My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Tennessee Ernie Ford — ‘Peace In The Valley’

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Week ending 7/21/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958:  Guess Things Happen That Way / Come In Stranger — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Folsom Prison Blues — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1978: Only One Love In My Life — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1988: Set ‘Em Up Joe — Vern Gosdin (Columbia)

1998: I Can Still Feel You — Colin Raye (Epic)

2008: Home — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros. Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: Get Along — Kenny Chesney (Blue Chair/Warner Nashville)

Classic Rewind: Jeannie Seely & Lorrie Morgan – ‘End of The World’

Classic Rewind: Dottie West — ‘Every Word I Write’

Classic Rewind: Brother Oswald and The Smoky Mountain Boys — ‘Mountain Dew’

Classic Rewind: Tanya Tucker and Travis Tritt — ‘Don’t Go Out’

Travis Tritt fills in for T. Graham Brown:

Classic Rewind: Ricky Van Shelton & Patty Loveless — ‘Rockin’ Years’

Patty Loveless steps in for Dolly Parton:

Classic Rewind: Red Foley – ‘Freight Train Boogie’

Classic Rewind: Nanci Griffith – ‘Once In A Very Blue Moon’

Classic Rewind: Pake McEntire — ‘Too Old To Grow Up Now’

Album Review: Kelly Willis — ‘Back Being Blue’

Kelly Willis retreated forty miles south of Austin, Texas to The Bunker, her husband Bruce Robison’s rustic recording studio located on a five-acre plot with a fishing hole, to record Back Being Blue, her first solo album in a decade. The album, produced by Robison, was recorded to analog tape using an old board he frequently has fixed from a trusted source in Nashville.

Back Being Blue consists of ten songs, six of which Willis wrote solo, the most she’s ever contributed to any of her seven albums. She says the songs aren’t deeply personal or autobiographical, nor is the album intended as a showcase for her distinctive singing voice.

Willis instead drew inspiration from the melting pot of influences that first inspired her to make music, from Marshall Crenshaw to Skeeter Davis and Crystal Gayle. But one artist, in particular, guided her way:

“Nick Lowe was a real north star for me on this record. Like, ‘What would do Nick Lowe do?’ He was able to write modern songs that were like old songs—that had a cool soul/R&B/Buddy Holly kind of a thing that had sounds from that early rock and roll era—but that felt really fresh and exciting and now. I just love the A-B-C’s of rock and roll. Before everybody had to start piling on different things to make it sound different, it had all been done. With this record I was trying to go with the styles of music that have really impacted my life, especially when I moved to Austin as a teenager, and make it country-sounding like Austin used to sound.”

Lowe may have inspired the album as a whole, but it’s Gayle’s influence driving the sublime title track, which kicks off a trifecta of songs about men, and their inability to treat women with the respect they deserve. A mellow guitar-driven melody framing Willis’ biting and direct lyric:

She’s back in my baby’s arms

And I’m back being blue

The percussion-heavy “Only You” finds a man using the excuse that’s what lovers do to justify his consistently inconsistent behavior — he loves his woman one day than ignores her the next. “Fool’s Paradise,” which beautifully blends fiddle with Urban Cowboy-era guitar riffs, finds a man thinking he can emotionally manipulate a woman who sees him coming from a mile away:

I’m not riding this town

You’ll tell me again if you come back around

All that ache in your voice, like I don’t have a choice

It’s a fool’s paradise

Willis wrote the barnburner “Modern World” to vent her frustrations about how cell phone use has led to a society that’s less engaged. The fiddle returns on the gorgeous “Freewheeling,” about the wish to let go of old anxieties and live a less mentally-stressful life. She’s back in a mournful state of mind on “The Heart Doesn’t Know,” a striking ballad about that feeling of knowing a relationship is over, yet unresolved feelings still remain.

For the remaining four songs, Willis sought contributions from other writers. “Afternoon’s Gone Blind” is a sonically stunning slice of traditional country written by Eric Brace and Karl Straub about an individual having a difficult time with the end of a relationship.

The most eccentric number on Back Being Blue is “I’m A Lover (Not A Fighter),” which was originally released as a single by Davis in 1969 when it peaked at #9. The song exudes a lot of charm, and has an engaging melody, but threw me with the dated reference to Cassius Clay. Willis says she did entertain the idea of swapping out the late boxer’s name for the more contemporary Sugar Ray, but ultimately decided the song should stand as written. It’s growing on me, but it’s not my favorite song on the album, especially with the heavy reverb casting a film over the recording.

It’s no surprise one of the album’s most well-written numbers comes from the pen of Rodney Crowell. He recommended she cut “We’ll Do It For Love Next Time,” a romantic yet risqué ballad about a couple going to second base. Willis handles the song, which features a nice dose of mandolin throughout, with the ease she’s brought to her most stellar recordings over the last 28 years.

Willis closes Back Being Blue with Jeff Rymes and Randy Weeks’ “Don’t Step Away,” a song sent to her by her hairdresser, who recommended it after Willis said she needed one or two more songs to finish the album. The song is bristling with Austin funk, and a fair amount of guitars to bring up the tempo.

When I first listened to Back Being Blue I thought it was less than the sum of its parts. I hold Kelly Willis in the highest esteem and this just wasn’t making it for me. My opinion only changed when I dug into the context behind the album and understood what Willis was going for with the vibe and her relaxed vocals. Back Being Blue is a great album, even if some of her compositions feel unnecessarily repetitive. I’m glad she’s back and steering the conversation in her direction again.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: K.T. Oslin — ‘I Saw The Light’

K.T. Oslin covers the Hank Williams classic on the 1988 ACM Awards:

Classic Rewind: Connie Smith – ‘How Great Thou Art’

Week ending 7/7/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958:  Guess Things Happen That Way / Come In Stranger — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Guess Things Happen That Way — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: D-I-V-O-R-C-E — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1978: I Believe In You — Mel Tillis (MCA)

1988: Fallin’ Again — Alabama (RCA)

1998: If You See Him/If You See Her — Reba McEntire/Brooks & Dunn (MCA Nashville/Arista Nashville)

2008: Better As A Memory — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Tequila — Dan + Shay (Warner Bros. Nashville)

John Anderson is far more than an old chunk of coal at Boston’s City Winery

John Anderson may have opened his show Monday night at Boston’s City Winery with his 1981 #4 “I’m Just an Old Chunk Of Coal,” but judging from his brisk 90-minute set, the choice wasn’t self-referential. Armed with an acoustic guitar and his longtime accompanist Glenn Rieuf, he ran through hit-after-hit with merely a break to catch his breath.

Anderson traversed his whole career, jumping around so as not to put emphasis on any particular song or time period. He wasted no time getting to fan favorites like “Money In The Bank” and “Straight Tequila Night,” two of his signature tunes from his big comeback in the early 1990s. He dedicated the latter to the ladies in the crowd, which was at about half-capacity for the 300-seat venue, a respectable turnout considering the scorching heatwave and proximity to July 4th.

He didn’t talk much during the show, opting instead to give his fans their money’s worth of music. He introduced Rieuf as someone he’s known for more than 40 years and played with for more than 30. The two were perfectly in sync, with Anderson often turning to Rieuf between songs to figure out what would be sung next. Rieuf switched from acoustic guitar to dobro early on, giving the bulk of the songs some added texture Anderson couldn’t achieve with just his guitar alone.

When he did speak, Anderson made it count. He told a story about a day on his farm when he was trying to write a song. The ideas weren’t coming, and he was about to give up when his phone rang. Waylon Jennings was on the other end, requesting Anderson join him at the Ryman Auditorium to lend his talents to a live album he was making. The sessions, which took place in January 2000, would cumulate as the final album Jennings would release during his lifetime. Anderson then played “Waymore’s Blues,”  the track they collaborated on together.

Like the majority of male country singers from his era, Anderson wears his patriotism on his sleeve. He turned in a poignant rendition of “1959,” the fifth single from his debut album, his first top ten, released in 1980. The song, about a solider’s heartbreak at learning his high school sweetheart, Betty, had broken her promise never to leave him while he was deployed, is as powerful today as it must’ve been 38 years ago. He followed with “An Occasional Eagle,” an ode to American Pride and a deep cut from 1983’s All The People Are Talkin’.

He stayed in the 1980s to bring the audience some real country music, “I Just Came Home to Count The Memories,” the title cut from his third album, released back in 1981. He also mined “Would You Catch A Falling Star” from the same album. Although it’s not my favorite of his songs, “Swingin’” has retained all the swagger he originally brought to his chart-topping recording in 1983.

To this day, I still become affected when I hear “I Wish I Could’ve Been There,” which he delivered beautifully Monday night. He said it was written about his life on the road, while the next song was composed about life “back home” in Apopka, Florida. “Seminole Wind,” which I’ve always adored, is probably the most unlikely song ever to hit the country airwaves and explode into a #2 hit. Released in August 1992, when Garth Brooks was decimating everything in his path, a lyric about conservation efforts in the Everglades was just a crazy enough concept to work.

“When I Get Down” was Anderson’s sole nod to his 2011 gospel album Praise For You and was accompanied by him recounting the hearing loss that kept him off the road, missing “seven months of work” in 2017. He’s thankfully recovered, which for a time, was in jeopardy. He and Rieuff left the stage for a brief moment, and when they returned, Anderson referenced his friend Merle Haggard, who he called one of the greatest country singers who ever lived. Anderson brilliantly sang the standard “Long Black Veil,” which he associates with the beginnings of his friendship with Haggard. He closed with his outlaw classic “Black Sheep,” which became his third #1 in late 1983.

Throughout his set, Anderson was ever the southern gentleman, pausing multiple times with “thank y’all so much” as the audience cheered between songs. He also felt his sound mixing was off, stopping at the top of the show a few times to tune his guitar and ask the sound people to adjust his guitar in the monitors. The sound was fine by my ears, but when he got it just right, we could enjoy the show without further tweaking.

The acoustic format, which Anderson said will be the sonic backdrop of his next album, worked well although I could’ve used a bit more instrumentation, especially on “Straight Tequila Night,” which seemed to be needing some extra ingredients, likely just a fiddle, to bring it even further to life.

At 63, Anderson still sounds fantastic, with his signature gravely rasp firmly intact. It was an unexpected treat to see someone perform whom I never even gave a second thought to seeing live. He made a point of saying he doesn’t come around “these parts that often,” meaning Boston, and he would like to come back again real soon. I for one, wouldn’t mind in the least if he did.

Week ending 6/30/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958:  I Guess Things Happen That Way / Come In Stranger — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Oh Lonesome Me — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1968: D-I-V-O-R-C-E — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1978: It Only Hurts for a Little While — Margo Smith (Warner Bros)

1988: If It Don’t Come Easy — Tanya Tucker (Capitol)

1998: If You See Him/If You See Her — Reba McEntire/Brooks & Dunn (MCA Nashville/Arista Nashville)

2008: Better As A Memory — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Up Down — Morgan Wallen featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Loud)

 

Classic Rewind: LeAnn Rimes & Eddy Arnold — ‘Cattle Call’

EP Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Re-Imagined’

While the craze of mainstream country stars collaborating with mainstream pop acts has garnered major attention, and rightfully so, another trend has been making waves but leaving far too little a wake. In August 2016, Suzy Bogguss released Aces Redux, a complete re-recording of her classic album in the lush acoustic style she favored in recent years. Dixie Chicks completely overhauled the arrangements on their songs for their MMXVI tour and companion concert album. Mary Chapin Carpenter reexamined parts of her back catalog on Sometimes Just The Sky this past March. Rodney Crowell has Acoustic Classics coming out the middle of next month.

Artists re-recording their hits have been going on since the beginning of recorded music. A recent cause for this is a little-known fact that when artists switch record labels, they don’t get to take the masters and rights to their discography with them. In other words, the artists entire back catalog is the sole property of their former home, especially if it was a major label.

Those re-recorded songs are typically sung as facsimiles of the original hit recording with the hopes a gullible music buying public won’t be able to tell the difference. Very often it’s those re-recordings that make their way onto digital platforms, especially if the artist’s original music hasn’t been licensed by their record label for release in that format.

What’s going on here is entirely different and completely by choice. These albums aren’t merely gimmicky cash grabs but thoughtful reexaminations of songs, and in this case of Rodney Crowell different songs entirely. For his new album, he completely re-wrote “Shame On The Moon.” He felt his original composition, which was a massive hit for Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band in 1982, wasn’t composed with the depth and complexity he would bring to the song today.

In the case of LeAnn Rimes and her new five-track EP Re-Imagined, she reworked these songs for her Remnants tour last year and decided to commit them to record. Although I’ve been somewhat of a rabid fan of her music since the very beginning, I haven’t been paying too much attention to her lately. This release broke the short drought, which I’m also sure it was intended to do.  

She opens the collection with “How Do I Live.” Her original version, from 1997, is still one of the cleanest and most masterful pop records I’ve ever heard. She transforms Diane Warren’s lyric into a piano ballad, which might work for some people, but it didn’t work for me. I really don’t care for Rimes in this style, which always comes off heavy, slow and prodding.

I had actually forgotten what the original version of “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” sounded like, the one featured on the Coyote Ugly soundtrack in 2000. Listening to it again, it’s clearly influenced by Britney Spears’ debut from a year earlier. I’m more familiar with the dance remix, which worked on an international scale as I’m sure Curb intended at the time. This new version, taken live from a concert, has more in common with the remix but features actually instrumentation.

Rimes’ original version of “Blue,” from 1996, is arguably still the greatest record she’s ever made. She gave it new life, in collaboration with The Time Jumpers, on Lady & Gentlemen in 2011. For this version, also taken live from a concert, she goes full-on jazz but doesn’t sacrifice the trademark yodel or the song’s traditional country roots.

The revelation, as far as her hit records are concerned, is “One Way Ticket (Because I Can).” Rimes gives the song a gorgeously soft acoustic arrangement stripping the song of any smoke and mirrors. It’s truly impressive what she does with the song, alone, without backup singers to give her a lift. Rimes still has it more than 22 years later.

The final track is one of the two songs from Spitfire that elude to the cheating scandal that soured her reputation with the public and ended her first marriage. “Borrowed” was originally produced by Rimes’ long-time collaborator Darrell Brown, who also oversaw this EP. The track was already in this style so nothing about the arrangement really changed.

However, this version is a duet with Stevie Nicks. Rimes and Nicks harmonize throughout the song, which is a mistake given the lyrical content. I’m also a huge fan of Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, so I’m saying this with love, but Nicks’ voice isn’t what it used to be but either is Don Henley’s. The age on Nicks’ rasp, which is far too low now, is just unappealing.

The majority of this EP feels utterly unnecessary and in place of new music, not really worth much of anyone’s time. Rimes’ voice has changed, too, which she claimed in a 2013 lawsuit was the result of botched dental work. She still has incredible range, which I noted when I reviewed “How To Kiss A Boy” in November 2016, but the clarity is gone.

I still recommend checking it out, especially if you’re a fan of Rimes’ work, to hear this new addition to her musical legacy.

Grade: B+

Week ending 6/23/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Oh Lonesome Me / I Can’t Stop Loving You — Don Gibson (RCA Victor)

1958: I Guess Things Happen That Way — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: I Wanna Live — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1978: I’ll Be True To You — Oak Ridge Boys (Dot)

1988: He’s Back and I’m Blue — The Desert Rose Band (MCA/Curb)

1998: I Just Want To Dance With You — George Strait (MCA Nashville)

2008: Last Name — Carrie Underwood (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: Everything’s Gonna Be Alright — David Lee Murphy feat. Kenny Chesney (Reviver)

Single Review: Garth Brooks – ‘All Day Long’

If you regularly follow current events in the world of country music, then you likely know Garth Brooks would be releasing a new single this week entitled “All Day Long.” In the lead up to the song’s release, Brooks said country music needs a “good damn honky-tonk song” and promised “All Day Long” would bring the fiddle back to country music. To stir the pot further, Brooks described the song as a mix of “Two of a Kind (Workin’ on a Full House), “Ain’t Goin’ Down (Til the Sun Comes Up),” and “Callin’ Baton Rouge.”

Brooks, like Taylor Swift, is a master marketer adapt at selling the listener and the fan whatever product he’s hawking at the current time. Right now that product is “All Night Long.” He got me through the door by stirring the pot of nostalgia by referencing three of his most enduring songs in the same breath as this new one. But just because he can get me through the door, doesn’t mean he can make me stay.

“All Day Long” does have fiddle and a heavy dose of steel. Brooks’ vocal is twangy and harkens back to his heyday in the 1990s. Heck, I can even hear Trisha Yearwood harmonizing with him throughout most of the evensong. I’ll give him credit for bringing all the right ingredients to the table. Each one is there, perfectly audible, and cannot be mistaken.

But “All Day Long” is not a honky-tonk song. I’ll repeat. “All Day Long” is not and never will be a honky-tonk song nor could it pass as one with even the most forgiving definition of the term. It’s faux southern rock with just enough token signifiers that it could pass as “country.” But he’s not fooling anyone. The majority of “All Night Long” is generic attitude with screaming guitars (if they’re not computer generated). The only place I ever hear anything remotely sounding like a fiddle is on the instrumental break on the bridge.

“All Day Long” is a product designed to keep Brooks in the public consciousness until he’s ready to announce his 2019 touring plans, which he’s already said will be his first ever stadium-only tour. It may work on that level, but as a song, it has very little to keep the listener engaged.

Grade: C-

You can hear the song HERE