My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Retro Reviews

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘Love Will Turn You Around”

Kenny Rogers’ thirteenth album, Love Will Turn You Around, was his second studio release since parting ways with longtime collaborator Larry Butler. The album, released in 1982, was a platinum-selling success.

The title track, one of my favorites in Rogers’ catalog, was issued as the lead single. The whimsical mid-paced ballad, the theme to his film Six Pack, peaked at #1 on both the Country and Adult Contemporary charts.

The second and final single, “A Love Song” was written and originally recorded by Lee Greenwood on his Inside Out album the same year. The lush ballad, which peaked at #3, is a bit too slow and delicate for my tastes.

Bobby Harden’s “Fightin’ Fire with Fire” is the story of a man being tormented by a woman named Diana and the new flame she’s literally rubbing in his face. “Maybe You Should Know,” composed by Peter McCann, is a forceful confessional from a man to his woman.

The funky R&B leaning “Somewhere Between Lovers and Friends” was co-written by Brent Mehar and Randy Goodrum, who were enjoying ample success during this period writing for everyone from The Judds and Anne Murray to Ronnie Milsap. With that degree of pedigree, it’s odd this wasn’t chosen as a single.

“Take This Heart,” by J.P. Pennington, moves Rogers’ further away from country with a lyric and melody that would’ve perfectly suited Crystal Gayle. The straight-up rock of “If You Can Lie A Little Bit” recalls his work with the First Edition. “The Fool In Me,” another Goodrum co-write (with Dave Loggins), is one of the album’s strongest tracks, complete with horns.

The best album cut on Love Will Turn You Around is closing track “I Want A Son,” co-written by Steve Dorff and Marty Panzer. The reflective ballad isn’t particularly country but that doesn’t diminish its quality in the least.

Love Will Turn You Around is a mixed bag at best, melding a slew of different styles both effective and ineffectively. The title track is the obvious classic and easily the most memorable cut from this set.

Grade: B

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Album Review: Kenny Rogers and Dottie West – ‘Classics’

Male-female duets still exist today, although usually in the form of acts that always (or nearly always) perform as duets. Acts that normally perform as solo acts may combine for a song or two (“Special Events”), but rarely do they issue albums of duets

The album Classics, released in 1979, was the second (and final) album of duets released by the unlikely pairing of Kenny Rogers and Dottie West. Kenny, of course was a country & pop superstar but Dottie West was a veteran second-tier country artist, whose 1978 album with Kenny (Every Time Two Fools Collide) would trigger a brief renaissance on the United Artists/Liberty label.

I am not sure why this particular pairing came about, although I have some suspicions. United Artists was not a major player in country music and did not have a deep roster of female artists. Billie Jo Spears, arguably the leading female country singer on the label, did not have a voice that would blend well with Kenny’s voice.

The recently signed Dottie West, on the other hand, had a track record of being able to blend and harmonize with male singers. Her track record at RCA had included successful recordings with such diverse singers as Jim Reeves, Don Gibson and Jimmy Dean. Dottie’s first album and the second album, released on the heels of the first duet album, did not produce any top fifteen hits but the first duet album did produce a #1 and a #2 single.

That brings us to this album, a collection of some county songs, some borderline pop-country-easy listening songs and some pop songs. Produced by Larry Butler, the album was not quite as successful as its predecessor duet album, but still sold over two million copies.

The album opens up with “All I Ever Need Is You”, a top ten pop hit and #1 Adult Contemporary hit for Sonny & Cher and a top twenty county hit for Ray Sanders, both versions in 1971. This version would rise to #1 on the country chart. While not as country as the Sanders version (still my favorite), it is not as pop as the Sonny & Cher versions. Both steel guitar (by Pete Drake) and string arrangements are featured in the arrangement. The song works well as a duet.

Sometimes when I’m down and all alone
Just like a child without a home
The love you give me keeps me hangin’ on
Oh honey, all I ever need is you

You’re my first love, you’re my last
You’re my future, you’re my past
And loving you is all I ask, honey
All I ever need is you

The Wynette, Richey, Sherrill composition “ ‘Til I Can Make It On My Own” is up next. The song was a #1 country hit for Tammy Wynette in 1976. The song works as a duet but is in a key where Kenny seems to be struggling to hit some of the notes.

“Just The Way You Are” was a #3 Billboard / #2 Cashbox top ten pop hit for writer Billy Joel in 1977. The arrangement of this song reeks of cocktail lounge balladry. I’d rather hear Billy Joel perform this song and I am no fan of his music.

Randy Goodrum penned “You Needed Me”. Goodrum would co-produce Dottie’s 1979 album Special Delivery and write six of the songs on that album. I think that this song, as recorded by Anne Murray (#1 pop / #4 country), , was his biggest hit as a songwriter. The arrangement on this one is definitely easy listening.

“(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” was made famous by B.J. Thomas, winning the 1976 Grammy Award for Best Country Song. The song’s writers, Larry Butler and Chips Moman definitely cleared the bases with this song as it went to #1 on the country, pop and A/C charts in the US, nearly duplicating that success in Canada. Kenny & Dottie do a nice job with the song although the arrangement can be best described as ‘countrypolitan’. Steve Glassmeyer is featured on soprano sax.

It’s lonely out tonight
And the feelin’ just got right for a brand new love song
Somebody done somebody wrong song

Hey, wontcha play another somebody done somebody wrong song
And make me feel at home while I miss my baby, while I miss my baby
So please play for me a sad melody
So sad that it makes everybody cry-why-why-why
A real hurtin’ song about a love that’s gone wrong
Cause I don’t want to cry all alone

There is no questioning the country credentials of the next song, “Together Again” written by the great Buck Owens. Although initially released as the B side of Buck’s 1964 single “My Heart Skips A Beat”, most disc jockeys played both sides of the record resulting in both songs reaching #1, although in different weeks.

Unfortunately, the song is given an easy listening arrangement with strings and keyboards and not a trace of a steel guitar in the arrangement. There is a key shift whenever Kenny takes over from Dottie in singing a verse. I liked Dottie’s vocal on the song, Kenny’s not so much. The net effect is really disappointing.

Paul Craft was a successful songwriter who penned “Midnight Flyer”. The song is probably best remembered for Eagles recording of the song, although the song entered the realm of bluegrass music
through the Osborne Brothers terrific single recording of the song in 1973. Producer Butler gives the song the (fairly) acoustic arrangement the song demands. Kenny & Dottie acquit themselves well on this song.

Oo, Midnight Flyer
Engineer, won’t you let your whistle moan?
Oo, Midnight Flyer
I paid my dues and I feel like trav’lin’ on

A runaway team of horses ain’t enough to make me stay
So throw your rope on another man
And pull him down your way
Make him into someone who can take the place of me
Make him every kind of fool you wanted me to be

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were a highly successful songwriting team and Phil Spector was a successful producer and occasional songwriter best known for his ‘wall of sound’ production style. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” was certainly the biggest hit that the Righteous Brothers would ever have, and possibly the most successful song from the Mann-Weil songwriting team. After hearing the Righteous Brother’s version it is difficult to accept any of the cover versions, of which there have been many. Kenny & Dottie do a decent job with the song, which is given a somewhat subdued ‘wall of sound’ production, but it pales in comparison to the original.

“Let It Be Me” is a popular song originally published in French in 1955 as “Je t’appartiens”. Written by Gilbert Becaud & Pierre Delanoe, the song became a worldwide hit when Manny Curtis appended English lyrics to the song. The Everly Brothers (#7 pop – 1960) and a duet by Betty Everett and Jerry Butler (#5 pop – 1964) cemented the song’s popularity in the English speaking world. In 1969 Glen Campbell and Bobbie Gentry had a pop and country hit with the song. Kenny and Dottie sing the song quite well – I think Kenny’s best vocals on this album are to be found on this song. The song is not country, the arrangement is very orchestral, but the net effect is very nice.

Like most of Kenny’s albums, this is essentially a pop album with a nod toward country music. There would be no more duet albums by this pair and after a brief resurgence in 1979 through early 1981, Dottie’s solo career would fade away (not surprisingly as Dottie would turn 50 in 1982). The younger Rogers (b. 1938) would continue to have varying degrees through the end of the 1980s, followed by a long coda.

I like parts of this album, but there are tracks I tend to skip over – I give it a C+

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘Kenny’

Kenny followed the crossover success of ‘The Gambler’ with another self-titled album, filled with songs intended to attract the non-country audience. Indeed, listening to most of the record I was hard pressed to hear any country elements at all.

The lead single, ‘You Decorated My Life’, is a pleasant but definitely AC ballad ornamented with a heavy string arrangement. It was another big hit for Kenny, hitting #1 country, #2 Adult and #7 pop. The album’s sole nod to reasonably straight country was a return to the story songs which had been so successful for him before, in the shape of ‘Coward Of The County’. Set to the same rhythm as ‘Lucille’, the somewhat melodramatic story is of a boy who eschews violence after his criminal father dies, until his girlfriend is assaulted. It proved to be an enormous international hit, Kenny’s only #1 other than ‘Lucille’ in the UK (where for some reason ‘The Gambler’ did not chart). It’s not as good, or believable, as ‘Lucille’, but is definitely memorable and the best song on this album.

A couple of other songs are in a country-pop vein. ‘Goodbye Marie’ is a well-written song (by Mel McDaniel and Dennis Linde’ about a man planning on leaving, but with a somewhat cluttered production. It definitely had single potential, and in fact was subsequently a minor hit for Bobby Goldsboro, and Kenny’s version was eventually released as a spoiler single in 1986, after he had moved to a rival label. ‘One Man’s Woman’, written by Kenny’s keyboard player Steve Glassmeyer, is a pretty good cheating song, and is well sung by Kenny, although the strings dominate the arrangement too much for my taste.

The standard ‘Old Folks’ is not country at all, but quite nicely done with a sensitive vocal interpretation, although the keyboard sound is now very dated and there are more strings.
‘I Want To Make You Smile’ is a tender ballad written by Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers. I like this despite the overbearing strings, apart from a hideous falsetto note or two near the end.

‘Tulsa Turnaround’, which Kenny had previously recorded with The First Edition, is more of a dirty blues rocker which is well done but a bit loud and busy for me. ‘You Turn The Light On’ is very pop with a hard beat, and ‘She’s A Mystery’ is syncopated pop; while ‘Santiago Midnight Moonlight’ and the even more dreadful ‘In And Out Of Your Heart’ are outright disco.

This is not an album I can recommend to country fans.

Grade: D

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘Love or Something Like It’

Kenny Rogers’ fourth album, Love or Something Like It, was released in July 1978. The record marked his fifth time working with Larry Butler, who would serve as his producer until 1980. This was his fourth consecutive number one album.

The album produced just one single, the title track, which Rogers co-wrote with his bandmate, Steve Glassmeyer. It’s a mid-tempo number with pleasing percussion and a nice groove. The song spent just ten weeks on the chart before cresting. Deryl Dodd subsequently covered it on Stronger Proof in 2005.

Three more of the album’s tracks were rich with alternative versions by other artists. B.J. Thomas, Sammy Davis Jr. and Tom Jones have also recorded the contemplative ballad “We Could’ve Been The Closest of Friends.” “Sail Away,” which features light touches of R&B, was originally released by Sam Neely in 1977 and again by The Oak Ridge Boys, who took it to #2, in 1979. Far too many artists have sung “Even a Fool Would Go” through the years to list them here, but the string and piano-laced ballad is probably most familiar to country fans courtesy of Charlie Rich, who released it as a single under the direction of Billy Sherill in 1977.

Another notable track, “Momma’s Waiting,” was originally recorded by Rogers with the First Edition in 1970. The intriguing ballad, which Rogers co-wrote with Terry Williams, casts him as a prison inmate saying goodbye to his mother as he’s led off to his execution. The song is both haunting and effective. “Momma’s Waiting” serves as the B-Side to “The Gambler.”

One theory as to why United Artists let Love or Something Like It die after one single is “I Could Be So Good for You,” co-written by Dennis Linde. The track was Rogers’ feeble attempt to cash in on the disco craze, with diminishing returns.

“There’s A Lot of That Going Around” is a solid ballad, with pleasing percussion. The arrangement on “Starting Again” is far more tasteful and country-leaning. The trend continues with “Buried Treasure,” which actually feels like it fits within similar uptempo country songs from the era.

“Something About Your Song” is progressive but inoffensive. The funky “Highway Flier” is a lot to handle and ranks among the weaker tracks, despite committed performances from the session musicians.

Love or Something Like It is a mixed bag with little material worth seeking out. “Momma’s Waiting” is the standout track and while others are good to very good, nothing here is remarkable or rises above the characterization of filler. It doesn’t help matters that the album, forty years in, hasn’t aged well.

Rogers is better than this, which he more than proved with the output he released (including the duets albums with Dottie West) around the time of crafting this album. I’d skip this one, except for “Momma’s Waiting,” and seek out the stronger material from his other late 1970s recordings.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘Daytime Friends’

Released in July 1977, Daytime Friends was Kenny’s third album as a solo act, and his second album to go platinum. For the most part, this starts out as a solid country album with such stalwarts as Billy Sanford, Dave Kirby, Jerry Shook, Jimmy Capps, Jim Colvard, Johnny Christopher, Larry Keith and Reggie Young on guitar; Pete Drake on pedal steel guitar; Bob Moore, Joe Osborn and Tommy Allsup on bass; and Pig Robbins on piano to help keep things country for the first half of the album. The album would reach #2 on Billboard’s Country Album chart and crack the top forty on the all genres album chart. I suspect that Kenny’s actual position on the all genres chart would have been much better had Sound Scan been around.

I remember Kenny from his days with the First Edition (they even had a television show) and while Kenny’s first few country singles had a strong country feel, I always felt that he would drift into being a lounge, pop or pop-country balladeer. Unfortunately, I was correct and his output became less country as he went along. After 1979’s “You Decorated My Life”, it would be a long time before I really cared about any of Kenny’s recordings.

The opening track was the title track, written by Ben “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” Peters, and the first single released on the album, giving Kenny his second #1 country single. This song is a modern take on an ancient theme:

And he’ll tell her he’s working late again
But she knows too well there’s something going on
She’s been neglected, and she needs a friend
So her trembling fingers dial the telephone

Lord, it hurts her doing this again
He’s the best friend that her husband ever knew
When she’s lonely, he’s more than just a friend
He’s the one she longs to give her body to

Daytime friends and nighttime lovers
Hoping no one else discovers
Where they go, what they do, in their secret hideaway
Daytime friends and nighttime lovers
They don’t want to hurt the others
So they love in the nighttime
And shake hands in the light of day

Next up was a rather lame take on the Glenn Frey-Don Henley composition. I’ve heard many better versions, including Johnny Rodriguez’s #5 country single from earlier in 1977. I’ve always thought of this as a song about desolation and was disappointed that Kenny’s producers gave this a cocktail lounge arrangement. Kenny sings the song well, and with a little more muscular arrangement I would have really liked this song

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses,
Come down from your fences- open the gates.
It may be rainin, but there’s a rainbow above you.
You’d better let somebody love you,
LET SOMEBODY LOVE YOU.
You’d better let somebody love you,
before it’s too late.

Kenny O’Dell is probably best remembered as the composer of the Charlie Rich smash “Behind Closed Doors”, but “Rock and Roll Man” is a respectable effort as well. A mid-tempo ballad with some pop trappings, Kenny handles the vocals well.

“Lying Again” was written by respected Nashville producer/songwriters Chips Moman and Larry Butler. Kenny does a nice job with this song about cheating, misgivings and regrets.

“I’ll Just Write My Music and Sing My Songs” fits within the context of the album, but is nothing more than a passable album track.

“My World Begins and Ends With You” would be a #4 hit in 1979 for Dave & Sugar [Dave Rowland, Sue Powell, Vickie Baker]. Kenny handles this love song well but I actually prefer the Dave & Sugar version.

My world was no more than a dream
And waitin’ on a dream can sure get lonely
Your love just fell right into place
And filled and empty space to overflowing, overflowing

My world begins with havin’ a friend when I’m feeling blue
My world would end if ever I heard you say we were through
Just don’t know what I’d do
‘Cause my world begins and ends with you

Kenny wrote “Sweet Music Man”, the second single released from the album. Rather surprisingly, the single stalled out at #9 on the US country charts, while reaching #1 on the Canadian country and adult contemporary charts:

But nobody sings a love song quite like you do
and nobody else could make me sing along
and nobody else could make me feel
that things are right when I know they’re wrong
( that things are right when you’re wrong with the song )
nobody sings a love song quite like you.

Larry Keith’s “Am I Too Late” points the pop/schlock direction Kenny’s music would take. The song is drenched in strings and has a very cocktail lounge feel to it. In fact the last four songs all lean a pop direction (“We Don’t Make Love Anymore”, “Ghost of Another Man” and “Let Me Sing For You”), although “Let Me Sing For You”, written by Casey Kelly and Julie Dodier has an interesting lyric and rather gentle folk-pop arrangement:

One bright, sunny day I set on my way to look for a place on this Earth.
My life was a song just 3 minutes long. And, that’s about all it was worth.
I wandered around. Unlost and unfound, unnoticed and misunderstood.
Each thing that I tried just lessened my pride. Guess I didn’t do very good.
Then I saw you lookin’ just like I felt. So, I walked up to you and I said.

Let me sing for you.
It’s not much to ask after all I’ve been through.
Let me sing for you.
At least there’s still one thing I know that I know how to do.

I found you alone, no love of your own. I gave you a shiny new toy.
I made you feel good as best as I could. And, I was your rainy-day boy.
I held you so near. But, you held this fear. And, felt like you’d been there before.
The spell that was cast was too good to last. Soon the toy wasn’t new any more.
So, I asked for some time. And, you gave me a watch.
If it’s that late already again….

Let me sing for you.
It’s not much to ask after all we’ve been through.
Let me sing for you.
At least there’s still one thing I know that I know how to do.

It is tough for me to evaluate this album. I liked, in varying degrees, the first seven songs, but by the time I got to “Am I Too Late” I was getting bored with the album. The tempos tend to be rather similar throughout, and the last songs on the album tend to be more pop, less country and, other than the last song, less interesting. I would give this album a B, but it is a very uneven B as far as I am concerned.

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘Kenny Rogers’

Kenny Rogers’ self-titled album of 1976, his second official country release, was his breakthrough in country music. Rogers’ voice, mixing the gruff and tender, is strong, and his penchant for story songs is effectively realised on this collection. Larry Butler’s production is sometimes a bit heavy on the strings, but on the whole Rogers’ voice is allowed to shine.

The first single, ‘Laura (What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got)’, a cover of a 1967 chart topper for Leon Ashley (who wrote the song with his wife, singer Margie Singleton), was a top 20 hit. Kenny’s vocals work well on this song, an appeal to a straying wife which mixes sex and financial support, ending with a threat to kill her. It also features what was to become a Rogers trademark, the spoken final phrase.

Kenny’s career in country music was sealed with the next single, ‘Lucille’, now a classic. The lyrically intense story song and simple, singalong melody (written by Roger Bowling and Hal Bynum) is surely familiar to all country fans and many from other genres. It crossed over to become an enormous international pop hit (it is probably still the best known country song by a male singer in the UK, where it reached #1 in 1977).

My favorite song after ‘Lucille’ is the very country ‘While I Play The Fiddle’, written by Ronnie Sessions and Ray Willis. It is about a country fiddle player whose marriage is falling apart, and the arrangement is appropriately fiddle-heavy.

Other story songs include an emotional cover of the Death Row themed classic ‘Green Green Grass Of Home’, and (probably less well known to a country audience at that time) ‘The Son Of Hickory Holler’s Tramp’, the tale of a loving mother who turns to prostitution to support her large family.

A cover of the Tammy Wynette hit ‘Till I Get It Right’ is also very good, understated vocally although the backing vocals and strings date it a bit. Kenny is also good on Don Williams’ tender ‘Lay Down Beside Me’. I was less convinced by ‘Mother Country Music’, where Vern Gosdin’s contemporary cut (a minor hit single) is much better. ‘Puttin’ In Overtime At Home’, written by Ben Peters, is a very nice song about calling in sick to work to stay home with one’s sweetheart. A rival take was a hit for Charlie Rich in 1978, but in this case I prefer Kenny’s version.

Of the lesser known material, the downbeat ‘I Wasn’t Man Enough’, written by Larry Butler and Roger Bowling, is a heavily orchestrated ballad which is well sung but not very country sounding. ‘Why Don’t We Go Somewhere And Love’, written by Kenny O’Dell and Larry Henley, suffers from a dated arrangement, but is a very good song about seeking an escape from everyday life.

‘Lucille’ was a career making hit for Kenny, although perhaps not a career defining one. That particular song is an essential download if you don’t already have it. The remainder of the album is pretty good too, and it’s worth checking it out.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Nathan Carter – ‘Time of My Life’

Nathan Carter was all of 21 when he released his third album, Time of My Life, in 2011. The album opens with the title track, a surprisingly effective cover of Green Day’s 1997 pop classic, with lovely Irish touches. His version of “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart” is a solid yet jarring interpretation of Faith Hill’s much-disparaged rendition of the song. The lyric, when taken from a man’s perspective, sounds oddly juvenile.

Carter transforms Don Williams’ “Lay Down Beside Me” into a mid-1990s power ballad. His take, which I like, is so convincing I would’ve expected to hear it grace country radio circa 1995-1996. I’m not so keen on his reading of “Delta Dawn,” which he transforms into a bright country shuffle. He treats “Fishin’ In The Dark” well, but he’s no match for Jeff Hanna or Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

“Where Do You Go To My Lovely” was composed and originally released by British singer-songwriter Peter Sarstdet in 1969. The song is perfect for Carter, who wraps his vibrato around it gorgeously. The beautiful “My Forever Friend” is presented here as a duet with Charlie Landsborough, from who the song originates. “One For The Road” is an excellent and bright sing-a-long brimming with fiddle. “The Dancer,” a mid-tempo waltz, is just as wonderful.

“The Rainbow in Glenfarne” is a moderately paced Irish folk tune that fits nicely with the other bright fiddle tunes on the album. The medley of “Spanish Dancer / Holy Ground / Westmeath Bachelor” might be more of the same sonically, but it’s the fastest track on the record and just a delight.

I wholly recommend the album, even if I found the cover songs to be a bit subpar. As Paul pointed out, these songs are likely new to Carter’s audience, but to my ears they aren’t very good. But Carter possesses a lot of charm and has a strong voice, which carries the album over the finish line.

Grade: B+ 

Album Review: Nathan Carter – ‘The Way That You Love Me’

Nathan Carter, born in Liverpool to Northern Irish parents in 1990, followed a similar path to that of Lisa McHugh. He moved to Ireland on his own at just 18 with the aim of making a career in country music. His very pleasing smooth tenor voice is ideally suited to both country ballads and Irish songs, with its lovely tone and timbre.

The Way You Love Me, his second album (the first, Starting Out, was released when he was just 17), is a very assured and mature record from such a young artist. The title track is a likeable mid-tempo shuffle of a love song with a Bakersfield feel. This theme is revisited a little less successfully with a Buck Owens medley, which unfortunately ends up feeling rather karaoke; I feel tackling a single song would have worked better. Nor does he quite convince on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s ‘story song ‘Face On The Cutting Room Floor’, although there is a lovely fiddle solo.

‘After All These Years’ is a lovely ballad, a cover of a song popularised by veteran Irish country duo Foster & Allen. The song really suits Nathan’s voice. The Patty Loveless hit ‘Mr Man In The Moon’ also works very well, allowing him to soar vocally. His take on Vince Gill’s ‘I Still Believe In You’ is just gorgeous and, perhaps surprisingly, rivals the original, although the orchestral arrangement is a bit too much in the later stages.

Another nice cover is of ‘Break My Mind’, which was originally written by John D Loudermilk and had been recorded by dozens of country singers over the years, with Vern Gosdin’s version being the one I am most familiar with. Nathan’s version of the Gene Watson hit ‘Got No Reason Now for Going Home’ is also very good. ‘How Could I Love Her So Much’, a Johnny Rodriguez hit from the early 1980s, is another great song, in which the narrator has a little chat with his old flame’s new love. I also quite enjoyed a catchy version of Joe South’s ‘Games People Play’.

‘My Dear Ireland’ is a pretty Irish folk style paean to the country. Also in the same style is an enjoyably sprightly medley of ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’, ‘Star Of The County Down’ and ‘Donegal Danny’, which is very entertaining and probably a live favorite.

I was really impressed by this album. I like Nathan’s voice a lot, and if I had not known he was only 20 when this album was released I wouldn’t have believed it. Although the selected songs are all covers (with the possible exception of the title track), they are a well chosen group, and the arrangements are excellent.

Grade: A

Album Review: Lisa McHugh – ‘A Life That’s Good’

Lisa McHugh released her sophomore album, A Life That’s Good, in October 2014. The title track, co-written by Sara Siskind and Ashley Monore, is a sweet ballad about personal fulfillment that first appeared early on in the second season of Nashville.

The album is ripe with covers. McHugh opens with “Applejack,” in which she more than adequately channels Dolly Parton. She turns to Trisha Yearwood with “She’s In Love With The Boy,” wrapping her innocent twang around the timeless tale of Katy and Tommy’s burgeoning love. As if to cover all ends of the spectrum, McHugh turns in a fine rendition of “Any Man of Mine,” which typically sounds like cheesy karaoke outside of Shania Twain’s hands.

A Life That’s Good proves McHugh to favor bright and uptempo material, which makes Vince Gill’s “Feels Like Love” the perfect addition to this set. Also excellent is Red-era Taylor Swift’s “Stay Stay Stay.” McHugh improves on Swift’s album track with a far more organic arrangement and mature performance vocally. Kacey Musgraves’ “My House” is also a delight, although I wish McHugh had settled for a bit less mimicry in her inflections.

On an album of curious covers, closing track “On The Road Again,” which has always been one of my favorite songs, stands above the rest. Her version of the Willie Nelson classic is excellent, infusing her own personality while keeping the essence of the song alive.

“Ireland” continues the album’s bright vibe, with an uptempo love song brimming with gorgeously ear catching fiddle. The cautionary “Hey I’m A Woman” finds McHugh delivering a stern warning to her man that she’s not just one of the guys. “What You Get Is What You See” might just be my favorite vocal of McHugh’s on the whole album. “Night Train to Memphis” is bluegrass in mainstream 1990s country style and every bit as wonderful as you might expect. “Hillbilly Girl” is cheesy but not without its charms.

McHugh does slow the pace on occasion, although those moments are rare. “Home to Donegal,” a power ballad, has good intentions but is way too loud and feels a bit staged. “All of Me” is a misplaced cover of John Legend’s song, far too pop, for placement on such a solidly country album. Steel Guitar-laced ballad “Left to Love,” which perfectly displays her sweet voice, is much better.

McHugh is a delight and I quite enjoyed listening to A Life That’s Good. It’s impossible to listen to her and not fall under her spell. There’s truly nothing not to like about what she’s given us here. I only wish she wasn’t so reliant on covering such well-known songs and was putting the focus, instead, on developing her own artistry. But I really can’t complain when an album sounds this good and this country.

Grade: A

Album Review: Lisa McHugh – ‘Old Fashioned Girl’

Lisa McHugh, born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, moved to her parents’ Irish homeland In 2010, aged 22. Her debut album was released the same year, and made a very promising start to her career. Her clear, sweet voice is showcased on an interesting mixture of country and Irish folk material.

The title track is a rather charming mid-paced tune written by Joni Harms, an American singer-songwriter whose recorded work has focussed on cowboy songs/Western music. Her songs suit Lisa’s pretty voice very well, and three of them are included on this album. ‘When I Get Over You’ is a lovely sad ballad about coping with a breakup. ‘Catalog Dreams’ is a nicely observed story song about a farmer and his wife longing to buy a mail order tractor and sewing machine respectively, which is very much in an American setting rather than an Irish one.

The Irish side of Lisa’s music is represented by two songs in particular. ‘Buchaill On Eire’ is a very pretty Irish folk ballad with Gaelic lyrics. Lisa’s version sounds absolutely lovely, although I have no idea what it is about. She also covers the Northern Irish folk singer-songwriter Tommy Sands’ song ‘There Were Roses’, a gutwrenchingly moving song about a pair of friends across the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland, who are both killed during the Troubles in the 1970s, based on a true story. Lisa sings it beautifully, using the arrangement and minor lyrical changes made by another fine Irish folk singer, Cara Dillon, in her 2005 version.

Centuries of hatred
Have ears that do not hear
An eye for an eye
it was all that filled their minds,
And another eye for another eye
Till everyone was blind.

I don’t know what the moral is
Or where this song should end
But I wonder just how many wars
Are fought between good friends
And those who give the orders
Are not the ones to die
It’s Scott and young MacDonald
And the likes of you and I

There were roses, roses,
There were roses
And the tears of the people ran together

Also very good is ‘Beyond The Rainbow’s End’, a beautiful ballad about a loved one who has died, written by Daniel O’Donnell, the leading Irish country singer of the 1980s and 90s. The accordion-led ‘God’s Plan’, written by Derek Ryan, one of Lisa’s contemporary Irish country peers, is an attractive love song. ‘Ramblin’ Man’ is a cover of a song associated with Philomena Begley, the top female Irish country star of the 1970s and 80s.

There is an enjoyable version of ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man’, together with some less known covers. Lisa’s energy works well on the Gail Davies song ‘I’m A Little Bit Lonely’ and the sassy ‘You Were Right’ (from Australian girl group The McClymonts):

The biggest damn mistake I made was loving you
Well, you were right, you were right, you were right
Until I proved you wrong
You can fight all night to say what you like
I’ll still be gone
You said I’ll never make it out there on my own
You were right, you were right, you were right
Until I proved you wrong

The Nanci Griffith song ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ is more plaintive, and Miranda Lambert’s ‘Love Letters’ is also very effective.

This is a very strong album which I enjoyed a great deal. I would recommend checking it out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Robert Mizzell – I Don’t Want To Say Goodbye

When the group here at My Kind of Country opted to focus on Irish country acts, I certainly was not displeased as I became quite familiar with the Irish version of American country music during my years living in London (1969-1971). Unfortunately, before the days of the internet, it was nearly impossible to keep up with the more contemporary Irish artists. For the most part, the Irish artists I recall are deceased, retired or else really old. Louisiana-born Robert Mizzell is the exception to that statement in that a friend of mine brought back three Robert Mizzell cassettes for me after a visit to the emerald island some years ago. Since I rarely listen to cassettes anymore, I had forgotten about them. I pulled them out, listened to them and decided to digitize them.

Robert Mizzell is indeed an exceptional singer, so I was looking forward to reviewing his newer material. I Don’t Want To Say Goodbye was released in December 2013; unfortunately, music purchased via digital download does not come with liner notes (or any other useful information for that matter), so while I suspect that a few of these songs may be original to Robert Mizzell, I recognize most of these songs as exquisitely performed covers.

The album opens up with “Louisiana Red Dirt Highway”, a 1990 solo endeavor by William Lee Golden. The song did not chart for WLG but it was a video hit, an excellent song and worthy of revival:

Pulled out the driveway
Passed an old tar paper shack
Standing at her mailbox
An old woman waves as I look back
I’m going to miss my family
And I’ll need all the letters that they’ll send
It’s going to be a long time before I travel doen this red dirt road again

Louisiana Red Dirt Highway
I’ve been down a million times
Where the tin barns and the pine trees
I’m going to take them with me in my mind
I’m gonna take them to the city
Where a man could make good money so they say
I’m already pretty lonesome and my tires ain’t even swung off all the clay

“Little White Line” is not the Shooter Jennings song of a few years ago but it is a well performed mid-tempo song of youthful indiscretion.

“The Colour Of Your Dreams” is a gentle ballad about the loss of a brother.

“Wham Bam!” was as featured as a Buck Owens duet with son Buddy Alan on the 1972 album Too Old To Cut The Mustard. The song is given the same up-tempo treatment that Buck gave it.

“Your Man” was a 2005 US hit for Josh Turner. While Mizzell’s voice is not as low pitched as Turner’s, he does have a nice resonant voice and does an outstanding job with the song.

Baby, lock the doors and turn the lights down low
Put some music on that’s soft and slow
Baby, we ain’t got no place to go
I hope you understand
I’ve been thinking ’bout this all day long
Never felt a feeling quite this strong
I can’t believe how much it turns me on
Just to be your man

Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart had a fine recording of “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’ Anymore”. Mizzell keeps the buddy feel of the song with duet partner Chuck Owens

“Loving You Could Never Be Better” comes from the George Jones song bag, a #1 (Record World) hit for George in 1972. Doing George Jones material can be tricky – the shadow of the Possum tends to hang over the material, particularly when covering the more familiar material. This was not one of George’s more famous (or best remembered) songs so the shadow is lessened. Mizzell does a very good job on this song, which will undoubtedly be new to many listeners. George’s recording was given the full ‘Nashville Sound’, which is missing here.

Well here we are, again, tonight alone just us two
Where the lights are dim and true love is comin’ through
There’s no one else in this whole world as far as we’re concerned
We’ve built ourself a fire, so let it burn

When you look at me like you do right now I go to pieces
Because I know what’s on your mind, it’s just me
You’ve got that love-me-look in your eyes like you’ve had so many times and how
Loving you could never be better than it is right now

“I Love A Rainy Night” was a #1 pop and country smash for the smiling American of Irish descent, Eddie Rabbitt. Rabbitt, who died much too young at age 57, seems largely forgotten. While retaining the basic rocking rhythm of Rabbitt’s recording, the instrumentation is much more country.

Another George Jones classic “Wild Irish Rose” is next up. Whether the song is considered anti-war or is simply the story of a combat vet who returned as damaged goods, I will leave up to the listener to decide:

They sent him to Asia to fight in a war
He came back home crazy and asking, “What for?”
They had him committed oh, medals and all
To a mental hospital with rubber walls

They cut off the funding oh, they cut off the lights
He hit the street runnin’ that cold winter night
Now the streets are the only place he can call home
He seems, oh so lonely, but he’s never alone

“One More Last Chance” was a 1993 Vince Gill hit. Mizzell’s voice is pitched lower than Vince’s and it doesn’t seem to work as well on this song. Don’t get me wrong, Mizzell’s recording is quite decent but pales next to the original:

Give me just a one more last chance
Before you say we’re through
I know I drive you crazy baby
It’s the best that I can do
We’re just some good ol’ boys, a makin’ noise
I ain’t a runnin’ ’round on you
Give me just a one more last chance
Before you say we’re through

I never saw the film Brokeback Mountain, but my wife said she recognized “I Don’t Want To Say Goodbye” from the movie so I looked it up and found that the song was written by Teddy Thompson. It’s is a nice ballad sung well by Robert Mizzell

“Sweet Home Louisiana” may be original material. The song is upbeat, up-tempo and has a definite Cajun feel complete with accordion. I really liked the song.

“Down On The Bayou” is another upbeat up-tempo Cajun-flavored song. This is not the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, but perhaps original material.

This album is excellent. I wish I knew the names of the musicians so I could give them proper credit. The musicianship is both real country and excellent. Robert Mizzell has a great voice and knows how to use it.

I look forward to hearing more from him.

A

Album Review: Robert Mizzell – ‘Mama’s Rocking Chair’

2011 was a good year for Louisiana Born Irish country singer Robert Mizzell. He was inducted into the Shreveport Walk of Stars, which recognizes achievement in the world of country music, and is the highest honor his home city could bestow upon him. He also released his eighth album, Mama’s Rocking Chair, a collection of thirteen songs, many of which were classic country covers.

Among the tracks are three George Jones songs from his years recording for Musicor. The earliest, “Things Have Gone to Pieces,” written by Leon Payne, was his first single for the label, peaking at #9. Mizzell gives an excellent reading of the ballad, which nicely stands up to Jones’ recording. The other two were culled from Jones’ 1970 album Will You Visit Me On Sunday. The title track, written by Dallas Frazier is about a prison inmate and the woman he loves on the outside. Charlie Walker’s “Rosie Bokay,” tells the story of a man falls for an enigmatic bartender. Both are also excellent and devoid of the intrusive touches on Jones’ versions.

The jaunty “Sick, Sober and Sorry” was a duet for Lefty Frizzell and Johnny Bond in 1951. Mizzell reprises it here, beautifully, as a duet with Martin Cleary. John Prine’s “Grandpa Was A Carpenter” is newer, first seeing release by him in 1973 and again in 1989 from The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 2. Mizzell once again turns in an equally wonderful performance. Also very good is his version of Rodney Crowell’s “Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight,” which came to prominence through recordings by Emmylou Harris and The Oak Ridge Boys.

The plight of Irish immigrants in the 1950s is covered on “Paddy,” an Irish folk ballad given a traditional arrangement. Also gut wrenching is “The Orphan Train,” a brutal ballad. The title track, a mid-tempo fiddle drenched ballad, is another excellent story song. “What We Don’t Have” and “Can You Hear Me Now” are pure honky-tonk.

Also featured on Mama’s Rocking Chair is Mizzell’s biggest hit to date at the time, the upbeat “I Ain’t Fallin’ for That” and “Cajun Dance,” a fiddle heavy ode to his Louisiana heritage written specifically for him by Peter McKeever. Of the two,“Cajun Dance,” which opens the album, is the stronger song, which recalls the line dance craze of the early 1990s.

Mama’s Rocking Chair, as a whole, does a great job of mixing both old and new cohesively. I thought it was a bit too clean and precise in execution, but it’s a fine album worth checking out. Individual tracks are available on YouTube and the album is also on Itunes.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Labor of Love’

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

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

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

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

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


Grade: B+

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Saddle The Wind’

The rise of the New Traditionalists in the late 1980s meant that the sooth pop-country which had served Janie well earlier in the decade was sounding dated. Janie was also now over 40, as younger artists came forward, and radio abandoned her, with no really successful singles from her 1987 album After Midnight. She took on the challenge with gusto, adapting to a much more traditional country style for 1988’s Saddle The Wind, with the help of producer Steve Buckingham. She was still, incidentally, using the new spelling of Frickie, which she had adopted for Black And White.

There were three singles to promote this album. Unfortunately, none did very well, but they are all excellent songs, beautifully sung and unmistakeably real country. ‘Where Does Love Go (When It’s Gone)’ is a brisk Peter Rowan song with a bright upbeat feel despite a lyric pondering the reasons for a breakup.

‘I’ll Walk Before I’ll Crawl’ is a lovely mid-paced ballad (written by Gidget Baird and Linda Buell) gives a cheating husband an ultimatum. The third and last single, ‘Heart’, was written by the ultra-successful writing team of Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet. It is an excellent song about a woman desperately tempted to cheat on her husband.

On a somewhat similar theme, Hank Cochran’s classic ‘Don’t Touch Me (If You Don’t Love Me)’ explores the draw of sexual desire knowing the loved one cannot offer what the protagonist needs:

Your hand is like a torch each time you touch me
That look in your eye pulls me apart
So don’t open the door to heaven if I can’t come in
No, don’t touch me if you don’t love me, sweetheart

Your kiss is like a drink when I am thirsty
Oh and I’m thirsty for you with all my heart
But don’t love me, then act as though we’ve never kissed
Oh, don’t touch me if you don’t love me, sweetheart

Janie’s intense vocal is superlative on this song.

Several other classic covers are also included. Willie Nelson’s ballad The Healing Hands Of Time’ is another true classic song given an exquisite vocal, with some tasteful steel and piano. The album opens with a sprightly version of the Western Swing ‘Sugar Moon’ which is delightful, and Janie also revives the up-tempo ‘Crazy Dreams’, one of Patsy Cline’s lesser known early recordings.

‘I’m Not That Good At Goodbye’, a much recorded song written by Bob McDill and Don Williams, has another excellent vocal from Janie. ‘If I Were Only Her Tonight’, written by McDill with Bucky Jones and Dickey Lee, is another fine song about unrequited love and the pull of an old flame.

There is a Marty Robbins Mexican flavor to the title track, with Spanish guitar accompanying a story song written by the album’s producer Buckingham, about a star-crossed border romance with a bandido.

Janie had a truly lovely voice, but at her commercial peak she was too often buried under poppy production. In this album she finally married her voice to great production and songs, making this by far her best work. I would recommend it to anyone.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘After Midnight’

(NOTE: After Midnight was the second album in which Fricke changed the spelling of her name to Frickie. She made the adjustment after being annoyed with mispronunciations of her name 

Following the chart topping success of Black and White, Janie Frickie’s career began to decline. The new traditionalists movement of the late 1980s all but whipped her countrypolitan stylings off the radio and thus she struggled to gain traction with her singles. 1987’s After Midnight was Fricke’s first album not to produce a top 20 hit.

As was customary, two singles were released from the album. “Are You Satisfied,” a mid-tempo bluesy ballad with Frickie’s voice in top form, stalled at #32. The thickly produced and slower paced “Baby You’re Gone” fared worse, hitting #63. It was the first single of Fricke’s career to miss the top 30 entirely.

The album also features “From Time to Time (It Feels Like Love Again),” a duet with Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers. The power ballad, which features horns, hit #21 as a single from his Partners album, which was released the same year.

Frickie turns in one of her strongest vocal performances on “I Hurt,” a stunning steel-drenched number reminiscent of something Reba McEntire would’ve recorded during this time period. “I Don’t Like Being Lonely” also features steel guitar and a lot of percussion. “Teach Me How To Forget” is more of the same, an expertly executed power ballad with forceful vocals and production.

“If I Didn’t Care” is soaring and lounge-like, with strings and distinct echoes of Patsy Cline. “My Eternal Flame” retains a countrypolitan vibe updated for the time period. “Nobody Ever Loved Me So Good” is more of the same while “It Won’t Be Easy” might be the album’s most traditional-minded number.

After Midnight is an excellent album, even if the production feels out of place for the current trends of the era. The lack of variation is the album’s sole downfall, with ten songs that all fit within the same production and tempo. If anything the production gives Fricke room to sour, turning in some of the strongest vocal performances of her career.

Grade: A

 

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Black and White’

Released in June 1986, Black and White saw a strong directional shift in Janie’s music toward a more nuanced and adult approach to music. There is more blues influence evident than in her earlier recorded efforts. This was Janie’s eleventh album (her last name was spelled ‘Frickie’ on the album cover). Norro Wilson produced the album.

Although I regard this album as Janie’s masterpiece, some of the songs are marred by 1980s production. Also this album marked the end of her as a chart force. “Always Have, Always Will”went to #1, but the second single “When A Woman Cries” only reached #20, and no future Janie Fricke single would ever again reach the top twenty. Some would argue that the New Traditionalist movement shoved Janie aside, but I suspect that her age had as much to do with it as newer, younger faces arrived.

Side one of the original vinyl album opens up with “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore”. Written by Clyde Otis and Ulysses Burton, the song has a long history, having been a pop hit for Ben E. King in 1968, with numerous covers including Billy Joe Royal’s #2 country hit in 1990. Janie does a nice job with the song.

Let’s not fight it anymore
Unpack your bags and close the door
Girl, I’ll never leave you
Though you lied right from the start
I can’t convince my foolish heart
Not to believe you

You’ve got two good men strung out
And there’s not the slightest doubt
That other men have loved you before
But you drew your face away
I dream of Heaven and I live in Hell
Till I can’t take it anymore

“He’s Breathing Down My Neck” is a mid-tempo ballad with a very jazzy feel to it. I think this is the weakest song on the album and it’s not at all bad.

Kent Robbins wrote “Take Me Like A Vacation”, an interesting song taken at mid-tempo. The song was later covered by Lynn Anderson. “Nothing Left To Say” is a slow ballad about the end of a relationship. The song is really well sung by Janie, a very nice album track. “Coming Apart At The Seams” is the story of a breakup that the narrator wants no part of, and cannot accept.

Thus ends side one of the original vinyl album. Other than the first track, none of the songs themselves are anything special but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Side two opens with the best song Janie Fricke ever recorded, the bluesy “Always Have, Always Will”. The song reached #1. There is some lovely steel guitar on the track by former Buckaroo Tom Brumley.

It seems funny I remember your number
After all this time
And I know that it’s late
And I hope that I’m not out o’ line
But for some crazy reason
I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout you all day
And every three hours now
I’ve been thinkin’ of somethin’ to say

Ilove you like a fool
Always have, always will
But you know that it’s just my point of view
But I love you still
Always have, always will
Always have, always will love you

“Don’t Put It Past My Heart” is a mid-tempo song about a woman’s warning to her lover telling him to not take her for granted. This would have made a good single.

“When A Woman Cries” was released as a single, topping out at #20. Written by Buck Moore and Mentor Williams, I would have expected the song to be a bigger hit.

The album closes out with a pair of slow ballads. “He’s Making A Long Story Short” and “I’d Take You Back Again”, one of the few songs penned by Ms. Fricke.

The key to this album is that the songs are all situated in such a way as to let Janie show off her vocal prowess without overstraining her voice. Fricke is in good voice throughout, and while parts of the production sound a bit dated, at no point are the arrangements cluttered and obtrusive. Unlike her prior albums, which were simply collections of songs, this album sets a mood and does it well.

Grade: A

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘The First Word In Memory’

Janie Fricke’s ninth album, The First Word In Memory, was released in August 1984. In accordance with her previous efforts, the album was produced by Bob Montgomery.

The album produced two singles, both of which were ballads. The string heavy “Your Heart’s Not In It” was Fricke’s sixth #1 hit. The title track, which was bogged down by clunky backing voices, peaked at #7.

Sandwiched between them was the brilliant “A Place To Fall Apart,” her collaboration with Merle Haggard, the second single from his album It’s All In The Game. Fricke’s contributions to the chart-topping ballad are slight at best, she barely sings alone at all, which I find odd given her stature as a prominent hit maker at the time.

“Talkin’ Tough” opens the album strong, in mid-tempo. “One Way Ticket” kicks up the tempo even more, would’ve made an excellent choice for a single and likely would’ve done very well. “First Time Out of the Rain,” which puts the album back into string-heavy ballad territory, is also very good.

The rockish production of “A Love Like Ours” is dated to modern ears, but Fricke delivers the barnburner flawlessly. The same can easily be said for “In Between Heartaches,” another standout cut on the record. “Another Man Like That” is another ballad, but a welcomed change with muscular opposed to lush accompaniment. “Without Each Other” is an ear-catching uptemo duet with Benny Wilson while “Take It From The Top” is a striking piano ballad.

Listening through The First Word In Memory, I regard it as a missed opportunity on the part of Columbia. The album is peppered with very strong material and yet two of the record’s most mediocre ballads were released as singles. There was a chance here to showcase another side of Fricke’s artistry and they blew it.

Columbia’s mismanagement aside, Fricke and Montgomery crafted an excellent and engaging album that nicely holds up 33 years later. There’s a definite 1980s sheen, but it doesn’t distract from any of the material.

Grade: A 

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Love Lies’

I always regarded Janie Fricke as primarily a singles artist, and the market apparently agreed as Love Lies, Janie’s eighth album (ninth album if you include the Greatest Hits album released in October 1982) was the first of her albums to reach the top ten of Billboards Country Albums chart, punching in at #10. This would prove to be rarefied air for Janie as only one more album, Black and White, in 1986, would reach the top ten.

Released in late 1983 and produced by Bob Montgomery, Love Lies was the second album he produced for Janie. Love Lies would see three singles released, “Tell Me A Lie” (#1), “Let’s Stop Talking About It” (#1) and “If The Fall Don’t Get You” (#8). “If The Fall Don’t Get You” was the first single to not go top four after eight consecutive such successes.

In the past I had described Janie’s earlier singles as ‘lovey-dovey drivel’ but perhaps I was a bit harsh. Today I would describe her previous singles as ‘confections’. I would not describe any of the singles on this album using such terms. These are more mature songs.

The album opens with “If The Fall Don’t Get You”, a biting commentary on love, co-written by Van Stephenson, who later was a member of BlackHawk.

So you say you’re thinking of falling in love
Going way out on a limb
And it seems like push is coming to shove
Just look at the shape that I’m in

I have paid the price for love
And it ain’t cheap
Better take a long hard look
Before you leap

If the fall don’t get you, baby
And your fading heart is beating still
If the fall don’t get you
Baby, the heartache will

Next up is “Have I Got A Heart For You”, a mid-tempo song which sells the virtues of a heart on the rebound. Written by Keith Stegall, the song is a decent album track.

I would also describe track three “How Do You Fall Out of Love”, a slow ballad of heartbreak as a decent album track. The Nashville String Machine is a little obtrusive but Janie’s voice cuts through the clutter.

“Love Lies” was an early single for Mel McDaniel, reaching #33 in 1979. It would be a few more years before Mel’s career caught fire, but I though his performance of the song was excellent. For whatever reason, the song never made it to one of Mel’s albums, so I am glad that Janie covered the song; however, she should have released it as a single.

Side one of the original vinyl album closed with “Tell Me A Lie”, a song carried over from the previous album It Ain’t Easy. Columbia during the 1970s and 1980s had this annoying habit of pulling songs from an existing album, releasing it as a single, then adding it to the next album. Since albums during this period only had ten songs, this meant that if you purchased both albums, you would get only nineteen different songs at rough two and a half minutes per song. This cover of a Lynn Anderson album track (and later a top 20 pop hit for Sami Jo) reached #1 for Janie.

Tell me a lie
Say I look familiar
Even though I know
That you don’t even know my name

Tell me a lie
Say you just got into town
Even though I’ve seen you here before
Just hangin’ around

Umm, tell me a lie, say you’re not a married man
Cause you don’t know I saw you slip off your wedding band

Side two of the vinyl album opens up with “Let’s Stop Talking About It”, an up-tempo that reached #1. The song was written by the dynamic trio of Rory Bourke, Rafe Van Hoy & Deborah Allen, who collectively authored many hit singles. You can give your own interpretation to what the lyrics mean:

We’ve had a lot of conversations
We’ve analyzed our situation
There’s only so much that words can say
After awhile they just get in the way

So let’s stop talking about it
And start getting down to love
Let’s stop talking about it
We’ve already said enough

This is followed the Troy Seal-Mike Reid collaboration “Lonely People”, a quiet ballad that makes for a decent album track.

Written by Dennis Linde and Alan Rush, “Walkin’ A Broken Heart” would be released as a single by Don Williams in 1985, reaching #2. Janie does a really nice job with the song and I think the song could have been a big hit for her. I slightly prefer Don’s version but it’s a thin margin of preference.

Walkin’ down this midnight street
Just the sound of two lonely feet
Walkin’ a broken heart
Walkin’ a broken heart

Empty city, not a soul in sight
And a misty rain falls on a perfect night
To walk a broken heart
To walk a broken heart

And I know that you’re thinkin’
This couldn’t happen to you
But you’re a fool for believing
Dreams don’t fly away, cause they do.

Another slow ballad follows in “I’ve Had All The Love I Can Stand”. Janie sings it well, but the song to me is a bit overwrought and not of much interest. The Nashville String Machine is prominent in the arrangement.

The album closes with “Where’s The Fire”, a nice upbeat melody camouflaging a song of angst as the narrator asks her love why he’s in such a hurry to leave.

For me this album is a bit of a mixed bag. Janie is in good voice throughout, and I appreciated the more mature lyrics but I’d like to hear more fiddle and steel. That said, this album is quite worthwhile.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘It Ain’t Easy’

By 1982, Janie Fricke’s career was on the upswing. After several years of charting top ten and top five hits, she finally hit #1 with “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby,” the final single from Sleeping With Your Memory. Fricke’s next single, the spectacular “It Ain’t Easy Being Easy,” a commanding countrypolitan ballad, quickly followed suit. The success of the song led to the It Ain’t Easy album, which was released in September.

She would top out at #4 with “You Don’t Know Love,” a similarly styled ballad that was equally as strong. Fricke returned to the top, and provided a change of pace, with the excellent uptempo “He’s A Heartache (Looking For A Place To Happen).” I actually first heard this song a few months ago, when I was flipping through the radio dial and happened upon the faint signal of a college radio station that was playing it. I was too enthralled with what I was hearing to actually process what was happening. It was a cool moment.

The remainder of the album is a mixed bag, with varying degrees of quality. The ballads “Tell Me A Lie” and “A Little More Love” are very good and I like “Trying To Fool a Fool.” The rest of the tracks veer uptempo and just aren’t that strong, coming off as fluff. Songs like “Too Hard on my Heart” and “Heart To Heart Talk” aren’t bad, they’re just too lightweight for my taste. The same goes for “Love Have Mercy” while “Who Better Than an Angel” is just mediocre.

It Ain’t Easy isn’t a terrible album in the least, but there is too much padding and not enough meat. The singles are incredible, but the album tracks fail to elevate the record to a higher artistic level. At least the sound is great, which is a testament to Bob Montgomery and his countrypolitan stylings, which are always in good taste, even if they sound dated today.

Grade: B

 

Album Revew: Janie Fricke – ‘Sleeping With Your Memory’

1981 saw a change of producer for Janie, with Jim Ed Norman taking up the reins from Billy Sherrill for Sleeping With Your Memory. The result was incrased success for her on radio and with the industry – Janie would be named the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1982.

The lead single was ‘Do Me With Love’, written by John Schweers. A bright perky slice of pop-country, this rather charming song (featuring Ricky Skaggs on backing vocals although he is not very audible) was a well-deserved hit, peaking at #4. Its successor, ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby’, was Janie’s first chart topper. It was written by fellow country starlet Deborah Allen with rocker Bruce Channel and Kieran Kane (later half of the O’Kanes). It’s quite a well written song, but the pop-leaning production has dated quite badly, and Janie’s vocals sound like something from musical theater.

Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Homeward Bound’ is given a folk-pop-country arrangement which is quite engaging (Ricky Skaggs multi-tasks on this song, contributing fiddle, mandolin and banjo as well as backing vocals), but I’m not quite sure I entirely buy Janie as the folk troubadour of the narrative. The Gibb brothers (the Bee Gees) had some impact on country music by dint of writing songs like ‘Islands In The Stream’ for Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, and their ‘Love Me’ is a very nice mid-paced ballad.

Janie sings Larry Gatlin’s sensitive ballad ‘The Heart’ beautifully; Larry and one of his brothers add backing vocals. The arrangement is swathed with strings, and the overall effect is fairly Adult Contemporary in style, but the track is a fine showcase for Janie’s lovely voice. The wistful ballads ‘Always’ and ‘If You Could See Me Now’ are also impeccably sung. The title track is a downbeat ballad about coping with a breakup, and is quite good, though not very country.

‘There’s No Future In The Past’, written by Chick Rains, is a very strong ballad about starting to move on, which I liked a lot despite the early 80s string arrangement. The closing ‘Midnight Words’ is fairly forgettable.

While this is not the more traditional side of country with heavy use of strings and electronic keyboards, it is a good example of its kind with some decent song choices, and Janie was starting to find her own voice.

Grade: B