My Kind of Country

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

In Memoriam: Mel Tillis (1932-2017)

Grand Ole Opry star and Country Music Hall of Fame member Mel Tillis has died at age 85. He began recording in the 1950s and was the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year in 1976. He was also a highly regarded songwriter having written such classics as “I Ain’t Never”, “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, “Honey (Open that Door)” and many others. He was also the father of Pam Tillis. Here he is singing “Coca Cola Cowboy”, which was a #1 hit for him in 1979.

Rest in peace, Mel. You will be missed.

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Week ending 11/18/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: It’s the Little Things — Sonny James (Capitol)

1977More to Me — Charley Pride (RCA)

1987: Maybe Your Baby’s Got the Blues — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1997: Love Gets Me Every Time — Shania Twain (Mercury)

2007: Don’t Blink — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2017: What Ifs — Kane Brown ft Lauren Alaina (RCA)

2017 (Airplay): Unforgettable — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

Week ending 11/11/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: You Mean the World to Me — David Houston (Epic)

1977I’m Just a Country Boy — Don Williams (ABC/Dot)

1987: Am I Blue — George Strait (MCA)

1997: Love Gets Me Every Time — Shania Twain (Mercury)

2007: Don’t Blink — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2017: What Ifs — Kane Brown ft Lauren Alaina (RCA)

2017 (Airplay): When It Rains It Pours — Luke Combs (River House/Columbia)

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Next In Line’

1968 was the year that country audiences began to get over their skepticism about Conway Twitty’s authenticity and accept him as a bonafide country artist. He enjoyed his first Top 5 hit that year with “The Image of Me” (from the album Here’s Conway Twitty & His Lonely Blue Boys). And shortly thereafter, “Next In Line” hit #1, becoming the first of his 44 #1 Billboard country hits.

“Next In Line”, the only single from the album that shares its name, was written by Wayne Kemp and Curtis Wayne, and produced by Owen Bradley. At this stage of his career, Conway was still recording hardcore country. The song tells the story of unrequited love as the narrator admires from afar his love interest, who is drowning her sorrows over a breakup. He keeps feeding the jukebox to keep her happy and waits for the day that she will “give up the music and the wine” and give him a chance. This was an important record for Conway, although it would eventually be overshadowed by the many hits that followed it.

As we’ve come to expect from albums released in the 1960s, there are plenty of remakes of songs that had been recently popularized by other artists. 1968 was a particularly good year for country music; among the songs that Twitty covers are Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and “I Started Loving You Again”, Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, and Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”, which works surprisingly well from the male perspective. The two Haggard tunes are well done, although “Mama Tried” lacks the original’s signature Telecaster licks. “Folsom Prison Blues”, however, was a bit of a disappointment because, let’s face it, no one can sing that song the way Johnny Cash did.

“Ain’t It Sad to Stand and Watch Love Die” is a song I’d never heard before. It has a Johnny Cash-type vibe to it and quite liked it. It is a bit of a departure for Conway, as it lacks the pedal steel that was so prominent on most of his country recordings up to this point. The steel is back, front and center on “The Things I Lost in You”. The album closer “I’m Checking Out” has a Bakersfield feel to it and sounds like something Buck Owens might have recorded.

Like Conway’s other early Decca albums this is a very strong collection that traditional country fans will want to sample. It’s available on a 2-for-1 disc with Twitty’s next Decca LP Darling, You Know I Wouldn’t Lie.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Willie Nelson and The Boys: ‘Willie’s Stash, Volume 2’

This collection is a follow-up to Willie Nelson’s 2014 collaboration his sister Bobbie, December Day:  Willie’s Stash, Volume 1.   This time around Willie is teamed up with his two youngest sons, Micah and Lukas, who join him on eleven country classics and one contemporary number that leans heavily on the Hank Williams catalog.

Material-wise, there are no real surprises here.   As always when Willie Nelson records cover material, the unknown is always how much Willie will deviate from the originals.  In the case of this album, the answer is not much.   The seven Williams songs are handled reverently.   The two younger Nelsons, despite their youth, show great enthusiasm for the material and one gets the distinct impression that they have great respect and passion for, it and that these are not just a bunch of old songs that Dad forced them to record.    The three Nelsons harmonize well together, as family groups typically do, and there are some fantastic steel guitar solos courtesy of Mike Johnson.  Rarely have these old chestnuts sounded so energetic.

The one thing that did surprise me is how good Willie’s voice sounds throughout the album, with little signs of the wear-and-tear that has been apparent on some of his recent work.  From what I can gather, these recordings were made in 2011 and 2012, so that partially explains it.  However, his voice is noticeably stronger than it was on 2010’s Country Music collection for Rounder.  Whatever the reason, it’s good to hear Willie in such good vocal form.

This album could have been titled The Nelsons Sing Hank, since some of country music’s famous Hanks wrote the marjority of the album’s songs.  In addition to the seven Williams numbers (“Move It On Over”, “Mind Your Own Business”, “ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” , “Cold Cold Heart”, “Mansion on the Hill”, and “Why Don’t You Love Me”), the album contains a remake of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On”, Hank Locklin’s “Send Me The Pillow You Dream On”, and Hank Cochran’s “Can I Sleep In Your Arms”, which is my favorite song on the album.  Set to the melody of “Red River Valley”, it was a hit in 1973 for Cochran’s then-wife Jeannie Seely, and it was later recorded by Willie for his Red Headed Stranger album in 1975.

The album is rounded out by a cover of Willie’s original composition “Healing Hands of Time” and a modern-folk tune “My Tears Fall” written by singer/songwriter Alyssa Miller.  This contemporary number fits in surprisingly wel l with these old classics and doesn’t sound out of place at all next to them.

Buddy Cannon’s production is tastefully understated and for the most part the album has a sitting around the living room jam-session type feel to it.  I cannot find any fault with it, other than to say I wish it had been released as a double album.   I highly recommend it without reservation.

Grade:  A+

Week ending 11/4/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: You Mean the World to Me — David Houston (Epic)

1977Heaven’s Just a Sin Away — The Kendalls (Ovation)

1987: Right From the Start — Earl Thomas Conley (RCA)

1997: Everywhere — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2007: Don’t Blink — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2017: What Ifs — Kane Brown ft Lauren Alaina (RCA)

2017 (Airplay): When It Rains It Pours — Luke Combs (River House/Columbia)

Album Review: Conway Twitty Sings

Conway Twitty’s first country album was released by Decca in 1966. It shared its title with his first rock-and-roll album that had come out seven years earlier. Unlike other rock-and-roll artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, none of Conway’s rock records had crossed over to the country charts. Although he had grown up listening to country and professed that it was his first musical love, he was initially viewed by many in the country music community with skepticism and suspicion. Later in his career he would introduce influences from pop and R&B into his music, but at this early stage he and producer Owen Bradley bent over backwards to establish his country credibility. This is a hardcore, steel guitar drenched country album from start to finish, that largely eschews the Nashville Sound trappings that were prevalent in the 60s. The vocal choruses are kept to a minimum. Stylistically, the album reminds me of the music that Connie Smith and Charley Pride were making at the time over at RCA.

Conway Twitty Sings contains Conway’s first charted country hit, “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, written by Liz Anderson. A mid tempo number with a rich melody and plenty of pedal steel, this would probably have been a bigger hit had it been released a few years later. It charted at a modest #18, but that was enough to give Conway a toehold on the country market. There were no further singles released from the album and it would be another two years and five more singles before Conway reached the Top 20 again (with 1968’s “The Image of Me”, which would peak at #5).

The rest of the album follows the standard 1960s practice of covering other artists’ recent hits. The Gordon Lightfoot-penned “Ribbon of Darkness” had been a #1 hit a year earlier for Marty Robbins — and would be a hit again in 1969 for Connie Smith. Twitty’s version is too reminiscent of the original Robbins recording; even some of Conway’s enunciations sound like he was channeling Marty. I was a little disappointed in this one; nor did I care for his take on the Johnny Horton (and 20 years later, Dwight Yoakam) hit “Honky Tonk Man”. One would think that this rockabilly number — the only one of its kind on the album — would be tailor-made for Conway Twitty, but this version just doesn’t work.

The rest of the album, however, is stellar and his versions of these songs are all at least equal to the original artists’ renditions — from the Curly Putman-penned Porter Wagoner hit “Green, Green Grass of Home” and Bill Anderson’s “Tip of My Fingers” to “Truck Driven’ Man” which had been a hit for Terry Fell in 1954. A young Buck Owens had sung harmony on the Fell recording and Buck later went on to record “Together Forever”, which Conway also covers on this album.

My favorite track is the country weeper “I’ll Have Another Cup of Coffee (Then I’ll Go)”, in which the protagonist is trying to prolong a visit with his soon to be ex-wife and children. I wasn’t previously familiar with the one but it was a Top 5 hit for Claude Gray in 1961.

Conway Twitty Sings is not one Twitty’s best remembered works, nor is it essential listening. It provides only a glimpse of what Conway would go on to become, but the material is exceptionally strong and it’s always interesting to look back at a legend at the very beginning of his or her career. It is available on a 2-for-1 CD along with his next Decca LP Look Into My Teardrops. These sound like needle-drop recordings; the original masters may have been destroyed in the infamous Universal fire, but the sound quality, while not stellar, is quite adequate.

Grade: A

Week ending 10/28/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: I Don’t Wanna Play House — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1977Heaven’s Just a Sin Away — The Kendalls (Ovation)

1987: Shine, Shine, Shine — Eddy Raven (RCA)

1997: Everywhere — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2007: Don’t Blink — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2017: What Ifs — Kane Brown ft Lauren Alaina (RCA)

2017 (Airplay): What Ifs — Kane Brown ft Lauren Alaina (RCA)

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘Water & Bridges’

In 2006 Kenny Rogers once again found himself signed to a major label — an interesting turn of events for an almost 70-year-old artist. Water & Bridges was released by Capitol and produced by Dann Huff, who is not my favorite producer but I was pleasantly surprised by the fruits of their labors. Like most Kenny Rogers albums, this is a pop-country collection, but unlike a lot of his earlier work, there are no blatant pop songs. Everything is targeted for the mainstream country audience, such as it was a little over a decade ago. The production is polished, but not tastefully restrained.

The title track, which opens the album is a somber ballad written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, about life’s regrets and the need to accept them and move on. It was too serious for consideration as a single, but a very good song nonetheless. It had previously been recorded by Collin Rate a few years earlier. “Someone Is Me” is a bit of social commentary written by Josh Kear and Joe Doyle, which urges people to take action to correct the things that are wrong with this world instead of waiting for someone else to do it. “Someone Somewhere Tonight” is a little too slickly produced for my taste, but Sarah Buxton harmonizes well with Kenny. This song would later be recorded by Pam Tillis and Kellie Pickler, who took it to #49 on the Billboard country singles chart.

The album’s best song is its lead single “I Can’t Unlove You” which took Kenny to the Top 20 one last time. Peaking at #17, this break-up ballad would have been a monster hit if it had come along during Rogers’ commercial heyday. “The Last Ten Years (Superman)” was the next single. True to its title, it refers to a number of events that were in the news during the previous decade (1996-2006), making reference to events such as the Oklahoma City bombing, the Y2K hysteria, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as well as name-checking several celebrities that passed away during that time, from Minnie Pearl, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash to Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and actor Christopher Reeve. It’s a very good song, but as a stripped-down, serious ballad focusing on mostly unhappy events, it didn’t perform particularly well at radio, topping out at #56. “Calling Me”, a mid tempo number featuring a Gospel-like piano and duet vocal by Don Henley fared slightly better, peaking at #53. It’s a little more pop-leaning than the rest of the album but it deserved more attention than it received. It marks Kenny Rogers’ last appearance (to date) on the Billboard country singles chart.

Kenny’s voice shows some signs of wear and tear at times, but for the most part he is in good vocal form and I enjoyed this album a lot more than I expected to. It might have benefited from a little more uptempo material, but overall this is a solid effort. It’s available for streaming and worth checking out.

Grade: B

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘We’ve Got Tonight’

1983’s We’ve Got Tonight was Kenny Rogers’ final album for Liberty before moving on to RCA. By this stage of the game, his priority was maintaining his position on the adult contemporary and pop charts; he and his producers having long since figured out that country radio would stick with him regardless of what kind of music he released. That approach is apparent in both the choice of material and the choice of a duet partner to perform the album’s title cut. Instead of partnering again with Dottie West or another well-known country artist, Kenny was matched up with Scottish pop singer Sheena Easton. At the time Easton was signed to Liberty’s parent company EMI. She was best known to American audiences for her hit “9 to 5 (Morning Train)” which had topped the Hot 100 three years earlier. Since then, her chart success had been inconsistent, and pairing her up with Rogers may have been EMI’s attempt to increase her visibility in the US market.

If so, the strategy proved successful. Despite a complete lack of country instrumentation, “We’ve Got Tonight” quickly rose to #1 on the Billboard country charts (Easton’s only entry on that chart) and landed at #2 on the adult contemporary chart. It also reached #6 on the Hot 100, outdoing its composer Bob Seger’s original version, which had reached #13 five years earlier. Although not country, this ballad about a lonely couple seeking to justify and rationalize a one-night stand is a very good song and Rogers’ and Easton’s voices blend well together. One suspects that they might have teamed up again for future projects had Rogers remained with an EMI label.

“We’ve Got Tonight” was followed by another AC ballad “All My Life” another song that I liked though it is not even remotely country. Country radio balked a bit at two AC-leaning ballads in a row; “All My Life” topped out at #13 on the country charts, marking the first time Rogers failed to make the country top 10 since his pre-“Lucille” days. The song performed better on the adult contemporary charts, where it reached #2. It got to #37 on the Hot 100; I’d venture to say that today this is one of Rogers’ least-remembered songs.

It was relatively unusual in those days for a Kenny Rogers album to produce more than two singles, but Liberty sent a third track from this collection to radio. “Scarlet Fever” was perhaps a response to “All My Life’s” lack of success on the country charts. My favorite song on the album, it is one of the albums few nods to country music and marks a return of sorts to story songs like “Lucille”, “The Gambler” and “Coward of the County”. It tells the story of a middle-aged man who is infatuated with a much younger exotic dancer that he sees at a gentleman’s nightclub. It charted at #5 country but saw no action on the AC charts.

The upbeat rock-tinged “Farther I Go” was probably country enough by 1983 standards to have had a reasonable shot at country radio. The only other cut with any country appeal is “What I Learned From Loving You”; Lynn Anderson had a competing version on the charts at the time. Her rendition reached #18 and was something of a comeback hit for her. Randy Goodrum’s “No Dreams” is a very nice ballad that was probably too pop for country radio but could have been a bit hit on the AC charts.

The album closes with a “You Are So Beautiful”, a nice ballad that had previously been rendered unlistenable by Joe Cocker’s rough-as-sandpaper vocals. It’s too bad Kenny didn’t get to this one first.

Albums like this are always difficult to evaluate. It’s more pop than country, but that was hardly unexpected from Kenny Rogers by this stage of his career. I’d become interested in his music a few years earlier from listening to my father’s vinyl copy of his 1980 Greatest Hits album. We’ve Got Tonight was the second (after Love Will Turn You Around) Rogers studio album that I’d ever bought. It’s one that’s been with me for a long time and I’ve always found it enjoyable despite its pop leanings. It has certainly aged better than most of the albums in Rogers’ UA/Liberty catalog.

Grade: B

Week ending 10/21/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You — Ray Price (Columbia)

1967: I Don’t Wanna Play House — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1977Heaven’s Just a Sin Away — The Kendalls (Ovation)

1987: Fishin’ in the Dark — The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (Warner Bros.)

1997: How Do I Get There — Deana Carter (Capitol)

2007: Love Me If You Can — Toby Keith (Show Dog Nashville)

2017: What Ifs — Kane Brown ft Lauren Alaina (RCA)

2017 (Airplay): All the Pretty Girls — Kenny Chesney (Blue Chair/Columbia)

Week ending 10/14/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Fraulein — Bobby Helms (Decca)

1967: I Don’t Wanna Play House — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1977Heaven’s Just a Sin Away — The Kendalls (Ovation)

1987: The Way We Make a Broken Heart — Rosanne Cash (Columbia)

1997: How Your Love Makes Me Feel — Diamond Rio (Arista)

2007: Online — Brad Paisley (Arista)

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

2017 (Airplay): All the Pretty Girls — Kenny Chesney (Blue Chair/Columbia)

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘The Gambler’

The Gambler was Kenny Rogers’ third album of 1978, after Love or Something Like It and Every Time Two Fools Collide, a duet album with Dottie West. Thanks to its career-defining title track, The Gambler was also Kenny’s best-selling studio album, with more than five million copies sold in the US.

Written by Don Schlitz, “The Gambler” was a story song, the type at which Rogers excelled. It tells the tale the down-on-his-luck narrator who receives some unsolicited advice from a professional gambler during a late-night chance meeting on a “train bound for nowhere”. It was a monster hit, reaching #1 on the country chart, #3 on the adult contemporary chart and #16 on the Hot 100, and is Rogers’ best-remembered song today. Surprisingly, he wasn’t the first to record it. Bobby Bare and Johnny Cash had both released it as an album cut and Schlitz recorded his own version, which maxed out at #65. The album’s other hit single was the ballad “She Believes in Me”, a lush ballad about a struggling musician and the supportive wife he repeatedly takes for granted. It’s a bit too AC-leaning for a lot of people, but it’s a song I’ve always liked a lot. It reached #1 on the country and AC charts, and reached #5 on the Hot 100.

“I Wish That I Could Hurt That Way Again” is another nice ballad, written by Rafe Van Hoy, Don Cook and Curly Putman, that would go on to be a big hit for T. Graham Brown in 1986. I think Kenny’s version could have been a big hit, but perhaps United Artists didn’t want to release another ballad on the heels of “She Believes In Me”. Sonny Throckmorton’s “A Little More Like Me (The Crucifixion)”, about a charismatic celebrity — a thinly veiled metaphor for Christ — is another track I really enjoyed.

In the 1970s, country artists with crossover potential rarely released albums that were country through and through, preferring instead to include a variety of styles in order to appeal to as wide an audience as possible (although more often than not they managed to please no one). Kenny Rogers was no exception. I expected The Gambler to be a more country-leaning album, but a number of tracks: “Makin’ Music for Money”, “The Hoodooin’ of Miss Fannie DeBerry” (both written by Alex Harvey) and “Tennessee Bottle” incorporate a bluesy, funky vibe that might have been considered cutting edge in the late 70s, but it hasn’t aged at all well. I didn’t like any of these songs. Add to that list Rogers’ original composition “Morgana Jones”, a hot mess of a song that features some jazz scatting along with the R&B and funk.

Overall, The Gambler is a mixed bag. Only the two hit singles are essential listening. The album can be streamed, and it may be worth picking up a cheap copy if you can find it, but I recommend cherry-picking the handful of decent songs and forgetting about the rest.

Grade: B-

Week ending 10/7/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Fraulein — Bobby Helms (Decca)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Fraulein — Bobby Helms (Decca)

1967: Turn The World Around — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1977Daytime Friends — Kenny Rogers (United Artists)

1987: You Again — The Forester Sisters (Warner Bros.)

1997: How Your Love Makes Me Feel — Diamond Rio (Arista)

2007: Take Me There — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

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

2017 (Airplay): Small Town Boy — Dustin Lynch (Broken Bow)

Spotlight Artist: Kenny Rogers

Our October spotlight artist has had a career spanning more than fifty years and has enjoyed tremendous success in a variety of musical genres. Kenneth Ray Rogers was born on August 21, 1938 in Houston, Texas. His recording career dates back to the 1950s. After enjoying a minor hit in 1957 with “That Crazy Feeling” he joined a jazz group called The Bobby Doyle Three. After the group disbanded in 1965 he had a brief stint with the New Christy Minstrels. A year later, he and some of his bandmates formed a new group, Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. Marketed primarily as a rock group, The First Edition dabbled in a variety of styles, including psychedelic pop, folk, and R&B. In 1969 the group enjoyed a Top 40 country hit with the Mel Tillis-penned “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town”. Although it was only a modest success on the country charts, it reached the Top 10 on both the pop and adult contemporary charts.

After The First Edition disbanded, Rogers reinvented himself as a country artist, signing a solo deal with United Artists Records 1n 1975. His first single for the label, “Love Lifted Me” reached the Top 20 on the country charts. Two more minor hits followed, and in 1977 he enjoyed his breakthrough hit “Lucille”, a story song about an aborted one-night stand that occurs shortly after the narrator witnesses the breakup of his partner’s marriage in a bar. It reached #1 on the country charts and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and enjoyed international success as well. For the rest of the 1970s and well into the 1980s, Kenny Rogers was country music’s best selling artist. Most of his records enjoyed success on both the pop and country charts.

He recorded a number of hit duets with United Artists labelmate Dottie West in the late 1970s, beginning with 1978’s “Every Time Two Fools Collide”. The exposure not only revived West’s solo career; it took it to new heights. In 1980 she enjoyed her first solo #1 hit, twenty years into her recording career.

Also in 1978, Rogers released the song with which he is most closely identified today: “The Gambler”, which led to a number of made-for-TV movies with Rogers in the starring role. In 1980 he teamed up with Lionel Richie, who wrote and produced “Lady”, Rogers’ only solo record to top the Billboard Hot 100.

United Artists was sold to EMI in 1978 and was renamed Liberty Records in 1980. Rogers remained with the label until 1983, when he signed a $20 million deal with RCA (a huge sum in those days). His last #1 hit for Liberty was a remake of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” performed as a duet with Scottish singer Sheena Easton. After signing with RCA, Rogers teamed up with Barry Gibb, who produced and wrote most of the material for Eyes That See In The Dark,
the debut album for his new label. The first single from that project was “Islands in the Stream”, which found Kenny collaborating for the first time with Dolly Parton. Although country in name and marketing only, the tune quickly topped the country charts and reached the top of the Hot 100 as well, marking the second and last time that either artist would top that chart. It went on to become a global hit.

At the same time, Liberty Records was still releasing Kenny Rogers singles, and “Scarlet Fever”, his final release for his former label, became a #5 country hit at the same time “Islands in the Stream” was climbing the charts. Rogers remained with RCA through the end of the decade. During his tenure with the label, his music became more adult-contemporary oriented while the rest of country music went in the opposite direction when the New Traditionalist movement got underway. In 1989, Kenny moved to Reprise Records (his label during his First Edition days), and his chart success began to become less consistent.

The 1990s marked the beginning of a long dry spell. He left Warner/Reprise and eventually started his own label Dreamcatcher. In 1999 he enjoyed a surprise late-career hit when “The Greatest”, a tune about a young boy dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player, reached #26 on the country charts. Many regarded the surprise hit as an outlier, but country music had not yet heard the last of Kenny Rogers. He enjoyed another unexpected hit in 1999 when “Buy Me a Rose” went to #1, making the 61-year-old Kenny Rogers the oldest artist to ever top the Billboard country chart. The record was broken a few years later when 69-year-old Willie Nelson topped the chart with his Toby Keith duet “Beer For My Horses”.

The success of “Buy Me a Rose” was enough to make the major labels take another look at Kenny Rogers. He released “Water & Bridges” for Capitol in 2006 and You Can’t Make Old Friends for Warner Bros in 2013. The title track of the latter paired him up once again with Dolly Parton. That same year he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Two years later he announced his retirement and embarked on a farewell tour that is scheduled to conclude in Nashville at the end of this month.

Critics have often derided Kenny Rogers as not authentically country, and there is no doubt that because he tried to maintain a presence on both the pop and country charts, not all of his music will appeal to everyone. That being said, there is no denying his contributions to and impact on the country genre. We can’t possibly do justice to a 50-year career in just one month, so we’ll be focusing mainly on his country successes of the 1970s and 1980s.

Week ending 9/30/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): : Fraulein — Bobby Helms (Decca)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You — Ray Price (Columbia)

1967: Laura What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got — Leon Ashley (Ashley)

1977I’ve Already Loved You In My Mind — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1987: Three Time Loser — Dan Seals (EMI America)

1997: How Your Love Makes Me Feel — Diamond Rio (Arista)

2007: Take Me There — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

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

2017 (Airplay): Small Town Boy — Dustin Lynch (Broken Bow)

Album Review: Nathan Carter – ‘Livin’ the Dream’

Liverpool native Nathan Carter’s latest collection was released in June of this year, and as is typical of summer releases, it has its fair share of upbeat, fun songs. Though not strictly a country album — it is a mixture of country, pop and traditional Irish folk — disenfranchised American country fans will find a lot to like here, among them very nice covers of Lee Greenwood’s “Holdin’ a Good Hand” and David Ball’s “Riding with Private Malone”, about a young man who buys a 1966 Corvette that once belonged to a solider who was killed in battle.

My favorite track is Carter’s take on “Ned of the Hill”, a traditional Irish ballad about Edmund Ryan, a seventeenth-century earl whose estates were confiscated in retaliation for his support of the deposed James II’s attempt to reclaim the British throne — a quest that ended in defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, an event which also marked Britain’s final conquest of Ireland:

Young Ned of the Hill has no castle or hall
No bowmen or spearmen to come at his call
But one little archer of exquisite skill
Has loosed a bright shaft for young Ned of the Hill
It is hard to escape to this young lady’s bower
For high is the castle and guarded the tower
But where there’s a will there’s always a way
And young Eileen is gone with young Ned of the Hill

On a more contemporary note, “Jealous of the Angels” is a nice contemporary ballad about a young man who is mourning the loss of his wife or girlfriend. A sentimental piano-led ballad with a gentle string section, it is the type of song that used to be a staple on country radio in the US.

The album ends with a live version of another contemporary ballad “Summer in Dublin”, which is not even remotely country, but is still quite enjoyable. The rest of the album consists mostly of fluffy-upbeat material, some of which I would not have liked at all in the hands of a less capable vocalist. One — “Me and You” — to my disappointment was not a remake of one of the very few Kenny Chesney songs that I truly liked; it’s a bit of uptempo ear candy that would be better without the overbearing background singers and their”nah-nah-nah’s”. I also expected “Rollin’ Home” to be ballad in the “prodigal has returned” vein, but it too is an uptempo number that has a Cajun feel thanks to the accordion that is thrown into the mix. It also has good bit of saxophone, an instrument I tend to dislike. I suspect that I might have enjoyed this one better with different production. On the other hand “Caribbean Feeling” was a lot better than I expected, having developed an aversion to beach music thanks to Kenny Chesney.

Livin’ the Dream may not be a masterpiece from start to finish but it has more than its share of great moments.

Grade: B+

Week ending 9/23/17: #1 singles this week in country music

1957 (Sales): : Fraulein — Bobby Helms (Decca)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Fraulein — Bobby Helms (Decca)

1967: Laura What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got — Leon Ashley (Ashley)

1977Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1987: This Crazy Love — The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)

1997: There Goes — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2007: Take Me There — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

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

2017 (Airplay): Small Town Boy — Dustin Lynch (Broken Bow)

Album Review: Lisa McHugh – ‘#country’

Lisa McHugh’s most recent album was released just about a year ago. While its predecessors were heavily reliant on cover versions of other artists’ hits, none of the tracks on #country are originals. While that in itself does not concern me, the 14-track collection does lack focus and could have benefited from a little pruning. I think this is definitely a case of “less is more” and the omission of a few tracks could have resulted in an outstanding album instead of just a very good one.

Let’s start with what does work: Many of the songs will be familiar to country fans on this side of the Atlantic; McHugh covers a variety of artists that have had success in North America. Her versions of The Wilkersons’ “26 Cents” and Sweethearts of the Rodeo’s “Satisfy You” rival the originals, and she turns in a stunning version of The Pistol Annie’s “I Hope You’re The End of My Story”. She handles uptempo material like Jann Browne’s “Who’s Gonna Be Your Next Love” as adeptly as she does ballads like Joey + Rory’s “To Say Goodbye”. She also turns in a reverent treatment of Loretta Lynn’s first Top 10 hit “Success”. Less familiar to most listeners are “Play Me the Waltz of the Angels”, which has been recorded many times — as far as I can tell the original version was by Buck Owens. This is my favorite track, followed by “Peggy Gordon”, an old folk song of Canadian origin, which is given a Celtic arrangement and sung as a duet with Malachi Cush, a folk singer from Northern Ireland. Lisa’s voice has been compared many times to Dolly Parton; on this particular track there are definite traces of Alison Krauss.

Not working as well are “He’s a Good Ole Boy”, which was Chely Wright’s debut single from 1994. I’ve always liked this song, which can best be described as Loretta Lynn with a twist — the protagonist confronts her romantic rival but instead of warning her to stay away, she is more than happy to unload her ne-er-do-well lover:

To steal him is your number one ambition
But sister, here’s one safe that you don’t have to crack
I’ll hand him over under one condition:
A deal’s a deal and you can’t give him back.

I’ve always liked this song and felt it deserved more attention that it received – and I really wanted to like McHugh’s version, but her delivery lacks the passion that Chely Wright brought to it. Her versions of Crystal Gayle’s “Why Have You Left the One You Left Me For” and Alabama’s “High Cotton” work a little better, but she doesn’t bring anything new to either of these songs. I would have omitted all of them from the album — and that goes double for the album’s biggest misstep “Stuck Like Glue”. The organic Celtic arrangement is not nearly as obnoxious as the Sugarland original but this is a bad song no matter who sings it.

McHugh is an extremely talented vocalist and this is a solid effort — with only one truly terrible song (“Stuck Like Glue”), but one gets the sense that McHugh is still struggling to find her artistic direction. She seems willing to record anything and everything. I’d like to hear more “Peggy Gordons” and “Play Me The Waltz of the Angels” and fewer “Stuck Like Glues” in the future. Still the album is worth downloading — just be sure to skip over “Stuck Like Glue”.

Grade: B+

Week ending 9/16/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On — Jerry Lee Lewis (Sun)

1957 (Disc Jockeys) (tie): Fraulein — Bobby Helms (Decca)
My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You — Ray Price (Columbia)

1967: My Elusive Dreams — David Houston & Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1977Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1987: Make No Mistake, She’s Mine — Kenny Rogers & Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1997: She’s Got It All — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2007: More Than a Memory — Garth Brooks (Big Machine/Pearl)

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

2017 (Airplay): Small Town Boy — Dustin Lynch (Broken Bow)