My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Retro Reviews

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘New Moves’

Don’s last studio album for MCA, Café Carolina, was released in 1984, although the label continued t package compilations of his work for them for some years. He was still a consistent hit maker, but the label was keen to introduce new stars, and Don may have felt less well promoted than he had done previously, and in 1985 he signed a deal with Capitol Records. The first album for Capitol, released in January 1986, was appropriately entitled New Moves, although there were no significant changes in his music – he even retained an existing co-production partnership with Garth Fundis from his last MCA album. Half the album’s tracks ended up being promoted as singles, and all reached the top 10, proving that there was still a place for Don Williams at the top even as the younger neotraditionalists were sweeping other older artists aside.

The lead single, the Dave Loggins-penned ‘We’ve Got A Good Fire Goin’’, is a very nice love song about the comforts of a settled relationship, with a subtle arrangement, although there are unnecessary and slightly intrusive choir-style backing vocals in the second half of the song. It peaked at #3. The album’s biggest hit, the mid-paced ‘Heartbeat In The Darkness’ (another Loggins song, this time co-written with Russell Smith) was Don’s last ever chart topper, but has not worn very well, with production which now sounds a little dated, although the song itself is pleasant enough.

The pace lifts still further with the lively ‘Then It’s Love’, which peaked at #3. It was written by Dennis Linde, best known for writing Elvis’s ‘Burning Love’, and has a saxophone-dominated arrangement with Don trying out a bit of an Elvis impression at the end, which is quite fun and not typical of Williams’ usual music.

The mainly spoken story song ‘Senorita’, written by Hank De Vito and Danny Flowers, performed less well, but was still a top 10 hit. I found it rather boring. The final single, ‘I’ll Never Be In Love Again’ (written by Bob Corbin) reached #4. To my ears it is the best of the singles, a classic Don Williams gentle ballad about surviving (more or less) the loss of love, with a delicate accompaniment featuring flute and harmonica. Lovely.

A number of artists have recorded Bob McDill’s ‘Shot Full Of Love’ ranging from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (my favorite take) to Billy Ray Cyrus, but I don’t think it’s ever been the hit it deserves to be. It’s a very good song, but the lyric, about an outlaw type who has broken a lot of hearts in his time but is unexpectedly felled by love, doesn’t really fit Don’s good guy persona or smooth voice. It still makes pleasant listening, but is not entirely convincing. (The McCarters’ beautiful sounding version ha few years later had the same flaw.) Another McDill tune, ‘We Got Love’, is a pleasant love song but not very memorable.

‘Send Her Roses’, written by Pat McLaughlin, who plays mandolin on the track, is a perky number about abandoning a travelling life (with several allusions to other songs) for a settled home with the protagonist’s wife. It is highly enjoyable.

Don’s own ‘The Light In Your Eyes’ is a pretty romantic piano-led ballad, which is very nice indeed. The mid paced ‘It’s About Time’, another love song, is also pretty good.

Grade: B+

The album has been packaged with Don’s other Capitol album Traces on a 2-4-1 CD.

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Especially For You’

Don’s eleventh album, released in June 1981, continued Don’s string of successful albums, reaching #5, his ninth (of eleven) albums to reach the top ten. Three singles were released from the album, all of which made the top ten: “Miracles” (#4 Billboard/ #1 Cashbox ), the exquisite duet with Emmylou Harris “If I Needed You” (#3 Billboard/ #1 Record World) and “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good” (#1 across the board).

The instrumentation on this album is a bit unusual for a country album of this vintage as a variety of odd instruments appear including such things as bongos, congas, ukulele, shaker and tambourine. Fortunately only the second and ninth tracks feature synthesizer, and Lloyd Green is present on steel guitar to restore order on five of the tracks. Unlike Don’s earlier albums, dobro (or resonator guitar) does not show up in the mix at all, and I definitely miss its presence.

The album opens up with a tune from “The Man In Black” (Johnny Cash) in “Fair-weather Friends”. This is a religiously oriented track, but a nice song

Fair-weather friends, fair-weather sailors
Will leave you stranded on life’s shore
One good friend who truly loves you
Is worth the pain your heart endures

We never know which way the wind will blow
Nor when or where the next turmoil will be
But He’s a solid rock when troubles grow
And He’s holding out a saving hand for me

“I Don’t Want to Love You” comes from the pen of Bob McDill. Bob never did anyone wrong with a song and this song about the human dilemma is no exception

I think about you every minute
And I miss you when you’re not around
And every day, I’m gettin’ deeper in it
I’m scared to go on, but the feelin’s so strong
I can’t turn away from you now

No, no, no, I don’t want to love you
And oh, oh, oh, I’m tryin’ not to
No, no, no, I don’t want to love you
But oh, oh, oh, I think I do

“Years from Now” by Roger Cook and Charles Cochran is a tender ballad with no potential as a single

Still love has kept us together
For the flame never dies
When I look in your eyes
The future I see

Holding you years from now
Wanting you years from now
Loving you years from now
As I love you tonight

Dave Hanner was a familiar figure in the country music as a writer and performer (Corbin/Hanner). His songs have been recorded by the Oak Ridge Boys, Glen Campbell, Mel Tillis and the Cates Sisters but the capstone of his writing career is the classic “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good”, a chart topper for Don and recorded many times since then including nice versions by Lee Ann Womack and Anne Murray. Don had Corbin/Hanner for his opening act on one tour. Taken at mid-tempo, this is one of the songs that come to mind when Don’s name is mentioned.

Lord, I hope this day is good
I’m feelin’ empty and misunderstood
I should be thankful Lord, I know I should
But Lord, I hope this day is good

Lord, have you forgotten me
I’ve been prayin’ to you faithfully
I’m not sayin’ I’m a righteous man
But Lord, I hope you understand

I don’t need fortune and I don’t need fame
Send down the thunder Lord, send down the rain
But when you’re planning just how it will be
Plan a good day for me

“Especially You”, written by Rick Beresford has an artsy feel to it and has that “Nashville Sound” combination of strings and steel. I think that this song would have made a decent single

I see the rainbow in your eyes,
I see all the colors pass me by
I sure like the things my eyes can do,
Especially when they see you.

I hear the music of this day,
I sure like the songs this world can play
But most of all I like your tune,
When you whisper I love you.

My senses don’t like, I get a definite high
When you’re near I feel clear off the ground
Reach for my arms, and I will give you the stars
There is nothing that is holding us down.

Townes Van Zandt was the source of “If I Needed You”, Don’s successful duet with Emmylou Harris. I am not that much of a fan of Emmylou’s solo endeavors, but she can seemingly blend with anyone. Pair her with a good singer like Don Williams, and the end result is outstanding. I think that this is my favorite Townes Van Zandt composition:

If I needed you, would you come to me?
Would you come to me, for to ease my pain?
If you needed me, I would come to you
I would swim the sea for to ease your pain

Well the night’s forlorn and the mornin’s warm
And the mornin’s warm with the lights of love
And you’ll miss sunrise if you close your eyes
And that would break my heart in two

“Now and Then” (Wayland Holyfield) and “Smooth Talking Baby” (David Kirby, Red Lane) are acceptable album filler, but nothing more.

“I’ve Got You to Thank for That” by Blake Mevis and Don Pfrimmer is an upbeat mid-tempo love song song that grows on you over time. Blake Mevis had considerable success as a songwriter but may be best remembered as the producer of George Strait’s early albums.

I’ve got Sunday school to thank for Jesus
Got educated thanks to mom and dad
I can borrow money thanks to banker Johnson
Thanks to me I’ve spent all that I have.

I quit smoking thanks to coach Kowalsky
Thanks to lefty Thomson I can fight
It took a while learning all life’s lessons,
But I learnt about love just one night.

Honey I’ve got you to thank for that
It’s good from time to time to look back
It always reminds me that I love it where I am at
Honey I’ve got you to thank for that

The album closes with the first single released from the album “Miracles”. Written by Roger Cook, the song is yet another slow ballad. In the hands of anyone other than Don Williams, the song would seem turgid, but Don sells the song effectively. The use of strings with steel enhances the dramatic presentation

Miracles, miracles, that’s what life’s about
Most of you must agree if you’ve thought it out

I can see and I can hear, I can tell you why
I can think and I can feel, I can even cry
I can walk, I can run, I can swim the sea
We had made a baby son and he looks like me

I don’t think Don Williams is capable of issuing a bad album. It appears that Especially For You was only briefly available on CD (I’ve been reviewing from a vinyl copy), but is currently unavailable.

I prefer the more acoustic sound of Don’s earlier albums, but this is a good album that I would give a B+. Did I mention that I really missed that dobro?

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Expressions’

Don Williams released his eighth album, Expressions, in August 1978. He co-produced the album, once again, with Garth Fundis.

Expressions contains three of Williams’ most iconic singles. “Tulsa Time,” written by Danny Flowers, is a honky-tonk barnburner that took Williams out of his signature sound with ease and sophistication. He was back in his comfort zone for the beautiful self-penned “Lay Down Beside Me,” one of his most beloved ballads. The final single, Bob McDill’s “It Must Be Love” was another gorgeous uptempo number. “Tulsa Time” and “It Must Be Love” hit #1 while “Lay Down Beside Me” peaked at #3.

The singles each have versions by other artists. Eric Clapton and Pistol Annies both have versions of “Tulsa Time” and Alan Jackson brought “It Must Be Love” back to #1 in 2000. Kenny Rogers lent his voice to “Lay Down Beside Me,” as did Alison Krauss, in an ill-advised duet with rock singer John Waite.

“I Would Like to See You Again” is a lovely mid-tempo ballad accented beautifully with gentle mandolin flourishes. “You’ve Got a Hold on Me,” about a love gone by, is an AC-leaning mid-tempo number with nice accents of steel.

“Tears of the Lonely” is a lush ballad with striking piano and ear-catching percussion. “All I’m Missing Is You” picks up the tempo nicely and tells the story of a guy who does the things he used to do with an old love, missing her all-the-while. “Give It to Me” is a nice, lush song about love. He showcases his exceptional talents as a vocalist on the masterful “When I’m With You,” one of the strongest of the album’s ten songs.

Expressions captures a master at the height of their prowess when the artistic and the commercial are in near perfect balance. He also won his only industry awards as a result of this album – CMA Male Vocalist of the Year (1978) and ACM Single Record of the Year (“Tulsa Time,” 1979).

Expressions is as close to a flawless album as I’ve ever heard, from an artist who has never hit a sour note in his career. It’s just an exceptional record through and through.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Country Boy’

Although they are two very different artists, there are some comparisons to be drawn between Don Williams and George Strait. Fans usually knew exactly what they were getting when each artist released a new album; seldom where there any surprises or real creative stretches but the results were always satisfying and performed well commercially. Country Boy was Don Williams’ second album release of 1977 and his fifth overall for ABC/Dot. Released in September, it was produced by Don himself and produced three top 10 hits.

The first of those hits was “I’m Just a Country Boy”, from which the album title is derived. The song dates back to 1954, having been originally recorded by Harry Belafonte. A staid but very pretty ballad written by Fred Kellerman and Marshall Baker, its protagonist laments that his lack of material possessions will prevent him from winning over the object of his affections, who is engaged to someone else. The lyrics paint an effective picture of a simple but peaceful country lifestyle, without resorting to the cliches of today’s redneck pride anthems:

‘I ain’t gonna marry in the fall; I ain’t gonna marry in the spring
Cause I’m in love with a pretty little girl who wears a diamond ring
And I’m just a country boy money have I none
But I’ve got silver in the stars
And gold in morning sun gold in morning sun.’

While this song would be considered too mournful for radio release today, forty years ago audiences and radio programmers loved it and it reached #1 in November. The single’s B-side was a Bob McDill tune called “Louisiana Saturday Night”, a slightly more energetic version of which would go on to be a hit for Mel McDaniel a few years later. While McDaniel’s version remains the definitive one, Williams acquits himself nicely on this one and I could easily imagine his version being a hit as well.

“I’ve Got a Winner in You”, a Williams co-write with Wayland Holyfield, was the second single, which reached #7. Its B-side was another Williams composition “Overlookin’ and Underthinkin'”, a very nice number with a gentle pedal steel track and subtle strings, that is one of my favorites. Another personal favorite is the Bob McDill-penned “Rake and Ramblin’ Man”, about a free-spirit who is forced to settle down by an unplanned pregnancy. To his credit, the protagonist is quite willing to leave behind his bachelor days and embrace the next phase of his life. “Rake and Ramblin’ Man” peaked at #3.

“Sneakin’ Around” is another Williams original about a cheating spouse that I also think had hit potential. The two remaining Williams compositions “Look Around You” and the slightly more pop-leaning “It’s Gotta Magic” are somewhat less effective but still enjoyable. Jim Rushing’s “Too Many Tears (To Make Love Strong)” is pleasant but not particularly memorable.

Peaking at #9 on the albums chart, Country Boy was Don’s lowest-charting album for ABC/Dot since he joined the label three years earlier and this was the last time he would release two LPs in one year. Still, #9 is nothing to sneeze at. Its stripped-down approach was at odds with much of the music of the day but it has aged well and stood the test of time. It is available on a 3-for-1 import CD along with You’re My Best Friend and Harmony, and I highly recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Visions’

1977’s Visions was produced by Don himself, and was his usual blend of deceptively mellow tunes belying often sad lyrics.

The chart-topping only single, ‘Some Broken Hearts Never Mend’, is a great song about failing to get over someone, which was written by Wayland Holyfield. On a similar theme, and perhaps even better is I‘ll Need Someone To Hold Me (When I Cry)’, written by Holyfield with Bob McDill. Janie Fricke’s cover was a big hit a few years later, and Don’s tender version would surely have been a guaranteed hit for him. A third Holyfield tune, ‘I’m Getting Good At Missing You’ is another fine song about living with sadness, which was top 10 hit for Rex Allen Jr in 1977.

‘I’ll Forgive But I’ll Never Forget’ is excellent, a regretful song about a man who now regrets neglecting the wife who has sought comfort in another man’s arms:

He had the time he could give you
When your lips could never find mine
And our little home was paying the price
Of love left on the vine

Forgiveness is something
I guess it comes with time
But even at best, there’s one thing I know
I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget

I guess when it’s over it’s over
And your time is no longer mine
But I never meant to cause all the pain
I just wanted your love for mine

This may be my favorite track.

The opening ‘Time On My Hands’ is a gentle tune addressed to an ex who has broken his heart. ‘In The Mornin’’, composed by Don, and ‘Missing You Missing Me’, which he wrote with Allen Reynolds, are other attractive songs in the same style.

Even the hopeful ‘Fallin’ In Love Again’ dwells on the experience of losing previous loves.

The mood brightens with the optimistic and vaguely spiritual ‘We Can Sing’. ‘Expert At Everything’ is a perky love song, and ‘Cup O’ Tea’ is pleasant if slightly twee.

Don’s warm, sincere vocals, and the understated production make this an inviting auditory experience. It is not available digitally, but can be found as part of a 3 album set on a double CD, packaged with Expressions and Portrait.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘You’re My Best Friend

Don’s fourth album, released in April 1975, found Don sharing the producer’s chair with Allen Reynolds, along with writing (or co-writing) four of the album’s ten songs.

The album opens with the title track, written by Wayland Holyfield. This was the first single released from the album and it soared to #1 on the US and Canadian country charts. It also hit internationally reaching the pop charts in the UK (#35) and Australia (#50).

“Help Yourselves to Each Other” is next up. A Bob McDill/Allen Reynolds collaboration, this song is a slow ballad about mutual dependency as part of the human condition:

What a time to turn your back on someone
What a day to be without a friend
What a shame when no-one seems to bother
Who will offer shelter to candles in the wind

And it follows we are only helpless children
Ever changing like sunlight through the trees
It’s a long road we must cling to one another
Help yourselves to each other,
That’s the way it’s meant to be

“ I Don’t Wanna Let Go” is yet another slow ballad from breaking up, this time from the pen of Jim Rushing. I cannot see this song ever being released as a single by anyone but it fits nicely within the context of the album:

Sweet bitter dreams gather gently inside me
As I roll with the earth finding nothing to hide me
For my love was my shelter my shore and my home
How can time repay what I gave away
When I don’t wanna let go

Don picks up the tempo (slightly) with “Sweet Fever”, from the pens of Dickey Lee and Bob McDill. The song features some nice steel guitar from Lloyd Green. I think we have all been here:

I don’t know what happens but you come walking by
I can’t speak my knees get weak I feel half paralyzed
My temperature keeps rising my head is feeling light
I sing love songs all day long I toss and turn all night

I got a sweet fever comin’ all over me
I got a sweet fever I wonder what can it be
I got a sweet fever comin’ all over me
I got a sweet fever I wonder what can it be

Dickey Lee and Bob McDill also collaborated in writing “Someone Like You”. I think this would have made an excellent single for Don, but the song was resurrected in as a single by Emmylou Harris in 1984, reaching #26. By 1984, Emmylou’s career as a singles artist had already slowed down, which is too bad as the song deserved to be a big hit for someone.

Others have touched me soft in the night
And others have kissed me and held me tight
Good times and lovers I’ve had a few
But I was just waiting for someone like you.

Others have loved me before your time
Some who were gentle, some who were kind
Don’t it seem funny I never knew
I was just waiting for someone like you.

“Turn Out the Light and Love Me Tonight” is another Bob McDill classic that Don took to #1. I love the imagery of the song. Some of the younger listeners may remember the song as an album track on Kenny Chesney’s 1996 album Me and You. Kenny did a nice job with the song but this version is the classic version. Don penned the next song, “Where Are You”, a slow ballad that makes a good album track.

Al Turney’s name shows up occasionally on Don’s early albums. The Alabama native’s “Tempted” is handled as a mid-tempo ballad by Don. While not released as a single, it received a little airplay here in Central Florida and apparently elsewhere as well. I feel this should have been released as a single:

Tempted, tempted, tempted to fall in again
Tempted, tempted, I’m tempted to fall in love again.

Sometimes love, can hurt you bad
Make you stop and wonder what you really had
But I guess it’s all part of the master plan
To be tempted to fall in love again.

Tempted, tempted, tempted to fall in again
Tempted, tempted, I’m tempted to fall in love again.

The album closes with a pair of Don Williams compositions “You’re The Only”, a mid-tempo ballad, and “Reason to Be” a philosophical, very slow ballad of introspection.

First I was love, then I came to be
I had a heart inside of me
And though my heart was working I found
Still there was something it had not found

So I went away, hoping to see
Maybe I’d find what’s missing in me
Knowing so well but not knowing why
If I didn’t find this something I’d die

And then I came to where I had been
I knew the first was still not the end
What I had left was not what I found
Because there was you, because there I found

First I was love, then I came to be
I had a heart inside of me
And though my heart is still part of me
You give my heart its reason to be

This album is not quite up to the standard of Don’s first three albums, but it is still an excellent album that I would give an A-

Ensemble:
Don Williams – acoustic guitar, vocals, producer
Jim Colvard & Jerry Stembridge – electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Joe Allen – bass / Lloyd Green – steel guitar, dobro
Shane Keister – keyboards / Danny Flowers – harmonica
Kenny Malone – drums, marimba, congas

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Volume Three’

Don Williams’ breakthrough album, appropriately titled Volume Three, arrived in 1974 under his new label Dot/ABC. The album, which he self-produced, helped hone the laid-back sound that defined his career.

The Al Turney-penned “I Wouldn’t Want To Live if You Didn’t Love Me” was Williams’ first of his seventeen #1 hits. The track is an excellent mid-tempo ballad accented with steel. Although the album is credited to Williams as the producer, Allen Reynolds oversaw this track. It marked his first #1 as a producer. The second and final single, “The Ties That Bind” is slower than its predecessor but no less lovely. It peaked at #4.

Williams solely penned four of the album’s songs. “Fly Away” is mid to uptempo dobro-laced number, which could pass for having a slight spiritual bent. The sonic touches are similar on “Goodbye Really Isn’t Good at All,” which makes wonderful use of his gorgeous baritone. “Such a Lovely Lady” is one of his signature love songs and a high-quality one at that. He continues in the same vein, yet again, on “Why Lord Goodbye,” which features an ear-catching steel solo.

As with every album by Williams, there isn’t a stinker in this bunch nor can I find any fault with this recording at all. Like the two previous volumes before it, Volume 3 is a brilliant early example of what makes Williams such a unique artist with a style virtually unmatched. I have to also give him credit for his production choices, which sound as fresh today as they did forty-three years ago.

Grade: A

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Volume Two’

1974’s Volume Two was the aptly-titled follow-up to Don Williams’ solo debut album on the independent JMI label. Though it doesn’t it contain any of his best remembered songs, it does feature his first Top 10 hit. The track listing is stellar; consisting primarily of songs written by Bob McDill, Allen Reynolds, and Williams himself.

Produced by Allen Reynolds, the album consists of sparsely produced, laid-back songs that are a fry cry from the lush production usually used for country records in the early 70s. Williams’ original composition, the gentle ballad “Atta Way to Go” was the album’s first single, whose chart performance mirrored those of the singles from Volume One, peaking at #13. I was not previously familiar with it but I took to it immediately. The midtempo “We Should Be Together”, written by Allen Reynolds was the next single. It carried Don into the Top 10 for the first time, peaking at #5. Consisting of acoustic guitar and dobro, it is catchy yet mellow. I’d never heard this one before, either, which is surprising since it was Williams’ first significant hit. The third single, “Down the Road I Go”, another Williams compostion, is the closest this album gets to something up-tempo. It’s a pleasant tune, with some nice fiddle and steel work, as well as a vocal chorus that aligns it a little more closely with the mainstream of the day, but it fared poorly on the charts, topping out at #62. From this point forward, though, all of Williams’ records for the next decade would crack the Top 10.

The great Bob McDill contributed two other tracks: the album opener “I Wish I Was In Nashville” and “She’s In Love With a Rodeo Man”. The former is about an aspiring musician who has dreams of making it big in Music City; the latter is about a honky tonk angel who attracts plenty of suitors but only has eyes for a particular rodeo rider. There is an excellent steel guitar solo on this track.

The outlier on the album is the ballad “I Don’t Think Much About Her No More”, which features a subtle string section alone with the acoustic guitar and pedal steel. Originally recorded by its author Micky Newbury in 1969, it was covered many times, sometimes under its alternate title “Poison Red Berries” by artists such as Eddy Arnold, George Hamiton IV, Bobby Bare, The Carter Family, Jan Howard, and Tammy Wynette. It’s more polished than the rest of the album but still the perfect vehicle for Williams’ baritone.

Although it doesn’t contain any of Williams’ best remembered hits, Volume Two is an excellent collection that has aged well and is worth a listen. It is available on a two-for-one CD along with Volume One.

Grade: A

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Volume One’

After briefly retiring from the music business, Don Williams reemerged as a songwriter and performer for Jack Clement, with the first album being released in June 1973*.

Despite JMI (Jack Music Inc.) being a bit player in the industry, Jack Clement was already a legendary figure with established contacts so this album features the cream of Nashville’s musicians. Allen Reynolds is listed as the album’s producer.

The album opens up with a song from the pen of Bob McDill, “Come Early Morning”.  This song was released as the second single reaching #12 on Billboard’s country chart and #9 on Cashbox. This is a laid back look at love

I been walking, walking in the moonlight
Tripping in the starlight, Lord and I’m feeling down
Walking in the shadows, sneaking down a side road
Come early morning I’ll be there on the edge of town

I was a thinking, thinking about a good thing
Thinking bout a sweet dream, in my honey’s eyes
And I was a sinking’, feeling kind of lonesome
Come early morning I’ll be home at my honey’s side

Next up is a Don Williams-Allen Reynolds composition “Too Late To Turn Back Now”. This is a nice mellow ballad about falling in love. This song is not to be mistaken for the pop hit by the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose – it is a good song but not worthy of release as a single

Don covers a pop oldie with “Endless Sleep”, a huge hit for its writer, Jody Reynolds. The song was an interesting teen near-tragedy song that went to #5 pop in 1958. Many country artist covered the song as an album track, and Don’s is among the better covers

The night was black rain fallin’ down
I looked my baby she’s no where aroun’
Chased her footsteps down to the shore
Afraid she’s gone for ever more

Well I looked at the sea, seemed to say
I took your baby from you away
I heard a voice cry in the deep
Come join me baby in my endless sleep

“Shelter of Your Eyes” by Don Williams was the first single released from the album reaching #14 Billboard / #11 Cashbox. Like most Don Williams recording, this is taken at a relaxed tempo, but it tells a complete story and probably would have been a bigger hit had there been a major label pushing it forward.

In the shelter of your eyes
I have finally learned the song
It took so long to realize
I just can’t make it all alone

Words are only what they say
But this feeling isn’t wrong
I’m so glad I found my way
It’s good to be where I belong

And I’m, gonna stay,
Right here ’cause I’m
In rhythm with your mind

Tune out the world
And rest my head
‘Neath the shelter of your eyes

Although things had been slowly changing, country music at this time was still largely perceived of as the “endless ballads of booze and broads”. While a few county artists eschewed such topics (Slim Whitman comes to mind) most country artists would spend at least some time with those kind of songs. Don Williams mostly stayed away from the barroom songs.

“I Recall A Gypsy Woman” by Bob McDill and Allen Reynolds would have made a good single. Tommy Cash (1973) and BJ Thomas (1981) both released singles on the song, but neither had a big hit with it. In Central Florida several radio stations gave some airplay to Don’s version of the song, back in the days when Billboard did not chart album tracks. I love the imagery of the song:

Silver coins that jingle jangle
Fancy shoes that dance in time
Oh the secrets of her dark eyes,
They did sing a gypsy rhyme

Yellow clover in tangled blossoms
In a meadow silky green
Where she held me to her bosom,
Just a boy of seventeen

I recall a gypsy woman
Silver spangles in her eyes
Ivory skin against the moonlight
And the taste of life’s sweet wine

“No Use Running”, “How Much Time Does It Take”, “My Woman’s Love” and “Don’t You Believe” are pleasant ballads that Don penned.

The album closes with the Bob McDill classic “Amanda”. The song was the B-side of “Come Early Morning” and managed to chart, reaching Billboard #33/Cashbox #18, as many disc jockeys played both sides of the record. I think it could have been Don’s first top ten single if JMI had issued it as a separate single. Six years later Waylon Jennings would take the song to #1 on all of the country charts, and while Waylon’s version was good, I and many others preferred Don’s recording of the song

It’s a measure of people who don’t understand,
The pleasures of life in a hillbilly band.
I got my first guitar when I was fourteen,
Well I finally made forty, still wearing jeans.

Amanda, light of my life.
Fate should have made you a gentleman’s wife.
Amanda, light of my life.
Fate should have made you a gentleman’s wife.

Don Williams Volume One is a really fine album that I frequently revisit. It contains solid country production, well written songs sung with honest but not overwrought emotion. Don would have bigger chart hits and better selling albums upon movement to a major label but the foundation was laid here and few debut albums have been as impressive and satisfying as this one. Despite the lack of up-tempo songs, Don Williams is one of the few artists that can stay in a slow groove forever, without it becoming boring

Grade: A-

Musicians:

Bass – Joe Allen
Drums – Kenny Malone
Electric Guitar – Jimmy Colvard, Reggie Young
Fiddle – Buddy Spicher
Organ – Chuck Cochran
Piano – Bobby Wood, Chuck Cochran
Rhythm Guitar – Chip Young, Don Williams, Jimmy Colvard
Steel Guitar – Lloyd Green
Trumpet – Don Sheffield

* When Don moved over to ABC/Dot, this album was purchased by ABC/Dot and reissued on the ABC/Dot label.

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Six Days on the Road’

Sawyer Brown was nearing the end of their hitmaking days when Six Days on the Road dropped twenty years ago this month. The album was their second to last to be produced by Mac McAnally, who had significant influence over the project.

The lead single was the title track, a cover of the 1963 Dave Dudley classic. Their version, which I would regard as very good, peaked at #13. They rose to #6 with another cover, “This Night Won’t Last Forever,” previously a hit for both Bill LaBounty and Michael Johnson. I also really liked their version of this song, as well.

The final two singles weren’t as successful. The wonderful “Another Side,” a ballad solely penned by Miller petered out at #55. A fourth and final single, “Small Talk,” a Miller and McAnally co-written dud, hit #60.

McAnally had two solely written songs on the album. “With This Ring” is a tender love song while “Night and Day” is uptempo with generic rockish production. Neither song quite measures up to McAnally’s high standard with the group, which if we’re being honest is an impossible bar to reach.

Five more tracks were either written or co-written by Miller. “Transistor Rodeo,” “Half A Heart,” “A Love Like This” and “Every Twist and Turn” are unmistakable of their era and very catchy. “The Nebraska Song,” which Miller wrote alone, is a tribute to Bill Berringer, quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers who was killed in a 1996 plane crash. The track is a nice and tender acoustic ballad.

“Talkin’ ‘Bout You,” by Mark Alan Springer, is a wonderfully infectious mid-tempo ballad laced with nice flourishes of steel. “Between You and Paradise, which Springer co-wrote with Neal Coty, is a very strong traditional-leaning ballad.

Six Days on the Road is a nice, above average mid-1990s country album. The music is in no way traditional, yet it isn’t overwhelming poppy or rock either. There’s nothing to jump out of your skin over, though, with brings the album down a notch. But Six Days On The Road is a bit better than good.

Grade: B

Side Note: If you haven’t checked out Drive Me Wild, which hit in 1999, do so if only for “I’m In Love With Her.” The ballad, written by Chuck and Cannon and Allen Shamblin, is one of the band’s finest moments on record. As a single it peaked at #47. I have no doubt if it had come out at the height of the band’s popularity it would’ve been ranked among their most iconic singles (with different, less busy, production values). It’s just that strong.

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘This Thing Called Wantin’ and Havin’ It All’

This Thing Called Wantin’ and Havin’ It All was the eleventh studio album released by the former Don King Road Band and their fourth studio album for Curb Records.

Released in 1995, the album was the first top ten country album for the band since 1989’s The Boys Are Back, although it actually sold fewer copies than two of the three most recent prior albums. Four charting singles were released from the album: the title track, “‘Round Here”, “Treat Her Right”, and “She’s Gettin’ There”. Although this album and the next two albums would all be top ten albums, the success of the single releases was beginning to slow down. Whereas eleven of the previous twelve singles reached the top five, only one of the four singles would crack the top ten (and there would be only two more top ten singles after this album).

The album opens with “Nothing Less Than Love”, one of four Mark Miller-Hobie Hubbard collaborations on the album. This song is a mid-tempo ballad. “Big Picture” by Mark Miller & Mac McAnally is another mid-tempo song that might have been considered for single release. “I Will Leave the Light On” by band member Duncan Cameron is a nice slow ballad.

The up-tempo “(This Thing Called) Wantin’ and Havin’ It All” comes from the pens of Dave Loggins and Ronnie Samoset, and reached #11 on the country charts. I was surprised that the song didn’t crack the top ten since here in Central Florida it seemed as if I could not escape from the song as it received a little bit of pop and Adult Contemporary airplay. It is a good song (Loggins was always capable of cranking out good material) and one of my favorite Sawyer Brown songs. This was the first single taken from this album:

Rich man grew old, owned a mansion on top of the hill
Now he’s sitting at the table with his lawyer
Goin’ over his will ’cause he’s ill
The kids don’t call, they’re waitin’ for the man to die
He’s gonna leave ’em all a little somethin’
But they’re gonna be real surprised

There’s a poor man livin’ on a budget at the bottom of that hill
With a wife and two kids and a worried mind
About how he’s gonna pay the bills
Well, only the rich man knows, see
That’s where a lot of his money goes
To the man that brought wood in the winter
To take a little weight off his shoulders

There’s this thing called wantin’ and havin’ it all
If you’re gonna get there, you’re gonna have to walk
But first, you’ll have to crawl
And you know you’ve gotta do it step by step
Miss one and you’ll fall into this well
Called wantin’ and havin’ it all

“Another Mile” written by Miller & Hubbard is a typical ‘we can make it’ ballad that fits well in the context of the album although I can’t imagine it being released as a single.

The second single, “Round Here” has Miller & Hubbard joined by Scotty Emerick as the songwriters. This single reached #19 is a mid-tempo ballad extolling small town virtues:

Sue and Jack fell in love ’round here
They been goin’ steady now for years
He couldn’t afford much of anything
But he worked and bought her a diamond ring
And that’s the way we do it ’round here

That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s done ’round here
That’s the way we live and that’s the way we love ’round here
Strong hearts and folded hands
A workin’ woman and a workin’ man
That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s done ’round here

There is an old saying that too many cooks spoil the broth, and “She’s Gettin’ There” (composed by the team of Mark Miller, Scotty Emerick, John Northrup, and M.C. Potts (remember her?) is the weakest song on the album, a generic endeavor. It was released as the fourth single and died at #46, the first single to miss the top forty after fifteen consecutive top forty singles.

The third single, the Lenny LeBlanc-Ava Aldridge composition “Treat Her Right” was the big hit off this album, a tender ballad that peaked at #3.

A good woman ain’t easy to find
The faithful and the loving kind
And if you don’t hold her tight
She’ll slip right through your hands
Love gives more than it takes

So be willing for her sake
Stand by her when the strong winds blow
Even when it hurts, don’t let go

The album closes with two songs that are pitched to rural and small town America. The first song, a lovely ballad written by Mark Miller and Bill Shore, “Like a John Deere”, laments that hearts should be as reliable as John Deere tractors:

Oh, if hearts were built like John Deere tractors
There’d be happy ever afters
Strong, true and tough, and made of steel
They pull through when times get hard
And never fall apart
If hearts were built like a John Deere

The final Miller – Hubbard composition closes out the album with “Small Town Hero”, a story of what might have been and what actually happened.

I just turned twenty-nine three years in a row
Too young to be the president
Too old to turn pro
But when the seventies came and Elvis died
I could not fill his shoes
But oh, how I tried

It was the life and time of a small town hero
But it’s another day
I’ve got my wife, my kids, a job and it’s ok
This letter of intent now, is just for show
They say it’s lonely at the top
So I did not go

As I noted earlier, the album sold well, but the rural/small town orientation of the songs was not likely to entice urban country disc jockeys and programmers to be totally sold on the singles, a trend hat carried through on the next two albums, each of which featured one top ten single and several singles that missed the top ten. That said, this is a decent country album, which features three different steel guitar players (Jay Dee Maness, Dan Dugmore, Paul Franklin) and to my ears sounds how I think a country album should sound. Producers Mac McAnally and Mark Miller again demonstrate the ability to make an appealing album by keeping the tempos sufficiently varied to retain the listeners interest.

Mark Miller and Hobie Hubbard continued to progress as songwriters and there really isn’t a dud on this album. I suppose that I should try to find it on CD, as my copy is a well-worn cassette. I would give this an A-

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Outskirts Of Town’

1993 saw the release of the band’s third and final Gold certified album. The material was all in-house, and Mark Miller and Mac McAnally provided solid production.

Things got off to a great start with the chart-topping lead single ‘Thank God For You’, a warm and likeable mid-tempo number written by Miller and McAnally, which still stands up well. ‘The Boys And Me’ (about enduring friendship groups) from the same writing team peaked at #4, and is enjoyable. There is also a ‘dance re-mix’, aimed at the then-popular line dance market. Tis feels regrettably self-indulgent now, if less offensive than much of what passes for everyday radio fare today.

In contrast the title track, written by band members Gregg “Hobie” Hubbard and Duncan Cameron, barely squeezed into the top 40. That’s a shame, because it’s a very nice song, a harmonica-led story song about a farmer who stays in his dying small town. I liked it better than the fourth and final single, the Miller-penned ‘Hard To Say’, even though the latter revived the band’s hitmaking ways, with a #5 peak. It’s perfectly pleasant, just not very memorable.

Dana McVicker had had a short and not very successful career attempting to make it as a star, with one album and a few low charting singles on Capitol in the late 80s. Her husband Michael Thomas was one of the musicians in Reba McEntire’s road band who was tragically killed in the 1991 plane crash. Sawyer Brown recruited her to duet on ‘Drive Away’, a somewhat rock/AC leaning ballad Miller wrote with Bill La Bounty, which is a highlight. Her gravelly alto is distinctive and powerful, and like Sawyer Brown she had got her Start on Star Search.

‘Farmer Tan’ (a Hubbard-Miller co-write) is a sympathetic, gritty look at the tough life of a famer about to be evicted, while the pair’s ‘Listenin’ For You’ is quite attractive. They were joined by Cameron to write ‘Eyes Of Love’, a nice love song about making it through the hard times.

Hubbard’s ‘Hold On’ is a beautiful ballad tenderly addressing an aged mother or grandmother. Also very good is the brisk ‘Heartbreak Highway’, which has an electrified bluegrass feel, thanks in part to Cameron’s mandolin and dobro.

Other than the aforementioned dance mix, the only song I could do without is the poppy ‘Love To Be Wanted’.

The album was followed by a second Greatest Hits collection, which spawned two more top 5 hits, ‘This Time’ and ‘I Don’t Believe In Goodbye’.

This is a very good album which is Sawyer Brown at their best.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Cafe on the Corner’

1992’s Cafe on the Corner was Sawyer Brown’s first album after they ended their nearly decade-long association with Capitol Records. Released on the Curb label, it continues along the same path as their previous effort The Dirt Road. Like that collection, it was produced by Mark Miller and Randy Scruggs.

Eight of the album’s ten tracks were co-written by at least one of the band members (mostly Mark Miller), with the other two coming from the pen of Mac McAnally. The first of the McAnally tunes is the title track, which was the lead single. It tells the story of a displaced farmer who is now forced to support himself by busing tables in a corner cafe and serving coffee to customers who were similarly affected by the recession that America was facing at that time. It peaked at #5 but deserved to go all the way to the top and I’m not sure why it didn’t. Also peaking at #5 was the follow-up single “Trouble on the Line” written by Mark Miller and Bill Shore. The third single, “All These Years” charted slightly higher at #3. Sawyer Brown is not well known for their ballads, but this Mac McAnally composition is a beautiful ballad about a husband confronting his cheating wife and the brutally honest conversation that takes place in the aftermath of his discovery. Featuring a nice cello arrangement, it was also a minor Adult Contemporary hit where it became Sawyer Brown’s only entry on that chart, peaking at #42. McAnally had released his own version of the song earlier that year.

The rest of the album’s songs generally lack the substance of the title track and “All These Years” but they are well performed — particularly “Travelin’ Shoes”, “A Different Tune” and “Chain of Love” (not the Clay Walker song of the same name from a few years later). “A Different Tune” in particular includes some wonderful guitar picking and steel guitar playing. The album is one of Sawyer Brown’s more traditional efforts, without the poppiness of their early work — at least until we reach the last two tracks. Gospel artist and Nashville session singer Donna McElroy lends her voice to “I Kept My Motor Running”, an R&B-inflenced number written by Miller, Greg Hubbard and Randy Scruggs, that I did not care for at all. I was also rather unimpressed with the closing track “Sister’s Got a New Tattoo” about a young woman who shocks her family by joining the military. It’s not a terrible song but not up to the standards set by the album’s first eight tracks.

Cafe on the Corner is a solid effort that I was ready to grade an A until it suddenly detoured with the last two tracks. It is still a worthwhile effort, however, and is available for streaming.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘The Dirt Road’

Sawyer Brown was still riding the wave of “The Walk” when The Dirt Road hit in January 1992. The song is reprised here, as cut #11, partly to draw needed attention to the album and to increase album sales. This album would see two singles of its own and the start of the period when Sawyer Brown would see their most consistent success at radio.

The proper first single was the title track, co-written by Mark Miller and Gregg Hubbard. The song is a meditation on the choices by which we approach our lives:

Daddy worked hard for his dollar

He said some folks don’t

But that’s ok

They won’t know which road to follow

Because an easy street might lead you astray

 

I’ll take the dirt road

It’s all I know

I’ve been walking it for years

Its gone where I need to go

Oh it ain’t easy-it ain’t supposed to be

So I’ll take my time

And life won’t pass me by

Cause it’s right there to find, On the dirt road

 

I have lived life in the fast lane

You gotta watch your back and look both ways

When it’s said and done the time we have is borrowed

You better make real sure you’re headed the right way

The track, which is one of my favorites from them, peaked at #3. Miller solely composed the album’s second and final single, the excellent uptempo “Some Girls Do.” The #1 hit (their first in six years and second overall) finds Miller playing the bad boy, a guy attractive to just a select few women:

She turned up her nose as she walked by my Cadillac

From the corner of my eye I saw you and you laughed

You were sittin’ on the swing on your front porch

Paintn’ your nails like you were bored

And you yelled she was sure impressed with you

 

Well I ain’t first class

But I ain’t white trash

I’m wild and a little crazy too

Some girls don’t like boys like me

Aw but some girls do

 

I yelled and asked if you would like a ride

When we pulled out of your yard I bald a tire

You was laughing at me, I was doing James Dean

You was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen

When you rolled your eyes and twirled my pink fur dice

“Some Girls Do” is a prime example of the effortless cool of early 1990s country music, infectious without being obnoxious or pretentious. This song was actually my first exposure to the band, from the compilation album #1 Country Hit Mix. I really only knew Sawyer Brown as an uptempo act (add “Thank God For You” to this conversation as well) and kind of found it strange to hear Miller croon a ballad when videos for songs like “Treat Her Right” would come on CMT. I learned as I went as a kid and dealt with perceptions in my own way as I developed a taste for country music in that era.

Given the success of both “The Walk” and “Some Girls Do,” one would assume their label (a joint venture between Curb and Capitol Records) would’ve pushed for more songs written by Miller alone. While he co-wrote the majority of The Dirt Road only one other track was credited solely to him. “Burnin’ Bridges (On A Rocky Road)” is a mid-tempo ballad, loaded with steel, concerning a well-intended pearl of wisdom:

He said things have changed for the better

Things have changed in the weather

Well you got to go down easy when you go

So don’t go burnin’ bridges on a rocky road

While the message behind “Burnin’ Bridges (On A Rocky Road)” is good, the lyric leaves a lot to be desired. The core of The Dirt Road came from collaborations between Miller and Hubbard, which amount to five of the albums cuts (besides the title track). None of these offerings are very inspired, and if I was forced to pick a ‘best of the bunch’ I’d say “Another Trip To the Well,” although the song is unremarkable at best. The album’s remaining cuts, “Time and Love” and “Fire In The Rain” are album highlights and the strongest of the non-singles.

As I reflect upon Sawyer Brown from this period, I feel like they’re more a singles band than an albums artist. The two singles from The Dirt Road are easily some of the best music of the day, but the album tracks leave much to be desired. Plus, I have no idea why Cafe On The Corner would arrive just seven months later. If these two projects had been combined, I bet they’d be a stronger set as one unit since the singles from both records were killer.

Grade: B- 

Album Review: Joey Feek – ‘If Not For You’

The solo album recorded by the late Joey Feek for Sony in the 1990s was briefly available from the retailer Overstock back in 2009, under the title Strong Enough To Cry, and I reviewed it then. It has now been repackaged with a new title, and made more widely available. Here is that original review:

Joey + Rory were my favorite duo on 2008’s Can You Duet, but I felt a little guilty about hoping they would win, because I couldn’t help feeling Joey was really a solo singer, with Rory just there to support her. I would have been perfectly happy if she had built on the exposure of the TV show to release a solo record, but of course the pair went on to record one of the best albums of 2008 in The Life Of A Song.

Before Can You Duet, though, Joey was indeed a solo singer. Before she married Rory, she was signed for a while to Sony Records, who dropped her without releasing any material, and in 2005 she recorded a solo album. It was originally released on the couple’s own Giantslayer Records; available as a digital download after Can You Duet was aired; and when Joey + Rory were signed to promote retailer Overstock, they cannily managed to persuade the store to stock the album in CD format.

I have just managed to get hold of a copy, and I’m not disappointed. The songs are not as good as those on the exceptional The Life Of A Song, but there is a pretty good selection, and overall this is a good album by one of the best female country singers to emerge in the last decade. Joey has one of those voices that could really only be country, with a distinctive timbre.

The album kicks off with a few bars from the classic ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You’, sung by Joey’s mother June Martin (who has a pretty good, slightly old-fashioned voice) accompanied by her father Jack. Further snippets from this recording are inserted between a few of the other tracks. Technically, the album starts with Joey inviting her parents to play the song, and ends with them all chatting and giggling in the studio. This was probably intended to underscore the charming home-made feel of the project, but comes across as a little self-indulgent, and by the second listen I was distinctly irritated. This aside, there is a strong family element to the record. Although Rory does not sing on it, the harmony singers include June Martin and Rory’s daughter Heidi, and even Rufus, the family dog, gets in on the act. Rory produces (with one Bill McDermott), and of course contributes his songwriting talent.

The best songs are the title track and ‘See You There’, which are the first (real) track and the penultimate one. ‘Strong Enough To Cry’ is an excellent song co-written by Rory with veteran songwriter Max D. Barnes, and showcases Joey’s excellent voice; this cut could easily be a hit single. ‘See You There’ is almost too personal, and may be too much for some, as it tells the story of the early death of Joey’s brother; some of the detail feels rather like trespassing on someone else’s private grief, and some of the rhymes feel a little too obvious, but the song has a real emotional impact. Joey and Rory wrote this song together, as they did ‘Nothing To Remember’, a charming song with a pretty tune and a good hook (“I’d rather have something to forget than nothing to remember”).

Joey’s voice is capable of lifting lesser material so that it sounds better than it actually is. Examples here are the slightly repetitive and rather mundane ‘That’s Important To Me’, where Joey’s obvious commitment to the song, which she co-wrote with Rory and Tim Johnson, does just that. Similarly, ‘Like A Rodeo’ offers an unremarkable metaphor for life with a gentle melody, but is really beautifully sung. Oddly, co-writer Paul Overstreet is prominently credited for harmony vocals on this (to the extent that I was expecting a full-scale duet before I heard the track), but is barely audible. Joey’s soaring vocal over an acoustic guitar backing also lifts ‘Southern Girl’, written by Rory with Tim Johnson, obviously for Indiana-born Joey as she declares herself the titular southern girl by adoption.

‘Red’ is a bit of a mixed bag of a song. Lyrically, it’s one of those songs about being country, but at least it’s not first-person, and it has a reasonable amount of specific detail. Musically it is urgent and uptempo, with barks from Rufus in the chorus (just few enough to be cute), and some rather dubious echo effects and whoo-ing I could have done without. It would probably go down well live, and I quite enjoyed it, though perhaps in a slightly guilty-pleasure way.

There are only a handful of songs not written by Rory on this release. The best of these is the engaging ‘The Cowboy’s Mine’ (from the pens of Tim Johnson and Jim McCormick). Lyrically, imagine a meld of ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man’, the opposite of ‘Cheater, Cheater’, and a postive prequel to ‘Last Call’, as the protagonist shows up at the bar to collect her man and pay off his bill. It has a delightfully old-fashioned feel. ‘When The Needle Hit The Vinyl’ offers a nice change of pace, but is more memorable for the crackling vinyl sound effect at the end than for the song itself. I liked the intense ballad ‘If Not For You’ (as close as Joey gets to AC rather than country) more the first time I heard it than I did on repeated listens.

Overall, if you like Joey + Rory’s The Life Of A Song, you’ll like this – but not as much.

Grade: B+ (2017 note: I think I would now call this an A-)

Thanks to Brody for helping me get hold of it.

joeymartin1

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Buick’

Buick was Sawyer Brown’s first album of the 1990s, and the first album to feature a song by Mac McAnally, although it would be another two albums before McAnally became a major presence in the totality of Sawyer Brown’s sound. For this album, McAnally did vocal arrangements, and Mark Miller and Randy Scruggs co-produced the album.

Unlike most of their prior albums, gone was the dreaded 80s production, with more reliance on traditional musical instruments (alas, no steel guitar). More importantly, the songwriting of band members Hubbard and Miller continued to improve.

Three singles were released from the album. The first two singles “One Less Pony” and “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Me” both stiffed at radio reaching #70 and #68 respectively. The third single “The Walk”, reached #2, their first top ten recording after five consecutive records failed to reach the top twenty. Moreover, “The Walk” would kick off a string of eight straight singles (and eleven out of twelve) that would reach the top five of the Country singles chart.

The album opens up with a Gregg Hubbard-Mark Miller composition “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Me”. The song was not a terrible choice for a single, but this mid-tempo ballad was a little too similar to several other singles that had been released to radio by various other artists.

Miller collaborated with Randy Scruggs on “My Baby Drives A Buick”, a somewhat funky slow ballad. I’m not sure you could get away with this lyric in today’s PC environment:

“You think that you’ve been through it, But you ain’t seen nothin’ till your baby drives a Buick.”

Mac McAnally makes his Sawyer Brown debut with “When You Run From Love”, a song co-written with Mark Miller. The song has a meaningful lyric that foreshadows future efforts. The instrumental accompaniment has a blues/rock feel to it.

Love up and beat a path to my back door
I could always walk away before
I thought, I could get away untouched
But you think to much when you run from love
When you run from love
When you run from love

The quickest way ain’t fast enough and the
Trains and the planes will let you down
If you hide your eyes
You make a chain of pain and lies
And you know that
You’re only losing ground
When you run from love

Mark Miller’s “The Walk” may be the best song that Miller ever wrote. Since the Buick album was not an overwhelming sales success, Curb carried the song over to the next album, using it as the title song. This song definitely signaled a directional shift by the band to more lyrically sophisticated songs.

Down our long dusty driveway
I didn’t want to go
But I set out with tears in my eyes wonderin`
Daddy took me by the hand
Looked down at the school bus and his little man and said,
“Don’t worry boy it will be all right”

[Chorus]
‘Cause I took this walk you’re walking now
Boy, I’ve been in your shoes
You can’t hold back the hands of time
It’s just something you’ve got to do
So dry eyes I understand just what you’re goin` through
‘Cause I took this same walk with my old man
Boy, I’ve been in your shoes

“Forty-Eight Hours Till Monday” is another Miller-Hubbard collaboration, this time a mid-tempo song celebrating the weekend. I think this would have made a very decent single.

It’s Friday night and I’ve been workin’ all week long
After the rent all I have left is this old song
My baby’s right beside me, we’re gonna have a ball
Ain’t gonna care about anything, anything at all
I’ve got 48 hours and 25 dollars in change ’til Monday

Got on my skin tight jeans
And my shirt with the ketchup stains
I’ve got a hole in my pocket and the world by the tail
And everything is going my way
I’ve got 48 hours and 25 dollars in change

I’m not sure why Mark Miller wrote “Superman’s Daughter”, as the song is rather gimmicky. As a mid-tempo rocker, the song does no harm as an album track.

She was the most unusual girl I’d met
She stole my heart and she took my breath
She had these certain ways I did not understand
And when I made my move to execute my plan
She was leading me like a lamb to a slaughter

You don’t mess around with Superman’s daughter
Superman’s daughter got looks that kill
She got X-ray eyes, she got a heart of steel
When she fell in love, I never would have caught her
If I’d only known she was Superman’s daughter

“One Less Pony”, another Miller composition, is an up-tempo ballad that functions well as an album track but was too derivative to make a good single.

Donna McElroy has had a long career as a background singer, although little success as a recording artist. Her contributions to the Hubbard-Miller composition “Still Water” add a gospel quality to a lovely
song .

“Stealing Home” is yet another Hubbard-Miller composition, this time a mid-tempo ballad that makes use of baseball analogies

No, I’m not just crazy, I’ve lost more than my mind
Since I looked into your blue eyes
I’m swingin’ for the bleachers with my heart
Thinking this time that I might win looking at you
Stealin’ home, stealin’ home
I’m rounding third and I’m heading on in
Look at me taking chances again
Maybe this time, I’ll beat out the throw stealing home

The album closes with “Thunder Bay”, a Scruggs-Miller collaboration.

I never thought that anyone could do me like you do me
I never thought that love would get in the way
But there was magic in the air and there were stars out on the water
On a moonlit night in Thunder Bay

As with other Sawyer Brown albums, there is a nice mix of styles and tempo to keep things interesting.

I think that “The Walk” was a bit unlucky to not reach #1, and in general, this album represents an upgrade over earlier albums in terms of songwriting and production values. I would rate this an A-

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘The Boys Are Back’

The neotraditional revival and the rise of the Class of 1989 might have put paid to the career of Sawyer Brown, as they did those of many of their contemporaries, but instead 1989 was to see Sawyer Brown reinventing themselves. They had had bigger radio hits before, but their energetic and credible cover of the George Jones hit ‘The Race Is On’ showed a new side to the band. It was a #5 hit.

The to follow ups were less successful, languishing in the 30s. ‘Did It For Love’ probably deserved better; it’s an engagingly delivered com-pendium story song about life choices – getting married, single motherhpood and volunteering to fight in Vietnam. The lyrics are awkwardly phrased and in places meaningless (“It was the rage of the age and the hour of the main attraction”), but the earnest vocal and catchy tune sell it. ‘Puttin’ The Dark Back Into The Night’, another catchy story song, is less effective, with rather intrusive percussion.

A cover of Steve Earle’s blue-collar ‘Getting’ Tough (Good Ol’ Boy)’ suits Miller’s voice very well, and this is a real highlight, second only to ‘The Race Is On’. The very best track, though, is the closing ‘Passin’ TRain’, a gently reflective tune written by the band’s keyboard player Gregg Hubbard. Frustratingly, it appears to be missing from the iTunes version of the album.

‘Good While It Lasted’ is a pleasant MOR ballad, and ‘I’m Gonna Miss You After All’ a fair country one, but neither will stick in the memory very long. The mid paced ‘Rosie Knows’ is okay, and I quite enjoyed the country rocker ‘Hey Hey’ despite a disposable lyric. The train themed ‘Locomotive’ is boring. ‘The Heartland’ has some nice traces of fiddle, but the song itself is dull.

Overall, their sound was staring to be gritter and less polished, but Mark Miller’s songwriting was still a work in progress (at least lyrically). They were improving, but still not quite there yet.

Grade: C+

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Wide Open’

1988’s Wide Open was Sawyer Brown’s fifth studio album and their least successful up to that time. Peaking at #33, it was their first album that failed to crack the Top 40 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. It also failed to produce any Top 10 hits. Like its predecessor Somewhere in the Night, it was produced by Ron Chancey, who was best known for his work with The Oak Ridge Boys.

From an artistic standpoint, Wide Open is a mixed bag. It is, for the most part slickly produced — bucking the commercial trends of the day which had begun to favor more traditional sounds. None of the album cuts are particularly noteworthy or memorable. The three single releases, however, are a different story. The first was a spirited version of Dennis Linde’s “My Baby’s Gone”, which had been recorded a few years earlier by The Judds. It seems tailor made for Sawyer Brown; the lyrics tell a sad story but the song’s fast tempo gives it a more upbeat feeling. It reached #11 and I can’t imagine why it didn’t manage to crack the Top 10. It certainly deserved to chart higher. “Old Pair of Shoes”, written by Mark Miller, is good but not great. The metaphor of a comfortable but worn old pair of shoes for a relationship is hardly original. Many other songs have done a better job getting the same point across, but the song is certainly better than its #50 chart peak suggests.

The album’s best song by far is the third single, Skip Ewing’s Christmas classic “It Wasn’t His Child”, which examines the relationship between Jesus and his foster father St. Joseph. It only reached #51, but that is understandable since Christmas singles typically don’t chart very high. It’s a beautiful song that has been recorded many times. Sawyer Brown’s version more than holds its own against the others. It is however, a little out of place on this album and might have been better suited for a multi-artist Christmas compilation.

As far as the album cuts go, “What Am I Going To Tell My Heart” written by Sawyer Brown members Bobby Randall and Gregg Hubbard is the best, the Mark Miller-penned “Blue Denim Soul” is the worst and the rest are all forgettable filler that fall somewhere in between.

Aside from its singles, Wide Open is not essential listening. I recommend downloading “My Baby’s Gone” and “It Wasn’t His Child” and perhaps “Old Pair of Shoes” and skipping the rest. Or if you want to hear it in its entirety, this one is a good candidate for streaming.

Grade: B

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Somewhere In The Night’

When discussing country music released in the late 1980s, it’s almost customary to frame it within the context of the new traditionalist movement. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that not every artist releasing albums at that time adhered to the sound ushered in by Randy Travis on Storms of Life. Acts like Alabama, K.T. Oslin, Rosanne Cash and others were sticking with the pop-country sound that had dominated the better part of the decade. These artists were not only going against the trend, they were dominating at radio alongside everyone else.

You can easily add Sawyer Brown to this category, as well. Their fourth album, Somewhere In The Night, arrived in May 1987 under the direction of Ron Chancey. He had taken over for Randy Scruggs who wouldn’t produce a Sawyer Brown album until The Boys Are Back, two years later. Many know Chancey’s son Blake from his notable production work with David Ball, Dixie Chicks, Montgomery Gentry and Gretchen Wilson in the 1990s-2000s.

Sawyer Brown wasn’t exactly dominating at this point in their career. When Somewhere In The Night was released, the band was on a streak of six consecutive singles missing the top 10. Their most recent, “Savin’ The Honey for the Honeymoon” has petered out at #58. They needed a reverse in fortunes, and while this wasn’t the album to get them there, it did give them a slight reprieve with radio.

The title track, co-written by Don Cook and Rafe VanHoy, had originally appeared on the Oak Ridge Boys classic Fancy Free six years earlier. Sawyer Brown’s version retains a 1980s sheen, complete with dated harmonies and synth piano, but is otherwise an excellent and restrained ballad. The track peaked at #29.

The album’s biggest success came when second single “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine” peaked at #2. The ballad, co-written by Mike Geiger and Woody Mullis, is a wonderful example of the other side of late 1980s country music. While it might sound a bit dated today, the production is nicely restrained with Chancey framing their harmonies beautifully.

Kix Brooks, Kenneth Beal, and Bill McClelland are responsible for the album’s final single, “Old Photographs,” which stalled at #27. The lush ballad isn’t a strong one, a bit of filler that never would’ve made it as a single in any other era.

“In This Town,” co-written by Tom Shapiro and Michael Garvin, would’ve made a fantastic choice for a single, and probably would’ve sailed up the charts behind “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine.” Everything about the ballad is on point, from the melody to the harmonies.

Somewhere In The Night contains its share of uptempo material, so it’s curious why the label didn’t see fit to break the ballad fatigue with one of these tracks. Two such songs were solely penned by Dennis Linde. “Dr. Rock N. Roll” is a slice of catchy slick pop while “Lola’s Love” is a nice dose of country-rock. The latter is the better song, and as a single for Ricky Van Shelton from his 1994 album Love and Honor, it peaked at #62. Linde also wrote “Still Life In Blue,” a mid-tempo ballad with dated accents of synth-pop.

The percussion-heavy “Little Red Caboose” was written by Steve Gibson and Dave Loggins and recorded by Lee Greenwood on his 1985 release, Love Will Find Its Way To You. The results are catchy and brimming with personality.

“Still Hold On” was originally released by its co-writer Kim Carnes in 1981 and Kenny Rogers in 1985. The ballad soars, thanks to Mark Miller’s vocal, which is an outstanding example of pathos that hints at the gravitas he would bring to the band’s 1990s hits “All These Years” and “Treat Her Right.”

The final track, “A Mighty Big Broom” was written solely by Miller. It’s the album’s most adventurous track, with a rock-leaning arrangement and a silly lyric.

When approaching Somewhere In The Night, I fully expected not to be able to pick out the Sawyer Brown I know from this set of songs. I came to the band like all my country music, in 1996, long after “The Walk” had revolutionized their sound and grounded them with depth and substance. So I was surprised I could hear subtle hints of what the band would eventually become, on this album. It’s a stellar project through and through, with a nice batch of above average material.

Grade: A

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Out Goin’ Cattin”

Sawyer Brown was often excoriated for the frivolous and superficial lyrical content of the songs they recorded, at least in the days before they associated with ace Nashville songwriter Mac McAnally. While it is true that most of their early songs were not that sophisticated or relevant, the fact remains that none of Sawyer Brown’s early albums were b-o-r-i-n-g, being filled with good cheer and frequently danceable music.

Out Goin’ Cattin’ was Sawyer Brown’s third album and also their third top ten country album. While the album was not full of top ten singles, the album, produced by Randy Scruggs is a well produced and organized album, with varying tempos and varying styles of music encompassed within its ten songs.

The album opens with “Lady of the Evening”, a Mark Miller composition. The song is a nice mid-tempo ballad. I don’t like the production much – it reeks of 1980s – but the song is interesting:

She’s got my picture in her locket
I got my hand in her back pocket
Walkin” through the night, in our home town
We take our time as we go strollin’
We might go to a movie, might go bowling
She just says we’ll take on what the night will bring

[Chorus]
‘Cause she’s a lady of the evening
But only just for me man
I’m a wonderin’ why she set her likes on me
She’s got me overflowing
‘Cause she keeps me knowin’
I’ll be doin’ my leavin’
With a lady of the evening tonight

“Better Be Some Tears” is next. Written by Kerry Chater, Bill LaBounty and Beckie Foster, this up-tempo ballad might have been a reasonable choice for release as a single. As relationship songs go, this one is a bit flinty:

Some other fool with his head in the clouds
Might let you get away with what you done
But not me, Baby, not me
You fall out of love and now you’re comin’ around
Any time you want to get back on
We’ll see, Baby, we’ll see
I won’t be waitin’ here forever
Right now I’m tellin’ you

[Chorus:]
There better be some tears
I wanna see some cryin’
Now you do a little dying
To show me you’re sincere
There better be some tears
After the way you left me
Baby if you wanna get me
To let you come back here
There better be some tears

“Not Ready to Let You Go” by Steve Dorff and Mark Miller is a slow, tender ballad that has an easy listening/adult contemporary feel to it, again with typical 80s production.

“Out Goin’ Cattin'” by Randy Scruggs and Mark Miller was the first single released from the album, reaching #11 (it went to #4 in Canada). Frankly, it should have been a bigger hit as it is a fine song with a definite R&B vibe to it. Joe Bonsall, the fine tenor of the Oak Ridge Boys, is featured on the song and the addition of his voice to Mark Miller’s really makes this song work.

We still bop and our cars run hot
We’re out cuttin’ the fool
We’re tearin’ the town got the top laid down
Like we’re back in school
I got a white sport coat and blue suede shoes
We’re gonna find us a Betty and a Bobby Sue

[Chorus]
Well don’t go tellin’ don’t go rattin’
Hey baby baby we’re out goin’ cattin’
Juke joint jammin’ tit for tat
And mama don’t wait up, wait up
We’re out goin’ cattin’
Oh yeah, out goin’ cattin’
Oh yeah, out goin’ cattin’

“The House Won’t Rock” a Frank J. Myers – Mark Miller collaboration rocks but gently. The lyrics are not to be taken too seriously, harkening back to the sort of lyrics that permeated early rock and roll.

Next up is “New Shoes” (Bill LaBounty, Beckie Foster and Susan Longacre). Again the song doesn’t feature especially deep lyrics but it is a celebratory and a decent dance number:

She put me down and left me flat
Like a penny on a railroad track
The dust ain’t even settled yet
Now look at me take my first step
Gonna kick this heartache in the butt
Tonight I’m gonna strut

[Chorus:]
Puttin’ on some new shoes
Gettin’ rid of these old blues
All is takes is one quick change
And I’ll just dance away
In my new shoes

“Graveyard Shift” by Gene Nelson and Paul Nelson is the most meaningful song on the album, proof that even before connecting with McAnally that Miller and company were capable of handling more serious fare. As one who worked graveyard shifts for four years, I can identify with the sentiments expressed in this song.

The only way to make a livin’ round here
Is down there on the loading dock
My daddy done it for 35 years
And old is all he ever got

Guess I was meant to follow in his footsteps
Just like an assembly line
But it’s amazing how long the nights get
When I’m working on the graveyard shift
Yes I’m working on the graveyard shift

Wishin’ I could give someone a piece of my mind
There must be somethin’ better than this
Bein’ buried alive where the sun never shines
Workin’ on the graveyard shift

“Night Rockin’ “, another Scruggs-Miller collaboration, really doesn’t rock at all, being but another mid-tempo ballad. It serves its purpose in that it keeps the tempos varied within the album.
“Savin’ the Honey for the Honeymoon” by J. Barry and Rick Vito is kind of a silly song that was the third single released from the album, dying at #58. The song, which has an early Buck Owens tempo, is another one of those songs about the girl not giving it up until receipt of the wedding band. It makes for a great album cut and was probably a little unlucky not to do better as a single.

Mark Miller’s “Gypsies On Parade” is the closing track. Released as the second single, it just cracked the top thirty. The song, a slow ballad, tells the story of a band’s life on the road. The song is well constructed but not necessarily singles material:

We pulled out of Charlotte
The snow is fallin’ down
We make our way in a one eagle sleigh
‘Til we reach another town
Our name is in lights on the billboard sign
In every town we play
But if you may, all it really need say
Are gypsies, gypsies on parade

This is a pretty entertaining album, with good use of varying tempos, although I would have liked for the album to include at least one really fast song, such as “Step That Step”. The album is marred somewhat by the production, with saxophone passages (mercifully few) played by a Kenny G imitator. As a lead singer Mark Miller continued to show improvement and the band remains cohesive. I can’t quite give this album an A, but it is a solid B+ and one I listened to frequently in the first few years after it was released.