My Kind of Country

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Category Archives: Retro Reviews

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Armed and Crazy’

Johnny Paycheck followed his most successful album, Take This Job and Shove It, with Armed and Crazy exactly a year later. The album was produced, as per usual, by Billy Sherrell.

The record saw two single releases. “Friend, Lover, Wife,” a mid-tempo ballad about a man’s straight-laced other half, peaked at #7. “The Outlaw’s Prayer,” an excellent recitation in which a man is banished from a church because of his appearance, stalled at #27.

The title track is a sonically adventurous mess that fails on every level. The song attempts to extend Paycheck’s outlaw image, but it tries too hard and devolves into a mix of unappealing loud noise. “Mainline” is better, with audible harmonica throughout, but it’s still not very good. “Just Makin’ Love Don’t Make It Love” is an AC-leaning ballad that feels uninspired, to say the least.

“Thanks To The Cathouse (I’m In The Doghouse With You)” has a strong lyric and clever title, but is bogged down by heavy production that intrudes on the overall listening experience. The track would’ve been far more enjoyable if the proceedings had been a bit more tasteful and let the song breathe. “Leave It To Me” isn’t much better, succumbing to Sherrill’s need to get in the way of Paycheck’s performance.

“Me and the IRS” is an excellent workingman’s anthem that perfectly balances comedy and reality. The uptick in quality continues with “Let’s Have A Hand for the Little Lady,” a rocker that succeeds on its melody and Paycheck’s energetic vocal. “Look What the Dog Drug In” is easily the album’s strongest track (along with “The Outlaw’s Prayer”) and would’ve made a terrific single.

Armed and Crazy is a strange album full of adventurous production that usually is not in service of the song. Sherrill used many of the techniques that were popular in the day and they don’t hold up to modern times. I can see why this album wasn’t a smash hit, it just doesn’t have a magical spark. There are a few good tracks, but that’s not enough to save the album as a whole.

Grade: B- 

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Take This Job And Shove It’

1977 was the peak of Johnny Paycheck’s career, seeing the success of his signature song, the only chart topping single of his career. The album from which it came was also his most successful, his only platinum record, and was arguably his best. By now Billy Sherrill knew what kind of production suited Paycheck, and he gives him the right backings for this excellent selection of songs.

‘Take This Job And Shove It’, written by fellow Outlaw David Allan Coe, is a true country classic which is still instantly recognisable – and relatable – today. More casual country fans may think of it solely as an assertive blue collar walkout from an underpaid, boring factory job with bosses he despises, but at heart it is a heartbreak song. The narrator’s motivation is the woman he loves. He has been enduring the job he loathes in order to try and make a home for her – but now she has left, he plans on making is true feelings known. Paycheck’s growling delivery is completely convincing. The song had such a popular impact it even loosely inspired a movie a few years later, in which both Paycheck and Coe had cameo roles.

The spoken ‘Colorado Kool-Aid’ is a rather bizarre intended-to-be-funny tale of a bar fight in which the narrator’s Mexican friend cuts off a drunken aggressor’s ear as payback for the latter spitting beer at him:

If you’re ever ridin’ down in south Texas
And decide to stop and drink some Colorado Kool-Aid
And maybe talk to some Mexicans
And you get the urge to get a little tough
You better make damn sure you got your knife-proof ear-muff

Hey, ain’t that right, big man?
I said, ain’t that right, big man?
Ah, hell he can’t hear
Nnot on this side anyway, he ain’t got no ear

It was the B side to the physical single of ‘Take This Job And Shove It’, and it got some airplay in its own right.

The album’s other single, the booze-drenched Bobby Braddock’s ‘Georgia In A Jug’, was less successful, peaking at #17, even though it is an excellent song. Younger fans may know it better from Blake Shelton’s cover. Like ‘Take This Job’, it appears to be one kind of song, in this case a drinking song, with an underlying narrative of heartbreak over the woman who has left. Mexican horns, Caribbean steel drums, and Hawaiian steel are used sparingly, and tastefully, to illustrate the exotic destinations the happy couple will never now visit in real life. A similar alcoholic tour, this time of the US, to try and get over a woman, take space in ‘The Spirits Of St Louis’.

Another superb song, ‘From Cotton To Satin (From Birmingham To Manhattan)’ (covered by Gene Watson a few years later) is about a marriage which founders due to financial pressures. The poor farmer hero scrapes together just enough to take his wife on a vacation to New York City, where she dumps him for a rich man. Ironically, just after she has done so, his Alabama farm turns out to be the site of an oilwell.

‘Barstool Mountain’ was written by Donn Tankersley and Wayne Carson (who recorded it first), and also recorded by Moe Bandy. A classic honky tonk ballad about “drinking away I love you”, it’s another great tune.

‘The Fool Strikes Again’ (written by Steve Davis, Mark Sherrill and Gary Cobb) is a delicate ballad about a loyal wife whose man continually lets her down:

Lady Luck never smiles on those who cheat to win
Every time I get her back
The devil tempts me into sin
And with a smile on his face
The fool strikes again

It was subsequently a single for Charlie Rich, although not a particularly successful one.

‘When I Had A Home To Go’, penned by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton, might depict the same relationship a little later. The wealthy protagonist admits to the bartender,

She loved me more than life itself
But the liquid diet I was on starved our love to death
So it’s not hard to figure out why my baby’s gone
‘Cause when I had a home to go to
I never did go home

Luckily for him, she actually seeks him out in the bar where he has taken refuge, and offers him a second chance, and he has suffered enough to take it up:

So forget the double
Keep the change
And you can call me gone
Cause while I’ve got a home to go to
This time I’m going home

‘The Four F Blues’ is more light hearted, with Paycheck cheerfully playing the field:

I ain’t never seen a woman that didn’t like the 4-F blues

Ooh I like to find ’em, fool ’em, free ’em and forget ’em
And love ’em till they’re satisfied
Then look around for something new

‘The Man From Bowling Green’ is a nice, rather sad story song written by Max D Barnes and Troy Seals., about a naïve young girl seduced by an older man, a musician who moves swiftly on once he has got what he wanted.

This is a great album, which I strongly recommend. If you have nothing else by Johnny Paycheck nin your collection, this is the album to go for. You can find it on a joint CD with Armed And Crazy, and half the tracks from Mr Hag Told My Story, reviews for both which will follow later this week.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets’

Although his first “outlaw” album, 11 Months and 29 Days didn’t exactly set the Billboard charts on fire, Johnny Paycheck and producer Billy Sherrill continued in a similar vein with his next album, the much more successful Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets, which marked the beginning of a commercial resurgence for Paycheck, albeit a brief one. The album spawned two hit singles, which carried him into the Top 10 for the first time since “Song and Dance Man” peaked at #8 four years earlier.

The first single was the title track, penned by Wayne Carson and Donn Tankersley, which finds the protagonist only too happy to reunite with an ex for clandestine meetings, despite the fact that she had jilted him for a richer suitor. The bouncy number landed at #7. The follow-up was the equally enjoyable “I’m The Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)”, which revisits the tried-and-true “Mama Tried” theme. The protagonist’s mother tried to “turn him on to Jesus” but he “turned on to the Devil’s ways” and by the end of the song he has been arrested for armed robbery. It peaked at #8. Both of these numbers are among Paycheck’s most memorable songs; it’s a little surprising that they didn’t chart a little higher.

This collection is considered one of Johnny Paycheck’s “outlaw” albums, although only one track , “Woman You Better Love Me” is what I would consider a true outlaw song in the sense that it sounds like something Waylon Jennings would have done. The rest, for the most part have an in-your-face attitude but I’d classify them more as honky-tonk than outlaw. One track — Bobby Braddock’s “I Did The Right Thing” is an outlier on the album in that it is a tender ballad that shows Johnny’s sensitive side as he laments ending an extramarital affair and returning to his wife. It is more conventional than the rest of the album, retaining some of the countrypolitan trappings of the day (strings, vocal choruses) for which Billy Sherrill was well known. The rest of the album, however, is more hardcore country and is certainly more traditional than anything Sherrill was doing with other male stars like Charlie Rich and George Jones during the 70s.

I particularly enjoyed Johnny’s take on “You’re Still On My Mind”, which had charted at #28 for George Jones in 1962 (an updated duet version with Marty Stuart was included on Jones’ 2008 album Burn Your Playhouse Down.) “Hank”, in which Johnny sings about those mansions on the hill that Hank Sr. sang about is also quite good. I’d have made this the album’s opening song instead of the fourth track, since it reads like a prequel to “Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets” — Johnny’s lost the girl of his dreams to a richer man, but she hasn’t yet come crawling back. Those are my two favorites, along with the two singles. All of the tracks are quite good, though if pressed I’d rank the slightly maudlin “I Did The Right Thing” as my least favorite.

Throughout the 50s and 60s, and for about the first half of the 70s, albums were of significantly less importance than singles in country music. By the latter half of the 70s, however, some artists were beginning to make more of an effort to create quality albums from start to finish, instead of just finding some filler to accompany a hit single or two. Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets seems to be a reflection of that change in attitude. It’s a surprisingly solid album and my only real beef with it is that it plays for a scant 28 minutes.

Grade: A

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ’11 Months 29 Days’

Johnny Paycheck released his first outlaw album, 11 Months 29 Days in 1976. He hadn’t yet caught on in this vein, proven by the fact the album spawned four low-charting singles and peaked at #40 upon release.

Frank Dycus and Larry Kingston wrote the lead single, “The Feminine Touch,” an odd critique on manhood. The dreary arrangement and Paycheck’s vocal are eerily reminiscent of George Jones, which I can’t tell is on purpose or not. The track itself just isn’t very good. It peaked at #56.

“Gone At Last,” the second single, is better although I could’ve done without the dated female voices on the chorus. I did enjoy the jaunty melody, which is brimming with flourishes of harmonica. The track stalled at #49.

The title track, which hit #44, was the album’s next radio offering. The prison-themed lyric, which Paycheck co-wrote with Billy Sherill, is very good. The track itself is dated beyond repair, with what sounds like an annoying horn throughout the proceedings.

The final single, “I Can See Me Loving You Again” was a Jerry Foster and Bill Rice co-write that reached #44. It’s nice ballad that makes good use of Paycheck’s honest and tender vocal performance. The production, complete with piano, is dated to modern ears, but the track is very good.

As for the remaining songs, the album finally kicks into high gear with “The Woman Who Put Me Here,” an excellent barroom anthem complete with a welcomed backing of steel guitar. “I Sleep With Her Memory Every Night” is another high point, a ballad, complete with nice touches of fiddle to accompany a lyric about a lost love. “I’ve Seen Better Days,” also another ballad, is slightly dreary but very good as well.

11 Months 29 Days is an average album at best, with songs that may be okay on their own but are taken down by dreary uninviting production trappings. While I didn’t like this one very much, it may appeal to Paycheck collectors’ more than average fans.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Someone to Give My Love To’

While the Little Darlin’ Recordings served to get Johnny’s name known, at some point the label lost steam and was folded by Aubrey Mayhew. In fact the last of the Mayhew-Paycheck collaborations was released on the Certron label. Once again Paycheck found himself on the outside looking in.

There´s an old saying that ‘The honky-tonk life kills off the honky-tonk singers’, In Johnny Paycheck’s case, that almost proved to be true as the twin demons of alcohol and drug abuse momentarily brought his career to a halt. Fortunately for Johnny, a talent as formidable as he was, rarely stayed forgotten in Nashville during the early 1970s. While he was drying out, the country music genre was undergoing some changes. Bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Matthews Southern Comfort, The Byrds, Poco and Pure Prairie League were adding country sounds to their forms of rock music. Meanwhile, former rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Conway Twitty were experiencing success on country radio. Hoping to capitalize on the new energy affecting country music, CBS record executive and fan Nick Hunter tracked Paycheck down (there are stories of him sleeping under freeway bridges and on park benches). Hunter brought Paycheck to the attention of producer Billy Sherrill, who signed him to Epic Records and recorded him as a straight-ahead country balladeer. Success came immediately as the first single “She’s All I Got” reached #2 Billboard/#1 Cashbox/#1 Record World, and the album of the same name reached #4 upon its release in December 1971.

Someone To Give My Love To was Johnny’s second release for Epic, released in May 1972. The title track, released as the first single from the album replicated the success of his first Epic single reaching #1 on Record World (#2 Cashbox /#4 Billboard). This song was written by the successful songwriting team of Bill Rice and Jerry Foster. Paycheck would record many more of their songs.

I could search from now till the end of time
And never find another you
I’m so glad because I know you’re mine
Someone to give my love to

Now I believe my love that you’re one of a kind
For there’s no one else like you
You’re the light of my life so let it shine
Someone to give my love to

[Chorus]
I found happiness is loving you
And I’ll do my best to make your dreams come true
I will follow you to the end of the earth
For my place will be with you
I have taken you for better or worse
Someone to give my love to

Tracy Byrd would cover this song 30 years later.

Next up is “Smile Somebody Loves You”, a generic ballad that makes a decent album track. “Something” by English songwriter George Harrison is a song that has been covered hundreds of times. Welsh torch singer Shirley Bassey had a huge hit with the song while I was living in England, reaching #4 on the UK pop charts while being a top ten record in numerous other countries. Johnny does a nice job with the song, but with the exception of a little steel guitar, the arrangement is nearly a clone of Bassey’s recording.

Johnny wrote “Your Love Is The Key To It All”. A nice ballad that has a generic instrumental backing that sounds like it was intended as a Tammy Wynette track.

The sun always shines in my world down even when the rain should fall
The light of happiness is always shining and your love is the key to it all
One day you just walked into these arms of mine
Lift me up and with your love made me stand tall
Now I know what happiness in life is all about and your love is the key to it all

Your love is the key that fits every lock to every single door in failure’s wall
Now I’m strong enough to do anything I have to and your love is the key to it all
One day you just walked…
Your love is the key to it all

Jerry Jeff Walker never had any real hit records, but he sure wrote a winner in “Mr. Bojangles”. Walker has said he was inspired to write the song after an encounter with a street performer in a New Orleans jail, after he was jailed for public intoxication. Contrary to popular belief the song was not inspired by famed black dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, but by a homeless white man who called himself “Mr. Bojangles” to conceal his true identity from the police.

Walker’s own 1968 recording of the song died at #77, but the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band pushed the record to #9 on the US pop charts (and #2 on the Canadian pop charts) and performers such as Sammy Davis, Jr. and William Shatner have performed the song. Paycheck’s version is performed in a straight-forward manner – it makes a nice album track.

“Love Is A Good Thing” is another song from the Foster-Rice songbook. According to Billboard the song only reached #12 (#13 Record World/#11 Cashbox). Given how frequently I heard the song on country radio, I suspect that the song was more popular in some areas than others. It is a great song

Girl, you give your precious love to me and we’ve got a good thing goin’
There’s no end in sight that I can see cause our love just keeps on growin’
Bring on happiness let us sing love is a good thing
We can take what life may offer us and when trouble comes around
There’s no way it’s gonna break us up nothing gets a good love down
Bring on sunshine let us sing love is a good thing
Yeah love is a good thing let us sing love is a good thing

“A Heart Don’t Need Eyes” and “She’ll All I Love For” are a pair of Paycheck’s compositions, both decent album tracks. The former is a standard weeper that would have made a decent, but not great single for Paycheck (or George Jones for that matter.) The latter is a upbeat love song to his wife .

“The Rain Never Falls In Denver” is a mid-tempo upbeat Foster & Rice love song. It could have made a decent single for someone but as afar as I know, it was never released by anyone as a single.

Oh, the rain never falls in Denver
‘Cause you make the sun shine all the time
Oh, the rain never falls in Denver
Since you came along and brought your love to this heart of mine

One time in Chicago, Illinois
A pretty woman turned my head around
That city woman said she love this poor country boy
Any cloudy in Chicago and the rain came pouring down

But the rain never falls in Denver
‘Cause you make the sun shine all the time
Oh, the rain never falls in Denver
Since you came along and brought your love to this heart of mine

“High On The Thought of You” is a interesting song about a love that is gone. Johnny does an effective job of singing the song

I don’t need the help of the red wine in the glass to ease my mind
I found out the way to forget the way you left me here behind
I drink up a mem’ry and it takes me back to places that I’ve been
I just think about you and I’m high on the thought of you again

The album closes with “It’s Only A Matter of Wine”, the title a takeoff on the title of an old Brook Benton classic. The song itself, written by Frank Dycus and Larry Kingston, has nothing to do with Benton’s song.

They’re stackin’ the chairs on the table again they block down the Budwiser sign
`Soon they’ll be callin’ a taxi for me it’s only a matter of wine
Yes it’s only a matter of wine till I’m something that words can’t divine
Yes she’ll soon be out of my mind and it’s only a matter of wine

Outside a big truck is washing the street leaving our dream world behind
While inside I’m washing your mem’ry away cause it’s only a matter of wine
Yes it’s only a matter of wine…
Yes it’s only a matter of wine

Johnny Paycheck was a very distinctive vocalist whose voice could occasionally (but only rarely) be mistaken for George Jones – but for no one else. His ability to put across emotion could be matched by few and exceeded by none. The albums released by Epic are generally very good, but that distinctive instrumental sound and style of the Little Darlin’ years had been lost, replaced by the “country cocktails” sound of Billy Sherrill. Unfortunately, album covers from this era did not routinely list musician credits and I haven’t been able to find them elsewhere.

On a few of the tracks, it sound as if tracks were produced first; then a vocalist selected to sing the song. With an artist as distinctive as Paycheck, the vocals cut through the clutter and produce recordings worth hearing.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Shakin’ The Blues’

Bear Family Records issued Shakin’ The Blues in May 2006 as a collection comprised of recordings Johnny Paycheck made for Decca, Mercury, and Todd between 1958-1964. Much like the previous sets, the album leans heavily on hardcore honky-tonk and finds Paycheck echoing the styles of both Ray Price and Faron Young.

None of these recordings were ever issued as singles or reissued on LP or CD. What sets this compilation apart is the last nine songs, which are carbon copies of hits from the day meant to sound interchangeable with the hit recording. The chosen songs, which include “Hello Walls” and “Above and Beyond” are good, but they’re nothing special or essential.

The rest of these recordings, of which there are 20, are fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the jaunty “The Old Man and the River” and “Story Behind The Photograph,” which clearly demonstrates the influence of Young on his vocal style.

There are simply too many tracks to highlight them all, but Paycheck shines brightest on the honky-tonk numbers, which I found to be the most inviting of the bunch. There are a number of Nashville Sound era songs and while they’re good, there’s really nothing about that style that has held up to modern ears.

When I went back and read Razor X’s review from earlier this week, I took particular note of his comment regarding the sound quality of these Bear Family reissue recordings. It’s the latter part of this project, tracks 17-19, that stand out the most in this regard. That, unfortunately, contains the cover tunes, which truly sound awful. I, too, wish some delicate remastering had taken place, at least to aid in one’s enjoyment and appreciation of what Paycheck had recorded during this era.

To my ears, Shakin’ The Blues is a very uneven set of songs, diminished primarily in terms of sound quality and then Nashville Sound era trappings. The honky-tonk numbers, of which there are many, are fantastic and well-worth seeking out. They shine the brightest amongst the muck that surrounds them. This is still a worthy set, essential in the sense that it captures an icon in his formative years. These are important recordings, regardless of the quality.

Grade: B

Album Review: ‘The Little Darlin’ Sound of Johnny Paycheck: On His Way’

In our spotlight feature, normally we review an artist’s albums in chronological order, not necessarily reviewing all albums released but those reviewed will be in order of release date. For Johnny Paycheck’s earliest albums, that is not a practical approach. In the case of the pre-Little Darlin’ recordings, no albums were released, just singles with many of the tracks not released until later. Johnny’s Little Darlin’ albums were released as albums; however, Little Darlin’ was but a bit player in the market with limited distribution. Many avid country music fans never saw one of these albums for sale in a store. Moreover, all of these albums were released during the 1960s so they are long out of print. Even finding used copies in acceptable condition is a real challenge. For instance, as this is written (Memorial Day), musicstack.com has one copy of the album The Lovin’ Machine listed for sale in VG+ condition at a price of $31.00. As a result of the above, for the pre-1970s Johnny Paycheck we will be reviewing some of the collections that have become available during the digital era.

Around 2005 Little Darlin’s legendary owner/producer Aubrey Mayhew resurrected his long defunct label via an arrangement with Koch. Little Darlin’ might be accurately described as an ‘outlaw’ label since its mid-1960s country output is truly renegade, recorded at a time when Nashville was awash in strings and choral arrangements. Instead of lush and lavish production, Little Darlin’ went for hard country sounds played by hard country musicians. Johnny Paycheck: On His Way was released in January 2005, the second release of Paycheck’s Little Darlin’ material on Koch. The album is composed of some singles Paycheck released while on the label, along with some album tracks. The album leads off with “I’d Rather Be Your Fool”, the first single released on the label. It failed to chart but received a little airplay around Nashville.

The second track, Hank Cochran’s classic “A-11” was originally recorded by Buck Owens on his Together Again/My Heart Skips A Beat album released in 1964. Buck did a really nice job with the song but did not release it as a single. Johnny had heard the song and thought it would make a good single for him. The record charted at #15 on Record World, and would set the template for future recordings – hardcore electric guitar and fiddle (usually Buddy Spicher but sometimes augmented with Tommy Jackson) with a very hard-edged steel guitar sound. Although not featured on “A-11”, on subsequent recordings Lloyd Green would play steel and lead the band. Track three is “Where In The World” is an album track. Track four is the single “Heartbreak Tennessee” which reached #39 on Record World.

The first four tracks set the tone for this album. Although not long on hits, this album features hard core country occasionally with desperate lyrics such as “I’m Barely Hanging On” penned by rockabilly legend ‘Groovy’ Joe Poovey:

It’s just my luck that I’ll have to exist
In a world where I just survive
I’m still breathing so I guess
That means I’m still alive
But no one could tell it by the image that they see
Since I let go of you I’m barely hanging on to me.

I quit looking into mirrors I such a sorry sight
How did I get so distorted so young in life
The worst of you has finally got the best of me
Since I let go of you I’m barely hanging on to me.

This particular collection does not feature Johnny’s most desperate (or demented) material; that would arrive a little later. What this album does feature is country music that is unmistakably country. The Johnny Paycheck – Aubrey Mayhew penned “The Meanest Jukebox In Town” is a fine example:

Each dime that goes into that jukebox

A little stream of life drains from my heart

The blues songs mixed with blue lights from that jukebox
 J
Just destroys and tears my world apart


Yes that’s the meanest jukebox in town


Each dream I try to build it crumbles to the ground

And since she’s gone

The only thing that keeps me hanging around

Is the meanest jukebox in town



You may ask yourself why don’t I leave here

Then ask yourself where would I go

Cause in this dim lit bar are my memories

And each song reminds me she once loved me so

The first three singles were issued on the Hilltop label, a label that could give Paycheck little promotional support. Subsequent singles would be issued on Little Darlin’, a label Mayhew created specifically to promote Paycheck’s recordings.

The album closes with the first single issued on the Little Darlin’ label, Larry Kingston’s “The Loving Machine”. Billboard and Record World both had this single reach #8, Paycheck’s first top ten recording.

The minute that I saw her
I knew I just had to have her
So I asked if I could take her for a spin’

When I heard her engine purrin’
And I saw her tail-light blinkin’
I knew I’d never be the same again

So I drove her ’round the corner
Up the street and down the highway
Showin’ off to everybody that I seen

[Chorus ]
She’s a streamlined, sleek lookin’
Smooth runnin’, fast movin’
Breathtakin’ lovin’ machine

Paycheck was indeed on his way. To modern ears, this music may seem unfamiliar, perhaps even alien. Certainly no artist recording over the last thirty years has recorded anything as hardcore as these recordings. This collection is a good starting point for younger listeners who wish to explore Paycheck’s early recordings. It hints at the intensity that Paycheck would develop very soon thereafter.

This collection was released by Little Darlin’ / Koch in 2005. I would call this collection a solid A-.

Album Review: ‘The Little Darlin’ Sound of Johnny Paycheck: In The Beginning’

Released in May 2004, In The Beginning was the first in Koch Records’ series of reissues of Johhny Paycheck’s Little Darlin’ recordings. Founded by Paycheck and his producer Aubrey Mayhew, Little Darlin’ Records was Paycheck’s label from the mid-1960s until the end of the decade when it ceased operations. Paycheck’s Little Darlin’ years were only moderately successful, yielding one Top 10 hit (1966’s “The Lovin’ Machine”) and two more Top 20 hits (1966’s “Motel Charlie” and 1967’s “Jukebox Charlie”). None of those tracks are included on this disc, nor is Paycheck’s best-remembered record from that era, “A-11”, which topped out at #26 in 1965. I suspect that the 15 recordings on this disc may have been the first he recorded but not necessarily the first to be released.

Although nothing here rises to the level of a classic, all of the songs are well-crafted and enjoyable, which is in no small part due to the contributions of the legendary Lloyd Green whose steel guitar is prominent on most of the tracks. Most of these songs are hardcore honky-tonk, without any of the Nashville Sound trappings (vocal choruses, strings) that were typical of the mid to late 1960s. The influence of George Jones and 1950s Ray Price (whose band Paycheck was am member of at the beginning of his career) is readily apparent throughout the disc.

The album’s opening cut is the George Jones-esque “Don’t Start Countin’ on Me”, followed by “The Girl They Talk About”. “High Heels and No Soul” at first seems to be another take on the oft-visited shoes metaphor (i.e., Billy Walker’s “Charlie’s Shoes” and Patsy Cline’s “Shoes”) but it takes a different course and talks more about the subject’s demeanor rather than her footwear. It’s one of the album’s best tracks, as is “Don’t You Get Lonesome” which features a double-tracked vocal effect. “With Your Wedding Ring in One Hand (and a Bottle in the Other)” is another favorite. Not as enjoyable is “Passion and Pride”, which isn’t a bad song but I just can’t get past the similarity of its melody to Porter Wagoner’s “A Satisfied Mind”.

“Columbus Stockade Blues” is a bit of a change of pace, with a rockabilly feel that is more reminiscent of Conway Twitty than George Jones, but the album’s real outlier is Paycheck’s cover of “Galway Bay”. Popularized by Bing Crosby in 1947, the song is almost always performed with an orchestral arrangement. Although Paycheck’s version will have some screaming cultural appropriation, he does a decent job singing the song. However, this is one time the pedal steel seems a little out of place. It’s the only real misstep on the album, material-wise. A bigger problem is the audio quality, which is somewhat lacking throughout. Koch put little or nothing into remastering these tracks, but although they could have benefitted from some digital clean-up, they do not sound so poor to render the album unlistenable.

As someone who is more familiar with Johnny Paycheck’s later years, all of these recordings were new to me. In an age when new worthwhile country music is hard to come by, it’s always a treat to come across something one hasn’t heard before, even if it is decades old. While only hardcore fans will likely buy the album (used CD copies or digital download) more casual listeners may want to stream it.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Currents’

Before we get underway with our Johnny Paycheck spotlight, we have some unfinished business concerning last month’s spotlight artist Don Williams.  Through an oversight, this review was not published on Monday, May 29th as originally intended, so we are bringing it to you now — a little late but worth the wait.

The year 1992 was an interesting year in country music as the ‘New Traditionalist’ movement reached its zenith following the first flowering in 1986 (Randy Travis, Travis Tritt,  Dwight Yoakam) and the vaunted class of 1989 led by Alan Jackson, Clint Black and Garth Brooks. By 1992 so-called hat acts proliferated and even when the music was not strictly traditionalist, fiddle and steel guitar were prominently featured in the music.

In 1987 Hank Williams Jr.  and a cadre of younger artists presaged the 1992 music scene with the video “Young Country”, but with one exception: while the listeners may have been listening to both the new acts and the older acts in concert (and through their cassette and CD collections), radio had completely discarded Haggard and Jones and almost discarded the 48 year old Hank Williams Jr.

Currents, which was released in April 1992, was the third (and final) Don Williams album to be released on the RCA label.  Don had enjoyed three top ten hits off the previous album True Love, but those would prove to be the last top forty chart hits of Don’s career.  Make no mistake about it, Currents, like every album Don released before it (or even after it, for that matter) is a very good album. The problem with the album was the ‘Young Country’ movement was in full swing and the fifty-three year old Williams looked like ‘Old Country’ even if his music was not exactly of the Ernest Tubb/Hank Sr. old school vintage. In fact with his rapidly graying beard, Don looked even a bit older than his age. Radio simply quit playing him.

The album opens up with a Hugh Prestwood song, “Only Water (Shining In The Air)”, mid-tempo ballad with a little different sound than previous efforts:

Not that long ago, I was on the run
People telling me I should be someone
And the things I’d learnt were forgotten in my haste
Till I reached the end of the rainbow I had chased
It was only water shining in thin air
I put out my hand and there was nothing there
After all the promise, after all the prayer
It was only water shining in the air
Now I’ve got a wife and she sees me through
And I’ve got a friend I can talk straight to
And I’ve got some dreams just a bit more down to earth
And I don’t forget what a rainbow’s really worth

“Too Much Love” has a sing-a-long quality to it and, again, a little more of a contemporary sound to it. Written by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, the song has rather bouncy lyrics of not much substance. The song was released as the second single; it deserved a better fate than dying at #72.

Too much coffee, too much tea, too much sugar isn’t good for me.
Too much money and too much fame, too much liqueur drives a man insane.
But too much love, too much love, there’s no such thing as too much love.
Too much fighting and misery, there’s too much trouble in this world for me.
There’s too much of this and too much of that and too much of anything will make you fat.
But too much love, too much love, there’s no such thing as too much love.

I really liked “That Song About The Water”, in fact it is my favorite song on the album. I think it would have made a good single but I doubt radio would have played it either. Penned by Charles John Quarto and Steve Gillette, the song is a slow ballad that sounds like a typical late 60s – early 70s production with steel guitar and (to a lesser degree) harmonica very prominent in the arrangement. I can hear this as a track on a Charley Pride album from that period.

I have seen the paddle wheelers
Rolling south on a summers day
I’ve seen the lovers at the guardrails
With stars in their lemonade
And I’ve heard the hobos gather
Heard their banjos brace the blade
Heard them sing about the river
Called it the lazy mans parade
Sing me that song about the river
Green going away
You know I always did feel like a drifter
At this time of day

Alex Harvey wrote “Catfish Bates” the third single from the album and the first Don Williams single not to chart after fifty-three consecutive solo chart singles. This mid-tempo ballad also features mid-70s country production. If released as a single 15-18 years earlier, I think it would have been a substantial hit. Of course, I may be prejudiced since fried catfish is my favorite form of seafood:

They call me Catfish Bates
‘Cause I can catch a catfish anytime I want to
Even when the moon man tells me they won’t bite
They call me Catfish Bates
‘Cause I know where that big ole flathead’s a hidin’.
I’m a gonna take him home with me tonight
I am the king of the Loosahatchie
My home is on the river
And them catfish they all know me by my sigh

I keep my nose on the westwind
My eye on the water
And my mind on my business all the time

Don turns to Dobie Gray for the next two songs. Gray was essentially an R&B singer who had two huge pop hits, “The In Crowd” (1965) and “Drift Away” (1972). Country fans may remember “Drift Away from Narvel Felts top ten record in 1973.

“So Far, So Good” is a slow ballad about a breakup that the narrator thinks is about to happen, but which hasn’t happened yet. “In The Family” features a Caribbean rhythm verging on reggae. It’s different but it works

 

Well I was raised up by the golden rule
In an old house with a patched up roof
We had a hard home but it pulled us close
We were family
Oh that summer, when the crops all died
Was the first time I saw Daddy cry
An’ I heard Momma say what goes on here stays
In the family

[Chorus]

Well our clothes weren’t new, that old car was used
We held our own
Whoa you just can’t buy, that sense of pride
We grew up on, In the family

I was stunned that “Standing Knee Deep In A River (Dying of Thirst)”, written by the crack team of Bob McDill and Dickey Lee, was not released as a Don Williams single. Instead Kathy Mattea took it to the top twenty in 1993. I like Kathy Mattea but Don’s version is better.

Friends I could count on I could count on one hand with a left over finger or two.
I took them for granted, let them all slip away, now where they are I wish I knew.
They roll by just like water & I guess we never learn,
Go through life parched and empty standing knee deep in a river, dying of thirst.

Pat Alger contributed “Lone Star State of Mind” a song which barely cracked the top forty for Nanci Griffith in 1987. Charles John  Quarto and Steve Gillette contributed “The Old Trail”, a jog-along ballad that isn’t as cowboy as the title suggests. Both songs are good album tracks.

The album closes up with “It’s Who You Love” a top twenty hit for writer Kieran Kane back in 1982. This song was released as the first single from the album. It died at # 73, the first indication that Don’s career as a chart singles act was through. I really like Don’s version – he is a more distinctive vocalist than Kieran Kane – but the song did not do great things in 1982, either.

Lying here beside her I’ve come to understand
If you want to be happy you can
It don’t take living like a king, it doesn’t cost you anything
All it takes is a woman and a man
Because its who you love and who loves you
It’s not where you are if she’s there too
It’s not who you know or what you do
It’s who you love and who loves you
This modern world we live in is a sad state of affairs
Everybody wants what isn’t theirs
While the race for money and success in search of happiness
We turn out the light and go upstairs

Kathy Mattea contributes backing vocals on “The Old Trail”, Dobie Gray does likewise on the two songs he wrote. Kieran Kane plays mandolin and Russ Pahl plays steel guitar. Something called the Bhundu Boys plays on “In The Family” providing guitars, handclaps and cowbells.

I doubt that there was a great conspiracy on radio to not play Don Williams records in 1992 (but I could be convinced otherwise). This is a fine album, with subtle and appropriate instrumentation and featuring a bunch of good songs. This album fits comfortably in the B+ to A- range where most of Don’s albums reside.

No further chart singles would occur for Don Williams, although his subsequent albums would occasionally reach the lower reaches of the Country Albums charts.

I guess Jerry Reed Hubbard was correct when he said “When You’re Hot You’re Hot, When You’re Not,You’re Not”.

 

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘I Turn The Page’

After leaving RCA, Don released a pair of albums on independent label American Harvest Records. He then moved to Giant, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, and released this album for them in 1998. It was produced by label president Doug Johnson, a longterm fan who had taken the decision to sign the artist after being enthralled by his performance at the Nashville Songwriters Association International Banquet. While the sad reality was that Don was too old at 59 for country radio to be prepared to pay any attention, the album was well received by critics.

There was one, non-charting single, the sweet, upbeat story song ‘Cracker Jack Diamond’, written by Ronny Scaife and Neil Thrasher abut a true love which develops from a meeting at the age of 14. Recorded by, say George Strait, this would have been a surefire hit. At the other end of life, ‘Harry And Joe’ is a sympathetic portrait of two old men who are both widowed just after moving to Florida to retire, and become best friends.

David Hanner’s ‘Pancho’ is about impending mortality, but with characters inspired by the 1950s children’s TV western ‘The Cisco Kid’. Hanner and his partner in the Corbin/Hanner Band, Bob Corbin, wrote ‘How Did You Do It’, addressed to an ex who is coping better with the breakup than the protagonist.

Don revived Tony Arata’s ‘A Handful Of Dust’, which will be familiar to Patty Loveless fans. Don’s version is much lower key and less forceful, with a nice folky feel. The two versions are different enough that they don’t really compete with one another, but it certainly suits Don.

He co-wrote one song with Gary Burr and Doug Johnson, ‘I Sing For Joy’, a touching tribute to Joy, his wife of almost 40 years. A very pretty melody and tasteful string arrangement provide the right setting for the autobiographical lyrics and sincere vocals. The song provides the album title.

On a similar theme, Johnson’s song ‘Her Perfect Memory’ is a sweet and lightly amusing tribute to a wife of many years:

I remember how we struggled
When we first started out
She recalls we had it all
Not what we did without
I think back on those hard times
She remembers only love
Who am I to say that’s not
Exactly how it was?

That’s how she remembers it
She was the lucky one
Just take a look at both of us
And you tell me who won
If she thinks I hung the stars
If that’s what she believes
Then who am I to tamper with
Her perfect memory….

If I made all her dreams come true
As far as she can see
Who am I to tamper with
Her perfect memory?

He also wrote ‘Ride On’, an interesting song about childhood innocence challenged by parental failures:

Some people just lose control,
Some people hit overload
Some people act like some people
They never thought they’d be
So why can’t we all see
The only antidote
The only way to cope
The only true hope is love

Gary Burr and Don Schlitz wrote ‘From Now On’, a thoughtful ballad about baggage and finding love late in life. ‘Take It Easy On Yourself’, written by Bill La Bounty and Steve O’Brien, is my favorite track. A laid back tune combining a love song with advice about not making life too stressful, with a soothing melody and tasteful strings, it is rather lovely.

A cover of Scottish folk-pop-rock duo Gallagher & Lyle’s ‘Elise Elise’ Is okay in its way but not really classic Don Williams. Kevin Welch’s ‘Something ‘Bout You’ is more successful, catchy and charming.

This is definitely a mature album, and a very good one.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘One Good Well’

Don Williams released his first album on RCA Records, One Good Well, in April 1989. The album, produced as per usual by Garth Fundis, prolonged his career with a series of very successful radio offerings.

The title track, a mid-tempo love song composed by Mike Reid and Kent Robbins, was issued as the lead single. It was followed by Bob McDill’s “I’ve Been Loved By The Best,” a gently rolling ballad about a love for the ages. Both songs, of superior quality, peaked at #4.

The third single, “Just As Long as I Have You,” which covered similar ground both thematically and sonically, also peaked at #4. The song, written by Dave Loggins and J.D. Martin, had originally peaked at #72 when Loggins released his own version with Gus Hardin in 1985.

The fourth and final single, “Maybe That’s What It Takes,” was slightly slower and a bit more lush than its predecessors. It stalled at #22 despite a well-written lyric by Beth Nielsen Chapman.

“Learn To Let It Go” is a jaunty pace changer, written by Reid with Rory Bourke. The arrangement, accented with dobro and fiddle, feels so tailor made to Keith Whitley I had to double check he wasn’t one of the track’s co-writers. Williams, unsurprisingly, wears the style well.

He goes uptempo again on “Why Get Up,” co-written by Bill Carter and Ruth Ellsworth. The track, complete with honky-tonk piano and an ear-catching lyric, is reminiscent of “It Must Be Love.”

Williams himself contributed “Cryin’ Eyes,” a gorgeous ballad concerning the reasons couples drift apart. Another of his solely-written numbers, “We’re All The Way” is more optimistic, tackling the well-worn theme of commitment. “Broken Heartland,” by Gene Nelson, keeps the pace slow on a ballad about feeling deflated when love doesn’t work out.

McDill and Bucky Jones are responsible for the album’s final song, “Flowers Won’t Grow (In Gardens Of Stone).” The somber ballad is an excellent steel drenched number, one of the album’s best.

One Good Well is, like all of Williams’ albums, a masterful recording. There isn’t a flaw I can find among these ten songs. I don’t think I’ve encountered another artist who is truly this timeless. You can listen to a Williams recording of any era and feel like it was just recorded today. He is easily one of the most remarkable country singers I have ever heard.

But if I was going to nitpick, I would call out One Good Well for not being memorable enough to stand out. While every song is indeed excellent, there’s nothing truly transcendent among these ten tracks. It’s a slight criticism, which I won’t hold against him, that is worth noting. Only Williams could get away with not taking any chances.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Don Williams: ‘Traces’

Traces was the second of a pair of albums that Don recorded for Capitol during the mid-to-late 1980s.   He co-produced the set with Garth Fundis.  Never one to follow trends, Don began his solo career singing songs with simple, stripped down production in an era when countrypolitan, with its lush string sections and vocal choruses, ruled the day.   By the mid-80s Randy Travis had brought country music back to its roots, with most other mainstream artists following suit.    Don Williams chose this time, however, to release an album that delved a little further into the pop realm.  The difference in sound is sometimes subtle, as is the case on “I Wouldn’t Be a Man”, the sultry lead single that reached a #9 peak.   At other times, it is more pronounced; a prime example is his cover of “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore”.   Originally an R&B hit for Ben E. King in 1968, it was introduced to country audiences by Dottie West and Don Gibson in 1970. In 1990, Billy Joe Royal would take it to #2 on the country charts.  While it works well for a genre-straddling artist like Royal, it is a bit of a stretch for the usually traditional Don Williams. Even more of a stretch is the trainwreck that is “Running  Out of Reasons to Run”, a filler song written by Jim Rushing and Martin Gerald Derstine with a jarring horn section.   It was better suited for Sawyer Brown, who recorded their own version a year later, but it is not a good vehicle for Williams.   “Looking Back”, a 1950s-style pop song is better.

Fortunately there are also plenty of country songs on the album.  The detour into pop occurs about halfway through and is preceded by three solid country numbers and followed by three more.   One of the best is “Another Place, Another Time”, a Bob McDill-Paul  Harrison tune that was released as the album’s second single, peaking at #5.   It was followed by the excellent upbeat “Desperately”, written by Kevin Welch and Jamie O’Hara, which reached #7.  The poignant (and extremely well-written) piano and string ballad “Old Coyote Town”, about a small town that has fallen on hard economic times, was the fourth and final single, which also reached #5.   One minor quibble:  I would have made this the closing track instead of giving that designation to the pleasant but pedestrian “You Love Me Through It All”.   A rather sedate rendition of “Come From the Heart”, preceding Kathy Mattea’s hit version by two years, is a pleasant surprise.

With the benefit of hindsight, one could possibly point to Traces as the beginning of Don’s chart decline; it was his first album since 1974’s Volume Two not to produce at least one #1 hit, although the four singles all performed respectably.  According to Wikipedia, the album did not chart, which I find hard to believe considering that it produced four Top 10 hits.  It is a solid album that I enjoyed but due to a few missteps, I have to rank it a little lower than his earlier work.  It is available on a 2-for-1 CD along New Moves, Don’s other album for Capitol.

Grade: B+

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