My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Retro Reviews

Album Review: John Michael Montgomery — ‘Home To You’

By the time Home To You, John Michael Montgomery’s [“JMM”] sixth studio album release for Atlantic, was released in May 1999, JMM’s career was on the downslide. Although the album received generally favorable reviews, the marketplace told a different story as the album would only reach #16 on Billboard’s country albums chart (and #135 on the all-genres chart) and would fail to reach even gold certification. None of the singles were blockbuster hits and two of the four singles released from the album (“Nothing Catches Jesus By Surprise” and “You Are”) failed to crack the top forty.

The album opens with “Love Made Me Do It”, a generic up-tempo rocker. This is followed by another generic up-tempo rocker in “Hello L.O.V.E.”, which was the first single off the album – it reached #15 and was an okay song but nothing special.

The next song “Home To You” would prove to be the biggest single released from the album, reaching #2 and also placing on the Hot 100.

I get up and battle the day

Things don’t always go my way

It might rain but that’s okay

I get to come home to you

 

Sometimes life may get me down

And I get tired of getting kicked around

I feel lost in this maddening crowd

But I get to come home to you

 

You are my best friend

And you are where my heart is

And I know at the day’s end

I get to come home to you

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but most of this album feels like JMM has ‘mailed it in’. The ballads mostly are rather bland and unexciting and the vocals are unconvincing, perhaps residual effects of prior throat problems. JMM’s phrasing seems to be a problem throughout the album and the production is too slick and glossy.

I would regard “When Your Arms Were Around” as the best song on the album, certainly the best ballad:

I was stone cold convinced

You were holding me down

I could chase my wildest dreams

With you not around

But I was crazy to think

That I could hold my own

Cause I started to crumble

The minute you were gone

 

When your arms were around

They held my world together

They kept me safe and sound

Right through the roughest weather

I guess I just lost touch

With the man in me you found

I was strong as I could be

When your arms were around

I also found the Waylon Jennings-penned “Nothing Catches Jesus By Surprise” notable for its interesting lyrics:

Catching Babe Ruth, catching Roger Maris

The way you caught my eye in Paris, Tennessee

Fell in seduction; well I’m seduced

You sell a war then we sell the truth.

It’s the truth

So baby just close your eyes nothing catches Jesus by surprise

 

Confusin’ love for heated passion,

Got what I want, but no satisfaction.

Ain’t it funny how things can change.

We’re amazed how they stay the same.

So baby just close your eyes nothing catches Jesus by surprise

I liked JMM’s earlier albums; however, the trend was for the albums to become increasingly more formulaic as time progressed, with ever slicker production. I purchased the album when it initially was released but in today’s environment, I would likely only purchase the three songs highlighted above. I would give this album a C+

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Album Review: John Michael Montgomery — ‘Leave A Mark’

By the late 1990s, John Michael Montgomery was still plugging away with solid radio singles. Atlantic followed What I Do Best with his first Greatest Hits package, which featured the single “Angel In My Eyes.” The ballad, which is in line with the sound of his most previous work, hit #4 in 1997.

Like most artists at the time, Montgomery had to adjust his sound to fit within the pop invasion that had overtaken the genre. He released his fifth album, Leave The Mark, in 1998, just as Shania Twain was beginning her dominance with Come On Over. To my ears, at least as far as the singles were concerned, the changes resulted in some of his most paired down work to date.

The album’s first single “Love Workin’ On You,” which stalled at #14, is a lightweight uptempo ditty. He would hit the artistic jackpot, at least as far as mainstream songs are concerned, with the album’s other two singles, both of which featured ample steel guitar and peaked inside the top 5. The mid-tempo “Cover You In Kisses” and the romantic “Hold On To Me” have aged beautifully, with the latter being among the strongest love songs of his career, easily eclipsing his signature hits.

As for the album tracks, “Little Cowboy Cries” details a broken home through the eyes of a boy who believes his daddy’s leaving is his fault. “I Don’t Want This Song to End” is Hallmark schmaltz, but tender and sincere. “I Couldn’t Dream” and “It Gets Me Every Time” are sexualized love songs on both ends of the spectrum. The former is a ac-leaning ballad, while the latter is horrid up-tempo pop.

The uptempo “You’re The Ticket” isn’t horrible, the arrangement has the redeeming qualities of ample fiddle and steel guitar, but the lyric leaves much to be desired.  A chance meeting between exes is at the heart of “I Never Stopped Loving You,” an above average ballad co-written by Mark Willis. Montgomery handles it was ease, committing a strong vocal to the track.

The album concludes with the title track, a reflective ballad doused in dobro. I was quite expecting a horrible uptempo rocker, but this one is actually very good. It would’ve worked well as a single.

Leave A Mark is a mixed bag of an album that misses more than it hits. I do like most of Csaba Petocz production choices throughout, he co-produced the album with Montgomery, although the lyrical content is lazy and weak at best on most of the songs. But Leave A Mark gave Montgomery two more top 5 hits, one of which is among his finest singles, and went gold, so all wasn’t a total loss.

Grade: B

Album Review: John Michael Montgomery – ‘What I Do The Best’

JMM’s career started to take a downturn in the mid 1990s. ‘Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Us’, the lead single from his fourth album, was a sad disappointment, peaking at #15, his lowest charting single ever. It’s a shame, because it is a rather charming jazzy western swing number with some very nice fiddle. It was written by Jim Robinson and Wendell Mobley.

My favorite song on the album was rather more successful. ‘Friends’, written by Jerry Holland, reached #2. It is a beautiful sounding ballad with a pained Montgomery facing the loss of love and an ex who wants to keep him around in a non-romantic way:

You say you want to be friends
That’s a newly sharpened blade
That’s a dagger to the heart
Of the promises we made
That’s a chapter full of pain
A season full of rain
A dark and stormy night
Spent all alone

Friends get scattered by the wind
Tossed upon the waves
Lost for years on end
Friends slowly drift apart
They give away their hearts
Maybe call you now and then
But you wanna be “just friends”

You say you love me very much
And you’ll always hold me dear
Those are the sweetest words
I never wanna hear
What’s a love without desire
A flame without a fire
Can’t warm me late at night
When I need you most

A subdued opening builds in emotion and power through the song.

‘I Miss You A Little’, a rare JMM co-write, was the third single, and was anther top 10 hit. It is a downbeat song about loss which is very good. The final single from the album was ‘How Was I To Know’, which just missed the top spot but is a rather bland adult contemporary tune.

He also wrote ‘A Few Cents Short’, a very nice midpaced song about someone too hardpressed financially to contact his loved one:

Lookin’ for spare change to put gas in my car
But what I’ve found won’t get me very far
Seems lately the low times have hit me pretty hard
‘Cause I’m a few cents short from gettin’ to where you are

I’m a few cents short of holding you in my arms
And a few cents short of keepin’ us from falling apart
Ain’t it funny how the money can change our lives
‘Cause I’m a few cents short from losing you tonight

So I walked to a pay phone down the road
But a few dimes and a nickel is all I hold
The operator wants more money to place my call
But I’m a few cents short

Some lovely fiddle ornaments the song.

My favorite of the remaining tracks is the vibrant and very retro shuffle ‘Lucky Arms’, envying his ex’s new love. The title track is a very nice mid paced love song. ‘I Can Prove You Wrong’ is a tender ballad offering true love to a woman who has been hurt in the past.

In the quirky ‘Cloud 8’, written by Byron Hill and Tony Martin, the protagonist has lost in love and compares himself to those still happily on Cloud 9. ‘Paint The Town Redneck’ is quite an entertaining song about letting loose on a Friday night after a hard week’s work.

The album was certified platinum, which was a significant reduction from his previous efforts. However, it is a solid effort which I enjyed a lot.

Grade: A

Album Review: John Michael Montgomery — ‘John Michael Montgomery’

John Michael Montgomery was under pressure when he and Scott Hendricks entered the studio to record his third album in 1994. The monster success of “I Swear” was so impactful he not only won ACM and CMA honors, but he also performed the song at the Grammy Awards. It pushed sales of Kickin’ It Up past 4 million units and cemented his place in country love song history.

He was also coming off of two consecutive #1s when Atlantic released “I Can Love You Like That” to country radio in February 1995. The romantic ballad, a companion piece of sorts to “I Swear,” hit #1 and was also covered by the R&B group All-4-One. It’s one of my favorite contemporary country songs of the 1990s.

Montgomery switched gears completely in May, with the release of the breakneck-paced “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident).” The song tells the story of a guy who attends an auction in Grundy County, Tennessee. While there he lays eyes on a woman named Heather, who consumes his thoughts, and becomes his big prize.

“Sold” is an excellent record with superb instrumentation that allowed Montgomery to diversify and showcase a playful charm he wasn’t able to display on his signature ballads. The audiences loved the song so much it also hit #1 and was named Billboard’s biggest country single of the year, a feat that wasn’t even bestowed upon “I Swear.”

The album’s first two singles were such memorable hits, it left little room for “No Man’s Land” to make a significant impact. The mid-tempo ballad, about a woman adjusting to a life ‘nothin’ like she had planned,’ is a competent yet unremarkable story song in the vein of Toby Keith’s superior “Upstairs Downtown.” It performed well at radio, hitting #3, but it was forgotten as soon as it fell from the charts.

“Cowboy Love,” which hit #4, is an attempt at rekindling the charm of “Be My Baby Tonight,” and while it was moderately successful at the time, it has aged horrendously. Both songs unfortunately represent the very worst of 1990s country, a time when honky-tonk had been brought to the dance floor by people in cutoff t-shirts with denim for days. The whole aesthetic is a parody of the genre’s best traditions.

The quality of the singles only got worse with “Long As I Live,” which is a feeble attempt at adding another romantic ballad to his repertoire. The ballad is embarrassingly awful, with a cliché Hallmark lyric. It hit #4, which is a testament to Montgomery’s power with country radio at the time.

The most notable album track, “Holdin’ Onto Something,” was recorded by Jeff Carson the same year and released as a single in 1996, where it peaked at #6. Carson’s record holds significant nostalgic value for me, which clouds my judgement on its quality. Montgomery does well with the song, but Hendricks fails him with a very generic arrangement. Listening now, I can easily hear Tim McGraw singing this song during this time period, possibly bringing it to #1.

“High School Heart” is typical of contemporary ballads from the time period. It’s cheesy, but the track does still have its merits. It tells the story of a man reminiscing on his romantic past, specifically his high school days, and all that’s changed in the years since then. The twist in the chorus is the girl he loved back then is his wife today, still loving him with a high school heart. Montgomery sells the story competently, but I would very much like to hear it with a far more dynamic vocalist and a more memorable arrangement.

“Just Like A Rodeo” is so bad, it’s hard to believe it even exists, especially during this time period, when the gatekeepers knew better. In the lyric, a man is in throws of sexual intercourse comparing riding his girl to a cowboy riding a bull. It’s even more horrid than “She Thinks My Tractors Sexy” but has only been matched or eclipsed by the bro-country era, where honestly, it would probably fit right in.

“Heaven Sent Me You” has the arrangement, filled with steel, and the committed vocal from Montgomery to be a sure-fire hit. It was likely buried because the lyric is second-rate, especially as his romantic ballads are concerned.

“It’s What I Am” never really saw the light of day, but it is a watershed moment for what was to come within the next ten to twelve years. The track has Montgomery wearing his southern pride on his sleeve, singing:

I got my first guitar when I was just a boy

I was playing the blues instead of playing with toys

Listening to the Opry and dreaming of the neon lights

So it was late to bed and early to rise

I worked the field all day and the crowd all night

My finger on the trigger and Nashville in my sights

I’m the real thing and I sing songs about real life

 

And I never heard a fiddle called a violin

Never really worried if I fit in

Country ain’t what I sing it’s what I am

This hat ain’t something I wear for style

These boots have been around a while

Country ain’t what I sing it’s what I am

 

I learned to drive on a dirt road

Cruised the strip on rock and roll

And drove around on “Miles and Miles of Texas”

And as I grew Daddy showed me now

To earn a living by the sweat of my brow

But he never made me follow in his steps

He said work hard and let the good Lord do the rest

Montgomery and Hendricks needn’t worry, as this album matched Kickin’ It Up and was also certified quadruple platinum. If I had to guess, it was “Sold” and not “I Can Love You Like That” that contributed more to the sales. The album itself is of very varying quality, with the two songs I just mentioned being the only real standouts.

Grade: B-

Album Review: John Michael Montgomery — ‘Kickin’ It Up’

Released in January 1994, Kickin’ It Up was JMM’s second album release for Atlantic, and would prove to be John Michael Montgomery’s [“JMM”] most successful album release reaching #1 on Billboard’s country and all-genres charts. The album’s success was fueled by the first single was the romantic ballad “I Swear” which reached #1 country/#42 pop and it was the number one country song of the year per Billboard. This single was followed by “Rope the Moon” (#4), “Be My Baby Tonight” (#1) and “If You’ve Got Love” (#1).

The album opens with “Be My Baby Tonight” a spritely up-tempo number that was the third single on the album.

Could ya would ya ain’t ya gonna if I asked you

Would ya wanna be my baby tonight

Yeah I’d take a chance slow dance make a little romance

Honey it’ll be alright

Girl you got me wishin’ we were huggin’

and a kissin’ and a holdin’ each other tight

So could ya would ya ain’t ya gonna if I asked you

Would ya wanna be my baby tonight

This is followed by “Full-Time Love”, a mid-tempo ballad.

Gary Baker & Frank Myers, a pair of singer/songwriters who were put together as a duo by MCG/Curb Records. The pair released an album the following year as Baker & Myers with limited success; however, both continued to have success as songwriters, together and apart, but nothing else ever reached the success of “I Swear”. In addition to JMM’s huge hit, the song would be covered later by an R&B group All-4-One and also would be covered by other artists in languages other than English. The various versions of the song would sell in excess of 20 million copies.

‘ll give you everything I can

I’ll build your dreams with these two hands

We’ll hang some memories on the wall

And when there’s silver in your hair

You won’t have to ask if I still care

‘Cause as time turns the page

My love won’t age at all

 

I swear

By the moon and stars in the sky

I’ll be there

I swear

Like the shadow that’s by your side

I’ll be there

Next up is “She Don’t Need a Band To Dance,” a rather generic mid-tempo ballad that JMM performs well. This is followed by “All In My Heart,” a nice ballad of longing in which the protagonist imagines a love as he wishes it to be. I think that “All In My Heart” would have made a nice single for someone:

 I sit here tonight

And look in your eyes

For that old familiar flame

That love that burns

Makes my wolrd turn

Two hearts beating the same

Is it all in my mind

Or is it harder to find

I feel like I’m in the dark

I thought it was real

But I’m starting to feel

Like it must be all in my heart

 

I’m a fool for believing

But I just keep dreaming

While we just keep drifting apart

Trying to make something

Where there’s really nothing

I guess it’s all in my heart

“Friday at Noon” is up-tempo filler probably designed for line dancing – it’s pleasant but nothing exceptional.

“Rope The Moon” was the second single off the album and a really outstanding ballad. This is followed by another outstanding ballad “If You’ve Got Love”, the final single released from the album.

The album closes with a nice ballad “Oh How She Shines” and “Kick It Up” which was likely a dance floor favorite.

JMM’s sound would become more solidly country over time but this album features pretty solid country production with the likes of Stuart Duncan on fiddle and mandolin, Paul Franklin on steel guitar, Brent Mason on electric guitar, Glen Worf on bass and John Wesley Ryles on harmony vocals (except on “I Swear” and “Rope The Moon where ‘Handsome Harry’ Stinson provides the harmony vocals).

While this album is only slightly better than its predecessor, the presence of four big hits, including the mega-hit “I Swear”, propelled this album to quadruple platinum status and greatly increased his sales profile in Canada. I would give this album an A-

Classic Album Review — ‘The Carl Smith Anniversary Album: 20 Years of Hits’

During the late 1960s-early 1970s, Columbia Records tried to mine their back catalog of songs by releasing two album sets with gatefold covers. These typically took three different directions:

A) Mixed artists compilations of singles, album tracks (often Columbia artists covering hits of artists on other labels).

B) Compilations of an artists’ miscellaneous older singles and album tracks into a two-album set. In some cases (The World of Ray Price comes to mind) the singles would represent remakes of the original hits recorded in stereo and often with slick ‘Nashville Sound’. In other cases (such as The World of Johnny Cash, The World of Lynn Anderson, The World of Tammy Wynette or The World of Flatt & Scruggs) the compilation consisted of album tracks from out of print albums with perhaps a few singles mixed in 1960. C) Re-recordings of an artist’s greatest hits, but not utilizing the slick ‘Nashville Sound” production often associated with country production of the period. I can think of only two albums that fit

C) Re-recordings of an artist’s greatest hits, but not utilizing the slick ‘Nashville Sound” production often associated with country production of the period. I can think of only two albums that fit in this category. One of these albums was The World of Johnny Horton, where Columbia had some material in the can which had light post-production applied to some tracks after Horton’s premature death in 1960.

The other album was The Carl Smith Anniversary Album: 20 Years of Hits. 

Largely forgotten today, or remembered as the father of Carlene Carter, during the 1950s Carl Smith was a huge star, ranking behind only Webb Pierce, Eddy Arnold and, Hank Snow among the stars of the 1950s. His songs were solidly country; however that was nothing revolutionary or pioneering about his sound as many of Carl’s hits could have fit comfortably on 1940s country playlists. Although his success fell off sharply after rock & roll hit, still he persevered long enough to roll up 93 chart hits by the time he retired in the mid-1970s.

Although Carl had a very good voice, there was too much east Tennessee in Carl’s voice for him to make the Jim Reeves/Eddy Arnold/Ray Price turn toward pop balladry and his voice was far too deeply masculine for him to record the effeminate sounds of rock & roll or doo wop. Still he continued to have a number of top twenty hits during the 1960s. Although Merle Haggard is given deserved credit for the western swing resurgence of the 1970s, Carl’s music had been turning toward western swing sounds during the latter 1960s.

With this album, many of Carl’s biggest hits were recast as western swing, with other songs given a more jazzy feel just short of western swing.

Here are the songs on the album with some comments on each:

“Hey Joe” was a 1953 hit for Carl, spending eight weeks at #1 in 1953. This recording has a definite swing arrangement.

“Back Up Buddy” reached #2 for Carl in 1954 

“She Called Me Baby” was a minor hit for Carl (#32 Billboard / #20 Record World) in 1965. The song was a cover of a Patsy Cline hit from 1962 and Charlie Rich would take the song to #1 in 1974. The arrangement on this version differs little from Carl’s 1965 recording with some extra horns being the main difference.

“Deep Water” would prove to be Carl’s biggest hit of the 1960s, reaching #6 on Record World and #10 on Billboard in 1967. Written by Fred Rose and recorded by Bob Wills (among others), this version differs little from Carl’s 1967 recording, with some extra horns being the main difference. 

“Foggy River” was the follow-up to “Deep Water” breaking into the top twenty. The arrangement is an up-tempo modern country arrangement minus the strings of the Nashville Sound. Kate Smith had a pop hit with the song in 1948.

“Pull My String And Wind Me Up” was a top twenty hit for Carl in 1970. I recall hearing this on the radio so I think that this was the jazzy version released as a single. 

“Heartbreak Avenue” was released as a single in1969. The song is a slow ballad and features a bluesy arrangement and vocal by Carl. 

“Good Deal Lucille” was a single released in 1969 that broke into the top twenty. The version on this album swings a little harder than the single release.   

“It’s All Right” was not released as a single but has a nice swing feel with some nice saxophone. 

“I Love You Because” was a #3 pop hit for Al Martino in 1963 and was recorded as an album track that same year by Jim Reeves (and was released as a posthumous Jim Reeves single in 1976). The song was written by blind country singer Leon Payne and reached #4 for Leon in 1949. Carl’s 1969 release reached #14 – the single was very similar to this recording. Basically, the steel guitar is the lead instrument for much of this track.   

“I Overlooked An Orchid” was an early recording for Carl Smith. Released in 1950, the song never charted but was a regional hit for Carl, and apparently sold quite well despite its lack of chart activity. The song would become a #1 hit for Mickey Gilley in 1974.   

‘Mister Moon” was Carl’s second hit from 1951, a song that reached #4 and spent 17 weeks on the charts. The song features standard country production but no strings or background singers.

“I Feel Like Cryin’” reached #7 in early 1956 as the B side of “You’re Free To Go” which topped out at #6. Again the song features standard production minus strings, but with some harmony vocals. 

“There She Goes” reached #3 for Carl in 1955 and spent 25 weeks on the charts. Jerry Wallace would have a pop hit with the song in 1961. Once again the song features standard production minus strings, but with some harmony vocals. 

“Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way” was Carl’s fourth chart hit for 1951 and his biggest ever hit reaching #1 for eight weeks and spending thirty-three weeks on the charts. This recording is a slow ballad with a jazzy, but not western swing, feel to it.   

“Loose Talk” was Carl’s last #1 single reaching the top in early 1955 and staying there for seven weeks during its thirty-two week chart run. The song would be a big hit for the duo of Buck Owens & Rose Maddox in 1961 and become a country standard. The song was written by Freddie Hart and verges on western swing in this version.

“Are You Teasing Me” is a cover of a Louvin Brothers song that reached #1 for Carl in 1952, his third consecutive #1 record. This version is given a jazzy arrangement. 

“Don’t Just Stand There” was the following up to “Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way” and it also spent eight weeks at #1, although it faded off the charts after only twenty-four weeks. I would describe this recording as solidly western swing. 

“If Teardrops Were Pennies” reached #8 for Carl in 1951, his third charted single of the year. Porter & Dolly would take the song to #3 in 1973. 

“I Betcha My Heart I Love You” dates back to Bob Wills, and while no one ever had a hit with the song, it was a staple of many country bands for years. Wanda Jackson had a nice recording of the song, but Carl’s rendition here really swings. Carl himself recorded the song in 1950 but without any chart action.

The Carl Smith Anniversary Album: 20 Years of Hits remains one of my favorite albums, one that I pull out and play frequently. Over the years I have dubbed it onto cassette tapes and also made digital copies of the album. To my knowledge, it has only ever been released on vinyl.

Carl Smith is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and while his 1950s output has been adequately available his post-1950s output has been shamefully under-represented in the digital era.

Album Review: John Michael Montgomery – ‘Life’s A Dance’

John Michael Montgomery’s debut album was released in October 1992. It sold 3 million copies, launching him as a bona fide star, although it does not sound particularly distinctive. At the time I personally was not blown away, and to be perfectly honest it still sounds rather generic to me, but since that era of country music was a strong one, Montgomery has a decent voice and there are some good songs, it sounds much better set against today’s music.

The title track and lead single, ‘Life’s A Dance’ was a promising start for the newcomer, launching him to a #4 hit. Written by Allen Shamblin and Steve Seskin, it is a simple mid paced tune about finding your path In life by accepting whatever comes. It is agreeable listening but not all that memorable.

The follow up, ‘I Love The Way you Love Me’, written by Victoria Shaw and Chuck Cannon, was JMM’s first chart topper. It played to his greatest strengths vocally as a smoothly crooned romantic ballad, leaning in the AC direction, with instrumentation which sounds a bit dated now. A pop cover of the song by Irish boyband Boyzone was a big hit in Europe in 1998.

Finally, ‘Beer And Bones’ was less successful, peaking just outside the top 20. Written by country songwriting legend Sanger D Shafer and Lonnie Williams, it is the most hardcore honky tonk song on the album, with raw vocals.

The singles, and three other tracks, were produced by Doug Johnson. ‘When Your Baby Ain’t Around’ is pleasant mid-tempo filler. ‘Line On Love’ is quite a nice if rather generic song about life lessons learnt from growing up in the country. ‘Dream On Texas Ladies’ is a very pretty waltz which is a cover of a minor hit for Rex Allen Jr in 1984.

The remaining four tracks were produced by Wyatt Easterling. ‘A Great Memory’ is an excellent Dean Dillon/Trey Bruce song on which JMM sounds like fellow-Kentuckian Keith Whitley. Whitley’s influence is also evident on ‘Nickels And Dimes And Love’, a tender memoir of love in poverty which was later cut by Vern Gosdin. It was written by Johnny MacRae and Steve Clark, who also contributed ‘Every Time I Fall (It Breaks Her Heart)’, a tribute to a woman standing by a flawed man.

Finally, ‘Taking Off The Edge’, written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell, is an enjoyable and rather sexy up-tempo number.

John Michael Montgomery had not quite found his own voice on this album, but it is a generally enjoyable record.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Family Life’

Family Life was Adam Harvey’s eleventh album and fifth for Sony-Australia. The album reached #10 on the ARIA chart and was released in August 2014 on the heels of Adam’s most successful album The Great Country Songbook, a duet album with Troy Cassar-Daley that reached #2 the year before.

The album features nine songs from Adam’s pen, plus three from American writers.

The album opens up with the title track an ode to family life. The song reminds me strongly of the John Conlee hit “Domestic Life” both in terms of the lyrics and the melody:

Two sugars in my coffee cup
Make it strong make it wake me up
Put my boots on in the dark
While I’m hoping that my car will start

Working ten hours a day
Another stack of bills to pay
The job don’t bother me no more
There’s three reasons
That I’m working for

Family Life
Mortgage, two kids and a beautiful wife
We ain’t got much but we’re good at getting by
And you’re looking at a man who’s proud
Yeah you’re looking at a man who’s found
Where he wants to be
Where he’s meant to be
Family life is alright with me

Next up is “Do The Best You Can”, a Bob McDill composition, a nice ballad. This is followed by another McDill song, “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful” which was a #1 hit for Sammy Kershaw in 1993. Adam turns in a solid performance with an arrangement faithful to Kershaw’s hit but with more percussion.

Harvey continues the focus on matters domestic with “Kids”, a rollicking up-tempo ballad about life with kids, “Count On Me”, a tender ballad of reassurance to the singer’s woman, and “My Little Boy”, a paean to the joys of watching his son grow up.

Harvey gets a bit off track from his domestic bliss theme with “One Full Bottle of Rum”, a mid-tempo ballad about a night of catching up with an old chum.

“Mere Male” features Randy Kohrs on dobro on a largely acoustic up-tempo romp about the dumb things that guys do. The song is a hoot and I wish someone in the USA would record it.

What does one truly need in life? According to Adam Harvey the answer is “Sweet Sweet Love”. This song is a romantic ballad taken at mid-tempo and definitely qualifies as a love song to the singer’s woman.

“Daddy, What If” was a major hit for Bobby Bare in early 1974, reaching #1 on Cash Box and Record World and #2 on Billboard (the folks at Billboard must not have liked Bare as his records usually charted higher on Record World and Cash Box than on Billboard). The song, written by legendary Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein, is a perfect fit for this album. Adam performs this as a duet with his daughter Leylah:

(Daddy what if the sun stop shinin’ what would happen then)
If the sun stopped shinin’ you’d be so surprised
You’d stare at the heavens with wide open eyes
And the wind would carry your light to the skies
And the sun would start shinin’ again

(Daddy what if the wind stopped blowin’ what would happen then)
If the wind stopped blowin’ then the land would be dry
And your boat wouldn’t sail son and your kite wouldn’t fly
And the grass would see your troubles and she’d tell the wind
And the wind would start blowin’ again

(But daddy what if the grass stopped growin’ what would happen then)
If the grass stopped growin’ why you’d probably cry
And the ground would be watered by the tears from your eyes
And like your love for me the grass would grow so high
Yes the grass would start growin’ again

Next up is the up-tempo “My Family and Home”

When I hear country music
It takes me right back to my family home
Sittin’ by my dad’s radio
Trying to them songs on my own

The album concludes with the contemplative “You Are On My Mind”, performed as an acoustic ballad, with large parts of the song featuring just Adam and an acoustic guitar, joined in later with a lonesome fiddle played by Mick Albeck.

I really liked this album. It is nicely balanced in terms of tempos with both serious and humorous material and containing nothing you’d be afraid to let the children hear, even though this is not a children’s album. Adam Harvey is a great singer and songwriter. His vocals shine throughout the album. I would give this album a solid A

Track List
01 Family Life (A. Harvey)
02 Do the Best You Can (B. McDill)
03 She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful (B. McDill)
04 Kids (A. Harvey)
05 Count on Me (A. Harvey – Clint Crighton)
06 My Little Boy (A. Harvey)
07 One Full Bottle of Rum (A. Harvey)
08 Mere Male (A. Harvey – Colin Buchanan)
09 Sweet Sweet Love (A. Harvey – Clint Crighton)
10 Daddy What If (Shel Silverstein)
11 My Home and Family (A. Harvey – Clint Crighton)
12 You Are on My Mind (A. Harvey – Clint Crighton)

Partial List of Musicians
Jeff McCormack – Bass / Clayton Doley – Organ
Vaughan Jones – Piano / Mark Punch – Electric Guitar
Mick Albeck – Fiddle / Trent Williamson – Harmonica
Randy Kohrs – Dobro

Album Review: Adam Harvey and Troy Cassar-Daly – ‘The Great Country Songbook’

In 2013 Adam teamed up with fellow Australian country singer Troy Cassar-Daly for a collection of classic covers with a focus on the music of the 1970s which Adam grew up on. Mixed in with the duets are a number of songs on which either Adam or Troy sings lead.

The pair open with ‘Good Hearted Woman’ which is relaxed and enjoyable, and one of several covers of Waylon & Willie. The others are ‘Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys’, sung seriously. Adam also performs a solo version of ‘Luckenbach, Texas’ which suits his voice very well. The duo also cover ‘Coward Of The County’, which doesn’t quite gel as a duet, although each man’s solo lines have believable emotional heft. ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ feels rather karaoke, but ‘I Walk The Line’ is rather enjoyable, with Adam in particular sounding great. One of my favorites of the duets is a really lovely version of ‘Seven Spanish Angels’.

‘Lights On The Hill’ was an Australian country classic, written by Joy McKean for her husband, Aussie legend Slim Dusty in the 70s. Set to a catchy, oddly upbeat mid tempo tune, It is a story song about a trucker killed on the road one rainy night. This one is another duet. Troy also sings another Joy McKean/Slim Dusty classic, ‘Indian Pacific’, about a railway line, on which his natural Australian accent is more in evidence.

Adam takes on ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’. It is a brave attempt, and Adam’s deep baritone sounds great, but who can match George Jones? He is very good on ‘Behind Closed Doors’, and ‘Old Dogs, Children And Watermelon Wine’ is absolutely perfect for his deep voice – wonderful. ‘You’re My Best Friend’ is another strong cover.

Troy has a nice, smooth voice, and he takes the lead on ‘Crystal Chandeliers’, a reproach to an ex wife who has abandoned the protagonist for a rich man. It was never a single for Charley Pride in the US, but was an international success for him. Better still is a lovely version of ‘For The Good Times’, with some gorgeous steel guitar, and a natural, relaxed ;That’s The Way Loves Goes’, which is a real highlight. ‘Mama Tried’ is enjoyable with the same arrangement as the original, and Troy delivers an authentic version of ‘Hey Good Looking’. ‘Oh Lonesome Me’ is quite good too.

There is a very generous helping of material, with 20 tracks. The last is a medley of three songs: a bright fun extract from ‘Thank God I’m A Country Boy’, a soulful ‘Before The Next Teardrop Falls’, and a good humoured ‘On The Road Again’ to wrap things up.

Covers collections aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and the largely faithful arrangements will seems superfluous to some listeners. However, I really enjoyed this album and am happy to recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Adam Harvey — ‘Falling Into Place’

Falling into Place, released in 2011, is Adam Harvey’s ninth album overall and third release for Sony Music Australia. It won him Album of the Year from the CMA (Country Music Awards of Australia) in 2012.

The album opens with the mid-paced and inviting “Built To Last,” in which the narrator longs for a simpler time when quality (of both cars and women) mattered. “You Don’t Know My Love” finds the man working hard to help his girl overcome her skepticism and by the sounds of the uptempo arrangement, it doesn’t sound like much of a chore.

He’s nursing a hangover and some regrets about mid-week partying on “Hair of The Dog.” The title track is a pleasing mid-tempo ballad focusing on a relationship and the ways that life just kind of takes care of itself sometimes. “One More Beer” celebrates the end of the night when the bar is about to shut down. Harvey performs the song with a bit of a drunken’ swagger, which adds to the effect beautifully.

“A Good Woman Can” is a lively and playful uptempo honky-tonk infused duet with fellow Aussie Beccy Cole. The track is excellent even if it’s a bit frivolous. The pair works well together, however.

Harvey included three notable covers on the album. The album’s final cut, “Closing Time,” was first released and made famous by Lyle Lovett in 1986. It’s an excellent observational ballad about the people in the bar at closing time, complete with gorgeous vivid imagery.

The other two are a pair of songs Randy Travis recorded on Around The Bend in 2008. “Everything I Own Has Got A Dent” is a comical mid-tempo ballad in which a man confesses to having banged up cars, punched holes in walls and even disregarded love with his woman. He admits that even his heart has got a dent, too.

The second Travis song is his failed-to-chart single “Dig Two Graves,” which won him a Grammy nomination in 2009. Harvey’s version of the ballad, about a man who says he won’t last long if the love of his life should die before him, is excellent although it could’ve been a bit more traditional in its presentation.

Falling into Place is a great album, one which retains the more contemporary stylings of Harvey’s more recent work at the time. I wasn’t blown away by it, but there are some pretty good songs throughout.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘I’m Doing Alright’

In 2007 Adam signed to Sony Australia, and released an excellent debut for the label. The style was a little more contemporary country than his most recent albums, but very well performed and produced.

He wrote the majority of the tracks, mostly with Rod McCormack, including my favorite, ‘Someone Else’s Dream’. This is an excellent ballad, set to a strong melody ideally suited to Adam’s deep voice, with a tasteful string arrangement, and an inspiring lyric about fulfilling your own path in life:

I’ve known hurt and pain
Seen things I hope we never see again
I’ve been bought and sold
I’ve learned not to believe most of what I’m told
We’re all busy making plans
But there’s just a few who can
Have a vision and the will to see it through

Truth knows when things aren’t what they seem
And words fall flat if you d- on’t feel what they mean
You can’t move forward
Till you know where you’ve been
The ones who stand alone see
It’s no life
Living someone else’s dream

‘Walls’ is an excellent song, referring to the Aboriginal population of Australia, the Berlin Wall and other artificial barriers:

When different people find a common ground
There’s no way to stop
Walls from tumbling down

Walls
We all build ‘em
When we need something to hide behind
But if we learn from those that came before us
We let ‘em fall
Walls

Every day we make ‘em like we need ‘em to survive
But what’s the use of feelings if they’re locked up inside?

The solemn ‘A Bigger Plan’ relates grandparental advice to a child, while the sultry jazzy ballad of ‘Will You Be Mine’ is the album’s sole love song. ‘Saturday Night’ is another likeable song about childhood memories of good times at family parties every week:

There ain’t nothing like a party at the Harveys on a Saturday night

The soundtrack include smashing bottles and police sirens.

The title track is a mid paced song with a contemporary feel about satisfaction with one’s life despite lacking material goods. Not bad. ‘Way Too Fast’ is a nice song advising taking time out from a busy life, warmly sung.

‘You’d Do The Same For Me’ is a thoughtful ballad about friendship with an attractive melody and some nice fiddle:

We all need a shoulder when life lets you down
One thing you can count on
I’ll always be around
Nothing’s too much trouble for a friend in need
You’d do the same for me

Most of his usual co-writers refused to work on him with ‘Genie In The Bottle’, which they thought was a stupid idea for a song, but while admittedly a bit silly it’s rather fun, about a lovelorn man who takes to the bottle:

The genie in the bottom of the Jim Bean bottle made me do what I didn’t wanna do
I made a wish with the genie but the genie was a meanie and he didn’t make my wish come true
I was hoping he would make your memory go away but I’m still thinkin’ of you

Of the outside material, ‘The Older I Get’ is a pleasant mid-paced tune about learning how to live well. It was written by Danny Gree, Rob Crosby and Liz Hengber.

‘Flowers’ was a very minor hit for its writer Billy Yates, with its perfectly constructed and emotionally devastating lyric about a man who (spoiler alert!) causes the death of his partner by drunk driving. It has also been cut by Chris Young. Adam’s version is decent but not my favorite, lacking a bit of the combined delicacy and intensity needed to carry it off. I don’t quite *believe* this version.

The best known cover is the Guy Clark song ‘Heartbroke’. Adam’s version is highly enjoyable but not as exciting as Ricky Skaggs’ bluegrass infused hit. Adam also takes on bluesman Keb Mo’’s ‘A Better Man’; the original actually has a jug band feel which might have worked better but Adam’s version is a bit dull.

There are “bonus” acoustic re-recordings of several of the songs on this album, and a few older songs, on my version of the album.

The album won an Australian CMA award, and is well worth finding.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Cowboy Dreams’

Released in April 2003, Cowboy Dreams was Adam’s fifth album and the second to be certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association signifying sales of 35,000 albums.

The album opens up with the “Love Bug”, the Wayne Kemp-Curtis Wayne penned hit for George Jones in 1965 and George Strait in 1993, both top ten records. It’s a silly song but Adam handles it well.

Next up is “Call It Love” a nice ballad that I could see George Strait having a hit with in his prime

Just Lookin Back On The Life We’ve Made
The Things We’ve Lost The Words To Say
A Million Words Are Not Enough
Call It Love

I Know That Sometimes I Put You Through
More Than I Should Ask Of You
There Must Be A Reason You Don’t Give Up
Call It Love

I Don’t Know What Else To Call It
When All I Wanna Do
Is Grow Old With You
What Else On Earth Can It Be When Every Time You’re With Me
A Simple Touch Tears Me Up
Call It Love

“When Lonely Met Love” is a nice up-tempo dance floor number:

He was empty as a bottle on a Saturday night
She was sweet as a rose that grows in a garden getting good sunlight
As fate would have it, the unlikely happened
In a parking lot, two worlds collide

When lonely met love, they hit it off
Dancing on the ceiling, couldn’t peel them off
Now they’re real tight, it feels real nice
Lonely ain’t looking, lonely no more
Love started popping like a bag of popcorn
When they opened up, when lonely met love

Those good old ballads of booze, women and cheating have been largely banished from modern country music so “Hush”, so this mid-tempo ballad is a refreshing change of pace

He’s looking in the mirror checking out his hair, putting on his cologne
He ain’t shaved since Tuesday but tonight every little whisker’s gone
He’s going out with the perfect wife but she ain’t his own

Chorus:
Hush…can’t talk about it
Hush…dance all around it
Everybody’s doing it old and young
Don’t breath a word cats got your tongue
Huush

She makes the kids breakfast, packs their lunch, sends them on their way
Makes all the beds and cleans up the kitchen loads the TV tray
But that ain’t coffee in the coffee cup gets her through the day

“She Don’t Know It Yet” is a wistful ballad about a man who has not been able to convey to his woman just how much he really loves her

I really love western swing and “Cowboy For A Day” is a nice example with a subject matter similar to Conway Twitty’s “Don’t Call Him A Cowboy” but with a more upbeat message and taken at a much faster tempo. This would be a great dance number

Adam’s voice is in Trace Adkins / Josh Turner territory but the structure of the album reminds me of many of George Strait’s albums, with a nice mix of slow and up-tempo songs.

My digital copy of the album did not include any information concerning songwriting credits, but it is fair to assume that where I haven’t commented, that Adam had a hand in the writing. I really liked “A Little More To It Than That” and “Little Cowboy Dreams” which I assume are Adam’s compositions. The latter is a really cute song, a father’s words to his son:

Dust off your boots, take off your star
Whistle your rocking horse in from the yard
Take off your hat you’ve tamed the wild west
But son even heroes need to get rest

Close your eyes little man it’s been a long day
And your worn out from riding it seems
Let your work in the saddle
All drift away
Into sweet little cowboy dreams

Old-timer that I am my favorite song on the album goes way back to 1965 when Lefty Frizzell recorded the Hank Cochran-Chuck Howard song “A Little Unfair”. Adam doesn’t sound like Lefty and doesn’t try to sound like Lefty but doers a very effective job with the song:

You want me to love just you while you love your share
Ain’t that being a little unfair
It’s me stay home while you stay gone till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

I can’t see how it can be anything for me
What’s mine is yours but what’s yours is yours
That’s how you wanted to be
You want me to wait for you till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

I can’t see how it can be anything for me
What’s mine is yours but what’s yours is yours
That’s how you wanted to be
You want me to wait for you till you decide to care
Ain’t that being a little unfair

This is a very country album – fiddle, steel guitar, thoughtful lyrics and everything else you would want in a country album.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Adam Harvey — ‘Can’t Settle for Less’

Adam Harvey released his sixth album, Can’t Settle for Less, in January 2005. It peaked at #20 on the Australian Country Album chart.

Among the album’s 13 tracks are six songs recorded by other artists in the States and likely unfamiliar to Harvey’s audiences Down Under. He opens with a brilliant take on Don Williams’ “I’ve Been Loved By The Best,” a mid-tempo stunner about a man and his recent love.

“I Want My Rib Back” is a silly and somewhat obscure song Keith Whitley had recorded for the Blake Mevis produced follow-up to LA to Miami that was never released. His version eventually saw the light of day on Kentucky Bluebird before the song found its way to Kenny Chesney on his Capricorn debut, In My Wildest Dreams. Harvey does well with the song, which has never been one of my favorites.

“Cadillac Tears” was originally recorded by Kevin Denney for his self-titled debut in 2002. The uptempo honky tonker is gorgeous and finds a woman wallowing that she’s single, despite being very well off financially from her previous lover. “Lady Lay Down” was a #1 single for John Conlee from his Rose Colored Glasses album in 1978. The traditional ballad is wonderful, although a bit slicker than I would’ve expected from Harvey.

“Orphan of the Road” is an old Johnny Cash song about a cowboy and a carnie girl, and their one-time three-day stand. The track is exquisite, with Harvey turning in a revelatory performance framed in a simple acoustic arrangement. “Life Don’t Have To Mean Nothing At All” was written by Tom T. Hall and covered by Joe Nichols on Man With A Memory in 2002. The song itself is charming, and Harvey turns in a fabulous performance of it.

The rest of the album’s tracks are original and credited to Harvey. “That’s Just How She Gets” is an amusing look at a woman’s behavior when her man stumbles home drunk. “The Biggest Fool” is an ear-catching mid-tempo ballad with a seductive traditional arrangement. “God Made Beer” is the first real inane track on the album, which scores points for its working man undertones, but suffers from an unintelligent lyric. “Doghouse” is also a bit silly.

“That’s What You Call A Friend” is a tasteful yet somewhat predictable mid-tempo ballad. “Missing Heroes” is a contemporary traditional ballad typical of the era. “Once Upon A Long Time Gone” is a gorgeous ballad set to an old-time-y country arrangement. Harvey’s vocal is spellbinding. This is the kind of song I could see Lee Ann Womack recording.

Can’t Settle for Less truly is an incredible album of originals mixed between well-chosen songs sung by other artists. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty darn close to it. Harvey reminds me a lot of Josh Turner, especially on this album. He has a very similar tone to his voice that is very appealing. This album is also available on Apple Music and iTunes and is well worth checking out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Workin’ Overtime’

After some time finding his feet, Adam’s first Australian gold selling album was 2001’s Workin’ Overtime. It also won him a Golden Guitar award for Best Album. It thoroughly deserved both, as this is an excellent album.

He wrote or cowrote the lion’s share of the tracks himself for the first time. The title track, ‘Workin’ Overtime (On A Good Time)’ was co-written with fellow Australian Rod McCormack and American country artist David Lee Murphey. This starts out slow and then ramps it up as Adam quits his job in favour of party time.

McCormack and Jerry Salley teamed up with Adam for ‘The Shake Of A Hand’, a sweet song set to a pretty lilting melody with a wistful nostalgia for a more innocent past. The same team produced the charmingly retro western swing ‘Two Steppin’ Fool’, in which Adam offers himself as a replacement for a cheater.

Adam and Rod McCormack were joined by Sonny Tillis to write ‘What It Used To Be’, a lovely sad ballad about the aftermath of a failed relationship. Matt King co-wrote the mid-paced ‘I’ll Drink To That’, a swaggering response to a wife’s ultimatum to stop drinking to excess in which the booze looks like winning:

Hangovers hurt me in the morning
But living with a crazy woman
Sure to give a man a heart attack
So I’ll drink to that
I’ll raise my glass and
Here’s to all the good times that you said we never had
This beer ain’t half as bitter as
This trouble you’ve been causing
With these threats that you’ll be walking
If I touch another drop
I’ll drink to that

Rick Price cowrote two songs with Adam and Rod, both love songs. ‘One Of A Kind’ is a sweet ballad, earnestly delivered by Adam, while ‘Little Bitty Thing Called’ is slighter lyrically but a fun little ditty.

A few covers or outside songs were thrown in. ‘The House That Jack Built’ is a rapid paced Billy Yates/Jerry Salley story song about a young married couple whose ideal picket fence life is broken up when a richer man comes along, with a fiddle dominated arrangement. Steel guitar leads into the superlative ballad ‘One And One And One’, also recorded by Gene Watson. Adam does it full justice as he portrays a man who retires hurt but dignified when he finds his lover two timing him:

The first time I laid eyes on you it was love for me
It never crossed my mind what all I couldn’t see
Now suddenly there’s more than me you’re livin’ for
I go to you and find a stranger at your door

1 + 1 + 1 is one too many
I can’t understand your reasons why
1 + 1 + 1 is one too many
So let me be the one to say goodbye

You say God blessed you with two good men
And you can’t choose
‘Cause in different ways we both mean the world to you
And you’re wonderin’ now if somehow
I could live with that
But God above wouldn’t call this love so I want out

‘She’s Gone, Gone, Gone’ is a Harlan Howard song first recorded by the legendary Lefty Frizzell and then a top 10 country hit for Glen Campbell. It is upbeat musically, belying a sad lyric, and highly enjoyable with a delightful acoustic arrangement. There is a tasteful cover of the Guy Clark classic ‘Boats To Build’.

‘Beauty’s In The Eye (Of The Beerholder)’ is a comic drinking song which is good fun.

The album closes with a very fine version of Chris Wall’s modern classic ‘I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight’, most recently recorded by Sunny Sweeney.

Adam is in great voice on this record, and the material is all high quality. I recommend this wholeheartedly.

Grade: A

Album Review: Adam Harvey — ‘Sugar Talk’

Adam Harvey released his third album, Sugar Talk, in late August 1999. Much like Occasional Hope noted in her review last week, there isn’t much information about the album online although I was able to find it on Apple Music.

The album is comprised of fourteen tracks. Wikipedia lists two singles. “Treat Me Like A Dog” is a ruckus barnburner about a man who wants a woman who will love and forgive him despite his flaws, much the same way people love everything about their pets. “I Blame You” is a nice power ballad where a man blames his woman for all the riches in his life.

When researching “Gypsy Queen,” I found out it is an old Australian song from the 1970s and became Harvey’s first number one hit. The track is excellent, dosed in mandolin and has a nice sing-song-y melody. “When I’m Drinking” is a playful honky-tonk rocker about a man who’s let the bottle have a grip on his life.

“Hold on my Heart” is another barnburner, in which Harvey sings about a woman who has “a hold on my heart and I hope she never let’s go.” The title track follows the same uptempo formula, with slight variations.

Harvey is a keen observer on “I Can Tell By The Way You Dance,” in which he predicts the woman he’s watching on the dance floor will become his girl. It’s probably not a sequel, but the next track in sequence is “Caroline.” In the chorus he sings, “when I’m with you I lose my mind.”

The last of the high-octane moments is “It’s Still Love,” which is very good but feels slightly generic. “When You Love Somebody” is a nice contemporary ballad. “Love Listens” falls at mid-tempo, with generous steel guitar throughout and a smoother vocal from Harvey.

Harvey also includes three songs I recognize as being recorded by other artists. When I played “Don’t Tell Me (You’re Not in Love)” I recognized it immediately, but didn’t know where I’d heard it before. It turns out George Strait included it as an album track on The Road Less Traveled three years after Harvey released it here.

He gives himself a tall order singing Lefty Frizzell’s “I Never Go Around Mirrors,” which was famously covered twice by Keith Whitley. Harvey’s version is very good and holds its own against the others.

The final cover, “Goodnight Sweetheart,” was originally recorded by Joe Diffie in 1992 before being picked up as the title track and second single from country singer turned Texas real estate agent David Kersh’s debut album. It peaked at #6 for him in 1996. Harvey’s version is excellent, tender, and makes me believe this is a song Whitley would’ve likely recorded had he lived.

I was unfamiliar with Adam Harvey before writing this review. Sugar Talk is a very strong album with some excellent moments throughout. He goes a bit too heavy on the light uptempo material but kills it when he slows things down. In addition to Apple Music, Sugar Talk is all available on iTunes. I recommend checking it out.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Second Time Around’

Typically Australian County albums tend to be a mixture of original compositions and covers of Nashville hits. Second Time Around is no exception but it is quite an enjoyable album. Adam’s expressive baritone makes for pleasant listening, and the backing on this album is solidly country.

Unfortunately, my digital download of this album did not come with lyric sheets or, songwriter credits or musician credits. If I don’t mention the songwriter, that means I don’t know who wrote the song, but it is likely that either Adam or another Australian artist would have the songwriting honors.

The album opens with “He Lives My Dream”, an oft-told story about the restlessness of the itinerant musician. In this case the singer’s bus breaks down and while waiting he sees a young family exiting church services. I’m usually not that fond of narrations, but the opening narrative sets up the song nicely.

“Been There Done That” finds the singer seeing an ex-girlfriend at a barroom. She tries to chat him up – but this time he’s not having any.

“Tequila Sunrise” is Adam’s cover of an Eagles’ song. If you liked the song generally, you will like Adam’s rendition, which is laid back and melodic.

“I think I’ll Have Another Bourbon” is a kind of generic drinking song, a slow ballad about a woman who has left him and who he can’t get over. Some interesting harmonica work dominates the bluesy backing.

From this point forward Adam covers some of the greatest songs in the American country music canon.

Adam is no Merle Haggard but “Fightin’ Side Of Me” is effectively presented, as is “Sad Songs And Waltzes”, a song written by Willie Nelson but perhaps better remembered from the Keith Whitley cover version.

“Big Bad John” is one of those songs that everyone over the age of fifty-five has heard, whether or not they listen to country music. Adam’s version pales in comparison to the Jimmy Dean original. The song is not a novelty song, but there is a certain ambiance to the song that no one else has ever managed to duplicate.

Better is “Hello Darlin’“, Adam’s cover of the Conway Twitty classic from 1970. Adam’s deep baritone seems expressly made for the song.

Chris Wall never made it as a mainstream country singer, although he had some success as a songwriter. “Trashy Women” was recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in 1989 and Wall put the song on his superlative album Honky Tonk Heart in 1990, it wasn’t until Confederate Railroad recorded the song a few years later that the song became a top ten country hit. Wall’s song has remained a staple of bar bands since then. Adam does a fine job with the song. I love this song:

Well I was raised in a sophisticated kind of style
But my taste in music and women drove my folks half wild
Mom and Dad had a plan for me, it was debutantes and symphonies
But I like my music hot and my women wild

You see I like my women just a tad on the trashy side
When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed
Too much lipstick and too much rouge
Gets me excited, leaves me feeling confused
I like my women just a tad on the trashy side

Well you should have seen the look on the face of my Dad and Mom
When I showed up at the door with my date for the senior prom
They said, “Pardon us son, she ain’t no kid,
That’s a cocktail waitress in a Dolly Parton wig”
I said, “I know, ain’t she great, Dad?

They say opposites attract, well I don’t agree
I need a woman that’s as tacky as me

Covering a Vern Gosdin classic is an impossible task as there is no way you can sing the song better than “The Voice” did. That said, Adam does a very nice job with “Is It Raining At Your House”.

I do not know the source of “I’d Be Worse off” but I really like the song with kind of a folk-country ballad with some nice harmonica accompaniment. I don’t know if this a single “Down Under” but if it wasn’t, it should have been.

The album closes with the Don Williams classic “I Believe In You” . The arrangement is a clone of the Don Williams original but with a bit more steel guitar.

To an American listener, this album may feel too familiar, but please remember that Adam Harvey was recording the album for Australian audiences, to whom these may have been mostly new songs. At any rate, it is a good album, Adam sings well, I like the band and the arrangements and this would be in the B+ / A= minus range for me.

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Wouldn’t It Be Great’

Loretta Lynn is enjoying a creative renaissance in her 80s. Her latest album was originally expected more than a year ago, but its release was delayed due to health issues and Loretta wanting to able to promote it. Produced by Loretta’s daughter Patsy Lynn Russell and John Carter Cash, the long-awaited album has proved to be well worth waiting for. While Loretta’s voice is obviously not what it was in her 1960s/70s heyday, it is surprisingly strong for someone of her years, and actually better than in the 1980s.

Her songwriting skills are also still strong, and she wrote or co-wrote all but one of the 13 tracks. Admittedly, half are older songs, including enjoyable retreads of two of her signature songs – ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ and ‘Don’t Come Home A Drinking’. There are also two obscure songs originally written and recorded at the dawn of Loretta’s career in 1960. ‘My Angel Mother’ is a pretty, gentle, folky song, and ‘Darkest Day’ is a classic country shuffle about a husband leaving – very nice.

The title song and lead single was originally recorded in the 1980s, and has a nice arrangement and a subdued but emotional vocal as Loretta bemoans an alcoholic husband. The simple faith of ‘God Makes No Mistakes’ made its first appearance on Loretta’s Van Lear Rose album in 2004, and is better here with a more sympathetic arrangement.

The one outside song is an even older one – traditional murder ballad ‘Lulie Vars’ which is very effective with a stripped down acoustic arrangement. (The song, originating from Kentucky where I presume Loretta heard the song as a child, and based on a real murder in 1917, is marginally better known as ‘Lula Viers’.) (Incidentally the real Lula was related to the famous Hatfield family.)

My favorite of the new songs is the delightful ‘Ruby’s Stool’, an amusing tale of misbehaviour and rivalry among an older generation of “honky tonk girls” who have not retired into a less combative way of life. Loretta wrote this with Shawn Camp, who also co-wrote ‘I’m Dying For Someone To Live For’, a lovely song about the loneliness of widowhood, with some very pretty mandolin; and also the charming gospel ‘The Big Man’, which I love.

Veteran songwriter Lola Jean Dillon teamed up with Loretta to write ‘Another Bridge To Burn’. This is a great song about moving on from a bad relationship to a better life:

I don’t suppose I’ll ever love him
Quite the way that I love you
When he sleeps into my dreams
I don’t wake up feeling blue
What we don’t have in common
We make up for in concern…

Through the years I’ve cried a river
One teardrop at a time
I kept that old bridge standing strong
Just in case you changed your mind
I can’t live on dreams for ever
At least reality returns
With his hand in mine we’ll light the aflame
You’re another bridge it’s time to burn

Daughter Patsy co-wrote two songs. ‘Ain’t No Time To Go’, a delicate appeal to a loved one to live, is rather charming with some delightful folky fiddle. ‘These Ole Blues’ has a lovely Hank Williams style vibe about it.

I didn’t necessarily have high hopes for this record beforehand, but it has been a positive revelation. Loretta Lynn really is a living legend of country music, and this is a very fine album.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Adam Harvey’

Adam’s self-titled debut was recorded in 1994. There isn’t much information about it online, so I surmise it was possibly a self-release to sell on tour.

Opener ‘Bad Luck With Women’ is a relaxed mid-tempo number, with warm fiddle although other aspects of the instrumentation are a bit tinny. The up-tempo ‘Sick And Tired Of You’ is pretty good vocally with Adam able to show a bit of personality, but a brassy backing is not especially country. ‘Heartbreak Side Of Town’ is a somewhat dull song with 80s style keyboards and dated backing vocals.

Early in his career, Adam was forced to rely on a high proportion of covers.

I very much enjoyed his take on Tom T. Hall’s ‘Old Dogs And Children And Watermelon Wine’, which Adam delivers with a laidback charm. It also benefits from some tasteful steel guitar. Also good is a cover of the Jim Reeves classic ‘He’ll Have To Go’. A very retro arrangement suits the song, and Adam shows off the deepest part of his voice impressively. Another strong effort is his narration of the Red Sovine truckdriving story song ‘Phantom 309’.

Adam covers Conway Twitty with ‘I May Never Get To Heaven’, well sung but given a rather old fashioned string arrangement and backing vocals. The sexy and catchy ‘Tight Fittin’ Jeans’ works better for Adam.

He copies the crooning side of Elvis Presley with ‘It’s Now Or Never’; quite pleasant but far from original. He can’t match the vocals of Marty Robbins on ‘You Gave Me A Mountain’ and frankly struggles.

Tamworth in New South Wales is the Nashville of Australia, and the site of Australia’s premier country music festival. ‘Tamworth Blues’ is an amusing song about a hopeful country singer on the outs with his wife and performing at the festival, and either recorded live or affecting to be (I suspect the latter), with crowd sounds and singalong. I enjoyed the track, and felt it was a are glimpse of the real Adam on this album.

The record closes with ‘Cheryl Moana Marie’, a New Zealand pop hit from the 60s.

Elsewhere Adam had not quite found his own voice, sounding as if he is copying the original artists on the covers. This debut showed promise for the future, but the odd sounding production on several tracks does it no favors. It is almost impossible to find anyway, out of Australia. Luckily, much better music was to come.

Grade: C+

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale – ‘This Changes Everything’

It was back to traditional country for Jim’s 2016 release This Changes Everything, recorded in Texas with a strongly Texas flavour to the music. Steel guitarist Tommy Detamore produced, and a number of Texas mainstays formed the backing band. Most of the record was produced in a single all-day session.

The opening track, written with Texan singer-songwriter Bruce Robison, is a very nice conversational, steel laden song about falling in love. It would be ideal for George Strait (who did record this record’s ‘We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This’). Robison also co-wrote the gentle ‘There Is A Horizon’. A singer-songwriter of a more recent vintage, Hayes Carll, is the co-writer on ‘Drive’, a rather laid back sounding song about being on the road written very much in Carll’s voice.

Sunny Sweeney adds her distinctive harmony on the engaging ‘All The Rage In Paris’, about being a superstar local act – in Paris, Texas, and environs. ‘You Turn Me Around’, written with Terry McBride, is a charming Western Swing number. Buddy Cannon and Kendell Marvel joined Jim to write ‘Nobody’s Fault’, a laidback song about falling in and out of love.

‘Lost In The Shuffle’, written with Odie Blackmon, is the most delightful of several traditional country shuffles with glorious fiddle from Bobby Flores. ‘It All Started And Ended With you’, written with Frank Dycus, has a mournful feel, helped by the gorgeous steel and Jim’s plaintive wail. Dycus also co-wrote the romantic love song ‘I’ll Still Be Around’ and the sober cheating song ‘The Weakness Of Two Hearts’.

This is an excellent album which has become one of my favorites of Jim’s work.

Grade: A

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale and Roland White

We interrupt this program to present an album that was recorded before ANY of the albums we’ve reviewed up to this point. Lost for many years, the masters for this album were recently recovered and are now released for your listening pleasure by the good folks at Yep Roc.

It has always been the case that musicians and singers have been quicker to recognize Lauderdale’s talents than record executives, radio programmers and the general public.

Lauderdale arrived in Nashville and started hanging around with Roland White, brother of the legendary guitarist Clarence White, and then (as now) one of the great mandolin players. Roland was (and is) an astute judge of talent and saw in Lauderdale an up and comer. White arranged to cut an album with Lauderdale in Earl Scruggs’ home studio with a band that included Marty Stuart on guitar, Gene Wooten on Dobro, Johnny Warren (of current Earls of Leicester fame) on fiddle, and of course White on mandolin. For reasons I will never understand the album was never released and presumed lost.

The album is comprised of two Lauderdale originals and ten songs from the folk and bluegrass canon.

The album opens with a Lauderdale original “Forgive & Forget” that has the sound of a burnished country classic. The song is taken at a medium fast tempo with fine fiddle and Dobro solos and that country harmony.

“Gold and Silver” comes from the pen of Shirley “Milo” Legate. I don’t know much about him, but it is a fine song that was originally recorded by George Jones. Legate also wrote some songs for Sonny James and placed bass for Sonny as part of his Southern Gentlemen.

“(Stone Must Be) the Walls Built Around Your Heart” is an old classic Don-Reno & Red Smiley composition on which Jim sings the verses and Roland joins in on the chorus.

Clyde Moody is largely forgotten now, but he was a fine singer and songwriter whose “Six White Horses” is a song that fits in the cracks between folk and bluegrass. Dobro dominates the arrangement on this bluesy song, but there is also a nice walking bass line in the song.

L-Mack penned “I Might Take You Back Again”, a mid-tempo song about a fellow contemplating taking his wayward love back.

Donovan Leitch (a/k/a “Donovan), a Scottish folk singer, was a major pop star in the US, UK and Australia with his greatest success in the UK. “Catch The Wind” was top five in the UK and Australia but just missed the top twenty in the US. While not his biggest hit, it is probably his most covered tune, covered by nearly every folk act and many country and pop acts. Even Flatt & Scruggs covered the song

In the chilly hours and minutes
Of uncertainty, I want to be
In the warm hold of your loving mind
To feel you all around me
And to take your hand, along the sand
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind

“Don’t Laugh” was a classic brother-style duet originally performed by Rebe Gosdin & Rabe Perkins.
Gosdin wrote the song which is definitely part of the bluegrass canon. I’ve heard recordings by the County Gentlemen, the Louvin Brothers and J. D. Crowe and have heard other acts perform the song in live concert . Rebe may have been a distant relative of country great Vern Gosdin.

If I cry when I kiss you when we say goodbye
Don’t laugh, don’t laugh
If I say I’ve always loved you and I will til I die
Don’t laugh, don’t laugh

I could never find another there’s no use for me to try
I beg of you my darling, please don’t laugh if I cry
If I say I’ve always loved you and I will til I die
Don’t laugh, don’t laugh

“Regrets and Mistakes” is the other Lauderdale original on the album. The song is a slow ballad with Lauderdale singing lead and White singing an echo and harmony. The song is nothing special but it definitely is not out of place on this album.

It is rather difficult to categorize Shel Silverstein as a songwriter – he was all over the place. On “February Snow” Shel serves as a straight-ahead ballad writer. Bobby Bare recorded the song on an album.

“That’s What You Get) For Loving Me” was written by Gordon Lightfoot, and covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Peter, Paul & Mary, Waylon Jennings and Ian & Sylvia. In fact, it was Waylon’s first top ten single.

That’s what you get for lovin’ me
That’s what you get for lovin’ me
Ev’ry thing you had is gone
As you can see
That’s what you get for lovin’ me

I ain’t the kind to hang around
With any new love that I found
‘Cause movin’ is my stock in trade
I’m movin’ on
I won’t think of you when I’m gone

The album closes with a pair of Alton Delmore compositions “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar”and “Nashville Blues”. The Delmore Brothers were perhaps the quintessential brother act. Roland and Jim do them proud .

My only criticism of the album is that I would like for Roland’s mandolin to have been a little more forward in the mix. Lauderdale mostly sings the leads, and while he is a good guitar player, I think he left the pickin’ to the ace musicians that Roland collected for the project – when you look at the names below, you’ll see that leaving the pickin’ to them could never be a mistake.

im Lauderdale – vocals
Roland White – vocals, mandolin
Stan Brown – banjo
Terry Smith – bass
Marty Stuart – guitar
Johnny Warren – fiddle
Gene Wooten – dobro

To me this album is a very solid A.