My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘I’m Just Me’

In many respects, Charley Pride was the George Strait of his day: a consistent hit maker who frequently hit #1, whose music rarely offered surprises but never disappointed his fans. 1971’s I’m Just Me was no exception. It reached #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and also produced two number one singles: “I’d Rather Love You” and the title track. The former spent three weeks at the top of the chart and was written by Johnny Duncan. It finds Pride speculating about how things might have turned out had he never met the live his life. The title track, written by Glen Martin, is a catchy, feel-good fiddle and steel number that is as unpretentious as the title suggests. It has a slight Bakersfield feel to it, despite the occasional chiming in by the Nashville Sound-style vocal chorus. In between these two singles, RCA released “Did You Think to Pray” from Pride’s gospel album, which broke his string of consecutive #1s.

In addition to “I’d Rather Love You”, Johnny Duncan contributed two other numbers. “(In My World) You Don’t Belong”, about a married man who struggles to come to terms with his infidelity. It includes a subtle string arrangement which is a bit of a departure for a Pride recording. “Instant Loneliness” is more traditional. I’m not sure why it wasn’t released a single; perhaps Duncan wanted to release the song himself, though he does not appear to have done so.

Unlike many albums of the era, I’m Just Me doesn’t rely too heavily on covers of recent hits by other artists. The one exception is a very nice rendition of “Hello Darlin'” which rivals Conway Twitty’s original version. The entire album is a solid effort, though it is slightly more heavily produced than Charley’s previous work. Thankfully these old albums are finally being re-released so they can be heard by fans of traditional country who are too young to remember when they were first released. I’m Just Me is available on an import collection with three other early Charley Pride albums.

Grade: A

Week ending 7/22/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Four Walls — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1967: With One Exception — David Houston (Epic)

1977It Was Almost Like a Song — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1987: I Know Where I’m Going — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1997: Carrying Your Love With Me — George Strait (MCA)

2007: Lost in This Moment — Big & Rich (Warner Bros.)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Craving You — Thomas Rhett featuring Maren Morris (Valory)

Week ending 7/15/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Four Walls — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1967: All The Time — Jack Greene (Decca)

1977I’ll Be Leaving Alone — Charley Pride (RCA)

1987: All My Ex’s Live In Texas — George Strait (MCA)

1997: It’s Your Love — Tim McGraw with Faith Hill (Curb)

2007: Lucky Man — Montgomery Gentry (Columbia)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Every Time I Hear That Song — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Songs of Pride, Charley That Is’

Songs of Pride, Charley That Is was Charley Pride’s second LP of 1968. Boasting no fewer than four producers — Chet Atkins, Jack Clement, Bob Ferguson, and Felton Jarvis — it featured his highest charting hit to date, the #2 peaking hit “The Easy Part’s Over”, which was written by Jerry Foster and Bill Rice.

There weren’t any other singles released from the collection, but there were a few that could have been worthy contenders. Among them was “She Made Me Go”, another Foster-Rice composition, which casts Charley in the role of a spurned spouse is assumed to be the party at fault for the breakup of his marriage. “The Right To Do Wrong” written by Fred Foster, the legendary founder of Monument Records, is another that could have been commercially successful on its own. My personal favorite is the upbeat “I Could Have Saved You The Time”, written by Jack Clement.

The album’s second half is equally strong, with a number of steel-drenched songs that won me over immediately, from Red Lane’s “Both of Us Love You” and Vincent Matthews’ “One Of These Days” (not the same song as Emmylou Harris’ 1976 hit). The Mel Tillis and Wayne Walker number “All The Time” is a bit schmaltzy, and the album opener “Someday You Will” (another Jerry Foster/Bill Rice effort) is a bit pedestrian but those are the album’s only two week links. The production is firmly traditional, with plenty of pedal steel and it is not as dependent on vocal choruses as many other recordings of the day.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Zephaniah OHora with The 18 Wheelers – ‘This Highway’

Finding good new country music used to be as simple as turning on the radio to one’s local country station. That hasn’t been a viable option for several years now, and the process of learning about new artists has become something akin to going to a rummage sale. Most of the time you’ll walk away empthy handed, but if you’re willing to to put in the time and not afraid to get your hands dirty by sifting through a lot of junk, you may stumble across the occasional gem.

Such is the case with Brooklyn, New York native Zephaniah OHora, whose new independently-released This Highway becamae available last month. While too many, if not most, non-mainstream “country” releases are mostly rock music with a little fiddle, This Highway is an amalgamation of 1960s Bakersfield and countrypolitan. The rawness of the Bakersfield sound is offset by the countrypolitan polish, although OHora wisely avoids the excesses of the Nashville Sound (vocal choruses and lush orchestral arrangements). And while OHora’s vocals are nowhere near the calibre of Merle Haggard’s, the Haggard influence is readily apparent and one can easily imagine Merle singing some of these songs, particularly “Songs My Mama Sang”, “I Do Believe I’ve Had Enough”, “Way Down In My Soul” and “For A Moment or Two.” “High Class City Girl From The Country”, on the other hand, is a laid-back number with some very nice acoustic guitar that is reminiscent of Glen Campbell’s “Gentle On My Mind”.

Most of the songs are originals; the one notable exception being a cover “Somethin’ Stupid” with singer/songwriter Dori Freeman playing Nancy Sinatra to Zephaniah’s Ol’ Blue Eyes. It seems a bit out of place on this album. I was tempted to label it a misfire, but the truth is it is well done; it’s just a song I never particularly cared for. I could have done without it but it’s not something I can’t sit through.

The album’s main flaw is a lack of variety in tempo. It would have benefited from one or two more upbeat numbers. As it is, the songs tend to blur together a bit and overall it may be too mellow for some listeners. It is available on the subscription streaming sites and can also be heard on YouTube, but I hope that fans of traditional country music will buy a copy. It’s refreshing to know that someone is still making this kind of music, and as such, it deserves our support.

Grade: A-

Week ending 7/8/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Four Walls — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1967: All The Time — Jack Greene (Decca)

1977That Was Yesterday — Donna Fargo (Warner Bros.)

1987: That Was a Close One — Earl Thomas Conley (RCA)

1997: It’s Your Love — Tim McGraw with Faith Hill (Curb)

2007: Lucky Man — Montgomery Gentry (Columbia)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): God, Your Mama, and Me — Florida Georgia Line ft. The Backstreet Boys (Republic Nashville)

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Country Charley Pride’

RCA took an unconventional approach in introducing Charley Pride to country audiences. Legend has it that they avoided putting his picture on the sleeves of his singles, in order to conceal his race and increase the likelihood that radio would play them. However, his debut album Country Charley Pride, which does have his photo on the cover, was released in 1966 before he’d scored any charting singles.

Produced by Jack Clement, Country Charley Pride consists mostly of covers of well-known songs of the day. The only original song is Pride’s debut single, the non-charting “The Snakes Crawl at Night”, a tale of infidelity and revenge, written by Mel Tillis and Fred Burch. Given the subject matter, it is a surprisingly upbeat number about a cuckolded husband who sentenced to hang after shooting his unfaithful wife and her paramour. The album’s other non-charting single was “Before I Met You”, one of my favorite Charley Pride songs. Originally a hit for Carl Smith a decade earlier, the song was later recorded by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. Reba McEntire also covered it in 1984 on her My Kind of Country album.

It was unusual in the 1960s (and now) to release a full album for a new artist that had yet to prove himself at radio but for whatever reason, RCA did sanction an album release. Interestingly, the lack of a radio hit did not impede the album’s sales. It reached #16 on the album charts and earned gold status — a rare feat for a country album, particularly one as traditional as this one. Clearly audiences connected with Pride’s voice. It also didn’t hurt that Clement and Pride played it safe and went with mostly well-known songs of the day, beginning with Harlan Howard’s “Busted”, and including credible covers of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City” (another Mel Tillis tune co-written with Danny Dill). Curly Putman’s “Green, Green Grass of Home” is also included, as are a pair of Jack Clement tunes, “Miller’s Cave” and “Got Leavin’ on Her Mind”, which closes out the disc.

None of these tunes lent themselves particularly well to 1960s Nashville Sound orchestral arrangements, so strings are mercifully absent from the album. Most of the songs do contain vocal choruses, though, which are quite intrusive at times as they tend to drown out Pride’s voice. That is my sole complaint about an otherwise stellar album. In addition to very strong material and wonderful singing by Pride, there is also a lot of prominent steel guitar work throughout.

Charley Pride is one of those artists, who despite being a huge star in his hey-day, is not as well remembered today as he ought to be. This is partially because he peaked before the CD era and for decades RCA did a poor job of managing its back catalog and allowed most of his work (and many of their other artists) to go out of print. That error is finally being rectified. Country Charley Pride is available on a 2-disc import set that also contains three of Pride’s other early albums, all of which are worthy of a listen.

Grade: A

Single Review: Shania Twain – ‘Life’s About To Get Good’

Twenty years ago, the ongoing and never-ending “is it country or is it pop” debate focused primarily on Shania Twain, who was the polarizing crossover artist of the day. My assessment was — and still is – that some of her earlier hits were country but most of her music starting with Come On Over was definitely pop. Even before she began crossing over to the pop charts, Shania was controversial for not living in Nashville, not relying on Nashville producers and songwriters, and for not touring to support her breakthrough album The Woman In Me. There is no question that Shania owed a great deal of her success to clever marketing and the savvy of her husband, producer and co-writer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. It is also true that much of the music they made together, regardless of the genre one categorized it under, wasn’t particularly substantive.

That being said, I always felt that Shania was more talented than many of her detractors gave her credit for. After an extended absence from the charts, she has a lot riding on her first full-length album since her divorce from Lange. Aside from the underwhelming 2011 single “Today is Your Day”, it’s been twelve years since she had a record on country radio and fifteen years since she released a full-length studio album. She needed to prove not only that she could still deliver the goods, but also to establish for once and for all that not all of the credit for her prior success was attributable to Lange. Unfortunately, “Life’s About to Get Good”, the advance single from her upcoming new album Now, fails on both counts.

Although the song directly tackles the subject of the adversities Shania has faced since she was a staple on country radio, “Life’s About to Get Good” doesn’t address those issues in a substantive manner. Instead, they are a springboard to the repetitive, Pollyanna-ish platitude that life will be all rainbows and unicorns from this day forward. In so many ways, the song is typical of what we’ve come to expect from Shania: a catchy earworm that doesn’t say a whole lot but provides three minutes or so of distraction from the banalities of day to day life.

It is not a great song, but I have heard far worse. Had Shania released this record during her commercial hey-day it probably would have been just another bit of inconsequential fluff. The real problems with this recording, however lie in the production, beginning with the annoying EDM in the intro, and continuing on with the extreme uses of autotune and the general over-processing of her vocals, which sap the song of any life or emotion that may have been there to begin with. It’s not terribly surprising since neither of the producers (Matthew Koma and Ron Aniello) has a background in country music. It’s not as though I was expecting anything particularly country or rootsy, but it is a bit disappointing that Twain is apparently OK with such heavy-handed and sloppy production that only reinforce the perception that she was just a pretty face that catapulted to stardom due to her ex-husband’s studio wizardry.

Grade: D

Week ending 7/1/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Four Walls — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1967: All The Time — Jack Greene (Decca)

1977Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1987: Forever and Ever, Amen — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

1997: It’s Your Love — Tim McGraw with Faith Hill (Curb)

2007: Ticks — Brad Paisley (Arista)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): How Not To — Dan + Shay (Warner Bros.)

Week ending 6/24/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Four Walls — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1967: All The Time — Jack Greene (Decca)

1977Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1987: Forever and Ever, Amen — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

1997: It’s Your Love — Tim McGraw with Faith Hill (Curb)

2007: Find Out Who Your Friends Are — Tracy Lawrence (Rocky Comfort)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): If I Told You — Darius Rucker (Capitol)

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets’

Although his first “outlaw” album, 11 Months and 29 Days didn’t exactly set the Billboard charts on fire, Johnny Paycheck and producer Billy Sherrill continued in a similar vein with his next album, the much more successful Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets, which marked the beginning of a commercial resurgence for Paycheck, albeit a brief one. The album spawned two hit singles, which carried him into the Top 10 for the first time since “Song and Dance Man” peaked at #8 four years earlier.

The first single was the title track, penned by Wayne Carson and Donn Tankersley, which finds the protagonist only too happy to reunite with an ex for clandestine meetings, despite the fact that she had jilted him for a richer suitor. The bouncy number landed at #7. The follow-up was the equally enjoyable “I’m The Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)”, which revisits the tried-and-true “Mama Tried” theme. The protagonist’s mother tried to “turn him on to Jesus” but he “turned on to the Devil’s ways” and by the end of the song he has been arrested for armed robbery. It peaked at #8. Both of these numbers are among Paycheck’s most memorable songs; it’s a little surprising that they didn’t chart a little higher.

This collection is considered one of Johnny Paycheck’s “outlaw” albums, although only one track , “Woman You Better Love Me” is what I would consider a true outlaw song in the sense that it sounds like something Waylon Jennings would have done. The rest, for the most part have an in-your-face attitude but I’d classify them more as honky-tonk than outlaw. One track — Bobby Braddock’s “I Did The Right Thing” is an outlier on the album in that it is a tender ballad that shows Johnny’s sensitive side as he laments ending an extramarital affair and returning to his wife. It is more conventional than the rest of the album, retaining some of the countrypolitan trappings of the day (strings, vocal choruses) for which Billy Sherrill was well known. The rest of the album, however, is more hardcore country and is certainly more traditional than anything Sherrill was doing with other male stars like Charlie Rich and George Jones during the 70s.

I particularly enjoyed Johnny’s take on “You’re Still On My Mind”, which had charted at #28 for George Jones in 1962 (an updated duet version with Marty Stuart was included on Jones’ 2008 album Burn Your Playhouse Down.) “Hank”, in which Johnny sings about those mansions on the hill that Hank Sr. sang about is also quite good. I’d have made this the album’s opening song instead of the fourth track, since it reads like a prequel to “Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets” — Johnny’s lost the girl of his dreams to a richer man, but she hasn’t yet come crawling back. Those are my two favorites, along with the two singles. All of the tracks are quite good, though if pressed I’d rank the slightly maudlin “I Did The Right Thing” as my least favorite.

Throughout the 50s and 60s, and for about the first half of the 70s, albums were of significantly less importance than singles in country music. By the latter half of the 70s, however, some artists were beginning to make more of an effort to create quality albums from start to finish, instead of just finding some filler to accompany a hit single or two. Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets seems to be a reflection of that change in attitude. It’s a surprisingly solid album and my only real beef with it is that it plays for a scant 28 minutes.

Grade: A

Week ending 6/17/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Jukebox): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Four Walls — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1967: All The Time — Jack Greene (Decca)

1977Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1987: Forever and Ever, Amen — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

1997: It’s Your Love — Tim McGraw with Faith Hill (Curb)

2007: Moments — Emerson Drive (Midas Nashville)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): In Case You Didn’t Know — Brett Young (Republic Nashville)

Week ending 6/10/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Jukebox): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Four Walls — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1967: It’s Such a Pretty World Today — Wynn Stewart (Capitol)

1977Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1987: I Will Be There — Dan Seals (EMI America)

1997: It’s Your Love — Tim McGraw with Faith Hill (Curb)

2007: Good Directions — Billy Currington (Mercury)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): In Case You Didn’t Know — Brett Young (Republic Nashville)

Album Review: ‘The Little Darlin’ Sound of Johnny Paycheck: In The Beginning’

Released in May 2004, In The Beginning was the first in Koch Records’ series of reissues of Johhny Paycheck’s Little Darlin’ recordings. Founded by Paycheck and his producer Aubrey Mayhew, Little Darlin’ Records was Paycheck’s label from the mid-1960s until the end of the decade when it ceased operations. Paycheck’s Little Darlin’ years were only moderately successful, yielding one Top 10 hit (1966’s “The Lovin’ Machine”) and two more Top 20 hits (1966’s “Motel Charlie” and 1967’s “Jukebox Charlie”). None of those tracks are included on this disc, nor is Paycheck’s best-remembered record from that era, “A-11”, which topped out at #26 in 1965. I suspect that the 15 recordings on this disc may have been the first he recorded but not necessarily the first to be released.

Although nothing here rises to the level of a classic, all of the songs are well-crafted and enjoyable, which is in no small part due to the contributions of the legendary Lloyd Green whose steel guitar is prominent on most of the tracks. Most of these songs are hardcore honky-tonk, without any of the Nashville Sound trappings (vocal choruses, strings) that were typical of the mid to late 1960s. The influence of George Jones and 1950s Ray Price (whose band Paycheck was am member of at the beginning of his career) is readily apparent throughout the disc.

The album’s opening cut is the George Jones-esque “Don’t Start Countin’ on Me”, followed by “The Girl They Talk About”. “High Heels and No Soul” at first seems to be another take on the oft-visited shoes metaphor (i.e., Billy Walker’s “Charlie’s Shoes” and Patsy Cline’s “Shoes”) but it takes a different course and talks more about the subject’s demeanor rather than her footwear. It’s one of the album’s best tracks, as is “Don’t You Get Lonesome” which features a double-tracked vocal effect. “With Your Wedding Ring in One Hand (and a Bottle in the Other)” is another favorite. Not as enjoyable is “Passion and Pride”, which isn’t a bad song but I just can’t get past the similarity of its melody to Porter Wagoner’s “A Satisfied Mind”.

“Columbus Stockade Blues” is a bit of a change of pace, with a rockabilly feel that is more reminiscent of Conway Twitty than George Jones, but the album’s real outlier is Paycheck’s cover of “Galway Bay”. Popularized by Bing Crosby in 1947, the song is almost always performed with an orchestral arrangement. Although Paycheck’s version will have some screaming cultural appropriation, he does a decent job singing the song. However, this is one time the pedal steel seems a little out of place. It’s the only real misstep on the album, material-wise. A bigger problem is the audio quality, which is somewhat lacking throughout. Koch put little or nothing into remastering these tracks, but although they could have benefitted from some digital clean-up, they do not sound so poor to render the album unlistenable.

As someone who is more familiar with Johnny Paycheck’s later years, all of these recordings were new to me. In an age when new worthwhile country music is hard to come by, it’s always a treat to come across something one hasn’t heard before, even if it is decades old. While only hardcore fans will likely buy the album (used CD copies or digital download) more casual listeners may want to stream it.

Grade: B+

Week ending 6/3/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1967: It’s Such a Pretty World Today — Wynn Stewart (Capitol)

1977Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1987: It Takes a Little Rain (To Make Love Grow) — The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)

1997: Sittin’ On Go — Bryan White (Asylum)

2007: Good Directions — Billy Currington (Mercury)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Hurricane — Luke Combs (Columbia)

Week ending 5/27/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox): A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys) (tie): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)
Four Walls — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1967: Sam’s Place — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1977Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1987: Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You — The O’Kanes (Columbia)

1997: One Night at a Time — George Strait (MCA)

2007: Good Directions — Billy Currington (Mercury)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Hurricane — Luke Combs (Columbia)

Album Review: Don Williams: ‘Traces’

Traces was the second of a pair of albums that Don recorded for Capitol during the mid-to-late 1980s.   He co-produced the set with Garth Fundis.  Never one to follow trends, Don began his solo career singing songs with simple, stripped down production in an era when countrypolitan, with its lush string sections and vocal choruses, ruled the day.   By the mid-80s Randy Travis had brought country music back to its roots, with most other mainstream artists following suit.    Don Williams chose this time, however, to release an album that delved a little further into the pop realm.  The difference in sound is sometimes subtle, as is the case on “I Wouldn’t Be a Man”, the sultry lead single that reached a #9 peak.   At other times, it is more pronounced; a prime example is his cover of “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore”.   Originally an R&B hit for Ben E. King in 1968, it was introduced to country audiences by Dottie West and Don Gibson in 1970. In 1990, Billy Joe Royal would take it to #2 on the country charts.  While it works well for a genre-straddling artist like Royal, it is a bit of a stretch for the usually traditional Don Williams. Even more of a stretch is the trainwreck that is “Running  Out of Reasons to Run”, a filler song written by Jim Rushing and Martin Gerald Derstine with a jarring horn section.   It was better suited for Sawyer Brown, who recorded their own version a year later, but it is not a good vehicle for Williams.   “Looking Back”, a 1950s-style pop song is better.

Fortunately there are also plenty of country songs on the album.  The detour into pop occurs about halfway through and is preceded by three solid country numbers and followed by three more.   One of the best is “Another Place, Another Time”, a Bob McDill-Paul  Harrison tune that was released as the album’s second single, peaking at #5.   It was followed by the excellent upbeat “Desperately”, written by Kevin Welch and Jamie O’Hara, which reached #7.  The poignant (and extremely well-written) piano and string ballad “Old Coyote Town”, about a small town that has fallen on hard economic times, was the fourth and final single, which also reached #5.   One minor quibble:  I would have made this the closing track instead of giving that designation to the pleasant but pedestrian “You Love Me Through It All”.   A rather sedate rendition of “Come From the Heart”, preceding Kathy Mattea’s hit version by two years, is a pleasant surprise.

With the benefit of hindsight, one could possibly point to Traces as the beginning of Don’s chart decline; it was his first album since 1974’s Volume Two not to produce at least one #1 hit, although the four singles all performed respectably.  According to Wikipedia, the album did not chart, which I find hard to believe considering that it produced four Top 10 hits.  It is a solid album that I enjoyed but due to a few missteps, I have to rank it a little lower than his earlier work.  It is available on a 2-for-1 CD along New Moves, Don’s other album for Capitol.

Grade: B+

Week ending 5/20/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox) (tie): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)
A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys) (tie): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)
Honky Tonk Song — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1967: Sam’s Place — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1977Some Broken Hearts Never Mend — Don Williams (ABC/Dot)

1987: To Know Him Is To Love Him — Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris (Warner Bros.)

1997: One Night at a Time — George Strait (MCA)

2007: Settlin’ — Sugarland (Mercury)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Country Boy’

Although they are two very different artists, there are some comparisons to be drawn between Don Williams and George Strait. Fans usually knew exactly what they were getting when each artist released a new album; seldom where there any surprises or real creative stretches but the results were always satisfying and performed well commercially. Country Boy was Don Williams’ second album release of 1977 and his fifth overall for ABC/Dot. Released in September, it was produced by Don himself and produced three top 10 hits.

The first of those hits was “I’m Just a Country Boy”, from which the album title is derived. The song dates back to 1954, having been originally recorded by Harry Belafonte. A staid but very pretty ballad written by Fred Kellerman and Marshall Baker, its protagonist laments that his lack of material possessions will prevent him from winning over the object of his affections, who is engaged to someone else. The lyrics paint an effective picture of a simple but peaceful country lifestyle, without resorting to the cliches of today’s redneck pride anthems:

‘I ain’t gonna marry in the fall; I ain’t gonna marry in the spring
Cause I’m in love with a pretty little girl who wears a diamond ring
And I’m just a country boy money have I none
But I’ve got silver in the stars
And gold in morning sun gold in morning sun.’

While this song would be considered too mournful for radio release today, forty years ago audiences and radio programmers loved it and it reached #1 in November. The single’s B-side was a Bob McDill tune called “Louisiana Saturday Night”, a slightly more energetic version of which would go on to be a hit for Mel McDaniel a few years later. While McDaniel’s version remains the definitive one, Williams acquits himself nicely on this one and I could easily imagine his version being a hit as well.

“I’ve Got a Winner in You”, a Williams co-write with Wayland Holyfield, was the second single, which reached #7. Its B-side was another Williams composition “Overlookin’ and Underthinkin'”, a very nice number with a gentle pedal steel track and subtle strings, that is one of my favorites. Another personal favorite is the Bob McDill-penned “Rake and Ramblin’ Man”, about a free-spirit who is forced to settle down by an unplanned pregnancy. To his credit, the protagonist is quite willing to leave behind his bachelor days and embrace the next phase of his life. “Rake and Ramblin’ Man” peaked at #3.

“Sneakin’ Around” is another Williams original about a cheating spouse that I also think had hit potential. The two remaining Williams compositions “Look Around You” and the slightly more pop-leaning “It’s Gotta Magic” are somewhat less effective but still enjoyable. Jim Rushing’s “Too Many Tears (To Make Love Strong)” is pleasant but not particularly memorable.

Peaking at #9 on the albums chart, Country Boy was Don’s lowest-charting album for ABC/Dot since he joined the label three years earlier and this was the last time he would release two LPs in one year. Still, #9 is nothing to sneeze at. Its stripped-down approach was at odds with much of the music of the day but it has aged well and stood the test of time. It is available on a 3-for-1 import CD along with You’re My Best Friend and Harmony, and I highly recommend it.

Grade: A

Week ending 5/13/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox): All Shook Up — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1967: Sam’s Place — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1977: Play Guitar Play — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1987: The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder — Michael Johnson (RCA)

1997: One Night at a Time — George Strait (MCA)

2007: Stand — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)