My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Retro Reviews

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘I Got A Date’

What was to prove to be the girls’ final secular album was released in 1992.

‘What’ll You Do About Me’ is a vivacious up-tempo song written by Denis Linde. It had been recorded by a number of artists before, most notably Randy Travis on his best selling Always And Forever album, and as an early single for Steve Earle, but had not been a hit when the Forester Sisters tried it as the lead single for this album. Their version is entertaining but feels a little lightweight, and it was largely ignored by country radio. The song was revived a few years later to become a hit at last for Doug Supernaw, who got it to #16.

The title track was the only other single, although again it had limited success. Written by Dave Allen and Tim Bays, it is a rather contemporary jazzy pop tune with little to do with country music, but one with a lot of individuality as the newly single protagonist embarks on dating again. I could imagine this song doing well if someone like Shania Twain had recorded it a few years later. While not to my taste musically, it is well performed and the lyric is nicely observed.

Another up-tempo track with radio potential was ‘Show Me A Woman’, written by the legendary ‘Doodle’ Owens and Doug Johnson. It was later covered by Joe Diffie. The Foresters’ version is rattled out very fast:

Show me a woman who left a man
And I’ll show you a man with a drink in his hand
Doing all he can to survive
I’ll show you a man
You better not let drive

‘Redneck Romeo’ (written by Craig Wiseman and Dave Gibson and later covered by Confederate Railroad) is a tongue in cheek portrait of a good old boy looking for love:

He’s got a hundred keys hangin’ off his jeans
He knows they fit somethin’
But he don’t know what
He’s no cheap date
Spend his whole paycheck
Buyin’ drinks and playin’ that jukebox
Out on the floor he ain’t no square
He’s a romancin’ slow dancin’ Fred Astaire

The Caribbean-tinged story song ‘Wanda’ was written by K T Oslin and Rory Michael Bourke, and is about a women getting over a breakup by going on vacation.

As they often did, the girls included an old pop standard, in the shape of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’.

Much more to my taste is ‘Another Shoulder At The Wheel’, a lovely ballad written by Gary Burr and John Jarrard which is the best track on the album. ‘Help Me Get Over You’, written by Lisa Angelle and Walt Aldridge is another ballad, delicately sad. ‘Their Hearts Are Dancing’, written by Tony Haselden, is a sweet story of an elderly couple whose love has endured. ‘She Makes It Look Easy’ is an admiring, empathetic portrait of a single mom’s life.

This is perhaps my least favorite Forester Sisters album personally, but there are some attractive ballad and the rest is undoubtedly fun, and well done for what it is.

Grade: B

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Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘Talkin’ ‘Bout Men’

Talkin’ ‘Bout Men was the Forester Sisters’ eighth studio album for Warner Brothers, although it should be noted that this includes a Christmas album an a religious album. Released in March 1991, Talking About Men momentarily broke the downward slope of the previous four albums, reaching #16 on the charts. Four singles were released from the album, with only the sassy title track receiving much traction at radio, reaching #8 each reaching the top ten but none getting any higher than #7.

The album opens with “A Step In The Right Direction” a spritely mid-tempo number written by Rick Bowles, Robert Byrne and Tom Wopat (yes – that Tom Wopat). This track would have made a good follow up to “Men”. The song had previously been released as a single by Judy Taylor about a decade earlier, but that version barely cracked the charts:

Everybody knows that love’s like a swingin’ door
Comes and goes and we’ve all been there before
But you can’t get none till you’re back out on the floor

Well, that’s a step in the step in the right direction
Everybody knows that practice makes perfection
So, come on, let’s make a step in the right direction

“Too Much Fun” was the second single released and the actual follow up to the title track. It tanked only reaching #64. Written by Robert Byrne and Al Shulman, this is not the same song that Daryle Singletary took to #4 a few years later. This song is also a good-time mid-tempo ballad about a woman enjoying being free of a relationship. I would have expected it to do better as a single, but when as Jerry Reed put it, ‘when you’re hot, you’re hot and when you’re not, you’re not’.

Rick Bowles and Barbara Wyrick teamed up to write “That Makes One of Us”, the third single released from the album. The single did not chart. The song has acoustic instrumentation with a dobro introduction, and is a slow ballad about a relationship that is ending because only one is trying to keep it going. The song sounds like something the McCarter Sisters or The Judds (in their earlier days) might have recorded:

You’ve made up your mind
We don’t want the same thing
And that we won’t change things
Wishing there were ways
And there’s no use staying together
Nothing lasts forever
That’s what you say

And that makes one of us not in love
And that makes one of us who can’t give up
If you can walk away from the life we’ve made
Then that makes one of us

I still believe we’ve got something worth saving
I keep hoping and praying for another chance
You’ve held my heart and your gonna break it
Cause you wanna make it
A part of your past

Byrne and Shulman teamed up to write “Men”, the first single released from the album and the laast top ten single for the group, reaching #8. The song succeeded despite not truly fitting in with the ‘New Traditionalist’ movement that had taken over the genre. “Men” is a smart song that likely would have charted higher had it been released a few years earlier:

They buy you dinner, open your door
Other then that, what are they good for?
Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men
They all want a girl just like the girl
That married dear old dad, they make me so mad

Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men
Well, you can’t beat ’em up ’cause they’re bigger then you
You can’t live with ’em and you just can’t shoot ’em
Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men

They love their toys, they make their noise
Nothing but a bunch of overgrown boys
Men! I’m talking ’bout men
If you give ’em what they want, they never fall in love
Don’t give ’em nothin’, they can’t get enough

Men! I’m talking ’bout men
Well, you can’t beat ’em up ’cause they’re bigger then you
You can’t live with ’em and you just can’t shoot ’em
Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men

“Sombody Else’s Moon”is a nice ballad written by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Kent Robbins. This is not the same song that would be a top five hit for Collin Raye in 1993.

“It’s Getting Around” was written by Sandy Ramos and Bob Regan is an mid-tempo song with dobro leading the way for the acoustic accompaniment. It is a nice track that might have made a decent song. What’s getting around, of course, is goodbye.

Next up is “You Take Me For Granted”, a classic written by Leona Williams while she was married to Merle Haggard. It’s a great song that Haggard took to #1, and that Leona recorded several times over the years. The Forester Sisters have a nice take on the song, but it is not a knock on them to say that they are neither a nuanced as Haggard, nor as soulful as Leona Williams:

My legs and my feet
Have walked ’till they can’t hardly move from tryin’ to please you
And my back is sore
From bendin’ over backwards to just lay the world at your door.
I’ve tried so hard to keep a smile on a sad face while deep down
It’s breakin’ my heart
And as sure as the sun shines I’ll be a lifetime
Not knowin’ if I’ve done my part

‘Cause you take me for granted And it’s breakin’ my heart
As sure as the sunshines I’ll be a lifetime
Not knowin’ if I’ve done my part.

“The Blues Don’t Stand A Chance” is a slow ballad written by Gary Burr and Jack Sundred. The song is about a strong relationship that endures despite separation.

Tim Nichols and Jimmy Stewart combined to write “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled”, the third single released from the album. The song did not chart, and I’m not sure the reggae beat helped matters with country audiences. The lyric could be described as folk-gospel. I like the song but would have not chosen it for single release.

“What About Tonight” closes out the album. Written by John Jarrard and J.D. Martin, the song is a slow ballad that I regard as album filler. The highlight of the song is some nice steel guitar work by Bruce Bouton.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Men would prove to be the last big hurrah for the Forester Sisters. The title track would not only be the last top ten single but would also be the last single to crack the top fifty. Noteworthy musicians on the album include Bruce Bouton on steel and dobro, Rob Hajacos on fiddle, and Guy Higginbotham on saxophone.

I liked the album but it was definitely going against the prevailing trends at the time of its release. My favorite song on the album is “Step In The Right Direction” followed by “Men”. I would give the album a B+.

Album Review: The Forester Sisters — ‘Come Hold Me’

The girls released their seventh album in 1990 amidst an upheaval of change in the commercial country music landscape. Longtime acts from the 1980s were seeing their commercial fortunes diminish as a wave of hot, young, and mostly excellent talent became the focus of music row.

That being said, the lead single was a version of John Hiatt’s “Drive South” as a duet with Bellamy Brothers. While the song itself is excellent, Suzy Bogguss took it to #2 in 1992, it fails as a duet, couldn’t recapture the magic of “Too Much Is Not Enough,” and peaked at #63.

They rebounded creatively with the next single, “Nothing’s Going to Bother Me Tonight,” which is delightful, bluegrass-infused, and wonderfully uptempo. It, too, stalled at #63. One final single “Old Enough To Know,” a beautiful ultimatum, failed to chart.

In terms of the album cuts, I truly can’t praise them enough. The title track, a brilliant torch song led by the sisters’ exquisite harmonies, is spellbinding. “I Struck Gold” and “You’ll Be Mine” are both delightful mid-tempo ballads. “Between My Heart and Me” and “Better Be Some Tears” give the album some pep, Martina McBride subsequently recorded “Born To Give My Love To You,” a slower ballad, in 1995, and “You Can’t Have A Good Time Without Me” is a striking take on Western Swing.

The most notable aspect of Come Hold Me, in addition to its exceptional quality, is how it updates The Forester Sisters’ sound for the new decade. The arrangements, complete with steel, fiddle, and twangy guitars are perfectly early 1990s but still manages to sound fresh to modern ears. I wouldn’t categorize this as a commercial country album, but more in the alternative vein popularized by Kelly Willis.

I very strongly suggest seeking it out if you’re only familiar with the girls’ more popular work from the 1980s.

Grade: A+

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘All I Need’

The Forester Sisters grew up singing in church, and as their career progressed, they wanted to share their faith with their fans. In 1988 they released a side project double album of hymns entitled Family Faith on Heartland Music, and the following year came All I Need on their main label Warner Brothers.

There was even an official single, ‘Love Will’, written by Don Pfrimmer and Byron Gallimore. This is a really sweet idealistic song backed with a string arrangement. It had in fact appeared on their previous album, Sincerely.

Nothing can be everlasting
Or send an Iron Curtain crashing
But love will…

Love will not forsake you on the last day that you live
‘Cause you can take it with you when you go…

I don’t wanna be there if we all wake up too late
Love’s the only weapon that is strong enough for hate

The title track is a mellow ballad which could be read as a secular love song, but in the context of this album is clearly directed at God. It was written by Steve Bogard and Rick Giles.

The bright and airy ‘Still In The Spirit’ was written by John Scott Sherrill and Thomas Cain.

Christian Contemporary songwriter (and later an artist in that genre himself) Chris Rice wrote ‘Already There’, a beautiful tender ballad about heaven.

‘This Old House’ is not the Stuart Hamblen classic but a pleasant mid-paced song about a real home, written by Greg Davis and John Randall Dennis.

‘Peace Within’ is a Christian country standard, written by Dickey Lee, Allen Reynolds and Susan Taylor. The girls had previously released their delightful version of this song on their Family Faith album, together with gospel favorite ‘Precious Memories’ and the uplifting hymn ‘Love Lifted Me’. Also repeated is a gorgeous soulful reading of ‘Amazing Grace’, performed as a duet with Larnelle Harris, a Southern gospel singer with a rich voice.

The album closes with the traditional ‘Motherless Child’, performed as an ethereal accappella tune.

Some of the production is a bit dated now, but it is not unpleasant. The girls are in great voice and this is an excellent religious album with some country elements.

Grade: A-

Abum Review: Forester Sisters – ‘Sincerely’

Sincerely was the Forester Sisters’ fifth studio album for Warner Brothers, although it should be noted that the fourth album was a Christmas album. Released in July 1988, Sincerely continued the downward trend of charting lower than each previous (non Christmas) album, reaching only #30 on the charts. Three singles were released from the album, each reaching the top ten but none getting any higher than #7.

The album opens up with “I’ve Just Seen A Face” which was written by Paul McCartney & John Lennon an album track for the British version of the Beatles Help! album. The song has been covered and performed by many country and bluegrass groups over the years and Calamity Jane released it as a low charting single (#44 in 1982). The Forester Sisters give the song a slow intro but then launch into the standard tempo for the song. It’s nice but nothing special.

Byron Gallimore and Don Pfrimmer wrote the next song, “I Will”, a slow ballad that was released as the third (and highest charting) single from the album, reaching #7. It’s a nice song:

Nothing grows in the driest places,
the bitter cold,
or children’s faces,
like love will,
love will…

Nothing can be everlasting
or send an iron curtain crashing
like love will,
love will…

“Letter Home” is up next and was the first single from the album. It only reached #9 but in my opinion this Wendy Waldman composition was the best song on the album

Dear mama, I hope that you’re alright
I can hear the thunder rollin’
Across the Southern sky tonight
The kids are asleep and the T.V.’s on
And I’m sittin’ here alone
So I thought I’d write this letter home

I was the one you were counting on
The family’s high school star
Jimmy and me ran off that summer
Must have broken your and daddy’s heart
We didn’t need nobody’s help
We were 18 years and grown
That’s why there was no letter home

Letters home I wrote them in my dreams
Askin’ if I know what I know now
Would it even have changed a thing
The hardest part of looking back
Is the mistakes are all your own
I just couldn’t tell you
So there was no letter home

Doug Stone would have a #5 hit in 1990 on Harlan Howard’s “These Lips Just Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye”. The Foresters do a pleasant enough job on the song, but it seems more effective from a male perspective. Stone’s version was deservedly a hit, this version is nothing more than album filler.

Next up is the title track “Sincerely”. This song, written by Harvey Fuqua and Alan Freed, was originally recorded by Moonglows, the group of which Fuqua was a member. The Moonglows’ version reached number 1 on the Billboard R&B chart and number 20 on the Billboard Juke Box chart in the early months of 1954. Later during the year the song was covered by the McGuire Sisters. The song reached #1 in 1955 and sold well over a million records. The Forester Sisters version of “Sincerely” is pretty, albeit over-orchestrated and a bit bland. The song reached #8 and was the second single released from the album.

The next track “Things Will Grow” is filler. “Some People”, written by Carol Chase and Dave Gibson, speaks a lot of truth and is perhaps more than simply filler – I can envision a string voiced singer making a hit out of the song.

Russell Smith and Susan Longacre combined to write “On The Other Side Of The Gate”, a song given a more hard country treatment than most of the songs on the album, with steel in evidence and fiddle breaks. I really liked this song.

“You Love Me” from the pens of Matraca Berg and Ronnie Samoset is a really interesting song with a different feel than anything else on the album. At points the arrangement reminds me of John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind” although the lyrics are entirely dissimilar

The last song on the album is Karen Staley’s “Matter Of Time”, a slow ballad about loss of love and the slow passage of time.

The Forester Sisters were bucking the emerging “New Traditionalist” movement with this album. While I like the album a lot, it has more of a 50s-60s easy listening vibe to it than a modern/traditional country vibe. As a easy listening album I would give it an “A” but as a country album I would downgrade it to a “B”.

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘You Again’

The girls’ third album was released in 1987 following their successful duet with the Bellamy Brothers and subsequent Brothers and Sisters concert tour. Without a strong contender for a follow-up single from their previous album, Warner Brothers went ahead and started issuing singles from this set, which was released in the Spring.

“Too Many Rivers,” written by Harlan Howard was originally recorded and released by Brenda Lee in 1965, where it charted modestly on the country chart but was a major #2 pop hit. The girl’s version, which updates the torch ballad with a modern arrangement peaked at #5 and is quite wonderful.

They would return to #1 with the album’s title track, which was penned by the incomparable Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz. It’s an excellent and perfectly produced ballad about an undoubted love:

Looking in my life

Through the eyes of a young girl growing older all the time,

Maybe just a little wiser

I can clearly see

All my mistakes keep coming back to visit me

Pointing out the roads not taken

So much I’d like to change but one thing I’d do the same

 

I’d choose you again, I’d choose you again

If God gave me the chance to do it all again

Oh, I’d carefully consider every choice and then

Out of all the boys in the world

I’d choose you again

 

Times weren’t always good

Seems like the Lord gave all the easy parts away

But every time the road got rocky

You’d look at me and say

Had all you needed long as I was there with you

You’re the reason I kept going

If I could start my life anew

The first thing that I would do

Their artistic winning streak continued on “Lyin’ In His Arms Again,” the album’s third and final single. The mid-paced ballad, which isn’t quite as strong as “(I’d Choose) You Again,” is still very good and peaked at #5.

The girls open You Again with “That’s What Your Love Does To Me,” a twangy up-tempo number about an irresistible partner. “Before You” is an excellent mid-tempo ballad and one of the more traditional-leaning songs on the album.

One of the record’s highlights is a tender ballad “My Mother’s Eyes,” which follows the captivating tale of a woman raising her kids after their father has abandoned the family. “Sooner or Later” is an uptempo change of pace with a synth-heavy arraignment that dates it to the time period.

They continue in that vein on “Wrap Me Up,” but with less synth and more percussion. “I Can’t Lose What I Never Had” is forgettable while “Down The Road” is a sweet tale of life back home with mom and dad.

I apologize for not having much information about the album so I wasn’t able to identify which sister sang lead on which songs. That being said, You Again is a very pleasant listen with some pretty great tracks.

Grade: B+

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘Perfume, Ribbon & Pearls’

The girls’ second album was released in 1986, recorded at Muscle Shoals with Terry Skinner and J L Wallace producing. It was not quite as successful as their debut, with only one hit single, but it is a strong effort overall.

The sole single, ‘Lonely Alone’, is a nice regretful ballad written by J D Martin and John Jarrard with a pretty melody, featuring Kim Forester on lead vocals and her sisters relegated to the chorus. The production now sounds a bit dated with synthesizer and strings, but it did well at the time, peaking at #2.

Kim also took the lead on three other songs, including ‘Heartache Headed My Way’, the mid-paced song which provides the album’s title. Written by Bob and Barbara Morrison, this should have been a single as it has an intriguing mix of youthful confidence and the willingness to take a few risks rather than mom’s good advice:

Mama get out those shiny black shoes and the dress you cut too low
Get out the perfume and ribbons and pearls and tell this girl what she should know
I’ m tired of wasting my youth and my time
On men going nowhere fast
The ones with neatly combed hair and striped ties
Their future’s as dull as their past

Yes, I’m looking for a hard time of romance and fun
And I’m hoping to find it tonight with someone
I’m looking for trouble and blues on the run
And a heartache’s headed my way
I’ll say
A heartache’s headed my way

I know I’ve got years yet to settle for less
For a home and a dog and a white picket fence
Roast in the oven and clothes on the line
And a life that’s full of good common sense
Forget everything you advised me to do
I need some excitement not a lesson or two
After it’s over I’ll listen to you
Mama please listen to me

‘Somebody’s Breakin’ A Heart’, written by the album’s producers, is well sung by Kim and has an interesting lyric about overhearing a couple breaking up, but the heavy beat of the arrangement makes it sound like filler. The up-tempo ‘Drawn To The Fire’ was written by a pre-fame Pam Tillis and Stan Webb; Pam actually released the song herself as the B-side of several of her Warner Bros singles in 1986-7.

June and Christy got one lead vocal each. June sings ‘Heartless Night’, a fine song by Craig Bickhardt and Michael Brook which was later covered by Baillie & The Boys. Christy takes on the Supremes’ Motown classic ‘Back In My Arms Again’; it is pleasant enough filler although with little country about it.

The sisters’ strongest vocalist, Kathy, took lead on the remaining four tracks, including the best track. ‘That’s Easy For You To Say’ is a beautiful measured ballad written by Bob McDill and Paul Harrison, a gentle reproach to the man breaking her heart:

You say “sit down” and you reach for my hand
You’re trying your best to be kind
You say “it’s goodbye but it’s all for the best
These things just happen sometimes”
You tell me that life will go on
And we’ll both forget before long

Well that’s easy for you to say
With the lonely nights that I’m gonna face
It’s so hard to see it that way
You tell me that we’ll both be okay
That’s easy for you to say

‘Blame It On The Moon’ is quite nice and opener ‘100 % Chance Of Blue’ is okay. The Randy Albright song ‘You Were The One’ is pretty sounding with a pointed message to an ex.

The album as a whole makes for very pleasant listening.

Grade: B+

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘The Forester Sisters’

Not many realize it, but the Forester Sisters were the first all-female group (defined as three or more members) to have sustained success on Billboard’s Country Singles charts. In fact, they are still the female group boasting the most top ten singles with fifteen.

The Forester Sisters’ first foray came with the eponymous album The Forester Sisters, released in August 1985. The album opens up with the first single “(That’s What You Do) When You’re In Love” which made its chart debut on January 28,1985.The song would reach #10, the first in a string of fourteen consecutive top ten county singles, five of which reached #1. The song is a mid-tempo ballad about forgiveness, written by Terry Skinner, Ken Bell and J. L. Wallace.

Well, the door’s unlocked and the lights still on
And the covers turned down on the bed
And you don’t have to say that you’re sorry anymore
‘Cause honey I believe what you said
If there’s anybody perfect, well, I ain’t seem ’em yet
And we all gotta learn to forgive and forget
That’s what you do when you’re in love, in love
That’s what you do when you’re in love

Next up is “I Fell In Love Again Last Night” , a mid-tempo ballad from the pens of Paul Overstreet and Thom Schuyler. This song was the second single off the album and the group’s first #1 record.

I fell in love again last night
You keep doing everything just right
You’ve got me wrapped around your fingers
And every morning the love still lingers
I fell in love again last night

“Just in Case”, written by J.P. Pennington & Sonny LeMaire of Exile, first saw the light of day on Exile’s 1984 Kentucky Hearts album. An up-tempo ballad, The Forester Sisters released it as their third single and saw it sail to #1:

I saw you walkin’ down the street just the other day
Took one little look at me and turned the other way
Can’t say I blame you but I’d like for you to know
How wrong I was to ever let you go

Just in case, you ever change your mind
If you suddenly decide to give me one more try
I’ll be waiting in the wings, just lookin’ for a sign
Just in case you change your mind

“Reckless Night” by Alice Randall & Mark D. Sanders is a slow ballad about a single mother – the baby the result of a reckless night.

“Dixie Man” by Bell, Skinner & Wallace) is an up-tempo tune with an R&B vibe to it. The song might have made a decent single but with four singles on the album, the group had pushed the limits of the time.

Next up is “Mama’s Never Seen Those Eyes” by Skinner & Wallace, the fourth single from the album and third consecutive #1 record. The song is a mid-tempo ballad and the song that immediately comes to my mind when anyone mentions the Forster Sisters to me.

Mama says I shouldn’t be going with you
Mama says she knows best
You’ll take my heart and break it in two
‘Cause you’re just like all the rest
She says that you’re just a one night man
And you’ll end up hurting me
Aw But I’ve seen something that mama ain’t ever seen

Mama’s never looked into those eyes, felt the way that they hypnotize
She don’t know how they make me feel inside
If Mama ever knew what they do to me I think she’d be surprised
Aw Mama’s never seen those eyes
Mama’s never seen those eyes

“The Missing Part” was written by Paul Overstreet & Don Schlitz and covers a topic that the sisters would revisit from a different slant on a later single. This song is a slow ballad.

“Something Tells Me” from the pens of Chris Waters & Tom Shapiro) is a mid-tempo cautionary ballad about rushing into a relationship

The next track is “Crazy Heart” written by Rick Giles & Steve Bogard. The song is a mid-tempo ballad that I regard as nothing more than album filler, albeit well sung.

The album closes with Bobby Keel & Billy Stone’s composition “Yankee Don’t Go Home”, a slow ballad about a southern girl who has lost her heart to a fellow from up north. Judging to feedback from friends who have heard this song this might have made a decent single

The Forester Sisters would prove to be the group’s most successful album, reaching #4 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. In fact the album would prove to be their only top ten album, although another seven albums would chart. The album has traditional country lyrics and vocals although the accompaniment has that 80s sound in places, particularly when it comes to the keyboards. The musicians on this album are Kenny Bell – acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Sonny Garrish – steel guitar; Owen Hale – drums; Hubert “Hoot” Hester – fiddle, mandolin; Lonnie “Butch” Ledford – bass guitar; Will McFarlane – acoustic guitar; Steve Nathan – keyboards;J. L. Wallace – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards; and John Willis – acoustic guitar. Terry Skinner and J.L. Wallace produced the album and co=wrote two of the singles.

I should note that my copy of the album is on vinyl so the sequence of the songs may vary on other formats. Anyway, I would give this album an A-

Album Review: Lee Greenwood – ‘Stronger Than Time’

Lee Greenwood’s most recent studio album was released in 2003 on Curb Records.

Three singles were issued, none of which charted. The first, ‘Rocks That You Can’t Move’, is a nice song about a Wise Old Man sharing his hard-earned wisdom with the protagonist as a child, a popular trope given a slight, and pointed, twist by making the old man a hard working African American farmer:

He’d seen the Great Depression
When a dollar’s all a hard day’s work would bring
He watched the crosses burnin’
In a time when freedom didn’t ring
He’d seen a world where minds were closed
And so many hearts were made of stone
But I never heard a bitter word
When I asked him ’bout the pain that he had known

He’d say, “life is full of fertile ground
But it takes a little rain to make things grow
And when it comes to harvest time
We’re all bound to reap just what we sow
So the best that I can tell you, boy,
Is always do the best that you can do
Move the rocks and plow your fields
And plow between the rocks that you can’t move”

Greenwood makes the story (written by Rob Crosby and Will Rambeaux) believable, and a nicely understated production works really well.

A remake of ‘God Bless The USA’ also failed to make any headway, despite being released at the time of the US invasion of Iraq. Lee’s performance is heartfelt, and he is backed by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a storied black gospel choir who add a sense of universality without overwhelming the song. I think I prefer this arrangement to the original.

The third and last single was ‘When A Woman’s In Love’, a pleasant sounding if not very memorable ballad.

The best song is ‘Beautiful Lies’, a sweetly sung ballad written by Gary Burr about denial. Another highlight is ‘Cornfield Cadillac’, written by Terri Argot, with a pretty melody and tender recollection of teenage love. ‘Round Here’ is quite good, a pleasant song about a cozy small-town community.

The title track, ‘Love Is Stronger Than Time’, a romantic AC big ballad written by Chris Lindsey, Bill Luther and Bob Regan, is emotionally sung but a bit bland. Similar but more more effective is the Greg Barnhill-penned ‘It Almost Makes Me Glad’, in which the protagonist sees his ex happier in her new relationship.

‘Love Me Like You’ve Never Been Hurt’ is an emotional ballad written by Pat Bunch. ‘Invisibly Shaken’ is a downbeat AC ballad written by Rodney Atkins, who later had a hit with his own version.

‘One Life To Love’ and ‘I Will Not Go Quietly’ are dull ballads.

This is an album which will appeal to Greenwood’s established fanbase.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Lee Greenwood – ‘A Perfect 10’

The winds of change swept through country music in the late 1980s, with younger stars reviving more traditional sounds. Lee Greenwood’s singles were getting less radio play than they had earlier in the decade, and he must have realised that if he wanted to stay relevant he needed to make some changes. In 1990 he moved from his longstanding label MCA to Capitol, and for his second album for that label (then using the Liberty name), in 1991, he released a duet album with ten female vocalists. They were mainly newcomers the label wanted to promote with a few of Lee’s contemporaries.

The only single was ‘Hopelessly Yours’, a duet with Suzy Bogguss, who was about to make her breakthrough. It peaked at #12 but deserved better, as it is a beautiful song written by the great Keith Whitley and Curly Putnam with hitmaker Don Cook, sung by both vocalists with a wistful tenderness, and tastefully produced with some lovely steel guitar.

One of the label’s biggest stars at the time was Tanya Tucker. ‘We’re Both To Blame’ is a traditional sounding waltz about a couple whose marriage is breaking down – another really lovely track.

All-female bluegrass-country group Wild Rose collaborate on the vibrant up-tempo ‘The Will To Love’, which I enjoyed a great deal.

Karen Staley was better known as a songwriter, but released a couple of excellent albums herself in the 90s. I don’t believe she was ever formally signed to Liberty or Capitol (she certainly didn’t release anything for them), but label boss Jimmy Bowen had produced her 1989 MCA album Wildest Dreams. She has an distinctive and unusually deep voice for a woman, and almost overpowers Greenwood on the brassy ‘I’m Not Missin’ Anything’. Cee Cee Chapman, a Curb artist with another deep alto voice, has a boring song for her duet with Lee, ‘You’re Not Alone’.

Carol Chase has an excellent voice and is well matched to Lee on the enjoyable mid-paced pop-country ‘Looking At A Sure Thing’. ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ is a cover of an R&B classic sung with Donna McElroy, who has provided backing vocals on many country records but is predominantly a gospel singer herself. This version of the song pays not the slightest attempt to sound country, but is pleasant enough listening in its own vein, with a strong soulful vocal from McElroy.

Of the older artists, Lacy J Dalton is wasted on ‘From Now On’, a nice enough but bland MOR ballad which just does not showcase her. Previous duet partner Barbara Mandrell joins Lee for ‘I’d Give Anything’, another dull ballad. Marie Osmond’s pristine vocal on ‘It Wasn’t Love Before’ has phrasing from musical theater.

This is generally a fairly strong album with something for everyone.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Lee Greenwood — ‘This Is My Country’

Lee Greenwood released his seventh studio album, This Is My Country, 31 years ago today in 1988. This was his second to be co-produced by him and Jimmy Bowen.

The album’s first single, the excellent ballad “I Still Believe” peaked at #12. The second single, “You Can’t Fall In Love When You’re Cryin,” another wonderful ballad, stalled at #20. “I’ll Be Lovin’ You,” which is extremely dated to modern ears, but still a great song since it was co-written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, peaked at #16.

Although it may seem puzzling at first, Greenwood actually does a good job covering The Captain and Tennille’s “Do That To Me One More Time.” He also does well with his take on “Tennessee Waltz,” although the string-focused arrangement is a bit too heavy and slow. “Ruby” is a piano based torch song, which Greenwood interrupts well, co-written by Mitchell Parish and Heniz Roemheld.

“Lola’s Love,” written by Dennis Linde, is the only real uptempo song on the album and a good one at that, with a wonderfully infectious melody. “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” which isn’t the Restless Heart classic, is also very strong with a melody to match. “As If I Didn’t Know,” is a slow ballad and “Mountain Right” is contemporary pop.

This Is My Country doesn’t have much by way of actual country music on it, but that doesn’t dampen the listening pleasure. It’s still an enjoyable above average album from beginning to end.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Lee Greenwood and Barbara Mandrell – ‘Meant For Each Other’

At his commercial peak in 1984, Greenwood was teamed up with MCA labelmate Barbara Mandrell for a duet album. The pairing was a fitting one: both singers had strong, distinctive voices, but were making mainly bland pop-country music. This album, produced by Mandrell’s producer Tom Collins, represents the worst of 1980s MOR-pop-country, with boring songs swathed in strings, tinny synthesizers, and brass, despite some strong vocal performances.

‘To Me’, the single which followed Lee’s enduring ‘God Bless The USA’, is a romantic love song written by Mike Reid and Mack David. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard country chart. The second single was less successful – ironic, because it is one of the better songs on the album. ‘It Should Have Been Love By Now’, written by Jan Crutchfield and Paul Harrison, has a big melody and wistful lyric as a couple call it quits.

Crutchfield and Harrison also wrote the album’s other half-decent track, ‘Now You See Us, Now You Don’t’, a soulful ballad about a breakup. Greenwood wrote ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’, a slow ballad on the same topic, and the very bland and forgettable ‘We Were Meant For Each Other’. Equally bland is the mid-tempo ‘One On One, Eye To Eye, Heart To Heart’.

‘Soft Shoulder’ is an urgent uptempo number about missing a loved one on the road, which is not bad. The pacy ‘Held Over’ is very brassy but quite entertaining. ‘Can’t Get Too Much Of A Good Thing’ is a perky, very pop tune. ‘We’re A Perfect Match’ is similar.

Unless you are a Lee Greenwood or Barbara Mandrell completist, I would avoid this.

Grade: D

Album Review: Lee Greenwood — ‘You’ve Got A Good Love Comin”

Lee Greenwood was celebrating his first two number one singles when MCA readied his fourth album in May 1984. The project went Gold and spawned three top ten hits, and while the album likely isn’t well-remembered today, it was a game changer in Greenwood’s career.

He received his cultural identity from the album’s first single, the patriotic standard “God Bless The U.S.A.” Greenwood was inspired to write the song, which he recorded in November 1983, as his way of coming to terms with the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 after it entered into Soviet Airspace following a navigation error.

What most people don’t know is, “God Bless The U.S.A.” not only wasn’t a #1 hit, it missed the top 5 entirely, peaking at #7. The song saw a major resurgence in popularity following the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, where it re-entered the country charts and peaked at #16. The song itself is excellent and one of the best ‘country pride’ songs I’ve ever heard. It’s regarded as Greenwood’s signature song and 35 years since its original release, the song hasn’t lost any of its popularity.

As far as singles go, two more followed, with mixed chart success. The strong ballad “Fool’s Gold,” a confessional about a “24 Karat mistake,” hit #3. The title track, funky, mid-tempo, and co-written by Van Stephenson (who would form Blackhawk in the mid-90s) reached #9.

Greenwood co-wrote the soft ballad “Worth It For The Ride” with Jan Crutchfield. The remainder of the album doesn’t have much by way of variety in melody or tempo and fits right within the contemporary stylings found on commercial country records from the era. The most adventurous track is “Lean, Mean Lovin’ Machine,” which has a light disco vibe and female backing vocals.

You’ve Got A Good Love Comin’ is dated to modern ears, but it delivers lyrically. This isn’t the most outstanding collection of songs I’ve ever heard, and the only true masterpiece is “Good Bless The U.S.A.,” but the album itself is solid.

Grade: B

Album Review: Lee Greenwood — ‘Somebody’s Gonna Love You’

Following the success of Lee’s debut album Inside Out, less than a year later MCA, in March 1983, released Lee’s second album Somebody’s Gonna Love You. The album would be Lee’s first top ten country album, reaching #3 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart and reaching #73 on Billboard’s Hot 200.

Three singles were released from the album, but the bigger news was the single that wasn’t released. Lee Greenwood was the country first singer to record the sappy “Wind Beneath My Wings” and MCA’s plan was to have the song released as the second single from the album. Unfortunately, Gary Morris (or someone associated with Morris) heard Lee’s recording and raced to get the song released while Lee’s first single “I.O.U.” was still riding the charts. While Morris had a top ten country hit with the song, and other luminaries such as Roger Whitaker, Lou Rawls, and Bette Midler had successful recordings of the song, Lee’s version remains my favorite, being less whiney than the other versions.

“I.O.U”, written by Kerry Chater and Austin Roberts, was the first single released from the album and was an across the board success, reaching #6 country, #4 A/C, #4 Canadian Country and #53 pop. The song may be one of the greatest and most meaningful love songs everYou believe, that I’ve changed your life forever.

And you’re never gonna find another somebody like me.

And you wish you had more than just a lifetime,

To give back all I’ve given you, and that’s what you believe.

 

But I owe you, the sunlight in the morning,

And the nights of honest lovin’,

That time can’t take away.

And I owe you, more than life now, more than ever.

I know it’s the sweetest debt,

I’ll ever have to pay.

The next two singles released gave Lee his first two #1 country singles. Rafe Van Hoy & Don Cook’s “Somebody’s Gonna Love You” is a man telling a female acquaintance of what could be:

Lonely lady living down the hall

Don’t you have any friends at all

I never hear a knocking at your door

Could it be you just don’t try anymore?

You’ve been hurt so seriously

You act so cold but it’s so easy to see

You’re a waste of real good love

But you can’t hide or run fast enough

 

Somebody’s gonna love you, no matter what you do

Somebody’s gonna find all the pieces of a broken heart

Hidden inside of you

Somebody’s gonna touch you, it’s just a matter of time

Jan Crutchfield’s “Going Going Gone” is a quintessential losing the girl song. Crutchfield seemingly had this subgenre gown pat as he also wrote “Statue of A Fool.”

Lonely lady living down the hall

Don’t you have any friends at all

I never hear a knocking at your door

Could it be you just don’t try anymore?

You’ve been hurt so seriously

You act so cold but it’s so easy to see

You’re a waste of real good love

But you can’t hide or run fast enough

 

Somebody’s gonna love you, no matter what you do

Somebody’s gonna find all the pieces of a broken heart

Hidden inside of you

Somebody’s gonna touch you, it’s just a matter of time

The remaining songs on the album are slow to mid-tempo ballads, basically well-performed filler. The instrumentation is standard 1980s country with choruses and electric piano but far more country sounding than many albums of the period, and at no point does the backing detract from Greenwood’s vocals. Greenwood is in good voice throughout

B+

Album Review: The Court Yard Hounds – ‘Amelita’

The Court Yard Hounds’ second album, released in 2013, was folky pop rather than country. The material is all self-penned by Emily and Martie, often with the help of Emily’s new partner Martin Strayer.

‘Sunshine’ is quite a pleasant folky pop number which opens proceedings.

The title track is more interesting; the girls’ vocal limitations end up making this sound like a pastiche, but a more compelling vocalist could have brought it alive. The same goes for ‘Phoebe’, which has potential and some nice instrumentation but is dragged down by the vocals.

‘The World Smiles’ is a bit twee. ‘Aimless Upward’ sounds like a 15 year old’s idea of deep and meaningful poetry set to a lifeless tune.

‘Guy Like You’ and ‘The Road You Take’ are very boring indeed. ‘Rock All Night’ has a bit more energy but not as much as the song needs.

One song I did like a lot was ‘Divided’, a gentle song about a couple spending too much time apart. ‘Gets You Down’ is also quite nice. ‘Are You Man Enough’ is not bad in an understated way.
‘Watch Your Step’ is a mess.

This album (like its predecessor) would have attracted little attention had it not been for the Dixie Chicks’ connection.

Grade: C

Album Review: Natalie Maines — ‘Mother’

For most of this decade, the story of Dixie Chicks has been one of separate lives, at least as far as recordings are concerned. Martie & Emily have released two albums as Court Yard Hounds and Natalie Maines released her own solo record, Mother, in 2013.

Maines has said the album came together serendipitously through sessions with Ben Harper. She has gone on to say she had no idea they were even making an album until they had ten recorded songs. In truth, this isn’t the first time Maines ventured outside Dixie Chicks. In 2008 she appeared alongside Neil Diamond for the spellbinding ballad “Another Day (That Time Forgot)” and she also contributed a version of Beach Boys “God Only Knows” for the final season of the HBO drama Big Love.

Mother is a pop-rock album that makes offers no apologies about its lack of anything even remotely resembling country music. Maines even went as far as to distance herself from country music, saying she never really liked the genre at all and said she found Fly unlistenable because she hated her accent on the songs. This all came from Rolling Stone Magazine, which exaggerates everything for personal gain, so her comments have to be taken with a grain of salt.

The album itself isn’t very imaginative at all, with the ten songs consisting mostly of cover tunes with only a couple originals. The selections themselves are great, but one would’ve liked Maines to let loose a bit with her own pen, especially since it had been seven years since she entered a studio to record anything for herself.

Being mostly a country music fan, I’m not overly familiar with most of these songs. Her version of the title track doesn’t deviate too much from Pink Floyd’s original. I do really like her take on Dan Wilson’s “Free Life” and her interpretation of Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” is very good.

A highlight for me is the blistering “Silver Bell,” which was the title track of Patty Griffin’s unreleased album where Maines found both “Truth No. 2” and “Top of the World.” The track, while overly loud, is a delight.

Another notable selection, “Come Cryin’ To Me” is an outtake from the writing sessions for Taking The Long Way. The song, which was co-written by the trio with Gary Louris of The Jayhawks, was deemed too rock to appear on the album. Maines had said she wanted to have her bandmates appear on the album, as co-writers, at least once. The lyric is excellent, although I can’t really decipher the meaning of the lyric:

Dragging around

The sins of your father

Handed on down

From one to another

Spinning new wheels

From lover to lover

Afraid to come now

From under the covers

 

When the world’s on your shoulders

And you just feel like hiding

When there’s nowhere to run to

You can come crying

Come crying to me

You know how to fly

On the wings of disaster

 

You try to stand still

But you keep going faster

And faster

You thought it’d be easier

In California

The tables will turn

And they won’t even warn you

 

When the world’s on your shoulders

And you just keep on sliding

When there’s nowhere to run to

You can come crying

Come crying to me

 

When the night seems colder

But the sun’s gonna shine

I won’t leave you behind

No you won’t stay behind

My issue with Mother isn’t that it’s a pop/rock recording. Maines is excellent vocally throughout and it doesn’t feel like a country artist suppressing their twang to fit into a bigger musical landscape. My problem is the album is sonically horrid. The arrangements are very muddled and extremely loud, with no real way to decipher between instruments. This just doesn’t feel like a cohesive album as much as a collection of songs and I don’t hear much masterful artistry in the recording as a whole.

Mother honestly could’ve been so much more. Dixie Chicks put so much into Taking The Long Way and Martie and Emily put effort into Court Yard Hounds. I just wish it had extended here with Maines. Mother could’ve been great. As it stands, it’s just an odd and very strange missed opportunity.

Grade: C

Album Review: Court Yard Hounds – ‘Court Yard Hounds’

During the interval during which the Dixie Chicks were not recording together, sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire issued an album of largely acoustic tunes titled Court Yard Hounds. Recorded in 2009, the album was released in May 2010.

Although the album was awaited with great interest, the album received little attention from country radio and in fact the album did not chart country at all, reaching #7 on Billboard’s all genres chart. Although several singles were released to radio, only “The Coast” charted at all, reaching #26 on the AAA charts. The other two singles, “It Didn’t Make a Sound” and “See You In The Spring” did not chart anywhere.

The album seems much more folk than country, although there are tracks that have a strong country feel, particularly on those tracks where Lloyd Maines’ steel guitar is prominently featured. Emily Robison takes the lead vocals, except as noted below. Emily is also the primary songwriter on the album, with Martin Strayer as co-writer on most of the songs and sister Martie Maguire as the songwriter and lead vocalist on “Gracefully”. Both Emily (banjo) and Martie (fiddle, viola) are fine instrumentalists and are featured prominently.

The album opens up with “Skyline”, a folk number that sounds like something Simon & Garfunkel might have recorded as an album track. The song is a laid back with lyrics that tell of the area between hope and desolation.

I just look at the skyline
A million lights are lookin’ back at me
And when they shine
I see a place I know I’ll find some peace
I just look at the skyline

I look at the skyline
A million lights are lookin’ back at me
And when they shine
I see a place I know I’ll find some peace
I just look at the skyline

What am I doin’ here
In such a lonely place?

Next up is “The Coast” is an upbeat tale of the calming effects of the coast in relieving the stresses of daily life. This is followed by “Delight (Something New Under The Sun)” about a pending relationship. There is use of rock-style guitars in this song, although it also has a bit of island vibe to the melody.

I’m gonna head down to the coast
Where nothin’ ever seems to matter
You know I love it there the most
When every piece of my world gets scattered

Blue skies, green water
White birds in the air
Brown skin, blue collar
And the wind blowin’ in my hair

Jakob Dylan joins Emily on “See You In The Spring”, another folk-style ballad. This song bespeaks of an up and down relationship.

‘Cause baby, your Summer is nothing but prison
It drives me away
And maybe, come Winter, we can’t be together
But love will come again
‘Til then I’ll see you in the Spring
Ah, so don’t throw it all away
Throw it all away

“Ain’t No Son” is a rock number and a fairly mediocre one at that. On the other hand “Fairy Tales” is an interesting song about the contradictions between what one wants and what ultimately needs to do.

Every girl wants the fairytale
I guess I do too
We’re restless, we’re young
With so much to prove

You ask me to wait
But wait I won’t do
‘Cause the time I’ve been wasting
I could be spending with you

Take me… we’ll run away
Out of this town ’til it fades
And they’ll say we’re wrong
But with you I’m alright either way

“I Miss You” sounds country (or perhaps country rock) with prominent steel by Lloyd Maines. This is a fairly typical song about longing, nicely sung with effective fiddle and steel accompaniment.

“Gracefully” is a slow downer of a song about a relationship that she wishes would end, but her lover would like to continue onward.

“April’s Love” also sounds like a Simon & Garfunkel album track, again about a relationship that is fading away. Since Emily had divorced husband Charlie Robison during the year before this album was recorded, I wonder about how much the end of that relationship colored this album

“Then Again” has a fuller sound than most of the songs on the album with a blues/rock feel to it, this time about introspection and coming to grips with one’s self-awareness (or lack thereof).

“It Didn’t Make A Sound” features the banjo prominently in a rock arrangement, but the lyric doesn’t really go anywhere although the piano of Mike Finnegan has a bit of a Professor Longhair feel to it, making the song greater than the sum of its parts.

The album closes up with “Fear of Wasted Time”, a quiet ballad of desperation.

I hold my babies tight
Sneak into their beds at night
I’ll just stay and watch them breathing
Next thing I know the alarm clock’s ringing

I watch every frame
Of this life I’ve made
Take a picture but I miss the moment now
Looking in their eyes

And you ask why I do it that way

It’s just the fear of wasted time
The fear of wasted time
That’s why

The feeling’s very strange
I’m waiting for the pain
And happiness can terrify me now
It could be goodbye

The album is a pleasant enough to listen to, but the songs are not especially strong and, unlike the Dixie Chicks albums, with minimal storytelling involved. Listening to this album reminded me of why the sisters needed Robin Lynn Macy, Laura Lynch and later Natalie Maines. Emily Robison is an acceptable vocalist, but nothing more and this album lacks the spark of any of the Dixie Chicks albums, whether the early independent label albums or the later major label successes.

I would give this album a “B”.

Album Review: Dixie Chicks – ‘Top Of The World Live’

A little over seven years ago, I wrote an article titled 25 Greatest Live Country Albums .

At the time I wrote of this album:

12. The Dixie Chicks – Top of the World Tour Live

Two disc set issued in November 2003, a representative sample of the material from their years as a major label act. Excellent set, although sonically, it could be better, and some versions of the songs are a bit too long. Enthusiastic crowds from various venues give one the feel of a live Dixie Chicks concert. Whereas I’ve downgraded some albums for short playing times, I’ve upgraded this one a bit as it really was an excellent value for the money, selling for the price of a single CD.

I played the album again recently and there really isn’t too much more to say about the album that I didn’t say back in 2011, so I will simply provide a little more factual information concerning the album.

Tracks on Disc One
1. “Goodbye Earl”
2. “Some Days You Gotta Dance”
3. “There’s Your Trouble”
4. “Long Time Gone”
5. “Tortured, Tangled Hearts”
6. “Travelin’ Soldier”
7. “Am I the Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)”
8. “Hello Mr. Heartache”
9. “Cold Day in July”
10. “White Trash Wedding”
11. “Lil’ Jack Slade”

Tracks on Disc Two
1. “A Home”
2. “Truth No. 2”
3. “If I Fall You’re Going Down with Me”
4. “Mississippi”
5. “Cowboy Take Me Away”
6. “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)”
7. “Landslide”
8. “Ready to Run”
9. “Wide Open Spaces”
10. “Top of the World”
11. “Sin Wagon”

The tracks for this album were recorded at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia and the Fleet Center in Boston. While the album was remixed for release purposes (apparently by Lloyd Maines, who did not play on the album), no studio overdubs were utilized in making the album.

The entire set runs over 94 minutes in playing time. The album sold quite well and represents a good representation of the Dixie Chicks sound in concert. I would give this an A+ for value / B+ for sound quality.

Album Review: Dixie Chicks – ‘Taking The Long Way’

The storm of protest and counter-protest which followed the incident in London completely derailed the Chicks’ country music stardom. We can only wonder what might have been musically had they remained accepted by genre fans and the industry. As it was, there was a hiatus in recorded music.

The album (produced by Rick Rubin) marked a sea change in their musical style, a deliberate focus on their own compositions and very personal subject matter, and a defiant unwillingness to kowtow to country radio expectations. Every song is credited to the three women together with an assortment of non-Nashville co-writers, most frequently rock songwriter Dan Wilson.

The first shot was actually conciliatory lyrically, with ‘I Hope’, a gospel-infused song written with bluesman Keb’ Mo’ as a charity single to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina in the South in 2005. It is definitely not a country song, but it is pretty good, and has an optimistic message:

It’s okay for us to disagree
We can work it out lovingly

But this was not the path taken by the Chick’s new album, finally released in 2006.

The lead radio single was explosive, stating their refusal to bow down. ‘Not Ready To Make Nice’ was uncompromising and undoubtedly powerful as it angrily recounts the aftermath:

Forgive – sounds good
Forget – I’m not sure I could
They say time heals everything
But I’m still waiting
I’m through with doubt
There’s nothing left for me to figure out
I’ve paid a price
And I’ll keep paying

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and I don’t have time
To go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do
What it is you think I should
I know you said
“Can’t you just get over it?”
It turned my whole world around
And I kinda like it

I made my bed and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’
It’s a sad, sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Saying that I better
Shut up and sing or my life will be over?

The single’s reception reflected the riven nature of contemporary debate, with those who had agreed with Natalie’s original statement acclaiming it, and those offended unimpressed. It received tepid airplay, peaking at #36 on the country chart, but sold exceptionally well, better than any previous single. This was reflected in responses to the album as a whole – decent sales, albeit lower than their previous albums since recruiting Natalie, but losing much of their country fanbase. They would never again make the top 40 on country radio. Going back to the single a decade on, and trying to view it divorced from the controversy it remains a very strong piece of work with the raw emotion still alive.

The next single, ‘Everybody Knows’, written with Gary Louris of alt-country group the Jayhawks, was not a good choice as it was rather dull and forgettable. The semi-title track, ‘The Long Way Around’ is better, again reflecting fiercely and unrepentantly on choice and consequence with nods to some of their past music:

It’s been two long years now
Since the top of the world came crashing down
And I’m gettin’ it back on the road now
But I’m taking the long way
Taking the long way around

I fought with a stranger and I met myself
I opened my mouth and I heard [or hurt?] myself
It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself
Guess I could have made it easier on myself
But I – I could never follow

‘Voice Inside My Head’, the album’s last theoretical attempt at a single, was a rock ballad written with Wilson and Linda Perry. I can’t imagine it ever succeeding as a single even in better times for the band, as although not completely explicit the subject matter appears to be the controversial one of a past, and perhaps regretted, abortion:

I was only a kid when I said goodbye to you
Ten summers ago
But it feels like yesterday
Lost, scared and alone
Nothing I could give to you
I tried, I really did
But I couldn’t find another way
And I want – I need somehow to believe
In the choice I made
Am I better off this way?

I can hear the voice inside my head
Saying you should be with me instead
Every time I’m feeling down
I wonder what would it be like with you around


I’m forever changed
By someone I never knew
Now I’ve got a place
I’ve got a husband and a child
But I’ll never forget
What I’ve given up in you

It’s not a subject I’m comfortable with myself and it seems like a deliberate provocation to choose as a single, especially after all the prior issues.

Motherhood is also the subject of ‘So Hard’, which bewails problems trying to conceive and the toll taken on the marital relationship. ‘Lullaby’ is a delicately pretty song cooing love for, I think, a new baby, surely the happiest and least contentious song on the album, with some lovely fiddle.

‘Bitter End’, written with Louris, is about the end of a fair weather friendship and has a pleasant Celtic feel.

‘Lubbock Or Leave It’ is Natalie’s vicious diss of the hypocrisy of her conservative home town, and features some echoey autotune.

‘Silent House’ is about Natalie’s grandmother, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and is clearly heartfelt but musically dreary. ‘Favorite Year’, written with Sheryl Crow, is quite mellow but not very memorable. ‘I Like It’ is poorly written and boring, and ‘Baby Hold On’ is pedestrian. ‘Easy Silence’ is a tribute to a husband offering respite from the turmoil outside (perhaps ironic given that all three of the marriages in existence at the time have now ended).

Even a dozen years on, the shadows of The Incident hang heavily over this album. To my ears it doesn’t really stand up on its own merits. With the exception of ‘Lullaby’, the strongest moments (e.g. ‘Not Ready To Make Nice’, ‘The Long Way Around’) are entirely rooted in their time and place. The production and songwriting both mostly fall outside country music, and on the whole only the group’s most devoted fans will truly enjoy this record.

Grade: C+

Album Review: Dixie Chicks — ‘Home’

It is difficult to assess the merits of this album, partially because of the changes in the reference points by which albums are evaluated and partially because of the firestorm that the Dixie Chicks generated by their future comments while playing a small venue in England.

Many commentators regard this album as the Dixie Chicks masterpiece, and while I am not among them, I do regard this as an excellent album that draws the group closer to a roots sound than their previous major label recordings.

At the time of the album’s release in 2002, the world of country music was in turmoil. Slick pop acts like Shania Twain, Martine Mc Bride and Faith Hill were still near their commercial peak, while the neo-traditionalist had lost steam, slowly being replaced by the vapid bro-country that plagued the genre until recently. Conversely, there was a brief resurgence in bluegrass and pre-bluegrass acoustic string band music fuels by the runaway success of the movie Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?

Symptomatic of the cross purposes to which the fan base and the radio stations worked, radio barely played anything from the movie Oh, Brother Where Art Thou? The Dixie Chicks chose to ignore this divide, releasing an album that in places would have fit into a roots classification, but in other places was something else entirely.

Five songs received airplay from Home:

“Long Time Gone”                                     #2 country / #7 pop

“Landslide”                                                       #2 country / #7 pop / #1 adult contemporary

“Travelin’ Soldier”                                     #1 country / #26 pop

“Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)”     #48 country

“Top of The World”                                     did not chart

“Top of The World” was too long for radio to play it, moreover, it was released after the unfortunate comments about President Bush turned many thoughtful Americans, whether or not supporters of Bush.

This album is mostly covers of material written by others. In that vein, the album opens up with “Long Time Gone”. The song, written by Darrell Scott, was originally recorded by Scott on his 2000 album Real Time and tells the story about a young man who left his family and went to Nashville to become a musician. Eventually, he treks back home and settles down to raise a family. The song’s last verse criticizes contemporary country music as being shallow, and despite the upbeat melody, the song’s lyrics are very pessimistic indeed.

Next up is a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”. There is something terribly appropriate about this cover because the Fleetwood Mac story closely parallels that of the Dixie Chicks in that Fleetwood Mac started out as one thing (a brilliant blues-rock group), changed members and form into a basic pop-rock group, and pretended that the prior version of the group never existed. The song was written by Stevie Nicks, who was not a member of the group’s original lineup,

Bruce Robison’s “Travelin’ Soldier” is probably the best song on the album, a sad song about the correspondence between a soldier and his girlfriend, and his eventual death in combat. The song was first recorded by the writer and later, in altered form by Ty England, but the Dixie Chicks rendition is by far the best version of the song. At the time the group recorded the song Bruce Robinson was the brother-in-law of Emily Robison.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag of covers and originals a bunch of good songs well performed and thoroughly country in sound and instrumentation. Both Martie and Emily are excellent musicians and the supporting cast includes Lloyd Maines on steel guitar and bluegrass wizards Brian Sutton (guitar) Adam Steffey (mandolin), Chris Thile (mandolin solos) plus Emmylou Harris on vocal harmonies. You couldn’t ask for better.

Of the remaining tracks, my favorite is the humorous “White Trash Wedding”. Written by the three members of the group, the song depicts a scenario that has played itself out many times over the years, but does so with humor:

You can’t afford no ring

You can’t afford no ring

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

 

You finally took my hand

You finally took my hand

It took a nip of gin

But you finally took my hand

You can’t afford no ring

You can’t afford no ring

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

 

Mama don’t approve

Mama don’t approve

Daddy says he’s the best in town

And mama don’t approve

You can’t afford no ring

You can’t afford no ring

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

 

Baby’s on its way

Baby’s on its way

Say I do and kiss me quick

‘Cause baby’s on its way

I shouldn’t be wearing white and you can’t afford no ring

There are a few misfires on the album (“Godspeed and “I Believe in Love” are pretty pedestrian and rather uninteresting) but even the misfires are not terrible and the net impression is of an album that contains both serious and amusing material performed with great flair.

A-