My Kind of Country

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

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)

Album Review: Chris Stapleton – ‘From a Room: Volume 1’

Ever since he swept the 2015 CMA Award and his career-defining performance with Justin Timberlake at that show, Chris Stapleton has been regarded by many as the savior of country music, who will lift the genre out of its creative doldrums and set it back on a path towards traditionalism. The great irony is that Stapleton’s music is really not that traditional for the most part. Roots-oriented, organic, and substantive yes, but he’s hardly the modern day equivalent of Randy Travis in 1986. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the genre has benefited from his success. He has a powerful voice but his style owes more to blue-eyed sound southern rock than traditional country. His style is not usually my cup of tea, but I actually like Chris Stapleton quite a lot and have ever since he was the lead singer for The SteelDrivers. And regardless of whether or not one likes his vocal style, one can’t help but root for someone who can have commercial success while bypassing the cesspool that is country radio.

The follow-up to his immensely successful debut album Traveller was originally envisioned as a two-disc set, but Mercury apparently had some reservations about a double album and opted to release From a Room in two volumes, with the second set tentatively slated for an autumn release. One of the unfortunate consequences of his is that the first volume consists of a mere nine tracks. No album should consist of less then ten songs, in my opinion. I was annoyed when RCA trimmed back its albums to nine tracks in the 1980s and the practice, though rare nowadays, still does not sit well with me. Surely there were more songs recorded that could have been used to flesh out the album a bit. That criticism aside, From a Room is, for the most part, an outstanding collection.

Like Traveller, From a Room: Volume 1 was co-produced by Stapleton and Dave Cobb and recorded in RCA Studio A. Eight of its nine tracks were co-written by Stapleton (many apparently from his extensive back catalog), the sole exception being a stunning version of “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning”, which was a #2 hit for Willie Nelson in 1982. It tells the story of a morning in which everything goes wrong: the delivery of a past-due bill notice, an alarm clock that fails to go off on time, a spilled pot of coffee, among other things, culminating in the narrator’s wife or girlfriend calling an end to their relationship. Stapleton’s wife Morgane Hayes-Stapleton provides the harmony vocals.

Another tune that will be familiar to many listeners is “Either Way”, which was originally included on Lee Ann Womack’s Call Me Crazy album in 2008. A ballad about a relationship taking its last dying breaths, it is the perfect vehicle for Stapleton’s powerhouse voice. Wikipedia lists it as the current single. Don’t expect to hear it the radio.

“Up to No Good Livin'”, the sole traditional track on the album, is my favorite. Again featuring Morgane signing harmony, it is a pedal-steel drenched up-tempo number about a reformed hell raiser whose wife refuses to believe that he’s mended his ways:

Wish I could come home from workin’
And not have her checking my breath
I’m tired of her turning her questions
Into the Gettysburg Address
There’s no reason why she shouldn’t trust me
The fact that she don’t makes me mad
Can’t count all the times that I’ve begged her
Honey, just let my past be the past

I used to drink like a fish and run like a dog
Without a whole lotta sh*t not committed by law
People called me the Picasso of painting the town
I’ve finally grown up
I’ve finally changed from that someone I was
To somebody I am
But she finds it hard to believe that she’s turned me around
So I’ll probably die before I live all my
Up to no good livin’ down

It’s no surprise, given Stapleton’s reputation as one of Nashville’s best songwriters, that From a Room: Volume 1 consists of very well-crafted and well executed songs. The sole dud is “Them Stems”, a tongue-in-cheek number about a marijuana user who has come to the end of his stash and desperate for a fresh supply. It’s catchy, but songs about drug use make me uncomfortable and as a result, I really can’t get into this one. One throwaway track on an album is no big deal but it’s a little harder to overlook when there are only nine songs in total.

From a Room: Volume 1 is sure to be one of 2017’s best sellers, and deservedly so. I’ve already played it several times and actually prefer it to Traveller. I’m looking forward to hearing the second volume in a few months.

Grade: A

Week ending 5/6/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

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

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

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

1967: Need You — Sonny James (Capitol)

1977: She’s Pulling Me Back Again — Mickey Gilley (Playboy)

1987: Don’t Go To Strangers — T. Graham Brown (Capitol)

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

2007: Wasted — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

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

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

Breaking News: Loretta Lynn hospitalized

It has been announced that Loretta Lynn has suffered a stroke. We wish her the best and pray for a full and speedy recovery.

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Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Volume Two’

1974’s Volume Two was the aptly-titled follow-up to Don Williams’ solo debut album on the independent JMI label. Though it doesn’t it contain any of his best remembered songs, it does feature his first Top 10 hit. The track listing is stellar; consisting primarily of songs written by Bob McDill, Allen Reynolds, and Williams himself.

Produced by Allen Reynolds, the album consists of sparsely produced, laid-back songs that are a fry cry from the lush production usually used for country records in the early 70s. Williams’ original composition, the gentle ballad “Atta Way to Go” was the album’s first single, whose chart performance mirrored those of the singles from Volume One, peaking at #13. I was not previously familiar with it but I took to it immediately. The midtempo “We Should Be Together”, written by Allen Reynolds was the next single. It carried Don into the Top 10 for the first time, peaking at #5. Consisting of acoustic guitar and dobro, it is catchy yet mellow. I’d never heard this one before, either, which is surprising since it was Williams’ first significant hit. The third single, “Down the Road I Go”, another Williams compostion, is the closest this album gets to something up-tempo. It’s a pleasant tune, with some nice fiddle and steel work, as well as a vocal chorus that aligns it a little more closely with the mainstream of the day, but it fared poorly on the charts, topping out at #62. From this point forward, though, all of Williams’ records for the next decade would crack the Top 10.

The great Bob McDill contributed two other tracks: the album opener “I Wish I Was In Nashville” and “She’s In Love With a Rodeo Man”. The former is about an aspiring musician who has dreams of making it big in Music City; the latter is about a honky tonk angel who attracts plenty of suitors but only has eyes for a particular rodeo rider. There is an excellent steel guitar solo on this track.

The outlier on the album is the ballad “I Don’t Think Much About Her No More”, which features a subtle string section alone with the acoustic guitar and pedal steel. Originally recorded by its author Micky Newbury in 1969, it was covered many times, sometimes under its alternate title “Poison Red Berries” by artists such as Eddy Arnold, George Hamiton IV, Bobby Bare, The Carter Family, Jan Howard, and Tammy Wynette. It’s more polished than the rest of the album but still the perfect vehicle for Williams’ baritone.

Although it doesn’t contain any of Williams’ best remembered hits, Volume Two is an excellent collection that has aged well and is worth a listen. It is available on a two-for-one CD along with Volume One.

Grade: A

Week ending 4/29/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

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

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

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

1967: Need You — Sonny James (Capitol)

1977: She’s Got You — Loretta Lynn (MCA)

1987: Rose In Paradise — Waylon Jennings (MCA)

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

2007: Wasted — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

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

2017 (Airplay): Any Ol’ Barstool — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Cafe on the Corner’

1992’s Cafe on the Corner was Sawyer Brown’s first album after they ended their nearly decade-long association with Capitol Records. Released on the Curb label, it continues along the same path as their previous effort The Dirt Road. Like that collection, it was produced by Mark Miller and Randy Scruggs.

Eight of the album’s ten tracks were co-written by at least one of the band members (mostly Mark Miller), with the other two coming from the pen of Mac McAnally. The first of the McAnally tunes is the title track, which was the lead single. It tells the story of a displaced farmer who is now forced to support himself by busing tables in a corner cafe and serving coffee to customers who were similarly affected by the recession that America was facing at that time. It peaked at #5 but deserved to go all the way to the top and I’m not sure why it didn’t. Also peaking at #5 was the follow-up single “Trouble on the Line” written by Mark Miller and Bill Shore. The third single, “All These Years” charted slightly higher at #3. Sawyer Brown is not well known for their ballads, but this Mac McAnally composition is a beautiful ballad about a husband confronting his cheating wife and the brutally honest conversation that takes place in the aftermath of his discovery. Featuring a nice cello arrangement, it was also a minor Adult Contemporary hit where it became Sawyer Brown’s only entry on that chart, peaking at #42. McAnally had released his own version of the song earlier that year.

The rest of the album’s songs generally lack the substance of the title track and “All These Years” but they are well performed — particularly “Travelin’ Shoes”, “A Different Tune” and “Chain of Love” (not the Clay Walker song of the same name from a few years later). “A Different Tune” in particular includes some wonderful guitar picking and steel guitar playing. The album is one of Sawyer Brown’s more traditional efforts, without the poppiness of their early work — at least until we reach the last two tracks. Gospel artist and Nashville session singer Donna McElroy lends her voice to “I Kept My Motor Running”, an R&B-inflenced number written by Miller, Greg Hubbard and Randy Scruggs, that I did not care for at all. I was also rather unimpressed with the closing track “Sister’s Got a New Tattoo” about a young woman who shocks her family by joining the military. It’s not a terrible song but not up to the standards set by the album’s first eight tracks.

Cafe on the Corner is a solid effort that I was ready to grade an A until it suddenly detoured with the last two tracks. It is still a worthwhile effort, however, and is available for streaming.

Grade: B+

Week ending 4/22/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

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

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

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

1967: Lonely Again — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1977: It Couldn’t Have Been Any Better — Johnny Duncan (Columbia)

1987: Kids of the Baby Boom — The Bellamy Brothers (MCA/Curb)

1997: Rumor Has It — Clay Walker (Giant)

2007: Wasted — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

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

2017 (Airplay): Road Less Traveled — Lauren Alaina (Mercury/Interscope)

Week ending 4/15/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

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

1957 (Jukebox): There You Go/Train of Love — Johnny Cash (Sun)

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

1967: Lonely Again — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1977: Lucille — Kenny Rogers (United Artists)

1987: You’ve Got the Touch — Alabama (RCA)

1997: Rumor Has It — Clay Walker (Giant)

2007: Last Dollar (Fly Away) — Tim McGraw (Curb)

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

2017 (Airplay): Fast — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Wide Open’

1988’s Wide Open was Sawyer Brown’s fifth studio album and their least successful up to that time. Peaking at #33, it was their first album that failed to crack the Top 40 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. It also failed to produce any Top 10 hits. Like its predecessor Somewhere in the Night, it was produced by Ron Chancey, who was best known for his work with The Oak Ridge Boys.

From an artistic standpoint, Wide Open is a mixed bag. It is, for the most part slickly produced — bucking the commercial trends of the day which had begun to favor more traditional sounds. None of the album cuts are particularly noteworthy or memorable. The three single releases, however, are a different story. The first was a spirited version of Dennis Linde’s “My Baby’s Gone”, which had been recorded a few years earlier by The Judds. It seems tailor made for Sawyer Brown; the lyrics tell a sad story but the song’s fast tempo gives it a more upbeat feeling. It reached #11 and I can’t imagine why it didn’t manage to crack the Top 10. It certainly deserved to chart higher. “Old Pair of Shoes”, written by Mark Miller, is good but not great. The metaphor of a comfortable but worn old pair of shoes for a relationship is hardly original. Many other songs have done a better job getting the same point across, but the song is certainly better than its #50 chart peak suggests.

The album’s best song by far is the third single, Skip Ewing’s Christmas classic “It Wasn’t His Child”, which examines the relationship between Jesus and his foster father St. Joseph. It only reached #51, but that is understandable since Christmas singles typically don’t chart very high. It’s a beautiful song that has been recorded many times. Sawyer Brown’s version more than holds its own against the others. It is however, a little out of place on this album and might have been better suited for a multi-artist Christmas compilation.

As far as the album cuts go, “What Am I Going To Tell My Heart” written by Sawyer Brown members Bobby Randall and Gregg Hubbard is the best, the Mark Miller-penned “Blue Denim Soul” is the worst and the rest are all forgettable filler that fall somewhere in between.

Aside from its singles, Wide Open is not essential listening. I recommend downloading “My Baby’s Gone” and “It Wasn’t His Child” and perhaps “Old Pair of Shoes” and skipping the rest. Or if you want to hear it in its entirety, this one is a good candidate for streaming.

Grade: B

Album Review: Dailey & Vincent – ‘Patriots and Poets’

The title and cover artwork of Dailey & Vincent’s new album are somewhat misleading as they create the false impression that this is a collection of patriotic-themed tunes. What it actually is is a collection of well-crafted bluegrass songs, including a healthy dose of spiritual numbers, all written or co-written by Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent themselves.

Patriots and Poets is the duo’s first project under a new deal with Dreamlined Entertainment. In addition to showcasing the Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent, the spotlight is shared with their backing band, which includes bass vocalist Aaron McCune, which gives them a somewhat fuller sound than their earliest work. They also team up with an impressive line-up of guest artists including bluegrass greats Bela Fleck, Doyle Lawson, and David Rawlings. Comedian and banjo virtuoso Steve Martin also makes an appearance, as does Christian Singer TaRanda Greene.

Consisting of a generous sixteen tracks, the album opens with the energetic but lyrically light “Gimme All The Love You Got” and then veers off into more substantive territory with the religious number “Beautiful Scars”. “Baton Rouge”, which references “leaving Louisiana in the broad daylight” and walking from Baton Rouge to Birmingham is reminsicent of Shenandoah’s “Next to Me, Next to You” with acoustic instrumentation.

Surprisingly, “Until We’re Gone”, the collaboration with TaRanda Greene is a secular love song, rather than a religious one. I’m not familiar with her work but she is a pleasant but not great vocalist. Based on its title, I expected “Bill and Ole Elijah” to be a religious number, and it does have a revival meeting vibe to it and a soaring high lonesome sound that would make Bill Monroe proud, but it is actually a song about a prison break, with an interesting twist at the the end.

My favorite track is “California”, which is almost like a tongue-in-cheek retelling of the old George Jones and Tammy Wynette classic “Southern California”, in which a wife tells her good ole boy husband that she’s leaving to find her fortune in Hollywood. In this telling, however, her husband goes with her, expecting her to get discouraged and eventually want to return home. When she doesn’t, he eventually returns home without her, but he bailed out a little too soon as he learns a few months later when he discovers his Mrs. on reality television show. Steve Martin plays banjo and recites the song’s spoken verse that reveals the wife’s eventual success.

“America, We Love You” seems like it is the patriotic component referenced in the album’s title but it is actually more of an expression of appreciation for the fans who have come out to support the duo on their nationwide tours.

This is an impressive collection with no throwaway tracks, which is no mean feat considering that there are sixteen of them and it plays for about an hour. It might be a little long for those who are ambivalent about bluegrass but I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end.

Grade: A

Week ending 4/8/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

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

1957 (Jukebox): There You Go/Train of Love — Johnny Cash (Sun)

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

1967: Walk Through This World With Me — George Jones (Musicor)

1977: Lucille — Kenny Rogers (United Artists)

1987: Ocean Front Property — George Strait (MCA)

1997: (This Ain’t) No Thinkin’ Thing — Trace Adkins (Capitol)

2007: Beer In Mexico — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

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

2017 (Airplay): Dirt On My Boots — Jon Pardi (Capitol)

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Sawyer Brown’

Sawyer Brown’s eponymous debut album, released in 1984 was their highest charting entry on the Billboard Country Albums chart, peaking at #2 and he most successful of their 1980s albums, in no doubt aided by their winning appearance on Star Search. It was produced by Randy Scruggs and spawned three hit singles: “Leona” (#16), “Step That Step” (#1) and “Used To Blue” (#3). The first two were catchy uptempo numbers that set the template for most of their subsequent singles for the next several years. “Used To Blue” proved that they could also handle ballads, though they were not generally associated with ballads in those days.

In addition to writing the band’s first #1 hit, the fluffy but catchy “Step That Step”, lead singer Mark Miller also wrote “Broken Candy”, a very nice ballad about heartbreak, loneliness and trying again. He also co-wrote the uptempo “Feel Like Me” and “It’s Hard to Keep a Good Love Down” with Randy Scruggs.

Some impressive names appear among the songwriting credits: the bluesy “Used To Blue” was written by Fred Knobloch and Bill LaBounty, “Smoking In The Rockies” — which they had performed on Star Search — was written by Buddy Cannon, Gary Stewart and Frank Dycus and “Staying Afloat” was a Don King co-write with J.D. Martin. Sawyer Brown’s origins can be traced to its members’ stint as Don King’s road band. “The Sun Don’t Shine on the Same Folks Every Time” — one of the more country sounding numbers was co-written by Mark Gray with Danny Morrison and Johnny Slate. Gray had secured a record deal with Epic around the same time and is best remembered for “Sometimes When We Touch”, his duet with Tammy Wynette.

Although the album is not particularly country sounding for the most part, it is well within the realm of what was considered country at the time. Although there are no fiddle and steel and just an occasional touch of harmonica, the album is not overproduced like a lot of other music from that era. Only occasionally do the synthesizers betray the album’s age. Sawyer Brown was not particularly taken seriously by the industry at the time and was somewhat unfairly labeled as a “bubble gum” band. It’s true that there’s nothing here as deep as “The Walk” — a big hit that they would enjoy almost a decade later — but the rest of the album is neither more nor less lightweight than anything else that was on the charts at the time. It is a highly enjoyable and solid first effort that for the most part has aged well.

Grade: A

Week ending 4/1/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales):Young Love/You’re The Reason I’m In Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox): There You Go — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1967: Walk Through This World With Me — George Jones (Musicor)

1977: Southern Nights — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1987: Small Town Girl — Steve Wariner (MCA)

1997: How Was I To Know — Reba McEntire (MCA)

2007: Beer In Mexico — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

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

2017 (Airplay): Dirt On My Boots — Jon Pardi (Capitol)

Single Review: Trace Adkins – ‘Watered Down’

The term “watered down” is usually used in a pejorative sense in the country music world. It’s generally used to refer to music that has been stripped of its country elements in favor of a more MOR sound that will appeal to a wider audience, but as the title of Trace Adkins’ new single, it seems to suggest a creative renaissance of sorts.

It’s been six years since Trace last had a single in the Top 10 and nine years since his last number one. During that time period country music saw the rise and (hopefully) fall of Bro-country and a lot of other changes that many of us were not happy about. Trace himself bears some responsibility for the genre’s wrong turn, given some of his own questionable musical choices in recent years. It’s nice to see that he is apparently trying to make amends for that with his latest effort. Written by Matt Jenkins, Trevor Rose and Shane McAnally, “Watered Down” is a ballad that finds Trace acknowledging middle age, without wistfulness, regrets or nostalgia. The production is contemporary — heavily dependent on keyboards and a subtle string section — but it is never heavy-handed. He’s well aware that he is no longer a young man, but he’s not quite ready to retire to a life of golf at The Villages just yet:

We still fly like gypsies
Just a little closer to the ground
And we still love our whiskey
But now it’s just a little watered down

Unless I’m reading too much into this, the song seems to be a metaphor for Trace’s career. It’s very possible that he’ll never again have a big radio hit, but he seems content to settle into a new role as one of country music’s elder statesmen. He’s not going to try to maintain the hectic pace of his younger years, but he’s still going to stick around and make music on his own terms. And if “Watered Down” is an indication of the path he’s planning to take from now on, I very much look forward to following him on his journey.

Grade: A

Album Review: Josh Turner – ‘Deep South’

After numerous delays, Josh Turner fans finally have a new album to listen to, nearly five years after the release of his previous effort Punching Bag. Deep South, produced by Turner’s longtime producer Frank Rogers, arrived last week.

The current climate at country radio is a difficult one for traditional-based artists. MCA was reluctant to release the album until they were sure they had a hit single on the charts. As a result, I awaited this release with some trepidation, expecting it to be a compromise to the demands of the label and radio and not necessarily the album Josh would make if left to his own devices. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it sounds like, although after learning that Turner wrote or co-wrote five of the album’s elven songs, it’s difficult to say for sure exactly where the blame lies.

The underperforming lead single, 2014’s “Lay Low”, which climbed to #28 sounds like a bland Keith Urban song,and the follow-up single about a “pretty little homegrown Hometown Girl”, currently residing at #10 on the charts is a similarly trite effort. I recognize that songs like this are a necessary evil for artists to get on the radio so that their albums can be released. But I do expect that when the album eventually appears that there will be some deeper cuts, and that is where Deep South falls short. The Turner-penned title track is a funky-sounding list of cliches about Southern life — fried chicken, back roads,et al. “All About You”, another Turner composition, is much the same, with the word “girl” used gratuitously throughout the song. “Southern Drawl” combines the southern life and hot chick themes:

She’s as pretty as South Georgia peaches
And as hot as any Tennessee June
She’s a treasure underneath that Carolina kudzu
She still outshines a Mississippi moon
When she walks into a room

Her kiss sure drives me crazy
I melt when she says my name
Just one touch can make this old heart sing
But it ain’t the blue sky in her blue eyes
It ain’t good looks at all
It’s the way she says I love you that makes me fall, y’all
In that sweet, soft, slow southern drawl

I was bored by most of this album, which would have put me right to sleep in the hands of a less capable vocalist. It’s disappointing that after a five-year gap between albums that Turner apparently has so little to say. These songs are shallow, dull and cliche-ridden. It wasn’t until the final track “Hawaiian Girl” that I found a song that I could truly enjoy. It’s not deep either, but it has a throwback sound with plenty of pedal steel and is at least a change of pace.

I’ve long maintained that Josh Turner was a gifted artist who was continually let down by less than stellar material. Deep South unfortunately does nothing to change that assessment and if anything, is a big step in the wrong direction.

Grade: C+

Week ending 3/25/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales):Young Love/You’re The Reason I’m In Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox): Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1967: I Won’t Come In While He’s There — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1977: Southern Nights — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1987: I’ll Still Be Loving You — Restless Heart (RCA)

1997: We Danced Anyway — Deana Carter (Capitol)

2007: Beer In Mexico — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

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

2017 (Airplay): Dirt On My Boots — Jon Pardi (Capitol)