My Kind of Country

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

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)

Album Review: Robert Mizzell – ‘Travelling Shoes’

Produced by Wayne Thorose, Robert Mizzell’s latest offering was released late last year. As usual, there is a heavy reliance on cover material, although he largely avoided covering song that have been overdone already. That complaint aside, there is little to gripe about here; this is a solid collection of the kind of country music that rarely gets made anymore on this side of the Atlantic.

The title track is Sawyer Brown tune dating back to the band’s 1992 Cafe on the Corner album. Mizzell also covers Lefty Frizzell (“Gone, Gone, Gone” written by Harlan Howard), Johnny Cash (“Greystone Chapel” from 1968’s Live at Folsom Prison), Mel Street (“Borrowed Angel”) and Kris Kristofferson (“Why Me Lord”), as well as more contemporary artists such as Josh Turner (“Firecracker”) and Phil Vassar (“Like I Never Loved Before”). He acquits himself nicely on all of these, although “Firecracker” is not one of my favorite Josh Turner songs. “Like I Never Loved Before” is a pop-tinged power ballad, and though well done, seems out of place on this otherwise very traditional album. However, the best cover on this album is “Her Carried Her Memory”, an obscure Bradley Walker number dating back to 2006. This is a great song that deserves to be better known than it is.

“Day Job” was written and originally recorded by Gord Bamford, an Australian country singer who was raised in Canada and has enjoyed some success there. Mizzell’s version enjoyed some success on the Irish charts. It’s a fun song, whose central theme is one to which most of us can relate:

This crazy day job, it ain’t no thrill
But it makes those ends meet and pays my bills
I ain’t complainin’, but it ain’t right
‘Cause my old day job, is ruining my night life.

This is a song that could have bit a big hit in the US for someone if it had come along 20 years earlier.

There is also a decent amount of original material on the album, the best of which is “She’s On The Way” an upbeat number that Mizzell wrote himself about his new wife and daughter. This was the first time he recorded one of his own compositions and I look forward to hearing more in the future. “John Deere Beer” is a fun and somewhat lyrically light summer song that was hit for Robert in Ireland in 2015. On a more serious note, “City of Shreveport” is a nice tribute to Robert’s hometown, and “Two Rooms and a Kitchen” is a typical Irish country song about spending time at Grandma’s house. It might pass for an American country song if its references to digging spuds and drying turf (to fuel the fire) didn’t betray its origins.

The album closes with a remake of Mizzell’s 2010 hit “Mama Courtney”, his tribute to the foster parents who raised him in Louisiana. The tempo is slowed down considerably and it’s done as a piano ballad but the new arrangement is quite effective.

Although Travelling Shoes contains a fair amount of remakes, they are all well done, and thanks to its generous 15 tracks, there is also a decent amount of new material. The album comes across as a bit incohesive — at times it seems like a hits compilation since the songs don’t always share a common theme; however, I enjoyed listening to this more than anything else that I’ve heard lately, with the possible exception of Zephaniah OHora’s album. I’m very glad to have discovered Robert Mizzell and I will make it a point to continue following his career.

Grade: A

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

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

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: Your Tender Loving Care — Buck Owens (Capitol)

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

1987: She’s Too Good to Be True — Exile (Epic)

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

2007: These Are My People — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

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

2017 (Airplay): No Such Thing As a Broken Heart — Old Dominion (RCA)

Breaking News: RIP Troy Gentry (1967-2017)

It’s a sad day for country music. In addition to the passing of Don Williams, Troy Gentry, who was half of the duo Montgomery Gentry, was killed today in a helicopter accident. You can read about it here.

Montgomery Gentry made their chart debut in 1999 and were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2009.

Week ending 9/2/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

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

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: Branded Man — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

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

1987: Born to Boogie — Hank Williams Jr. (Warner Bros./Curb)

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

2007: Never Wanted Nothing More — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

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

2017 (Airplay): Somebody Else Will — Justin Moore (Valory)

Spotlight Artist: Country & Irish

Although country music is often dismissed as an art form that only appeals to North Americans, its popularity around the world is well documented. In addition to following the big Nashville stars, many countries have their own homegrown versions of country music as well. This month will take a look at three artists who are currently popular in Ireland, although, ironically, none of them were actually born there.

Robert Mizzell was born in Shreveport, Louisiana on July 21, 1971 and did a stint in the US Army after graduating from high school. When his love interest decided to return to her native Ireland, he followed there and tried his hand at a variety of jobs including construction and selling insurance. He did not grow up listening to country music, but the huge international success of Garth Brooks in the early 1990s inspired him to give it a try. His first major hit, “Kick Ass Country” led to a stint on an X-Factor style program called Let Me Entertain You. Although he is largely unknown in his native USA, he has an extensive following throughout Europe and Australia, thanks to hits such as “Say You Love Me”, “Mama Courtney” and cover versions of hits by Nashville stars.

Lisa McHugh was born on August 16, 1988 in Glasgow, Scotland to Irish parents. She grew up listening to Dolly Parton, Martina McBride and Garth Brooks. In 2009 she relocated to Letterkenny in her mother’s native county of Donegal, and eventually she settled in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. To date she has released four studio albums and one live album. She appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in 2012.

Like Lisa McHugh, Nathan Carter is also a UK native of Irish ancestry. He was born in Liverpool, England on May 28, 1990 to parents who both hailed from the city of Newry, which straddles the border between counties Aramagh and Down in Northern Ireland. His debut album, the aptly-titled Starting Out was released in 2007. Shortly thereafter he relocated to Ireland. In 2012, he released a version of the Bob Dylan chestnut “Wagon Wheel” which made him a household name in the Emerald Isle. He has recorded a total of nine studio albums, the last four of which were released by Decca Records.

Some of the music that we’ll be reviewing this month will be new to you, while some of it will be more familiar, albeit with a different twist. We hope you’ll enjoy it.

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Labor of Love’

Like most other veteran acts, Janie Fricke was struggling to remain commercially relevant as the 1980s drew to a close. After scoring her final #1 hit, “Always Have, Always Will” in 1986, she suffered a sharp decline in her chart success, from which she never recovered. Although she had shifted to a more traditional sound, Labor of Love, her major label swan song, still had its share of songs that were more pop-leaning than radio was interested in at the time.

Two singles were released from the album – ironically the two weakest songs on the disc and neither one reached the Top 40. “Love Is One of Those Words”, from the usually reliable songwriting team of Holly Dunn, Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters, is a rather lackluster synthesizer-heavy ballad that was completely out of step with the more traditional fare being offered on radio. It peaked at #56. The second single was the Dave Loggins composition “Give ‘em My Number” which is probably my least favorite single of Fricke’s career. It attempts to be bluesy and sassy, and while she skillfully pulled off that style a few years earlier with “Always Have, Always Will” this time around her performance seems forced and the song just does not work for her. It charted a little higher than “Love Is One of Those Words”, landing at #43. It would be Janie’s final single for Columbia Records. Fortunately, the rest of the album is much better. It’s tempting to point fingers at the label for choosing the wrong singles but even if they had made different choices, it likely would have made little difference. Radio had moved on to newer artists and was finished with Janie Fricke, no matter what kind of musical choices she made.

“What Are You Doing Here With Me” is a very pretty ballad from the husband and wife songwriting team of Bill Rice and Mary Sharon Rice. It casts Janie as the other woman – or perhaps a would-be other woman, the extent to which the relationship has progressed is unclear. At any rate she has grown weary of listening to her partner singing the praises of his perfect wife and family, and rightly asks him if things are so wonderful at home, “What are you doing here with me?” “Walking On the Moon” is an upbeat tune about young love and was country enough to have had hit single potential. It is my favorite song on the album and likely would have been a hit if Janie had stumbled across it a few years earlier.
A handful of other songs on the album were recorded by other artists at one stage or another. “I Can’t Help The Way That I Don’t Feel” had appeared on Sylvia’s 1985 album One Step Closer. It’s the type of ballad that is best served by minimal production, and that is where Janie’s version falters. It starts off well but the chorus is too bombastic. “One of Those Things” would become a Top 10 hit for one of its writers, Pam Tillis, in another two years. Janie’s version compares admirably to Pam’s. I would have released it as a single. She also does a stellar job on the album’s closing track, Steve Earle’s “My Old Friend the Blues”, which would later appear on a Patty Loveless album.

One other song, “Last Thing I Didn’t Do”, though not one of my favorites, is noteworthy as one Janie’s very few songwriting credits. She wrote the song with Randy Jackson, who I believe was her former manager and ex-husband (and not the former American Idol judge). Aside from this bit of trivia, there’s nothing particularly interesting about the song itself.

Labor of Love is a solid, if slightly uneven capstone to Janie’s major label career. Although none of its songs qualify as essential listening, it’s still an album that Janie’s fans will want to give a spin, if they haven’t already.


Grade: B+

Week ending 8/26/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

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

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: I’ll Never Find Another You — Sonny James (Capitol)

1977Way Down — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1987: Why Does It Have to Be (Wrong or Right) — Restless Heart (RCA)

1997: Come Cryin’ to Me — Lonestar (BNA)

2007: Never Wanted Nothing More — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

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

2017 (Airplay): Do I Make You Wanna — Billy Currington (Mercury)

Single Review: Lee Ann Womack – ‘All the Trouble’

Although she is best known to the masses for her massive crossover hit “I Hope You Dance”, Lee Ann Womack has built a reputation as one of only a very select few female artists that adheres to country music’s traditions. John Rich once referred to her as this generation’s Tammy Wynette. I’m not sure I quite agree with that assessment; my first reaction was that she was more like a Patty Loveless, but I’ve come to realize that a case can be made that she is this generations’ Emmylou Harris, putting artistry and tradition ahead of commercial concerns and earning universal respect from her peers. Let’s just pretend that 2002’s Something Worth Leaving Behind never happened; she has more than redeemed herself for that misstep.

Lee Ann is releasing a new independent album in October and there have been rumors that she is moving in an Americana direction. It’s a little hard to say based on the advance single “All the Trouble,” which is different from her usual fare. I’d call it country blues with a touch of gospel rather than Americana; in fact, it sounds like something that The Judds might have had success with in their heyday.

Written by Lee Ann with her bandmates Adam Wright and Waylon Payne, “All the Trouble” begins with Lee Ann singing the chorus acapella at a the lower end of her register and slowly builds in intensity. During the first, mostly acoustic verse, she sounds beaten down:

The deck is stacked against you
Life’s a losing hand
Even when you think you’re up
You’re right back down again
Either way you play it
The house is gonna win.

By the second chorus, she kicks it up a notch, sounding more like the Lee Ann of old.

I’ve got all the trouble I’m ever gonna need
And I just don’t want no more.

By this point she’s singing more intensely, desperately searching for a happy ending. It’s about a full octave higher than the beginning of the song, which is quite effective in giving the listener a full sense of her emotions. The background vocalists provide a gospel feel which gives the whole song a sense of hope. Unfortunately, at this point the production becomes a lot busier and louder than it was at the beginning and I feel that this is a case where less would have been more.

“All the Trouble” is not perfect, but it’s everything that contemporary mainstream country is not: substantive, well-written, and well sung from the female point of view. I’m looking forward to hearing the full album.

Grade: B+

Week ending 8/19/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

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

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: I’ll Never Find Another You — Sonny James (Capitol)

1977Rollin’ With The Flow — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1987: A Long Line of Love — Michael Martin Murphey (Warner Bros.)

1997: Come Cryin’ to Me — Lonestar (BNA)

2007: Never Wanted Nothing More — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

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

2017 (Airplay): Do I Make You Wanna — Billy Currington (Mercury)