My Kind of Country

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

Week ending 6/22/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: The Battle of New Orleans — Johnny Horton (Columbia)

1969: Running Bear — Sonny James (Mercury)

1979: Nobody Likes Sad Songs — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1989: I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party — Rosanne Cash (Columbia)

1999: Write This Down — George Strait (MCA)

2009: Then — Brad Paisley (Arista Nashville)

2019: God’s Country — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros. Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Whiskey Glasses — Morgan Wallan (Big Loud)

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Album Review: The Forester Sisters — ‘Come Hold Me’

The girls released their seventh album in 1990 amidst an upheaval of change in the commercial country music landscape. Longtime acts from the 1980s were seeing their commercial fortunes diminish as a wave of hot, young, and mostly excellent talent became the focus of music row.

That being said, the lead single was a version of John Hiatt’s “Drive South” as a duet with Bellamy Brothers. While the song itself is excellent, Suzy Bogguss took it to #2 in 1992, it fails as a duet, couldn’t recapture the magic of “Too Much Is Not Enough,” and peaked at #63.

They rebounded creatively with the next single, “Nothing’s Going to Bother Me Tonight,” which is delightful, bluegrass-infused, and wonderfully uptempo. It, too, stalled at #63. One final single “Old Enough To Know,” a beautiful ultimatum, failed to chart.

In terms of the album cuts, I truly can’t praise them enough. The title track, a brilliant torch song led by the sisters’ exquisite harmonies, is spellbinding. “I Struck Gold” and “You’ll Be Mine” are both delightful mid-tempo ballads. “Between My Heart and Me” and “Better Be Some Tears” give the album some pep, Martina McBride subsequently recorded “Born To Give My Love To You,” a slower ballad, in 1995, and “You Can’t Have A Good Time Without Me” is a striking take on Western Swing.

The most notable aspect of Come Hold Me, in addition to its exceptional quality, is how it updates The Forester Sisters’ sound for the new decade. The arrangements, complete with steel, fiddle, and twangy guitars are perfectly early 1990s but still manages to sound fresh to modern ears. I wouldn’t categorize this as a commercial country album, but more in the alternative vein popularized by Kelly Willis.

I very strongly suggest seeking it out if you’re only familiar with the girls’ more popular work from the 1980s.

Grade: A+

Single Review: Trisha Yearwood — ‘Every Girl In This Town’

When I first heard the title of Trisha Yearwood’s new single I thought the “this town” she was referring to was Nashville and the song would be about the plight of making it in music city. There have been countless songs on that subject through the years, some of which have been fantastic.

“Every Girl In This Town” is actually about the complexities of living life and how our experiences aren’t mistakes or missteps, but rather pillars on our life journey:

Every girl in this town’s had a Friday night

That ended in tears in the yellow porch light

Thinkin’ it was love but it was just seventeen

 

And we dance and we laugh till we all fall down

We keep kissin’ boys tryin’ to figure it out

Stretchin’ for stars on our tip-toe hearts

Tryin’ to get our big dreams off the ground

Like every girl in this town

 

Every girl in this town is somebody’s daughter

An angel, a devil, no matter what they call her

If they try to hold you down under that water

Just come up baptized baby, let it make you stronger

“Every Girl In This Town” is an anthem for having the courage to dust ourselves off and get back up whenever we fall. Life is a journey, full of lessons. We just have to recognize them when they’re in our path and learn what they are there to teach us. But it’s important to remember none of this is unique. The most important lesson of all? we’re not alone and we’re all in this together.

As the lead single from Yearwood’s first country album in 12 years, “Every Girl In This Town” could be a much stronger song. The bar for new songs from Yearwood is impossibly high, so it would take something revelatory to measure up to the wealth of material she’s gifted us with over the last 28 years.

Revelatory this is not, but it’s also not trying to be. “Every Girl In This Town” is an anthem with a message, delivered by a woman with the necessary life experience to pull it off. I’m not a fan of the “tiptoe hearts” line, which feels a bit too girly coming from Yearwood, and the arrangement is uninteresting and a bit too loud.

But it’s just great to have her back in her element again. The album, by the way, is due this fall and is apparently titled Every Girl. She also confirmed it will contain 14 songs. Like everyone else I’m waiting with bated breath to see what she has in store for us this go around.

Grade: B

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘You Again’

The girls’ third album was released in 1987 following their successful duet with the Bellamy Brothers and subsequent Brothers and Sisters concert tour. Without a strong contender for a follow-up single from their previous album, Warner Brothers went ahead and started issuing singles from this set, which was released in the Spring.

“Too Many Rivers,” written by Harlan Howard was originally recorded and released by Brenda Lee in 1965, where it charted modestly on the country chart but was a major #2 pop hit. The girl’s version, which updates the torch ballad with a modern arrangement peaked at #5 and is quite wonderful.

They would return to #1 with the album’s title track, which was penned by the incomparable Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz. It’s an excellent and perfectly produced ballad about an undoubted love:

Looking in my life

Through the eyes of a young girl growing older all the time,

Maybe just a little wiser

I can clearly see

All my mistakes keep coming back to visit me

Pointing out the roads not taken

So much I’d like to change but one thing I’d do the same

 

I’d choose you again, I’d choose you again

If God gave me the chance to do it all again

Oh, I’d carefully consider every choice and then

Out of all the boys in the world

I’d choose you again

 

Times weren’t always good

Seems like the Lord gave all the easy parts away

But every time the road got rocky

You’d look at me and say

Had all you needed long as I was there with you

You’re the reason I kept going

If I could start my life anew

The first thing that I would do

Their artistic winning streak continued on “Lyin’ In His Arms Again,” the album’s third and final single. The mid-paced ballad, which isn’t quite as strong as “(I’d Choose) You Again,” is still very good and peaked at #5.

The girls open You Again with “That’s What Your Love Does To Me,” a twangy up-tempo number about an irresistible partner. “Before You” is an excellent mid-tempo ballad and one of the more traditional-leaning songs on the album.

One of the record’s highlights is a tender ballad “My Mother’s Eyes,” which follows the captivating tale of a woman raising her kids after their father has abandoned the family. “Sooner or Later” is an uptempo change of pace with a synth-heavy arraignment that dates it to the time period.

They continue in that vein on “Wrap Me Up,” but with less synth and more percussion. “I Can’t Lose What I Never Had” is forgettable while “Down The Road” is a sweet tale of life back home with mom and dad.

I apologize for not having much information about the album so I wasn’t able to identify which sister sang lead on which songs. That being said, You Again is a very pleasant listen with some pretty great tracks.

Grade: B+

Week ending 6/8/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: The Battle of New Orleans — Johnny Horton (Columbia)

1969: Singing My Song — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1979: She Believes In Me — Kenny Rogers (United Artists)

1989: A Better Man — Clint Black (RCA)

1999: Please Remember Me — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2009: Then — Brad Paisley (Arista Nashville)

2019: Whiskey Glasses — Morgan Wallan (Big Loud)

2019 (Airplay): Whiskey Glasses — Morgan Wallan (Big Loud)

Week ending 6/1/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: The Battle of New Orleans — Johnny Horton (Columbia)

1969: Singing My Song — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1979: If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me — The Bellamy Brothers (Warner Bros/Curb)

1989: Where Did I Go Wrong — Steve Wariner (MCA)

1999: Please Remember Me — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2009: It Happens — Sugarland (Mercury Nashville)

2019: God’s Country — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros. Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Good As You — Kane Brown (RCA Nashville)

Album Review: The Lowdown Drifters — ‘Last Call for Dreamers’

The Lowdown Drifters, comprised of Big John Cannon, Galen Bailey, Richard Williams, Tim Fernley, and Ryan Klein, are a country band hailing from Stanwood, WA. Since forming in 2015 they released an EP, Wood and Water, in 2016 and their debut full-length album, Last Call for Dreamers, last month.

They lead with a testament to the power of friendship on “We Three Kings,” a percussion-heavy ballad set amongst the confines of growing up in a small town. “Won’t Find Me Anymore” celebrates the rebel spirit, with a southern rock vibe to rival the outlaws they pay tribute to throughout. The intriguing “Fire in her Eyes,” which has an ear-catching melody that grabbed me instantaneously, is an excellent character sketch of a complex woman, who is as tender as she is strong.

The musician’s life is a major theme on the album, approached by many different perspectives. The road is beckoning on “Diesel Smoke,” which finds a musician confronted by his wife, who doesn’t want him to leave for another run of shows. He says the lifestyle is in his blood, much like it was for his father when he was a kid.

The wife who is slowly losing her patience on “Diesel Smoke,” has walked out of the marriage on “The Road,” which causes the musician to see the dark side of the choices he’s made. In a painfully effecting lyric he confesses to himself how he should’ve put her needs before his own, especially since for him, the road doesn’t feel like home anymore.

A much sunnier take on the subject can be found on the banjo-driven “Barstools,” an album highlight celebrating the barroom gigs musicians find themselves playing when they’re just starting out. It’s an excellent look at how there is always another gig to play and a song to “sing you back home.”

There may always be gigs, but on “Last Night in Denver,” another standout track, they prove the musician’s life isn’t as glamorous as it’s made out to be. On the uptempo number, a man wonders what he has to do — say he’s from Nashville, write a song with someone you know, wear tight t-shirts, etc — to gain the attention of the public. ‘Last night in Denver, I slept in my car’ he sings begrudgingly, hoping his luck will soon turn around.

A man is confronting his own worst enemy, himself, on the powerful “Between The Bottom and the Bottle.” Directly following it is “This Old House,” in which he’s hit rock bottom in the basement, only to be haunted by the woman who left him. The only way he’ll be free, he sings, is to burn the home, and all the memories, to the ground. “Black Hat,” a third song in this relationship trifecta, finds our man telling his woman he’ll gladly be her punching bag, the one she can lay all the blame on for the disintegrating state of their relationship.

“Empty Bottles” is a completely different take on a relationship, this time with a man confronting his own sobriety in the wake of his wife cheating on him with his best friend. He confesses he’s been sober for so long he just may need to end his streak, since empty bottles keep calling him, and he can’t think of any other way to cope with the situation. The wonderful “Diamonds and Rust” is a working man’s anthem that morphs into another take on a relationship, this time in a happier stage, when the love is blossoming.

Last Call for Dreamers is an excellent and complex record filled with richly textured stories framed with electric energy ripe for arenas. It’s a hard balance to get right, but they succeed since they didn’t forget the songs, which actually have something important to say to the listener. I can’t wait to see what they give us in the years to come.

Grade: A

Week ending 5/18/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: The Battle of New Orleans — Johnny Horton (Columbia)

1969: My Life (Throw It Away If I Want To) — Bill Anderson (Decca)

1979: If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me — The Bellamy Brothers (Warner Bros/Curb)

1989: If I Had You — Alabama (RCA)

1999: Please Remember Me — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2009: She’s Country — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

2019: Whiskey Glasses — Morgan Wallan (Big Loud)

2019 (Airplay): Eyes On You — Chace Rice (Broken Bow)

Album Review: Lee Greenwood — ‘This Is My Country’

Lee Greenwood released his seventh studio album, This Is My Country, 31 years ago today in 1988. This was his second to be co-produced by him and Jimmy Bowen.

The album’s first single, the excellent ballad “I Still Believe” peaked at #12. The second single, “You Can’t Fall In Love When You’re Cryin,” another wonderful ballad, stalled at #20. “I’ll Be Lovin’ You,” which is extremely dated to modern ears, but still a great song since it was co-written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, peaked at #16.

Although it may seem puzzling at first, Greenwood actually does a good job covering The Captain and Tennille’s “Do That To Me One More Time.” He also does well with his take on “Tennessee Waltz,” although the string-focused arrangement is a bit too heavy and slow. “Ruby” is a piano based torch song, which Greenwood interrupts well, co-written by Mitchell Parish and Heniz Roemheld.

“Lola’s Love,” written by Dennis Linde, is the only real uptempo song on the album and a good one at that, with a wonderfully infectious melody. “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” which isn’t the Restless Heart classic, is also very strong with a melody to match. “As If I Didn’t Know,” is a slow ballad and “Mountain Right” is contemporary pop.

This Is My Country doesn’t have much by way of actual country music on it, but that doesn’t dampen the listening pleasure. It’s still an enjoyable above average album from beginning to end.

Grade: B+

Week ending 5/11/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: White Lighting — George Jones (Mercury)

1969: Hungry Eyes — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1979: Don’t Take It Away — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1989: Is It Still Over? — Randy Travis (Warner Bros)

1999: Please Remember Me — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2009: It’s America — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2019: Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Eyes On You — Chace Rice (Broken Bow)

In Remembrance 30 years later: Keith Whitley — ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’

It’s hard to believe, but 30 years ago today, Keith Whitley passed away from alcohol poisoning at age 33.

Garth Brooks Trisha Yearwood, Mark Chesnutt, Larry Cordle, Caleb Daugherty, Kevin Denney, Tom Buller, Wesley Dennis, Joe Diffie, Corey Farlow, Carl Jackson, Cory and Dustin Keefe, Tracy Lawrence, Mark Wills, Darryl Worley, and Jesse Keith Whitley and Whitley’s widow, Lorrie Morgan will perform in his honor at a special concert event in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s CMA Theatre this evening in Nashville. The event has been organized by Whitley and Morgan. An exhibit dedicated to him has also just opened at the CMHoF. More on the event HERE.

We pause to remember him with his signature song:

Album Review: Lee Greenwood — ‘You’ve Got A Good Love Comin”

Lee Greenwood was celebrating his first two number one singles when MCA readied his fourth album in May 1984. The project went Gold and spawned three top ten hits, and while the album likely isn’t well-remembered today, it was a game changer in Greenwood’s career.

He received his cultural identity from the album’s first single, the patriotic standard “God Bless The U.S.A.” Greenwood was inspired to write the song, which he recorded in November 1983, as his way of coming to terms with the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 after it entered into Soviet Airspace following a navigation error.

What most people don’t know is, “God Bless The U.S.A.” not only wasn’t a #1 hit, it missed the top 5 entirely, peaking at #7. The song saw a major resurgence in popularity following the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, where it re-entered the country charts and peaked at #16. The song itself is excellent and one of the best ‘country pride’ songs I’ve ever heard. It’s regarded as Greenwood’s signature song and 35 years since its original release, the song hasn’t lost any of its popularity.

As far as singles go, two more followed, with mixed chart success. The strong ballad “Fool’s Gold,” a confessional about a “24 Karat mistake,” hit #3. The title track, funky, mid-tempo, and co-written by Van Stephenson (who would form Blackhawk in the mid-90s) reached #9.

Greenwood co-wrote the soft ballad “Worth It For The Ride” with Jan Crutchfield. The remainder of the album doesn’t have much by way of variety in melody or tempo and fits right within the contemporary stylings found on commercial country records from the era. The most adventurous track is “Lean, Mean Lovin’ Machine,” which has a light disco vibe and female backing vocals.

You’ve Got A Good Love Comin’ is dated to modern ears, but it delivers lyrically. This isn’t the most outstanding collection of songs I’ve ever heard, and the only true masterpiece is “Good Bless The U.S.A.,” but the album itself is solid.

Grade: B

Album Review: Caroline Spence — ‘Mint Condition’

I was first introduced to Caroline Spence when I reviewed her and Robby Hecht’s sublime collaborative album, Two People, last summer. I was immediately hooked on her voice and couldn’t wait to hear more. That “more” has arrived in the form of Mint Condition, her third full-length solo album, produced by Dan Knobler, which is her debut for Rounder Records.

The narratives of personal relationships, which Spence says she’s always been drawn to from a writing perspective, dominate the album thematically. She opens strong with “What You Don’t Know,” in which she hasn’t yet told her man how she truly feels about him. Spence is in a bar with an empty glass in her hand wondering “Who’s Gonna Make My Mistakes,” which she answers by saying ‘it might as well be me.’

She shows a beautiful venerably on “Sit Here and Love Me,” in which she confesses to her boyfriend what she needs from him. The sparse ballad, her real-life story, is stunning:

Like the moon in the sky

In the afternoon in July

A little darkness hangs there above me

I know you hate to see me cry

Don’t wanna look you in the eye

I just need you to sit here and love me

 

I’m alright, my dear

I’ve been this way as long as I’ve been here

I don’t need you to solve any problem at all

I just need you to sit here and love me

 

At the bottom of this well

Sometimes it’s hard to tell

If you’re up there or if you can see me

I’m still someone you know

Please recognize my shadow

This is the same place from where I love you deeply

 

I’m alright, my dear

I’ve been this way as long as I’ve been here

I don’t need you to solve any problem at all

I just need you to sit here and love me

Spence, who admits to suffering from anxiety, continues down the same path on “Who Are You,” in which she feels perplexed by her man, who always seems to find her when she’s enduring her darkest moments:

I take comfort in my silence

In an empty house

In leaving town

I take comfort in knowing

It’s not my time yet

But then you show up

 

Have I been betting on the wrong cards my whole life?

Trying to make a fire with the rain outside?

Hiding behind the line between black and white?

You got me asking questions

 

Asking who are you?

Who could know me

But my only one?

Oh, who are you?

 

I don’t take kindly

When you remind me

That I should lighten up

Show myself a little love

I don’t take kindly

To the way you can find me

When I’m trying to hide

And give up the fight

Spence finds herself exploring love on “Till You Find One,” an intriguing waltz, in which she attempts to convince herself she can’t stop fate. The title track came out of a writing exercise, in which she strived to write something good enough for Emmylou Harris to sing. She drew inspiration from her grandmother to craft the gorgeous acoustic ballad, which details a love too good to see fade away. In a twist of fate, Harris joins Spence on the track with her captivating harmonies.

My favorite song on Mint Condition is the album’s emotional centerpiece, “Wait On The Wine,” a soaring ballad where Spence uses the titular beverage to gain enough courage to tell her man how much she loves him. Another favorite, “Song About A City” is a Mary Chapin Carpenter-esque mid-paced number she co-wrote with Ashley Ray. It details her struggle with immortalizing places in her songwriting:

I used to take the train

Upstate to see the colors change

Nothing’s falling quite the same

No matter where I land

This New York City rooftop bar

Just looks up at the same old stars

Thought that I had come so far

But it doesn’t matter where I am

 

I took two steps in Austin

One back in Boston

Tried to love something new

I found a lonesome highway

Brand new skyline

But nothing could change my tune

Wish I could write a song about a city

Instead of songs about you

 

I thought I’d find a brand new leaf

Drive on out to Joshua Tree

Dry those tears in desert heat

But the silence was too loud

I wish that I could make the most

Of the magic on this coast

Can’t see the beauty through the ghost

That I’m still dragging around

Spence managed to do just that on “Angels to Los Angeles,” a sweet ballad detailing a classic runaway narrative about a girl with a dream who’s on her way to do something big to make it a reality. She realizes the reality of that dream on the uptempo “Long Haul,” where she puts her own spin on the life of a musician:

Town after town and it’s all the same

They say expecting something different’s the definition of insane

But here I go, I follow those highway stripes leading the way

Down that fine line between making a living and digging your grave

 

But I just shut up and drive

What else am I gonna do tonight?

I crossed my t’s, I dotted my i’s

And sold my soul to the 1-4-5

Never was looking for the glamour

Know I won’t find it here in Texarkana

Just trying not to lose my mind

‘Cause I’m in it for the long haul

Just feels like a long haul tonight

 

Same thing that keeps you up at night, gets you out of bed

Same thing that keeps you stuck, gets stuck in your head

It’s a funny little addiction with no cure in sight

So I keep breaking everything I’m fixing so I can be fixing to do it tomorrow night

Her long haul has led her to Mint Condition, a captivating collection of personal narratives articulated beautifully. She could’ve varied the tempo a bit throughout and thrown the listener some variety sonically, but what she’s given us is nothing to complain about. Spence is a female singer-songwriter in the truest form, and a woman with a perspective worth celebrating.

Grade: A-

Week ending 5/4/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: White Lighting — George Jones (Mercury)

1969: Galveston — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1979: Backside of Thirty — John Conlee (ABC)

1989: Young Love (Strong Love) — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1999: Wish You Were Here — Mark Wills (Mercury Nashville)

2009: It’s America — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2019: Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Make It Sweet — Old Dominion (RCA Nashville)

Album Review: Natalie Maines — ‘Mother’

For most of this decade, the story of Dixie Chicks has been one of separate lives, at least as far as recordings are concerned. Martie & Emily have released two albums as Court Yard Hounds and Natalie Maines released her own solo record, Mother, in 2013.

Maines has said the album came together serendipitously through sessions with Ben Harper. She has gone on to say she had no idea they were even making an album until they had ten recorded songs. In truth, this isn’t the first time Maines ventured outside Dixie Chicks. In 2008 she appeared alongside Neil Diamond for the spellbinding ballad “Another Day (That Time Forgot)” and she also contributed a version of Beach Boys “God Only Knows” for the final season of the HBO drama Big Love.

Mother is a pop-rock album that makes offers no apologies about its lack of anything even remotely resembling country music. Maines even went as far as to distance herself from country music, saying she never really liked the genre at all and said she found Fly unlistenable because she hated her accent on the songs. This all came from Rolling Stone Magazine, which exaggerates everything for personal gain, so her comments have to be taken with a grain of salt.

The album itself isn’t very imaginative at all, with the ten songs consisting mostly of cover tunes with only a couple originals. The selections themselves are great, but one would’ve liked Maines to let loose a bit with her own pen, especially since it had been seven years since she entered a studio to record anything for herself.

Being mostly a country music fan, I’m not overly familiar with most of these songs. Her version of the title track doesn’t deviate too much from Pink Floyd’s original. I do really like her take on Dan Wilson’s “Free Life” and her interpretation of Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” is very good.

A highlight for me is the blistering “Silver Bell,” which was the title track of Patty Griffin’s unreleased album where Maines found both “Truth No. 2” and “Top of the World.” The track, while overly loud, is a delight.

Another notable selection, “Come Cryin’ To Me” is an outtake from the writing sessions for Taking The Long Way. The song, which was co-written by the trio with Gary Louris of The Jayhawks, was deemed too rock to appear on the album. Maines had said she wanted to have her bandmates appear on the album, as co-writers, at least once. The lyric is excellent, although I can’t really decipher the meaning of the lyric:

Dragging around

The sins of your father

Handed on down

From one to another

Spinning new wheels

From lover to lover

Afraid to come now

From under the covers

 

When the world’s on your shoulders

And you just feel like hiding

When there’s nowhere to run to

You can come crying

Come crying to me

You know how to fly

On the wings of disaster

 

You try to stand still

But you keep going faster

And faster

You thought it’d be easier

In California

The tables will turn

And they won’t even warn you

 

When the world’s on your shoulders

And you just keep on sliding

When there’s nowhere to run to

You can come crying

Come crying to me

 

When the night seems colder

But the sun’s gonna shine

I won’t leave you behind

No you won’t stay behind

My issue with Mother isn’t that it’s a pop/rock recording. Maines is excellent vocally throughout and it doesn’t feel like a country artist suppressing their twang to fit into a bigger musical landscape. My problem is the album is sonically horrid. The arrangements are very muddled and extremely loud, with no real way to decipher between instruments. This just doesn’t feel like a cohesive album as much as a collection of songs and I don’t hear much masterful artistry in the recording as a whole.

Mother honestly could’ve been so much more. Dixie Chicks put so much into Taking The Long Way and Martie and Emily put effort into Court Yard Hounds. I just wish it had extended here with Maines. Mother could’ve been great. As it stands, it’s just an odd and very strange missed opportunity.

Grade: C

Week ending 4/20/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: White Lighting — George Jones (Mercury)

1969: Galveston — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1979: All I Ever Need Is You — Kenny Rogers & Dottie West (United Artists)

1989: The Church On Cumberland Road — Shenandoah (Columbia)

2009: River of Love — George Strait (MCA)

2019: Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Here Tonight — Brett Young (Big Machine)

Week ending 4/13/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: White Lighting — George Jones (Mercury)

1969: Woman Of The World (Leave My World Alone) — Loretta Lynn (Decca)

1979: I Just Fall in Love Again — Anne Murray (Capitol)

1989: I’m No Stranger To The Rain — Keith Whitley (RCA)

1999: How Forever Feels — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2009: It Won’t Be Like This for Long — Darius Rucker (Capitol)

2019: Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

Album Review: Dixie Chicks — ‘Fly’

NOTE: This is the second time we’ve done a feature on Fly. Check out Chris’ take on the album from March 2009, which was formed as a discussion around whether or not the album deserved to be legendary, by clicking HERE. Also, his post promoted a 27 comment discussion well worth reading. 

Dixie Chicks built on the phenomenal success of Wide Open Spaces with Fly, their second album for Monument Records. It was released in late August 1999 and established them as the foremost superstars of the era, on par with Shania Twain.

The ambitious set redefined how a country album could sound both melodically and lyrically. This is when they began courting controversy, painting outside the lines, and rewriting the rules of Nashville. There wasn’t a single artist at the time or since that has perfected or improved upon the formula they perfected with Fly — a solid foundation of traditional country mixed with a pop sensibility with a collection, and this is the key, of intelligent well-written songs. Fly is an album of talent and substance absent of fluff or filler.

A sign that the Dixie Chicks were heading places came in June 1999 when the album’s lead single “Ready To Run” was subsequently featured as a single from the soundtrack to the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere RomCom Runaway Bride. The Celtic flavored tune, co-written by Martie Seidel and Marcus Hummon, hit #2.

They shot back to the top of the charts with the album’s instantly iconic second single “Cowboy Take Me Away,” also co-written by the pair. The title was inspired by the slogan used in commercials for Calgon and the lyric was in tribute to Emily’s marriage to Charlie Robison. It’s a brilliant record from start to finish, with Sediel’s gorgeous fiddle riffs and Robison’s banjo licks proving the perfect backdrop for Natalie Maines’ passionate vocal. It’s one of the band’s signature songs and rightfully so.

What followed was a black comedy detailing the saga of Marianne and Wanda, the latter of who met and married a man named Earl, who physically abused her. The song, written by Dennis Linde, brings the women’s fight for justice to the forefront as they murder Earl and bury him in a shallow grave. The subject matter of “Goodbye Earl” proved a tough pill for country radio to swallow and the track stalled at #13.

They rebounded with their version of Richard Leigh’s “Cold Day In July,” which was originally recorded (separately) by Suzy Bogguss and Joy Lynne White in 1992. Commenters on country blogs have favored the other women’s versions more, but since I’m only intimately familiar with the trio’s take on the song, which hit #4, and it’s the version I heard first, it’s the one I’ll always prefer.

“Without You,” the album’s second #1, is purely pop with country instrumentation. Maines co-wrote it about the demise of her first marriage, and while it isn’t as sharp as “You Were Mine,” it still soars with heartache. Maines’ vocal, which allows her stretch and use her lower register, is a revelation.

You’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten any of the remaining singles released from the album. Although it hit #3, their take on Matraca Berg’s “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me” isn’t terribly memorable. The album’s eighth and final single, “Some Days You Gotta Dance,” has a nice groove and works well live, but falls into the same territory. It hit #7.

Sandwiched between them is arguably one of the strongest songs they ever sent to country radio. “Heartbreak Town” is Darrell Scott’s take on making it in music city and tells the story of a couple and their baby heading to Nashville and getting rejected by the industry. The record, which hit #23, is a masterpiece:

Hugged your friends

Kissed your mama goodbye

Baby in your arms and a tear in your eye

Twelve hundred miles and you never asked why

From me

 

Me and the baby and you side by side

We all knew we was in for a long hard ride

Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide it seemed

We honked the horn when we crossed the

State line

Woke up the baby and she started to cry

She must’ve known

What we were going to find

 

This ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreak town

Square people in a world that’s round

And they watch you dancin’ without the sound

It ain’t nothin’ no nothin’

You take your number and you stand in line

And they watch to see how high you’re gonna climb

Pat on the back and better luck next time

It ain’t nothin’ no it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreak town

 

Stardust well it’s a funny thing

It can make you cuss

It can make you sing

And the need to touch it gets hard to explain some days

 

I’ve seen ’em rise

I’ve seen ’em fall

Some get nothin’

And lord some get it all

Some just run

While others crawled away

 

Hold my hand baby don’t let go

I’ve got some front money

And I’ve got a next show

And I’m, I’m gonna need you

Down this yellow brick road

The album tracks are almost as iconic as the singles, especially “Sin Wagon,” which got its origins from the movie Grease. The film is one of Maines’ favorites, and she co-wrote the bluegrass barnburner with Emily Erwin and Stephony Smith. The lyric caught the attention of the trio’s record label, who objected their use of the term ‘mattress dacin’ in the second verse. Maines doubled down and repeated the line for emphasis, a sign that as far back as 1999 she wasn’t going to make nice with anyone.

“Hello Mr. Heartache” is the album’s most traditional number and another masterful record. “Let Him Fly” is their first association with Patty Griffin, Maines’ favorite singer-songwriter of all time. “Hole In My Head” was written by Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller and showed off their Americana leanings.

Fly is simply one of the greatest contemporary commercial country records ever made. It rightfully won them both the Grammy for Best Country Album and the CMA for Album of the Year. It’s gone on to sell more than ten million copies and inspired their first headlining trek in 2000, the year they were crowned CMA Entertainer of the Year. They richly deserved every accolade that came their way.

Grade: A+ 

 

Album Review: George Strait — ‘Honky Tonk Time Machine’

Late last month, George Strait released his 30th studio album, his first collection of all-new music in four years. The record, entitled Honky Tonk Time Machine, is a thirteen-track set co-produced by Strait and Chuck Ainlay.

Strait wrote six of the album’s tracks along with his most frequent co-writers — his son Bubba and Dean Dillion. The strongest of the songs is the affecting ballad “The Weight of the Badge,” a beautiful tribute to our everyday law enforcement officers. Also excellent is lead single “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar,” which Occasional Hope reviewed last month.

The trio’s remaining co-writes are very good. “Blue Water” is about longing for escapism from our modern world. He sings about a “Sometimes Love” he can’t seem to forget and shows his woman he’ll always be there on “Take Me Away.” The outlier is “Código,” which serves as little more than a commercial for a brand of tequila Strait has an investment in.

“What Goes Up,” a nice spiritual ballad about leaning on God, was co-written by father and son and Jeff Hyde. They branched out even further, bringing in Willie Nelson and Buddy Cannon for “Sing One with Willie,” a duet with Nelson. The track is pure honky-tonk and while the melody is delightful, the lyric boards on cutesy.

Bubba also has some co-writes of his own. “Some Nights” is a mid-paced ballad about getting over a lost love. The title track is a barnburner in the same vein as “Heartland.”

The remaining tracks were penned by outside writers. The spiritual “God and Country Music,” which laments about the only things worth saving, was co-written by Luke Laird, Barry Dean, and Lori McKenna. “Two More Wishes” reunites him with Jim Lauderdale. The results are just as you would expect. The final track is a fine cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “Old Violin,” on which you can hear off of Strait’s life experience coming out in his vocal.

Honky Tonk Time Machine is a fine addition to Strait’s catalog. It’s refreshing to hear his voice and perspective again.

Grade: B+ 

Classic Rewind: Dixie Chicks — ‘Girl I Could Fall For A Boy like That’

From 1995, when Laura Lynch was still the lead singer. This track wasn’t issued on any of their studio albums.