My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Retro Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B+

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Single Reviews: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Nobody Falls Like A Fool’ and ‘Once In A Blue Moon’

By 1985 Earl Thomas Conley was one of the most consistent hitmakers in country music, with every single topping the charts. It was time for a Greatest Hits compilation. As well as eight of ETC’s hits, the set included two new songs, which were released as singles. The new songs were well chosen, as both reached #1.

‘Nobody Falls Like A Fool’, written by Peter McCann and Mark Wright. Slightly tinny keyboards typical of the period have dated, but ETC’s smoky vocal, at once vulnerable and optimistic, really sells the song. The protagonist and his new love interest have both been burned by love before, but the former at least is an undying romantic who believes this time it will work out:

After so many dreams have fallen through
It’s time that one came true

Nobody falls like a fool
Nobody loves like a believer

And I’m fallin’
‘Cause I believe in you

I know you’re afraid
Of the words that we’ve spoken
There’s been so many promises made
And so many broken
Oh but please don’t hold back
I’ve already opened the door
And this time I’m hoping for more
You’re making it easy

‘Once In A Blue Moon’ was written by Robert Byrne and Tom Brasfield. The beautiful melody and hushed vocal are allied to a tender lyric about a woman’s love for an unworthy but grateful man:

She’s starving for affection
So hungry for love’s touch
But she only hears “I love you”
When we’re making love
Lord, I’ll always wonder
Why she loves me so much
And the best I’ll ever do won’t be enough
So I’ll just thank my lucky stars above

But once in a blue moon
I’ll do something right
And once in a blue moon
I’ll make her feel so fine
‘Cause I can make her laugh
Oh, and make her cry
She hates the way she loves me sometimes

Again, the production is dated but it doesn’t intrude too badly, and the song and vocals are great.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Treading Water’

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

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

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

Y

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B- 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Blue Pearl’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lane Turner – Stardom Unfulfilled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You shamed me till I feel about one inch tall

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

So I gritted my teeth and didn’t complain

 

Now you come to me with a simple goodbye

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

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

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

 

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

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

Watching you take the respect out of me

Watching you make a total wreck out of me

That big diesel motor is a-playing my song

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

 

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

That load on my mind got lighter when you got on

That shiny old bus is a beautiful sight

With the black smoke a-rolling up around the taillight

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

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

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

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

Yesterday when I was young

The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue

I teased at life as if it were a foolish game

The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame

 

The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned

I always built, alas, on weak and shifting sand

I lived by night and shunned the naked light of day

And only now I see how the years ran away

Yesterday when I was young

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

They’re goin’ through a music revolution

The hippies say they’ll overcome us all

While they’re blowin’ smoke and air pollution

We’re hangin’ in with help from Geritol.

 

They’re rounding up the squares in California

They’re picking off our heroes in New York

But they’ll never take away our champagne music

As long as Lawrence Welk can pop his cork

 

And they still do the polka in Milwaukee

Still, do the waltz in Tennessee

Still pickin’ bluegrass in Kentucky

With old-fashioned country harmony

So give me some beer drinkin’ music

And play that double eagle march for me

For they still do the polka in Milwaukee

So let me hear that one ah two ah three

 

The big wheels at the network started spinnin’

The verdict was that Hee Haw had to go

Cause city slickers don’t believe in grinnin’

And who the hell needs jokes in Kokomo

 

So they canceled all the singin’ and the pickin’

But the stubborn little donkey wouldn’t leave

And that little fella’s still alive and kickin’

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

 

And they still do the polka in Milwaukee

Still, do the waltz in Tennessee

Still pickin’ bluegrass in Kentucky

With old-fashioned country harmony

So give me some beer drinkin’ music

And let me hear that one or two or three

While we swing to that good old country music

For Hee Haw is good enough for me

Yes, Hee Haw is good enough for me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classic Album Review: Wanda Jackson ‘Salutes The Country Music Hall Of Fame’

Released in 1966 by Capitol Records (my copy is a British pressing on Capitol / EMI), Wanda’s album may be the first album to expressly salute the recently established Country Music Hall of Fame. At the time the album was recorded only six persons had been inducted into the County Music Hall of Fame:

1961 – Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose
1962 – Roy Acuff
1964 – Tex Ritter
1965 – Ernest Tubb

Of the six above, Fred Rose was a publisher & songwriter but not a performer. The other five would today be described as very traditional performers, so this album gave Wanda, more commonly regarded as a rockabilly or rock ‘n roll performer (she is in both the Rockabilly and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) a chance to display her credentials as a country performer. Reaching #12 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, this album would prove to be Wanda’s second highest charting album.

While no singles were released from this album, I frequently heard tracks from the album played on the various county stations around the southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina. This at a time that when Billboard did not chart album tracks.

Produced by Ken Nelson, no musician credits are given but I suspect that members of Buck Owen’s Buckaroos and Merle Haggard’s Strangers are in the mix somewhere.

The album opens up with the Hank Williams classic “Jambalaya” taken at mid-tempo. The song has a standard 1960s country arrangement with steel guitar and piano feature in the arrangement and the lyrics clearly enunciated.

Next up is one of my favorite Ernest Tubb songs “Try Me One More Time”. This was Ernest’s first chart entry when Billboard started its County Charts in 1944. The song was a crossover pop hit. This song is taken at a medium slow tempo that could be described as plodding, but which fits the song perfectly.

Yes I know I’ve been untrue
And I have hurt you through and through
Please have a mercy on this heart of mine
Take me back and try me one more time

If my darling you could see
Just what your leaving done to me
You’d know that love is still a tie that binds
And take me back and try me one more time

In my dreams I see your face
But it seems there’s someone in my place
Oh does she know you were once just mine
Take me back and try me one more time

“There’s A New Moon Over My Shoulder” was a huge hit for cowboy actor Tex Ritter in 1944. Again, this is a slow ballad.

Wanda enters another dimension with her cover of the 1929 Jimmie Rodgers tune “Blue Yodel #6” with its bluesy arrangement (nearly acoustic) and, of course, Jimmie Rodgers style blue yodel

He left me this morning, midnight was turning day
He left me this morning, midnight was turning day
I didn’t have no blues till my good man went away

Got the blues like midnight, moon shining bright as day
Got the blues like midnight, moon shining bright as day
I wish a tornado would come and blow my blues away

Now one of these mornings, I’m gonna leave this town
Yeah one of these mornings, I’m gonna leave this town
‘Cause you trifling men really keep a good gal down

When a woman’s down, you men don’t want her round
When a woman’s down, you men don’t want her round
But if she’s got money, she’s the sweetest gal in town

“Fireball Mail” was a beloved and oft-covered Roy Acuff song with writer credits to Floyd Jenkins, an alias of Fred Rose. This song is taken at a medium fast tempo with modern 1960s instrumentation (no dobro, fiddle or banjo).

Here she comes, look at her roll, there she goes eatin’ that coal
Watch her fly huggin’ the rails, let her by by by the fireball mail
Let her go look at her steam, hear her blow, whistle and scream
Like a hound waggin’ his tail Dallas bound bound bound, the fireball mail

Engineer makin’ up time, tracks are clear, look at her climb
See that freight clearin’ the rail, bet she’s late late late, the fireball mail
Watch her swerve, look at her sway, get that curve out of the way
Watch her fly, look at her sail, let her by by by the fireball mail
Let her by by by the fireball mail, let her by by by the fireball mail

Side one of the album closes out with another Ernest Tubb classic “Let’s Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello”, a 1948 hit for the redoubtable Tubb. The arrangement on this track plays direct tribute to Tubb retaining the three note guitar signature featured on nearly all of Ernest’s recordings. The song is taken at a medium slow tempo.

Side two opens up with “Jealous Heart” a 1944 ballad for Tex Ritter that reached #2 and was a top twenty pop hit. Wanda takes the song at a slightly faster tempo than did Tex (she also lacks Tex’s drawl).

Jealous heart, oh jealous heart, stop beating, can’t you see the damage you have done
You have driven him away forever jealous heart, now I’m the lonely one
I was part of everything he planned for and I know he loved me from the start
Now he hates the sight of all I stand for all because of you, oh jealous heart

Jealous heart, why did I let you rule me when I knew the end would bring me pain
Now he’s gone, he’s gone and found another, oh I’ll never see my love again
Through the years his memory will haunt me even though we’re many miles apart
It’s so hard to know he’ll never want me cause he heard your beating, jealous heart

Next up is “Great Speckled Bird”, a Roy Acuff classic from the 1930s. One of the all-time favorite religious songs of country audiences Wanda does a creditable job with the song but Roy Acuff she’s not.

“The Soldier’s Last Letter” was a huge Ernest Tubb hit from 1944 reaching #1 for four weeks. According to Billboard this was Ernest’s biggest chart hit (there were no country charts in 1941 when “I’m Walking The Floor Over You” was released, as one that was a big pop hit and sold (according to various sources) over a million copies. Merle Haggard would revive the song as a single taking it to #1 on Record World in 1971.

I think everyone has heard “The Wabash Cannonball” a song credited to A.P. Carter and popularized by Roy Acuff. Taken at a medium-fast tempo, and using a standard arrangement Wanda does a nice job with the song.

The final track is my favorite on the album, Jimmie Rodgers’ “Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues”, one of Jimmie’s lesser known songs. Wanda opens the song with a rolling yodel and gets to demonstrate her yodeling skills on this song.

I’m always blue, feeling so blue, I wish I had someone I knew
Just to help me tuck away my blues, lonesome blues
Won’t you be that someone to help me lose the blues
I really need someone to love me, someone to kiss
Someone to scold me, someone to miss
Won’t you be that someone to help me lose the blues
I really need someone to love me.

None of these songs are taken at a really fast tempo, so the entire album gives Wanda to demonstrate her skill as a balladeer. This is my favorite Wanda Jackson album and I’m grateful that I got to see her on several Capitol package programs where she focused on country songs and stayed away from the rockabilly stuff.

I am not sure why Wanda’s career as a country artist never really caught fire – she had a good clear voice with character and personality, she could yodel and she could tackle anything. I think she took off some years in mid-career to raise a family, and perhaps she never got the push from Capital that she deserved. Regardless, she was a fine singer – I’d give this album an “A”.

Album Review: Chalee Tennison – ‘Parading In The Rain’

Chalee’s tenure with Asylum having come to an end, another label decided to give her a chance, and she moved to James Stroud’s Dreamworks. Artistically, it resulted in her finest work, largely inspired by her own most recent divorce; but commercially it was a disaster.

The lead single, ‘Lonesome Road’, was the only single to chart, and t peaked at #54. Written by Bryan Simpson, Ashley Gorley and Melissa Peirce, it has a Celtic country-rock feel, and is an energetically delivered song about surviving against the odds.

Chalee didn’t write her next single, Phillip and Amber Leigh White did, but it feels like a very personal one. ‘Easy Lovin’ You’ is a tender ballad addressed to her daughter, recalling the difficulties and sacrifices of teenage motherhood, and the rewards:

The best thing that I ever did
At the time was my worst mistake
17 and just a kid
I was 17 when I threw my childhood away
For a hazel eyed quarterback

Senior year and 8 months pregnant
I never felt so fat
Wishin’ I could go to prom
But they don’t make dresses for girls like that…

Looking back it was hard lovin’ me
But it’s easy lovin’ you

Chalee’s eldest daughter Tiffany provides harmony vocals on this deeply moving track, which regrettably failed to chart.

The last attempt at a single was the album’s title track, written by Kris Bergsnes and Bobby Pinson. It is an upbeat tune with an optimistic lyric about positivity and making the most of a situation. The lyric is a bit bland, but Chalee’s delivery is infectious on a song I could imagine as a hit for an artist like Jo Dee Messina.

Chalee co-wrote three songs on the record. ‘I Am Love’ (written with Kendall Marvel and Phil O’Donnell) is quite good. ‘Believe’, written with Kelly Garrett, is pleasant and optimistic, if a little clichéd and rather poppy. By far the best of Chalee’s songs is ‘The Mind Of This Woman’, a co-write with Dean Dillon. This is an excellent closely observed depiction of a woman stuck in an unsatisfactory life.

‘I Am Pretty’, written by Buffy Lawson and Eric Pittarelli, is a sensitive story song about a woman rediscovering her dignity and making the decision to leave an abusive husband. It is one of the strongest tracks on the record.

‘Cheater’s Road’, written by Jason Sellers and Sharon Rice, is another story song, about a rich man’s neglected wife finding passion in an extra-marital affair:

She’d rather have him than an empty bed and her self-respect

‘Me And Mexico’, written by Mark Narmore and Liz Rose, is an up-tempo song about adapting well to a breakup by going on vacation. ‘More To This Than That’, written by Gary Burr and Carolyn Dawn Johnson, is a fine ballad about the a couple dividing up their possessions as they split. The record closes with Leslie Satcher’s ‘Peace’, a thoughtful song about people in desperate need of God.

This album is definitely on the contemporary side of modern country, but it is very well performed. It’s a shame it did not do better, as it seems to have had commercial potential.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Chalee Tennison – ‘This Woman’s Heart’

Chalee Tennison released her second album, This Woman’s Heart in October 2000. Her second and final record for Asylum, it was produced by Jerry Taylor, the man who helped her score her record deal.

The album produced two low-charting singles. “Makin’ Up With You” is a rocker, with a slightly controversial chorus:

Slam the door if you want to

Throw the telephone across the room

Kick everything up against the wall

Let’s make ourselves some room

Yeah, let’s fight it out baby

‘Cause I love making up with you

The song peaked at #56. It was followed by “Go Back,” a very strong story song typical of the era. Despite the ballad lacking bite, it matched her highest peak, #36.

Tennison had a hand in writing seven of the album’s songs. “Yes I Was” is an upbeat rocker about being a fool in love. The self-explanatory “Somebody Save Me” is a nice ballad I rather enjoyed. The title track is an excellent power ballad that would’ve worked well as a single. “Break It Even” also would’ve worked at radio, it’s an uptempo and very engaging rocker.

“We Don’t Have To Pray,” about a single mother dealing with the end of a relationship, is another truly excellent meaty ballad. “You Can’t Say That” continues the trend of wonderful ballads from the album. Her final co-written song, “I’m Healing” was written with Dean Dillon. It’s brimming with traditional ache, from a woman is slowly getting over the man who left her.

“What I Tell Myself” is a typical turn-of-the-century rocker, albeit one that’s perfectly executed. “I Ain’t,” has some promise but the rocker lacks finesse and a quality lyric to hold it together. “Under Your Skin” is more of the same.

Although it’s far from perfect, This Woman’s Heart excels wonderfully in places. Her songs are surprisingly above average to excellent and her voice brings to mind echoes of Reba, Linda Davis, and twangy Faith Hill. I liked this one a lot.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Chalee Tennison – ‘Chalee Tennison’

Texas born Chalee Tennison was 29 years old by the time she signed her first record deal with Asylum Records in 1999, and she had plenty of life experiences to draw on. She had three failed marriages behind her, having first married at the age of 16, and was a single mother of three. Work experience included construction and prison guard. A penchant for emotional songs rooted in real life was allied to a smoky alto voice. Chalee’s debut album was produced by Jerry Taylor, who had discovered her.

Her debut single was cowritten by Chalee herself (her only writing credit on the record) with Jim Robinson. ‘Someone Else’s Turn To Cry’ was inspired by the recent breakup of her third marriage, and is a beautifully sung subdued ballad with a tasteful string arrangement, about regaining her self confidence. It peaked at #46.

The more generic modern country ‘Handful Of Water’ was less successful, faltering in the 60s. It was written by Allison Mellon, Jason Sellers and Austin Cunningham. The third single at last brought a top 40 country hit, with ‘Just Because She Lives There’ reaching #36. Written by Dale Dodson and Billy Lawson, it is one of the more traditional leaning cuts, and a fine ballad detailing the life of a woman whose marriage feels empty:

If she turns to another
She knows she’ll have to answer to the Lord
She wonders where the romance went
Why the man she fell in love with
Finds her so easy to ignore
Just because she lives there
Don’t mean she loves there anymore

One possible missed opportunity might be the failure to pick ‘A Stolen Car’ as a single. Written by Sam Hogin, Phil Barnhart and Bill LaBounty, it is a catchy if slightly too busily produced rocker with Chalee expressing just how much she loves her man and is committed to their relationship:

I’d rather drive across Texas in a stolen car
With the Rangers on my tail and no head start
I’d rather draw my last breath with a bullet in my heart
Than ever drive away from you

But Chalee’s greatest strength lies in the emotional ballads. ‘I Can Feel You Drifting’ is a lovely wistful song about a relationship gradually falling apart, with a pretty piano and strings backing. ‘There’s A War In Me’ is also a strong song about a troubled relationship, but this time the wife is the one more likely to leave. In ‘I’d Rather Miss You’, which has some nice fiddle, she doesn’t want to move on.

The reminder of the material is fairly generic, but not bad. ‘I Let Him Get Away with It’ is a decent mid-tempo song about accepting a loved one still carries a flame for his ex. The similar sounding ‘Leave It At That’ is just okay. ‘It Ain’t So Easy’ is a pretty good song addressed to Chalee’s ex. ‘Sometime’, written by Ed Bruce and his wife Robin Lee, is quite a good up-tempo tune.

This is generally on the more contemporary side, but so well done that it is worth checking out – think Trisha Yearwood, and if you like her music this is potentially for you.

Grade: B

Album Review: Julie Reeves – ‘It’s About Time’

Julie Reeves moved to Nashville in 1994, where she got jobs doing studio work and singing demos. She then found herself the guest vocalist on Bill Engvall’s “Should’ve Shut Up” and a recording artist for Virgin Records, where she released her lone studio record, It’s About Time in 1999.

The album, produced by Scott Hendricks, was a commercial flop, petering out at #70. It opens with it’s second single, “Trouble Is A Woman,” which peaked at #39. The song is an excellent  and instantly memorable honky-tonk rocker with a killer hook, ‘trouble is a woman with a man on her mind.’

I remember well when Melinda Doolittle chose the song for her country week performance on American Idol in 2007. Martina McBride was serving as the onguest mentor and freely admitted she had never heard of the song before. It was a surprising omission, especially coming from someone quite active in the industry at end of the century. Doolittle, I’m happy to report, did “Trouble Is A Woman” justice.

The album rolls on with “Do You Think About Me,” an infectious fiddle-drenched rocker in which Reeves plays a woman wondering if her ex has held onto any memories from their relationship. The track is very good, although the gospel-y backing vocals on the chorus are out of character, distracting and completely unnecessary.

“Party Down” (whatever that phrase even means) somewhat continues the woman’s liberation theme that had been brewing in mainstream country for the better half of a decade. She’s done with her ex, even helping throw him to the curb, and describing all the activities she’ll partake in without him — celebrate, paint the town, stay up late, etc. The track is silly and immature, but yet I don’t take issue with the lyrical content since it comes off so inoffensive.

“What I Need,” is the album’s third and highest charting single, reaching #38. It’s the album’s first ballad, which Reeves handles sensationally. She’s waiting for her man to know without any doubt she’s the one for him, with a vibrato that recalls Faith Hill circa 1995-1997.

“All or Nothing” sounds great, recalling Brooks & Dunn’s work with Don Cook, but the song itself is forgettable lightweight filler. “You Were A Mountain,” a steel-soaked ballad, isn’t any better and is also best forgotten.

Reeves’ debut single, the title track, comes next. “It’s About Time” is very weak lyrically, with little substance to hold it together. The song peaked at #51, a bit higher than I feel it deserved to in all honesty.

“If I’d Never Loved You” finds the album getting back on track with a ballad about a woman whose memories of her time with her ex are getting in the way of her new relationship. She just wishes she wasn’t comparing him to the one who came before him.

She’s seeing the forest through the trees on “Whatever,” an uptempo fiddle drenched rocker. The lyric could’ve been much stronger, but the well-worn premise is executed pretty well.

“He Keeps Me In One Piece” is the Dave Loggins song originally recorded by Gary Morris. It’s easily the most well-written song on the album thus far and Reeves handles it well. “What You Get Is What You See” isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either.

The album’s final track, “If Heartaches Had Wings” is probably best known from Rhonda Vincent’s recording from One Step Ahead in 2003. Reeves’ version is great and an example of how she handles songs with a bit more meat and thought to the lyric.

It’s About Time is clearly a commercial country album. Reeves feels almost like a puppet, being handed songs designed to turn her into a major recording star. The songs here are dressed and mixed beautifully, but there is a good share of clunkers throughout. It’s evident there wasn’t much care in finding truly great enduring songs, just ones that could potentially get her on the radio.

Although this is her only album to date, Reeves remains active within the industry. She married and had a daughter with Cledus T. Judd in 2004. They later divorced and she married bluegrass musician Chris Davis, with whom she has a son born in 2011.

Most interestingly, Reeves began a career in radio in 2013. She began with a stint hosting Julie Reeves Live, the morning show on 93.7 The DAWG in the Huntington, West Virginia / Ashland, Kentucky market. She currently handles the station’s overnights with her latest show, Up Late With Julie Reeves, which runs Monday-Saturday from Midnight-5am local time.

Grade: B

Album Review: Mandy Barnett – ‘I’ve Got A Right To Cry’

Mandy Barnett’s sophomore album, I’ve Got A Right To Cry, released in 1999, is the stuff of country legend. Her producer for the project was the iconic Owen Bradley, who Barnett had chosen to bath the project with his classic touches. Just four songs into the recording process, Bradley died suddenly and very unexpectedly at age 82.

As the story goes, Barnett didn’t know what to do, or how she could even go on to finish the album. Fortunately, Bradley’s equally iconic brother Harold stepped in and the album became a tribute of sorts to Owen’s indelible mark on country music during the 1960s. Remarkably, the album didn’t change much at all after Owen’s passing. He had already provided notes on the songs they were to record together, which Harold used when producing the remaining tracks.

The album itself failed to chart and didn’t launch any charting singles. None of this is surprising – there was little to no appeal in mainstream Nashville for the old classic sound of country music in 1999. The songs are mostly classics, taken from that golden era of country music Barnett loves so much.

The title track, a wonderful soaring torch ballad, comes courtesy of Joe Liggins, an R&B pianist during the late 1940s and early 1950s. It’s followed by Don Gibson’s 1958 top 5 hit “Give Myself A Party,” a steel-drenched ballad with a nice tempo.

The engaging ballad “Trademark” comes from the pen of Porter Wagoner. “Funny, Familiar, Forgotten Feelings” is Barnett’s fine take on the Mickey Newbury classic that found a home with the likes of Gibson, Tom Jones, and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Two of the album’s songs have ties to Patti Page. “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming,” which she originally recorded in 1949, is exquisite. “Evertrue, Evermore” is of just as high a quality.

“I’m Gonna Change Everything” was a #2 hit for Jim Reeves two years prior to his death in 1962. Barnett’s take on the song is excellent. “Don’t Forget to Cry” is the Boudleaux and Felice Bryant song made famous by The Everly Brothers. Barnett turns in a truly wonderful performance.

“Who (Who Will It Be)” is a newly recorded jazzy number that Barnett treats beautifully. “The Whispering Wind (Blows On By)” is one of the album’s strongest tracks. “Mistakes” is another lovely torch ballad.

I highly recommend seeking this one out if you haven’t heard it or need to hear it again after all these years.

Grade: A

Album Review: Bobbie Cryner – Girl Of Your Dreams’

After the failure of her first album to make any waves, Bobbie left Epic. She was fortunate enough, however, to be picked up by Epic. Her second album, released in 1996 and produced by new label head Tony Brown, was a little more contemporary in sound than her debut, and thematically was influenced significantly by her recent divorce.

Regrettably, that did not make her any more successful with country radio. The lead single was ‘I Just Can’t Stand To Be Unhappy’, a moderately up-tempo kissoff song written by Hugh Prestwood and previously cut by Baillie And The Boys. The protagonist takes no nonsense from an unsatisfactory man:

You made this bed, you can lie in it
But you can do it without me

Love ain’t worth a wooden nickel
If you haven’t got the trust
The brightest fire burns to ashes and the sweet dreams bite the dust

Ain’t no point in being sorry
Ain’t no use in being nice
‘Cause I ain’t gonna hang around and let your lightning strike me twice

It is a pretty good song, and well performed, but perhaps not distinctive enough to be a hit. It peaked at #63.

The self-penned ‘You’d Think He’d Know Me Better’ would prove to be Bobbie’s closest to a hit, reaching #56. A cover by Lorrie Morgan was also a flop. It is a subtle song with complicated emotional layers as the protagonist fools herself into thinking she is in the right about her crumbling marriage.

One final single, ‘I Didn’t Know My Own Strength’, was written by Bobbie with Kent Blazy and Sonny LeMaire. A contemporary ballad musing on coming to terms with a new life alone, it is a strong song with an empowering message.

She wrote a further three songs, all melancholy ballads about the end of her marriage, and all excellent songs. ‘Nobody Leaves’, which she wrote with David Stephenson, agonises about the dying days of the relationship. ‘The Girl Of Your Dreams’ looks back poignantly at the blissful early days of their love. ‘Vision Of Loneliness’ is about trying to hide her unhappiness by partying with friends.

‘Oh To Be The One’, written by Randy VanWarmer and Roger Murrah, is a wistful song about unrequited love, with a pretty melody. ‘Just Say So’ (by John Scott Sherrill and Cathy Majeski) is a seductive invitation to a loved one who may be wanting to leave. This is a lovely song with a sad undertone reflecting the mood of the album as a whole.

A couple of more uptempo covers are thrown in. A sultry and soulful ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ is performed very well but feels a little out of place, with Bobbie channelling her namesake Bobbie Gentry. Bobbie’s version of Dottie West’s 1980 chart topping ‘A Lesson In Leaving’ may have acted as template for Jo Dee Messina’s 1999 hit.

I don’t love this album as much as Bobbie’s debut, but it still an excellent album which I recommend.

Grade: A

Album Review: Bobbie Cryner – ‘Bobbie Cryner’

The early 1990s saw all the major country labels scrambling to find new talent, and a number of fine artists got lost in the mix. Among them was Bobbie Cryner, a singer songwriter in her early 30s with a velvety voice and a bluesy edge, who was signed to Epic Records in 1993. Sadly, none of her three singles for the label peaked higher than the 60s on Billboard.

Her debut single, the self-written ‘Daddy Laid The Blues On Me’, was perhaps a little too bluesy for the neotraditional sounds in vogue, but it is a great record. The pacy tune, possibly autobiographical, relates the tale of a teenage lover turned walkaway father and the effects on his child:

Way back in their younger days, when they were running wild,
My Daddy had a dream, and Mama had a child
He said: “Girl you can’t be tying me down, I’m only
seventeen
And a man’s gotta get around, if you know what I
mean.”
Then my Mama said: “Go on” as she stood and cried
And my Daddy said:”I’m gone, I gotta live my life”

And I was born one summer night,
When the world loved Patsy Cline.
I was raised by the tracks
In a tar-paper shack
On the Georgia Alabama line
Mama taught me how to play and sing
And we headed up to Tennessee
Mama sold my soul on country, rock and roll
But Daddy laid the blues on me.

Well I signed that dotted line
I climbed my way to being a star
When I ran across my Daddy in a downtown Tallahassee bar
He said “Girl there ain’t no life on the road
You’d better come with me.”
I said “Dad, I gotta get around if you know what I
mean”
Well my Daddy said “Come on” with a tear in his eye
I said: “Sorry Daddy, I’m gone
I gotta live my life”

Some great piano and harmonica backs Bobbie’s strong vocals.

The follow up, ‘He Feels Guilty’ is a sultry mid-paced ballad written by Verlon Thompson and Tommy Polk about a relationship growing cold, and foundering under suspicion of infidelity.
The last single, my favorite of the three, is ‘You Could Steal Me’, an exquisitely beautiful ballad which Bobbie wrote with Jesse Hunter. A subtle cello backs Bobbie’s unhappy trophy wife longing for love.

She cowrote ‘I’m Through Waitin’ On You’ with Tim Nichols and Zack Turner, in which her character displays more agency and attitude telling an unsatisfactory spouse he needs to do his share:

We both work hard bringin’ home the bacon
You want me to cook it whileyou sit there waitin’
Well, those days are over
Round here things are gonna change
I still love you but I didn’t take you to raise

I’ve waited tables till I ain’t able
I’ve taken orders till I’ve turned blue
From now on baby
You can make your own gravy
Cause I’m through waitin’ on you

Give you an inch and you think you’re a ruler
My feet are hurtin’ and I won’t stand for what you’re doing

The other songs written by Bobbie are solo compositions. My favorite is the devastating ballad ‘I Think It’s Over Now’, in which she gently but firmly calls the bluff of the man who is juggling two loves:

You don’t have you say you love me
If you think there’s any doubt
But if you have to think it over
Well, I think it’s over now

Also excellent is the downbeat ‘Leavin’ Houston Blues’, a closely observed about a woman packing up her things and planning on leaving town post-divorce, with some lovely fiddle. A simple acoustic guitar leads into ‘This Heart Speaks For Itself’, a gently delivered ballad about heartbreak which betrays itself.

‘Too Many Tears Too Late’, written by Carl Jackson and Jim Weatherly, is a lovely sad country ballad in which the man who broke her heart is back again, but

There’s no way we can turn back time
I don’t want to hear you say how much you love me
Now that I’ve cried all my love for you away

Here is some gorgeous fiddle and steel on this.

Another outstanding traditional country ballad is ‘The One I Love The Most’, an agonised cheating song written by Gene Dobbins, Michael Huffman and Bob Morrison. The protagonist is torn between loyalty and passion, and we are left to wonder what her final choice will be:

There’s a letter in my pocket I don’t know where to send
Telling someone that I love I won’t be back again
But who will I address it to
Who’ll read these lines I wrote?
The one I’ve loved the longest
Or the one I love the most?

One has stood beside me in the good times and the bad
One has brought out feelings I never knew I had

One’s a burning ember, the other’s fire and smoke
One I’ve loved the longest and the one I love the most

You can’t stand at a crossroads
You’ve got to move along
I know either way I turn I’ll do someone wrong
So who do I hold on to and who do I let go?
The one I’ve loved the longest or the one I love the most?

Dwight Yoakam duets with Bobbie on a wonderfully authentic Bakersfield style cover of the Buck Owens classic ‘I Don’t Care’.

Beautiful vocals, excellent songwriting and tasteful production combine to make this a favorite album of mine, which I have loved for years. It is available on iTunes, and I highly recommend it.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Ronna Reeves – ‘The More I Learn’

Ronna’s second album for Mercury was released in 1992. It was slightly more successful in gaining radio play, although there were still no bona fide hits.

The mid-paced title track, ‘The More I Learn (The Less I Understand About Love)’, was written by one of the most successful female songwriters of the era, Karen Staley, with Steve Dean, and it is radio friendly enough to have been a potential hit. Its #49 peak would make it the closest ever Ronna ever got to the charts.

Follow-up ‘What If You’re Wrong’, written by Austin Cunningham and Denise Davis, is a big ballad in which Ronna offers to set her a restless husband free:

If you think the magic is gone
I agree, maybe you should move on
If you’re sure that your love for me has really died
If there’s something still missing for you
Then there’s nothing more I’ll know to do
So I’ll have to go along with whatever you decide

But what if you’re wrong?

Some nice steel augments the song effectively. It peaked at a dismal #70, one place higher than the third and last single, the pacy ‘We Can Hold Our Own’, which is pleasant if unremarkable.

My favorite track is ‘Nobody Here To Love’, an excellent Bob Mc Dill ballad about the loss of love. There is a gentle Celtic feel to the fiddle arrangement on the verses behind Ronna’s vulnerable vocals, which then soar on the chorus:

I was living all alone
And though I had a heart of stone
You touched my hand and melted me
And I believed

It was you that made me see
What love could be
But I walked in today and no one was there
Now nothing matters after all

Funny how things work out
Can’t believe somehow
You could leave me now
Tell me, what were you thinkin’ of
‘Cause now that you taught me how
There’s nobody here to love

Another solid McDill tune, ‘Honky Tonk Hearts’, had been a minor hit for Dickey Lee in 1980, and was also recorded by John Anderson. Ronna’s version is pretty good. ‘I’ll Be Faithful To You’ is a sweet love song (written by Paul Kennerley) offering a second chance to someone who has been hurt by another. It was previously recorded by Don Williams. I also quite enjoyed the up-tempo ‘Heartbreak Shoes’.

‘Frontier Justice’, written by Bobby Fischer, Charlie Black and Austin Roberts, is a dramatic number in which Ronna seethes about being done wrong and lied to:

‘Cause you can’t hang ’em high
You can’t lay ’em low
The way you could a hundred years ago
When love and honor were the law of the land
If frontier justice prevailed today
My daddy and brothers would make you pay
That’s the kind of justice you’d understand

Ronna’s attitude is directed triumphantly at her lover’s ex in the upbeat ‘Bless Your Cheatin’ Heart’, an entertaining song written by Buddy Cannon and Jessica Boucher:

You know, it’s almost funny to see you standing there in tears
I just wanna thank you dear, because he no longer cares about you

You had everything you didn’t want but then somehow
He started looking good to you the minute he fell in my arms
And I’m obliged to you
And bless your cheatin’ heart

Sammy Kershaw duets with Ronna on ‘There’s Love On The Line’. Their voices work well together on this song (written by Jerry Fuller) about a separated couple laying phone tag as they try to make a connection again.

There was a lot of strong material on this album, and it’s one I enjoyed listening to.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Ronna Reeves – ‘Only The Heart’

Big Spring, Texas native Ronna Reeves released her debut album on PolyGram/Mercury Records in 1991. Only The Heart was a commercial dud, with the album and all four of its singles failing to chart.

Reeves’ debut single, the excellent steel laced chugger “Sadly Mistaken” was co-written by Byron Gallimore. The would-be power ballad “The Letter,” which followed, wasn’t very good or well-written.

The third single, “That’s More About Love (Than I Wanted To Know)” came with pedigree — Dickey Lee and Bob McDill co-wrote the mid-tempo ballad, which was originally released as a low-charting single by Nicolette Larson in 1986. Reeves’ version is good but hasn’t aged well through the years.

“Ain’t No Future In The Past,” a nice up-tempo rocker, ending the label’s promotional run with this album. The title track, a wonderful ballad, was written solely by Karen Staley.

In addition to the Lee/McDill co-write, Only The Heart had one more notable moment. Reeves covered country legend Ernie Ashworth’s classic “Talk Back Trembling Lips.” Her version is spellbindingly good and easily one of the best songs on the albums.

“I Could Be Loving You” is a well-executed and engaging uptempo rocker. “Sayin’ You’re Wrong Don’t Make It Right” is a wonderful example of 1990s country at its best. “If I Were You” features an almost identical story to Terri Clark’s classic of the same name, which would appear four years later. Clark’s take on the theme is better and far more polished. “Same Old Story” is an excellent Tony Arata ballad.

Only The Heart is a mixed bag with some truly great songs, some that are just okay, and not enough to make me excited to see where Reeves will head as an artist. I can see why it failed. The album just isn’t distinctive enough to stand out from the pack. She’s a great singer in search of better material.

Grade B+