My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Retro Reviews

Classic Album Review: Roger Miller – ‘Roger Miller’

This eponymous album, released by MCA in 1985, would prove to be the last album of original material that Roger would release during his lifetime. All of the songs were written or co-written by Roger, and seven of the album’s ten tracks were taken from the highly acclaimed Broadway musical BIG RIVER for which Roger wrote the words and music. In 1985, Roger won three Tony Awards for best musical score, best music and best lyrics. The play, based on Mark Twain’s book Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was revived on Broadway in 2003 and has since been performed by various amateur, high school and college theater groups. It is well worth seeing if it comes your way.

The soundtrack for the play sold well, and many of the songs work outside the context of the play. For me the revelation was hearing Roger perform his own songs with a sympathetic background featuring many of Nashville’s finest studio musicians, including John Jarvis (keyboards), Billy Joe Walker, Jr. (acoustic guitar), Reggie Young & Larry Byrom (electric guitar), Hoot Hester (fiddle) and Jim Horn (sax and flute). The redoubtable trio of Curtis “Mr. Harmony” Young, Colleen Peterson, and Mary Miller (Roger’s wife) provide the background vocals. Strangely, there is no steel guitar but that particular instrument really was not an essential part of Roger’s music.

The album opens up with five songs from the play BIG RIVER starting with “River In The Rain”, a lovely ballad comparing the flow of the Mississippi to life itself:

River in the rain
Sometimes at night you look like a long white train
Winding your way away somewhere
River I love you don’t you care

If you’re on the run winding some place
Just trying to find the sun
Whether the sunshine, whether the rain
River I love you just the same

But sometimes in a time of trouble
When you’re out of hand
And your muddy bubbles roll across my floor
Carryin’ away the things I treasure
Hell, there ain’t no way to measure
Why I love you more than I did the day before

Next up is “Hand For The Hog”. This song really doesn’t stand apart from the play; however, the song is so quintessentially Roger Miller that it would have been criminal for Roger not to include it on the album. This is Roger the scat singer at his finest:

Ya say, a hog ain’t nothin’ but a porky thing
Little forked feet with a nosey ring
Pickle them feel folks
How about a hand for the hog

If you took a notion I’ll bet
A good hog would make a hell of a pet
You could teach him to ride and hunt
You could clean him up and let him sit up front

In the scheme of things the way things go
You might get bit by the old Fido
But not by the gentle, porker friend.
How about a hand for the hog

A feller and a hog had a comedy act
The feller was terrible as a matter of fact
But that hog was so funny
How about a hand for the hog

If you took a notion
I’ll bet you could teach a hog to smoke a cigarette
Well, it might take a little bit of time
But hell, what’s time to a hog

The third track is my favorite song from the play, “Leavin’s Not The Only Way To Go”. This song is a haunting ballad that should have been a hit for someone. I am not aware of anyone releasing the song as a single; however, Merle Haggard recorded the song on his 2005 album Chicago Wind.

Do the mornin’s still come early, are the nights not long enough?
Does a tear of hesitation fall on everything you touch?
Well, it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go

Maybe lyin’ at your feelin’s, grow accustomed to the dark
By mornin’s light, it just might solve the problems of the heart
And it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go

People reach new understandings all the time
Take a second look, maybe change their minds
People reach new understandings every day
Tell me not to reach, babe, and I’ll go away

But do the mornin’s still come early, are the nights not long enough?
Does a tear of hesitation fall on everything you touch?
Well, it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go

“Guv’ment” was sung by John Goodman in the original cast play. It’s not much of a song but it echoes the sentiments of many.

Well, you dad gum guv’ment
You sorry so and so’s
You got your damn hands in every pocket
Of my clothes

“You Oughta Be Here With Me” is another lovely ballad of forlorn longing and loneliness:

If you think it’s lonesome where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me
If you think there’s heartaches where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me

CHORUS:
Because with you I’m whole, without you I’m cold
So if you think about me where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me

If teardrops are falling where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me
Loneliness calling where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me

The first five songs comprise side one of the original vinyl album/audio cassette release. Side two opens up with “Some Hearts Get All The Breaks” the first of three songs not from BIG RIVER. This song is a mid-tempo contemporary country ballad, with 1980s production values with synthesizer in the mix. The 80s production is not as noticeable on the tracks from BIG RIVER which has its own dynamic.

I guess I’ll never learn
Some Hearts got love to burn
I guess that’s what it takes
Some hearts get all the breaks

We’re back to BIG RIVER for “Arkansas”, a nostalgic but humorous story song that is performed with some interruptions in the play:

Arkansas, Arkansas
I just love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas

Well, I ain’t never traveled much
But someday when the money’s such
I’d like to see the world and all
And take a run through Arkansas

Grandpa he was always good
I’d play horsey on his foot
He’d tell me when I’d get tall
We’d both go see Arkansas

Arkansas, Arkansas
I just love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas

The next two songs are not from the play. You probably could not get away with a title like “Indian Giver” given our current hyper-sensitive politically correct environment.

The title of the next song “Days of Our Wives” would likely be barely acceptable, but the song is an up-tempo song somewhat reminiscent of the Glen Campbell hit “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife” or perhaps Bobby Russell’s “1432 Franklin Park Circle Hero”. The arrangement features some mariachi style horns and makes a nice change of tempo.

So fly away heart on the wings of make-believe things
It’s nice to pretend and maybe cry at the end
She watches the soaps and sometimes just sits there and cries
Like sands through the hourglass so are the days of our wives

Fittingly, the album closes with yet another song from BIG RIVER, “Muddy Water”, a song of wanderlust and perhaps escape.

Look out for me, oh muddy water
Your mysteries are deep and wide
And I got a need for going some place
And I got a need to climb upon your back and ride

You can look for me when you see me comin’
I may be runnin’ I don’t know
I may be tired and runnin’ fever
But I’ll be headed south to the mouth of the Ohio

Look out for me, oh muddy water
Your mysteries are deep and wide
And I got a need for going some place
And I got a need to climb upon your back and ride

To the best of my knowledge this album has never been available in a digital format. The Broadway cast BIG RIVER soundtrack album has remained in print forever in various formats. The play is well worth seeing and the Twain’s story of Huckleberry Finn is worth passing down to subsequent generations. If you are not familiar with the Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Finn saga, you should read the books first, then tackle this album or the soundtrack album (or both) as it will greatly enhance your appreciation for the story.

Many of Roger’s performances of the songs on Roger Miller are available on You Tube.

This album isn’t Roger’s best album but it is a good one and represents the last chance to hear new material from Roger Miller. Roger would pass away from lung cancer in 1992 without having recorded any more studio albums. The man was a musical treasure and probably still ahead of the times.

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Classic single spotlight: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Old Violin’

In a world of interesting individuals, there probably were none that were more interesting than Johnny Paycheck. Starting off as a young hellion, Paycheck got. progressively wilder as time went by. While his chaotic life was reflected in his music, at some point in his life even Paycheck realized that things had gotten completely out of control.

The torture in his soul and regrets in his life could never be better exemplified than in his masterpiece (from his 1987 Mercury album Modern Times)@

“Old Violin” as written and performed by Johnny Paycheck:

Well, I can’t recall, one time in my life,
I’ve felt as lonely as I do tonight.
I feel like I could lay down, and get up no more,
It’s the damndest feelin’; I never felt it before.

Tonight I feel like an old violin,
Soon to be put away and never played again.
Don’t ask me why I feel like this, hell, I can’t say.
I only wish this feelin’ would just go away.

I guess it’s ‘cos the truth,
Is the hardest thing I ever faced.
‘Cos you can’t change the truth,
In the slightest way. I tried.

So I asked myself,
I said: “John, where’d you go from here?”
Then like a damned fool,
I turned around and looked in the mirror.
And there I saw, an old violin.
Soon to be put away and never played again.
So one more time, just to be sure,
I said: “John, where in the hell do you go from here?”
You know that when a nickel’s worth of difference,
And I looked in the mirror, that’s when I knew.
That there I was seein’, an old violin.
Soon to be put away, and never played again.
And just like that, it hit me,
That old violin and I were just alike.
We’d give our all to music,
And soon, we’d give our life.

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘Howard & David’

The Bellamy Brothers released their tenth album in partnership between MCA Nashville and Curb Records in 1985. The record was produced by Emory Gordy Jr and Jimmy Bowen.

David Bellamy solely wrote lead single “Old Hippie,” which is my absolute favorite song the duo has ever released. David’s brilliant character sketch follows an unnamed man staring down forty disenfranchised by the changing times:

He turned thirty-five last Sunday

In his hair he found some gray

But he still ain’t changed his lifestyle

He likes it better the old way

So he grows a little garden in the backyard by the fence

He’s consuming what he’s growing nowadays in self defense

He get’s out there in the twilight zone

Sometimes when it just don’t make no sense

 

Yeh he gets off on country music

‘Cause disco left him cold

He’s got young friends into new wave

But he’s just too frigging old

And he dreams at night of Woodstock

And the day John Lennon died

How the music made him happy

And the silence made him cry

Yea he thinks of John sometimes

And he has to wonder why

 

He’s an old hippie

And he don’t know what to do

Should he hang on to the old

Should he grab on to the new

He’s an old hippie

This new life is just a bust

He ain’t trying to change nobody

He’s just trying real hard to adjust

 

He was sure back in the sixties

That everyone was hip

Then they sent him off to Vietnam

On his senior trip

And they force him to become a man

While he was still a boy

And behind each wave of tragedy

He waited for the joy

Now this world may change around him

But he just can’t change no more

The song peaked at #2. The Bellamy Brothers would revisit this character again, on two subsequent occasions. “Old Hippie (The Sequel)” came ten years later (1995) and updated the story to reveal the guy still felt disenfranchised by society but had softened since marrying and having kids. He would convert to Christianity eleven years later (2007) in “Old Hippie III (Saved),” featured on a gospel-themed project they released.

Another excellent number, “The Single Man and His Wife” is the story of an adulterer who takes advantage of his woman by stepping outside his marriage for loveless companionship with other women. “Everybody’s Somebody’s Darlin’” is also very good, although the production is a bit dated to modern ears.

“I’m Gonna Hurt Her On The Radio” was released that same year by David Allan Coe in the song’s original version. Charley Pride would take it to #13 in 1987 under the title “I’m Gonna Love Her On The Radio” and Shenandoah would release their version in 1989. Keith Whitley’s take on the song surfaced on Keith Whitley: A Tribute Album in 1994. All the versions seem to be about comparable to one another, with little variation. To that end, Howard and David cope with the song extremely well.

The remaining singles, which both peaked at #2, weren’t that great, either. “I’d Lie To You For Your Love” is a very good song that suffers from a horrendous arrangement that hasn’t aged particularly well. “Feelin’ That Feelin’” is lightweight filler.

Howard and David do a subpar job on “Wheels,” the Dave Loggins’ composition Restless Heart would take to #1 in 1987. “Seasons of the Wind” and “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time” are also unremarkable. “Jeannie Rae” is at least something different, and decidedly upbeat, but I didn’t care for it at all.

Howard and David is an uneven album with some bright spots along the way. I have a feeling that a number of these tracks would’ve been better had they been treated with more tasteful production in the vein of “Old Hippie” or “The Single Man and His Wife.” This isn’t a bad album at all, but the majority of it feels forgettable after listening to it just once.

Grade: B 

Favorite Christmas Albums: Bing Crosby – ‘Merry Christmas’

Christmas music is its own genre, or rather I should say people’s tastes in Christmas music tend to cross all genres. While, my tastes in music run to western swing, bluegrass and traditional jazz, when it comes to Christmas music I tend to get rather traditional with orchestral music mixing in with pop balladeers such as Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby.

It has been a long time since Bing Crosby died in October 1977, yet Merry Christmas has been in print, in one form or another, since the 1945 (and in its current configuration of songs since 1955). For millions of households, the album with a smiling Bing wearing a Santa Claus cap and a holly leaf bowtie on the cover was an honored part of the record collection, played annually and often.

So who was Bing Crosby? Well, to start with, for many years Bing was the most famous entertainer on Earth. According to Billboard historian Joel Whitburn, Bing Crosby was the number one recording artist for the entire decades of the 1930s and 1940s with some success spilling into the 1950s. He recorded 383 chart hits with 41 number one records and another 152 that landed in the top ten. His recording of “White Christmas” is the biggest selling single in US history. He introduced many songs now known as pop standards. While not a prolific songwriter, he wrote a few of his own hits.

If that isn’t enough, Bing Crosby was among the top ten movie box office stars fifteen times and from 1944 through 1948 he was the number one movie box office star. He won an Academy Award for his role in Going My Way. By any measure except dollars (due to ticket price inflation) Bing ranks in the top three of all-time movie stars with 1,077,900,000+ movie tickets sold. Moreover he was a successful radio star and at one time was part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team, and he produced, through his production company, several successful television shows (most notably Ben Casey and Hogan’s Heroes).

Merry Christmas is something of a Christmas sampler as Bing performs a collection of traditional Christmas carols and popular Christmas songs and a few songs that are about faraway places. Most of the songs were originally released as singles so recording quality varies a bit.

The album opens up with a pair of traditional carols “Silent Night” (recorded in 1942) and “Adeste Fideles” (“Oh Come All Ye Faithful”), the latter, recorded in 1935 with Victor Young’s Orchestra, is sung in both English and Latin. “Adeste Fideles” is the only song recorded before 1942 – the quantum leap in sound engineering between 1935 and 1942 is a bit jarring, my only criticism of this album.

Next up is the Irving Berlin classic, “White Christmas” arguably the biggest selling record of all time. The song appeared in the 1942 film Holiday Inn and again in the 1954 film White Christmas (that year’s highest grossing film). The version featured here was recorded in 1947 with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra (this orchestra is on all songs except “Adeste Fideles” and songs featuring the Andrews Sisters, recorded with the Vic Shoen Orchestra).

Next up is another traditional Christmas song “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” followed by “Faith Of Our Fathers” which is a religious song rather than a Christmas song.

Almost as beloved as “White Christmas” is “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”. This song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II, writing a letter to his family. For the veterans of that war, this song held special meaning.

“Jingle Bells” finds the Andrews Sisters joining Bing as does the jazzy “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”. The latter contains Bing’s memorable closing intonation ‘You mean the big fat man with the long white beard’ – followed by the Andrews Sisters refrain ‘he’s coming to town’.

“Silver Bells”, composed by the noted songwriting team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, is next followed by “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” composed by Meredith Willson. Willson would later achieve great fame with his play The Music Man.

The album ends with a couple of early 1950s songs about distant shores. “Christmas in Killarney” tells of a Irish Christmas. While not authentic (it is a Tin Pan Alley song), it is a fun song as is the closing number “Mele Kalikimaka” which is simply an approximation of the words ‘Merry Christmas’ in Hawaiian (the Hawaiian alphabet lacks some of the consonants found in European languages). The Andrews Sisters are back for this last song.

My parents wore through several copies of this album and when I was growing up, most of my friends’ parents had a copy of this album.

The album is currently available in the 1955 configuration under the title White Christmas. MCA has also released a two disc set (The Voice of Christmas) of every Christmas song Crosby recorded (44 tracks), except for “Little Drummer Boy” recorded much later with David Bowie for another label.

I come back to this album every year. Other albums may rotate in and out, and some haven’t been played in ages, but this album still delights me as much as when I was a child.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘The Reason For The Season’

To the unwary purchaser, it would appear that the Bellamy Brothers have released two Christmas albums during their career: 1996’s self-released Tropical Christmas, and 2002’s The Reason For The Season on Curb. In fact, however, these are the same recordings with a couple of changes. The original record included a version of the carol ‘Silent Night’, dropped in favor of the topical ‘God Bless America This Year’, a remake of ‘Let Your Love Flow’, and the new record’s title track. Although on the surface a predominantly secular and rather cosy record, the religious aspects of the festival are frequently referred to. There is a good amount of original material rather than all the same old covers we’ve heard on almost every other Christmas record.

The majority of the songs were written by one or other of the brothers. The best is ‘It’s So Close To Christmas’ (And I’m So Far From Home)’. This is a lovely, wistful song about being on the road in the leadup to the Christmas season, and the closets the album gets to traditional country. ‘Tropical Christmas’ is a Jimmy Buffett style paean to a Christmas vacation in the Caribbean – not really to my states but well done ion its way. ‘We All Get Crazy At Christmas’ is pretty good with a fond description of a typical big family Christmas.

Of the songs added in 2002, ‘The Reason For The Season’ is quite a nice new song written by Howard Bellamy, expressing idealistic views about the importance of family and love, set to a soothing melody. The earnest ‘God Bless America This Christmas’, written by David, takes its inspiration from the then new war in Afghanistan.

A few old chestnuts are included. There are enjoyable versions of ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’, ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’, and a smoothly orchestrated ‘White Christmas’. More inventively, ‘Jingle Bells (A Cowboy’s Holiday)’ is a rather fun rewrite of the Christmas classic. This is impossible to dislike.

The brothers also revisit a couple of their most successful songs. ‘Old Hippie Christmas’ is an amusing third chapter to the duo’s 1985 hit single ‘Old Hippie’ and the 1990s sequel, which I enjoyed. The reggae version is ‘Let Your Love Flow’ added to the 2002 release of the album is much less well judged.

Three songs were written by Ralph Siegel, a German pop songwriter best known for his entries in the Eurovision Song Contest. ‘Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year’ is a little bland lyrically, but has a likeable message and pleasant tune before it devolves into a regrettable disco number. The idealistic ‘Light Up The Candles’ has a dated 80s sound to the production, but has a very pretty melody. The very pop and awkwardly written ‘Our Love Is Like Christmas’ has a dreadful spoken introduction and is generally cringeworthy.

While this is not my favorite ever Christmas album, it is a largely enjoyable one.

Grade: B

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘Restless’

Although the New Traditionalist movement would not get fully underway until 1986, there were some signs of the changes that to come as early as 1984. That was the year that The Judds enjoyed their first #1 hit with “Mama He’s Crazy” and Reba McEntire received both critical accolades and commercial success with My Kind of Country, while George Strait and Ricky Skaggs continued to keep traditional country on the radio.

1984 also saw some changes for The Bellamy Brothers, although they moved in the opposite direction, with more layered production and pop elements than had previously been the case with their music. The change was likely precipitated by a change of co-producers, with Steve Klein taking over for Jimmy Bowen, a switch that was probably brought about by a change in label affiliations. In the 1970s and 1980s Curb Records was not a standalone label; they typically partnered up with a larger label to distribute and promote their artists. Up to now, the Bellamys’ albums were released jointly by Curb and either Warner Bros. or Elektra, but beginning in 1984, their music was released by MCA/Curb.

Restless, their first release under this new arrangement, was warmly received by radio, with all three of its singles reaching the Top 10 or better. “Forget About Me” (which I actually had forgotten about) reached #5. The very mellow “The World’s Greatest Lover”, complete with its Kenny G-esque saxophone, reached #6 and “I Need More of You” — the best of the three — climbed all the way to #1, becoming the duo’s seventh country chart-topper. “Forget About Me” was written by Frankie Miller, Troy Seals and Eddie Setser, while the other two singles came from the pen of David Bellamy.

Overall this is a very mellow album with mostly mid-tempo numbers, with “Rock-A-Billy” — which is exactly the kind of song its title suggests — and the title track being notable exceptions. The poppy and lyrically-light “I Love It” is a very catchy toe-tapper. “Diesel Cafe”, about a run-down greasy spoon truck stop has a melody that reminds me of Alabama’s “Christmas In Dixie.” I did not care for the reggae-flavored “We’re Having Some Fun Now.”

While there is nothing truly objectionable on Restless, it seems to be somewhat of an opportunity for the duo to explore other musical styles, which unfortunately results in them straying a bit too far at times from their country roots. I wouldn’t necessarily go out and buy this one, but it is worth streaming.

Grade: B

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘Strong Weakness’

Released in 1982 by Elektra/Curb, Strong Weakness was the fourth studio album released during the 1980s and by the eighth overall studio album release. Buoyed by some strong singles, the album was the fifth straight top twenty country albums chart release for the brothers.

The copy of the album I am using for this review is a cassette tape which means the song sequence may vary from the vinyl or CD releases of the album and the information on the packaging is minimal.

The album opens up with “Strong Weakness” which was the fourth single and least successful single released from the album, topping out at #15. Written by David Bellamy, the song has a loping beat with relatively simple instrumentation (there is a nice steel guitar break) and a melody that is not terribly memorable by Bellamy standards.

I’ve got a strong weakness
Baby, I’m gone on your sweetness
Oh baby, stoned on your love
I’ve got a chillin’ fire

Baby, I’m gone on desire
Oh baby, stoned on your love
Baby, I’ve got to say
Baby, I’ve got to say

You’re good when you’re bad.
I’ve got a strong weakness
Baby, I’m gone on your sweetness
Oh baby, stoned on your love

Next up is “Doin’ It The Hard Way”, a gentle slow ballad about the ups and downs of a relationship. It’s a nice song but nothing that would ever be considered for release as a single.

“When I’m Away From You” was the second single released from the album, soaring to #1. The song was written by Scottish rocker Frankie Miller (not to be mistaken for the American country singer who hit in 1959 with “Family Man” and “Black Land Farmer”) and previously recorded by Kim Carnes. The imagery of the lyrics is very interesting:

When I’m away from you
Well, I can’t stay still
My thoughts won’t move from the way I feel
It happens time and time again
And the circle never ends

When I’m away from you
Well, it hurts to say
My sense has gone so far away
I’m up all through the night
And I can’t tell wrong from right

When I’m away from you I see great big clouds
In the fog and rain all the lonely crowds
They seem to be so blue
Every night I’m missing you

When I’m away from you well the sun don’t shine
The mood don’t come
The words don’t rhyme
When I’m away from you I can’t let go
And you know, oh, you know

“I Love Her Mind” was the third single off the album and reached #4. Written by David Bellamy the song features a Jamaican beat but is otherwise a slow ballad. I’m not sure you could get away with these lyrics in today’s overly politically correct environment, but the concept is interesting:

Forget about her eyes
That dance around
Like diamonds in the night

Forget about her hair
That cascades like a fountain
In the moonlight

And don’t think of her sweet lips
That leave me just as drunk
As any wine

Though her body is immortal
I love her mind

“Almost Jamaica” has a Caribbean vibe to it and might have made a decent single. Although missing the Caribbean vibe, “Lazy Eyes” also might have made a decent single.

“Number Two” is mid-tempo song told from the perspective of a man who knows that he is not the man of his woman’s dreams.

I’m not saying that the Bellamy Brothers presaged “Murder On Music Row” with “The Night They Killed Country Music” but the concept is close. I could not find the lyrics for this song but there is a video clip available on the internet.

“Long Distance Love Affair” revisits a familiar theme, in fact there are a number of songs with this title. This song is presented as a very country ballad.

The album ends with “Redneck Girl” which was the first single off the album. This up-tempo song, written by David Bellamy sailed to #1 and is perhaps the most memorable song off the album, with strong lyrics and an easily remembered melody. The song remained a favorite of bar bands for over twenty years and has a staple of country dance clubs seemingly forever

Hey, redneck girl likes to cruise in Daddy’s pickup truck
And a redneck girl plays her heart when she’s down on her luck
Living for a Friday afternoon
She’s gonna show one ole boy that weekend moon

And I pray that someday I will find me a redneck girl
A redneck girl likes to stay out all night long
She makes sweet rock’n’roll while she listens to the country songs
She’s waitin’ on that moment of surrender
Her hands are calloused but her heart is tender

And I pray that someday I will find me a redneck girl
Hey, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
Give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl

Yeah, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
Yeah, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl

A redneck girl got a name on the back of her belt
She’s got a kiss on her lips for her man and no one else
And a coyote’s howling out on the prairie
First comes love, and then comes marriage

And I pray that someday I will find me a redneck girl
Yeah, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
Give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
You got to give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl
Yeah, give me a, give me a, give me a redneck girl

While not every song on the album is great, all of the songs are at least good and, for the most part, this is an unmistakably country album which I would rate as a B+ or A-

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘You Can Get Crazy’

Released in 1980, the Bellamy Brothers’ fifth studio album does not sound very country and is certainly a long way from traditional, but appealed to radio and record buyers in the urban cowboy era, and cemented their star status.

Both the single hit #1 on the Billboard country charts. I did not like the lyrics of ‘Sugar Daddy’ at all, although it is quite pretty melodically with an attractive arrangement. ‘Dancin’ Cowboys’ has a pleasant lilting melody and a steel drum effect, and is one of the duo’s better remembered songs.

There are a few more country moments. ‘Comin’ Back For More’ is a lovely ballad about the ups and downs of a relationship which is strong at its core. ‘Let Me Waltz Into Your Heart’ is a gentle love song ornamented with steel guitar, which is my favorite track.

‘Dead Aim’ is very pop-influenced and not very interesting. I strongly disliked ‘Naked Lady’, another very pop number.

‘Foolin’ Around’ is a midpaced quite catchy rather poppy song about teenagers in love, with a faintly comedic edge – filler, but not bad. ‘I Could Be Makin’ Love To You’ is pleasant sounding about a musician missing his sweetheart, but the hook underwhelms. ‘You Can Get Crazy With Me’ is a nice love song.

‘Fast Train Out Of Texas’ is a pacy story song about a bad boy from Amarillo spending his life running from the side effects of his love life, which is quite entertaining.

This isn’t really a record I would return to, but it was all well done and if you like the Bellamy Brothers in general this would be worth checking out.

Grade: B-

Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘The Two and Only’

The Bellamy Brothers made their debut in 1976 with “Let Your Love Flow”, which was a major pop hit domestically and internationally, reaching #1 on the pop charts in the US, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and Australia. It was, however, only a modest success on the country charts, leveling out at #21 in the US and #42 in Canada. It was also followed by a lengthy dry spell, which found the brothers in danger of being written off as one-hit wonders.

Although the Bellamys reached the Top 20 on the country charts twice in 1978, the drought ended officially the following year with the release of “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me”, written by David Bellamy and inspired by a double entrendre made famous by Groucho Marx. It reached #1 on the country charts in the US. It also reached #39 on the Hot 100, marking the duo’s fourth and final appearance on that chart. It also performed well overseas, reaching the Top 5 in Switzerland and the UK, and #12 in Australia. More importantly, it was the first in a long line of mostly Top 10 country hits that continued until 1990.

The Two and Only, the album from which “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body” came, produced one other hit, also written by David Bellamy, “You Ain’t Just Whistlin’ Dixie”, a ballad that pays homage to the south and solidified the Brothers’ country credentials — the subject matter and production are more traditional than the preceding single, which comes across a bit as MOR with a bit of steel guitar. “You Ain’t Just Whistlin’ Dixie” peaked at #5. It is very good, but it is not one of the duo’s better remembered tunes today. I don’t recall ever hearing it before.

By 1979 it was no longer standard practice for country acts to pad their albums with filler that consisted mostly remakes of other artists’ recent chart hits. The Two and Only consists primarily of original material, with eight of its ten songs written by either David or Howard Bellamy. The two outside songs are “May You Never” written by John Martyn and “Loving On” by Ben Peters. The former is one of my favorites and is a rare example of both brothers singing lead together.

“Ole Faithful”, written by Howard and featuring him on lead vocals, is the album’s most traditional track and the only one to feature a fiddle. It’s not what country radio was looking for in 1979 (or now) but it is an excellent song. The closing track “Wet T-Shirt” a David composition, could be said to be a precursor of bro-country with its references to beaches, beer and “clinging and tight” clothing, but it is much more tastefully executed than more contemporary examples and only the most prudish among us would be offended. It’s by no means the album’s strongest track but since we weren’t being force-fed a steady diet of such songs, it is quite tolerable.

I’ve never delved too deeply into the Bellamy Brothers catalog up to now, but I am quite impressed with the quality of the songs on this album, and how well they have stood the test of time. The album is available for streaming and is certainly worth a listen.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Final Touches’

Conway had enjoyed his last top 10 single in 1990 as younger artists came to the fore. One of the most successful producers of the early 90s, Don Cook, took over production duties for what was perhaps hoped to be a comeback but was instead to prove Conway’s final studio album, released two months after his sudden death in June 1993.

His final charting single, ‘I’m The Only Thing I’ll Hold Against You’, peaked at a disappointing #62. That was a shame, as it is a great ballad co-written by Joe Diffie, who also recorded it some years later. The keyboards have dated a bit, but the vocal remains excellent (although I prefer Diffie’s own cut). ‘Don’t It Make You Lonely’, written by Jackson Leap, is a midpaced song about missing an ex, quite nice but not memorable enough to be an effective single, especially in the circumstances. It is not entirely surprising that it failed to chart at all.

Perhaps the best track on the album is ‘An Old Memory Like Me’, written by producer Cook with John Barlow Jarvis). The downbeat ballad, filled with precisely remembered details, has Conway appealing wistfully to his ex-wife that maybe it isn’t over, and that her taste for old possessions might yet stretch to him:

There’s an old satin gown
Been twice handed down
You were saving for your wedding day
But you married in haste
What a terrible waste
And it never got used anyway


Is there room in your heart
For an old memory like me?

Also excellent, ‘I Hurt For You’ is a lovely, empathetic ballad (written by Deborah Allen and Rafe VanHoy, and previously recorded by Allen), in which Conway offers his unrequited love a shoulder to cry on. Conway does the song full justice with a tender, emotional vocal:

I can’t blame you for feeling cheated
Being so in love and so unneeded
But the reason you keep trying
Is a feeling that I know

Oh, I hurt for you
Every time he breaks your heart
Baby I hurt for you
And it’s tearing me apart
To care the way I do
Maybe I’m a fool
I watch you long for him
And I hurt for you

So love won’t work out the way you planned it
Darlin’, all too well I understand it
But I’ll be right here to console you
If that’s the only chance I’ll have to hold you
But you’re so lonely being stranded
With a dream you can’t let go…

If you could want the one who loves you
Oh, maybe you would want me now

‘The Likes Of Me’ is a more forgettable, up-tempo song on the same theme of hopefully replacing an unworthy ex with “more than a shoulder”. ‘Two Timin’ Two Stepper’, a tartly observed toe tapper written by hitmaker Kostas and Bobby Byrd about a wannabe cheater trawling the honky tonks, is pretty good. ‘I Don’t Love You’ is a dour breakup song of self-denial. The melodic title track is quite a nice love song with Southern color, while ‘You Are To Me’ (a Don Schlitz/Billy Livsey song) is quite pretty.

The closing ‘You Ought To Try It Sometime’ is Conway’s attempt at getting in on the line dance fever which was hot at the time. It is not entirely successful, but Conway delivers it with energy and a honky tonk piano saves the track.

This is a pretty solid record and not too hard to find as it was released on CD.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Crazy In Love’

One of the reasons for Conway Twitty’s longevity as an artist was his knack for adapting to new musical trends. In the 1980s, as country music entered the Urban Cowboy era and adopted a slicker, more pop-oriented sound, Conway did likewise, and maintained his position at the top of the charts. His new sound was particularly evident on the Warner/Elektra recordings. Interestingly, though, he did not follow country music’s trend back toward a more traditional sound in the latter half of the decade. For whatever reason, it seemed to work. His albums from this era only sold modestly but he continued to have radio hits, although somewhat less consistently, and remained relevant to the genre.

Crazy In Love was Conway’s first full-length album of the 1990s. He produced it with his wife Dee Henry and MCA label chief Jimmy Bowen. Like his other recent efforts, there is nary a fiddle nor a steel guitar to be found, although the album itself encompasses a variety of styles from pop and R&B to more traditional country fare. The title track and lead single was perhaps his most pop-leaning single ever. It had originally been included on a Joe Cocker album in 1984 and Kim Carnes took it to #13 on the AC charts in 1988. Kenny Rogers had a competing version from his 1990 Love Is Strange album, which reached #9 on the AC charts. Conway’s version reached #2 on the country charts, a position where many of his singles had landed since he’d rejoined MCA in 1987. Written by Randy McCormick and Even Stevens, there is nothing even remotely country about this song, but it is very good nonetheless. The upbeat “I Couldn’t See You Leavin'”, written by Rory Michael Bourke and Ronny Scaife reached #3, making it the last bonafide hit single of Conway’s career. None of his subsequent efforts would chart in the Top 20. There was one last single released from Crazy In Love, though — the traditional-leaning “One Bridge I Didn’t Burn”, which peaked at a disappointing #57, despite being the best song on the album. It is, however, a track that is crying out for the fiddle-and-steel treatment. The album cut “What’s Another Goodbye”, written by Kent Robbins is another very good track that would have benefited from more traditional instrumentation.

I wasn’t as enamored by Conway’s cover of the 1978 Dr. Hook hit “When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman” (another Even Stevens composition) or the slightly overblown power ballad “Just the Thought of Losing You”, written by Michael Bolton and Jonathan Cain. Both are well executed but with so many good country songs available in Nashville at the time (unlike today), one wonders why these two were chosen. The upbeat closing track “Hearts Breakin’ All Over Town” is not bad but is only truly noteworthy because of its co-writer Pam Tillis who was about to enjoy her own commercial breakthrough.

Conway Twitty’s long career saw him embracing a number of different musical styles and as such it is inevitable that everything he did will be to everyone’s taste. While I wouldn’t rate Crazy In Love as highly as his early 70s albums, it is a solid effort for its era. I don’t think I’ve ever truly hated anything Conway Twitty did — aside from his unfortunate treatment of “Danny Boy” during his rock-and-roll days. Crazy In Love is not essential listening, but it is a worthwhile late career effort from a true legend, who truly was the best friend a song ever had.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘House On Old Lonesome Road’

House On Old Lonesome Road was Conway Twitty’s third album since returning to MCA Nashville after six albums with Warner Bros. The record was released in 1989 and spawned three singles.

The lead radio offering, “She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind.” was a forceful Walt Aidridge-penned ballad that peaked at #2. The title track, a ballad reminiscent of “That’s My Job,” hit #19. “Who’s Gonna Know,” another bland ballad, stalled at #51.

Clinton Gregory had a #25 hit with “Play, Ruby, Play,” an excellent mid-paced number co-written by Tony Brown and Troy Seals when he released it in 1992. Twitty’s version provides the album with a much-desired change of pace. “Private Part of My Heart,” another Seals co-write (this time with Max D. Barnes), returns the album to the sounds of mid-1980s country somewhat successfully. “Pieces of You,” which Barnes co-wrote with Skip Ewing, is far and away the record’s most traditional number, with lovely doses of fiddle throughout.

“Too White To Sing The Blues,” co-written by Lacy J. Dalton, is reminiscent of Waylon Jennings. Karen Staley and Gary Harrison co-wrote the jaunty and ear-catching “Take Me Home to Mama,” a nice slice of modern honky-tonk. “Child With Child” is another of the sappy ballads for which Twitty had come to be known for during this period of his career. “Nobody Can Fill Your Shoes” feels a step out of touch and sounds just a couple years out of date.

I’m going to go out on a limb and reveal how truly out of touch I am. Given that House On Old Lonesome Road was released in 1989, at the height of the new-traditionalist movement, I had fully expected an album not unlike what Keith Whitley and Don Williams were turning out at the time. What I got instead was a kaleidoscope of sounds and textures attempting to showcase Twitty in the many different lights for which he found success that decade. There isn’t any truly outstanding number among these 10 tracks, although Gregory had the good sense to revive “Play, Ruby, Play.”

Grade: B

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Borderline’

Released in March 1987, Borderline marked Conway’s return to MCA after five year interlude with Elektra/Warner Bros. Frankly, other than the Lost In The Feeling album, I really had consistently disliked his recent output.

I received this album as a birthday present in April 1987. While I had high hopes for a return to the earlier Twitty sound my hopes were dashed when I read the back of the album and saw the following:

Musicians:

James Stroud – Drums
Emory Gordy, Jr. – Bass
John Jarvis – Piano
David Innis, Mike Lawler – Keyboards
Richard Bennett – Acoustic Guitar
Reggie Young, Fred Newll – Electric Guitar
Background Harmonies – Vince Gill and Conway Twitty

That’s right – no John Hughey, or any other steel guitar player for that matter.

My expectations suitably lowered I put the album on the turntable and played it. The album opened up with the first single release, John Jarvis-Don Cook song “Julia” which topped out at #2. This song is bland 80s ballad with cocktail lounge production. The song itself is not bad, but the production ruins it for me.

Brent Mason and Jim McBride collaborated on “Lonely Town”, a mid-tempo song about a one night stand. I would have picked this song as for single release. By the standards of this album, this was a country song

She gave into him last night
She thought he was Mr. Right
But he left like all the others
Before the morning came around

Same old story in lonely town
The sun comes up, the heart goes down
She’s tried everything she knows

Come so far and yet so close
She keeps searching for the magic
But it’s nowhere to be found
But that’s how it is in lonely town

The sun comes up, the heart goes down
There’s got to be a way out
Someday she’ll find it, she won’t always be alone

The one she’s been waitin’ for
Will turn her life around and take her away
From this lonely town

The sun comes up, the heart goes down
There’s got to be a way out
Someday she’ll find it, she won’t always be alone
The one she’s been waitin’ for
Will turn her life around and take her away
From this lonely town

Track three was “I Want To Know Before We Make Love” by Candy Parton and Becky Hobbs. Good advice no doubt – no point getting involved with a sociopath – but I think this song works better from the femine perspective. This song also reached #2.

Track four is the title track “Borderline” a decent song marred by cheesy 80s production. Walt Aldridge wrote this song. He wrote several #1 records for the likes of Earl Thomas Conley, Ronnie Milsap, Alabama and Travis Tritt.

Track five (the last track on side one of the vinyl album) concludes with “Not Enough Love To Go Around”  a slow R&B ballad that is nice but ultimately uninteresting.

Track six is “Snake Books”, written by Troy Seals. Troy wrote many great songs, but this wasn’t one of them. This is followed by “I’m For A While” by Kent Robbins, a generic song about a man who swears that he is not looking for a one night stand.

Most songs written by committees stink, but “Fifteen To Forty-Three” by Don Goodman, Frank Dycus, Mark Sherrill and John Wesley Ryles is a terrific ballad about a fellow sorting through a box of memories and regrets. This has a very country feel to it and would have made a great single.

<blockquote>I just cut the string
On a dusty old shoe box
And opened a door to the past
Now I’m sittin’ here with my souvenirs
And these faded old photographs.

Fightin’ back tears
Lookin’ back through the years
And wonderin’ why dreams fade so fast
Now the young boy I see
Don’t look like the me
Reflected in this old looking glass.

The man in the mirror
Sees things so much clearer
Than the boy in the pictures
With his eyes full of dreams
Oh, the men that I’ve tried to be
From fifteen to forty-three
Never believed that they’d end up like me.

The ninth track “Everybody Needs A Hero” was written by Troy Seals and Max D Barnes. It’s a great song that Gene Watson released as a single. Although Conway does a nice job with the song, it is not quite as nice as Gene’s version (I like the production on Gene’s record better).

The album closes with Gary Burr’s “That’s My Job”, the last single released from this album. The single reached #6 but deserved a better fate. It is one of the best songs Conway ever recorded

I woke up crying late at night
When I was very young.
I had dreamed my father
Had passed away and gone.
My world revolved around him
I couldn’t lay there anymore.
So I made my way down the mirrored hall
And tapped upon his door.

And I said “Daddy, I’m so afraid
How will I go on with you gone that way?
Don’t want to cry anymore
So may I stay with you?”

And he said “That’s my job,
That’s what I do.
Everything I do is because of you,
To keep you safe with me.
That’s my job you see.”

Borderline was one of Conway Twitty’s last big hit albums, reaching #25, higher than any subsequent Conway Twitty studio album would reach. There are some good songs on this album, but the filler truly is filler and the production sounds as phony as most late 1980s country production. This album is somewhere between a C and a C+.

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Don’t Call Him A Cowboy’

Conway Twitty had maintained his star status through the first half of the 198s0, scoring q string of yop 10 and #1 hits. In 1983 he switched from Elektra to its parent label Warner Brothers, where he stayed until 1986. His most successful album during the Warner Brothers period was 1985’s Don’t Call Him A Cowboy.

The title track was a chart topping single. It is an ironic story of wannabe poseurs of the Urban Cowboy variety:

The toughest ride he’s ever had was in his foreign car…

He’s a Hollywood idea of the wild and woolly west
In his French designer blue jeans and his custom tailored vest
You’re thinkin’ he’s the real thing but I think you oughta know
He can’t even make it through a one night rodeo

‘Between Blue Eyes and Jeans’ peaked at #7. It’s another excellent song, depicting a woman who might mend her badly broken heart while out dancing. ‘Whichever One Comes First’ is another nice song on the same subject.

As we have mentioned before, Conway had a great ear for songs, and a couple of other inclusions could easily have been hits for him, and were subsequently successes for other artists. ‘The Note’, also recorded around this time by Gene Watson, and was a modest hit a decade later for Daryle Singletary (although it deserved to do better). All three men are superb singers and do the song justice. ‘Somebody Lied’ was to become Ricky Van Shelton’s breakthrough hit, in an arrangement virtually identical to Conway’s. ‘Everyone Has Someone They Can’t Forget’ is a wistful ballad with a pretty melody. This song and ‘Somebody Lied’ are flagged on the album cover so were probably considered as potential singles.

There is a dated keyboard backing to ‘Those Eyes’, otherwise another attractive ballad. ‘Except For You’ is a pleasant love song, also a little dated sounding now, but well sung. ‘Green Eyes (Cryin’ Those Blue Tears)’ is okay. Closer ‘Take It Like A Man’ has a blues feel.

Conway is in great voice throughout. Although this album is not currently all that easy to get hold of, it is well worth it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Southern Comfort’

By the dawn of the 1980s, Conway Twitty had collected 23 solo number one singles and another five from duets with Loretta Lynn. Changes were afloat in the new decade, the least of which was a tweak in appearance, from his trademark pompadour hairstyle to the head of curls that would carry him through until his death in 1993.

Twitty parted ways with Decca/MCA Records after fifteen years with the label in 1981. He would release his next two albums on Eleketra, a move that would continue his success and allow Twitty to venture into new realms of his career. His first release for the label, Southern Comfort, would give him two more chart-topping singles. The album was produced by Jimmy Bowen.

The first single, “The Clown” was a slow and prodding ballad, typical of the period, with zero country signifiers. The follow-up, “Slow Hand” had been a big hit for The Pointer Sisters a year earlier. “Boy Next Door,” “Love And Only Love” and “It Turns Me Inside Out” are more of the same mid-paced to slow warmed over balladry.

“When Love Was Something Else” is an excellent change of pace, with twangy guitar added into the mix and noticeable effort to resemble country music. “She Only Meant to Use Him” employed the same techniques for another winning number. “Something Strange Got Into Her Last Night” continues the upward trend and could’ve easily been right at home under the care of Ronnie Milsap. “I Was The First” has an engaging melody I really enjoyed. The title track is an awful throwaway, with a cheesy lyric and intrusive background vocalists.

Despite the two singles, which Conway Twitty pursuits consider low points in his catalog, all hope is not lost with Southern Comfort. The majority of songs on the album are good and engaging, but not earth-shattering or remarkable. I wouldn’t rush to seek out a copy, the album can be easily streamed on YouTube, but it’s better than the singles and album cover would suggest.

Grade: B

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Hello Darlin’

Note: I never owned this album on vinyl so I am working off a CD released on MCA Special Products in 1991, The songs are the same as on the initial vinyl release but the sequence of the songs is different on the CD.

Issued in June 1970, Hello Darlin’ was the ninth solo studio album released by Conway Twitty on Decca. The album was Conway’s first #1 country album and was eventually certified “Gold”. It also reached #65 on Billboard’s all genres chart, the highest that any of Conway’s country albums would reach, although reporting of country albums on the all-genres chart was very suspect and country albums were frequently under-reported by record shop personnel.

The CD opens with the Felice & Boudreaux Bryant classic “Rocky Top”. At the time, “Rocky Top” was a fairly new song that had not been covered to death. The Osborne Brothers had a hit with the song in 1968 and the combination of Doug Dillard, Gene Clark and Donna Washburn had a really nice version of the song on a Dillard & Clark album from that same year. Conway’s version has a banjo on it with what is otherwise an up-tempo Nashville production. Needless to say, Conway sings the song very well although he changes the words very slightly to accommodate his own phrasing.

Next up is “I’ll Get Over Losing You” a song written by Conway, a somewhat generic ballad about lost love. As always Conway sings it well, making for pleasant listening.

Conway also penned “Up Comes The Bottle” a mid-tempo song about the effects of alcohol. It’s a good song, well sung by Conway

Up comes the bottle and down goes the man

I can’t help him but I can understand

When up comes the bottle

And down, down, down, goes the man.

 

You may find him anywhere there’s heartache and despair

With loneliness so heavy you can feel it in the air

And the only thing that matters is the drink in his hand

Then up comes the bottle

And down, down, down, goes the man.

Bill Anderson wrote “You and Your Sweet Love”, which charted for Connie Smith in 1969, While I prefer Connie’s version, it would have made a good Conway Twitty single, one of many such songs stranded as album tracks on the early Conway Twitty albums. I seem to recall that Connie Smith wrote the liner notes for the vinyl album’s back cover.

The self-penned “Hello Darlin’” is the song for which Conway is best remembered, although “It’s Only Make Believe” was a huge pop hit in 1958 and by far his biggest seller. “Hello Darlin’“ reached #1 and stayed there for four weeks. The song is about a man who runs into an old flame, reigniting old feelings in the process. This was the only single released from the album.

 Hello darlin’

Nice to see you

It’s been a long time

You’re just as lovely

As you used to be

 

How’s your new love

Are you happy?

Hope you’re doin’ fine

Just to know means so much to me

 

What’s that darlin’

How am I doin’?

I’m doin’ alright

Except I can’t sleep

I cry all night ’til dawn

 

What I’m tryin’ to say is

I love you and I miss you

And I’m so sorry

That I did you wrong

Conway would revisit the theme with his next single “Fifteen Years Ago”. I saw Conway in concert several times before this song was released and several times after. From 1971 onward, this was his opening number and “It’s Only Make Believe” his closing number, perfect bookends for a great show.

“Rose” (not to be mistaken for the maudlin Amanda McBroom composition “The Rose” that Bette Midler would record later and Conway would cover) was written by L.E. White, a staff writer for Conway’s publishing company. This song is a ballad about a brother whose sister has strayed off-track in life.

“Reuben James” was a top thirty pop hit for Kenny Rogers and The First Edition (it went top ten in Canada, New Zealand and Australia) that was covered by a large number of American country artists. This is a nice mid-tempo track.

Bill Anderson also wrote “I Never Once Stopped Loving You”, which reached #5 for Connie Smith in 1970, Again, I prefer Connie’s version, but Conway does a nice job with this ballad

It is difficult to find a country album of the late 1960s-early 1970s that does not contain a Dallas Frazier composition. This album features “Will You Visit Me On Sundays” which was a top twenty single for Charlie Louvin in 1968, and the title track of a 1970 George Jones album. I can’t say that Conway’s version is better than Charlie Louvin or George Jones (the lyric seems perfect for Charlie’s weathered voice) but this would have made a good Conway Twitty single.

 Just outside these prison bars

The hanging tree is waitin’

At sunrise I’ll meet darkness

And death will say hello

Darling, touch your lips to mine

And tell me you love me

Promise me again before you go

 

Will you visit me on Sundays?

Will you bring me pretty flowers?

Will your big blue eyes be misty?

Will you brush away a tear?

Fred Rose write the classic “Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain”, a song that both Hank Williams and Rof Acuff had recorded. Since Willie Nelson had yet to record this song (Willie’s version would be released in 1975), this was not a cover of somebody else’s hit single, but simply case of Conway going “deep catalog” in finding a song that he liked. Conway’s version is not the sparse recording that Willie released but a normal Owen Bradley production applied to a classic Fred Rose composition from the 1940s.

The album closes with “I’m So Used To Loving You”, the fourth of Conway’s own compositions on the album. This is a good song that somebody somewhere should have released as a single.

I’m so used to loving you sweetheart

You’re on my mind each minute we’re apart

And I love you more each day that we go through

You’re my life and I’ll live it loving you

 

I’m so used to loving you it seems

I can’t stand the thought of losing you not even in my dream

Hold me close and tell me what I’d do without you

I couldn’t take it, I’m so used to loving you

Conway Twitty was a good and prolific songwriter who would use his own compositions on his albums, but, unlike some singer-songwriters, only if they were good songs. Through this album, the highest number of Conway Twitty and/or Mickey Jaco compositions on an album was four. There would be one future album in which he wrote eight of the ten songs (there must be a story behind this since it is a complete outlier) and several on which he wrote one or none of the songs

None of the Conway Twitty compositions that I’ve ever heard were duds, and many of them fell in the very good-to-great category

This album is a solid A with solid country production throughout

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Next In Line’

1968 was the year that country audiences began to get over their skepticism about Conway Twitty’s authenticity and accept him as a bonafide country artist. He enjoyed his first Top 5 hit that year with “The Image of Me” (from the album Here’s Conway Twitty & His Lonely Blue Boys). And shortly thereafter, “Next In Line” hit #1, becoming the first of his 44 #1 Billboard country hits.

“Next In Line”, the only single from the album that shares its name, was written by Wayne Kemp and Curtis Wayne, and produced by Owen Bradley. At this stage of his career, Conway was still recording hardcore country. The song tells the story of unrequited love as the narrator admires from afar his love interest, who is drowning her sorrows over a breakup. He keeps feeding the jukebox to keep her happy and waits for the day that she will “give up the music and the wine” and give him a chance. This was an important record for Conway, although it would eventually be overshadowed by the many hits that followed it.

As we’ve come to expect from albums released in the 1960s, there are plenty of remakes of songs that had been recently popularized by other artists. 1968 was a particularly good year for country music; among the songs that Twitty covers are Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and “I Started Loving You Again”, Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, and Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”, which works surprisingly well from the male perspective. The two Haggard tunes are well done, although “Mama Tried” lacks the original’s signature Telecaster licks. “Folsom Prison Blues”, however, was a bit of a disappointment because, let’s face it, no one can sing that song the way Johnny Cash did.

“Ain’t It Sad to Stand and Watch Love Die” is a song I’d never heard before. It has a Johnny Cash-type vibe to it and quite liked it. It is a bit of a departure for Conway, as it lacks the pedal steel that was so prominent on most of his country recordings up to this point. The steel is back, front and center on “The Things I Lost in You”. The album closer “I’m Checking Out” has a Bakersfield feel to it and sounds like something Buck Owens might have recorded.

Like Conway’s other early Decca albums this is a very strong collection that traditional country fans will want to sample. It’s available on a 2-for-1 disc with Twitty’s next Decca LP Darling, You Know I Wouldn’t Lie.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Country’

1967 saw the release of the unimaginitvely titled Country. There were two singles from this album, both credited to Conway’s wife Mickey Jaco. ‘Don’t Put Your Hurt In My Heart’ is a measured ballad turning down an ex’s advances. It is quite a nice song, beautifully song by Conway, but performed indifferently on the charts, peaking outside the top 30. Even less successful was ‘Funny (But I’m Not Laughing)’, which I like, although it comes across as a pale copy of ‘The Window Up Above’. It is a sad ballad in which Conway’s vocal exudes the sense of betrayal. Another Jaco song, ‘Go Woman Go’ has more of a 60s country-meets-rock and roll feel. (I have read that these songs were actually written or co-written by Conway but credited to Mickey for tax reasons – not sure if this is true, though,). Conway himself wrote one song, the midpaced ‘Walk Me To The Door’, which is okay.

‘But I Dropped It’ is an excellent song written by the great Harlan Howard, a regretful ballad about past choices derailing a relationship, which might have been a better choice for a single. The backing vocals are a bit dated, but not too intrusive. I didn’t much like another original, the rock leaning ‘Working Girl’ (written by Wes Buchanan). ‘Two Of The Usual’ had been recorded by several other artists, but was never a single. It is another strong song about betrayal.

The remainder of the set consists of the usual 60s country album practice of covers of current or recent hits for other artists. Conway showed great taste in music in his selections of some genuinely great songs. ‘Things Have Gone To Pieces’ is one of George ones’ greatest recordings; Conway’s version is a good copy but definitely a copy. Another Jones classic, ‘Walk Through This World With Me’ allows Conway more of a chance to put his own stamp on the song (although I still prefer the Jones cut). Conway’s cover of Merle Haggard song ‘I Threw Away The Rose’ is quite good, but again pales compared to the original.

Conway does, however, turn in a superlative version of Harlan Howard’s ‘Life Turned Her That Way’, which was a current hit Mel Tillis, but will be most familiar to younger fans from Ricky Van Shelton’s chart topping 90s version. This is by far my favorite track on this album. I also quite liked ‘A Wound Time Can’t Erase’, a Stonewall Jackson hit later covered by Ricky Skaggs.

This is not a bad album, but there is not enough uniqueness in Conway’s imterpretations to really recommend it over the classic versions of the cover songs, and the originals are less distinguished. It is available as a 2-4-1 deal, so may be worth checking out if you can find it cheaply.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Look Into My Teardrops’

Look Into My Teardrops was the second album Conway Twitty released in 1966, as well as his second release for Decca Records. The album consists of many covers of then-popular hits, as was the tradition at the time.

The album produced two low to mid charting singles. The title track, which peaked at #36 is a lovely mid-paced number co-written by Harlan Howard. “I Don’t Want To Be With Me,” a wonderfully catch up-tempo number with an engaging melody, was self-penned and hit #21.

Nat Stuckley’s “Don’t You Believe Her” was recorded by both Ray Price, with whom it is most associated, and Gene Watson. Twitty’s version is excellent, although I would hardly recognize it’s him singing if I didn’t already know.

“Almost Persuaded” had been a signature #1 hit for David Houston that same year. Twitty’s take on the steel-drenched ballad is excellent. The same is true for “I Made Her That Way,” co-written by George Jones. Twitty also included Jones’ “Take Me,” which is as good as one would expect.

Twitty follows with his fabulous take on “The Wild Side of Life,” which Hank Thompson had made iconic fourteen years earlier. “There Stands The Glass” is arguably one of the hardest country songs to sing and Twitty, unsurprisingly, knocks it out of the park.

“If You Were Mine To Lose,” the album’s other Twitty original, is very good. If you’ve been following our #1 singles this week in country music history posts, then you know Bobby Helms had a massive #1 with “Fraulein” sixty years ago this year. Twitty reprises it here, with smashing results.

Howard’s “Another Man’s Woman” is an additional track original to Twitty. While very good, the song is far from iconic. The album closes with “Before I’ll Set Her Free,” which falls along similar lines, but with a very engaging lyric.

As far as albums from the 1960s that I’ve reviewed go, Look Into My Teardrops is one of the better ones. Twitty does a wonderful job throughout tackling both iconic and new songs. I highly recommend seeking it out if you’ve never heard it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Conway Twitty Sings

Conway Twitty’s first country album was released by Decca in 1966. It shared its title with his first rock-and-roll album that had come out seven years earlier. Unlike other rock-and-roll artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, none of Conway’s rock records had crossed over to the country charts. Although he had grown up listening to country and professed that it was his first musical love, he was initially viewed by many in the country music community with skepticism and suspicion. Later in his career he would introduce influences from pop and R&B into his music, but at this early stage he and producer Owen Bradley bent over backwards to establish his country credibility. This is a hardcore, steel guitar drenched country album from start to finish, that largely eschews the Nashville Sound trappings that were prevalent in the 60s. The vocal choruses are kept to a minimum. Stylistically, the album reminds me of the music that Connie Smith and Charley Pride were making at the time over at RCA.

Conway Twitty Sings contains Conway’s first charted country hit, “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, written by Liz Anderson. A mid tempo number with a rich melody and plenty of pedal steel, this would probably have been a bigger hit had it been released a few years later. It charted at a modest #18, but that was enough to give Conway a toehold on the country market. There were no further singles released from the album and it would be another two years and five more singles before Conway reached the Top 20 again (with 1968’s “The Image of Me”, which would peak at #5).

The rest of the album follows the standard 1960s practice of covering other artists’ recent hits. The Gordon Lightfoot-penned “Ribbon of Darkness” had been a #1 hit a year earlier for Marty Robbins — and would be a hit again in 1969 for Connie Smith. Twitty’s version is too reminiscent of the original Robbins recording; even some of Conway’s enunciations sound like he was channeling Marty. I was a little disappointed in this one; nor did I care for his take on the Johnny Horton (and 20 years later, Dwight Yoakam) hit “Honky Tonk Man”. One would think that this rockabilly number — the only one of its kind on the album — would be tailor-made for Conway Twitty, but this version just doesn’t work.

The rest of the album, however, is stellar and his versions of these songs are all at least equal to the original artists’ renditions — from the Curly Putman-penned Porter Wagoner hit “Green, Green Grass of Home” and Bill Anderson’s “Tip of My Fingers” to “Truck Driven’ Man” which had been a hit for Terry Fell in 1954. A young Buck Owens had sung harmony on the Fell recording and Buck later went on to record “Together Forever”, which Conway also covers on this album.

My favorite track is the country weeper “I’ll Have Another Cup of Coffee (Then I’ll Go)”, in which the protagonist is trying to prolong a visit with his soon to be ex-wife and children. I wasn’t previously familiar with the one but it was a Top 5 hit for Claude Gray in 1961.

Conway Twitty Sings is not one Twitty’s best remembered works, nor is it essential listening. It provides only a glimpse of what Conway would go on to become, but the material is exceptionally strong and it’s always interesting to look back at a legend at the very beginning of his or her career. It is available on a 2-for-1 CD along with his next Decca LP Look Into My Teardrops. These sound like needle-drop recordings; the original masters may have been destroyed in the infamous Universal fire, but the sound quality, while not stellar, is quite adequate.

Grade: A