridge Boys, who took it to #2, in 1979. Far too many artists have sung “Even a Fool Would Go” through the years to list them here, but the string and piano-laced ballad is probably most familiar to country fans courtesy of Charlie Rich, who released it as a single under the direction of Billy Sherill in 1977.

Another notable track, “Momma’s Waiting,” was originally recorded by Rogers with the First Edition in 1970. The intriguing ballad, which Rogers co-wrote with Terry Williams, casts him as a prison inmate saying goodbye to his mother as he’s led off to his execution. The song is both haunting and effective. “Momma’s Waiting” serves as the B-Side to “The Gambler.”

One theory as to why United Artists let Love or Something Like It die after one single is “I Could Be So Good for You,” co-written by Dennis Linde. The track was Rogers’ feeble attempt to cash in on the disco craze, with diminishing returns.

“There’s A Lot of That Going Around” is a solid ballad, with pleasing percussion. The arrangement on “Starting Again” is far more tasteful and country-leaning. The trend continues with “Buried Treasure,” which actually feels like it fits within similar uptempo country songs from the era.

“Something About Your Song” is progressive but inoffensive. The funky “Highway Flier” is a lot to handle and ranks among the weaker tracks, despite committed performances from the session musicians.

Love or Something Like It is a mixed bag with little material worth seeking out. “Momma’s Waiting” is the standout track and while others are good to very good, nothing here is remarkable or rises above the characterization of filler. It doesn’t help matters that the album, forty years in, hasn’t aged well.

Rogers is better than this, which he more than proved with the output he released (including the duets albums with Dottie West) around the time of crafting this album. I’d skip this one, except for “Momma’s Waiting,” and seek out the stronger material from his other late 1970s recordings.

Grade: B-

Song Review: Lee Ann Womack – ‘Hollywood’

Ever since debuting “All The Trouble,” Lee Ann Womack has been busy preparing for the Oct. 27 release of her ninth album, The Lonely, The Lonesome and The Gone. She completed a mini acoustic tour with Patty Griffin and starred as the main attraction at AmericanaFest in Nashville, sponsored by The Americana Music Association. Events included the annual Lee Ann Womack & Friends concert and an intimate conversation and performance at The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum moderated by Peter Cooper.

Womack also participated in the Build Series in New York City (The interview is on Facebook) and gave a wide-ranging interview with Noisey, a music brand created through Vice with the mission “to document new and exciting music across the globe — from pop’s heavy-hitters to tiny garage bands and everything in between.” Womack vented her frustrations with mainstream Nashville and revealed she had to constantly battle her traditional tendencies with the need to satisfy her major label’s bottom line.

Amongst these performances and interviews, she premiered “Hollywood,” which she also co-wrote with Waylon Payne and Adam Wright. The ethereal ballad finds Womack in familiar territory, as the wife in a disintegrating marriage with a less than forthcoming spouse. Like all her songs, the wife has every clue what’s happening before her eyes, so much so she routinely begs her husband to have a substantive conversation with her, both at the breakfast table:

Morning cup of coffee, not a single word

And if you do say something, it’s only about work

Every time I ask you, you just say we’re good

And in bed, where he admits his anticipation:

We say good night, I love you

We never miss our cue

I ask you if you mean it

You say yes I knew you would

The wife is clearly exhausted from fighting for everything he won’t give her, which Womack brings out in her performance, strong yet breathy. Like any woman who trusts her intuition, the wife only wants one thing out in the open — the truth:

Like the silver screen, its a technicolor dream

We pretend it’s real, but it’s only make-believe

But it’s the killer hook that drives everything home. The wife only doubts herself once, right after he fails to give her the answers she so desperately needs:

Either I’m a fool for askin’

Or you belong in Hollywood

I’ll freely admit it took me a minute when I first heard “Hollywood” to digest the presentation, from the dark production and background singers to Womack’s vocal, which goes in and out from her soprano to her falsetto. But on repeat listenings, I get what’s going on here. This song is so old Hollywood, so Mad Men-esque it’s almost scary. It won’t appeal to everyone, but it eventually finally got me.

Grade: A 

Album Review: Nathan Carter – ‘Time of My Life’

Nathan Carter was all of 21 when he released his third album, Time of My Life, in 2011. The album opens with the title track, a surprisingly effective cover of Green Day’s 1997 pop classic, with lovely Irish touches. His version of “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart” is a solid yet jarring interpretation of Faith Hill’s much-disparaged rendition of the song. The lyric, when taken from a man’s perspective, sounds oddly juvenile.

Carter transforms Don Williams’ “Lay Down Beside Me” into a mid-1990s power ballad. His take, which I like, is so convincing I would’ve expected to hear it grace country radio circa 1995-1996. I’m not so keen on his reading of “Delta Dawn,” which he transforms into a bright country shuffle. He treats “Fishin’ In The Dark” well, but he’s no match for Jeff Hanna or Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

“Where Do You Go To My Lovely” was composed and originally released by British singer-songwriter Peter Sarstdet in 1969. The song is perfect for Carter, who wraps his vibrato around it gorgeously. The beautiful “My Forever Friend” is presented here as a duet with Charlie Landsborough, from who the song originates. “One For The Road” is an excellent and bright sing-a-long brimming with fiddle. “The Dancer,” a mid-tempo waltz, is just as wonderful.

“The Rainbow in Glenfarne” is a moderately paced Irish folk tune that fits nicely with the other bright fiddle tunes on the album. The medley of “Spanish Dancer / Holy Ground / Westmeath Bachelor” might be more of the same sonically, but it’s the fastest track on the record and just a delight.

I wholly recommend the album, even if I found the cover songs to be a bit subpar. As Paul pointed out, these songs are likely new to Carter’s audience, but to my ears they aren’t very good. But Carter possesses a lot of charm and has a strong voice, which carries the album over the finish line.

Grade: B+ 

Album Review: Erin Enderlin – ‘Whiskeytown Crier’

“Ain’t It Just Like A Cowboy,” is a “stop me if you’ve heard this one” tale of a woman jilted by a man who repeatedly abandons her. But Erin Enderlin and her co-writer Heather Little turn the concept on its head. The song isn’t about rodeos, but rather another more universal pain:

He’s holdin’ her like he held me

God I should know better than to cry

The steel-adorned ballad serves as the lead single from Whiskeytown Crier, which finds Enderlin teaming with Jamey Johnson and Jim “Moose” Brown on a collection of songs culled from the female perspective, of the women who inhabit a fictional residential area known as Whiskeytown. Enderlin imagines the album as a newspaper, with the songs serving as the articles.

Whiskeytown Crier consists of many songs where the woman is in various states of dealing with the man who’s left her. He’s a cowboy one minute, the next he’s the self-absorbed litterer at the heart of “Jesse Joe’s Cigarettes,” which she smokes since she has nothing better to do. The feelings are so complex that to deal with them requires a “Whole Nuther Bottle of Wine.” “Till It’s Gone” finds her maxing out on all these pleasures, accented with a stunning twenty-nine-second steel guitar solo.

Her solely-penned “Broken” is a stunner of self-awareness that acts as a prequel of sorts, detailing the woman’s marriage at eighteen to the man who saw in her what she saw in him:

A broken limb

From a crooked family tree

“The Coldest In Town” is a spellbinding duet with Randy Houser that details a disintegrating marriage from both perspectives. It could be the woman from “Broken” when her life falls apart, but it also works as a standalone composition.

The album also contains two muscular southern gothic murder ballads. “Caroline” is the sadistic tale of a teenage pregnancy and a father’s revenge on the man who made her a mother. “Baby Sister” shows blood is thicker than love, with a shocked sibling proclaiming:

I knew you were a pistol

But I never knew you owned a gun

“The Blues Are Alive and Well” purposely evokes Merle Haggard. “Home Sweet Home” finds a woman enjoying the pleasures of the United States – a game at Wrigley Field, Broadway Shows – but finding comfort in her southern roots, where she prefers to live. “His Memory Walks on Water” is a tale of innocence – a little girl remembering her dad, a degenerate, in death as the man he never was on Earth. To his youngest daughter, though, he was everything.

Enderlin also included two covers to round out the set. She turns in a competent reading of “Till I Can Make It On My Own,” which is very good but could’ve been more subtle. Her take on Gram Parsons’ “Hickory Wind” is excellent.

Whiskeytown Crier is a very fine album that could’ve stood less intrusive production on occasion, namely eliminating the intrusive electric guitar that permeates “Jesse Joe’s Cigarettes.” But the music shines through, putting the focus on Enderlin’s apt storytelling, right where it should be.

Grade: A

Album Review: Lisa McHugh – ‘A Life That’s Good’

Lisa McHugh released her sophomore album, A Life That’s Good, in October 2014. The title track, co-written by Sara Siskind and Ashley Monore, is a sweet ballad about personal fulfillment that first appeared early on in the second season of Nashville.

The album is ripe with covers. McHugh opens with “Applejack,” in which she more than adequately channels Dolly Parton. She turns to Trisha Yearwood with “She’s In Love With The Boy,” wrapping her innocent twang around the timeless tale of Katy and Tommy’s burgeoning love. As if to cover all ends of the spectrum, McHugh turns in a fine rendition of “Any Man of Mine,” which typically sounds like cheesy karaoke outside of Shania Twain’s hands.

A Life That’s Good proves McHugh to favor bright and uptempo material, which makes Vince Gill’s “Feels Like Love” the perfect addition to this set. Also excellent is Red-era Taylor Swift’s “Stay Stay Stay.” McHugh improves on Swift’s album track with a far more organic arrangement and mature performance vocally. Kacey Musgraves’ “My House” is also a delight, although I wish McHugh had settled for a bit less mimicry in her inflections.

On an album of curious covers, closing track “On The Road Again,” which has always been one of my favorite songs, stands above the rest. Her version of the Willie Nelson classic is excellent, infusing her own personality while keeping the essence of the song alive.

“Ireland” continues the album’s bright vibe, with an uptempo love song brimming with gorgeously ear catching fiddle. The cautionary “Hey I’m A Woman” finds McHugh delivering a stern warning to her man that she’s not just one of the guys. “What You Get Is What You See” might just be my favorite vocal of McHugh’s on the whole album. “Night Train to Memphis” is bluegrass in mainstream 1990s country style and every bit as wonderful as you might expect. “Hillbilly Girl” is cheesy but not without its charms.

McHugh does slow the pace on occasion, although those moments are rare. “Home to Donegal,” a power ballad, has good intentions but is way too loud and feels a bit staged. “All of Me” is a misplaced cover of John Legend’s song, far too pop, for placement on such a solidly country album. Steel Guitar-laced ballad “Left to Love,” which perfectly displays her sweet voice, is much better.

McHugh is a delight and I quite enjoyed listening to A Life That’s Good. It’s impossible to listen to her and not fall under her spell. There’s truly nothing not to like about what she’s given us here. I only wish she wasn’t so reliant on covering such well-known songs and was putting the focus, instead, on developing her own artistry. But I really can’t complain when an album sounds this good and this country.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Houston’

Mary Chapin Carpenter responds to Hurricane Katrina with a track as timely today as it was in 2006:

BREAKING NEWS: Don Williams Dead at 78

Read the story here

Album Review: Robert Mizzell – ‘Mama’s Rocking Chair’

2011 was a good year for Louisiana Born Irish country singer Robert Mizzell. He was inducted into the Shreveport Walk of Stars, which recognizes achievement in the world of country music, and is the highest honor his home city could bestow upon him. He also released his eighth album, Mama’s Rocking Chair, a collection of thirteen songs, many of which were classic country covers.

Among the tracks are three George Jones songs from his years recording for Musicor. The earliest, “Things Have Gone to Pieces,” written by Leon Payne, was his first single for the label, peaking at #9. Mizzell gives an excellent reading of the ballad, which nicely stands up to Jones’ recording. The other two were culled from Jones’ 1970 album Will You Visit Me On Sunday. The title track, written by Dallas Frazier is about a prison inmate and the woman he loves on the outside. Charlie Walker’s “Rosie Bokay,” tells the story of a man falls for an enigmatic bartender. Both are also excellent and devoid of the intrusive touches on Jones’ versions.

The jaunty “Sick, Sober and Sorry” was a duet for Lefty Frizzell and Johnny Bond in 1951. Mizzell reprises it here, beautifully, as a duet with Martin Cleary. John Prine’s “Grandpa Was A Carpenter” is newer, first seeing release by him in 1973 and again in 1989 from The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 2. Mizzell once again turns in an equally wonderful performance. Also very good is his version of Rodney Crowell’s “Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight,” which came to prominence through recordings by Emmylou Harris and The Oak Ridge Boys.

The plight of Irish immigrants in the 1950s is covered on “Paddy,” an Irish folk ballad given a traditional arrangement. Also gut wrenching is “The Orphan Train,” a brutal ballad. The title track, a mid-tempo fiddle drenched ballad, is another excellent story song. “What We Don’t Have” and “Can You Hear Me Now” are pure honky-tonk.

Also featured on Mama’s Rocking Chair is Mizzell’s biggest hit to date at the time, the upbeat “I Ain’t Fallin’ for That” and “Cajun Dance,” a fiddle heavy ode to his Louisiana heritage written specifically for him by Peter McKeever. Of the two,“Cajun Dance,” which opens the album, is the stronger song, which recalls the line dance craze of the early 1990s.

Mama’s Rocking Chair, as a whole, does a great job of mixing both old and new cohesively. I thought it was a bit too clean and precise in execution, but it’s a fine album worth checking out. Individual tracks are available on YouTube and the album is also on Itunes.

Grade: A-

“Every Little Thing” and Carly Pearce’s fabricated fairy tale

The deeper I lean into the marketing of mainstream country music, The more I’m seeing the blatant manipulation. It’s no secret that Keith Hill’s comment that women are the tomatoes on the salad was offensive and misogynistic, but it was also, unfortunately, spot on. Women, unless they are members of a group, duo or collaboration also featuring men, have been shut out of even marginal airplay. Miranda Lambert is justifiably pissed at her diminishing returns, even as her music veers more and more towards Americana.

Media outlets that cover mainstream country have been celebrating the success of Carly Pearce’s “Every Little Thing” with Rolling Stone Country saying she “defied the odds with risky song” in a recent headline. I’ll admit, it’s against the norm, in this current climate, to release a ballad and have it succeed. The slower a song is the less likely it will fall under what is deemed “radio friendly.” That logic is nothing new.

But what’s baffling is the suppression of the truth. Carly Pearce is succeeding on her own merit about as much as Thomas Rhett. This grand success story? It’s all courtesy of iHeart Media and their “On The Verge” program. “On The Verge” exists to help struggling artists succeed and pretty much guarantees them a #1 hit. It’s the only reason former American Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina scored a chart topper with “The Road Less Traveled” seven years after her debut album bombed into oblivion. There’s absolutely no fairy tale here, no reason to cheer or even get excited. These feats are political manipulations swept under the rug disguised as major success stories.

We’re at a crisis point right now with female artists. Not only are none getting airplay, there really aren’t any in the mainstream sector for radio to embrace. Brandy Clark and Sunny Sweeney would never get airplay for the latest music, in any era, since they’re 40 years or older. Ashton Shepherd didn’t connect, with her heavy twang, so MCA dropped her. Ashely Monroe was told, on her last radio tour, that “On To Something Good,” was dead on arrival. Kacey Musgraves has done next to nothing to endear herself to the mainstream audience beyond wearing crazy outfits and adorning her sets with neon cacti. She will join Harry Styles on tour next year. Will Maren Morris connect? Possibly, as she’s already building a following. But I would think she’d have to prove herself as more than the “80s Mercedes” singer. “I Could Use A Love Song” has done that for me, but it’s only a step in the right direction for her to take as she contemplates her follow-up to Hero.

About the only person, we can count on is Carrie Underwood, who is currently in between albums. Time will tell if her newly minted deal with Capitol Nashville, the label that refused to sign her as a pre-teen back in 1996, will yield further success. I can’t imagine her being blackballed but I never thought Dixie Chicks would fall from grace like that either. In this market, anything is possible.

Is there a solution or silver lining in all of this? I honestly have no idea. I never imagined mainstream country music would ever be in this bad a shape in my life. It took until I got to college to see why Luke Bryan has been able to succeed like he has. He’s tapped into an audience previously ignored by country music, those who love to socialize and party and be high on life. He’s like the male Taylor Swift in that sense. He’s found his audience and he’s running with it all the way to the bank.

This era is the building block for whatever comes next. Has anyone else noticed the glaring oddity of Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Backroad?” The song has succeeded without a music video, parent album or physical release of any kind. I can’t remember any other massive song that lacked even one of those three elements. These are uncharted waters and they’re reaping big rewards.

Maybe you know where we’re going from here. I know I probably shouldn’t care, and I have spent the majority of this year focused on independent releases, but I do. I can’t help it. It’s in my nature as female artists have always been my favorite, the ones I listen to most frequently. I guess Angaleena Presley and her fellow Pistol Annies said it best:

Dreams don’t come true

They’ll make a mess out of you

They’ll hang around the darkest corners of your mind

They’ll beat your heart black and blue

Don’t let anyone tell you they do

Dreams don’t come true

 

I hate to put a damper

On the fairy tale you pictured

I shoulda known all along that

Glass slippers give you blisters

Album Review: Natalie Hemby – ‘Puxico’

Natalie Hemby, Dean Dillon to Miranda Lambert’s George Strait, released her debut album back in January. The album, seven years in the making, is the musical accompaniment to a documentary she produced about her hometown of Puxico, Missouri. Hemby solely composed each of the project’s nine songs.

Hemby opens the album wonderfully, with the folksy tones of “Time-Honored Tradition,” a jaunty uptempo number about her longing for “kindred town filled with good company.” Said town ultimately goes through a “Grand Restoration,” in which the past and present beautifully collide to bring a sense of history into the modern day. She gets the sentiment right on “Worn,” a characteristic she gives to “the finer things worth keeping,” but I could’ve done with a more interesting execution. Similarly rudimentary is lead single “Return,” which details the idea that you need to get away in order to fully appreciate your life back home.

“Lovers On Display” is one of many relationship-centric tunes on Puxico. The simplistic ballad is an appealing dissertation on love, using carnival imagery to evoke innocent romance. The ambiguous steel drenched “This Town Still Talks About You” is a brilliantly heartbreaking reminder that a person’s presence can be alive and well even if they aren’t physically present. Our minds aren’t so lucky, as Hemby points out in “I’ll Remember How You Loved Me,” which says memories fade but we never forget love.

The love, or really praise, for “Cairo, IL” is a big reason why I decided to finally listen to Puxico. The gorgeous ballad, a tribute to a long abandoned ghost town, is considered one of the best country songs released this year:

All the fields are flooded up to Highway 51

Illinois is coming ’cross the bridge where the Old Ohio was

Don’t look away, it will be gone

 

Kentucky and Missouri, a trinity of states

Nothing’s in a hurry ’cept the water in between the rising banks

Oh nothing moves but nothing stays

Where the longing for the leaving and the welcome-home receiving join

Still I’ll keep driving past the ghost of Cairo, Illinois

 

She used to be a beauty back in 1891

After Fort Defiance, now she’s weathered by the river and the sun

She’s still around but she is gone

 

Where the longing for the leaving and the welcome-home receiving join

Still I’ll keep driving past the ghost of Cairo, Illinois

The lyric is simple, and the song itself is very quiet, but the hook does pack a nice punch. I probably enjoy “Ferris Wheel,” a track Faith Hill recently featured in her Instagram Stories when Hemby was scheduled to open up for her and Tim McGraw on a recent Soul2Soul tour stop, even more. The steel-drenched ballad, which has a lovely and inviting melody, is far and away my favorite track on the album.

On the whole, Puxico is a very strong album and a wonderful introduction to Hemby and her personal style. I just found it to be a bit too sing-song-y in places and some of the songs could’ve been more complex. I kept comparing her, in my head, to Kacey Musgraves, which I’m having a hard time shaking.

But, that being said, this is an album well-worth checking out.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘After Midnight’

(NOTE: After Midnight was the second album in which Fricke changed the spelling of her name to Frickie. She made the adjustment after being annoyed with mispronunciations of her name 

Following the chart topping success of Black and White, Janie Frickie’s career began to decline. The new traditionalists movement of the late 1980s all but whipped her countrypolitan stylings off the radio and thus she struggled to gain traction with her singles. 1987’s After Midnight was Fricke’s first album not to produce a top 20 hit.

As was customary, two singles were released from the album. “Are You Satisfied,” a mid-tempo bluesy ballad with Frickie’s voice in top form, stalled at #32. The thickly produced and slower paced “Baby You’re Gone” fared worse, hitting #63. It was the first single of Fricke’s career to miss the top 30 entirely.

The album also features “From Time to Time (It Feels Like Love Again),” a duet with Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers. The power ballad, which features horns, hit #21 as a single from his Partners album, which was released the same year.

Frickie turns in one of her strongest vocal performances on “I Hurt,” a stunning steel-drenched number reminiscent of something Reba McEntire would’ve recorded during this time period. “I Don’t Like Being Lonely” also features steel guitar and a lot of percussion. “Teach Me How To Forget” is more of the same, an expertly executed power ballad with forceful vocals and production.

“If I Didn’t Care” is soaring and lounge-like, with strings and distinct echoes of Patsy Cline. “My Eternal Flame” retains a countrypolitan vibe updated for the time period. “Nobody Ever Loved Me So Good” is more of the same while “It Won’t Be Easy” might be the album’s most traditional-minded number.

After Midnight is an excellent album, even if the production feels out of place for the current trends of the era. The lack of variation is the album’s sole downfall, with ten songs that all fit within the same production and tempo. If anything the production gives Fricke room to sour, turning in some of the strongest vocal performances of her career.

Grade: A