My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Album Reviews

Album Review: Aaron Watson — ‘An Aaron Watson Family Christmas’

Country traditionalist Aaron Watson has been promising his fans a family Christmas album for a while now, and in 2018 he finally got it released. The ten-track album, which features Watson singing with his wife and three children, mixes eight holiday standards with two original songs.

One of those originals, “Lonely Lonestar Christmas” is the only song Watson wrote for the album. The mid-tempo ballad, about a sad sack who is facing Christmas alone, has a surprisingly humorous tone for the subject matter. The fiddle and mandolin prominently featured throughout is a nice touch, too.

The second original, “She Starred At Him All Night” comes from the pen of Drew Womack, who rose to fame with Sons of the Desert in the late 1990s. The song retells the familiar story of Mary and Jesus Christ, with Mary in awe of this miracle boy she created. The track has good bones and a pretty melody. The lyric, which Womack drowns in lazy repetitiveness and Christmas signifiers, leaves much to be desired.

Watson’s take on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is charming, with his children (Jake (age 12), Jack (age 10) and Jolee Kate (age 8)) adding a nice assist to keep the song playful and fun. Jolee Kate takes the lead on “Christmas Time Is Here,” a traditional ballad, while her brother Jack joins in for a nice recitation about halfway through. Jake joins his dad for a fun rendition of “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.”

Watson’s wife Kimberly joins him on two songs. The first is the oft-covered and recently ridiculed  “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which has always grated on my nerves. The other, “Jingle Bells,” is an excellent take on the song. Kimberly’s breathy vocal doesn’t work for me on the duet at all, but she adds some nice harmony to the latter.

The family comes together for ‘A Watson Family Greeting’ to close the album. It’s their take on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” which is elongated by instrumental beds of lovely ribbons of fiddle. Watson does much of the heavy lifting himself, with his kids joining in by the end. It comes complete with a ‘hidden track,’ a recitation by one of his sons.

Watson handles the final two songs solo. “The Christmas Waltz” and “Silent Night” are both excellent and two of the album’s highlights.

Watson describes the album as “Sinatra on the farm,” which fits the album perfectly. He sticks to his wheelhouse wonderfully, resisting the temptation to veer into big band territory. I highly recommend checking this one out, as it has its considerable charm, although I probably won’t be revisiting it much. Don’t get me wrong, I love it for what it is, but the contributions by kids, while cute, don’t really lend themselves to repeated listenings, year-after-year.

Grade: B+

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Album Review: Rodney Crowell – ‘Christmas Everywhere’

If you’re tired of every Christmas album containing mostly the same old songs, this is the Christmas album for you. Every song is a Rodney Crowell original, and the mood is neither sentimental nor jolly.

The record opens with ‘Clement’s Lament (We’ll See You In The Mall’, sung by a syrupy sweet female duo, belying the ironic lyric pointing out the contemporary commercialisation of Christmas when “The season starts in August now“. The title is a nod to Clement Moore, author of ‘The Night Before Christmas’.

In the frantic ‘Christmas Everywhere’, a co-write with John Jorgenson, Rodney is a harried father complaining about the competing demands and wishes of all around him (while “Daddy wants a stiffer drink”. The pace shifts midway to allow a slow dreamy cameo from guest Lera Lynn before the tempo increases again but the tone changes again to a newly cheery Rodney embracing all the season entails. A lovely arrangement holds it all together, just about, but this is a very odd confection and definitely not playing it safe.

‘Very Merry Christmas’ is a rock jam with not much in the way of lyrics, which I could happily live without. ‘Christmas In Vidor’, an angry, dark and definitely not family-friendly take on the season in a troubled town in Texas (“that’s ash, that ain’t snow”) with spoken vocals from Rodney and his co-writer poet Mary Karr, is an outtake from the pair’s duet album a few years back. ‘Let’s Skip Christmas This Year’, another Karr collaboration, is rather better, with an upbeat tongue-in-cheek feel.

‘Christmas In New York’ is a downbeat reflection on Christmasses past and a lost relationship. The soulful jazz of ‘When The Fat Guy Tries The Chimney On For Size’ reassures a child that Santa really does exist.

Chuck Cannon co-wrote ‘Christmas Makes Me Sad’ opens with jolly Christmas music, but a downbeat lyric has a newly lovelorn protagonist expecting to

Spend my silent night alone

Also sad is the delicately mournful ‘Merry Christmas From An Empty Bed’, a moving duet with Brennen Leigh as a couple muse separately on the failure of their love while decorating for Christmas:

Brennen
Somehow I thought believing in our love would make it grow
And God knows faith can cover up a multitude of sins
But you wouldn’t let me in

Rodney
She learned to read my lies like tea leaves in a cup…

Now she’ll never know
How much I loved her so

This I excellent. I also very much liked ‘Christmas For The Blues’, another sad reflection on failed romance which is pure country. ‘Come Christmas’ is a simple, pretty song with a folky tune, the latter being composed by Rodney’s young granddaughters Adeline and Iris Brue.

The final track, the playful ‘All For Little Girls And Boys’ was written when Rodney’s own children were young. Three of his daughters sing along.

This is an ambitious and very different Christmas album. Not everything is to my taste, but it’s worth giving it a listen to see if you like it.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Rosanne Cash — ‘She Remembers Everything’

I am not a big Rosanne Cash fan, having found myself liking only about half of her output during her country singles commercial peak period of 1978-1990; however, since taking her focus off the singles market she has become a very interesting artist. Her 2009 album The List was a fine effort and her last album, 2014’s The River & The Thread (released on Blue Note), was truly an outstanding album.

Ms. Cash returns with her second album release for Blue Note, She Remembers Everything. Blue Note is a record label primarily known for jazz having been home to the likes of John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Horace Silver. While I would not regard Rosanne Cash as a classic jazz artist, her current work fits comfortably within the confines of modern jazz vocals. I suspect that I am much more of a jazz fan than most country listeners, and while this album should get some airplay from jazz stations, I suspect that you will need to buy this album if you want to hear the album and don’t listen to over-the-air jazz radio.

The title track is particularly striking as Cash sings about a woman who has survived a deep, but unidentified, trauma:

 Before it all went dark

Was she like a streak of fire

A pane of glass, a beating heart?

The use of minor piano chords creates a somber effect, with no likelihood of a happy ending in the lyrics.

Fortunately, the rest of the album is less somber although somewhat inconsistent. I purchased the Deluxe Edition via digital download. Below is how I would rate the individual tracks (on a 5-star scale):

  1. The Only Thing Worth Fighting For [with Colin Meloy] (3 stars)
  2. The Undiscovered Country (5 stars)
  3. 8 Gods Of Harlem [with Elvis Costello & Kris Kristofferson] (3 stars)
  4. Rabbit Hole [with Colin Meloy] (4 stars)
  5. Crossing To Jerusalem (4 stars)
  6. Not Many Miles To Go (4 stars)
  7. Everyone But Me (5 stars)
  8. She Remembers Everything [with Sam Phillips] (4 stars)
  9. Particle And Wave (5 stars)
  10. My Least Favorite Life (4 stars)
  11. Nothing But The Truth (Bonus Track) (4 stars)
  12. Every Day Feels Like A New Goodbye (Bonus Track) (4 stars)
  13. The Parting Glass (Bonus Track) (4 stars)

This is a very personal album for Cash, with little in the way of political overtones. “Everyone But Me” is a gentle ballad that sounds as if Rosanne could be singing it to her departed parents. “Crossing To Jerusalem” is a hopeful track about (eventual) personal solace.

I actually like the individual tracks more than I like the album because of the largely unvarying tempos. “Not Many Miles To Go” is as close as this album gets to an up-tempo number. I suspect that each listener will have personal favorites that vary from mine. I have found that in my listening, that I tend to listen to three or four tracks at a time, then returning later for more. There is much to contemplate in these lyrics and the album’s tracks are best heard when the listener can give proper attention.

Album Review: Kayla Ray – ‘Yesterday & Me’

Singer-songwriter Kayla Ray’s lovely second album was released back in May. This has been such a busy year I haven’t had time to review as much music as I would have liked, but starting to consider my albums of the year I thought this really needed to be covered in detail. Tastefully produced by Jason Eady in traditional country style with plenty of steel guitar and fiddle, the record showcases her rich voice and outstanding songwriting. Growing up in Texas, she spent some time working with legendary fiddler Johnny Gimble, and Johnny’s son Dick plays bass on this album.

Kayla wrote most of the songs herself. One of the exceptions is the engrossing story song ‘Rockport’, which opens the album and sets the tone. It tells the tale of two lovers whose hard backgrounds in Arkansas overshadow their lives. The other is one of my favorite tracks, a gorgeously steel-laden ultra-traditional Keith Whitley song called ‘Once A Week Cheaters’. It is a duet with Colton Hawkins, who has a great, mournful voice and I would like to hear more from.

My favorite of Kayla’s own songs is the weary litany of ‘Things Only Years Can Teach A Woman’. ‘Fair Warning’, an outstanding introspective story song about an abusive relationship.
Another duet, this time with an older-sounding female vocalist called Tifni Simons, ‘Red River Valley’s Run Dry’ is another absorbing story song with nice fiddle.

‘Magnolias In Springtime’ is a slow ballad about a country singer who has unexpectedly found the joy of love, with a number of song titles quoted.

In the title track she regrets the changes time has brought to a relationship. ‘Camel Blues’ ponders a breakup where fault lies on both sides. The sultry ‘I’m Still A Woman’ is the agonised lament of a troubled woman.

The tempo picks up with ‘Hell Of A Day To Drink All Night’, where Kayla’s tone shifts from its usual mellow warmth to raucous as she rattles her way through a hangover. The rapid paced ‘Pills’ lauds the local pharmacy and prescription medicines, somewhat tongue in cheek.

Finally, ‘1963’ pays a fond tribute to Kayla’s grandparents.

This is an excellent album, leaning to the more introspective side, but pure country in its backings and arrangements.

Grade: A+

Album Review: David Lee Murphy – ‘No Zip Code’

Mid-1990s hitmaker David Lee Murphy has finally shifted his attention back to his own music after a decade and a half focused on writing major hits for the likes of Kenny Chesney and Thompson Square. He produced No Zip Code, his first album since 2004, alongside Chesney and Buddy Cannon.

To ensure his comeback at radio, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” a duet with Chesney, was issued as the album’s lead single. The track’s breezy escapism was cotton candy to radio programmers, who helped push the song to #1. I quite like it, although it is light, and a bit too processed. It won the pair Musical Event of the Year at the recent CMA Awards, giving Murphy his first nomination and win. They were also due to perform the song on the telecast, but a death in the family caused Chesney to have to miss the ceremony.

The album’s second single “I Won’t Be Sorry” is classic Murphy, recalling hits like “Every Time I Get Around You.” Unsurprisingly, the song is dressed for the modern era, with a blaze of electric guitars blending together to create a wall of noise that distracts from the defiant lyric.

“Way Gone” is a step in the right direction, taking the listener back to the days when the female protagonist in a song was more than an object of desire. In this case, she’s on the run, leaving her no-good man in a cloud of dust. The driving arrangement, while hideous, does give the track an adrenaline rush in keeping with the overall theme.

The title track is a pleasant ode to life so far out in the country the spot isn’t detectable on a map. The story has its appeal, but the overall mix leaves much to be desired. The cranked up loudness, do to compression of natural dynamics, gives the track an overall loudness that is unforgivable and unnecessary. But I do like the story and feel the song would benefit greatly from a softer arrangement.

When I was looking over the tracklist in preparation for writing this review, “As The Crow Flies” jumped out at me. Murphy co-wrote the song with Dean Dillon, Jamey Johnson, and Phil O’Donnell, and with that pedigree, it had better rise above the rest of the album. I’m sad to say, it doesn’t. The lyric, about a guy determined to follow his woman wherever she goes, is pedestrian and the overall mixing ensures the only thing the listener will focus on is the noise level of the song.

“Winnebago,” which Murphy wrote solo, is a left-over bro-country relic with all the usual tropes. “Haywire,” “Get Go,” and “That’s Alright” are just more heavily compressed uptempo rockers. “Voice of Reason” is much better, with a pleasing melody, that could’ve benefited greatly from a softer more acoustic arrangement. “Waylon and Willie (and a Bottle of Jack)” isn’t as good as its title suggests, unfortunately.

I’ve been a fan of Murphy’s since the beginning, so I was expecting great things from No Zip Code. Sure, I figured a number of the tracks would make concessions for modern commercial country, but I wasn’t expecting the whole album to have been ruined by cranked up loudness and compressed dynamics. There are some listenable songs throughout, but mostly this album is a throw-away missed opportunity. Murphy, and his longtime fans, deserve better than what’s presented here.

Grade: C-

Album Review: Pistol Annies — ‘Interstate Gospel’

The most pleasant surprise for me this decade has been the emergence of Pistol Annies as a creative force in modern country music. My admiration for the artistic sensibilities of Miranda Lambert has been well-documented, but I’ve come to acquire a deeper appreciation for Ashley Monroe, and a new affection for Angaleena Presley.

The trio got the ball rolling on their third album, Interstate Gospel, at the beginning of this year when Lambert sent Monroe and Presley a verse and chorus to a song she was working on. Within 20 minutes they had each sent back a verse. That song, “When I Was His Wife,” is a blistering waltz from the heightened perspective of a woman post-divorce:

He’d never cheat, he’d never lie

He’ll love me forever ’til the day that we die

He’ll never take me for granted I

Said that too when I was his wife

 

God, he looks handsome in the bright morning light

His smile can light up your world for a while

His love is enough to keep me satisfied

I said that too when I was his wife

 

He’s funny as hell, hot as July

He’s strong when I’m weak, sweet when I cry

I’ll always be the apple of his eye

I said that too when I was his wife

The keen sense of awareness they tapped into on “When I Was His Wife” permeates throughout the record. Presley takes the lead on “This Too Shall Pass,” a not-so-delicate ballad about being trapped in a dead-end relationship. The true cost of staying in that relationship, the subject of the gorgeous “Leavers Lullaby,” finds Monroe at a moment of clarity:

When did I get this crazy?

When did I get so mean?

Living wild and exhausted

Paying what it cost to feel so free

 

Run along, little daddy, take the dog and the house and dang me

It ain’t worth the time that it’s gonna take to change me

It’s as deep as the holler and clear as the water that stains me

I want whatever it is I ain’t gettin’ from you

 

I know you need me to need you

I tried to teach you to be tough

There’d be no such thing as leaving

If just loving somebody was enough

“Best Years of My Life,” the purest moment on the record and one of the strongest mainstream country songs released this year, happens when you realize just what it takes to get you through the day:

I picked a good day for a recreational Percocet

I’ve got an itch to just get high

I’m in the middle of the worst of it

These are the best years of my life

 

I’ve got the hankering for intellectual emptiness

I’ve got the need to ease my mind

I’ll watch some re-runs on the TV set

These are the best years of my life

 

I’m gonna mix a drink and try to drown this worthlessness

Call mom and tell her I’m alright

Well he don’t love me but he ain’t gone yet

These are the best years of my life

“Masterpiece” finds a couple on the brink, questioning the possibility of undoing what to the rest of the world seems so perfect. The song, which Lambert said needed to be written, celebrates the darker side of being “that couple:”

Baby, we were just a masterpiece

Up there on the wall for all to see

We were body and soul, we were talked about

Once you’ve been framed you can’t get out

 

Who’s brave enough to take it down?

Who’s fool enough to lose the crown?

We’re just another thing they’ll all forget about

They’ll be standing around laughin’

Like nothing ever happened

All these moments of clarity reach their apex on “Got My Name Changed Back,” which has never made reclaiming your personal identity sound more fun. It has some clever wordplay, a nice dose of dobro, and a melody that’s catchy as hell. “Milkman” is melodically softer than its lyric, which finds a daughter putting her mother on blast for judging her personal choices:

If mama would’ve loved the milkman

Maybe she wouldn’t judge me

If she’d’ve had a ride in his white van

Up and down Baker Street

On a Monday with her hair down and hand about to slide between his knees

But mama never did love nothin’ but daddy and me

 

If mama would’ve smoked her a cigarette

Maybe she wouldn’t judge me

If she’d’ve done more than the dishes

Untied them apron strings

She’d be sittin’ in her sundress on the back porch mixing whiskey and sweet tea

Mama never did think twice about feelin’ this free

 

Mama never liked to pick wildflowers

Drinkin’ on a Sunday was a sin

She might’ve made it past the water tower

If she’d’ve loved the milkman

“Sugar Daddy” is about reclaiming your power by knowing and getting exactly what you want. “Stop Drop and Roll One” is unapologetically defiant, with the hard edge of pure country rock. “Cheyenne” finds Lambert enviously singing about a very flawed woman:

She lives for the nightlife and trashy tattoos

She loves country music and broken-in boots

Nobody can blame her for the chip on her shoulder

She finds plenty of pool-table cowboys to hold her

 

Her daddy says she was destined for sadness

And her grandmama Lily’s to blame for the madness

The only forever she knew ended tragic

So she’ll fall the night while the neon light flashes

 

If I could trade love like Cheyenne

If I could be just as cold as the beer in her hand

If I could move men and mountains with a wink and a grin

Oh, if I could treat love like Cheyenne

Another of the album’s shining moments, the title track, celebrates all those signs we see along the highways and backroads, not billboards, but those ones on the lawns of churches and the like that often display inspirational messages. “Interstate Gospel” isn’t just a great title for a classic country shuffle, but it lyrically ties the whole record together:

These church signs, they light up these roads that I roam

They’re leading me closer, they’re calling me home

The further I get, the further I go

This interstate gospel is saving my soul

This interstate gospel is saving my soul

Interstate Gospel, as far as mainstream country albums go, saved my soul, too. “Got My Named Changed Back” is lyrically thin with all the repetition and the “la-la-la” and “oh-oh-ohs” throughout are disconcerting. But overall this is a great album and well worth the five-year wait.

Grade: A

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘King Of The Road: A Tribute To Roger Miller’

Roger Miller was unique in terms of his all-around abilities as an entertainer. He could write off-beat and humorous songs then turn around and write a masterpiece of a straight ahead ballad. The nearest thing to him in terms of his compositional abilities was Shel Silverstein, but unlike Silverstein, who was a terrible singer, Roger was an outstanding vocalist and musician. People who have heard Roger’s concert in Birchmere, VA, about a year before he died can attest that Roger Miller barely even needed a guitar in order to keep and audience entertained.

Because Roger was so offbeat, tributes to him and his music have been rare – many of his most famous songs barely lend themselves to being covered. One of the few tributes I’ve seen was Tim O’Brien’s O’Brien Party of Seven – Reincarnation: The Songs Of Roger Miller, released about six years ago and featuring members of Tim’s family. It is a great album, but Tim and his family mostly stayed away from the more famous songs, and delved deeper into the Roger Miller catalogue.

King of The Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller
is a two disc set featuring snippets of dialogue from Roger along with covers of 34 of his songs as performed by various artists. The covers of straight ahead country songs work best as few artists have the ability that Roger had to let vocal scats and odd phrasings simply roll of his tongue. Among the odder songs tackled on disc one are “Chug A Lug” (Asleep at The Wheel with Huey Lewis), “Dang Me” (Brad Paisley), “Kansas City Star” (Kacey Musgraves), “You Ought a Be Here With Me” /“I’ve Been A Long Time Leaving” (Alison Krauss & The Cox Family) and In The Summertime” (Shawn Camp /Earls of Leicester) . All of these songs are competently performed but sound a bit forced except Shawn Camp’s take on “In The Summertime” since Camp simply treats the song as a straight ahead county song. The Krauss / Cox song would have been better had they performed it as separate songs and not made a medley of it.

For me the disc one the standouts are Loretta Lynn’s take on “Half A Mind”, a hit for her mentor Ernest Tubb, Mandy Barnett’s “Lock Stock and Teardrops” and the religious song “The Crossing” as performed by Ronnie Dunn and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Dwight Yoakam does a fine job with his co-write “It Only Hurts Me When I Cry” but you’d expect no less since it was a hit for him.

Disc two is more of the same, some banter, goofy songs, and some straight ahead ballads. Cake makes a complete mess of “Reincarnation” (the only decent cover I’ve had was by Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle, USMC) and I didn’t like Toad The Wet Sprocket’s take on the old George Jones hit “Nothing Can Stop My Loving You” (also decently covered in the 1970s by Patsy Sledd). Jamey Johnson & Emmylou Harris do a nice job on “Husbands and Wives”.

John Goodman, who never claimed to be a singer, reprises “Guv’ment” from the play Big River. Ringo Starr, also not a compelling singer, gives the right vibe to “Hey Would You Hold It Down?”

For me the two best songs on disc two are the Dolly Parton & Alison Krauss recording of “The Last Word In Lonesome Is Me” and Flatt Lonesome’s exquisite “When Two Worlds Collide”, easily the best performance on the album.

This album offers a good overview of the depth and breadth of the songwriting talents of Roger Miller. While I wasn’t all that impressed with all of the performers on the album, all of them clearly gave their performances their best efforts.

I mostly enjoyed this album and would give it a B+ but if this is your first exposure to Roger Miller, I would strongly suggest picking up one of Roger’s currently available collections of Smash/Mercury recordings.

Album Review: Josh Turner – ‘I Serve A Savior’

Josh Turner’s deep religious faith has underpinned his career, from his astonishing debut single ‘Long Black Train’. It comes as no surprise that he has now recorded a gospel album – or indeed that ‘Long Black Train’ makes another appearance.

Josh wrote the title track with Mark Narmore. It is quite a nice song set to a gentle melody in which he sets out the story of salvation and affirms his own commitment. It is one of only two new songs on the album, although some choices are less familiar than others. The other is actually the album’s one misstep. ‘The River (Of Happiness)’ was written by Josh’s wife Jennifer and son Hampton, and the whole family sings along live (apart from Josh himself). The song itself is not bad. Unfortunately the children can’t all sing In tune.

My favorite track is a measured, deeply sincere, reading of the Hank Williams classic ‘I Saw The Light’, backed by the sweet harmonies of Sonya Isaacs. I also loved the less well known ‘I Pray My Way Out Of Trouble’, a charming song written by Loretta Lynn and Teddy Wilburn. It was recorded by the Osborne Brothers in the 1960s, and Bobby Osborne contributes harmonies to this version.

There is a solid version of spiritual ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ which allows Josh to showcase the furthest reaches of his deep voice. ‘Without Him’ Is from the Southern Gospel tradition and has an emotional soulful vocal.

Classic hymns ‘Great Is Your Faithfulness’, ‘How Great Thou Art’ and (the best of the three) ‘Amazing Grace’ are all performed with reverence to tasteful arrangements. A more unusual inclusion is the short (very short if you’re thinking of it as a song, at only 42 seconds) ‘Doxology’ composed In the 17th century by Bishop Ken. Josh sings this quite simply and completely acappella. Really, this ought to close the set, but a retread of the sunny ‘Me And God’ (from Your Man) follows it.

Impeccably sung, arranged and produced, if not very original, this is a fine record with appeal for fans of Josh Turner or Christian country music.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Kathy Mattea — ‘Pretty Bird’

Kathy Mattea had a decent run as a mainstream country artist, enjoying a string of top twenty records that ran from 1986 through 1995. This run included four number one records with “Eighteen Wheels and A Dozen Roses” being the 1988 CMA Single of the Year. Kathy was the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year for 1989 and 1990.

Kathy Mattea has always been difficult to pigeonhole as a performer. Never a truly traditional country singer, she was able to come close enough to gain acceptance from country radio for over a decade, although by 1990 her sound was drifting into Americana territory as “Where Have You Been” and “Time Marches On” would demonstrate. After a while, she gave up on getting radio airplay and started focusing on making interesting music. Her most noteworthy album of the last decade was 2008’s Coal, a fine bluegrass collection of songs depicting the trials and tribulations of the men (and women) whose lives depend on coal.

Pretty Bird is only Kathy’s second album in the last decade and her first in six years. The album was produced by Tim O’Brien (Hot Rize, Earls of Leicester) for the Thirty Tigers label (essentially an independently produced album with Kickstarter helping to fund the effort) but while Tim is intimately associated with bluegrass, this album would barely qualify as newgrass. It is, however, a fine album that finds the fifty-nine-year-old Mattea in fine voice.

The album opens up with “Chocolate On My Tongue” a whimsical tune by Oliver Wood about life’s small pleasures. I would describe the song as folk music.

Sittin’ on the front porch, ice cream in my hand

Meltin’ in the sun, all that chocolate on my tongue

That’s a pretty good reason to live

Pretty good reason to live

Sittin’ in the bathtub, hi-fi playin’ low

Diggin’ that Al Green, well you must know what I mean

That’s a pretty good reason to live

Pretty good reason to live

Next up is the only song that was ever a huge hit for anyone, Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe”. Anyone who was listening to AM radio in 1967 knows just how ubiquitous was this song, charting high on the pop, country, easy listening and R&B charts in the US and reaching the top fifteen or better throughout the English speaking world.

“Mercy Now” comes from the pen of Mary Gauthier. Other than the presence of steel guitar, this slow ballad sounds like folk-(quasi) gospel. I like the song a lot and will need to check more into Gauthier since I am not that familiar with her.

 My father could use a little mercy now

The fruits of his labor fall and rot slowly on the ground

His work is almost over, it won’t be long, he won’t be around

I love my father, he could use some mercy now

My brother could use a little mercy now

He’s a stranger to freedom, shackled to his fear and his doubt

The pain that he lives in is almost more than living will allow

I love my brother, he could use some mercy now

Jesse Winchester penned “Little Glass of Wine” a slow introspective ballad given an acoustic treatment on this album. I wouldn’t want to hear an entire album of similar material but the sing fits well within the context of this album

Little glass of wine, you’re oil on my flame

Shy of the sunlight, hiding your shame

And many, many tears, the number is sublime

Shall stain a woman’s bosom, for a little glass of wine

As soon as you learn that you don’t live forever

You grow fond of the fruit of the vine

So here is to you and here is to me

And here is to the ones we’ve left behind

“He Moves Through The Fair” is an acoustic folk ballad performed by Kathy with only an acoustic guitar as accompaniment. The song is about a wedding that never took place, although what happened to the betrothed is unclear.

“Saint Teresa”, a Joan Osborne composition is a grittier song, open to interpretation.

“This Love Will Carry”, a Dougie MacLean composition, is a nice endeavor that perfectly suits Mattea’s voice. The songwriter sings harmony vocals on the track. I really like the song although I cannot imagine a time in which it would be considered worthy of release as a single:

 It’s a thin line that leads us and keeps us all from shame

Dark clouds quickly gather along the way we came

There’s fear out on the mountain and death out on the plain

There’s heartbreak and heartache in the shadow of the flame

 

This love will carry

This love will carry me

I know this love will carry me

The strongest web will tangle, the sweetest bloom will fall

And somewhere in the distance we try and catch it all

Success lasts for a moment and failure’s always near

You look down at your blistered hands as turns another year

“October Song” was written by Kathy’s husband Jon Vezner. Jon has never done Kathy wrong with his songs and this dreamy but regretful reverie about a lost love is right up her alley:

And when at last I drift asleep, those dreams of you

Come back to keep me

Wishing I were lying in your arms

Those memories of when we made love

Are just so hard to let go of

Who am I supposed to be

When there’s so much of you in me

Vezner also penned “Tell Me What You Ache For”, a penetrating look at life and love. Vezner is definitely a poet at heart:

It doesn’t interest me what kind of job you got

Where you eat or where you shop

The kind of car you drive

It doesn’t interest me how big a house you own

What I really want to know

Is what makes you come alive

I don’t want to talk about

How your future’s all planned out

That isn’t what it’s all about to me

 

Tell me what you ache for

Tell me what you wait for

Tell me what you long for

What you’re holding on for

Tell me what you’re dreaming

What would give your life real meaning

You’ve been afraid to pray for

Tell me what you ache for

“Holy Now” is a mid-tempo song with some observations on the state of religion. This is followed by “I Can’t Stand Up Alone” written by Martha Carson, who was a huge gospel music star during the 1950’s, best known for “Satisfied.” Martha was the favorite gospel singer for many country singers including Connie Smith, Kitty Wells, Sonny James and many others. Kathy’s voice does not have the power that Carson had, but she does a very nice job with the song

 One of these days I’m gonna take a vacation

To a quiet and a peaceful shore

And I’ll cool my feet in those crystal waters

Where I won’t have to work anymore

 

‘Cause my burden has got a little heavy

Till I can’t stand up all alone

I must lay my head down on one strong shoulder

‘Cause I can’t stand up all alone

No, you can’t stand up all by yourself

You can’t stand up alone

You need the touch of a mighty hand

You can’t stand up alone

The album closes with “Pretty Bird”, written by Hazel Dickens, a folk singer who wrote of the lives of coal miners and their families. This song is not about coal miners per se but you can read much into the lyrics, which urge the pretty bird to fly away to freedom. The song is performed a cappella.

This is not my favorite Kathy Mattea album although I would consider it to be very good with thoughtful lyrics about serious topics. A few more up-tempo songs would have helped but I suspect that I will revisit this album often, a few songs at a time.

Grade: B+

Complete song lyrics can be found here

Album Review: Dillon Carmichael – ‘Hell On An Angel’

20-something newcomer Dillon Carmichael from Kentucky (a nephew of John Michael Montgomery and Montgomery Gentry’s Eddie Montgomery) has just released his much-anticipated debut album, produced by Dave Cobb for Riser House, an Sony-backed independent label. His family pedigree suggests a mixture of traditional, 90s country and a bit of southern rock, and that is exactly what you get. Dillon co-wrote 8 of the 10 tracks, but the real star here is his rich deep baritone voice.
Initially I was a bit disappointed that it omits last year’s fabulous ‘Old Songs Like That’, a wonderful steel-laced tribute to great country songs of the past which I strongly recommend downloading in its own right. Also jettisoned but available separately is ‘Made To Be A Country Boy’ from early this year, a nice relaxed reflection on the influence of his childhood on him.

The album opens rather unexpectedly with the sound of a tornado warning siren as Dillon then launches into ‘Natural Disaster’, a brooding lonesome ballad about life’s failures. Written by Anthony Smith and Chris Wallin, it is one of only two tracks not co-written by Dillon, but makes for a magisterial introduction. The other outside song, Jon Pardi co-write Country Women’ is a lyrically cliche’d country rock number.

The title track ventures further into southern rock territory on the theme of ‘Mama Tried’, and is really not my cup of tea. ‘Old Flame’, which Dillon did write and is in fact his only solo composition here, is a slow, bluesy number which builds into southern rock.

Much more to my taste, the lead single ‘It’s Simple’ is a pretty ballad about the simple pleasures of life. ‘Dancing Away With My Heart’ is a lovely love song which I liked a lot.

Dillon’s mother helped him write ‘Hard On A Hangover’. This is a very good song about a man’s sneaking round which is punished when his wife leaves him:

I woke to the sound of a door slam
She left her wedding ring on the nightstand
With a note that told me it was over
That girl sure is hard on a hangover

I then realized my new-found freedom
And I pawned the wedding rings ’cause I don’t need ’em
And I blew the cash down at the Whiskey Barrel
And then I headed to the house, my honky tonk special

And then I woke to the sound of a tow truck
She said, “That car’s in my name, so you’re out ofluck”
I thought when she left, it was over
That girl sure is hard on a hangover

Even better and more traditional is ‘That’s What Hank Would Do’, a presumably autobiographical song about the life of an aspiring country songwriter which becomes a tribute to Hank Williams, set to a deeply authentic arrangement. This is really wonderful:

I pulled into Nashville writin’ songs for the radio
But chasin’ a sound didn’t work
I had to stick to what I know
And then I asked myself
What would Hank do?
He’d say “In with the old and out with the new”

He’d shoot you straight like his whiskey
Put pedal steel on everything
Write a song with three chords and the truth
Make you believe it when he sings like he’s talkin’ straight to you
That’s what Hank would do

’Might Be A Cowboy’ is the reflective and convincingly sweet love song of a rodeo rider:

I might be a cowboy, but I’ll never ride away

The record closes with ‘Dixie Again’, a slow bluesy piano ballad about losing and finding oneself:

I lost my direction but I kept pushin’ on
Took a left at the right and a right at the wrong
I’ve shot for redemption and I missed every time
Got to get back to someplace south of the line

This is an impressive debut from an artist with a great voice and some strong country instincts.

Grade: A-

Album Review: The Earls of Leicester — ‘Live at the CMA Theater’

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to see almost all of my radio heroes in live performance with three notable exceptions. One of those, Ernest Tubb, I simply was unable to see. Another, Sammi Smith, I had purchased the tickets to see her perform but the show was canceled and she died before the show was scheduled to take place.

The third exception involved Flatt & Scruggs. My father had been transferred to the UK in January 1969 and Flatt & Scruggs were slated to be the headliners at the First International Festival of Country Music to be held at the Empire Pool (Wembly Stadium) on April 5, 1969. Dad purchased the tickets for us to go; however, by the time the festival took place, Flatt & Scruggs had split up and we had to content ourselves with a six-hour show that included Bill Anderson & The Po Boys, Phil Brady & The Ranchers, Wes Buchanan, Larry Cunningham & The Mighty Avons, George Hamilton IV, The Hillsiders, Jan Howard, Loretta Lynn & her stage show, Merrill Moore, Orange Blossom Sound, John Wesley Ryles, Conway Twitty & The Lonely Blue Boys and Charlie Walker.

While I never did get to see Flatt & Scruggs, in November 2017, I got to see the Earls of Leicester perform at the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch / Bluegrass Festival in Palatka Florida. For ninety mesmerizing minutes Jerry Douglas (dobro) and his crew of Charlie Cushman (banjo & guitar), Shawn Camp (lead vocals & guitar), Johnny Warren (fiddle), Barry Bales (bass) and Jeff White (mandolin) transported the listener and breathed life into the truly classic repertoire of Flatt & Scruggs.

The Earls of Leicester perform only the music of Flatt & Scruggs circa 1954-1965, but they are far from being either a cover band or tribute band as they have updated the Flatt & Scruggs sound (mostly due to improved recording technology) while breathing new life into the music and remaining true to the spirit of the original recordings. Most importantly, they are having fun and their infectious joy at performing the music permeates every rack. None of the members of this ensemble can be said to be imitating members of Flatt & Scruggs Foggy Mountain Boys, but they are absorbed into the music.

Live At The CM Theater was recorded in February 2018, only I few months after I saw them in Palatka and features essentially the same program I saw a few months earlier. The recording opens with “Salty Dog Blues”, the very track that Flatt & Scruggs used to open their famous Carnegie Hall concert. From that point forward the band goes through a solid program of Flatt & Scruggs favorites. While each member of the band takes the role of one of the Foggy Mountain Boys at no point are any of them referred to on stage any name but their own.

Basically Shaw Camp takes Lester Flatt’s spot in the band, Charlie Cushman, a marvelous music musician who spent years in Mike Snider’s comic group takes Earl Scruggs role. Jerry Douglas handles the Josh Graves role, Jeff Whites takes Curley Seckler’s role, Barry Bales steps in for Cousin Jake Tulloch and Johnny Warren takes his father Paul Warren’s place in the pantheon.

This is a wonderful album that I have listened to continuously for about two weeks now. I am not sure when I will take it out of my player – perhaps never.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘The Nashville Tapes’

Adam headed to Nashville to record his latest album in the legendary Studio A, built by Cowboy Jack Clement. Nash Chambers, son of Bill and brother of Kasey, produced. Adam wrote or co-wrote much of the material. He states his musical credo in the charming ‘I’d Rather Be A Highwayman’, happy to play in bars for the sake of the music

Smoky rooms and dimlit nights
Tucked among the neon lights
I play the soundtrack while they drink
But I’m not as lonely as you think
These country songs I live and breathe
Fuel to burn the fire in me
They simply let me be myself
I’m not sayin’ I don’t care for rock and roll
But it don’t feel the same way in my soul

I’d rather be a Highwayman than a Rolling Stone
I’d rather be singing to a barstool some cowboy’s sittin’ on
So nothing makes me give a damn
More than country music can
I’d rather be a Highwayman than a Rolling Stone

Empty faces come in here for the friendly atmosphere
Music seems to wash their cares away
There’s freedom in these country songs I play
Now, I may never make it rich
By the time I call it quits
Not every rainbow ends in gold
But I’ll still be singing as the final curtains close

The power of country music also informs ‘What A Song Can Do’, with its tender recollection of a father where music was the only bond.

They can make you laugh, help you cry
Take you to a place in time that you once knew
Sing you home or say goodbye
Change your mind or change your life
It’s true
Ain’t it funny what a song can do?

The Last Post on ANZAC Day
Or when I hear Amazing Grace or He Stopped Loving Her Today

(For the benefit of anyone unfamiliar with it, ANZAC Day commemorates the sacrifice of Australian and New Zealand soldiers in the First World War, especially at Gallipoli in 1915, and is hugely important in Australian culture.)

Adam pays fond tribute to Willie Nelson with the Bill Chambers co-write ‘When Willie’s Gone’. Mickey Raphael provides harmonica on a track musically recalling ‘On The Road Again’. Raphael also shines on the excellent ‘Less Of A Thinking Man’, about making problems worse by brooding over them.

Another mainstay of Australian country music, Troy Cassar-Daly, helped Adam to write ‘We’ll Have To Drink Our Way Out Of This’. This is a great country song about drinking to get over a woman and the state of the world alike. Adam draws on his Australian heritage in his duet with another Aussie star, Lee Kernaghan, on Slim Dusty’s classic folk-country singalong ‘Three Rivers Hotel’, set in an itinerant railway workers’ tavern. Kernaghan’s Australian accent is much stronger than Adam’s, underlining the character of the song. ‘Those Holden Days’, written by Stewart French, presumably another Australian, is gently nostalgic about a teenager’s first car whose manufacturer has now ceased making cars.

There are a handful of other, less predictable, covers. ‘Never Be Anyone Else But You’ was a pop hit for Ricky Nelson in the late 50s, but has been done in a country style before by Emmylou Harris. Adam’s version is likeably catchy. Neil Diamond’s ‘Solitary Man’ is less successful, pitched in too low a key for Adam’s voice, but is a rare misstep.

‘This Lovin’ You’ is a sweet love song inspired by Adam’s wife. ‘Lucky’ recounts life advice from an old mentor. The mid-tempo ‘Anything You Want Me To’ combines both themes, with a wife thanked for helping him fulfil his potential.

Harvey is one of my favorite Australian country singers, thanks to his hugely listenable deep baritone voice and traditional leaning instincts. This album is excellent and I strongly recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Family Life’

Family Life was Adam Harvey’s eleventh album and fifth for Sony-Australia. The album reached #10 on the ARIA chart and was released in August 2014 on the heels of Adam’s most successful album The Great Country Songbook, a duet album with Troy Cassar-Daley that reached #2 the year before.

The album features nine songs from Adam’s pen, plus three from American writers.

The album opens up with the title track an ode to family life. The song reminds me strongly of the John Conlee hit “Domestic Life” both in terms of the lyrics and the melody:

Two sugars in my coffee cup
Make it strong make it wake me up
Put my boots on in the dark
While I’m hoping that my car will start

Working ten hours a day
Another stack of bills to pay
The job don’t bother me no more
There’s three reasons
That I’m working for

Family Life
Mortgage, two kids and a beautiful wife
We ain’t got much but we’re good at getting by
And you’re looking at a man who’s proud
Yeah you’re looking at a man who’s found
Where he wants to be
Where he’s meant to be
Family life is alright with me

Next up is “Do The Best You Can”, a Bob McDill composition, a nice ballad. This is followed by another McDill song, “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful” which was a #1 hit for Sammy Kershaw in 1993. Adam turns in a solid performance with an arrangement faithful to Kershaw’s hit but with more percussion.

Harvey continues the focus on matters domestic with “Kids”, a rollicking up-tempo ballad about life with kids, “Count On Me”, a tender ballad of reassurance to the singer’s woman, and “My Little Boy”, a paean to the joys of watching his son grow up.

Harvey gets a bit off track from his domestic bliss theme with “One Full Bottle of Rum”, a mid-tempo ballad about a night of catching up with an old chum.

“Mere Male” features Randy Kohrs on dobro on a largely acoustic up-tempo romp about the dumb things that guys do. The song is a hoot and I wish someone in the USA would record it.

What does one truly need in life? According to Adam Harvey the answer is “Sweet Sweet Love”. This song is a romantic ballad taken at mid-tempo and definitely qualifies as a love song to the singer’s woman.

“Daddy, What If” was a major hit for Bobby Bare in early 1974, reaching #1 on Cash Box and Record World and #2 on Billboard (the folks at Billboard must not have liked Bare as his records usually charted higher on Record World and Cash Box than on Billboard). The song, written by legendary Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein, is a perfect fit for this album. Adam performs this as a duet with his daughter Leylah:

(Daddy what if the sun stop shinin’ what would happen then)
If the sun stopped shinin’ you’d be so surprised
You’d stare at the heavens with wide open eyes
And the wind would carry your light to the skies
And the sun would start shinin’ again

(Daddy what if the wind stopped blowin’ what would happen then)
If the wind stopped blowin’ then the land would be dry
And your boat wouldn’t sail son and your kite wouldn’t fly
And the grass would see your troubles and she’d tell the wind
And the wind would start blowin’ again

(But daddy what if the grass stopped growin’ what would happen then)
If the grass stopped growin’ why you’d probably cry
And the ground would be watered by the tears from your eyes
And like your love for me the grass would grow so high
Yes the grass would start growin’ again

Next up is the up-tempo “My Family and Home”

When I hear country music
It takes me right back to my family home
Sittin’ by my dad’s radio
Trying to them songs on my own

The album concludes with the contemplative “You Are On My Mind”, performed as an acoustic ballad, with large parts of the song featuring just Adam and an acoustic guitar, joined in later with a lonesome fiddle played by Mick Albeck.

I really liked this album. It is nicely balanced in terms of tempos with both serious and humorous material and containing nothing you’d be afraid to let the children hear, even though this is not a children’s album. Adam Harvey is a great singer and songwriter. His vocals shine throughout the album. I would give this album a solid A

Track List
01 Family Life (A. Harvey)
02 Do the Best You Can (B. McDill)
03 She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful (B. McDill)
04 Kids (A. Harvey)
05 Count on Me (A. Harvey – Clint Crighton)
06 My Little Boy (A. Harvey)
07 One Full Bottle of Rum (A. Harvey)
08 Mere Male (A. Harvey – Colin Buchanan)
09 Sweet Sweet Love (A. Harvey – Clint Crighton)
10 Daddy What If (Shel Silverstein)
11 My Home and Family (A. Harvey – Clint Crighton)
12 You Are on My Mind (A. Harvey – Clint Crighton)

Partial List of Musicians
Jeff McCormack – Bass / Clayton Doley – Organ
Vaughan Jones – Piano / Mark Punch – Electric Guitar
Mick Albeck – Fiddle / Trent Williamson – Harmonica
Randy Kohrs – Dobro

Album Review: Adam Harvey and Troy Cassar-Daly – ‘The Great Country Songbook’

In 2013 Adam teamed up with fellow Australian country singer Troy Cassar-Daly for a collection of classic covers with a focus on the music of the 1970s which Adam grew up on. Mixed in with the duets are a number of songs on which either Adam or Troy sings lead.

The pair open with ‘Good Hearted Woman’ which is relaxed and enjoyable, and one of several covers of Waylon & Willie. The others are ‘Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys’, sung seriously. Adam also performs a solo version of ‘Luckenbach, Texas’ which suits his voice very well. The duo also cover ‘Coward Of The County’, which doesn’t quite gel as a duet, although each man’s solo lines have believable emotional heft. ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ feels rather karaoke, but ‘I Walk The Line’ is rather enjoyable, with Adam in particular sounding great. One of my favorites of the duets is a really lovely version of ‘Seven Spanish Angels’.

‘Lights On The Hill’ was an Australian country classic, written by Joy McKean for her husband, Aussie legend Slim Dusty in the 70s. Set to a catchy, oddly upbeat mid tempo tune, It is a story song about a trucker killed on the road one rainy night. This one is another duet. Troy also sings another Joy McKean/Slim Dusty classic, ‘Indian Pacific’, about a railway line, on which his natural Australian accent is more in evidence.

Adam takes on ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’. It is a brave attempt, and Adam’s deep baritone sounds great, but who can match George Jones? He is very good on ‘Behind Closed Doors’, and ‘Old Dogs, Children And Watermelon Wine’ is absolutely perfect for his deep voice – wonderful. ‘You’re My Best Friend’ is another strong cover.

Troy has a nice, smooth voice, and he takes the lead on ‘Crystal Chandeliers’, a reproach to an ex wife who has abandoned the protagonist for a rich man. It was never a single for Charley Pride in the US, but was an international success for him. Better still is a lovely version of ‘For The Good Times’, with some gorgeous steel guitar, and a natural, relaxed ;That’s The Way Loves Goes’, which is a real highlight. ‘Mama Tried’ is enjoyable with the same arrangement as the original, and Troy delivers an authentic version of ‘Hey Good Looking’. ‘Oh Lonesome Me’ is quite good too.

There is a very generous helping of material, with 20 tracks. The last is a medley of three songs: a bright fun extract from ‘Thank God I’m A Country Boy’, a soulful ‘Before The Next Teardrop Falls’, and a good humoured ‘On The Road Again’ to wrap things up.

Covers collections aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and the largely faithful arrangements will seems superfluous to some listeners. However, I really enjoyed this album and am happy to recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Adam Harvey — ‘Falling Into Place’

Falling into Place, released in 2011, is Adam Harvey’s ninth album overall and third release for Sony Music Australia. It won him Album of the Year from the CMA (Country Music Awards of Australia) in 2012.

The album opens with the mid-paced and inviting “Built To Last,” in which the narrator longs for a simpler time when quality (of both cars and women) mattered. “You Don’t Know My Love” finds the man working hard to help his girl overcome her skepticism and by the sounds of the uptempo arrangement, it doesn’t sound like much of a chore.

He’s nursing a hangover and some regrets about mid-week partying on “Hair of The Dog.” The title track is a pleasing mid-tempo ballad focusing on a relationship and the ways that life just kind of takes care of itself sometimes. “One More Beer” celebrates the end of the night when the bar is about to shut down. Harvey performs the song with a bit of a drunken’ swagger, which adds to the effect beautifully.

“A Good Woman Can” is a lively and playful uptempo honky-tonk infused duet with fellow Aussie Beccy Cole. The track is excellent even if it’s a bit frivolous. The pair works well together, however.

Harvey included three notable covers on the album. The album’s final cut, “Closing Time,” was first released and made famous by Lyle Lovett in 1986. It’s an excellent observational ballad about the people in the bar at closing time, complete with gorgeous vivid imagery.

The other two are a pair of songs Randy Travis recorded on Around The Bend in 2008. “Everything I Own Has Got A Dent” is a comical mid-tempo ballad in which a man confesses to having banged up cars, punched holes in walls and even disregarded love with his woman. He admits that even his heart has got a dent, too.

The second Travis song is his failed-to-chart single “Dig Two Graves,” which won him a Grammy nomination in 2009. Harvey’s version of the ballad, about a man who says he won’t last long if the love of his life should die before him, is excellent although it could’ve been a bit more traditional in its presentation.

Falling into Place is a great album, one which retains the more contemporary stylings of Harvey’s more recent work at the time. I wasn’t blown away by it, but there are some pretty good songs throughout.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘I’m Doing Alright’

In 2007 Adam signed to Sony Australia, and released an excellent debut for the label. The style was a little more contemporary country than his most recent albums, but very well performed and produced.

He wrote the majority of the tracks, mostly with Rod McCormack, including my favorite, ‘Someone Else’s Dream’. This is an excellent ballad, set to a strong melody ideally suited to Adam’s deep voice, with a tasteful string arrangement, and an inspiring lyric about fulfilling your own path in life:

I’ve known hurt and pain
Seen things I hope we never see again
I’ve been bought and sold
I’ve learned not to believe most of what I’m told
We’re all busy making plans
But there’s just a few who can
Have a vision and the will to see it through

Truth knows when things aren’t what they seem
And words fall flat if you d- on’t feel what they mean
You can’t move forward
Till you know where you’ve been
The ones who stand alone see
It’s no life
Living someone else’s dream

‘Walls’ is an excellent song, referring to the Aboriginal population of Australia, the Berlin Wall and other artificial barriers:

When different people find a common ground
There’s no way to stop
Walls from tumbling down

Walls
We all build ‘em
When we need something to hide behind
But if we learn from those that came before us
We let ‘em fall
Walls

Every day we make ‘em like we need ‘em to survive
But what’s the use of feelings if they’re locked up inside?

The solemn ‘A Bigger Plan’ relates grandparental advice to a child, while the sultry jazzy ballad of ‘Will You Be Mine’ is the album’s sole love song. ‘Saturday Night’ is another likeable song about childhood memories of good times at family parties every week:

There ain’t nothing like a party at the Harveys on a Saturday night

The soundtrack include smashing bottles and police sirens.

The title track is a mid paced song with a contemporary feel about satisfaction with one’s life despite lacking material goods. Not bad. ‘Way Too Fast’ is a nice song advising taking time out from a busy life, warmly sung.

‘You’d Do The Same For Me’ is a thoughtful ballad about friendship with an attractive melody and some nice fiddle:

We all need a shoulder when life lets you down
One thing you can count on
I’ll always be around
Nothing’s too much trouble for a friend in need
You’d do the same for me

Most of his usual co-writers refused to work on him with ‘Genie In The Bottle’, which they thought was a stupid idea for a song, but while admittedly a bit silly it’s rather fun, about a lovelorn man who takes to the bottle:

The genie in the bottom of the Jim Bean bottle made me do what I didn’t wanna do
I made a wish with the genie but the genie was a meanie and he didn’t make my wish come true
I was hoping he would make your memory go away but I’m still thinkin’ of you

Of the outside material, ‘The Older I Get’ is a pleasant mid-paced tune about learning how to live well. It was written by Danny Gree, Rob Crosby and Liz Hengber.

‘Flowers’ was a very minor hit for its writer Billy Yates, with its perfectly constructed and emotionally devastating lyric about a man who (spoiler alert!) causes the death of his partner by drunk driving. It has also been cut by Chris Young. Adam’s version is decent but not my favorite, lacking a bit of the combined delicacy and intensity needed to carry it off. I don’t quite *believe* this version.

The best known cover is the Guy Clark song ‘Heartbroke’. Adam’s version is highly enjoyable but not as exciting as Ricky Skaggs’ bluegrass infused hit. Adam also takes on bluesman Keb Mo’’s ‘A Better Man’; the original actually has a jug band feel which might have worked better but Adam’s version is a bit dull.

There are “bonus” acoustic re-recordings of several of the songs on this album, and a few older songs, on my version of the album.

The album won an Australian CMA award, and is well worth finding.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Cowboy Dreams’

Released in April 2003, Cowboy Dreams was Adam’s fifth album and the second to be certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association signifying sales of 35,000 albums.

The album opens up with the “Love Bug”, the Wayne Kemp-Curtis Wayne penned hit for George Jones in 1965 and George Strait in 1993, both top ten records. It’s a silly song but Adam handles it well.

Next up is “Call It Love” a nice ballad that I could see George Strait having a hit with in his prime

Just Lookin Back On The Life We’ve Made
The Things We’ve Lost The Words To Say
A Million Words Are Not Enough
Call It Love

I Know That Sometimes I Put You Through
More Than I Should Ask Of You
There Must Be A Reason You Don’t Give Up
Call It Love

I Don’t Know What Else To Call It
When All I Wanna Do
Is Grow Old With You
What Else On Earth Can It Be When Every Time You’re With Me
A Simple Touch Tears Me Up
Call It Love

“When Lonely Met Love” is a nice up-tempo dance floor number:

He was empty as a bottle on a Saturday night
She was sweet as a rose that grows in a garden getting good sunlight
As fate would have it, the unlikely happened
In a parking lot, two worlds collide

When lonely met love, they hit it off
Dancing on the ceiling, couldn’t peel them off
Now they’re real tight, it feels real nice
Lonely ain’t looking, lonely no more
Love started popping like a bag of popcorn
When they opened up, when lonely met love

Those good old ballads of booze, women and cheating have been largely banished from modern country music so “Hush”, so this mid-tempo ballad is a refreshing change of pace

He’s looking in the mirror checking out his hair, putting on his cologne
He ain’t shaved since Tuesday but tonight every little whisker’s gone
He’s going out with the perfect wife but she ain’t his own

Chorus:
Hush…can’t talk about it
Hush…dance all around it
Everybody’s doing it old and young
Don’t breath a word cats got your tongue
Huush

She makes the kids breakfast, packs their lunch, sends them on their way
Makes all the beds and cleans up the kitchen loads the TV tray
But that ain’t coffee in the coffee cup gets her through the day

“She Don’t Know It Yet” is a wistful ballad about a man who has not been able to convey to his woman just how much he really loves her

I really love western swing and “Cowboy For A Day” is a nice example with a subject matter similar to Conway Twitty’s “Don’t Call Him A Cowboy” but with a more upbeat message and taken at a much faster tempo. This would be a great dance number

Adam’s voice is in Trace Adkins / Josh Turner territory but the structure of the album reminds me of many of George Strait’s albums, with a nice mix of slow and up-tempo songs.

My digital copy of the album did not include any information concerning songwriting credits, but it is fair to assume that where I haven’t commented, that Adam had a hand in the writing. I really liked “A Little More To It Than That” and “Little Cowboy Dreams” which I assume are Adam’s compositions. The latter is a really cute song, a father’s words to his son:

Dust off your boots, take off your star
Whistle your rocking horse in from the yard
Take off your hat you’ve tamed the wild west
But son even heroes need to get rest

Close your eyes little man it’s been a long day
And your worn out from riding it seems
Let your work in the saddle
All drift away
Into sweet little cowboy dreams

Old-timer that I am my favorite song on the album goes way back to 1965 when Lefty Frizzell recorded the Hank Cochran-Chuck Howard song “A Little Unfair”. Adam doesn’t sound like Lefty and doesn’t try to sound like Lefty but doers a very effective job with the song:

You want me to love just you while you love your share
Ain’t that being a little unfair
It’s me stay home while you stay gone till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

I can’t see how it can be anything for me
What’s mine is yours but what’s yours is yours
That’s how you wanted to be
You want me to wait for you till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

I can’t see how it can be anything for me
What’s mine is yours but what’s yours is yours
That’s how you wanted to be
You want me to wait for you till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

This is a very country album – fiddle, steel guitar, thoughtful lyrics and everything else you would want in a country album.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Adam Harvey — ‘Can’t Settle for Less’

Adam Harvey released his sixth album, Can’t Settle for Less, in January 2005. It peaked at #20 on the Australian Country Album chart.

Among the album’s 13 tracks are six songs recorded by other artists in the States and likely unfamiliar to Harvey’s audiences Down Under. He opens with a brilliant take on Don Williams’ “I’ve Been Loved By The Best,” a mid-tempo stunner about a man and his recent love.

“I Want My Rib Back” is a silly and somewhat obscure song Keith Whitley had recorded for the Blake Mevis produced follow-up to LA to Miami that was never released. His version eventually saw the light of day on Kentucky Bluebird before the song found its way to Kenny Chesney on his Capricorn debut, In My Wildest Dreams. Harvey does well with the song, which has never been one of my favorites.

“Cadillac Tears” was originally recorded by Kevin Denney for his self-titled debut in 2002. The uptempo honky tonker is gorgeous and finds a woman wallowing that she’s single, despite being very well off financially from her previous lover. “Lady Lay Down” was a #1 single for John Conlee from his Rose Colored Glasses album in 1978. The traditional ballad is wonderful, although a bit slicker than I would’ve expected from Harvey.

“Orphan of the Road” is an old Johnny Cash song about a cowboy and a carnie girl, and their one-time three-day stand. The track is exquisite, with Harvey turning in a revelatory performance framed in a simple acoustic arrangement. “Life Don’t Have To Mean Nothing At All” was written by Tom T. Hall and covered by Joe Nichols on Man With A Memory in 2002. The song itself is charming, and Harvey turns in a fabulous performance of it.

The rest of the album’s tracks are original and credited to Harvey. “That’s Just How She Gets” is an amusing look at a woman’s behavior when her man stumbles home drunk. “The Biggest Fool” is an ear-catching mid-tempo ballad with a seductive traditional arrangement. “God Made Beer” is the first real inane track on the album, which scores points for its working man undertones, but suffers from an unintelligent lyric. “Doghouse” is also a bit silly.

“That’s What You Call A Friend” is a tasteful yet somewhat predictable mid-tempo ballad. “Missing Heroes” is a contemporary traditional ballad typical of the era. “Once Upon A Long Time Gone” is a gorgeous ballad set to an old-time-y country arrangement. Harvey’s vocal is spellbinding. This is the kind of song I could see Lee Ann Womack recording.

Can’t Settle for Less truly is an incredible album of originals mixed between well-chosen songs sung by other artists. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty darn close to it. Harvey reminds me a lot of Josh Turner, especially on this album. He has a very similar tone to his voice that is very appealing. This album is also available on Apple Music and iTunes and is well worth checking out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Workin’ Overtime’

After some time finding his feet, Adam’s first Australian gold selling album was 2001’s Workin’ Overtime. It also won him a Golden Guitar award for Best Album. It thoroughly deserved both, as this is an excellent album.

He wrote or cowrote the lion’s share of the tracks himself for the first time. The title track, ‘Workin’ Overtime (On A Good Time)’ was co-written with fellow Australian Rod McCormack and American country artist David Lee Murphey. This starts out slow and then ramps it up as Adam quits his job in favour of party time.

McCormack and Jerry Salley teamed up with Adam for ‘The Shake Of A Hand’, a sweet song set to a pretty lilting melody with a wistful nostalgia for a more innocent past. The same team produced the charmingly retro western swing ‘Two Steppin’ Fool’, in which Adam offers himself as a replacement for a cheater.

Adam and Rod McCormack were joined by Sonny Tillis to write ‘What It Used To Be’, a lovely sad ballad about the aftermath of a failed relationship. Matt King co-wrote the mid-paced ‘I’ll Drink To That’, a swaggering response to a wife’s ultimatum to stop drinking to excess in which the booze looks like winning:

Hangovers hurt me in the morning
But living with a crazy woman
Sure to give a man a heart attack
So I’ll drink to that
I’ll raise my glass and
Here’s to all the good times that you said we never had
This beer ain’t half as bitter as
This trouble you’ve been causing
With these threats that you’ll be walking
If I touch another drop
I’ll drink to that

Rick Price cowrote two songs with Adam and Rod, both love songs. ‘One Of A Kind’ is a sweet ballad, earnestly delivered by Adam, while ‘Little Bitty Thing Called’ is slighter lyrically but a fun little ditty.

A few covers or outside songs were thrown in. ‘The House That Jack Built’ is a rapid paced Billy Yates/Jerry Salley story song about a young married couple whose ideal picket fence life is broken up when a richer man comes along, with a fiddle dominated arrangement. Steel guitar leads into the superlative ballad ‘One And One And One’, also recorded by Gene Watson. Adam does it full justice as he portrays a man who retires hurt but dignified when he finds his lover two timing him:

The first time I laid eyes on you it was love for me
It never crossed my mind what all I couldn’t see
Now suddenly there’s more than me you’re livin’ for
I go to you and find a stranger at your door

1 + 1 + 1 is one too many
I can’t understand your reasons why
1 + 1 + 1 is one too many
So let me be the one to say goodbye

You say God blessed you with two good men
And you can’t choose
‘Cause in different ways we both mean the world to you
And you’re wonderin’ now if somehow
I could live with that
But God above wouldn’t call this love so I want out

‘She’s Gone, Gone, Gone’ is a Harlan Howard song first recorded by the legendary Lefty Frizzell and then a top 10 country hit for Glen Campbell. It is upbeat musically, belying a sad lyric, and highly enjoyable with a delightful acoustic arrangement. There is a tasteful cover of the Guy Clark classic ‘Boats To Build’.

‘Beauty’s In The Eye (Of The Beerholder)’ is a comic drinking song which is good fun.

The album closes with a very fine version of Chris Wall’s modern classic ‘I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight’, most recently recorded by Sunny Sweeney.

Adam is in great voice on this record, and the material is all high quality. I recommend this wholeheartedly.

Grade: A

Album Review: Adam Harvey — ‘Sugar Talk’

Adam Harvey released his third album, Sugar Talk, in late August 1999. Much like Occasional Hope noted in her review last week, there isn’t much information about the album online although I was able to find it on Apple Music.

The album is comprised of fourteen tracks. Wikipedia lists two singles. “Treat Me Like A Dog” is a ruckus barnburner about a man who wants a woman who will love and forgive him despite his flaws, much the same way people love everything about their pets. “I Blame You” is a nice power ballad where a man blames his woman for all the riches in his life.

When researching “Gypsy Queen,” I found out it is an old Australian song from the 1970s and became Harvey’s first number one hit. The track is excellent, dosed in mandolin and has a nice sing-song-y melody. “When I’m Drinking” is a playful honky-tonk rocker about a man who’s let the bottle have a grip on his life.

“Hold on my Heart” is another barnburner, in which Harvey sings about a woman who has “a hold on my heart and I hope she never let’s go.” The title track follows the same uptempo formula, with slight variations.

Harvey is a keen observer on “I Can Tell By The Way You Dance,” in which he predicts the woman he’s watching on the dance floor will become his girl. It’s probably not a sequel, but the next track in sequence is “Caroline.” In the chorus he sings, “when I’m with you I lose my mind.”

The last of the high-octane moments is “It’s Still Love,” which is very good but feels slightly generic. “When You Love Somebody” is a nice contemporary ballad. “Love Listens” falls at mid-tempo, with generous steel guitar throughout and a smoother vocal from Harvey.

Harvey also includes three songs I recognize as being recorded by other artists. When I played “Don’t Tell Me (You’re Not in Love)” I recognized it immediately, but didn’t know where I’d heard it before. It turns out George Strait included it as an album track on The Road Less Traveled three years after Harvey released it here.

He gives himself a tall order singing Lefty Frizzell’s “I Never Go Around Mirrors,” which was famously covered twice by Keith Whitley. Harvey’s version is very good and holds its own against the others.

The final cover, “Goodnight Sweetheart,” was originally recorded by Joe Diffie in 1992 before being picked up as the title track and second single from country singer turned Texas real estate agent David Kersh’s debut album. It peaked at #6 for him in 1996. Harvey’s version is excellent, tender, and makes me believe this is a song Whitley would’ve likely recorded had he lived.

I was unfamiliar with Adam Harvey before writing this review. Sugar Talk is a very strong album with some excellent moments throughout. He goes a bit too heavy on the light uptempo material but kills it when he slows things down. In addition to Apple Music, Sugar Talk is all available on iTunes. I recommend checking it out.

Grade: A-