My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Album Reviews

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Too Many Times’

Earl Thomas Conley was coming off of another of his biggest hits “Once In A Blue Moon,” when he readied his sixth album, Too Many Times. It was his first album in two years, the longest he had gone without a proper studio album since his career began. Mark Wright joins Nelson Larkin as co-producer, on what would be ETC’s last big album, peaking at #3.

All but one of the singles topped the charts. The outlier was the first single, the title track, a very smooth and pop/R&B flavored duet with Anita Pointer. It peaked at #2 despite not resembling country music at all.

The second single, “I Can’t Win For Losin’ You” follows a similar sonic path, but sets itself apart with an excellent and memorable chorus. “That Was A Close One” is also of high quality. “Right From The Start” is the album’s strongest single overall, with a production that slightly ups the tempo and allows ETC to dip into his more distinctive lower register.

“Dancin’ With The Flame” is even more uptempo, and while it’s still smooth, it’s a nice change of pace. “Attracted To Pain” has some intrusive muscular guitar on it that gives ETC something to work with, but proves to distract overall.

“Many Forgiving Years” is the most country-leaning song on the album thus far, even if it doesn’t sound like it in the least. The same is true for “I Need A Good Woman Bad,” one of the album’s more excellent offerings both vocally and lyrically. “Preservation of The Wild” is also wonderful, a bit dark, and would’ve worked splendidly in Hank Williams Jr’s hands. “If Leavin’ Was Easy” is also very, very good.

Too Many Times is a strong album, with a handful of some truly great songs, most of which were buried as album tracks. I have a hard time buying most of this as being country, but this is what some of the genre still sounded like in the crossover period when the New Traditionalist Movement pushed out the Urban Cowboy era. All of the tracks can be streamed on YouTube, which I highly recommend doing.

Grade: B+

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Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Treading Water’

Released in October 1984, Treading Water was ETC’s fourth and most successful RCA album, peaking at #2 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. By late 1984 Nashville had moved past the Urban Cowboy sludge into more traditional sounds. While the “New Traditionalist” movement was still eighteen months away, newer artists such as Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley were pointing the way back to more traditional sounds, and some veteran artists such as George Jones and Merle Haggard had seen some career regeneration, as had (briefly) the Kendalls.

The album opens with “Too Hot To Handle”, a non-single that sounds more energetic than most of Earl’s recordings. This is followed by “Love Don’t Care”, a #1 single that was the third single released from the album and “Labor of Love”, a quiet ballad about a relationship that is disintegrating.

“Your Love Says All There Is” is an album track that seems rather generic and too similar to other recent ETC songs. It is an okay song but certainly not worthy of single release.

Y

ou keep talking with your body
And to your every move I can relate
Cause I’ve been feeling what you’re thinking
And I guess your love says all there is to say

This party started in your arms tonight
And I can see forever in your eyes
Without a word you put me in my placeo Your love says all there is, your love says all there is to say

Similarly “Love’s On The Move Again” seems a bit familiar but the use of real piano and steel is certainly welcome.

“Chance of Loving You” was the first single released from the album, a #1 single that was co-written with Randy Scruggs. The song is taken at mid-tempo with a lyric than commands attention.

Like a young and courageous fool
Ready to take on the night
You came dressed to kill all of the boys
And it looks like you’ve done enough right

You say that love is your only rule
It kinda comes from the heart
When it all comes down to what lovers do
You fall in love and just fall apart

But that’s the chance you take with a lonely heart
That’s the price you pay with a lonely heart
That’s the game you play when there’s nothin’ to loose
And I could never refuse the chance of lovin’ you

“Honor Bound” was the second single from the album, another #1 hit. The song is a dramatic song about a wife who is taking her vows seriously; however, both the wife and the narrator know that from her perspective that the flame has gone out of the relationship. There is a nice sax break in the song.

Nothing’s been said, nothing’s been done
It’s hard to see a difference between the rising and the setting sun
But I can feel a change, it’s there in her touch
It’s subtle but it’s deep and it hurts us both so much
Me, because I’m losing her and her because she feels

She’s honor bound, bound by promise that she made so long ago
But I love her so much that I can’t let her know I know
Oh, I know her pure heart made that promise
Honestly, oh, but how long can her honor keep her bound to me

I think “Treading Water” is the best song on the album but it was not released as a single. The tale of a fellow who gets the girl (briefly) whenever she is on the rebound, the narrator is beginning to rebel against his role in the matter.

“Feels Like A Saturday Night” could have been a rowdy song in the hands of another singer. ETC never truly sounds rowdy, but the song has a nice beat to it and is probably one of the few ETC songs suitable for dancing.

The album closes with the up-tempo “Turn This Bus Around”.

This is probably my favorite Earl Thomas Conley album on RCA. I’d give this album a B+, but it would prove to be the last ETC album I would purchase for many years as I realized that I liked Conley as an artist, but did not love his music and did not often pull it out to play. Most of my Conley albums were on cassette tape and as CD became the dominant media, I purchased some hit collections but little else more, until a few years ago. He’s a fine artist and is worth discovering, especially for one with less traditional tastes than mine.

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Don’t Make It Easy For Me’

Earl Thomas Conley released his fourth album, and third for RCA, in May 1983. Don’t Make It Easy For Me, produced as per usual by ETC and Nelson Larkin, was his most successful album to date, with all four of its singles hitting #1. This was the album that kicked off his successful string of nine consecutive number one hits between 1983-1986.

The album’s first single, “Your Love’s On The Line” was co-written by ETC and Randy Scruggs. The excellent mid-tempo ballad is smooth and hardly country, but Conley sells it with conviction.

He didn’t write his next single, which is arguably his signature song. “Holding Her and Loving You” is an incredible lyric about a conflicted man who must tell his wife he’s in love with his mistress. Conley does the impossible, which is to allow the listener to sympathize with our protagonist’s struggle. His emotion-filled vocal elevates the already great song to new heights.

The next single, the title track, changes the pace and adds a heavy electric guitar to give the track some muscle. The song is very dated and in retrospect, shouldn’t have been a #1 hit at all. I would file this away as one of those songs you couldn’t believe were once considered radio-friendly enough to be a hit. It’s just strange and not to my taste at all.

The fourth and final single “Angel in Disguise” is another wonderful song, this time about a man who finds his fling has turned out to be something more. Go ahead and watch the video on YouTube. It’s hideous but worth the chuckle. I’m glad it exists as an example of the era, but boy is it bad.

Another song from the album given the video treatment is “Crowd Around The Corner,” which is very good, although the video is slightly creepy. “You Can’t Go On (Like A Rolling Stone)” is a bland AC-leaning cautionary tale about a guy who cannot go on living his life as a playboy.

“Ball and Chain” is a charming rocker while “Under Control” maintains the fast beat but adds a heavy synth track into the mix. “Changes of Love” is classic, yet unremarkable, ETC and “Home  So Fine” is the most traditionally structured country song on the album.

Don’t Make It Easy For Me is the embodiment of a country album smack dab in the center of the Urban Cowboy era of country music. It’s so early 1980s and while it undoubtedly worked at the time, it’s aged poorly in the 35 years since its release. “Holding Her and Loving You” is the album’s most worthy and stand out track by a mile. The album is available to stream on YouTube, with all the music videos included, which I highly recommend checking out.

Grade: B- 

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Somewhere Between Right And Wrong’

Earl Thomas Conley’s second RCA album was released in August 1982. It was once more produced by Nelson Larkin with a very commercial sound, but one which allowed ETC’s sultry voice, his greatest asset, to shine. It cemented his status as a rising star, with three top 10 singles.

The first single, the only song ETC did not write, was ‘Heavenly Bodies’, written by Elaine Lifton, Gloria Nissenson and Lee Ritenour. The arrangement doesn’t sound particularly country, but ETC’s warm vocal makes it quite palatable.

The title track, one of ETC’s solo compositions, became his second chart topper. The briskly paced cheating song about an affair with a married woman whose husband works away too much has a lot of energy if questionable justification for its morals. The brassy production is a far cry from traditional country, but it fitted in nicely on early 80s radio, and it has actually not dated too badly.

The third and last single, peaking at #2, was a remake of a love song he had released as an independent single in 1974. ‘I Have Loved You Girl (But Not Like This Before)’ has a delicately tender vocal about committing new to his love.

‘If It Ain’t Something (You Give Me)’ is a very good soul-infused ballad. ‘Don’t Get Along With The Blues’ is quite good in a contemporary style, a midpaced song about not being able to move on.

‘This Ain’t No Way To Be’ (a co-write with Randy Scruggs) is quite a pleasant AC ballad but not very memorable. Scruggs also helped write ‘The Highway Home’, an upbeat country rocker about a musician’s life on the road which is pretty good.

‘Bottled Up Blues’, written with Rick Scott, has a nice fiddle intro, and is one of the more country moments.

‘We’ve Got All Night’ is well sung but boring, and the production is very dated.

The hushed and very short ‘The Man Inside Of Me’ is about a man trapped by obscure childhood experiences.

The album can be downloaded on itunes, and is also on CD as a bargain 4-on-1 release with Don’t Make It Easy For Me, Treadin’ Water and Too Many Times.

I can see why it was a success at the time, based mainly on ETC’s excellent vocals. It dies sound dated now, and not particularly country, but if you like ETC, check it out.

Grade: B

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Fire and Smoke’

Earl Thomas Conley made his debut on RCA Records, the label where he would reside for the bulk of his career and enjoy his greatest success, in the fall of 1981. That label debut, Fire and Smoke, was a success out of the gate.

The album was produced by Conley and his collaborator Nelson Larkin. RCA sent it’s first single to radio just over a year before the album hit store shelves. “Silent Treatment,” which Conley wrote solo, is a mid-tempo ballad about a woman giving her guy the cold shoulder, a tactic he says is “working on me.” It peaked at #7, giving Conley his first top ten hit.

The title track became Conley’s first of eighteen number one hits upon release in April 1981. Also solely written by the singer, it features a nice groove and tells the story of a love that was all “fire and smoke” when it was hot, and ash when the fire burned out.

The album’s third single, “Tell Me Why,” was written by John Booth Aclin. It features a muscular production consisting of forceful guitars mixed with steel. Although the lyric is unremarkable, the song peaked at #10.

RCA managed to squeeze one final single from the album, the excellent string-laced ballad “After The Love Slips Away.” It does sort of drone on without a chorus and is a bit slower than the radio offerings preceding it, two factors that may help explain why it stalled at #16. Wikipedia lists the song as “After The Love Slips Away / Smokey Mountain Memories,” the latter being an excellent banjo, fiddle and steel drenched down-home tribute to life amongst the titular mountain range in Tennessee.

“Too Much Noise (Trucker’s Waltz)” finds Conley straining to overcompensate with twang, in order to up the country credibility of the song. “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More (Than She Loves Me)” is a brilliant slice of classic country and one of the strongest cuts on the album.

“Your Love Is Just For Strangers (I Suppose)” is a smoothed over string-heavy unremarkable ballad. “Like Cinderella,” with its sinister vibe, is one of the album’s weaker offerings and one of my least favorite. “As Low As You Can Go,” with it’s spoken intro, is really just more of the same and another not to my taste.

Fire and Smoke is an album trying to be a little bit to everyone, and for the most part, it succeeds. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few instances of actual country music among the ten tracks, moments like “Smokey Mountain Memories” and “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More (Than She Loves Me)” that Conley executes with ease. It’s clear he was just getting started and finding his way.

Grade: B

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Blue Pearl’

After only very minor chart success (according to Record World) and only modestly better success at Warner Brothers, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) signed with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with his producer at GRT Nelson Larkin.

Although largely forgotten, Nelson Larkin was a talented songwriter and independent record producer and studio owner who seemed to truly understand what Conley was about.

Three singles were released from the album: “Dreamin’s All I Do” (#32), “Middle Age Madness” (#41) and “Stranded On A Dead End Street” (#26); and while this did not represent overwhelming chart success, for a minor independent label it was quite respectable and enough to push the album to #20, a very significant achievement which caught the attention of major label RCA, which purchased all of Earl’s Sunbird masters.

“Fire & Smoke”, released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40. Meanwhile, the album reached #20, a rare occurrence for an album released on one of the smaller independents.

The album opens with “Too Much Noise (Trucker’s Waltz)” a slow ballad which is not really a truck driving song despite the title.

There’s a hell raising cowboy
In your truck driving heart
You’ve got the world narrowed down
To four lanes
But how could diesel blooded horses
Ever drag you apart
From the only girl who could ever
Ease your pain
She would follow your dreams
To the farthest extremes
But she needs more than just someone
To be true to
While it seems you just need someone sane
Who can drive all that noise
From your brain

Next up is “Silent Treatment” which RCA would later release as a successful single on the first RCA album Fire And Smoke.

“Dreamin’s All I Do” was the first single from the album, and likely would have been a major hit had it been an RCA release. I love the song, which is a bit of a dreamy ballad.

I woke up crying, I thought I had a dream
But you would not answer up when I called your name
I ran to my window but all I saw was rain
I know you’re going somewhere girl I can feel the pain
But I wouldn’t dream of sleeping with anyone but you
And anyone who knows me knows that I love you
No I wouldn’t dream of sleeping with anyone but you
But anyone can tell you dreamin’s all I do

“Stranded On A Dead End Street” was the album’s third single and built on the momentum of the first two singles. A up-tempo love song, it represents the kind of material I wish Earl had tackled more often.

“You Don’t Have To Go Too Far” features rather more steel guitar than most of Earl’s songs. This song is a mid-tempo declaration of love.

“Fire And Smoke” would prove to be Earl’s first #1 record when released on RCA. “Played This Game Enough To Know The Score” is a medium-fast ballad about a fellow who knows that his current romance won’t last.

“Blue And Green” is gentle ballad about a romance that has failed and the participants far apart.

“Middle Age Madness” is about an older woman who still dreams of a romance that may never occur. This was the second single and likely would have been a bigger hit with a major label behind it.

“This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me” is a song that Earl wrote and pitched to Conway Twitty, who took it to the top of the charts. I like Earl’s recording, which is the most traditional sounding Earl Thomas Conley track I’ve ever heard. It is nearly as good as Conway’s version.

She wore that falling out of love look
I even swore upon the Good Book
Still the last lie I told her was
The one she couldn’t believe
No more crying on her shoulder
She won’t even let me hold her
Cause this time I’ve hurt her more than she loves me

Four of these tracks would appear on Earl’s first RCA album, further proof of the strength of the album, which I would give an A-.

Album Review: Cody Jinks – ‘Lifers’

I was very impressed by Cody Jinks’ 2016 release I’m Not The Devil https://mykindofcountry.wordpress.com/2016/09/07/album-review-cody-jinks-im-not-the-devil/ So was the highly esteemed independent label Rounder Records, which signed Jinks on the strength of it. His debut record for Rounder has just been released. I don’t like it as much as I’m Not The Devil, and it leans less to country, but it is a strong effort in its way.

Lead single ‘Must Be The Whiskey’ is a mid-paced song about a man unsure whether he should have settled down or run away. The arrangement is a bit busy and the melody rock-influenced, but the whole is quite catchy. Musically similar is the opening ‘Holy Water’. This revisits the theme of duality and struggling with darkness and sin which dominated the previous album, and is a good song although not quite sonically to my taste.

I’m still trying to get through to the man I wanna be
Maybe I’m not so gone that I can’t see
I need a shot of holy water
I need it to chase down my demons and burn just a little bit hotter
I’ve been having drinks with the devil in this neon town
I need a shot of holy water to wash it down

Much better is my favorite track on the album, ‘Somewhere Between I Love You And I’m Leavin’’, a beautiful sounding measured ballad which is a love song despite itself. My second favorite is the lovely ‘Colorado’. A wistful ballad of regret for a failed marriage, it is the most traditional sounding song on the album.

The title track is a sincere and likeable tribute to the hard working strivers of an older generation who refuse to give up despite the discouragements of life.

‘Big Last Name’ is a tongue in cheek song about an ambitious young woman who aims to marry money. I enjoyed this one. ‘Can’t Quit Enough’ is an energetic and unrepentant ode to the joys of life on the road and the narrator’s many bad habits.

‘7th Floor’ is a minor keyed song with a 60s folk-rock feel and an obscure lyric. ‘Desert Wind’ is a Western story song. ‘Stranger’ is an introspective Billy Don Burns song about the shock of realising one has grown old. The closing ‘Head Case’ also reflects on age and mortality, with a suitably somber cello-led accompaniment.

Overall, I was disappointed in the musical direction of this album, which draws more strongly on Jinks’ rock past, but it has some strong tracks worth hearing.

Grade: B

Lane Turner – Stardom Unfulfilled

George Strait was always a bit of an outlier as far as country radio was concerned, a fan of western swing who has allowed to keep some of those influences in his music as long as he came up with a reasonably mainstream sound. Of course radio afforded Strait this courtesy because of his visual aura, excellent voice and scandal-free personal life.

During 2004, another strongly western (or Texas) swing influenced artist received some airplay as a result of a pair of singles released on a major label, Warner Brothers. The single “Always Wanting More (Breathless)” was penned by Lane (with Kent Blazy and Monty Holmes) and received heavy airplay around Central Florida. The song was sold as a CD single with the second song, penned by Lane Turner the disc, “King of Pain” also receiving some airplay. On the physical single were the words “From the forthcoming Warner Brothers album RIGHT ON TIME (2/6-48655) . Unfortunately, the single did not fare as well in other markets and died at #56.

The second single released, “Right On Time” also received some airplay, but I did not see a CD single on sale for the song. I patiently awaited release of the album but by mid-2005 (after some inquiries) I resigned myself to the fact that Warner Brothers had bailed on the album. Since the market seemed to be turning away from traditional country sounds (pseudo boy-band Rascal Flatts seemed to be the hottest thing going), I doubted that Turner would get another crack at a major label.

About five years ago, a friend of mine brought me a promotional CD that he’d copied for me that was never officially released and he had added a few extra tracks he’d found. The CD was the Warner Brothers album RIGHT ON TIME.

I don’t have any writer information for the remaining songs, although I suspect that Lane had a hand in writing most of them

“King of Pain” is a ballad of lost love.

“Halfway to Mexico” is up-tempo modern country with some Mexican rhythms.

“Better to Have Loved” is a ballad of the kind that George Strait routinely turned into hits.

“Let You Go” is an up-tempo song of loss with a banjo serving as the driving force behind the melody.

I have no idea why “Right On Time” was not a hit. The song is a thoughtful slow ballad.

“Happy Hour” is a throwback to early 1970s country, not unlike some of Freddie Hart’s hits but also similar to some of George Strait’s ballads.

“Outside Looking In” is an up-tempo rocker that might have made a good single.

“Thinking Right This Time” is a mid-tempo ballad about a fellow coming to grips with his errors of omission that cost him the loss of the love of his life.

“Horses” is a dialogue between a father to his young son. The father has lost custody of his son to his ex-wife and he is reminding the son to remember the things he has learned such as how to ride horses.

“If It Ain’t One Thing It’s Another” is an up-tempo ballad about life’s little problems.

“Always Wanting You More (Breathless)” was the biggest hit for Lane Turner, an excellent ballad about the mystery generated by his love, a mystery that he cannot fathom but always wants.

Some of this album is available to view on Youtube such as this clip for “The Horses”.

I would regard this album as an A- and deeply regret that Lane Turner never got a real shot at stardom. Perhaps he was too similar to George Strait, or perhaps radio programmers of the time simply had lost interest in real county music. These were good songs that in a different time could have been his.

Lane released an EP in 2009 titled LANE TURNER, currently available as a digital download on Amazon. In 2011 he surfaced as the lead singer of the group Western Underground. This band was formerly Chris LeDoux’s road band. I believe he is still with this group.

Album Review: Rodney Crowell – ‘Acoustic Classics’

Rodney Crowell has decided to revisit a number of his best known songs in acoustic format.

The poetic ‘Earthbound’ from 2003 sounds very like the original recording. ‘Anything But Tame’ comes from his 2012 collaboration with poet Mary Karr, is similar but a little more stripped down, but it is a song I admire rather than love.

First recorded by Rodney in 1978, and made famous by near-contemporary covers by Emmylou Harris, and the Oak Ridge Boys (for whom it was a #1 hit in 1979), the new version is ‘Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight’ is taken at a more relaxed pace than any of the previous versions I have heard. The dominant accordion makes it feel full of Cajun atmosphere, and I enjoyed this take. The remake of the same era’s ‘Ain’t Living Long Like This’ feels less essential.

Less familiar to country fans, ‘Shame On The Moon’ was recorded by Rodney in 1981, and was a pop hit for Bob Seger the following year. Rodney has revised the actual song for this project, but it remains one of the more pop-styed tunes in Crowell’s repertoire.

The up-tempo ‘Lovin’ All Night’, a top 10 hit for Rodney in 1992, and later covered by Patty Loveless, is a country rocker which gets a vibrant acoustic reworking.

There is a lovely reading of the tender ballad ‘Making Memories Of Us’, a big hit for Keith Urban. A solemn string arrangement is the perfect accompaniment. The same treatment is afforded to ‘Please Remember Me’, a hit for Tim McGraw.

At the heart of the album are three songs from my favorite of Rodney’s albums, and his most commercially successful, 1988’s Diamonds And Dirt. In fact they are three of that album’s record breaking run of five straight #1 hits. The upbeat ‘I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried’ was the first of the three, followed by the tongue-in-cheek Guy Clark co-write ‘She’s Crazy For Leavin’’. My favorite is the lovely ballad ‘After All This Time’.

‘Tennessee Wedding’ is a new song which Rodney wrote for his daughter’s wedding, from the point of view of his new son in law.

Tis is a very pleasing album showcasing Rodney Crowell as a songwriter. It may not be an essential purchase if you already have all his recorded work, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Jason Boland and the Stragglers – ‘Hard Times Are Relative’

Jason Boland and the Stragglers are usually reliable purveyors of country music infused with a little Red Dirt attitude.

The opening ‘I Don’t Deserve You’ is a pretty good midpaced love song. Sunny Sweeney’s harmony vocal adds charm.

The lovely title track is a sweet story song about a pair of orphaned siblings looking out for one another in the 1930s. This is the best song on the album.

Also great is the solid honky tonker ‘Right Where I Began’, with a protagonist taking refuge in country music and a one night stand for temporary relief from his heartbreak:

Ol’ George sings a leaving song where the cowboy rides away
Hey, Ronnie’s got me figured out
She’s back on my mind to stay
And old Jones said “He stopped lovin’ her”
I hope that ain’t today
So I’ll sit back down on the stool and let the jukebox play

I got Jack Daniels by the handle
My best Bud’s in the can
Some Wild-ass Turkey sittin’ next to me
Talkin’ ’bout the plan
But I’ll find a wife for the night and I’ll be her lovin’ man
Then tomorrow morning I’ll take her home and I’ll be right where I began

My next favorite is nostalgic waltz ‘Do You Remember When’, which reflects on “progress”:

Folks might still waltz around dusty dancefloors
But three quarter time’s never played anymore
And shameless promotions may get the place full
So drunk girls can ride a mechanical bull

Everyone talks about good old dancehalls
Then make for the tourist traps and shopping malls
Oh, how I wish this was all a bad dream
We’d wake up and Bob Wills would still be the King

Who would’ve thought it could happen so fast –
The reckless abandonment of all our past?
In one generation forget who we are?
So let’s talk politics and religion in bars

‘Predestined’ is a nice philosophical song with a soothing melody and somewhat unclear lyrics, and ‘Going Going Gone’ is also pretty good.

‘Searching For You’ has a jazzy feel with slightly haphazard doo-wop style backing vocals which is quite catchy but not entirely to my taste. ‘Grandfather’s Theme’ is rather more progressive jazz, and sounds a bit weird to be honest. The musicianship is impressive, but it feels self indulgent. ‘Dee Dee OD’d’ is a rocker which is apparently about the punk band the Ramones. ‘Tattoo Of A Bruise’ is not very interesting and is also quite rock influenced. The set closes with a cover of Van Morrisons folk-rock ‘Bulbs’.

Overall, there is about half of an excellent album, and half one I’m not especially interested in.

Grade: B

Album Review: Josh Ward – ‘More Than I Deserve’

Josh Ward is one of those Texan country traditionalists who are still out there, performing and recording real country music, and enjoying significant regional success which has started to reach other parts of the country. His latest album, his fourth, hopes to continue his success.

The lead single, ‘’All About Lovin’’, is a cheerful up-tempo tune written by Brice Long, Terry McBride and Chris Stapleton. A potentially radio-friendly toe-tapping groove means this could have been a hit if national country radio hadn’t lost the plot; it did hit the top of the Texas country charts.

Josh co-wrote three of the songs. He is a former rodeo rider himself, and the thoughtful ‘A Cowboy Can’ pays tribute to tough lives and those who don’t give up:

The nights get cold
And the highway never ends
Not many folks can live this life
But a cowboy can

I wouldn’t wish this on the faint of heart
‘Cause I know it ain’t for everyone
Some folks might try to look the part
We don’t do this just for fun
It’s every part of who I am
I’ve got no-quit runnin’ through my veins
It ain’t an easy way to make a buck

‘One More Shot Of Whiskey’ is an excellent song, a downbeat depiction of heartbreak:

I’ve been hangin’ with the devil
I’ve been right down on his level
And I drink his wine night after night
I’ve tried Jones and I’ve tried Haggard
Tried to find somethin’ sadder
It helped a little bit but it took too much time
I’ve only found one thing that comes close


If it takes a month of Sundays
I’ll get over you someday
Say the hell with you and I’ll find someone too
But tonight I’m in trouble and I might start shootin’ doubles
Catch a quick-fix buzz and call you up
So as long as Tennessee makes 90 proof
I need one more shot of whiskey

‘Cause I know that’s all it takes for me
To drown out your damn memory
And help my heart not hurt this way
But I won’t know it did the trick until it hits me

The almost-title track, ‘More Than I Deserved’, the last of Josh’s own songs, is a wistfully regretful song about a lost love.

‘Say Hello To Goodbye’ is a lovely ballad with the protagonist offering some sympathy to a friend who, one assumes like himself, has lost in love through his own fault.

Another highlight is ‘The Devil Don’ t Scare Me’, in which losing a loved one is the worst thing he can possibly imagine happening, including death and hell:

Preacher used to preach about fire and brimstone
I was shakin’ in the shoes in the pew I sat on
12 years old
Afraid of where I’d go
Ten years later wonderin’ how I got here
Where neon burns and they sell cold beer
Heaven seems so far away

‘Cause ever since the night she left me
Ain’t a damn thing that can help me
I’ve tried praying
I’ve tried whiskey
It’s livin’ hell wishing she’d missed me
No I ain’t afraid of dying
‘Cause I lost the one thing I was livin’ for
Now the devil don’t scare me anymore

‘Ain’t It Baby’ is a mellow ballad about staying in love, and ‘Loving Right’ is quite pleasant.

In the midpaced honky tonker ‘Another Heartache’, the narrator wants to enjoy himself and a one night stand, and not fall in love to risk the pain of the inevitable pain.

A rapid paced paean to the bar which is the protagonist’s ‘Home Away From Home’ lacks melody. ‘God Made A Woman’ is a bit generic.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Kelly Willis — ‘Back Being Blue’

Kelly Willis retreated forty miles south of Austin, Texas to The Bunker, her husband Bruce Robison’s rustic recording studio located on a five-acre plot with a fishing hole, to record Back Being Blue, her first solo album in a decade. The album, produced by Robison, was recorded to analog tape using an old board he frequently has fixed from a trusted source in Nashville.

Back Being Blue consists of ten songs, six of which Willis wrote solo, the most she’s ever contributed to any of her seven albums. She says the songs aren’t deeply personal or autobiographical, nor is the album intended as a showcase for her distinctive singing voice.

Willis instead drew inspiration from the melting pot of influences that first inspired her to make music, from Marshall Crenshaw to Skeeter Davis and Crystal Gayle. But one artist, in particular, guided her way:

“Nick Lowe was a real north star for me on this record. Like, ‘What would do Nick Lowe do?’ He was able to write modern songs that were like old songs—that had a cool soul/R&B/Buddy Holly kind of a thing that had sounds from that early rock and roll era—but that felt really fresh and exciting and now. I just love the A-B-C’s of rock and roll. Before everybody had to start piling on different things to make it sound different, it had all been done. With this record I was trying to go with the styles of music that have really impacted my life, especially when I moved to Austin as a teenager, and make it country-sounding like Austin used to sound.”

Lowe may have inspired the album as a whole, but it’s Gayle’s influence driving the sublime title track, which kicks off a trifecta of songs about men, and their inability to treat women with the respect they deserve. A mellow guitar-driven melody framing Willis’ biting and direct lyric:

She’s back in my baby’s arms

And I’m back being blue

The percussion-heavy “Only You” finds a man using the excuse that’s what lovers do to justify his consistently inconsistent behavior — he loves his woman one day than ignores her the next. “Fool’s Paradise,” which beautifully blends fiddle with Urban Cowboy-era guitar riffs, finds a man thinking he can emotionally manipulate a woman who sees him coming from a mile away:

I’m not riding this town

You’ll tell me again if you come back around

All that ache in your voice, like I don’t have a choice

It’s a fool’s paradise

Willis wrote the barnburner “Modern World” to vent her frustrations about how cell phone use has led to a society that’s less engaged. The fiddle returns on the gorgeous “Freewheeling,” about the wish to let go of old anxieties and live a less mentally-stressful life. She’s back in a mournful state of mind on “The Heart Doesn’t Know,” a striking ballad about that feeling of knowing a relationship is over, yet unresolved feelings still remain.

For the remaining four songs, Willis sought contributions from other writers. “Afternoon’s Gone Blind” is a sonically stunning slice of traditional country written by Eric Brace and Karl Straub about an individual having a difficult time with the end of a relationship.

The most eccentric number on Back Being Blue is “I’m A Lover (Not A Fighter),” which was originally released as a single by Davis in 1969 when it peaked at #9. The song exudes a lot of charm, and has an engaging melody, but threw me with the dated reference to Cassius Clay. Willis says she did entertain the idea of swapping out the late boxer’s name for the more contemporary Sugar Ray, but ultimately decided the song should stand as written. It’s growing on me, but it’s not my favorite song on the album, especially with the heavy reverb casting a film over the recording.

It’s no surprise one of the album’s most well-written numbers comes from the pen of Rodney Crowell. He recommended she cut “We’ll Do It For Love Next Time,” a romantic yet risqué ballad about a couple going to second base. Willis handles the song, which features a nice dose of mandolin throughout, with the ease she’s brought to her most stellar recordings over the last 28 years.

Willis closes Back Being Blue with Jeff Rymes and Randy Weeks’ “Don’t Step Away,” a song sent to her by her hairdresser, who recommended it after Willis said she needed one or two more songs to finish the album. The song is bristling with Austin funk, and a fair amount of guitars to bring up the tempo.

When I first listened to Back Being Blue I thought it was less than the sum of its parts. I hold Kelly Willis in the highest esteem and this just wasn’t making it for me. My opinion only changed when I dug into the context behind the album and understood what Willis was going for with the vibe and her relaxed vocals. Back Being Blue is a great album, even if some of her compositions feel unnecessarily repetitive. I’m glad she’s back and steering the conversation in her direction again.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Del McCoury — ‘Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass’

Like bourbon aging in oak barrels, the voice of Del McCoury seems to take on more depth and character with each album. Del McCoury stands as one of the last of bluegrass’s second generation in still keeping the music alive both as a recording artist and as an active touring performer. Whether performing before small audiences or large crowds, Del is a consistent force in performing the true-grass so adored by traditionalists, while leaving the door open for innovation.

Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass is comprised of 14 songs that range from murder ballads and train songs to songs about love last and found. The sources of the songs range from old country classics to tunes by modern bluegrass songsmiths. Whatever you like, you will find it here.

The opening track is “Hot Wired,” the opening song, is a cover of what I’ve heard described as a country-rock song. Written by Shawn Camp, the song is a car song that compares a woman to a car – the song features a bunch of hot solos by the various musicians. I guess you could call this newgrass.

“That Ol’ Train” sounds more folk-country than bluegrass, although it would work in either genre as it tells an effective story.

“Letters Have No Arms” was written by the Texas Troubadour Ernest Tubb and were a big hit for ET back in 1950. Del effective conveys the angst of the lyrics, a soldier reacting to his sweetheart’s letter.

“The First One Back in Town” is a song currently in hot rotation on bluegrass radio and is a classic murder ballad, in which his the narrator sees his sweetheart murdered from a distance and needs to get back to town before the killer, who might otherwise convince the authorities that he is the killer.

The next song “Build It Up” is a gospel tune written by Rob Clark. It is straightforward bluegrass gospel that Del’s band provides very effective harmonies.

“Bottom Dollar”, written by Fred John Elgersina feels like a folk ballad, a tale of woe and despair. Jason Carter plays some mighty lonesome fiddle on this piece.

Glen Duncan penned “Deep Dark Hollow Road” a song in which the singer calls on Loretta, his love, to abandon Kentucky in search of a better life.

I really liked the up-tempo “Ace of Hearts”, easily the most upbeat song in the set, about a fellow who got lucky in love and realizes just how lucky he was. The song was an album track on Alan Jackson’s debut album in 1990. The song was written by Lonnie Wilson, Ron Moore, and Carson Chamberlain and deserves to be better known

Love’s a gamble every heart will take

You roll the dice in hopes that it won’t break

One night I bet on your blue eyes and took a chance

And I won a whole lot more than one night of romance

 

I held the ace of hearts that night in the dark

How lucky can one man be

I hold the winning hand anyway life deals the cards

No way to lose ‘cause I’ve got you, my ace of hearts

Jerry Lee Lewis had a number one country single in early 1969 with the Jerry Kennedy – Glenn Sutton collaboration “To Make Love Sweeter For You”. Most of Jerry Lee’s country hits generated few covers because of how personal Jerry Lee made the songs seem. I thought that this was one of those songs that Jerry Lee had rendered incapable of being covered, but Del McCoury is fearless and was able to fashion a unique arrangement (reminiscent of 1890s honky-tonk) that carries the idiosyncratic feel of Jerry Lee’s recording, while still sounding dramatically different.

Well, I’d like to send an orchid at the start of every day

For flowers show more beauty than words could ever say

You’ve done so much for my world till all I want to do

Is try my best in every way to make love sweeter for you

 

A thousand special compliments I’d pay to you each day

Your ears would never tire of all the sweet things I would say

You never would be lonely, honey, you never would be blue

‘Cause my one aim in life would be to make love sweeter for you

Del himself wrote the next two songs, “Joe” and “Love Love Love”. The former is an up-tempo number about a performer who doesn’t mind bringing his fists into the equation, whereas the latter is a ballad that mixed tempos in telling its story.

“I’ll Be On My Way” is a dramatic ballad about the life of a wanderer. Written performed as a mid-tempo, the song features some nice fiddling by Jason Carter.

“You Could Be Me” is a ballad in which the narrator warns the listener that however bad the listener’s tale of woe, that the narrators are even worse. This song has received considerable airplay. Del has been singing bluesy and woeful ballads for decades and may be the ultimate master of the subgenre. This song was written by Tim Crouch, Edgar Sanders, Kenneth Mcafee, and Dennis Crouch.

The album closes with “I Fell In Love”. Those who listened to country radio will remember the song from the 1990 recording by Carlene Carter, a song that reached #3 on Billboard’s country chart. Needless to say, Del’s take does not remind you of Carlene Carter, but Del and his band infuse the song with a considerable dose of Del’s personality

Hey, I hit town without a clue

Minding my business like I always do

Just my luck I ran smack into you

And I never could’ve known it would be like this

You got the kind of charm that I can’t resist

I figure what’s the harm in a little bitty kiss or two

 

But I fell in love

(Whatcha want to do that for)

Oh I fell in love

(Whatcha want to do that for)

I fell in love

With the exception of guest pianist Josh Shilling on the Jerry Lee Lewis cover, this album is a self-contained album by Del and his band with Del playing the guitar and singing lead vocals, sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (Banjo) adding harmony vocals and Jason Carter (fiddle) and Alan Bartram (upright bass) also adding harmony vocals. If you want to know how modern bluegrass should sound, this is a good place to start – a solid A

Album Review: John Prine — ‘The Tree of Forgiveness’

John Prine is back with his back with his twenty-fourth album, but only his second since 2011, Released on the Oh Boy label (a label founded by Prine), this is his first album since 2005’s Fair & Square to consist of new songs written by Prine, albeit mostly co-writes.

In terms of chart success, The Tree of Forgiveness has been Prine’s most successful album reaching #5 on Billboard’s Hot 200 albums chart and #2 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart.

For those who haven’t listened to Prine in recent years, a battle with cancer in 1998 resulted in his voice gradually deepening and becoming more gravelly, lending his vocals a gravitas previously lacking.  A battle with lung cancer in 2013 resulted in Prine losing a lung and losing some of his vocal power in the process.

John Prine has never been about hit singles, and this album contains nothing likely to become a hit single. It does contain a bunch of really good songs that tell stories

The album opens with “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door”, which was co-written with Pat McLaughlin. This song is a ballad about being alone

I ain’t got nobody
Hangin’ round my doorstep
Ain’t got no loose change
Just a hangin’ round my jeans

If you see somebody
Would you send em’ over my way
I could use some help here
With a can of pork and beans

I once had a family
But they up and left me
With nothing but an 8-track
Another side of George Jones

The next song was co-written with Roger Cook and is a real gem. “I Have Met My Love Today” is about the joy and anticipation of finding love

True love will always have its way

There ain’t no doubt about it: true love is here to stay

 

Day-by-day our love will grow

Day-by-day our love will show

We’ll go on forever and I can truly say

I have met my love today

I have met my love today

“Crazy Bone” and “Summer’s End” are collaborations with McLaughlin. “Crazy Bone” is a jog-along ballad that attempts to explain (or justify) erratic behavior. If any song on this album had potential as a single, this is the one:

If you like your apples sweet

And your streets are not concrete

You’ll be in your bed by nine every night

Take your hand spanked corn fed gal

And your best friend’s four-eyed pal

To a treat right down the street

That’s dynamite

 

Let your conscience be your guide

If you put your foot inside

You wish you left your well enough alone

 

When you got hell to pay

Put the truth on layaway

And blame it on that old

Crazy Bone

“Summer’s End” is a gentle, but somewhat generic ballad about a love that has wandered away. Dan Auerbach joins McLaughlin and Prine as co-writer on “Caravan of Fools,” a somewhat dramatic but depressing ballad that expresses emotions we all have felt at one time or another:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late at night you’ll see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the
Caravan of Fools

Like the wings of a dove
The waiter’s white glove
Seems to shimmer by the light of the pool
Some dull blinding winter
When you can’t help but lose
You’re running with the
Caravan of Fools

“Lonesome Friends of Science” is a solo effort by Prine, both in terms of the songwriting and performance (it sounds like Prine accompanying himself on guitar with little else on the track until halfway through the track). I’m not sure that sardonic describes the song, but there are some interesting turns to the song

Those bastards in their white lab coats

Who experiment with mountain goats

Should leave the universe alone

It’s not their business, not their home

I go to sleep and it never rains

My dog predicts hurricanes

She can smell a storm a mile away

That’s all the news we have today

Prine collaborated with Keith Sykes on “No Ordinary Blue”, a song that that sounds like something Paul Simon might have written had he been something other than a New Yorker.

Last night
Turned on the TV
Looked out the window
Then pulled down the shade
And I came to the conclusion
My mind cannot be made

I hear a hear a lot of empty spaces
I see a big hole in you
I feel an outline that traces
An imaginary path back to you
This ain’t no ordinary blue

Auerbach, McLaughlin & Prine team up on “Boundless Love”, a song that can only be described as folk. I really like this song and its positive message,

If by chance I should find myself at risk
A-falling from this jagged cliff
I look below, and I look above
I’m surrounded by your boundless love

Surround me with your boundless love
Confound me with your boundless love
I was drowning in the sea, lost as I could be
When you found me with your boundless love
You don’t found me with your boundless love
You surround me with your boundless love

“God Only Knows” was co-written with Phil Spector. Since Spector currently is incarcerated, I suspect that this song was written some years ago. This song features singer-songwriter Jason Isbell on guitar and Amanda Shires on fiddle, with both of them singing backup

God only knows the price that you pay
For the ones you hurt along the way
And if I should betray myself today
Then God only knows the price I pay

God only knows
God only knows

God only knows the way that I feel
Is only a part of the way I feel
If I can’t reveal the way that I feel
Then God only knows the way I feel

God only knows
God only knows

The album closes with the upbeat “When I Get To Heaven”, a song Prine wrote by himself. The song is basically a narration with a sung chorus with a honky-tonk salon piano leading the way:

When I get to Heaven
I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings
Then one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar
And start a Rock and Roll band
Check into a swell hotel
Ain’t the ‘Afterlife’ grand!

Chorus:

And then I’m gonna get a cocktail
Vodka and Ginger Ale
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette
That’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl
On the Tilt a Whirl
‘Cause this old man is going to town

I’ve never been a big John Prine fan except on his collaborative album with Mac Wiseman and the two duet albums with various female county stars because I did not like his voice. Recently I’ve gone back and revisited his catalog focusing on the lyrics and have gained a greater appreciation of his work and his talent.

While I would consider this to be essentially a folk album, I really liked it and would give it an A-

EP Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Re-Imagined’

While the craze of mainstream country stars collaborating with mainstream pop acts has garnered major attention, and rightfully so, another trend has been making waves but leaving far too little a wake. In August 2016, Suzy Bogguss released Aces Redux, a complete re-recording of her classic album in the lush acoustic style she favored in recent years. Dixie Chicks completely overhauled the arrangements on their songs for their MMXVI tour and companion concert album. Mary Chapin Carpenter reexamined parts of her back catalog on Sometimes Just The Sky this past March. Rodney Crowell has Acoustic Classics coming out the middle of next month.

Artists re-recording their hits have been going on since the beginning of recorded music. A recent cause for this is a little-known fact that when artists switch record labels, they don’t get to take the masters and rights to their discography with them. In other words, the artists entire back catalog is the sole property of their former home, especially if it was a major label.

Those re-recorded songs are typically sung as facsimiles of the original hit recording with the hopes a gullible music buying public won’t be able to tell the difference. Very often it’s those re-recordings that make their way onto digital platforms, especially if the artist’s original music hasn’t been licensed by their record label for release in that format.

What’s going on here is entirely different and completely by choice. These albums aren’t merely gimmicky cash grabs but thoughtful reexaminations of songs, and in this case of Rodney Crowell different songs entirely. For his new album, he completely re-wrote “Shame On The Moon.” He felt his original composition, which was a massive hit for Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band in 1982, wasn’t composed with the depth and complexity he would bring to the song today.

In the case of LeAnn Rimes and her new five-track EP Re-Imagined, she reworked these songs for her Remnants tour last year and decided to commit them to record. Although I’ve been somewhat of a rabid fan of her music since the very beginning, I haven’t been paying too much attention to her lately. This release broke the short drought, which I’m also sure it was intended to do.  

She opens the collection with “How Do I Live.” Her original version, from 1997, is still one of the cleanest and most masterful pop records I’ve ever heard. She transforms Diane Warren’s lyric into a piano ballad, which might work for some people, but it didn’t work for me. I really don’t care for Rimes in this style, which always comes off heavy, slow and prodding.

I had actually forgotten what the original version of “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” sounded like, the one featured on the Coyote Ugly soundtrack in 2000. Listening to it again, it’s clearly influenced by Britney Spears’ debut from a year earlier. I’m more familiar with the dance remix, which worked on an international scale as I’m sure Curb intended at the time. This new version, taken live from a concert, has more in common with the remix but features actually instrumentation.

Rimes’ original version of “Blue,” from 1996, is arguably still the greatest record she’s ever made. She gave it new life, in collaboration with The Time Jumpers, on Lady & Gentlemen in 2011. For this version, also taken live from a concert, she goes full-on jazz but doesn’t sacrifice the trademark yodel or the song’s traditional country roots.

The revelation, as far as her hit records are concerned, is “One Way Ticket (Because I Can).” Rimes gives the song a gorgeously soft acoustic arrangement stripping the song of any smoke and mirrors. It’s truly impressive what she does with the song, alone, without backup singers to give her a lift. Rimes still has it more than 22 years later.

The final track is one of the two songs from Spitfire that elude to the cheating scandal that soured her reputation with the public and ended her first marriage. “Borrowed” was originally produced by Rimes’ long-time collaborator Darrell Brown, who also oversaw this EP. The track was already in this style so nothing about the arrangement really changed.

However, this version is a duet with Stevie Nicks. Rimes and Nicks harmonize throughout the song, which is a mistake given the lyrical content. I’m also a huge fan of Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, so I’m saying this with love, but Nicks’ voice isn’t what it used to be but either is Don Henley’s. The age on Nicks’ rasp, which is far too low now, is just unappealing.

The majority of this EP feels utterly unnecessary and in place of new music, not really worth much of anyone’s time. Rimes’ voice has changed, too, which she claimed in a 2013 lawsuit was the result of botched dental work. She still has incredible range, which I noted when I reviewed “How To Kiss A Boy” in November 2016, but the clarity is gone.

I still recommend checking it out, especially if you’re a fan of Rimes’ work, to hear this new addition to her musical legacy.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Buck Owens – ‘The Complete Capitol Singles 1967-1970’

Stereo recording technology has been around since the early 1950s, although it came into general use in recording music albums around 1959. For the first decade or so thereafter, albums were issued in both stereophonic and monaural versions, with the stereo version costing about $1.00 more. By 1968 US record labels were no longer issuing separate versions, as turntables had begun featuring lighter “stereo-compatible” styluses and tone arms that could play stereo records in monaural without groove damage to the record.

Pop singles were another matter as 45 rpm records remained available only in monaural until the end of the 1960s when some labels began issuing 45 rpm in stereo. Why the delay in making singles available in stereo sound?

Well, as Buck Owens himself said:

“The reason my Capitol records sounded the way they did—real heavy on the treble—was because I knew most people were going to be listening to ’em on their AM car radios. At the time, nobody else was doing anything like that, but it just seemed like common sense to me. And it was one more reason that you knew it was a Buck Owens record as soon as it came on the radio—because it just didn’t sound like those other records…”

Buck was right – much of the music listening, done by youthful listeners, was done in automobiles over AM radios. AM – FM radios would not become standard equipment in automobiles until the mid-1970s. While FM radio existed during the 1960s, most FM stations played classical music.

Whether you are a fan of country, Motown or pop music as it was played and heard before 1970, you likely have complained that the music available on stereo albums doesn’t sound like it did on your car radio. This is true whether due to the way the mono and stereo was mixed, or the fact that many songs were recorded separately for release on stereo (Motown fans and fans of the Mama & Papas have been lamenting this for years),

With The Complete Capitol Singles (1967-1970) Omnivore has made available the Buck Owens mono singles for the first time in ages. Comprising the A&B sides of Buck’s singles, Omnivore has put together a two-disc set of 36 Buck Owens songs. Disc one is entirely monaural mixes but by the time most of the songs on disc two were issued, Capitol was issuing stereo 45 rpm singles.

Unlike jazz artists who often re-recorded their tracks for stereo release (June Christy’s Cool is a notable example), for the most part, country artists did not record separate stereo and mono tracks. The sound difference is in the mixing and the fact that sometimes certain instruments get lost in the monaural mix (usually the lower pitched instruments). In the case of Buck Owens, the treble is brighter and sometimes the steel guitar seems mixed more prominently up front.

As far as I can tell the only track which seems to have been modified significantly in the stereo version is “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone” which had some annoying clapping sounds and other overdubs applied. Also, the distortion guitar on “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” seems less pronounced than on the stereo albums, but I could be mistaken about that. There is one live track on the album “Johnny B. Goode” – my Dad and I were in the audience (it was his 44th birthday) and if you listen very carefully you might hear Dad and I applauding!

This is not quite Buck Owens at his peak (none of his very biggest hits are here) as Buck was beginning to be bumped off the mountaintop and was getting a bit more experimental in an effort to stay current. Also, Steel wizard Tom Brumley left the group in late 1968 to be replaced, briefly, by Jay Dee Maness. Maness was a fine steel player but his sound is very different than that of Tom Brumley

Especially noteworthy are “I’ve Got You On My Mind Again” which was the first Buck Owens single to feature strings and background voices, and “Tall Dark Stranger” which is unlike anything else Owens recorded.

The sound on this set is fabulous and I really enjoyed Disc One which transported me back to my teen-aged years listening to these songs on the radio. Disc Two documents Buck’s slow decline, and also gathers his duets with Susan Raye.

This isn’t where I would start my Buck Owens collection (Rhino’s fabulous box set from 1992, The Buck Owens Collection 1959-1990, is where I would start, although there are other good sets available, including a pair of two-disc sets by Omnivore Records in Buck ‘Em ! – Volume One and Buck ‘Em ! Volume Two) but this is a nice addition to any collection, collecting some otherwise unavailable material

Grade A      

DISC ONE

01 Sam’s Place

02 Don’t Ever Tell Me Goodbye

03 Your Tender Loving Care

04 What A Liar I Am

05 It Takes People Like You [To Make People Like Me]

06 You Left Her Lonely Too Long

07 How Long Will My Baby Be Gone

08 Everybody Needs Somebody

09 Sweet Rosie Jones

10 Happy Times Are Here Again

11 Let The World Keep On A Turnin’ (w/Buddy Alan)

12 I’ll Love You Forever And Ever (w/Buddy Alan)

13 I’ve Got You On My Mind Again

14 That’s All Right With Me [If It’s All Right With You]

15 Christmas Shopping

16 One Of Everything You Got

17 Things I Saw Happening At The Fountain On The Plaza

18 Turkish Holiday

DISC TWO

01 Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass

02 There’s Gotta Be Some Changes Made

03 Johnny B. Goode [Live 03-09-1969]

04 Maybe If I Close My Eyes [It’ll Go Away]

05 Tall Dark Stranger

06 Sing That Kind Of Song

07 Big In Vegas

08 White Satin Bed

09 We’re Gonna Get Together (with Susan Raye)

10 Everybody Needs Somebody (with Susan Raye)

11 Togetherness (with Susan Raye)

12 Fallin’ For You (with Susan Raye)

13 The Kansas City Song

14 I’d Love To Be Your Man

15 The Great White Horse (with Susan Raye)

16 Your Tender Loving Care (with Susan Raye)

17 I Wouldn’t Live In New York City

18 No Milk And Honey In Baltimore

All tracks on Disc 1, and Tracks 1–2 on Disc 2 are Mono Single Versions. After “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” all US singles for Buck were issued in stereo. Although British and German releases were still mostly monaural.

Classic Album Review: Roy Clark — ‘Roy Clark Live!’

Back in 2011, I wrote an article 25 GREATEST LIVE COUNTRY ALBUMS. In that article I had this album pegged as the ninth greatest album, an assessment I stand by today. At the time I said the following:

Roy Clark released a number of live albums over the years, but this one, released on Dot Records in 1972, is the one Roy Clark album. This album showcases Roy’s instrumental prowess and his innate sense of comedy – even when he’s not trying to be funny, Roy can be hilarious. The album is worth buying if only for the “Great Pretender medley” but there’s so much more to this album including his then-hit “The Lawrence Welk – Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka”, earlier hits such as “I Never Picked Cotton” and “Thank God and Greyhound” as well as some very flashy instrumentals plus his two biggest pop hits “Tips of My Fingers” and “Yesterday When I Was Young”. Parts of this album have been released on CD, but unfortunately, not the “Great Pretender medley”.    

Roy Clark is an all-around entertainer who became a superstar without being a big hit-maker on the charts. He had a few top ten hits scattered across a fifteen year period, but he was huge concert draw, a great instrumentalist, a frequent guest on many local and national television shows, and of course Hee Haw which he hosted for over twenty years. It is possible that for three decades Roy Clark was the most familiar face in country music.

This album is so much fun that I find myself pulling it out frequently (I digitized it about fifteen years ago so I could play it in my car – before that I had dubbed it to a cassette). The album was one of Roy’s more successful albums, reaching #4 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. While there was only one single issued from the album, local radio stations played several of the tracks from the album, especially the “Great Pretender” medley. The album was recorded at the Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas, so Clark is backed by a typical Vegas sage show orchestra. Fortunately, Clark is in the front and center of the sound mix.

The album opens with the introduction of Clark and Clark’s hyperkinetic guitar work (and vocals) on “Alabama Jubilee”. From here Clark moves into funky town with his take on Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City”.

“Thank God and Greyhound” was a top ten country single for Roy in 1970 and even crossed over onto the pop charts. The song starts off as a breakup ballad, but the chorus is a spirited up-temp kiss-off:

 I’ve made a small fortune and you squandered it all

You shamed me till I feel about one inch tall

But I thought I loved you and I hoped you would change

So I gritted my teeth and didn’t complain

 

Now you come to me with a simple goodbye

You tell me you’re leaving but you won’t tell me why

Now we’re here at the station and you’re getting on

And all I can think of is thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

 

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

I didn’t know how much longer I could go on

Watching you take the respect out of me

Watching you make a total wreck out of me

That big diesel motor is a-playing my song

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

 

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

That load on my mind got lighter when you got on

That shiny old bus is a beautiful sight

With the black smoke a-rolling up around the taillight

It may sound kind-a cruel but I’ve been silent too long

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

Roy closes out side one of the album with three instrumentals: “Under The Double Eagle” (guitar), “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” (banjo) and “Orange Blossom Special” (fiddle). I always felt that Roy could play anything with strings and he proves it here.

Side two opens with Roy’s biggest hit “Yesterday When I Was Young”. Released in 1969 and written by France’s legendary singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour, the song was both a country (#1 Cashbox & Record World, #9 Billboard) and pop hit (#19 USA – #7 Canada) and sold well over a million copies. While not released as a single in England, I heard the song many times on the BBC. For those who have never heard the song, I guess I would describe it as the ultimate self-recrimination ballad, easily one of the saddest and most intense songs I’ve ever heard:

Yesterday when I was young

The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue

I teased at life as if it were a foolish game

The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame

 

The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned

I always built, alas, on weak and shifting sand

I lived by night and shunned the naked light of day

And only now I see how the years ran away

Yesterday when I was young

Roy Clark always had a knack for finding humor everywhere so there will be little more seriousness from this point forward. “Green Green Grass of Home was a recent hit for Johnny Darrell and for Tom Jones. Roy gives it almost a straight treatment. After that, he launches into the “Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka about the actions of ABC and CBS in canceling the Lawrence Welk Show and Hee Haw despite excellent ratings (‘attracting the wrong demographic’). Both shows went into immediate syndication and were seen on more stations and larger audiences than they ever had been on the networks. This song was the only single released from the album and was a top ten hit As the chorus states “… they still play the polka in Milwaukee, still play the waltz in Tennessee…” – indeed they do!

They’re goin’ through a music revolution

The hippies say they’ll overcome us all

While they’re blowin’ smoke and air pollution

We’re hangin’ in with help from Geritol.

 

They’re rounding up the squares in California

They’re picking off our heroes in New York

But they’ll never take away our champagne music

As long as Lawrence Welk can pop his cork

 

And they still do the polka in Milwaukee

Still, do the waltz in Tennessee

Still pickin’ bluegrass in Kentucky

With old-fashioned country harmony

So give me some beer drinkin’ music

And play that double eagle march for me

For they still do the polka in Milwaukee

So let me hear that one ah two ah three

 

The big wheels at the network started spinnin’

The verdict was that Hee Haw had to go

Cause city slickers don’t believe in grinnin’

And who the hell needs jokes in Kokomo

 

So they canceled all the singin’ and the pickin’

But the stubborn little donkey wouldn’t leave

And that little fella’s still alive and kickin’

And Hee Haw is laughin’ up its sleeve = hee haw

 

And they still do the polka in Milwaukee

Still, do the waltz in Tennessee

Still pickin’ bluegrass in Kentucky

With old-fashioned country harmony

So give me some beer drinkin’ music

And let me hear that one or two or three

While we swing to that good old country music

For Hee Haw is good enough for me

Yes, Hee Haw is good enough for me

It is difficult to describe “The Great Pretender” medley. “The Great Pretender” was a huge hit (#1 Pop & R&B in 1955) for legendary 1950s R&B/Pop Vocal group the Platters   It starts off conventionally enough (sort of), with Roy doing all the vocal parts of all five of the Platters. As the song moves along, Clark starts kidding about, with most of the jokes being aimed at himself.

A couple of minutes into the track eleven minute track (and while near the end of the final verse) Roy launches into instrumental versions of “High Noon”, “Loch Lomond”, Turkey In The Straw”, “Lara’s Theme” (from the movie DR ZHIVAGO -a/k/a “Somewhere My Love”) and “Honky-Tonk” before returning to “The Great Pretender” – at the same point from which he had departed the song.

Roy had been sending up “The Great Pretender” for several years (without the medley interjections) prior to recording this album and you can check out the shorter version on YouTube

This album is hugely funny, with lots of interesting vocals, good musicianship, and lots of laughs. I wish I’d been there to see it – a definite A+ in my book.

Album Review: Gretchen Peters — ‘Dancing With The Beast’

2016 was an unintentionally cruel transitional year for Gretchen Peters. In the span of twelve months, she encountered a myriad of loss — her mom, her dog, and two of her best friends. The results of the US presidential election only confounded her already fragile state of mind.

She turned to music to make sense of it all, which has resulted in her eighth album, Dancing With The Beast, eleven snapshots of gut-wrenching brilliance inspired as much by her personal misfortune and the 2017 Woman’s March, as the #MeToo Movement that swept into our collective consciousness last autumn. Female-centric perspectives lead the record and the listener on a journey both horrifically candid and deeply satisfying.

The album opens with “Arguing With Ghosts,” a meditation on the passage of time that began when co-writer Matraca Berg supplied what became the opening line ‘I get lost in my hometown’ to describe how much, and how quickly, Nashville has changed into a city she no longer recognizes. I, too, struggle with the quickness of life and find great solace when Peters sings:

The years go by like days

Sometimes the days go by like years

And I don’t know which one I hate the most

At this same old kitchen table

in this same old busted chair

I’m drinking coffee and arguing with ghosts

“Wichita” revives the southern gothic murder ballad and the subset of songs about children, both of which were once mainstays in country music. The song is told from the perspective of Cora Lee, a mentally challenged twelve-year-old girl who uses her mama’s gun to kill a sexual predator who robs her of her innocence and takes advantage of her mother. It’s my favorite song so far this year.

The loss of innocence is the foundation for “Truckstop Angel,” which originates from a New Yorker article Peters read twenty years ago detailing prostitutes who work at roadside truckstops. She encountered just such a girl (all of 17-18 years old) in Alabama and composed the song from her perspective:

I meet them in the truckstops

I meet them in the bars

I meet them in the parking lots

And I slip into their cars

They come and put their money down

They come and place their bets

I swallow their indifference

But I choke on my regrets

 

Sometimes they ask me questions

Sometimes they treat me nice

You don’t know what you’ll get

Until you roll the dice

You’re a loser or a winner here

Predator or prey

I’m still not sure which one I am

Or how I got this way

“The Boy from Rye” details the overwhelming insecurities of female adolescence. The lyric finds a town of teenage girls in competition for the affection of a guy who rolled into town one summer with his parents and his sister. It’s horrifying how easily the teenagers surrender their bodies to him:

The girls from school in our summer tans
Suddenly self conscious and uncertain
All in a row we arranged ourselves for him
Waiting to see if we deserved him

One too fat, one too thin
One too many flaws to measure
Impossible to live inside your skin
And serve at someone else’s pleasure

**

One too strong, one too smart
But none immune to love or summer
One by one he broke our virgin hearts
And set us one against the other

We dreamed of boys and kisses on the lawn
We yearned to feel that mystery inside us
And there we were with the summer nearly gone
We’d let that mystery divide us

“Lowlands” is Peters’ take on the 2016 US Presidential election:

And the TV it just lies to keep you watching

Politician lies to get your vote

But a man who lies just for the sake of lying

He’ll sell you kerosene and call it hope

Political-minded songs, especially ones referencing our current President, can be polarizing and tiring, and Peters allows “Lowlands” to intentionally drone on-and-on Dylan-esque without a chorus or a hook; a hint of subtly nodding to her state of mind.

“Love That Makes A Cup of Tea” originated from a dream Peters had about her mother, a woman who would show her affection by baking and knitting. The lyric ends the album steeped in hope:

And there is love that makes a cup of tea

Asks you how you’re doing, and listens quietly

Slips you twenty dollars when your rent’s behind

That’s the kind of love I hope you find

“Disappearing Act” lives in the same sonic vein as “Wichita” with a mainstream-minded production adding a layer of fury to the record. The song wonderfully chronicles the frustrations of life, the yin, and yang of good and bad. The title track details a woman in a marriage where her husband always has the upper hand:

He only comes around when he pleases

He only comes around when I’m alone

He don’t like my friends or my family

He don’t like me talkin’ on the phone

 

It isn’t that he doesn’t care about me

If anything it’s that he cares too much

It’s only that he wants the best for me

It’s only that I don’t try hard enough

 

But he takes me in his arms like a lover

He hears my confession like a priest

He whispers in my ear, in the darkness

I’m dancing with the beast

“The Show” finds Peters with ‘Nineteen songs and one more night to go’ until a stretch of concerts draws to a close. “Lay Low” plays like a companion piece, with Peters surrendering to the voice begging her to take some time away and ‘just lay low for awhile.’ She uses “Say Grace” as permission to ‘forgive yourself for all of your mistakes.’

Female perspectives have been the hallmark of Peters’ writing for the whole of her career, whether an eight-year-old girl caught in the middle of destructive domestic abuse or a liberated wife and mother setting her husband free of their crumbled marriage. She says it’s a prism from which to view Dancing With The Beast, and while she’s been writing this way for more than thirty years, her words have never come with this much urgency.

Dancing With The Beast is as masterful as it is bleak. Peters is in a class of her own, especially now that she’s let go of her mainstream inclinations and has been crafting albums for herself and not as a vehicle for other female singers to mine for chart hits. I’m forever grateful for her immense success in the United Kingdom and the incentive it provides her to keep her musical journey alive.

She’s been one of my favorite songwriters since I began listening to country music more than twenty years ago. She’s now one of my favorite artists, too. Dancing With The Beast is among her finest work to date.

Grade: A 

Classic Album Review: Hank Locklin – ‘The Country Hall Of Fame’

Released in 1966 by RCA Records (my copy is a German pressing on RCA/Telefunken), Hank’s tribute takes a different approach from Wanda Jackson’s album from two years earlier, being centered around the 1967 hit single “The Country Hall of Fame”.

Largely forgotten today, Hank had a substantial career as a songwriter, performer, and occasional hitmaker, although he never was headquartered in Nashville, so he didn’t get as much promotional push from his label, and he never really maintained his own band. He was a huge favorite in England and Ireland making many trips there.

His biggest copyright as a songwriter, “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On”, was a top five county hit for Hank in 1957 (it had been a regional hit for him in the late 1940s on another label ) and earned him a boatload of money by being frequently covered by other artists such as Dean Martin and Johnny Tillotson both had top five easy listening/top twenty pop hits with the song. Tillotson’s recording also became a top ten or top twenty pop hit in a number of European countries.

As a singer, Locklin was a wobbly Irish tenor whose voice wasn’t a perfect match for every song, but when the right song reached him, he could deliver some really big hits. “Let Me Be The One” spent three weeks at #1 in 1953, and “Please Help Me I’m Falling” spent fourteen weeks at #1 in 1960. Hank had ten top ten hits through spring 1962, but after that Arnold, even the top twenty became nearly impossible for him, until the title song to this album.

When the earlier Wanda Jackson album was released the Country Music Hall of Fame was comprised of the following performers: Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff, Tex Ritter and Ernest Tubb. By the time Hank’s album arrived there had been multiple inductions (in 1966 and 1967), but of the eight new inductees, four were non-performers. The newly inducted performers were “Uncle” Dave Macon, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold and Red Foley.

In selecting songs for this album, Hank and his producers Chet Atkins and Felton Jarvis selected songs by persons either in the Country Hall of Fame or assumed to be inducted in the upcoming years.

The album opens up with “High Noon”, a hit for Frankie Laine, but forever associated with Tex Ritter, who sang the song in the famous movie starring Gary Cooper. Hank’s voice is pitched much higher than that of Ritter, but the song, taken at a slightly faster tempo than Ritter’s version, works. The song has a straightforward country backing with a vocal chorus.

Do not forsake me oh my darling on this our wedding day
Do not forsake me oh my darling, wait wait along
I do not know what fate awaits me, I only know I must be brave
And I must face the man who hates me
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave

Next up is “Four Walls”, a million seller for the then-recently departed Jim Reeves in 1957.

Track three is the title song, Hank’s last Billboard top thirty country hit, reaching #8. In concept, the song, written by Karl Davis is somewhat similar to an Eddie Dean composition, “I Dreamed of Hillbilly Heaven”, which Tex Ritter took to #5 in 1961, although “Hillbilly Heaven” is a dream sequence song about a mythical place, whereas Karl Davis was inspired by his visit to the actual Country Hall of Fame museum. This song features a full string arrangement by Bill Walker. Although the only song on this album to feature the full string arrangement, such arrangements would become increasingly common in the next few years:

I was roaming round in Nashville in the state of Tennessee
For I love that country music, it’s as soulful as can be
I have gathered there the records for I cherished every name
So I found myself a standing in the Country Hall of Fame

My heart beat somewhat faster as I walked in through the door
For I heard the sound of voices I had often heard before
A happy kind of sadness brought a teardrop to my eye
Now I’ll tell you what I saw there and I’m sure that you’ll see why

Jimmie Rodgers’ railroad lantern and his faithful old guitar
I could hear that old blue yodel coming from somewhere afar
Roy Acuff in bronze likeness with the great Fred Rose his friend
And I heard that Wabash Cannonball somewhere around the bend

The guitar of Eddy Arnold memories of Cattle Call
Chet Atkins will be with him when the work’s all done this fall
From the autoharp of Maybelle, Wildwood Flower seems to ring
Riley Puckett and Gid Tanner how they all could pick and sing

I could hear George Hay announcin’ as I stood there in the room
I could hear Tex Ritter singing his classic song High Noon
Minnie Pearl so glad to be there and Hank Snow keeps Movin’ On
May the Lord bless those still living and the ones who’s joined his throne

Cowboy Copas, Hankshaw Hawkins, Gentleman Jim and Patsy Cline
Rod Bradsfield, Ira Louvin, these stars will always shine
Ernest Tubb, the great Red Foley and Hank Williams bless his name
Though some are gone they’ll live forever in the Country Hall of Fame

“I’ll Hold You In My Heart (Until I Can Hold You In My Arms)” was a massive hit for Arnold, spending 21 weeks at #1 in 1947/1948. Hank acquits himself well on this song as he does on the next track, Ernest Tubb’s 1941 hit “Walking The Floor Over You”.

Side One closes out with Hank’s cover of the “Lovesick Blues”, written by Tin Pan Alley songsmiths Cliff Friend and Irving Mills back in 1922. Emmet Miller (1928) and Rex Griffin (1939) recorded the song, but Hank Williams had the biggest hit with the song in 1949. Countless others, including Patsy Cline, have recorded the song. To really do the song justice, a singer needs to be a good yodeler, and here Locklin yodels the chorus with ease.

Side Two opens up with a mid-tempo take on Roy Acuff’s “Night Train To Memphis” with a modern arrangement (no dobro, banjo or fiddles), but with a bit of the old tent revival show feeling to it.

This is followed by “Sign Sealed and Delivered”, a hit for Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas in 1948). I think the assumption was that Copas would be elected to the Country Hall of Fame eventually, although that has yet to happen. Of the three stars who died in the 1963 plane crash (Copas, Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins) Copas was the most famous at the time of his death.

“No One Will Ever Know” was written by Fred Rose, inducted as an executive and songwriter. The biggest hit on the song was by Gene Watson, #11 RW in 1980, although many others have recorded the song, including Hank Williams and Jimmie Dickens. Hank Locklin takes the song at a slow tempo with guitar and piano dominating the arrangement. The vocal choruses are present but not misused. It is a great song and I don’t know why no one has ever had a monster hit with the song

No one will ever know my heart is breaking
Although a million teardrops start to flow
I’ll cry myself to sleep and wake up smiling
I’ll miss you but no one will ever know

I’ll tell them we grew tired of each other
And realized our dreams could never be
I’ll even make believe I never loved you
Then no one will ever know the truth but me

The Jimmie Rodgers classic brag “Blue Yodel #1 a/k/a ‘T’ for Texas” gives Hank a chance to again show off his skill as a yodeler. On this album, Hank one uses the “blue yodel” technique but he was quite capable of doing the “rolling” (or Swiss) technique such as used by Elton Britt, Kenny Roberts and Margo Smith

The album closes with the classic Louvin Brothers hit “When I Stop Dreaming” which finds Locklin at the top of his vocal range, and a nice cover of the Red Foley gospel favorite “Peace In The Valley”.

As was customary for albums of this vintage no musician credits are given, although PragueFrank’s website suggests that the following were present :

Pete Wade, Wayne Moss, Jerry Reed Hubbard and Ray Edenton – guitars
Roy M. “Junior” Huskey, Jr. – bass / Jerry Kerrigan – drums
Hargus “Pig” Robbins and Floyd Cramer – piano / The Jordanaires – background vocals

I know that Hank Locklin’s voice is not to everyone’s taste but I think most listeners would enjoy this album because of the variety and quality of the songs. Interestingly enough, there is no overlap in songs between this album and Wanda Jackson’s earlier tribute album. I would give this album a B+

Album Review: Robby Hecht & Caroline Spence – ‘Two People’

Two People is the debut duo album of Nashville born singer/songwriters Robby Hecht & Caroline Spence. The pair met at the Rocky Mountain Folk Festival in 2013 and instantaneously hit it off musically. After two singles garnered eight million streams on Spotify, the duo decided to hunker down and record a full-length album.

While Two People is a duo album, Hecht & Spence are solo artists in their own right. If Robby’s name sounds familiar, it might be because I reviewed his solo record back in 2014, which I had almost forgotten about until Two People hit my radar screen last month courtesy of Juli Thanki from The Tennessean.

The album plays like an independent film centered around a charming and human love story worth rooting for and getting behind. The album traces that story through all of its facets, giving the listener eight perfect snapshots, each one capturing another moment in time.

Our story begins on “The Real Thing,” a warm ballad in which our couple meets at a crowded party. He knows she’s with someone else, a guy who wants nothing more than a fling. Our guy offers this girl an alternative — “We can ditch this crowd, we can ditch this scene, come on, take a ride with me.” He has money, and a car, but most importantly, he can offer her what her current guy cannot — a healthy relationship.

Spence takes the lead on “Trying,” in which our girl promises she’s doing everything she can to give our guy her heart. She’s having trouble giving in, letting go and trusting what’s right in front of her. “All On The Table” finds our couple laying everything bare in order to see if their relationship can go the distance. It’s Spence who takes the lead once again, using her sweet soprano to draw the listener in with her palpable venerability. This is the rare song that reenergizes my love for music, giving me the realization that real country music still exists in the world if you know where to look.

Hecht takes the lead on the romantic “Holding You,” in which our guy has found something to get him through the mundane day-to-day of life — her awaiting arms each night. When that proves not to be nearly enough he needs to spend “A Night Together” with her. He wants to go out but doesn’t care where — a country fair with a Ferris Wheel, a romantic dinner with an expensive bottle of wine that keeps them occupied until closing time — he doesn’t care as long as he can show her off and take her back home with him.

A time jump reveals the relationship began to crack and eventually fell apart. Spence leads the way on “I’ll Keep You,” a surprisingly sweet tale that finds her sorting through and boxing up the couple’s memories from their time together. It ends with a sign on the corner, pointing to their house, indicating a yard sale.

“Over You” finds Hecht embodying the guy’s gut-wrenching ache at the relationship meeting its end and finds him trying to convince himself he’s over her, as he continues to question everything he thought was right while they were together.

The album ends with an interesting thought. What if the couple had never been destined to meet in the first place? What if their paths had almost crossed but at the last second he exited the train, or he gave his seat to someone else just before she sat down? Those are the questions and thoughts raised by “Parallel Lines,” which was one of the two early singles that convinced the duo to make an album together.

I don’t want to suggest Two People is by any means autobiographical even though Hecht and Spence did write all the songs together. They are a magical pairing, bringing these songs to life with an effortlessness that cannot be fabricated. Spence is an otherworldly vocalist, with a similar tone to Ashley Monroe, while Hecht is a captivating conversationalist.

Two People is an independent release that likely won’t get the press coverage it deserves, especially in the crowed Americana/folk world it finds itself in. It may be a quieter album, but it’s powerful in its own unique way. I highly recommend everyone check it out.

Grade: A+