My Kind of Country

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

Week ending 12/30/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): My Special Angel — Bobby Helms (Decca)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): My Special Angel — Bobby Helms (Decca)

1967: For Loving You — Bill Anderson & Jan Howard (Decca)

1977Here You Come Again — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1987: Somewhere Tonight — Highway 101 (Warner Bros.)

1997: Longneck Bottle — Garth Brooks (Capitol)

2007: Our Song — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2017: Meant to Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Warner Bros.)

2017 (Airplay): I’ll Name the Dogs — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

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Classic Rewind: The Time Jumpers – ‘Leaving and Saying Goodbye’

Country music has been my lifelong passion. I’ve been drawn to country songs for as long as I can remember and before I even knew what name to put to it. That passion kicked into high gear when I was around 12 years old and has never wavered. From the Nashville Sound and the Urban Cowboy era to the New Traditionalist movement, I loved it all.

My Kind of Country turns nine years old this month, debuting at a time when mainstream country music was starting to head off in what many of us felt was the wrong direction. Founded by J.R. Journey, Eric Petterson and Chris Dean, it was meant not to be a forum to rant about what was wrong about country music, but to talk about the music that we did like – to introduce (or reintroduce in some cases) the songs and artists that had made country music great, and to highlight worthwhile new music. I was invited to join in February 2009 and jumped at the chance to have an opportunity to talk about my passion.

Anyone who has ever written for a blog will tell you that it is a labor of love. Although it can be deeply satisfying, the most difficult aspect is the demand that it puts on one’s time. Giving a blog the amount of time that is needed to do it properly, while still trying to juggle life’s other demands becomes increasingly difficult and eventually something must give. I’ve been feeling that pressure for quite some time and finally decided a few months ago that I would retire from blogging at the end of the year — which is now just a few days away.

Over the past nine years I’ve continued to hope that commercial country music would improve, while year after year things only seemed to get worse. There have been some glimmers of hope, lately, though with artists like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell connecting with audiences with little or no support from radio. I shall continue to hope for the emergence of the next Randy Travis to finally turn things around. In the meantime, I leave you in the very capable hands of my colleagues Occasional Hope, Jon Pappalardo and Paul Dennis. It’s been an honor working with them, and it’s been an honor writing for you, the readers. May 2018 be a happy and healthy year for all.

Week ending 12/23/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): My Special Angel — Bobby Helms (Decca)

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

1967: For Loving You — Bill Anderson & Jan Howard (Decca)

1977Here You Come Again — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1987: Do Ya — K.T. Oslin (RCA)

1997: Longneck Bottle — Garth Brooks (Capitol)

2007: Our Song — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2017: Meant to Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Warner Bros.)

2017 (Airplay): Light It Up — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

Razor X’s Top Albums of 2017

Another year has come and gone, and once again we lament the deplorable state of mainstream country music, while pointing out a few glimmers of hope that will never be heard on the radio. Among this year’s highlights are:

10. Dailey & Vincent – ‘Patriots and Poets’

Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent had quite a year, which included being inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry in March, followed by the release of one of the best bluegrass albums of the year. This generous sample of bluegrass and spiritual tunes is the perfect showcase for the duo’s trademark harmonies.

9. Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary – ‘American Grandstand’

Not to be outdone, Darrin’s big sister Rhonda also turned in a stellar collection, teaming up this time with her former label mate Daryle Singletary. Although heavily reliant on cover material, there are some new songs here as well. This is a real treat for those who are starved for some real country music.

8. Charley Pride – ‘Music In My Heart’

The legendary Charley Pride returned after a six-year recording hiatus, with one of the strongest offerings of his post-major label career. Sirius XM subscribers who listen to Willie’s Roadhouse will no doubt be familiar with “You’re Still In These Crazy Arms of Mine”, which was my favorite song on the album. Like the Vincent/Singletary album, this one has its share of remakes but there’s not a weak one to be found.

7. Reba McEntire – ‘Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope’

Reba McEntire is my favorite female singer, but I’ve been disappointed with her offerings over the last decade more times than I care to remember. This double album which is divided evenly between traditional hymns and more contemporary inspirational songs shows that when commercial considerations are cast aside, Reba is still in a class all by herself. I’m cautiously optimistic that this album is a sign that she’s finally stopped chasing chart success and ready to release some worthwhile material again.

6. Sunny Sweeney – ‘Trophy’

While it’s regrettable that Sunny Sweeney never enjoyed the mainstream success she deserved, getting out of her major label deal was the best thing that ever happened to her from a creative standpoint. While Concrete was a bit too eclectic for my liking, Trophy gets it just right and is her best offering since Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame. “Bottle By My Bed”, which she co-wrote with Lori McKenna, would be a monster hit in a sane world.

5. Alison Krauss – ‘Windy City’

Alison Krauss is another artist with whom I’d become a bit disillusioned, but she redeemed herself nicely with this collection of cover songs, which aren’t quite classics for the most part, but deserved to be introduced to a new audience. This is the best album she’s done in years — arguably the best of her career.

4. Zephaniah OHora with the 18 Wheelers – ‘This Highway’

This collection of original material which recreates the Bakersfield and countrypolitan sounds of the 60s was a pleasant surprise. Although it could have benefited from a little more variety in tempo, this a wonderful album and I hope that it is the first of many from this native of Brooklyn.

3. & 2. Chris Stapleton: ‘From A Room: Volumes 1 & 2’

These widely anticipated follow-ups to 2015’s Traveller were presumably intended to be a double album, but Mercury Records seems to have gotten cold feet about the sales potential of a double set, so they split it into two separate releases. Both discs feature very sparse production and gorgeous harmonies from Chris’ wife Morgane Hayes-Stapleton. With a heavy blues influence, theses albums are not traditional country, but there are a perfect antidote to the overproduced pop masquerading as country music on the radio today. I liked the second volume slightly better than the first.

1. Willie Nelson and The Boys: ‘Willie’s Stash, Volume 2’

This collection finds the Red-Headed Stranger teaming up with his two sons Lukas and Micah and digging deeply into the catalog of Hank Williams. Despite their youth, the younger Nelsons show obvious enthusiasm for the material, proving that Willie raised those boys right. This was a pleasure from start to finish. My favorite track was the Hank Cochran-penned “Can I Sleep In Your Arms”, which was hit for Cochran’s then-wife Jeannie Seely in 1973 and later recorded by Willie for his Red-Headed Stranger album.

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘Restless’

Although the New Traditionalist movement would not get fully underway until 1986, there were some signs of the changes that to come as early as 1984. That was the year that The Judds enjoyed their first #1 hit with “Mama He’s Crazy” and Reba McEntire received both critical accolades and commercial success with My Kind of Country, while George Strait and Ricky Skaggs continued to keep traditional country on the radio.

1984 also saw some changes for The Bellamy Brothers, although they moved in the opposite direction, with more layered production and pop elements than had previously been the case with their music. The change was likely precipitated by a change of co-producers, with Steve Klein taking over for Jimmy Bowen, a switch that was probably brought about by a change in label affiliations. In the 1970s and 1980s Curb Records was not a standalone label; they typically partnered up with a larger label to distribute and promote their artists. Up to now, the Bellamys’ albums were released jointly by Curb and either Warner Bros. or Elektra, but beginning in 1984, their music was released by MCA/Curb.

Restless, their first release under this new arrangement, was warmly received by radio, with all three of its singles reaching the Top 10 or better. “Forget About Me” (which I actually had forgotten about) reached #5. The very mellow “The World’s Greatest Lover”, complete with its Kenny G-esque saxophone, reached #6 and “I Need More of You” — the best of the three — climbed all the way to #1, becoming the duo’s seventh country chart-topper. “Forget About Me” was written by Frankie Miller, Troy Seals and Eddie Setser, while the other two singles came from the pen of David Bellamy.

Overall this is a very mellow album with mostly mid-tempo numbers, with “Rock-A-Billy” — which is exactly the kind of song its title suggests — and the title track being notable exceptions. The poppy and lyrically-light “I Love It” is a very catchy toe-tapper. “Diesel Cafe”, about a run-down greasy spoon truck stop has a melody that reminds me of Alabama’s “Christmas In Dixie.” I did not care for the reggae-flavored “We’re Having Some Fun Now.”

While there is nothing truly objectionable on Restless, it seems to be somewhat of an opportunity for the duo to explore other musical styles, which unfortunately results in them straying a bit too far at times from their country roots. I wouldn’t necessarily go out and buy this one, but it is worth streaming.

Grade: B

Week ending 12/16/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): My Special Angel — Bobby Helms (Decca)

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

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

1977Here You Come Again — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1987: The Last One to Know — Reba McEntire (MCA)

1997: From Here to Eternity — Michael Peterson (Reprise)

2007: So Small — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

2017: Meant to Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Warner Bros.)

2017 (Airplay): Ask Me How I Know — Garth Brooks (Pearl)

Week ending 12/9/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): My Special Angel — Bobby Helms (Decca)

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

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

1977Here You Come Again — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1987: Somebody Lied — Ricky Van Shelton (Columbia)

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

2007: So Small — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

2017: Greatest Love Story — LANco (Arista)

2017 (Airplay): Greatest Love Story — LANco (Arista)

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘The Two and Only’

The Bellamy Brothers made their debut in 1976 with “Let Your Love Flow”, which was a major pop hit domestically and internationally, reaching #1 on the pop charts in the US, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and Australia. It was, however, only a modest success on the country charts, leveling out at #21 in the US and #42 in Canada. It was also followed by a lengthy dry spell, which found the brothers in danger of being written off as one-hit wonders.

Although the Bellamys reached the Top 20 on the country charts twice in 1978, the drought ended officially the following year with the release of “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me”, written by David Bellamy and inspired by a double entrendre made famous by Groucho Marx. It reached #1 on the country charts in the US. It also reached #39 on the Hot 100, marking the duo’s fourth and final appearance on that chart. It also performed well overseas, reaching the Top 5 in Switzerland and the UK, and #12 in Australia. More importantly, it was the first in a long line of mostly Top 10 country hits that continued until 1990.

The Two and Only, the album from which “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body” came, produced one other hit, also written by David Bellamy, “You Ain’t Just Whistlin’ Dixie”, a ballad that pays homage to the south and solidified the Brothers’ country credentials — the subject matter and production are more traditional than the preceding single, which comes across a bit as MOR with a bit of steel guitar. “You Ain’t Just Whistlin’ Dixie” peaked at #5. It is very good, but it is not one of the duo’s better remembered tunes today. I don’t recall ever hearing it before.

By 1979 it was no longer standard practice for country acts to pad their albums with filler that consisted mostly remakes of other artists’ recent chart hits. The Two and Only consists primarily of original material, with eight of its ten songs written by either David or Howard Bellamy. The two outside songs are “May You Never” written by John Martyn and “Loving On” by Ben Peters. The former is one of my favorites and is a rare example of both brothers singing lead together.

“Ole Faithful”, written by Howard and featuring him on lead vocals, is the album’s most traditional track and the only one to feature a fiddle. It’s not what country radio was looking for in 1979 (or now) but it is an excellent song. The closing track “Wet T-Shirt” a David composition, could be said to be a precursor of bro-country with its references to beaches, beer and “clinging and tight” clothing, but it is much more tastefully executed than more contemporary examples and only the most prudish among us would be offended. It’s by no means the album’s strongest track but since we weren’t being force-fed a steady diet of such songs, it is quite tolerable.

I’ve never delved too deeply into the Bellamy Brothers catalog up to now, but I am quite impressed with the quality of the songs on this album, and how well they have stood the test of time. The album is available for streaming and is certainly worth a listen.

Grade: A-

Week ending 12/2/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Jailhouse Rock/Treat Me Nice — Elvis Presley (RCA)

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

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

1977The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want to Get Over You) — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1987: Lynda — Steve Wariner (MCA)

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

2007: So Small — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

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

2017 (Airplay): Greatest Love Story — LANco (Arista)

Week ending 11/25/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

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

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

1977The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want to Get Over You) — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1987: I Won’t Need You Anymore (Always and Forever) — Randy Travis (Warner Bros.)

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

2007: Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go) – Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

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

2017 (Airplay): Every Little Thing — Carly Pearce (Big Machine)

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Crazy In Love’

One of the reasons for Conway Twitty’s longevity as an artist was his knack for adapting to new musical trends. In the 1980s, as country music entered the Urban Cowboy era and adopted a slicker, more pop-oriented sound, Conway did likewise, and maintained his position at the top of the charts. His new sound was particularly evident on the Warner/Elektra recordings. Interestingly, though, he did not follow country music’s trend back toward a more traditional sound in the latter half of the decade. For whatever reason, it seemed to work. His albums from this era only sold modestly but he continued to have radio hits, although somewhat less consistently, and remained relevant to the genre.

Crazy In Love was Conway’s first full-length album of the 1990s. He produced it with his wife Dee Henry and MCA label chief Jimmy Bowen. Like his other recent efforts, there is nary a fiddle nor a steel guitar to be found, although the album itself encompasses a variety of styles from pop and R&B to more traditional country fare. The title track and lead single was perhaps his most pop-leaning single ever. It had originally been included on a Joe Cocker album in 1984 and Kim Carnes took it to #13 on the AC charts in 1988. Kenny Rogers had a competing version from his 1990 Love Is Strange album, which reached #9 on the AC charts. Conway’s version reached #2 on the country charts, a position where many of his singles had landed since he’d rejoined MCA in 1987. Written by Randy McCormick and Even Stevens, there is nothing even remotely country about this song, but it is very good nonetheless. The upbeat “I Couldn’t See You Leavin'”, written by Rory Michael Bourke and Ronny Scaife reached #3, making it the last bonafide hit single of Conway’s career. None of his subsequent efforts would chart in the Top 20. There was one last single released from Crazy In Love, though — the traditional-leaning “One Bridge I Didn’t Burn”, which peaked at a disappointing #57, despite being the best song on the album. It is, however, a track that is crying out for the fiddle-and-steel treatment. The album cut “What’s Another Goodbye”, written by Kent Robbins is another very good track that would have benefited from more traditional instrumentation.

I wasn’t as enamored by Conway’s cover of the 1978 Dr. Hook hit “When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman” (another Even Stevens composition) or the slightly overblown power ballad “Just the Thought of Losing You”, written by Michael Bolton and Jonathan Cain. Both are well executed but with so many good country songs available in Nashville at the time (unlike today), one wonders why these two were chosen. The upbeat closing track “Hearts Breakin’ All Over Town” is not bad but is only truly noteworthy because of its co-writer Pam Tillis who was about to enjoy her own commercial breakthrough.

Conway Twitty’s long career saw him embracing a number of different musical styles and as such it is inevitable that everything he did will be to everyone’s taste. While I wouldn’t rate Crazy In Love as highly as his early 70s albums, it is a solid effort for its era. I don’t think I’ve ever truly hated anything Conway Twitty did — aside from his unfortunate treatment of “Danny Boy” during his rock-and-roll days. Crazy In Love is not essential listening, but it is a worthwhile late career effort from a true legend, who truly was the best friend a song ever had.

Grade: B+

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.

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