My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Album Reviews

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘Strong Weakness’

Released in 1982 by Elektra/Curb, Strong Weakness was the fourth studio album released during the 1980s and by the eighth overall studio album release. Buoyed by some strong singles, the album was the fifth straight top twenty country albums chart release for the brothers.

The copy of the album I am using for this review is a cassette tape which means the song sequence may vary from the vinyl or CD releases of the album and the information on the packaging is minimal.

The album opens up with “Strong Weakness” which was the fourth single and least successful single released from the album, topping out at #15. Written by David Bellamy, the song has a loping beat with relatively simple instrumentation (there is a nice steel guitar break) and a melody that is not terribly memorable by Bellamy standards.

I’ve got a strong weakness
Baby, I’m gone on your sweetness
Oh baby, stoned on your love
I’ve got a chillin’ fire

Baby, I’m gone on desire
Oh baby, stoned on your love
Baby, I’ve got to say
Baby, I’ve got to say

You’re good when you’re bad.
I’ve got a strong weakness
Baby, I’m gone on your sweetness
Oh baby, stoned on your love

Next up is “Doin’ It The Hard Way”, a gentle slow ballad about the ups and downs of a relationship. It’s a nice song but nothing that would ever be considered for release as a single.

“When I’m Away From You” was the second single released from the album, soaring to #1. The song was written by Scottish rocker Frankie Miller (not to be mistaken for the American country singer who hit in 1959 with “Family Man” and “Black Land Farmer”) and previously recorded by Kim Carnes. The imagery of the lyrics is very interesting:

When I’m away from you
Well, I can’t stay still
My thoughts won’t move from the way I feel
It happens time and time again
And the circle never ends

When I’m away from you
Well, it hurts to say
My sense has gone so far away
I’m up all through the night
And I can’t tell wrong from right

When I’m away from you I see great big clouds
In the fog and rain all the lonely crowds
They seem to be so blue
Every night I’m missing you

When I’m away from you well the sun don’t shine
The mood don’t come
The words don’t rhyme
When I’m away from you I can’t let go
And you know, oh, you know

“I Love Her Mind” was the third single off the album and reached #4. Written by David Bellamy the song features a Jamaican beat but is otherwise a slow ballad. I’m not sure you could get away with these lyrics in today’s overly politically correct environment, but the concept is interesting:

Forget about her eyes
That dance around
Like diamonds in the night

Forget about her hair
That cascades like a fountain
In the moonlight

And don’t think of her sweet lips
That leave me just as drunk
As any wine

Though her body is immortal
I love her mind

“Almost Jamaica” has a Caribbean vibe to it and might have made a decent single. Although missing the Caribbean vibe, “Lazy Eyes” also might have made a decent single.

“Number Two” is mid-tempo song told from the perspective of a man who knows that he is not the man of his woman’s dreams.

I’m not saying that the Bellamy Brothers presaged “Murder On Music Row” with “The Night They Killed Country Music” but the concept is close. I could not find the lyrics for this song but there is a video clip available on the internet.

“Long Distance Love Affair” revisits a familiar theme, in fact there are a number of songs with this title. This song is presented as a very country ballad.

The album ends with “Redneck Girl” which was the first single off the album. This up-tempo song, written by David Bellamy sailed to #1 and is perhaps the most memorable song off the album, with strong lyrics and an easily remembered melody. The song remained a favorite of bar bands for over twenty years and has a staple of country dance clubs seemingly forever

Hey, redneck girl likes to cruise in Daddy’s pickup truck
And a redneck girl plays her heart when she’s down on her luck
Living for a Friday afternoon
She’s gonna show one ole boy that weekend moon

And I pray that someday I will find me a redneck girl
A redneck girl likes to stay out all night long
She makes sweet rock’n’roll while she listens to the country songs
She’s waitin’ on that moment of surrender
Her hands are calloused but her heart is tender

And I pray that someday I will find me a redneck girl
Hey, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
Give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl

Yeah, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
Yeah, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl

A redneck girl got a name on the back of her belt
She’s got a kiss on her lips for her man and no one else
And a coyote’s howling out on the prairie
First comes love, and then comes marriage

And I pray that someday I will find me a redneck girl
Yeah, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
Give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
You got to give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
Yeah, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl

While not every song on the album is great, all of the songs are at least good and, for the most part, this is an unmistakably country album which I would rate as a B+ or A-

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Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘Sons of the Sun’

The Bellamy Brothers’ sixth studio album was also released in 1980 and continued the duo’s winning streak with two high performing singles. The lead single, and album opener, “Lovers Live Longer” hit #3. They returned to the top with “Do You Love as Good as You Look,” which sat comfortably in their signature style.

The album boasts many enjoyable traditional-leaning moments among the ten tracks. “It’s Hard to be a Cowboy These Days” is a western-themed ballad with lovely interjections of dobro throughout. Other standout moments include the pure honky-tonk “Classic Case of the Blues” and the deliciously uptempo “Honey, We Don’t Know No One in Nashville.” All three are excellent and well-worth checking out. I also really liked “Givin’ Into Love Again” and “Illusions of Love.”

The record as a whole is stamped with the Urban Cowboy sounds of the era, so tracks like “Dancin’ Romance,” which finds its roots in R&B are thrown into the mix. Also adventurous is “Spiders and Snakes,” which relies on a funky groove to drive the melody. The somewhat intriguing “Endangered Species” is a lush ballad that tastefully displaces their harmonies.

There seem to be more nods to traditionalism here than Occasional Hope found on the album’s predecessor, which makes for an enjoyable listening experience. There are some truly excellent moments here and much more to like than dislike. I would check out the whole album while paying particular attention to the album’s more worthy moments.

Grade: A-

Album/EP Review: Jeff Bates – ‘Troublemaker’

I’m a fan of Jeff Bates’ deep voice and strong songwriting, so I was pleased to see he had released a new 7 track recrd, halfway between an album and an EP.

‘If I Get Drunk Tonight’ is an emotional ballad well suited to Bates’ vocal abilities. It is an excellent lost love song in which the protagonist wonders if he can drink away his pain:

If I get drink tonight
Will I find relief?
Will I close my eyes
And finally get sleep?
Will I stop hurtin’,
Or does the whiskey just lie?
I’ll know tomorrow
If I get drunk tonight

This is great, and my favorite track.

Another excellent song, ‘Leaving Town’ is a closely observed look at a dying small town where there are no jobs or futures left.

They built a bypass and it passed us by
All our hopes and dreams dried up and slowly died
We boarded up our memories one window at a time
Now nobody ever comes
Even the river runs from this leaving town

Also very good with a great vocal is the regretful ‘Ain’t Goodbye Good Enough’, about an ex who seems annoyed he isn’t begging her to come back:

You don’t want me, I know
But you won’t let me let you go
You cut me deep and you keep cutting more
You already took your love
Ain’t goodbye good enough?

You’re so angry and I really don’t know why
You’re the one who wanted it this way

The title track, about a hot girl, is disappointing – lacking in melody with too much echo on the chorus and annoying production elements. Also suffering from intrusive production was the otherwise attractive love song ‘Rest Of My Life’.

Much better, ‘Meetin’ My Maker’ is a sweet song about a grandpa with little time for organised religion but who finds God “out in the wild wood”. The set closes with ‘Judging Judas’, a powerful mid-tempo critique of hypocrisy:

Got my religion and I pray religiously
Then I do what I want to
When I get up off my knees
I search my brother and I don’t like what I find
He sees the same thing when he looks into my eyes
And we keep judging Judas while we hang from the same tree
Your sin is greatest cause you don’t sin like me
Reap what we sow and we sow what we reap
And we keep judging Judas while we hang from the same tree

We’re all born innocent then we learn to feel the shame
And then we hide our guilt behind a wall of blame…
We teach love and peace then we take our hate to war

It’s a shame this is not a full length album, but with the exception of one or two tracks it is worth catching up with.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Good Old Days’

If popular culture is to be believed, it seems the 1990s is the hottest decade right now. Most of the ‘new’ television shows are reboots of classics from the era, including Full House and Will & Grace, with the originals casts reprising their roles. In popular music, if you were a major player 20-25 years ago, then its suddenly fashionable to return with new music and slews of concert dates.

In country music, this trend extends to the return of Faith Hill and Shania Twain with their first new music in more than a decade while Garth Brooks is wrapping up his massive three-year tour this month in Nashville. Even Dixie Chicks came home to the United States with their first tour in ten years. What’s old is new again or rather the music that defined my childhood is suddenly hip again.

It would be a stretch to place Tracy Lawrence at the same level since he was never a global superstar or wheeled much influence on an international stage. But he was one of the most consistent and traditional artists in his day, with a catalog that more than stands up to anything released by the artists who may have eclipsed him in status.

To celebrate this resurgence, Lawrence has released Good Ole Days, which recognizes what he refers to as a ‘hunger for the music from my era.’ The album pairs him with modern day country artists singing his hits. The whole concept does seem like a gimmick, a cash grab for the gullible fan unaware they are likely only lining the pockets of the executive who dreamt up this project. But really it’s a chance to finally hear country’s current class sing real well-written songs for the first time in their careers. I jumped at the chance to review this album simply so I could hear how these artists sound when forced to interrupt the actual country music. I’ve always had a theory that there is talent there if these artists had the proper vehicle to show it off.

This is the proper vehicle because instead of the artists making these songs their own, with their typical non-country producers and such, they have to stick within the confines of the original arrangements, including the steel, fiddle, and twang. Without the ability to hide, every weakness would be on the table.

Luke Bryan tackles Lawrence’s 1991 debut “Sticks and Stones” and handles it well. I wasn’t impressed with Jason Aldean’s take on “Just Can’t Break It to My Heart,” his voice was a bit too dirty, but the energy was good.

I remember reading in Quotable Country, on the dearly-departed Country California, Justin Moore says if he had a say he would make an album in the vein of I See It Now. He goes back a bit further here with “Alibis” and knocks it out of the park. Moore is a great country singer and it’s a shame he has to reside in this current climate.

Dustin Lynch sounds exactly like a young Lawrence on “Texas Tornado,” which is kind of scary. His performance isn’t excellent, but it’s damn close. I was surprised Miranda Lambert, who has been known to belt this out in concert, wasn’t singing it but that could’ve been label politics.

Probably the newest artist featured here is Luke Combs, who just hit number one with “When It Rains It Pours.” There’s no mistaking he’s a country singer and he easily pulls this off. The same is true for Chris Young, but he sounds like he’s just going through the paces on “If The Good Die Young.” If he had just let go the results could’ve been incredible.

The legend of Tim McGraw is he moved to Nashville on May 9, 1989, and has always said he’s more of a storyteller while Keith Whitley is a singer. I agree wholeheartedly, but his performance of “Time Marches On” is bland. In contrast, Easton Corbin shines on “Paint Me A Birmingham.”

Kellie Pickler’s talent is wasted on “Stars Over Texas,” which finds her regulated to singing the chorus. As the sole female voice on the whole album, you would’ve thought she’d be allowed more of a presence. I didn’t care for her vocal either, which makes her sound like a little girl.

There are two new songs in the mix. Brad Arnold, the lead singer of Alternative Rock band Three Doors Down (think ‘Here Without You’) joins Lawrence on the title track, which is being billed as his “country music debut.” The song, which also features Big & Rich, is a faux-rock disaster. The military-themed fiddle drenched ballad “Finally Home,” which features Craig Morgan, is better but not really for my tastes.

Good Ole Days is a great concept with lousy execution. These tracks are collaborations between the singer and Tracy Lawrence which doesn’t work on any level. Get rid of Lawrence entirely and turn this into the proper tribute album it’s screaming to be. His nasally twang is insufferable and pointlessly distracting. The lack of female artists in the mix is also troubling, as you don’t need just men to sing these songs.

Grade: B-

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘You Can Get Crazy’

Released in 1980, the Bellamy Brothers’ fifth studio album does not sound very country and is certainly a long way from traditional, but appealed to radio and record buyers in the urban cowboy era, and cemented their star status.

Both the single hit #1 on the Billboard country charts. I did not like the lyrics of ‘Sugar Daddy’ at all, although it is quite pretty melodically with an attractive arrangement. ‘Dancin’ Cowboys’ has a pleasant lilting melody and a steel drum effect, and is one of the duo’s better remembered songs.

There are a few more country moments. ‘Comin’ Back For More’ is a lovely ballad about the ups and downs of a relationship which is strong at its core. ‘Let Me Waltz Into Your Heart’ is a gentle love song ornamented with steel guitar, which is my favorite track.

‘Dead Aim’ is very pop-influenced and not very interesting. I strongly disliked ‘Naked Lady’, another very pop number.

‘Foolin’ Around’ is a midpaced quite catchy rather poppy song about teenagers in love, with a faintly comedic edge – filler, but not bad. ‘I Could Be Makin’ Love To You’ is pleasant sounding about a musician missing his sweetheart, but the hook underwhelms. ‘You Can Get Crazy With Me’ is a nice love song.

‘Fast Train Out Of Texas’ is a pacy story song about a bad boy from Amarillo spending his life running from the side effects of his love life, which is quite entertaining.

This isn’t really a record I would return to, but it was all well done and if you like the Bellamy Brothers in general this would be worth checking out.

Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A-

Album Review: Chris Stapleton – ‘From A Room Vol 2’

Chris Stapleton’s second blues-influenced album of the year is broadly similar in mood to the first, but feels a little more consistent and cohesive. Wife Morgane Hayes Stapleton’s delicate harmonies augment Chris’s rougher yet soulful voice, and they could easily be billed as a duo rather than Chris as the solo star.

There are a couple of outside covers bookending the set. Kevin Welch wrote the opening ‘Millionaire’ around the turn of the millennium, and it is a laid back slightly loungy tune about true wealth coming from love. ‘Friendship’ is an old jazzy soul song which works well for Chris.

He wrote the remainder of the material with various partners. A couple of songs were written with Kendell Marvel. ‘Tryin’ To Untangle My Mind’ was slightly more country as done by Marvel on his own excellent album this year, with Chris’s version leaning more bluesy and feeling sleazier. The rock-edged honky tonker ‘Hard Livin’’ is on a similar theme of looking back at a life of hard drinking and wild living with some regret as he grows older.

‘Scarecrow In The Garden’, co-written with Brice Long and Matt Fleener, is a family story song about immigrants coming from Northern Ireland to farm on bad ground in West Virginia, ending with a doomladen picture in the third generation:

There’s a scarecrow in the garden
That looks like Lucifer
I’ve been readin’ Revelation
With my bare feet in the river

I know every single fencepost
Every rock that goes around
I’ve been starin’ at the red oak
Where I know they’ll lay me down

The fields ain’t what they once were
The rains just seem to flood
And I’ve been thinkin’ about that river
Wonderin’ how it turns to blood

I’ve been sittin’ here all morning
I was sittin’ here all night
There’s a Bible in my left hand
And a pistol in my right

A gentle acoustic arrangement allows the song to breathe.

Another highlight is ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’, written with Jameson Clark, an honest confessional with a stripped down acoustic arrangement:

I wish that I could go to church but I’m too ashamed of me
I hate the fact it takes a bottle to get me on my knees
And I hope He’ll forgive
The things you ain’t forgot
When I get drunk and talk to God

Mike Henderson, once a band mate in the SteelDrivers, co-wrote two songs. The subdued, sad ‘Nobody’s Lonely Tonight’ is extremely good, but ‘Midnight Train To Memphis’ is raucous Southern rock which is not to my taste at all.

Morgane’s father Darrell Hayes helped Chris write ‘A Simple Song’, a weary, gentle song about a working class man’s life, suffering in hard times but satisfied by family and home.

As with the previous release, there are only 9 tracks, which is disappointing.

However, while Stapleton is certainly not traditional country, his music is head and shoulders above most of the current ‘mainstream’ crop, and it is well worth seeking out.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis – ‘Come See Me and Come Lonely’

Come See Me and Come Lonely, Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis’ second collaborative album, is strictly a covers record with their version of twelve classic country songs ranging from the familiar to the slightly obscure. I didn’t even have an inkling this record was in the works, so count me among the pleased, and surprised when news broke about the impending release this past summer.

The album was produced by Richard Landis, who has handled the majority of Morgan’s production duties for more than 25 years. While he maintains the essence of each song, he updates the arraignments just enough to give the album a contemporary flair that allows the album to feel modern and not note-for-note recreations of the classic recordings from which these compositions are most known.

His choices result in a very good album that unfortunately begins with K.T. Oslin’s romantic ballad “Do Ya” sung as a duel-lead duet. The results are ridiculous but Tillis does bring vigor to an otherwise lifeless song. I had no idea what to expect from another seemingly random choice, Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs.” They handled the song with ease, as though it was born from a Nashville honky-tonk.

Skeeter Davis’ version of “The End of the World” has always been too schmaltzy and slightly comedic for my twenty-first-century ears. Morgan and Tillis’ interpretation is gorgeous and brings the underlying heartbreak in the lyrics to the forefront. “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” is similarly excellent and a brilliant nod to Tillis’ sound and style from the early 1990s.

The title track is brilliant and actually improves upon the version Dottie West released in 1978. I like their rendition of “Walk Right Back” and love how the emulate the Everly Brothers with their close-knit harmonies.

Morgan all but knocks Sammi Smith’s “Saunders Ferry Lane” out of the park, but I’ll always wonder how it would’ve sounded without so much age on her voice. “Rose In Paradise” is a southern gothic beauty, anchored masterfully by Tillis. My favorite track on the album is “Summer Wine,” presented as a duet with Darryl Worley and an almost unrecognizable Joe Diffie.

Tackling anything written and sung by Roy Orbison is a feat and Morgan and Tillis fall short on “It’s Over,” which just isn’t to my tastes at all. An acoustic take on “Blanket On The Ground” would’ve allowed Morgan and Tillis’ harmonies to shine, whereas the version they gave us drowns them out with obtrusive clutter.

Come See Me and Come Lonely isn’t a perfect album but there are some stunning performances throughout. Morgan and Tillis are on top of their artistic game even if the arrangements are too loud on occasion. I highly recommend checking this one out.

Grade: A- 

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Timeless’

I guess there really is a Santa Claus because I just received the “new” Conway Twitty album from Country Rewind Records, Timeless, just in time for Christmas.

These aren’t really new recordings. During the 1960s and 1970s it was not uncommon for the various branches of the US Military to put together fifteen or thirty minute radio shows for use on country radio stations. Mostly these shows aired on smaller radio stations, usually in air slots where it was difficult for them to sell advertising. Some of these shows, such as COUNTRY MUSIC TIME (a recruiting tool for the US Air Force) and COUNTRY COOKING WITH LEE ARNOLD (a recruiting program for the Army Reserves) featured some chatter with the weeks’ musical guests followed by some records by the musical guest. Others, such as NAVY HOEDOWN, featured some minimal chatter with the featured artist followed by live performances with the program’s band, or occasionally with the artist’s own band. These recordings were not made available for public purchase

Timeless comes from recordings made for an unspecified military recruiter program. The recordings were made at Scotty Moore’s Music City Recorders on May 24, 1972. The songs feature Conway’s tight road band of Joe E. Lewis on bass, Tommy Markham on drums, and the legendary John Hughey on steel guitar. Conway played rhythm guitar on the recordings and the band was augmented by Hargus “Pig” Robins on piano. At this time Conway normally did not have piano on his live performances.

The songs featured here are songs from the first half dozen years of Conway’s career with MCA. In other words, this is a real county album with none of the MOR trappings that contaminated Conway’s later recordings. The revelation here is that most of these songs were originally recorded with studio musicians and occasional Owen Bradley strings and chorus production. Here we get the real stage sounds of Conway Twitty.

Originally recorded after a brief rehearsal, in a single take, these recordings were typically played once or twice in a given geographical area and then returned or discarded. Many years later pristine recordings were found and forwarded to Thomas Gramuglia at Country Rewind Records. Gramuglia contacted Conway Twitty United, a company dedicated to preserving Conway’s legacy, comprised of Conway’s four children. Gramuglia presented his idea to find a producer to update and modernize the sound for release to Joni Twitty.

After the family listened to the tapes, they felt that releasing them would not dishonor Conway’s memory at all, but Joni suggested that they do the new production in-house. Joni was a talented artist herself, and her husband John Wesley Ryles had several hits on his own and has appeared as a harmony singer on literally thousands of tracks.

The end result is an album they could have been released during the mid-1990s. Co-producers Joni Twitty Ryles and John Wesley Ryles have produced a great album. For the most part the post-production is limited to John Wesley Ryles providing some background vocals, Ron Oates adding a bit of keyboards, and some additional acoustic guitar, most notably on “15 Years Ago”. To me the most important difference between the studio recordings of the songs on this album, and these recordings is the gigantic presence of steel wizard John Hughey.

The song list is as follows:

(Lost Her Love) On Our Last Date – a #1 single with lyrics grafted onto a Floyd Cramer’s instrumental
Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music) – album track from 1968’s Here’s Conway Twitty
Hello Darlin’ – Conway’s biggest country hit
How Much More Can She Stand – a #1 single from 1971
Working Girl – an album track from the 1967 album Conway Twitty Country
I Can’t See Me Without You – a #1 single (according to Record World) from early 1972
I Love You More Today – a #1 single from 1969
Crazy Arms – nice cover of the Ray Price classic
15 Years Ago – the follow up to Hello Darlin’ – it hit #1
Honky-Tonk Man – cover of the Johnny Horton classic
The Image of Me – Conway’s first top ten country single
If You Were Mine To Lose – an album track from the 1966 album Look Into My Teardrops
Proud Mary – cover of protégé Anthony Armstrong Jones’ hit from 1969
Next In Line – Conway’s first country number one from 1968

A-

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Final Touches’

Conway had enjoyed his last top 10 single in 1990 as younger artists came to the fore. One of the most successful producers of the early 90s, Don Cook, took over production duties for what was perhaps hoped to be a comeback but was instead to prove Conway’s final studio album, released two months after his sudden death in June 1993.

His final charting single, ‘I’m The Only Thing I’ll Hold Against You’, peaked at a disappointing #62. That was a shame, as it is a great ballad co-written by Joe Diffie, who also recorded it some years later. The keyboards have dated a bit, but the vocal remains excellent (although I prefer Diffie’s own cut). ‘Don’t It Make You Lonely’, written by Jackson Leap, is a midpaced song about missing an ex, quite nice but not memorable enough to be an effective single, especially in the circumstances. It is not entirely surprising that it failed to chart at all.

Perhaps the best track on the album is ‘An Old Memory Like Me’, written by producer Cook with John Barlow Jarvis). The downbeat ballad, filled with precisely remembered details, has Conway appealing wistfully to his ex-wife that maybe it isn’t over, and that her taste for old possessions might yet stretch to him:

There’s an old satin gown
Been twice handed down
You were saving for your wedding day
But you married in haste
What a terrible waste
And it never got used anyway


Is there room in your heart
For an old memory like me?

Also excellent, ‘I Hurt For You’ is a lovely, empathetic ballad (written by Deborah Allen and Rafe VanHoy, and previously recorded by Allen), in which Conway offers his unrequited love a shoulder to cry on. Conway does the song full justice with a tender, emotional vocal:

I can’t blame you for feeling cheated
Being so in love and so unneeded
But the reason you keep trying
Is a feeling that I know

Oh, I hurt for you
Every time he breaks your heart
Baby I hurt for you
And it’s tearing me apart
To care the way I do
Maybe I’m a fool
I watch you long for him
And I hurt for you

So love won’t work out the way you planned it
Darlin’, all too well I understand it
But I’ll be right here to console you
If that’s the only chance I’ll have to hold you
But you’re so lonely being stranded
With a dream you can’t let go…

If you could want the one who loves you
Oh, maybe you would want me now

‘The Likes Of Me’ is a more forgettable, up-tempo song on the same theme of hopefully replacing an unworthy ex with “more than a shoulder”. ‘Two Timin’ Two Stepper’, a tartly observed toe tapper written by hitmaker Kostas and Bobby Byrd about a wannabe cheater trawling the honky tonks, is pretty good. ‘I Don’t Love You’ is a dour breakup song of self-denial. The melodic title track is quite a nice love song with Southern color, while ‘You Are To Me’ (a Don Schlitz/Billy Livsey song) is quite pretty.

The closing ‘You Ought To Try It Sometime’ is Conway’s attempt at getting in on the line dance fever which was hot at the time. It is not entirely successful, but Conway delivers it with energy and a honky tonk piano saves the track.

This is a pretty solid record and not too hard to find as it was released on CD.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Crazy In Love’

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

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

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

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

Grade: B+

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘House On Old Lonesome Road’

House On Old Lonesome Road was Conway Twitty’s third album since returning to MCA Nashville after six albums with Warner Bros. The record was released in 1989 and spawned three singles.

The lead radio offering, “She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind.” was a forceful Walt Aidridge-penned ballad that peaked at #2. The title track, a ballad reminiscent of “That’s My Job,” hit #19. “Who’s Gonna Know,” another bland ballad, stalled at #51.

Clinton Gregory had a #25 hit with “Play, Ruby, Play,” an excellent mid-paced number co-written by Tony Brown and Troy Seals when he released it in 1992. Twitty’s version provides the album with a much-desired change of pace. “Private Part of My Heart,” another Seals co-write (this time with Max D. Barnes), returns the album to the sounds of mid-1980s country somewhat successfully. “Pieces of You,” which Barnes co-wrote with Skip Ewing, is far and away the record’s most traditional number, with lovely doses of fiddle throughout.

“Too White To Sing The Blues,” co-written by Lacy J. Dalton, is reminiscent of Waylon Jennings. Karen Staley and Gary Harrison co-wrote the jaunty and ear-catching “Take Me Home to Mama,” a nice slice of modern honky-tonk. “Child With Child” is another of the sappy ballads for which Twitty had come to be known for during this period of his career. “Nobody Can Fill Your Shoes” feels a step out of touch and sounds just a couple years out of date.

I’m going to go out on a limb and reveal how truly out of touch I am. Given that House On Old Lonesome Road was released in 1989, at the height of the new-traditionalist movement, I had fully expected an album not unlike what Keith Whitley and Don Williams were turning out at the time. What I got instead was a kaleidoscope of sounds and textures attempting to showcase Twitty in the many different lights for which he found success that decade. There isn’t any truly outstanding number among these 10 tracks, although Gregory had the good sense to revive “Play, Ruby, Play.”

Grade: B

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Borderline’

Released in March 1987, Borderline marked Conway’s return to MCA after five year interlude with Elektra/Warner Bros. Frankly, other than the Lost In The Feeling album, I really had consistently disliked his recent output.

I received this album as a birthday present in April 1987. While I had high hopes for a return to the earlier Twitty sound my hopes were dashed when I read the back of the album and saw the following:

Musicians:

James Stroud – Drums
Emory Gordy, Jr. – Bass
John Jarvis – Piano
David Innis, Mike Lawler – Keyboards
Richard Bennett – Acoustic Guitar
Reggie Young, Fred Newll – Electric Guitar
Background Harmonies – Vince Gill and Conway Twitty

That’s right – no John Hughey, or any other steel guitar player for that matter.

My expectations suitably lowered I put the album on the turntable and played it. The album opened up with the first single release, John Jarvis-Don Cook song “Julia” which topped out at #2. This song is bland 80s ballad with cocktail lounge production. The song itself is not bad, but the production ruins it for me.

Brent Mason and Jim McBride collaborated on “Lonely Town”, a mid-tempo song about a one night stand. I would have picked this song as for single release. By the standards of this album, this was a country song

She gave into him last night
She thought he was Mr. Right
But he left like all the others
Before the morning came around

Same old story in lonely town
The sun comes up, the heart goes down
She’s tried everything she knows

Come so far and yet so close
She keeps searching for the magic
But it’s nowhere to be found
But that’s how it is in lonely town

The sun comes up, the heart goes down
There’s got to be a way out
Someday she’ll find it, she won’t always be alone

The one she’s been waitin’ for
Will turn her life around and take her away
From this lonely town

The sun comes up, the heart goes down
There’s got to be a way out
Someday she’ll find it, she won’t always be alone
The one she’s been waitin’ for
Will turn her life around and take her away
From this lonely town

Track three was “I Want To Know Before We Make Love” by Candy Parton and Becky Hobbs. Good advice no doubt – no point getting involved with a sociopath – but I think this song works better from the femine perspective. This song also reached #2.

Track four is the title track “Borderline” a decent song marred by cheesy 80s production. Walt Aldridge wrote this song. He wrote several #1 records for the likes of Earl Thomas Conley, Ronnie Milsap, Alabama and Travis Tritt.

Track five (the last track on side one of the vinyl album) concludes with “Not Enough Love To Go Around”  a slow R&B ballad that is nice but ultimately uninteresting.

Track six is “Snake Books”, written by Troy Seals. Troy wrote many great songs, but this wasn’t one of them. This is followed by “I’m For A While” by Kent Robbins, a generic song about a man who swears that he is not looking for a one night stand.

Most songs written by committees stink, but “Fifteen To Forty-Three” by Don Goodman, Frank Dycus, Mark Sherrill and John Wesley Ryles is a terrific ballad about a fellow sorting through a box of memories and regrets. This has a very country feel to it and would have made a great single.

<blockquote>I just cut the string
On a dusty old shoe box
And opened a door to the past
Now I’m sittin’ here with my souvenirs
And these faded old photographs.

Fightin’ back tears
Lookin’ back through the years
And wonderin’ why dreams fade so fast
Now the young boy I see
Don’t look like the me
Reflected in this old looking glass.

The man in the mirror
Sees things so much clearer
Than the boy in the pictures
With his eyes full of dreams
Oh, the men that I’ve tried to be
From fifteen to forty-three
Never believed that they’d end up like me.

The ninth track “Everybody Needs A Hero” was written by Troy Seals and Max D Barnes. It’s a great song that Gene Watson released as a single. Although Conway does a nice job with the song, it is not quite as nice as Gene’s version (I like the production on Gene’s record better).

The album closes with Gary Burr’s “That’s My Job”, the last single released from this album. The single reached #6 but deserved a better fate. It is one of the best songs Conway ever recorded

I woke up crying late at night
When I was very young.
I had dreamed my father
Had passed away and gone.
My world revolved around him
I couldn’t lay there anymore.
So I made my way down the mirrored hall
And tapped upon his door.

And I said “Daddy, I’m so afraid
How will I go on with you gone that way?
Don’t want to cry anymore
So may I stay with you?”

And he said “That’s my job,
That’s what I do.
Everything I do is because of you,
To keep you safe with me.
That’s my job you see.”

Borderline was one of Conway Twitty’s last big hit albums, reaching #25, higher than any subsequent Conway Twitty studio album would reach. There are some good songs on this album, but the filler truly is filler and the production sounds as phony as most late 1980s country production. This album is somewhere between a C and a C+.

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Don’t Call Him A Cowboy’

Conway Twitty had maintained his star status through the first half of the 198s0, scoring q string of yop 10 and #1 hits. In 1983 he switched from Elektra to its parent label Warner Brothers, where he stayed until 1986. His most successful album during the Warner Brothers period was 1985’s Don’t Call Him A Cowboy.

The title track was a chart topping single. It is an ironic story of wannabe poseurs of the Urban Cowboy variety:

The toughest ride he’s ever had was in his foreign car…

He’s a Hollywood idea of the wild and woolly west
In his French designer blue jeans and his custom tailored vest
You’re thinkin’ he’s the real thing but I think you oughta know
He can’t even make it through a one night rodeo

‘Between Blue Eyes and Jeans’ peaked at #7. It’s another excellent song, depicting a woman who might mend her badly broken heart while out dancing. ‘Whichever One Comes First’ is another nice song on the same subject.

As we have mentioned before, Conway had a great ear for songs, and a couple of other inclusions could easily have been hits for him, and were subsequently successes for other artists. ‘The Note’, also recorded around this time by Gene Watson, and was a modest hit a decade later for Daryle Singletary (although it deserved to do better). All three men are superb singers and do the song justice. ‘Somebody Lied’ was to become Ricky Van Shelton’s breakthrough hit, in an arrangement virtually identical to Conway’s. ‘Everyone Has Someone They Can’t Forget’ is a wistful ballad with a pretty melody. This song and ‘Somebody Lied’ are flagged on the album cover so were probably considered as potential singles.

There is a dated keyboard backing to ‘Those Eyes’, otherwise another attractive ballad. ‘Except For You’ is a pleasant love song, also a little dated sounding now, but well sung. ‘Green Eyes (Cryin’ Those Blue Tears)’ is okay. Closer ‘Take It Like A Man’ has a blues feel.

Conway is in great voice throughout. Although this album is not currently all that easy to get hold of, it is well worth it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Southern Comfort’

By the dawn of the 1980s, Conway Twitty had collected 23 solo number one singles and another five from duets with Loretta Lynn. Changes were afloat in the new decade, the least of which was a tweak in appearance, from his trademark pompadour hairstyle to the head of curls that would carry him through until his death in 1993.

Twitty parted ways with Decca/MCA Records after fifteen years with the label in 1981. He would release his next two albums on Eleketra, a move that would continue his success and allow Twitty to venture into new realms of his career. His first release for the label, Southern Comfort, would give him two more chart-topping singles. The album was produced by Jimmy Bowen.

The first single, “The Clown” was a slow and prodding ballad, typical of the period, with zero country signifiers. The follow-up, “Slow Hand” had been a big hit for The Pointer Sisters a year earlier. “Boy Next Door,” “Love And Only Love” and “It Turns Me Inside Out” are more of the same mid-paced to slow warmed over balladry.

“When Love Was Something Else” is an excellent change of pace, with twangy guitar added into the mix and noticeable effort to resemble country music. “She Only Meant to Use Him” employed the same techniques for another winning number. “Something Strange Got Into Her Last Night” continues the upward trend and could’ve easily been right at home under the care of Ronnie Milsap. “I Was The First” has an engaging melody I really enjoyed. The title track is an awful throwaway, with a cheesy lyric and intrusive background vocalists.

Despite the two singles, which Conway Twitty pursuits consider low points in his catalog, all hope is not lost with Southern Comfort. The majority of songs on the album are good and engaging, but not earth-shattering or remarkable. I wouldn’t rush to seek out a copy, the album can be easily streamed on YouTube, but it’s better than the singles and album cover would suggest.

Grade: B

Album Review: Bradley Walker – ‘Blessed’

Bradley Walker’s second religious album, and third overall, leans towards traditional hymns and other well known material. A beautiful, measured reading of ‘Amazing Grace’ opens the album. Carl Jackson and Val Storey add harmony vocals, and a little steel guitar ornaments the track. A thoughtful, sincere version of ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, also introduced with some gorgeous steel, is even better. Jimmy Fortune and Ben Isaacs help out here.

From the southern gospel tradition, Alison Krauss adds an angelic harmony to ‘Angel Band’. Vince Gill and Sonya Isaacs help on ‘Drifting Too Far From The Shore’, another lovely track. ‘I’ll Fly Away’ has energy and commitment, as does ‘Victory In Jesus’. The Gaithers’ more recent ‘Because He Lives’ is a melodic ballad.

A few classic country and bluegrass gospel tunes are included. The Oak Ridge Boys lead into ‘Family Bible’ with a line from ‘Rock Of Ages’. Some may not know that ‘One Day At A Time’ was co-written by Kris Kristofferson and Marijohn Wilkin). Bradley’s version is earnest and tasteful, with a lovely harmony from Rhonda Vincent. Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White provide harmonies on the Stanley Brothers’ ‘Who Will Sing For Me’.

There is some newer material as well. ‘I Will Someday’, written by two sets of spouses (Morgane Hayes and Chris Stapleton, and Ronnie and Garnet Bowman), is a nice upbeat song about absolute faith. The Isaacs contribute backing vocals, and there is a sprightly acoustic guitar and piano backing. ‘Cast the First Stone’ is an Isaacs song from a couple of decades ago with a Bible based lyric and strong bluegrass feel. Another Isaacs tune is the beautiful ballad ‘Say Something’.

This is a perfect example of a country religious album. The vocals are exceptional and the instrumental backings and arrangements delightful.

Grade: A

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Hello Darlin’

Note: I never owned this album on vinyl so I am working off a CD released on MCA Special Products in 1991, The songs are the same as on the initial vinyl release but the sequence of the songs is different on the CD.

Issued in June 1970, Hello Darlin’ was the ninth solo studio album released by Conway Twitty on Decca. The album was Conway’s first #1 country album and was eventually certified “Gold”. It also reached #65 on Billboard’s all genres chart, the highest that any of Conway’s country albums would reach, although reporting of country albums on the all-genres chart was very suspect and country albums were frequently under-reported by record shop personnel.

The CD opens with the Felice & Boudreaux Bryant classic “Rocky Top”. At the time, “Rocky Top” was a fairly new song that had not been covered to death. The Osborne Brothers had a hit with the song in 1968 and the combination of Doug Dillard, Gene Clark and Donna Washburn had a really nice version of the song on a Dillard & Clark album from that same year. Conway’s version has a banjo on it with what is otherwise an up-tempo Nashville production. Needless to say, Conway sings the song very well although he changes the words very slightly to accommodate his own phrasing.

Next up is “I’ll Get Over Losing You” a song written by Conway, a somewhat generic ballad about lost love. As always Conway sings it well, making for pleasant listening.

Conway also penned “Up Comes The Bottle” a mid-tempo song about the effects of alcohol. It’s a good song, well sung by Conway

Up comes the bottle and down goes the man

I can’t help him but I can understand

When up comes the bottle

And down, down, down, goes the man.

 

You may find him anywhere there’s heartache and despair

With loneliness so heavy you can feel it in the air

And the only thing that matters is the drink in his hand

Then up comes the bottle

And down, down, down, goes the man.

Bill Anderson wrote “You and Your Sweet Love”, which charted for Connie Smith in 1969, While I prefer Connie’s version, it would have made a good Conway Twitty single, one of many such songs stranded as album tracks on the early Conway Twitty albums. I seem to recall that Connie Smith wrote the liner notes for the vinyl album’s back cover.

The self-penned “Hello Darlin’” is the song for which Conway is best remembered, although “It’s Only Make Believe” was a huge pop hit in 1958 and by far his biggest seller. “Hello Darlin’“ reached #1 and stayed there for four weeks. The song is about a man who runs into an old flame, reigniting old feelings in the process. This was the only single released from the album.

 Hello darlin’

Nice to see you

It’s been a long time

You’re just as lovely

As you used to be

 

How’s your new love

Are you happy?

Hope you’re doin’ fine

Just to know means so much to me

 

What’s that darlin’

How am I doin’?

I’m doin’ alright

Except I can’t sleep

I cry all night ’til dawn

 

What I’m tryin’ to say is

I love you and I miss you

And I’m so sorry

That I did you wrong

Conway would revisit the theme with his next single “Fifteen Years Ago”. I saw Conway in concert several times before this song was released and several times after. From 1971 onward, this was his opening number and “It’s Only Make Believe” his closing number, perfect bookends for a great show.

“Rose” (not to be mistaken for the maudlin Amanda McBroom composition “The Rose” that Bette Midler would record later and Conway would cover) was written by L.E. White, a staff writer for Conway’s publishing company. This song is a ballad about a brother whose sister has strayed off-track in life.

“Reuben James” was a top thirty pop hit for Kenny Rogers and The First Edition (it went top ten in Canada, New Zealand and Australia) that was covered by a large number of American country artists. This is a nice mid-tempo track.

Bill Anderson also wrote “I Never Once Stopped Loving You”, which reached #5 for Connie Smith in 1970, Again, I prefer Connie’s version, but Conway does a nice job with this ballad

It is difficult to find a country album of the late 1960s-early 1970s that does not contain a Dallas Frazier composition. This album features “Will You Visit Me On Sundays” which was a top twenty single for Charlie Louvin in 1968, and the title track of a 1970 George Jones album. I can’t say that Conway’s version is better than Charlie Louvin or George Jones (the lyric seems perfect for Charlie’s weathered voice) but this would have made a good Conway Twitty single.

 Just outside these prison bars

The hanging tree is waitin’

At sunrise I’ll meet darkness

And death will say hello

Darling, touch your lips to mine

And tell me you love me

Promise me again before you go

 

Will you visit me on Sundays?

Will you bring me pretty flowers?

Will your big blue eyes be misty?

Will you brush away a tear?

Fred Rose write the classic “Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain”, a song that both Hank Williams and Rof Acuff had recorded. Since Willie Nelson had yet to record this song (Willie’s version would be released in 1975), this was not a cover of somebody else’s hit single, but simply case of Conway going “deep catalog” in finding a song that he liked. Conway’s version is not the sparse recording that Willie released but a normal Owen Bradley production applied to a classic Fred Rose composition from the 1940s.

The album closes with “I’m So Used To Loving You”, the fourth of Conway’s own compositions on the album. This is a good song that somebody somewhere should have released as a single.

I’m so used to loving you sweetheart

You’re on my mind each minute we’re apart

And I love you more each day that we go through

You’re my life and I’ll live it loving you

 

I’m so used to loving you it seems

I can’t stand the thought of losing you not even in my dream

Hold me close and tell me what I’d do without you

I couldn’t take it, I’m so used to loving you

Conway Twitty was a good and prolific songwriter who would use his own compositions on his albums, but, unlike some singer-songwriters, only if they were good songs. Through this album, the highest number of Conway Twitty and/or Mickey Jaco compositions on an album was four. There would be one future album in which he wrote eight of the ten songs (there must be a story behind this since it is a complete outlier) and several on which he wrote one or none of the songs

None of the Conway Twitty compositions that I’ve ever heard were duds, and many of them fell in the very good-to-great category

This album is a solid A with solid country production throughout

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Next In Line’

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade:  A+

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Country’

1967 saw the release of the unimaginitvely titled Country. There were two singles from this album, both credited to Conway’s wife Mickey Jaco. ‘Don’t Put Your Hurt In My Heart’ is a measured ballad turning down an ex’s advances. It is quite a nice song, beautifully song by Conway, but performed indifferently on the charts, peaking outside the top 30. Even less successful was ‘Funny (But I’m Not Laughing)’, which I like, although it comes across as a pale copy of ‘The Window Up Above’. It is a sad ballad in which Conway’s vocal exudes the sense of betrayal. Another Jaco song, ‘Go Woman Go’ has more of a 60s country-meets-rock and roll feel. (I have read that these songs were actually written or co-written by Conway but credited to Mickey for tax reasons – not sure if this is true, though,). Conway himself wrote one song, the midpaced ‘Walk Me To The Door’, which is okay.

‘But I Dropped It’ is an excellent song written by the great Harlan Howard, a regretful ballad about past choices derailing a relationship, which might have been a better choice for a single. The backing vocals are a bit dated, but not too intrusive. I didn’t much like another original, the rock leaning ‘Working Girl’ (written by Wes Buchanan). ‘Two Of The Usual’ had been recorded by several other artists, but was never a single. It is another strong song about betrayal.

The remainder of the set consists of the usual 60s country album practice of covers of current or recent hits for other artists. Conway showed great taste in music in his selections of some genuinely great songs. ‘Things Have Gone To Pieces’ is one of George ones’ greatest recordings; Conway’s version is a good copy but definitely a copy. Another Jones classic, ‘Walk Through This World With Me’ allows Conway more of a chance to put his own stamp on the song (although I still prefer the Jones cut). Conway’s cover of Merle Haggard song ‘I Threw Away The Rose’ is quite good, but again pales compared to the original.

Conway does, however, turn in a superlative version of Harlan Howard’s ‘Life Turned Her That Way’, which was a current hit Mel Tillis, but will be most familiar to younger fans from Ricky Van Shelton’s chart topping 90s version. This is by far my favorite track on this album. I also quite liked ‘A Wound Time Can’t Erase’, a Stonewall Jackson hit later covered by Ricky Skaggs.

This is not a bad album, but there is not enough uniqueness in Conway’s imterpretations to really recommend it over the classic versions of the cover songs, and the originals are less distinguished. It is available as a 2-4-1 deal, so may be worth checking out if you can find it cheaply.

Grade: B+