My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Treading Water’

Released in October 1984, Treading Water was ETC’s fourth and most successful RCA album, peaking at #2 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. By late 1984 Nashville had moved past the Urban Cowboy sludge into more traditional sounds. While the “New Traditionalist” movement was still eighteen months away, newer artists such as Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley were pointing the way back to more traditional sounds, and some veteran artists such as George Jones and Merle Haggard had seen some career regeneration, as had (briefly) the Kendalls.

The album opens with “Too Hot To Handle”, a non-single that sounds more energetic than most of Earl’s recordings. This is followed by “Love Don’t Care”, a #1 single that was the third single released from the album and “Labor of Love”, a quiet ballad about a relationship that is disintegrating.

“Your Love Says All There Is” is an album track that seems rather generic and too similar to other recent ETC songs. It is an okay song but certainly not worthy of single release.

Y

ou keep talking with your body
And to your every move I can relate
Cause I’ve been feeling what you’re thinking
And I guess your love says all there is to say

This party started in your arms tonight
And I can see forever in your eyes
Without a word you put me in my placeo Your love says all there is, your love says all there is to say

Similarly “Love’s On The Move Again” seems a bit familiar but the use of real piano and steel is certainly welcome.

“Chance of Loving You” was the first single released from the album, a #1 single that was co-written with Randy Scruggs. The song is taken at mid-tempo with a lyric than commands attention.

Like a young and courageous fool
Ready to take on the night
You came dressed to kill all of the boys
And it looks like you’ve done enough right

You say that love is your only rule
It kinda comes from the heart
When it all comes down to what lovers do
You fall in love and just fall apart

But that’s the chance you take with a lonely heart
That’s the price you pay with a lonely heart
That’s the game you play when there’s nothin’ to loose
And I could never refuse the chance of lovin’ you

“Honor Bound” was the second single from the album, another #1 hit. The song is a dramatic song about a wife who is taking her vows seriously; however, both the wife and the narrator know that from her perspective that the flame has gone out of the relationship. There is a nice sax break in the song.

Nothing’s been said, nothing’s been done
It’s hard to see a difference between the rising and the setting sun
But I can feel a change, it’s there in her touch
It’s subtle but it’s deep and it hurts us both so much
Me, because I’m losing her and her because she feels

She’s honor bound, bound by promise that she made so long ago
But I love her so much that I can’t let her know I know
Oh, I know her pure heart made that promise
Honestly, oh, but how long can her honor keep her bound to me

I think “Treading Water” is the best song on the album but it was not released as a single. The tale of a fellow who gets the girl (briefly) whenever she is on the rebound, the narrator is beginning to rebel against his role in the matter.

“Feels Like A Saturday Night” could have been a rowdy song in the hands of another singer. ETC never truly sounds rowdy, but the song has a nice beat to it and is probably one of the few ETC songs suitable for dancing.

The album closes with the up-tempo “Turn This Bus Around”.

This is probably my favorite Earl Thomas Conley album on RCA. I’d give this album a B+, but it would prove to be the last ETC album I would purchase for many years as I realized that I liked Conley as an artist, but did not love his music and did not often pull it out to play. Most of my Conley albums were on cassette tape and as CD became the dominant media, I purchased some hit collections but little else more, until a few years ago. He’s a fine artist and is worth discovering, especially for one with less traditional tastes than mine.

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Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Blue Pearl’

After only very minor chart success (according to Record World) and only modestly better success at Warner Brothers, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) signed with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with his producer at GRT Nelson Larkin.

Although largely forgotten, Nelson Larkin was a talented songwriter and independent record producer and studio owner who seemed to truly understand what Conley was about.

Three singles were released from the album: “Dreamin’s All I Do” (#32), “Middle Age Madness” (#41) and “Stranded On A Dead End Street” (#26); and while this did not represent overwhelming chart success, for a minor independent label it was quite respectable and enough to push the album to #20, a very significant achievement which caught the attention of major label RCA, which purchased all of Earl’s Sunbird masters.

“Fire & Smoke”, released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40. Meanwhile, the album reached #20, a rare occurrence for an album released on one of the smaller independents.

The album opens with “Too Much Noise (Trucker’s Waltz)” a slow ballad which is not really a truck driving song despite the title.

There’s a hell raising cowboy
In your truck driving heart
You’ve got the world narrowed down
To four lanes
But how could diesel blooded horses
Ever drag you apart
From the only girl who could ever
Ease your pain
She would follow your dreams
To the farthest extremes
But she needs more than just someone
To be true to
While it seems you just need someone sane
Who can drive all that noise
From your brain

Next up is “Silent Treatment” which RCA would later release as a successful single on the first RCA album Fire And Smoke.

“Dreamin’s All I Do” was the first single from the album, and likely would have been a major hit had it been an RCA release. I love the song, which is a bit of a dreamy ballad.

I woke up crying, I thought I had a dream
But you would not answer up when I called your name
I ran to my window but all I saw was rain
I know you’re going somewhere girl I can feel the pain
But I wouldn’t dream of sleeping with anyone but you
And anyone who knows me knows that I love you
No I wouldn’t dream of sleeping with anyone but you
But anyone can tell you dreamin’s all I do

“Stranded On A Dead End Street” was the album’s third single and built on the momentum of the first two singles. A up-tempo love song, it represents the kind of material I wish Earl had tackled more often.

“You Don’t Have To Go Too Far” features rather more steel guitar than most of Earl’s songs. This song is a mid-tempo declaration of love.

“Fire And Smoke” would prove to be Earl’s first #1 record when released on RCA. “Played This Game Enough To Know The Score” is a medium-fast ballad about a fellow who knows that his current romance won’t last.

“Blue And Green” is gentle ballad about a romance that has failed and the participants far apart.

“Middle Age Madness” is about an older woman who still dreams of a romance that may never occur. This was the second single and likely would have been a bigger hit with a major label behind it.

“This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me” is a song that Earl wrote and pitched to Conway Twitty, who took it to the top of the charts. I like Earl’s recording, which is the most traditional sounding Earl Thomas Conley track I’ve ever heard. It is nearly as good as Conway’s version.

She wore that falling out of love look
I even swore upon the Good Book
Still the last lie I told her was
The one she couldn’t believe
No more crying on her shoulder
She won’t even let me hold her
Cause this time I’ve hurt her more than she loves me

Four of these tracks would appear on Earl’s first RCA album, further proof of the strength of the album, which I would give an A-.

Spotlight Artist: Earl Thomas Conley

Born in October 1941, Earl Thomas Conley is the quintessence of the term “late bloomer” as far as becoming a country music star. Although he had some very modest chart success starting in 1975 with GRT Records and again with Warner Brothers in 1979, it wasn’t until Conley reached independent label Sunbird in late 1980, that Earl (or ETC as he was often called) began to achieve real success as a recording artist. By then, he was thirty-nine years old.

Earl Thomas Conley was the oldest and most successful of the triumvirate of somewhat similarly named country artist of the 1980s (the others were Con Hunley and John Conlee), each of whom had very distinctive voices. Earl had an extended run of success, both as a recording artist and as a songwriter. Between 1980 and 2003, he recorded ten studio albums, including seven for RCA. During this same period he charted more than 30 singles on the Billboard country charts, with 18 reaching #1.

Earl was raised in a working class family that had a love for music and the arts, and painting – which he started when he was 10 – was Earl’s first love. At age 14, Earl’s father lost his job with the railroad and Earl went to live with an older sister in Dayton, Ohio, where he continued to paint and develop his skills as an artist. While painting was his first love, Earl’s father had introduced him to music and Earl began to be more aware of it as an influence in his life.

After graduating high school, Earl decided against college, joining the Army instead. While in the Army, Earl became a member a Christian-influenced trio, where his musical talent and vocal ability were first placed on public display. At some point Earl decided that performing might not be a bad way to make a living. Accordingly, he delved more deeply into the classic country sounds of artists such as Merle Haggard and George Jones. During this period Earl first tried his hand at songwriting. In 1968, after his discharge from the Army, Earl began commuting from Dayton to Nashville.

With nothing happening for him in Nashville (and tired of back and forth commuting), Earl moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to be 150 miles closer to the recording industry. While in Nashville on a song-plugging visit in 1973, Earl met Dick Herd, who produced the great Mel Street. This meeting eventually led to the Conley-Herd collaboration on the song “Smokey Mountain Memories”, which Street took into the top 10 in early 1975.

Prior to Street’s recording Earl had moved to Nashville, where he met record producer Nelson Larkin, who signed Earl to his publishing house and helped sign him with independent label GRT in 1974. Larkin placed one of Earl’s songs with his brother Billy Larkin, “Leave It Up to Me”, which Larkin took to #22 in late 1975. Nelson Larkin would produce Earl’s sessions through the end of the 1980s.

GRT released four of Earl’s singles without much success. Meanwhile, Earl placed “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me,” with Conway Twitty, who took it all the way to the top in 1975, giving Earl his first #1 record as a songwriter.

On the strength of his successful songwriting, Warner Brothers signed Earl to a recording contract. Unfortunately, the three singles Warner Brothers issued in 1979 on ‘Earl Conley’ failed to achieve much traction.

After his stint at Warner Brothers was over, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) signed with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with producer Nelson Larkin. “Fire & Smoke,” released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40.

The success of “Fire and Smoke” caused RCA to pick up Earl’s contract and purchase the rights to Earl’s Sunbird recordings for release on RCA. Ultimately RCA became his home for the next decade during which time the following songs reached #1:

•“Somewhere Between Right and Wrong”
•“Your Love’s On The Line”
•“Holding Her and Loving You”
•“Don’t Make It Easy For Me”
•“Angel In Disguise”
•“Chance of Loving You”
•“Love Don’t Care (Whose Heart it Breaks)”
•“Nobody Fall s Like A Fool”
•“Once In A Blue Moon”
•“I Have Loved You Girl”
•“I Can’t Win For Losing You”
•“That Was A Close One”
•“Right From The Start”
•“What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)”
•“We Believe In Happy Endings” (w/Emmylou Harris)
•“What I’d Say”
•“Love Out Loud”

While Earl Thomas Conley tended to regard himself as a straight country artist, his rather smoky voice helped gain him acceptance across the board. Earl appeared on the television show Soul Train in 1986, and to the best of my knowledge he is the only country artist to be so featured.

Chart success basically ran out for Earl at the end of the 1980s although there were some decent chart hits through 1992, including the 1991 recording of “Brotherly Love” a duet with Keith Whitley released after Keith’s death.

Since then, Earl has continued to tour occasionally and write songs but has done relatively little recording, with a seven year recording hiatus 1991-1997. This hiatus was due to a number of factors, including vocal problems, disenchantment with record label politics, road fatigue and mental burnout. Earl finally emerged with another album in 1998, Perpetual Emotion, aided and abetted by long-time friends Randy Scruggs and Curly Corwin. His last albums were Should Have Been Over By Now, released in 2003, and Live at Billy Bob’s, released in 2005.

Earl is now 76 years old and no longer maintains a website, although he does maintain a Facebook page. Earl retired from performing about a year ago.

Various artists continue to record his songs, and Blake Shelton released Earl’s “All Over Me” as a single in 2002. Earl has always eschewed fads, not becoming a ‘hat act’ during the late 1980s and continuing to write thoughtful, non-gimmicky songs.

The digital age has seen much of Earl’s recorded legacy restored to the catalogue, so finding his songs should not be difficult. We hope you enjoy discovering (or rediscovering) the music of our very distinctive Spotlight vocalist Earl Thomas Conley.

Lane Turner – Stardom Unfulfilled

George Strait was always a bit of an outlier as far as country radio was concerned, a fan of western swing who has allowed to keep some of those influences in his music as long as he came up with a reasonably mainstream sound. Of course radio afforded Strait this courtesy because of his visual aura, excellent voice and scandal-free personal life.

During 2004, another strongly western (or Texas) swing influenced artist received some airplay as a result of a pair of singles released on a major label, Warner Brothers. The single “Always Wanting More (Breathless)” was penned by Lane (with Kent Blazy and Monty Holmes) and received heavy airplay around Central Florida. The song was sold as a CD single with the second song, penned by Lane Turner the disc, “King of Pain” also receiving some airplay. On the physical single were the words “From the forthcoming Warner Brothers album RIGHT ON TIME (2/6-48655) . Unfortunately, the single did not fare as well in other markets and died at #56.

The second single released, “Right On Time” also received some airplay, but I did not see a CD single on sale for the song. I patiently awaited release of the album but by mid-2005 (after some inquiries) I resigned myself to the fact that Warner Brothers had bailed on the album. Since the market seemed to be turning away from traditional country sounds (pseudo boy-band Rascal Flatts seemed to be the hottest thing going), I doubted that Turner would get another crack at a major label.

About five years ago, a friend of mine brought me a promotional CD that he’d copied for me that was never officially released and he had added a few extra tracks he’d found. The CD was the Warner Brothers album RIGHT ON TIME.

I don’t have any writer information for the remaining songs, although I suspect that Lane had a hand in writing most of them

“King of Pain” is a ballad of lost love.

“Halfway to Mexico” is up-tempo modern country with some Mexican rhythms.

“Better to Have Loved” is a ballad of the kind that George Strait routinely turned into hits.

“Let You Go” is an up-tempo song of loss with a banjo serving as the driving force behind the melody.

I have no idea why “Right On Time” was not a hit. The song is a thoughtful slow ballad.

“Happy Hour” is a throwback to early 1970s country, not unlike some of Freddie Hart’s hits but also similar to some of George Strait’s ballads.

“Outside Looking In” is an up-tempo rocker that might have made a good single.

“Thinking Right This Time” is a mid-tempo ballad about a fellow coming to grips with his errors of omission that cost him the loss of the love of his life.

“Horses” is a dialogue between a father to his young son. The father has lost custody of his son to his ex-wife and he is reminding the son to remember the things he has learned such as how to ride horses.

“If It Ain’t One Thing It’s Another” is an up-tempo ballad about life’s little problems.

“Always Wanting You More (Breathless)” was the biggest hit for Lane Turner, an excellent ballad about the mystery generated by his love, a mystery that he cannot fathom but always wants.

Some of this album is available to view on Youtube such as this clip for “The Horses”.

I would regard this album as an A- and deeply regret that Lane Turner never got a real shot at stardom. Perhaps he was too similar to George Strait, or perhaps radio programmers of the time simply had lost interest in real county music. These were good songs that in a different time could have been his.

Lane released an EP in 2009 titled LANE TURNER, currently available as a digital download on Amazon. In 2011 he surfaced as the lead singer of the group Western Underground. This band was formerly Chris LeDoux’s road band. I believe he is still with this group.

Henson Cargill remembered

The summer of 1968 was the first year in which I had a steady summer job, meaning that it was the first year in which I had a little cash which with to purchase record album. Thanks to being a Navy brat, I had access to the Navy Exchange where I could purchase current albums for $2.50 apiece and budget albums (RCA Camden, Pickwick, Harmony) for around $1.49 each.

After a couple of weeks work and saving up money for more important things, I had about seven bucks to spare and purchased my first three albums – Country Charley Pride ($2.50), According to My Heart – Jim Reeves ($1.49) and Skip A Rope – Henson Cargill ($2.50).

Most of our readership should be familiar with Reeves and Pride, but Henson Cargill is largely out of the public’s memory.

The summer of 1968 was an interesting period in American popular music, but it was also a transitional time for country music as some of the winds of change swept across the genre. Not only was the product becoming increasing string-laden with many producers eschewing fiddle and steel all together but for the first time there were songs of social consciousness permeating the airwave as songs such as “Harper Valley PTA”, “Do You Believe This Town” and “Ballad of $40” were hits. Leading the charge was a young man named Henson Cargill, whose first Monument single “Skip A Rope” soared to #1 on the country charts for five weeks and broke into the top 25 (Billboard) or top 15 (Record World) on the pop charts.

Skip a rope, skip a rope
Oh, listen to the children while they play
Ain’t it kind of funny what the children say?
Skip a rope

Daddy hates mommy, mommy hates dad
Last night you should have heard the fight they had
It gave little sister another bad dream
She woke us all up with a terrible scream

Skip a rope, skip a rope
Oh, listen to the children while they play
Ain’t it kind of funny what the children say?
Skip a rope

Cheat on your taxes don’t be a fool
What was that they said about the golden rule?
Never mind the rules, just play to win
And hate your neighbor for the shade of his skin

Skip a rope, skip a rope
Oh, listen to the children while they play
Ain’t it kind of funny what the children say?
Skip a rope

Stab ’em in the back that’s the name of the game
And mommy and daddy are who’s to blame

Henson Cargill was a smooth-voiced native of Oklahoma whose first album Skip A Rope followed the usual template for country albums of the day – some covers of the other big hits of the day, plus some filler, but with the difference being the intelligent lyrical content of the filler. Monument label head Fred Foster, the genius behind Roy Orbison’s biggest hits saw potential is Cargill’s singing and allowed producer Don Law free reign.

The next two albums followed the same pattern, Coming On Strong featuring an antiwar song “Six White Horses” (not the Tommy Cash hit) and “She Thinks I’m On That Train” about a man being executed for a crime he didn’t do; and None of My Business continuing the leftward drift with “This Generation Shall Not Pass” and the title track.

Little kids sleepin’ with rats in their bed well it’s none of my business
It’s been a long time since they’ve been fed but it’s none of my business
Some more bad news from Vietnam and China’s playin’ with a great big bomb
I better take a pill to stay dumb cause it’s none of my business

People are afraid to walk their own streets but it’s none of my business
Cops can even walk on their beat but it’s none of my business
I read about a girl I forgot her name, she was screamin’ for help but nobody came
It seems like kind of a shame but it’s none of my business

Ten more billion on a national debt, well it’s none of my business
People in the slums are a little upset – that’s none of my business
Kids gripin’ out of school lookin’ for a thrill, learnin’ the law’s kill or be killed
I better take another pill cause it’s none of my business

Now the preacher’s sayin’ somethin’ bout good man vow, well it’s none of my business
He said we got troubles that we gotta have sow oh it’s none of my business
Now I go to church and I meditate I don’t even mind when they pass the plate
But they stuff about my fellow man’s fate well ‘s none of my business
(They stuff about my fellow man’s fate) Lord it’s none of my business

With his fourth album The Uncomplicated Henson Cargill, Henson, already nicknamed the “Zen Cowboy”, may have finally drifted too far for country audiences. The lead single was the title track, an offbeat number written by Dallas Frazier and Sanger Shafer about the girl who left the narrator. In the tale, girl is ironing his shirts while telling him that this would be the last he ever saw of her. The song reached #18, but was essentially the end of the line for Henson’s chart success. An bitter album track titled “Reprints (Plastic People)” had the narrator of the song viewing the people around him as automatons, essentially copies of each other and incapable of independent thought.

After four albums, Henson Cargill left Monument for Mega for a 1972 album titled On The Road. From there he bounced from label to label and eventually drifted to the periphery of the music business, operating a night club.

Decreasing chart success did not mean a lack of quality in subsequent recordings. Cargill continued to record songs with thoughtful lyrics that reflected a degree of social consciousness rarely encountered in country singers of that era. Cargill was classified as folk-country and marketed to both areas. Production on his Monument recordings wasn’t hard country, usually lacking steel guitar and fiddles.

I only saw him on TV once, and he didn’t seem to be a terribly charismatic performer, although with his excellent vocals that should not have mattered. His voice had just enough grit in it to make him distinctive. Perhaps if he had been more mainstream country he might have lasted longer. He died in 2007 at the age of 66 having left behind some fine recordings.

Album Review: Del McCoury — ‘Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass’

Like bourbon aging in oak barrels, the voice of Del McCoury seems to take on more depth and character with each album. Del McCoury stands as one of the last of bluegrass’s second generation in still keeping the music alive both as a recording artist and as an active touring performer. Whether performing before small audiences or large crowds, Del is a consistent force in performing the true-grass so adored by traditionalists, while leaving the door open for innovation.

Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass is comprised of 14 songs that range from murder ballads and train songs to songs about love last and found. The sources of the songs range from old country classics to tunes by modern bluegrass songsmiths. Whatever you like, you will find it here.

The opening track is “Hot Wired,” the opening song, is a cover of what I’ve heard described as a country-rock song. Written by Shawn Camp, the song is a car song that compares a woman to a car – the song features a bunch of hot solos by the various musicians. I guess you could call this newgrass.

“That Ol’ Train” sounds more folk-country than bluegrass, although it would work in either genre as it tells an effective story.

“Letters Have No Arms” was written by the Texas Troubadour Ernest Tubb and were a big hit for ET back in 1950. Del effective conveys the angst of the lyrics, a soldier reacting to his sweetheart’s letter.

“The First One Back in Town” is a song currently in hot rotation on bluegrass radio and is a classic murder ballad, in which his the narrator sees his sweetheart murdered from a distance and needs to get back to town before the killer, who might otherwise convince the authorities that he is the killer.

The next song “Build It Up” is a gospel tune written by Rob Clark. It is straightforward bluegrass gospel that Del’s band provides very effective harmonies.

“Bottom Dollar”, written by Fred John Elgersina feels like a folk ballad, a tale of woe and despair. Jason Carter plays some mighty lonesome fiddle on this piece.

Glen Duncan penned “Deep Dark Hollow Road” a song in which the singer calls on Loretta, his love, to abandon Kentucky in search of a better life.

I really liked the up-tempo “Ace of Hearts”, easily the most upbeat song in the set, about a fellow who got lucky in love and realizes just how lucky he was. The song was an album track on Alan Jackson’s debut album in 1990. The song was written by Lonnie Wilson, Ron Moore, and Carson Chamberlain and deserves to be better known

Love’s a gamble every heart will take

You roll the dice in hopes that it won’t break

One night I bet on your blue eyes and took a chance

And I won a whole lot more than one night of romance

 

I held the ace of hearts that night in the dark

How lucky can one man be

I hold the winning hand anyway life deals the cards

No way to lose ‘cause I’ve got you, my ace of hearts

Jerry Lee Lewis had a number one country single in early 1969 with the Jerry Kennedy – Glenn Sutton collaboration “To Make Love Sweeter For You”. Most of Jerry Lee’s country hits generated few covers because of how personal Jerry Lee made the songs seem. I thought that this was one of those songs that Jerry Lee had rendered incapable of being covered, but Del McCoury is fearless and was able to fashion a unique arrangement (reminiscent of 1890s honky-tonk) that carries the idiosyncratic feel of Jerry Lee’s recording, while still sounding dramatically different.

Well, I’d like to send an orchid at the start of every day

For flowers show more beauty than words could ever say

You’ve done so much for my world till all I want to do

Is try my best in every way to make love sweeter for you

 

A thousand special compliments I’d pay to you each day

Your ears would never tire of all the sweet things I would say

You never would be lonely, honey, you never would be blue

‘Cause my one aim in life would be to make love sweeter for you

Del himself wrote the next two songs, “Joe” and “Love Love Love”. The former is an up-tempo number about a performer who doesn’t mind bringing his fists into the equation, whereas the latter is a ballad that mixed tempos in telling its story.

“I’ll Be On My Way” is a dramatic ballad about the life of a wanderer. Written performed as a mid-tempo, the song features some nice fiddling by Jason Carter.

“You Could Be Me” is a ballad in which the narrator warns the listener that however bad the listener’s tale of woe, that the narrators are even worse. This song has received considerable airplay. Del has been singing bluesy and woeful ballads for decades and may be the ultimate master of the subgenre. This song was written by Tim Crouch, Edgar Sanders, Kenneth Mcafee, and Dennis Crouch.

The album closes with “I Fell In Love”. Those who listened to country radio will remember the song from the 1990 recording by Carlene Carter, a song that reached #3 on Billboard’s country chart. Needless to say, Del’s take does not remind you of Carlene Carter, but Del and his band infuse the song with a considerable dose of Del’s personality

Hey, I hit town without a clue

Minding my business like I always do

Just my luck I ran smack into you

And I never could’ve known it would be like this

You got the kind of charm that I can’t resist

I figure what’s the harm in a little bitty kiss or two

 

But I fell in love

(Whatcha want to do that for)

Oh I fell in love

(Whatcha want to do that for)

I fell in love

With the exception of guest pianist Josh Shilling on the Jerry Lee Lewis cover, this album is a self-contained album by Del and his band with Del playing the guitar and singing lead vocals, sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (Banjo) adding harmony vocals and Jason Carter (fiddle) and Alan Bartram (upright bass) also adding harmony vocals. If you want to know how modern bluegrass should sound, this is a good place to start – a solid A

A half-dozen songs that never really were big hits (but may have been famous)

It is not so much true since the late 1970s but in all genres of music (except rock) there was a strong tendency for songs that were really big hits to be covered by many artists.

Here we will be looking at three really well-known country songs that never really were major hits for anyone, yet were so frequently covered that they became well-known hits, two songs that had Billboard not discontinued its regional charts, would have been recognized as big regional hits, and one song that was a huge copyright for a well known singer that isn’t well known and never charted at all.

1) Back in 1968, I purchased a few 45 rpm records. Lacking the patience to fool around with flipping records every 2:35, I soon switched to purchase of LPs. Among the few 45s that I purchased was Merle Haggard’s “The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde”. This record certainly was a hit reaching #1 on the Billboard and Record World country charts, but the B side was the revelation for me.

Back then I often didn’t get around to playing the B side of a 45 until later, but Dad had the Branded Man album that Haggard had issued the year before and every song on it was really good, so I flipped over the single to find one of the truly great country songs in “Today I Started Loving You Again”,

Back then Billboard did not usually track B sides and album tracks, so as far as Billboard is concerned the real hit on the song was Sammi Smith’s single from 1975 that reached #9. Kenny Rogers, Arthur Prysock and Emmylou Harris all issued singles that failed to crack the top forty. Record World, which did track B sides, had Haggard’s version reach #25.

I have no idea how many artists recorded “Today I Started Loving You Again” as an album track. Certainly, dozens of country artists did it (I probably have thirty country albums from the late 1968-1972 period that contain the song) and untold numbers of singers from other genres such as pop singer Al Martino, R&B singers Bobby Bland and Bettye Swann. I still hear country bands perform the song to this very day. For me, it’s a song I memorized on first hearing it and it has stuck in my memory since then

 What a fool I was to think I could get by

With only these few millions tears I cry

I should have known the worst was yet to come

And that crying time for me had just begun

2) Almost as well known as “Today I Started Loving You Again” is “Silver Wings”, which was an album track on Hag’s 1970 album A Portrait of Merle Haggard and was the flipside of “Working Man Blues. I can basically make the same comments about “Silver Wings” as I did about “Today I Started Loving You Again”. I heard the song frequently on the radio, but it never charted for Haggard. In fact, the only time the song ever charted was by the Hager Twins, Jim and Jon, who took it to #59 in late 1970.

 Silver wings shining in the sunlight

Roaring engines headed somewhere in flight

They’re taking you away, leaving me lonely

Silver wings slowly fading out of sight

“Don’t leave me,” I cried

Don’t take that airplane ride

But you locked me out of your mind

Left me standing here behind

3) Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote many famous songs that were big hits for the likes of the Everly Brothers, Carl Smith, Jimmie Dickens and countless others. While “Bye Bye Love” surely is their best-remembered song, I suspect that “Rocky Top” may be their second most famous song. The bluegrass duo of Sonny & Bobby Osborne got the song up to #33 on Billboard’s country chart in 1968 and Lynn Anderson got it to #17 in 1975 but that is it as far as chart success is concerned. The song ’s fame has spread far and wide beyond its limited chart placements it is an official Tennessee State Song, it is the University of Tennessee’s unofficial fight song, and has been recorded hundreds of times. The progressive bluegrass duo of Doug Dillard & Gene Clark (with Donna Washburn on vocals) issued the song in 1969, and that remains my favorite version of the song. Artists as diverse as Phish, Buck Owens, and Conway Twitty have recorded the song. Everybody knows the song and everybody sings along whenever the song is played

 Rocky Top you’ll always be

Home Sweet Home to me

Good ol’ Rocky Top

Rocky Top Tennessee

Rocky Top Tennessee

4) Bob Luman’s 1969 recording of “Come On Home And Sing The Blues To Daddy” probably was a regional hit in the southern states, reaching #24 on Billboard’s country charts (it reached #13 on Record World). Written by Ray Corbin, Luman’s record was featured in heavy rotation as a oldie when I returned to the US in August 1971; during its chart run WHOO DJ Clay Daniels told me that it often was the most requested song on the station and I know from personal experience that nearly every county cover band in Central Florida kept it in their playlist for a good decade after the song’s chart run.

Charley Pride, Wynn Stewart, Waylon Jennings and Bobby Bare recorded the song as an album track (so did many others) and I have heard Waylon and Bare perform it on stage.

 I hear say your new romance has faded

Just the way ours did some time ago

I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve waited

For you to tell me that you’ve missed me so

Come on home and sing the blues to daddy

If things don’t work out the way you planned

Come on home and sing the blues to daddy

Tell it all to one who understands

Just like a child that’s found a brand new plaything

Each one is more fun than those before

But there’s a faithful one that’s always waiting

To be picked up and kicked around some more

5) Nobody much remembers Pat Daisy, and RCA artist who got lost in the shuffle at RCA, but her recording of “Everybody’s Reaching Out for Someone” reached #20 on the Billboard country chart in 1972 (it reached #13 on Record World). Written by legendary songwriter Dickey Lee, the song reached #1 on the WHOO and WSUN Countdowns and I suspect that the tale for both Luman’s song and Daisy’s song is that either a station played the song and played it a lot, or simply never added the song at all (or perhaps added a different recording of the song). Whatever the case, the song was recorded by numerous artists including Lynn Anderson, Brenda Lee, Dickey Lee and Kitty Wells

Everybody’s reaching out for someone

Everybody’s knocking at some door

And long before I ever found you

You’re the one that I was reaching for

 

Just like the trees along the river bend

Lift up the branches to the sun above

We spent our lifetimes reaching for a friend

Cause everybody reach someone to love

 

And everybody’s reaching out …

Interestingly enough the song was revived in 1993 when the Cox Family recorded the song as the title cut for their first album on Rounder. The album was produced by Alison Krauss, and through their efforts, the song made its way into the bluegrass repertoire, where it is occasionally heard to this day.

6) Until “Harper Valley PTA” was released on August 24, 1968, Tom T Hall’s biggest copyright was a song that you may have never heard. By 1968 Tom had written a number a number of hits for other artists, including Johnny Wright’s #1 country hit “Hello Vietnam”, and had written a couple of minor hits for himself. “Hello Vietnam” received no pop airplay and sales of county singles in that era could be 50,000 copies.

On September 25, 1965, The Statler Brothers released a Tom T. Hall song as the B side of their debut single for Columbia. The single, “Flowers On The Wall” went #2 country, #4 pop and #1 in Canada, selling nearly a million copies in the process. The album Flowers On The Wall also sold well and for each 45 or album sold, Tom T Hall picked up a songwriting royalty. The song “Billy Christian” did not receive much airplay (I heard it a few times on WCMS) but I’m sure it helped keep the wolves away from Tom T’s door

It’s a pretty good song and is (or has been) available in a digital format

 If you’re listenin’ Billy Christian come on home

Are you listening Billy Christian if you are then go on home

Everything is like you left it she spends all the time alone

All that music never thrills her like it did when you were there

 

Go on home Billy Christian if you care

What a team they were together Billy Christian and his wife

People loved to hear them singin’ that was their success in life

But the eyes of Billy Christian were the wild and wandering kind

 

Now Billy’s wife sings solo all the time

Are you listening Billy Christian…

All the fellows tried to date me but she never blinked an eye

Every night she sings her same sad song and cries

 

Now where is Billy Christian does he ever hear the song

Does Billy Christian know he’s welcome home

Are you listening Billy Christian…

Go on home Billy Christian if you care

Album Review: John Prine — ‘The Tree of Forgiveness’

John Prine is back with his back with his twenty-fourth album, but only his second since 2011, Released on the Oh Boy label (a label founded by Prine), this is his first album since 2005’s Fair & Square to consist of new songs written by Prine, albeit mostly co-writes.

In terms of chart success, The Tree of Forgiveness has been Prine’s most successful album reaching #5 on Billboard’s Hot 200 albums chart and #2 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart.

For those who haven’t listened to Prine in recent years, a battle with cancer in 1998 resulted in his voice gradually deepening and becoming more gravelly, lending his vocals a gravitas previously lacking.  A battle with lung cancer in 2013 resulted in Prine losing a lung and losing some of his vocal power in the process.

John Prine has never been about hit singles, and this album contains nothing likely to become a hit single. It does contain a bunch of really good songs that tell stories

The album opens with “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door”, which was co-written with Pat McLaughlin. This song is a ballad about being alone

I ain’t got nobody
Hangin’ round my doorstep
Ain’t got no loose change
Just a hangin’ round my jeans

If you see somebody
Would you send em’ over my way
I could use some help here
With a can of pork and beans

I once had a family
But they up and left me
With nothing but an 8-track
Another side of George Jones

The next song was co-written with Roger Cook and is a real gem. “I Have Met My Love Today” is about the joy and anticipation of finding love

True love will always have its way

There ain’t no doubt about it: true love is here to stay

 

Day-by-day our love will grow

Day-by-day our love will show

We’ll go on forever and I can truly say

I have met my love today

I have met my love today

“Crazy Bone” and “Summer’s End” are collaborations with McLaughlin. “Crazy Bone” is a jog-along ballad that attempts to explain (or justify) erratic behavior. If any song on this album had potential as a single, this is the one:

If you like your apples sweet

And your streets are not concrete

You’ll be in your bed by nine every night

Take your hand spanked corn fed gal

And your best friend’s four-eyed pal

To a treat right down the street

That’s dynamite

 

Let your conscience be your guide

If you put your foot inside

You wish you left your well enough alone

 

When you got hell to pay

Put the truth on layaway

And blame it on that old

Crazy Bone

“Summer’s End” is a gentle, but somewhat generic ballad about a love that has wandered away. Dan Auerbach joins McLaughlin and Prine as co-writer on “Caravan of Fools,” a somewhat dramatic but depressing ballad that expresses emotions we all have felt at one time or another:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late at night you’ll see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the
Caravan of Fools

Like the wings of a dove
The waiter’s white glove
Seems to shimmer by the light of the pool
Some dull blinding winter
When you can’t help but lose
You’re running with the
Caravan of Fools

“Lonesome Friends of Science” is a solo effort by Prine, both in terms of the songwriting and performance (it sounds like Prine accompanying himself on guitar with little else on the track until halfway through the track). I’m not sure that sardonic describes the song, but there are some interesting turns to the song

Those bastards in their white lab coats

Who experiment with mountain goats

Should leave the universe alone

It’s not their business, not their home

I go to sleep and it never rains

My dog predicts hurricanes

She can smell a storm a mile away

That’s all the news we have today

Prine collaborated with Keith Sykes on “No Ordinary Blue”, a song that that sounds like something Paul Simon might have written had he been something other than a New Yorker.

Last night
Turned on the TV
Looked out the window
Then pulled down the shade
And I came to the conclusion
My mind cannot be made

I hear a hear a lot of empty spaces
I see a big hole in you
I feel an outline that traces
An imaginary path back to you
This ain’t no ordinary blue

Auerbach, McLaughlin & Prine team up on “Boundless Love”, a song that can only be described as folk. I really like this song and its positive message,

If by chance I should find myself at risk
A-falling from this jagged cliff
I look below, and I look above
I’m surrounded by your boundless love

Surround me with your boundless love
Confound me with your boundless love
I was drowning in the sea, lost as I could be
When you found me with your boundless love
You don’t found me with your boundless love
You surround me with your boundless love

“God Only Knows” was co-written with Phil Spector. Since Spector currently is incarcerated, I suspect that this song was written some years ago. This song features singer-songwriter Jason Isbell on guitar and Amanda Shires on fiddle, with both of them singing backup

God only knows the price that you pay
For the ones you hurt along the way
And if I should betray myself today
Then God only knows the price I pay

God only knows
God only knows

God only knows the way that I feel
Is only a part of the way I feel
If I can’t reveal the way that I feel
Then God only knows the way I feel

God only knows
God only knows

The album closes with the upbeat “When I Get To Heaven”, a song Prine wrote by himself. The song is basically a narration with a sung chorus with a honky-tonk salon piano leading the way:

When I get to Heaven
I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings
Then one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar
And start a Rock and Roll band
Check into a swell hotel
Ain’t the ‘Afterlife’ grand!

Chorus:

And then I’m gonna get a cocktail
Vodka and Ginger Ale
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette
That’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl
On the Tilt a Whirl
‘Cause this old man is going to town

I’ve never been a big John Prine fan except on his collaborative album with Mac Wiseman and the two duet albums with various female county stars because I did not like his voice. Recently I’ve gone back and revisited his catalog focusing on the lyrics and have gained a greater appreciation of his work and his talent.

While I would consider this to be essentially a folk album, I really liked it and would give it an A-

The History Behind ‘Fox On The Run’

While typically most country and bluegrass songs originate within the genre, occasionally a song arrives from other sources. Willie Nelson had a segment of his career in which he introduced a bunch of pop standards to country audiences.

Probably the most unusual song to enter the genre was “Fox On The Run”, written by an Englishman, Tony Hazzard and originally made a pop hit in England by an early version of the rock group Manfred Mann back in 1968. On at least one of the four British charts (three pop magazines, plus the BBC), the song reached #1 (it was at least top five on the other three pop charts) plus the song did well throughout much of the English speaking world reaching #1 in New Zealand, #7 in Australia and also went top ten in Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. It also reached #15 in Austria. In the US and Canada, the song barely cracked the top 100.

As recorded by Manfred Mann, the song sounds nothing like bluegrass, but as I listened to the song while living in England in 1969, I thought that the lyrics sounded like a country song, and was surprised to find that the songwriter was not an American. In fact, Tony Hazzard sang vocal harmonies on the Manfred Mann recording and had written several other songs that were hits for Manfred Mann.

Apparently, others heard the song as I did for by the time I arrived back in the US in the fall of 1971, the bluegrass duo of Bill Emerson & Cliff Waldron had already recorded their version, followed shortly thereafter by the County Gentlemen bluegrass group. Neither of these records received much airplay on country radio but the song was played on stations that played folk and/or bluegrass.

The song finally became familiar to country audiences when Tom T Hall released it as the single from Magnificent Music Machine, the album in which Tom ‘came out of the closet’ and revealed his undying love for bluegrass.”Fox On The Run” received much country airplay and reached #9 on Billboard’s country chart.

Below I’ve printed the lyrics as sung by Tony Hazzard, a fine singer in his own right. The lyrics that are underlined are sung by Tony but do not appear on any of the other recorded versions (as far as I know).

She walked through the corn leading down to the river,
Her hair shone like gold in the hot morning sun.
She took all the love that a poor man could give her
And left him to die like a fox on the run.

Now everybody knows the reason for The Fall,
When woman tempted man in Paradise’s hall.
This woman, she tempted me and she took me for a ride,
And, like the weary fox, I need a place to hide.

It was many years ago, but it feels like yesterday,
When she led me through the corn on that fateful summer day.
I saw the sunlight in her hair; I saw the promise in her eyes;
And I didn’t even care that her words of love were lies.

Come raise your glass of wine and fortify your soul;
We’ll talk about the world and the friends we used to know.
I’ll illustrate a girl who wandered through my past.
She didn’t care to stay; the picture cannot last.

Just read these lyrics and tell me that this is NOT a country or bluegrass song!

Album Review: Buck Owens – ‘The Complete Capitol Singles 1967-1970’

Stereo recording technology has been around since the early 1950s, although it came into general use in recording music albums around 1959. For the first decade or so thereafter, albums were issued in both stereophonic and monaural versions, with the stereo version costing about $1.00 more. By 1968 US record labels were no longer issuing separate versions, as turntables had begun featuring lighter “stereo-compatible” styluses and tone arms that could play stereo records in monaural without groove damage to the record.

Pop singles were another matter as 45 rpm records remained available only in monaural until the end of the 1960s when some labels began issuing 45 rpm in stereo. Why the delay in making singles available in stereo sound?

Well, as Buck Owens himself said:

“The reason my Capitol records sounded the way they did—real heavy on the treble—was because I knew most people were going to be listening to ’em on their AM car radios. At the time, nobody else was doing anything like that, but it just seemed like common sense to me. And it was one more reason that you knew it was a Buck Owens record as soon as it came on the radio—because it just didn’t sound like those other records…”

Buck was right – much of the music listening, done by youthful listeners, was done in automobiles over AM radios. AM – FM radios would not become standard equipment in automobiles until the mid-1970s. While FM radio existed during the 1960s, most FM stations played classical music.

Whether you are a fan of country, Motown or pop music as it was played and heard before 1970, you likely have complained that the music available on stereo albums doesn’t sound like it did on your car radio. This is true whether due to the way the mono and stereo was mixed, or the fact that many songs were recorded separately for release on stereo (Motown fans and fans of the Mama & Papas have been lamenting this for years),

With The Complete Capitol Singles (1967-1970) Omnivore has made available the Buck Owens mono singles for the first time in ages. Comprising the A&B sides of Buck’s singles, Omnivore has put together a two-disc set of 36 Buck Owens songs. Disc one is entirely monaural mixes but by the time most of the songs on disc two were issued, Capitol was issuing stereo 45 rpm singles.

Unlike jazz artists who often re-recorded their tracks for stereo release (June Christy’s Cool is a notable example), for the most part, country artists did not record separate stereo and mono tracks. The sound difference is in the mixing and the fact that sometimes certain instruments get lost in the monaural mix (usually the lower pitched instruments). In the case of Buck Owens, the treble is brighter and sometimes the steel guitar seems mixed more prominently up front.

As far as I can tell the only track which seems to have been modified significantly in the stereo version is “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone” which had some annoying clapping sounds and other overdubs applied. Also, the distortion guitar on “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” seems less pronounced than on the stereo albums, but I could be mistaken about that. There is one live track on the album “Johnny B. Goode” – my Dad and I were in the audience (it was his 44th birthday) and if you listen very carefully you might hear Dad and I applauding!

This is not quite Buck Owens at his peak (none of his very biggest hits are here) as Buck was beginning to be bumped off the mountaintop and was getting a bit more experimental in an effort to stay current. Also, Steel wizard Tom Brumley left the group in late 1968 to be replaced, briefly, by Jay Dee Maness. Maness was a fine steel player but his sound is very different than that of Tom Brumley

Especially noteworthy are “I’ve Got You On My Mind Again” which was the first Buck Owens single to feature strings and background voices, and “Tall Dark Stranger” which is unlike anything else Owens recorded.

The sound on this set is fabulous and I really enjoyed Disc One which transported me back to my teen-aged years listening to these songs on the radio. Disc Two documents Buck’s slow decline, and also gathers his duets with Susan Raye.

This isn’t where I would start my Buck Owens collection (Rhino’s fabulous box set from 1992, The Buck Owens Collection 1959-1990, is where I would start, although there are other good sets available, including a pair of two-disc sets by Omnivore Records in Buck ‘Em ! – Volume One and Buck ‘Em ! Volume Two) but this is a nice addition to any collection, collecting some otherwise unavailable material

Grade A      

DISC ONE

01 Sam’s Place

02 Don’t Ever Tell Me Goodbye

03 Your Tender Loving Care

04 What A Liar I Am

05 It Takes People Like You [To Make People Like Me]

06 You Left Her Lonely Too Long

07 How Long Will My Baby Be Gone

08 Everybody Needs Somebody

09 Sweet Rosie Jones

10 Happy Times Are Here Again

11 Let The World Keep On A Turnin’ (w/Buddy Alan)

12 I’ll Love You Forever And Ever (w/Buddy Alan)

13 I’ve Got You On My Mind Again

14 That’s All Right With Me [If It’s All Right With You]

15 Christmas Shopping

16 One Of Everything You Got

17 Things I Saw Happening At The Fountain On The Plaza

18 Turkish Holiday

DISC TWO

01 Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass

02 There’s Gotta Be Some Changes Made

03 Johnny B. Goode [Live 03-09-1969]

04 Maybe If I Close My Eyes [It’ll Go Away]

05 Tall Dark Stranger

06 Sing That Kind Of Song

07 Big In Vegas

08 White Satin Bed

09 We’re Gonna Get Together (with Susan Raye)

10 Everybody Needs Somebody (with Susan Raye)

11 Togetherness (with Susan Raye)

12 Fallin’ For You (with Susan Raye)

13 The Kansas City Song

14 I’d Love To Be Your Man

15 The Great White Horse (with Susan Raye)

16 Your Tender Loving Care (with Susan Raye)

17 I Wouldn’t Live In New York City

18 No Milk And Honey In Baltimore

All tracks on Disc 1, and Tracks 1–2 on Disc 2 are Mono Single Versions. After “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” all US singles for Buck were issued in stereo. Although British and German releases were still mostly monaural.

Classic Album Review: Roy Clark — ‘Roy Clark Live!’

Back in 2011, I wrote an article 25 GREATEST LIVE COUNTRY ALBUMS. In that article I had this album pegged as the ninth greatest album, an assessment I stand by today. At the time I said the following:

Roy Clark released a number of live albums over the years, but this one, released on Dot Records in 1972, is the one Roy Clark album. This album showcases Roy’s instrumental prowess and his innate sense of comedy – even when he’s not trying to be funny, Roy can be hilarious. The album is worth buying if only for the “Great Pretender medley” but there’s so much more to this album including his then-hit “The Lawrence Welk – Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka”, earlier hits such as “I Never Picked Cotton” and “Thank God and Greyhound” as well as some very flashy instrumentals plus his two biggest pop hits “Tips of My Fingers” and “Yesterday When I Was Young”. Parts of this album have been released on CD, but unfortunately, not the “Great Pretender medley”.    

Roy Clark is an all-around entertainer who became a superstar without being a big hit-maker on the charts. He had a few top ten hits scattered across a fifteen year period, but he was huge concert draw, a great instrumentalist, a frequent guest on many local and national television shows, and of course Hee Haw which he hosted for over twenty years. It is possible that for three decades Roy Clark was the most familiar face in country music.

This album is so much fun that I find myself pulling it out frequently (I digitized it about fifteen years ago so I could play it in my car – before that I had dubbed it to a cassette). The album was one of Roy’s more successful albums, reaching #4 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. While there was only one single issued from the album, local radio stations played several of the tracks from the album, especially the “Great Pretender” medley. The album was recorded at the Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas, so Clark is backed by a typical Vegas sage show orchestra. Fortunately, Clark is in the front and center of the sound mix.

The album opens with the introduction of Clark and Clark’s hyperkinetic guitar work (and vocals) on “Alabama Jubilee”. From here Clark moves into funky town with his take on Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City”.

“Thank God and Greyhound” was a top ten country single for Roy in 1970 and even crossed over onto the pop charts. The song starts off as a breakup ballad, but the chorus is a spirited up-temp kiss-off:

 I’ve made a small fortune and you squandered it all

You shamed me till I feel about one inch tall

But I thought I loved you and I hoped you would change

So I gritted my teeth and didn’t complain

 

Now you come to me with a simple goodbye

You tell me you’re leaving but you won’t tell me why

Now we’re here at the station and you’re getting on

And all I can think of is thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

 

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

I didn’t know how much longer I could go on

Watching you take the respect out of me

Watching you make a total wreck out of me

That big diesel motor is a-playing my song

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

 

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

That load on my mind got lighter when you got on

That shiny old bus is a beautiful sight

With the black smoke a-rolling up around the taillight

It may sound kind-a cruel but I’ve been silent too long

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

Roy closes out side one of the album with three instrumentals: “Under The Double Eagle” (guitar), “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” (banjo) and “Orange Blossom Special” (fiddle). I always felt that Roy could play anything with strings and he proves it here.

Side two opens with Roy’s biggest hit “Yesterday When I Was Young”. Released in 1969 and written by France’s legendary singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour, the song was both a country (#1 Cashbox & Record World, #9 Billboard) and pop hit (#19 USA – #7 Canada) and sold well over a million copies. While not released as a single in England, I heard the song many times on the BBC. For those who have never heard the song, I guess I would describe it as the ultimate self-recrimination ballad, easily one of the saddest and most intense songs I’ve ever heard:

Yesterday when I was young

The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue

I teased at life as if it were a foolish game

The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame

 

The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned

I always built, alas, on weak and shifting sand

I lived by night and shunned the naked light of day

And only now I see how the years ran away

Yesterday when I was young

Roy Clark always had a knack for finding humor everywhere so there will be little more seriousness from this point forward. “Green Green Grass of Home was a recent hit for Johnny Darrell and for Tom Jones. Roy gives it almost a straight treatment. After that, he launches into the “Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka about the actions of ABC and CBS in canceling the Lawrence Welk Show and Hee Haw despite excellent ratings (‘attracting the wrong demographic’). Both shows went into immediate syndication and were seen on more stations and larger audiences than they ever had been on the networks. This song was the only single released from the album and was a top ten hit As the chorus states “… they still play the polka in Milwaukee, still play the waltz in Tennessee…” – indeed they do!

They’re goin’ through a music revolution

The hippies say they’ll overcome us all

While they’re blowin’ smoke and air pollution

We’re hangin’ in with help from Geritol.

 

They’re rounding up the squares in California

They’re picking off our heroes in New York

But they’ll never take away our champagne music

As long as Lawrence Welk can pop his cork

 

And they still do the polka in Milwaukee

Still, do the waltz in Tennessee

Still pickin’ bluegrass in Kentucky

With old-fashioned country harmony

So give me some beer drinkin’ music

And play that double eagle march for me

For they still do the polka in Milwaukee

So let me hear that one ah two ah three

 

The big wheels at the network started spinnin’

The verdict was that Hee Haw had to go

Cause city slickers don’t believe in grinnin’

And who the hell needs jokes in Kokomo

 

So they canceled all the singin’ and the pickin’

But the stubborn little donkey wouldn’t leave

And that little fella’s still alive and kickin’

And Hee Haw is laughin’ up its sleeve = hee haw

 

And they still do the polka in Milwaukee

Still, do the waltz in Tennessee

Still pickin’ bluegrass in Kentucky

With old-fashioned country harmony

So give me some beer drinkin’ music

And let me hear that one or two or three

While we swing to that good old country music

For Hee Haw is good enough for me

Yes, Hee Haw is good enough for me

It is difficult to describe “The Great Pretender” medley. “The Great Pretender” was a huge hit (#1 Pop & R&B in 1955) for legendary 1950s R&B/Pop Vocal group the Platters   It starts off conventionally enough (sort of), with Roy doing all the vocal parts of all five of the Platters. As the song moves along, Clark starts kidding about, with most of the jokes being aimed at himself.

A couple of minutes into the track eleven minute track (and while near the end of the final verse) Roy launches into instrumental versions of “High Noon”, “Loch Lomond”, Turkey In The Straw”, “Lara’s Theme” (from the movie DR ZHIVAGO -a/k/a “Somewhere My Love”) and “Honky-Tonk” before returning to “The Great Pretender” – at the same point from which he had departed the song.

Roy had been sending up “The Great Pretender” for several years (without the medley interjections) prior to recording this album and you can check out the shorter version on YouTube

This album is hugely funny, with lots of interesting vocals, good musicianship, and lots of laughs. I wish I’d been there to see it – a definite A+ in my book.

Classic Album Review: Hank Locklin – ‘The Country Hall Of Fame’

Released in 1966 by RCA Records (my copy is a German pressing on RCA/Telefunken), Hank’s tribute takes a different approach from Wanda Jackson’s album from two years earlier, being centered around the 1967 hit single “The Country Hall of Fame”.

Largely forgotten today, Hank had a substantial career as a songwriter, performer, and occasional hitmaker, although he never was headquartered in Nashville, so he didn’t get as much promotional push from his label, and he never really maintained his own band. He was a huge favorite in England and Ireland making many trips there.

His biggest copyright as a songwriter, “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On”, was a top five county hit for Hank in 1957 (it had been a regional hit for him in the late 1940s on another label ) and earned him a boatload of money by being frequently covered by other artists such as Dean Martin and Johnny Tillotson both had top five easy listening/top twenty pop hits with the song. Tillotson’s recording also became a top ten or top twenty pop hit in a number of European countries.

As a singer, Locklin was a wobbly Irish tenor whose voice wasn’t a perfect match for every song, but when the right song reached him, he could deliver some really big hits. “Let Me Be The One” spent three weeks at #1 in 1953, and “Please Help Me I’m Falling” spent fourteen weeks at #1 in 1960. Hank had ten top ten hits through spring 1962, but after that Arnold, even the top twenty became nearly impossible for him, until the title song to this album.

When the earlier Wanda Jackson album was released the Country Music Hall of Fame was comprised of the following performers: Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff, Tex Ritter and Ernest Tubb. By the time Hank’s album arrived there had been multiple inductions (in 1966 and 1967), but of the eight new inductees, four were non-performers. The newly inducted performers were “Uncle” Dave Macon, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold and Red Foley.

In selecting songs for this album, Hank and his producers Chet Atkins and Felton Jarvis selected songs by persons either in the Country Hall of Fame or assumed to be inducted in the upcoming years.

The album opens up with “High Noon”, a hit for Frankie Laine, but forever associated with Tex Ritter, who sang the song in the famous movie starring Gary Cooper. Hank’s voice is pitched much higher than that of Ritter, but the song, taken at a slightly faster tempo than Ritter’s version, works. The song has a straightforward country backing with a vocal chorus.

Do not forsake me oh my darling on this our wedding day
Do not forsake me oh my darling, wait wait along
I do not know what fate awaits me, I only know I must be brave
And I must face the man who hates me
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave

Next up is “Four Walls”, a million seller for the then-recently departed Jim Reeves in 1957.

Track three is the title song, Hank’s last Billboard top thirty country hit, reaching #8. In concept, the song, written by Karl Davis is somewhat similar to an Eddie Dean composition, “I Dreamed of Hillbilly Heaven”, which Tex Ritter took to #5 in 1961, although “Hillbilly Heaven” is a dream sequence song about a mythical place, whereas Karl Davis was inspired by his visit to the actual Country Hall of Fame museum. This song features a full string arrangement by Bill Walker. Although the only song on this album to feature the full string arrangement, such arrangements would become increasingly common in the next few years:

I was roaming round in Nashville in the state of Tennessee
For I love that country music, it’s as soulful as can be
I have gathered there the records for I cherished every name
So I found myself a standing in the Country Hall of Fame

My heart beat somewhat faster as I walked in through the door
For I heard the sound of voices I had often heard before
A happy kind of sadness brought a teardrop to my eye
Now I’ll tell you what I saw there and I’m sure that you’ll see why

Jimmie Rodgers’ railroad lantern and his faithful old guitar
I could hear that old blue yodel coming from somewhere afar
Roy Acuff in bronze likeness with the great Fred Rose his friend
And I heard that Wabash Cannonball somewhere around the bend

The guitar of Eddy Arnold memories of Cattle Call
Chet Atkins will be with him when the work’s all done this fall
From the autoharp of Maybelle, Wildwood Flower seems to ring
Riley Puckett and Gid Tanner how they all could pick and sing

I could hear George Hay announcin’ as I stood there in the room
I could hear Tex Ritter singing his classic song High Noon
Minnie Pearl so glad to be there and Hank Snow keeps Movin’ On
May the Lord bless those still living and the ones who’s joined his throne

Cowboy Copas, Hankshaw Hawkins, Gentleman Jim and Patsy Cline
Rod Bradsfield, Ira Louvin, these stars will always shine
Ernest Tubb, the great Red Foley and Hank Williams bless his name
Though some are gone they’ll live forever in the Country Hall of Fame

“I’ll Hold You In My Heart (Until I Can Hold You In My Arms)” was a massive hit for Arnold, spending 21 weeks at #1 in 1947/1948. Hank acquits himself well on this song as he does on the next track, Ernest Tubb’s 1941 hit “Walking The Floor Over You”.

Side One closes out with Hank’s cover of the “Lovesick Blues”, written by Tin Pan Alley songsmiths Cliff Friend and Irving Mills back in 1922. Emmet Miller (1928) and Rex Griffin (1939) recorded the song, but Hank Williams had the biggest hit with the song in 1949. Countless others, including Patsy Cline, have recorded the song. To really do the song justice, a singer needs to be a good yodeler, and here Locklin yodels the chorus with ease.

Side Two opens up with a mid-tempo take on Roy Acuff’s “Night Train To Memphis” with a modern arrangement (no dobro, banjo or fiddles), but with a bit of the old tent revival show feeling to it.

This is followed by “Sign Sealed and Delivered”, a hit for Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas in 1948). I think the assumption was that Copas would be elected to the Country Hall of Fame eventually, although that has yet to happen. Of the three stars who died in the 1963 plane crash (Copas, Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins) Copas was the most famous at the time of his death.

“No One Will Ever Know” was written by Fred Rose, inducted as an executive and songwriter. The biggest hit on the song was by Gene Watson, #11 RW in 1980, although many others have recorded the song, including Hank Williams and Jimmie Dickens. Hank Locklin takes the song at a slow tempo with guitar and piano dominating the arrangement. The vocal choruses are present but not misused. It is a great song and I don’t know why no one has ever had a monster hit with the song

No one will ever know my heart is breaking
Although a million teardrops start to flow
I’ll cry myself to sleep and wake up smiling
I’ll miss you but no one will ever know

I’ll tell them we grew tired of each other
And realized our dreams could never be
I’ll even make believe I never loved you
Then no one will ever know the truth but me

The Jimmie Rodgers classic brag “Blue Yodel #1 a/k/a ‘T’ for Texas” gives Hank a chance to again show off his skill as a yodeler. On this album, Hank one uses the “blue yodel” technique but he was quite capable of doing the “rolling” (or Swiss) technique such as used by Elton Britt, Kenny Roberts and Margo Smith

The album closes with the classic Louvin Brothers hit “When I Stop Dreaming” which finds Locklin at the top of his vocal range, and a nice cover of the Red Foley gospel favorite “Peace In The Valley”.

As was customary for albums of this vintage no musician credits are given, although PragueFrank’s website suggests that the following were present :

Pete Wade, Wayne Moss, Jerry Reed Hubbard and Ray Edenton – guitars
Roy M. “Junior” Huskey, Jr. – bass / Jerry Kerrigan – drums
Hargus “Pig” Robbins and Floyd Cramer – piano / The Jordanaires – background vocals

I know that Hank Locklin’s voice is not to everyone’s taste but I think most listeners would enjoy this album because of the variety and quality of the songs. Interestingly enough, there is no overlap in songs between this album and Wanda Jackson’s earlier tribute album. I would give this album a B+

Classic Album Review: Wanda Jackson ‘Salutes The Country Music Hall Of Fame’

Released in 1966 by Capitol Records (my copy is a British pressing on Capitol / EMI), Wanda’s album may be the first album to expressly salute the recently established Country Music Hall of Fame. At the time the album was recorded only six persons had been inducted into the County Music Hall of Fame:

1961 – Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose
1962 – Roy Acuff
1964 – Tex Ritter
1965 – Ernest Tubb

Of the six above, Fred Rose was a publisher & songwriter but not a performer. The other five would today be described as very traditional performers, so this album gave Wanda, more commonly regarded as a rockabilly or rock ‘n roll performer (she is in both the Rockabilly and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) a chance to display her credentials as a country performer. Reaching #12 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, this album would prove to be Wanda’s second highest charting album.

While no singles were released from this album, I frequently heard tracks from the album played on the various county stations around the southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina. This at a time that when Billboard did not chart album tracks.

Produced by Ken Nelson, no musician credits are given but I suspect that members of Buck Owen’s Buckaroos and Merle Haggard’s Strangers are in the mix somewhere.

The album opens up with the Hank Williams classic “Jambalaya” taken at mid-tempo. The song has a standard 1960s country arrangement with steel guitar and piano feature in the arrangement and the lyrics clearly enunciated.

Next up is one of my favorite Ernest Tubb songs “Try Me One More Time”. This was Ernest’s first chart entry when Billboard started its County Charts in 1944. The song was a crossover pop hit. This song is taken at a medium slow tempo that could be described as plodding, but which fits the song perfectly.

Yes I know I’ve been untrue
And I have hurt you through and through
Please have a mercy on this heart of mine
Take me back and try me one more time

If my darling you could see
Just what your leaving done to me
You’d know that love is still a tie that binds
And take me back and try me one more time

In my dreams I see your face
But it seems there’s someone in my place
Oh does she know you were once just mine
Take me back and try me one more time

“There’s A New Moon Over My Shoulder” was a huge hit for cowboy actor Tex Ritter in 1944. Again, this is a slow ballad.

Wanda enters another dimension with her cover of the 1929 Jimmie Rodgers tune “Blue Yodel #6” with its bluesy arrangement (nearly acoustic) and, of course, Jimmie Rodgers style blue yodel

He left me this morning, midnight was turning day
He left me this morning, midnight was turning day
I didn’t have no blues till my good man went away

Got the blues like midnight, moon shining bright as day
Got the blues like midnight, moon shining bright as day
I wish a tornado would come and blow my blues away

Now one of these mornings, I’m gonna leave this town
Yeah one of these mornings, I’m gonna leave this town
‘Cause you trifling men really keep a good gal down

When a woman’s down, you men don’t want her round
When a woman’s down, you men don’t want her round
But if she’s got money, she’s the sweetest gal in town

“Fireball Mail” was a beloved and oft-covered Roy Acuff song with writer credits to Floyd Jenkins, an alias of Fred Rose. This song is taken at a medium fast tempo with modern 1960s instrumentation (no dobro, fiddle or banjo).

Here she comes, look at her roll, there she goes eatin’ that coal
Watch her fly huggin’ the rails, let her by by by the fireball mail
Let her go look at her steam, hear her blow, whistle and scream
Like a hound waggin’ his tail Dallas bound bound bound, the fireball mail

Engineer makin’ up time, tracks are clear, look at her climb
See that freight clearin’ the rail, bet she’s late late late, the fireball mail
Watch her swerve, look at her sway, get that curve out of the way
Watch her fly, look at her sail, let her by by by the fireball mail
Let her by by by the fireball mail, let her by by by the fireball mail

Side one of the album closes out with another Ernest Tubb classic “Let’s Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello”, a 1948 hit for the redoubtable Tubb. The arrangement on this track plays direct tribute to Tubb retaining the three note guitar signature featured on nearly all of Ernest’s recordings. The song is taken at a medium slow tempo.

Side two opens up with “Jealous Heart” a 1944 ballad for Tex Ritter that reached #2 and was a top twenty pop hit. Wanda takes the song at a slightly faster tempo than did Tex (she also lacks Tex’s drawl).

Jealous heart, oh jealous heart, stop beating, can’t you see the damage you have done
You have driven him away forever jealous heart, now I’m the lonely one
I was part of everything he planned for and I know he loved me from the start
Now he hates the sight of all I stand for all because of you, oh jealous heart

Jealous heart, why did I let you rule me when I knew the end would bring me pain
Now he’s gone, he’s gone and found another, oh I’ll never see my love again
Through the years his memory will haunt me even though we’re many miles apart
It’s so hard to know he’ll never want me cause he heard your beating, jealous heart

Next up is “Great Speckled Bird”, a Roy Acuff classic from the 1930s. One of the all-time favorite religious songs of country audiences Wanda does a creditable job with the song but Roy Acuff she’s not.

“The Soldier’s Last Letter” was a huge Ernest Tubb hit from 1944 reaching #1 for four weeks. According to Billboard this was Ernest’s biggest chart hit (there were no country charts in 1941 when “I’m Walking The Floor Over You” was released, as one that was a big pop hit and sold (according to various sources) over a million copies. Merle Haggard would revive the song as a single taking it to #1 on Record World in 1971.

I think everyone has heard “The Wabash Cannonball” a song credited to A.P. Carter and popularized by Roy Acuff. Taken at a medium-fast tempo, and using a standard arrangement Wanda does a nice job with the song.

The final track is my favorite on the album, Jimmie Rodgers’ “Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues”, one of Jimmie’s lesser known songs. Wanda opens the song with a rolling yodel and gets to demonstrate her yodeling skills on this song.

I’m always blue, feeling so blue, I wish I had someone I knew
Just to help me tuck away my blues, lonesome blues
Won’t you be that someone to help me lose the blues
I really need someone to love me, someone to kiss
Someone to scold me, someone to miss
Won’t you be that someone to help me lose the blues
I really need someone to love me.

None of these songs are taken at a really fast tempo, so the entire album gives Wanda to demonstrate her skill as a balladeer. This is my favorite Wanda Jackson album and I’m grateful that I got to see her on several Capitol package programs where she focused on country songs and stayed away from the rockabilly stuff.

I am not sure why Wanda’s career as a country artist never really caught fire – she had a good clear voice with character and personality, she could yodel and she could tackle anything. I think she took off some years in mid-career to raise a family, and perhaps she never got the push from Capital that she deserved. Regardless, she was a fine singer – I’d give this album an “A”.

Album Review: Many Barnett – ‘Mandy Barnett’

When Asylum Records released Mandy Barnett’s eponymous album Mandy Barnett in 1996, I hoped I was hearing the first in a long string of albums for this excellent vocalist. Mandy was not unknown to me, having made television appearances in conjunction with her role in the play Always … Patsy Cline, starting around 1994 or 1995. Unfortunately, the market shifted away from anything resembling real country music so while Mandy remains active, her solo recordings remain few and far between.

Mandy Barnett would prove to be Mandy’s only successful chart album in terms of singles, but the contents were strong, the voice is terrific and her artistic integrity has been maintained through the years. The album would reach #60 on the country charts (it reached #28 on the Canadian country charts)

The album opens with “Planet of Love”, a song written by the much underappreciated Jim Lauderdale. The song was never a big hit for anyone, but it has been recorded quite a few times. Mandy’s bluesy take reveals a song that Patsy Cline could have done as well as, but not better than, Mandy herself.

 I’ve found a new planet that only I can see

Just came back to get you let’s leave this misery

Nothing can reach us so far from harm’s way

Only sunshine and rainbows every day

We’ve got to get back there hurry up and get your things

The countdown has started go ahead try on these wings

Don’t need no spaceship for what I’m thinking of

Didn’t I tell you that I’d take you to the planet of love

I should mention that this album was produced by Bill Schnee and Kyle Lehing, but clearly,  both understood what Owen Bradley accomplished with Patsy Cline and at times have created an updated version of that sound.

Next up is “Maybe”, a then-contemporary song aimed at getting Mandy some radio airplay. The son was the second single and peaked at #65. Written by Lauderdale, Rodney Crowell, and John Leventhal, the song should have been a hit but perhaps it was too similar to some other songs currently floating about at the time (I could mentally hear Patty Loveless doing this song)

I know how the story ends where everything works out

I get the feelin’ once again that I can’t shake your doubt

Instead of hidin’ from romance

You’re gonna have to take a chance

 

Baby, don’t say Maybe

There’ll be no comin’ back tomorrow, Baby

“Rainy Days” is a gentle ballad sung to perfection. The song, written by Kostas and Pamela Brown Hayes,   is filler but of a high grade.

“Three Days”, from the pen of Willie Nelson, is also filler. The song was a top ten hit for the great Faron Young back in 1962, and k.d. lang took it to #9 on the Canadian country charts in 1990. This is one of my favorite Willie compositions, and while Mandy does an excellent job with the song, the song seems a little more believable from the male perspective. I love the endless time loop perspective of the song – if this isn’t the definition of depression, I don’t know what would qualify

Three days I dread to see arrive

Three days I hate to be alive

Three days filled with tears and sorrow

Yesterday today and tomorrow

 

There are three days I know that I’ll be blue

Three days that I’ll always dream of you

And it does no good to wish these days would end

‘Cause the same three days start over again

“Baby Don’t You Know” was written by Jamie O’Hara has that traditional vibe, accentuated by the walking bass line and I think that I would have tried this as a single as this is just an excellent track. The song has a great sing-along chorus

Baby don’t you know I still love you

Baby don’t you know I still miss you

Baby don’t you know you’re breaking my heart

Oh, oh, oh

Baby don’t you know I still want you

Baby don’t you know I still need you

Baby don’t you know you’re tearing me apart

Kostas and Tony Perez penned “Now That’s All Right with Me”, the first and most successful single released on from the album. This is a very then-contemporary sounding song with late 90s-early 00s country instrumentation including some steel guitar in the background. The song peaked at #43. I don’t recall the song getting much of a promotional push but perhaps my memory is wrong. I only heard the song a few times on the radio.

Karen Brooks and Randy Sharp wrote “A Simple I Love You”, the last and least successful single released from the album. Mandy sings it well, but the song itself is a rather bland string-laden ballad, the only track on the album to heavily feature strings. The song died at #72.

Two more Kostas songs follow, “I’ll Just Pretend” and “What’s Good For You” (with Kelly Willis as co-writer). The former is a gentle and wistful medium slow ballad; the latter is a bit more up-tempo and a bit more of a downer. Both are excellent songs and well sung.

“Wayfaring Stranger” is one of the great folk/gospel classics, that first appeared in the early to mid-1800s. I’ve heard many versions of the song with many and varied verses. Below is a “standard” version of the lyrics (insofar as any version can be called standard) that is pretty similar to Mandy’s version. This song features very sparse instrumentation

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger

Traveling through a world of woe

But there’s no sickness, toil or danger

In that fair land to which I go

 

I’m going there to see my father

I’m going there no more to roam

I am just going over Jordan

I am just going over home

 

I know dark clouds will gather round me

I know my way is rough and steep

But beautiful fields lie just before me

Where God’s redeemed their vigils keep

 

I’m going home to see my mother

She said she’d meet me when I come

I’m only going over Jordan

I’m only going over home

I’m just a going over home

It is clear that the producers of this album were trying for radio success with this album. The singles are all good – worth about a B+ but the tracks where the producers let Mandy follow her own inclinations are excellent – an easy A+. I would give this album an A and I still pull it out occasionally and listen to it.

The album is available as a digital download. If you want an actual CD, a later Warner Brothers release titled Many Barnett: The Platinum Collection contains nine of the ten songs on this album and eleven of the twelve songs on her second album I’ve Got A Right To Cry.

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘Last Man Standing’

While Willie Nelson isn’t the last of the great country music stars of the 1950s and 1960s (Roy Clark, Jan Howard, Stonewall Jackson, Connie Smith, Charley Pride and Bill Anderson are still around), the title still seems appropriate as Willie is one of the few still active, albeit less active than previously.

Last Man Standing is the 2018 release for Willie, containing original songs co-written by Willie with the album’s producer Buddy Cannon. Most of these songs were penned shortly after the release of last year’s Nelson release God’s Problem Child.

The album opens up with the title track, a song which poses the dilemma faced by the aging – we want to keep living but there are times when it seems that all of our friends are disappearing. This is a great song that country radio won’t play but which can be heard on Sirius XM and other sources.

I don’t wanna be the last man standing

Or wait a minute maybe I do

If you don’t mind I’ll start a new line

And decide after thinking it through

Go on in front if you’re in such a hurry

Like heaven ain’t waiting for you

I don’t wanna be the last man standing

On second thought maybe I do

 

It’s getting hard to watch my pals check out

Cuts like a wore out knife

One thing I learned about running the road

Is forever don’t apply to life

Waylon and Ray and Merle and old Harlan

Lived just as fast as me

I still got a lotta good friends left

And I wonder who the next will be

The next track is “Don’t Tell Noah”, a funky number somewhat difficult to characterize, but which reminds somewhat of the sort of lyrics that Mose Allison penned. This is not a religiously themed song.

I suppose all of us have been plagued with “Bad Breath” at one time or another, but as Willie notes “bad breath is better than no breath at all”. This song features the harmonica playing of Mickey Raphael. This song is about more of the problems associated with aging.

“Me and You” reflects the state of affairs that I think everyone experiences at one time or another. For most of us, after all it really comes down to one trusted companion.

Turn the sound down on my TV

I just can’t listen anymore

It’s like I’m in some foreign country

That I’ve never seen before

 

So come now here to think about it

What in the hell are we goin to do?

after all is said and all is done

It’s just me and you

 

It’s just me and you

And we are definitely outnumbered

There’s more of them than us

Just when you think you made a new friend

They throw you under the bus

So it’s just me and you

It’s just me and you

Willie slows down the tempo for the contemplative “Something You Get Through”. This song deals with the emotional effects of loss. Mike Johnson plays some lovely steel guitar on this track.

“Ready To Roar” kicks up the tempo for this western-swing flavored track. We’ve all been there – “It’s Friday and we’re ready to roar”.

“Heaven Is Closed” is Willie’s take on reasons to keep living after his girl has left him. It’s an odd perspective but rather appropriate anyway.

Heaven is closed and hell’s overcrowded

So I think I’ll just stay where I am

So many people, well it sure is lonely

But who even gives a damn?

I hear someone callin’, “Come in from the craziness”

But there ain’t nobody around

Heaven is closed and hell’s overcrowded

So I think I’ll just stay where I am

 

Heaven left for California on a midnight plane

Hell stayed behind so I wouldn’t be lonely

For reasons that’s hard to explain

Could it be hell is heaven and that heaven is hell

And each one are both the same thing?

Well I hope heaven finds what she’s lookin’ for

And that hell treats us both just the same

“I Ain’t Got No Nothin’ “ is a rollicking mid-tempo honky-tonk ballad that might as easily been played by Fats Domino, Bob Wills, or Amos Milburn with only slight changes of instrumentation.

  I got a dog, I got a cat

An I-phone and a hip-hop hat

But I ain’t got nothin’ ’cause you ain’t here with me

 

I got house, I got a barn

A big truck and a red Jaguar

But I ain’t got nothin’ ’cause you ain’t here with me

Willie remains in this mid-tempo honky-tonk mode with “She Made My Life” then shifts gears with “I’ll Try To Do Better Next Time”, a somewhat religiously themed slow song about trying to keep to the God’s path.

“Very Far To Crawl” closes out the album, a song about the end of a relationship and the desperation of someone looking to rekindle it. The instrumentation is very bluesy and I can see this song being picked up by blues performers, should they chance to hear the song.

 I knew that you had hurt me bad

The brokest heart I ever had

And I’m still right where you let me fall

So I don’t have very far to crawl

 

You kicked me right in the heart, babe

I shouldn’t even be here at all

Tryin’ hard to get back to you

I don’t have very far to crawl

In recent years Willie would release three or four albums per year and while those days are probably gone, what we have here is an excellent album, which found Willie (mostly) good voice, accompanied by a group of musicians who truly understand what Willie is all about

I would give the album as described above an A- ; however, the version of the album I have was purchased at the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain and contains three bonus cuts that add value to the album:

The Front Row – another Nelson & Cannon collaboration that I love

Who’ll Buy My Memories – a piano and acoustic guitar remake of an older Nelson tune

Summer of Roses / December Day – also piano and acoustic guitar, originally Willie’s RCA years

Album Review: Don Gibson – ‘The Best Of The Hickory Records Years (1970–1978)’

If he had written only “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, “Oh Lonesome Me” and “Sweet Dreams”, Don Gibson would be worth remembering. As it was Don had a successful career with RCA during the 1950s and 1960 that saw him run off a long string of successful singles (17 top ten singles) and albums. After 1966, however, the hits began to taper off, for various reasons that I won’t discuss here. A long-time writer for Acuff-Rose, Gibson signed with the Acuff-Rose subsidiary Hickory Records in 1970, and that’s where this story begins:

Up until now, Don Gibson had been very poorly served during the digital era. There have been various CD releases but most of them have featured a few of Don’s Hickory singles plus remakes of Don’s RCA hits. While this isn’t exactly surprising, since Don’s RCA hits are a Hall of Fame catalog in themselves, the fact remains that the RCA originals have been widely available whereas the Hickory hits have been quite scarce.

Don had twenty-nine solo country chart hits on Hickory, many of them unavailable until now. This new collection contains the biggest twenty of Don’s charting Hickory singles, plus five key album tracks.

Is this an adequate collection?

Well, not really since many, including myself, like some of the Hickory remakes better than the RCA originals. The original RCA recordings were sometimes saddled with dense “Nashville Sound” production; whereas the production on these recordings is more mainstream country, with fiddle and steel guitar being much more prominent than in the later RCA recordings.

During Don’s later years, as the genre shifted toward outlaw and urban cowboy, Don released some very good singles that did not chart as highly as earlier endeavors, and remain unavailable to this day. I would have preferred a two-disc collection capturing all charted singles, the RCA remakes, at least a few of the Don Gibson-Sue Thompson duets (none of them huge hits although nine of them charted) and maybe a dozen key album cuts. For maximum bang for the buck, I would suggest buying this album first and then getting the Varese collection 20 Greatest Songs, or perhaps the Curb 18 Greatest Hits.

Still, what is here is excellent in every sense of the word, excellent production, excellent songs and a very idiosyncratic song stylist still at the peak of his powers. During the Hickory years, Don wrote less of his own material but proved to have a good ear for picking songs. What follows is the track list for this album. You might note that “Far Far Away” charted for Don on RCA and on Hickory, and that several of the songs (“Snap Your Fingers”, “The Fool”, “Starting All Over Again” and “Any Day Now”) were remakes of old pop or R&B hits; given a very distinctive Don Gibson spin.

Track Listing (BB = Billboard / RW = Record World):

  1. Games People Play (album track) – written by Joe South
  2. Don’t Take All Your Loving (#17 BB / #10 RW)
  3. Pretending Everyday (album track)
  4. A Perfect Mountain (#16 BB / #10 RW)
  5. Guess Away The Blues (#19 BB / #15 RW)
  6. Having Second Thoughts (album track)
  7. (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle (#29 BB / #25 RW)
  8. Country Green (#5 BB & RW) – written by Eddy Raven
  9. Far Far Away (#12 BB & RW)
  10. Woman [Sensuous Woman] (#1 BB & RW)
  11. Is This The Best I’m Gonna Feel (#11 BB & RW)
  12. If You’re Goin’ Girl (#26 BB / #22 RW)
  13. Touch The Morning (#6 BB / #5 RW)
  14. Snap Your Fingers (#12 BB / #13 RW)
  15. One Day At A Time (#8 BB / #5 RW)
  16. Bring Back Your Love To Me (#9 / #10 RW)
  17. I’ll Sing For You (#27 BB / #22 RW)
  18. [There She Goes] I Wish Her Well (#24 BB & RW)
  19. What’s Happened To Me (album track)
  20. Praying Hands (album track)
  21. I’m All Wrapped Up In You (#23 BB / #27 RW)
  22. If You Ever Get To Houston [Look Me Down] (#16 BB / #18 RW)
  23. Starting All Over Again (#16 BB / #14 RW)
  24. The Fool (#22 BB / #24 RW)
  25. Any Day Now (#26 BB & RW)

I would give this collection an A+ with the caveat that you really need to pick up one of the earlier collections of Hickory recordings to get the full impact of Don’s tenure with the Hickory label. Noted music journalist Craig Shelburne penned the very informative liners.

Album Review: Linda Davis – ‘In A Different Light’

Released on Capitol-Nashville in February 1991, In A Different Light was Linda’s first major label album. Released nearly a decade after her moderately successful duets with Skip Eaton as “Skip & Linda”, this album was Linda’s first opportunity to shine as a solo act.

As it happened, the album itself failed to chart and none of the three singles released from the album make much of an impact on the country charts.

By my lights, this is not at all a country album. I think it should have been marketed to the easy listening/middle of the road. Don’t get me wrong, Linda Davis is a fine singer but the singles from this album received virtually no airplay on county stations around Central Florida.

The album opens with “In A Different Light,” an overwrought ballad from the pens of Ed Hill and Jonathan Yudkin. This song was released as the first single and died at #61.

Next up is “Some Kind of Woman” by Annette Cotter and David Leonard. This song was released as the second single from the album, and died only reached #68. I think this gritty up-tempo ballad was the best track on the album – similar to something Brooks & Dunn might have released, but I suspect that country radio was so disgusted with the previous single, that they simply did not give this song a chance

 Well, I guess you’re showing me a thing or two

Loving with a vengeance every night with someone new

And I got this funny feeling, it’s for my benefit

So I’m gonna take it as a kind of compliment

 

Oh, I must be some kinda woman

Look how many women you seem to need

To take the place of one good one

And give you what you had when you had me

Oh, I sure must be some kinda woman

 

Since you need a different girl each night

There must not be a one of them, knows how to do you right

So add them little numbers, try and equal me

Meanwhile I’ll just take it as a form of flattery

Next up is “Three Way Tie” (written by Mary Beth Anderson, Lisa Silver, and Carol Grace Anderson) was the third single released. Another overwrought ballad, this song failed to chart, and frankly, it sounds like something any cocktail lounge singer might tackle.

None of the remaining tracks were released as singles:

“From Him to Here” (Mark D. Sanders, Verlon Thompson) is a pretty good mid-tempo song, that actually sounds like a country song. I think this would have made a decent single

“If Your Greener Grass Turns Blue” (Cindy Greene, Marsha Spears) has a bit of that country cocktail lounge feel to the mid-tempo instrumentation but it is a decent song, that Linda sings well. This would have made a decent single.I had never even been outside the county line

Unless you count the million times I left inside my mind

In my day dreams, I could see

The way the luck would shine on me

When I finally found the wings to fly

As my mama helped me pack my suitcase

She said you know I love you and I’ll say it once more anyway

 

So you’ll know what to do if your greener grass turns blue

If your sunny sky turns gray

Sometimes you gotta run

To see just what you’re running from

Here at home there’ll always be place for you

If your greener grass turns blue

“There’s a Problem at the Office” (Annette Cotter, Kim Tribble) is a bland ballad …

He calls to tell me he’ll be late again

There’s a problem at the office

So don’t wait up for him

And I guess I shouldn’t worry but I do

Cause a woman senses changes

Her man is going through

 

He’s changed the way he’s worn his hair for years

And bought some shirts in colors

I’ve never seen him wear

And when we touch that old time feeling’s gone

There’s a problem at the office

And it’s hitting close to home

… whereas “Knowin’ We’ll Never Know” (Jim Rushing, James Dean Hicks) is a nice ballad of what might have been

What if we’d stayed together
What if we’d really tried
Would we still be in Tennessee
Would I have been your bride
Would we be blessed with children
Lovingly watching them grow
Oh the hardest part of seeing you now
Is knowing we’ll never know

We’ll never know
How much we missed
By not taking love all the way
If we held on just a little bit longer
Where would we be today

“White Collar Man” (Vernon Rust) is a slow semi-acoustic ballad, nicely sung about a husband who places all of his priorities on work and none on family.

“The Crash of 29” (Ron Moore, Billy Henderson) has a very folksy sound to it. The crash of 29 has nothing to do with the great Wall Street Crash of 1929, but rather the self-realization that time is marching on and she is getting bored. This a pretty good album track

“If I Could Only Be Like You” (Kendall Franceschi, Quentin Powers, Reba McEntire) is a slow piano ballad, nicely sung, but ultimately not very interesting.

Linda’s vocals on this album are very reminiscent of Reba McEntire, only not quite as powerful as Reba’s vocals – sort of a Reba-lite. I know Linda Davis can actually sing country music and do it well as I have heard her do it. I don’t dislike this album, but I am not very charged up about it. I regard two of the three singles released as mistakes, with several of the album tracks being more single-worthy.

This album has keyboards, synthesizers and, cello, but no fiddle, steel guitar, mandolin, banjo or anything else to lead you to think of this as a country album.

Grade: C+         

Album Review: Jann Browne – ‘Tell Me Why’

Released in February 1990, Tell Me Why was Jann’s first album as a solo artist after a decade of paying her dues working the taverns and serving a stint with Asleep At The Wheel. As it happens, Tell Me Why would prove to be Jann’s moist successful album, reaching #46 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, and producing her two most successful singles.

The title track was the second single released on the album reaching #18. The song was written by Gail Davies and “Handsome Harry” Stinson and is a song of doubt with sparkling guitar by some fellow named James Burton.

The next track “Ain’t No Train” was co-written by Jann along with Pat Gallagher. I guess you could call it an up-tempo rocker. Albert Lee plays the lead guitar on this track.

“Til A Tear Becomes A Rose” was written by the husband and wife team of Bill & Sharon Foster. I like Jann’s version, but it would become better known as a duet by Keith Whitley and Lorrie Morgan. James Burton and Byron Berlin are featured in the arrangement. This song could be described as a slight twist on the theme of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man”

“Louisville” is a mid-tempo shuffle written by Jann along with Pat Gallagher. My understanding is that it was featured in the film Pow Wow Highway, but I’ve not seen the film. This song was the forth single released from the album, but it only reached #75.

“Mexican Wind” was the third album single released from the album. The song is yet another Browne-Gallagher collaboration. The song failed to chart, although it is a very nice ballad about heartache and unrequited love. Emmylou Harris provides some lovely harmonies on this song.

Paul Kennerley wrote the harshly pragmatic “Losing You”, a song about a woman coming to terms with a man soon to be gone.

“You Ain’t Down Home” was the first single from the album, reaching #19. Written by Jamie O’Hara, it was one of the first of his songs (perhaps even the first of his songs) to chart. Although not Jann’s biggest hit, it is the best remembered as country cover bands featured the song for over a decade after its release.

You know all the right people
You wear all the right clothes
You got a snappy little sports car all your own
You got the cool conversation on your high tech telephone
But you got one little problem, baby
You ain’t down him

You ain’t down home where the people got their feet on the ground
Down home where there’s plenty of love to go ’round
You got the cool conversation on your high tech telephone
But you got one little problem, baby
You ain’t down home
You got a brand new Jacuzzi
All your credit cards are gold
There ain’t a high class place in town where you ain’t known
You make it all look impressive, yeah you put on quite a show
But you got one little problem, baby
You ain’t down home
You make it all look so impressive, yeah when you’re showin’ all your dough
But you got one little problem, baby
You ain’t down home

Jann reaches deep into the Harlan Howard song bag for “The One You Slip Around With”, a song that Harlan wrote with his then-wife Jan Howard. This song would prove to be Jan Howard’s first major hit in 1959. Jann gives the song the western swing treatment.

The “Queen of Rockabilly”, Wanda Jackson, joins Jann on “I Forgot More (Than You’ll Ever Know) . Written by Cecil Null, the song was a #1 hit for the ill-fated Davis Sisters (a car crash took the life of Betty Jack Davis while the song was still on the charts; Skeeter Davis eventually resumed her career after recovering from her injuries.

Members of “New Grass Revival” join Jann on “Lovebird”, a gentle mid-tempo ballad in which Jann pines for the love of a man who has left her. Iris DeMent provided the high harmonies on this song.

I like Jann Browne a lot, although she is not possessed of the best voice. Her musical tastes and sensitivities make up for much of the missing power in her voice, that plus her ability to select accompanying musicians make all of her recording worthwhile.

This is not her best album (her later Buck Owens tribute deserves that honor), but it is a good album – B+

Album Review: Ty England – ‘Ty England’

Born in 1963, Ty England met Garth Brooks while attending Oklahoma State University and roomed with Garth while in college. Thereafter, he was a member of Garth’s band for a few years until signing with RCA in 1995.

Far more traditionalist than Garth, Ty’s eponymous debut album, released in August 1995, would prove to be his most successful album, reaching #13 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. The album would generate Ty’s only top twenty hit and two more charting singles, neither of which cracked the top forty.

First up is “Red Neck Son”. Released as the third single from the album, the song died at #55. It’s not a bad song but I doubt that I would have released it as a single.

“Smoke In Her Eyes” was the second single released on the album. Written by Hugh Prestwood, this tender ballad really should have done better than #44.

Her heart could tell at a glance
She would be falling for him
She knows she’s taking a chance
But still goes out on a limb

She knows he could be for real
Or he could be in disguise
Although she may have a heart on fire
She don’t have smoke in her eyes

“Should Have Asked Her Faster”, an Al Anderson-Bob DiPiero composition was the first and most successful single released from the album, reaching #3. The song is a mid-tempo tale about a guy whose courage is too slow:

In a little dance hall just outside of Dallas
I dropped my drink when she came walking by
By the time I got a grip she slipped through my fingertips
And left me with my big mouth open wide

I should’ve asked her faster but I waited too long
In a red hot minute like a flash she was gone
I didn’t get her number, I never got her name
A natural disaster, I should’ve asked her faster

“Her Only Bad Habit Is Me” (Don Cook, Harlan Howard) and “You’ll Find Somebody New” (Aaron Barker, Dean Dillon) are both slow ballads, competently sung.

“A Swing Like That” by Billy Lavelle and David L. Lewis is an up- tempo romp that I would have released as a single. The track features some neat fiddle by Aubrey Haynie and steel by Paul Franklin, and has a strong western swing feel to it.

The remaining songs (“New Faces in the Fields” written by Harley Allen, Denise Draper and Steve Hood; “The Blues Ain’t News to Me” from the pens of Wayland Holyfield and Verlon Thompson; “It’s Lonesome Everywhere” by Verlon Thompson, Reese Wilson and Billy Spencer; and Hugh Prestwood’s “Is That You”) are all slow ballads, competently sung by England.

In fact, I would have released “Is That You” as a single. The song is an outstanding ballad, and while I do not know how it would have done as a Ty England single, I’m dead certain that either Garth Brooks or George Strait would have had a monster hit with the song:

They had been together way too long
For him to start again
So he does most of his living in the past
Round the house he never says a word
Til something makes him ask
Is that you

Tappin’ my window pane
Is that you
Or just a draft movin’ that candle flame
Something round here keeps my heart
From breakin’ right in two
Is that you

In the dark he rises from a dream
And takes a look around
Makin’ sure there really isn’t someone there
He could swear he heard her call his name
Quiet as a prayer
Is that you

Therein lies the problem – Ty England is a very good and pleasant singer, but there is nothing distinctive about his voice. Produced by Garth Fundis, Ty England is a solid country album featuring songs by the cream of Nashville’s songwriting talent and the cream of Nashville’s session men:

Bobby All — acoustic guitar (tracks 2,3,5,6,7,9,10) / Eddie Bayers — drums (tracks 1,2,9)
Richard Bennett — acoustic guitar (tracks 4,8) / J. T. Corenflos — electric guitar (track 10)
Stuart Duncan — fiddle (track 3)/ Paul Franklin — steel guitar (all tracks except 4)
John Gardner — drums (tracks 4,8) / Aubrey Haynie — fiddle (track 2,5,6,7,9,10)
John Hobbs — piano (tracks 5,6,7,10), organ (track 10) / Paul Leim — drums (tracks 3,5,6,7,10)
Mark Luna — background vocals (tracks 2,10) / Brent Mason — electric guitar (all tracks except 10)
Weldon Myrick — steel guitar (track 4) / Dave Pomeroy — bass guitar (all tracks)
Steve Nathan — Wurlitzer electric piano (track 1), piano (tracks 2,4,8,9), keyboards
Hargus “Pig” Robbins — piano (track 3) John Wesley Ryles — background vocals (track 3)
Billy Joe Walker, Jr. — acoustic guitar (track 1) Dennis Wilson — background vocals (tracks 2,4,5,9)
Curtis “Mr. Harmony” Young — background vocals (track 1,6)

Good songs and competent singing – I like this album and would give it a B+, but Ty is only as good as his material, and this was his best album.

Album Review: Wade Hayes – ‘On A Good Night’

Released in June 1996, On A Good Night was Wade’s second album on Columbia. Produced by Don Cook, who also sings background on the album, the album climbed to #11 on the country albums chart and reached gold (500,000 sales) status. The album features a Who’s Who of Nashville session musician with Bruce Bouton on steel guitar, Mark Casstevens on acoustic guitar, Rob Hajacos on fiddle, Dennis Burnside on piano and organ, Brent Mason on electric guitar, Glenn Worf on bass guitar and Lonnie Wilson on drums. This is nothing if not a country album.

The album opens up with the title track, written by Larry Boone, Don Cook and Paul Nelson. The first single released from the album, it topped out at #2 on Billboard’s Country chart. The song is a rocking up-tempo romp:

On a good night I could hop in my truck
Round up my friends and with any kind of luck
We could end up howling at a harvest moon
On a good night I could put on my hat
Head down to the honky tonk and dance
But on a real good night I meet a women like you

Brown hair blue eyes once in a life time countrified kind of girl
Heart-breaking chance-taking wild little love making
Shaking up my world
Hey on a good night I can picture the day
All my dreams come true
But on a real good night I meet a women like you

Next up is a nice cover of the Willie Nelson- Hank Cochran collaboration, “Undo The Right”. The original was a top ten hit in 1968 by the ‘Country Caruso’ Johnny Bush. Bush’s recording is one of my top ten all-time favorite recordings. Hayes is no Johnny Bush, but he acquits himself well.

“The Room” was written by Chris Waters and Tom Shapiro. Chris is the brother of the late Holly Dunn and produced many of her records. The song is a slow ballad, rather introspective song of getting over the loss of love. It makes a nice change of pace but would not have made a good single.

Wade collaborated with Chick Rains and the redoubtable Bill Anderson on the up-tempo “It’s Over My Head” . The song was released as the third single from the album and topped out at #46. It’s a good song, well sung and I do not understand why it failed to do better:

That just goes to show how crazy love can be
Look at us now baby who would have thought it
I don’t know why you chose me

It’s over my head and I’m six feet tall
This beats anything I ever saw
Well I don’t see what you see in me at all
It’s over my head and I’m six feet tall

Marty Stuart and Chick Rains wrote “ I Still Do”. The song is a medium-slow ballad that I think could have made an effective single. This is not the same song that was a top twenty country hit for Bill Medley in 1984.

Don Cook and Chick Rains teamed up for “My Side of Town”, an up-tempo rocker that serves well to keep tempos appropriately varied on the album.

Wade Hayes and Chick Rains wrote “Where Do I Go To Start All Over”. Released as the second single from the album, the song stiffed, only reaching #42. It’s a nice ballad but and I’m not sure why it didn’t do better, especially since the previous five singles all went top ten or better.

I drove around last night, and tried with all my might
To leave the past behind, cause you stayed on my mind
So I stopped for a drink, I never stopped to think
That it wouldn’t work, It just made it worse
So I came on back home, I hadn’t changed a thing
And sat here all alone, missing you and wondering

Where do I go to start all over
From your memory
Where do I go to start all over
When in your arms is where I won’t be

“Our Time Is Coming was written by Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn and appeared on their Hard Workin’ Man album. The song is a dramatic ballad that Wade does masterfully – in fact it is my favorite song on the album, and I much prefer Wade’s recording to that of Brooks & Dunn.

Times are hard and the money’s tight
Day to day we fight that fight
Nothing new, it’s the same old grind
Uphill all the way

Boss man says forget the raise
Preacher says to keep the faith
Good things come to those who wait
Tomorrow’s another day

Our time is coming
When or where the good Lord only knows
Our time is coming
When this road we’re on will turn to a street of gold

Long as we keep love alive
Something tells me we’ll survive
It’s the little things that’ll get us by
And hold us together

I feel it when you hold me close
Baby we got more than most
Steady through the highs and lows
We’ll go on forever

The album closes with “Hurts Don’t It”, a ballad from the pens of Sam Hogin, Jim McBride & Greg Holland, and the mid-tempo semi-autobiographical “This Is the Life for Me” that Hayes penned with Chick Rains & Gary Nicholson. Dennis Burnside’s piano is well featured on this track.

I really liked this album and would give it an A-.

I am sure that Wade and producer Don Cook was greatly disappointed by the poor chart performance of the last two singles from the album. Accordingly they tried something different.

Unfortunately, that effort failed miserably. As I sit here writing this article I am listening to the single release that effectively killed Wade Hayes’ career at country radio. Intended as the initial single for the next album When The Wrong One Loves You Right, radio reaction to Wade’s cover of the old Glen Campbell hit “Wichita Lineman” single was so negative that the single was withdrawn (it peaked at #55) and ultimately did not appear on that album.