My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Spotlight Artist

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale and Ralph Stanley – ‘I Feel Like Singing Today’

After success as a mainstream songwriter, Jim Lauderdale turned his sights on bluegrass with 2002’s I FEEL LIKE SINGING TODAY, the first of two collaborations with Dr. Ralph Stanley on the Dualtone label.

I noticed that Wikipedia has this album listed as being released on the Rebel label in 1999, so perhaps Dualtone bought the masters for this album for re-release in 2002. Whatever the case, I’m glad to own the album.

Since the 1979 album with Roland White would not be released for many years, this is Jim’s official first bluegrass album. Since Dr. Ralph is as venerated as any performer in the folk/acoustic/bluegrass field of music, I guess you’d have to say Jim started at the top with his collaborations. Jim and Ralph were familiar with each other prior to recording this project as the two had traded guest appearances on each other’s albums (Lauderdale’s WHISPER and Stanley’s CLINCH MOUNTAIN COUNTRY ).

Lauderdale wrote or co-wrote 9 of the 15 tunes on this album and the originals blend in nicely with the bluegrass canon.

“Who Thought That the Railroad Wouldn’t Last,” the title track and “Joy, Joy, Joy” (co-written with Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead are up-tempo tunes that allow the Clinch Mountain Boys to show their wares. Two other Lauderdale originals “Another Sinner’s Prayer” and “Like Him,” feature Ralph Stanley , who excels in gospel performances, whether with accompaniment or a cappella.

Since bluegrass audiences always want some of the genre’s traditional fare, there are six classics covered, including “You’ll Find Her Name Written There (Harol Hensley), Maple On The Hill” (Gussie Davis) “What About You” (Jack Anglin, Jim Anglin, Johnnie Wright), “This Home Is Not My Home” (traditional), “Harbor of Love” (Carter Stanley), and ”Who Will Sing For Me” (Carter Stanley).

If you like bluegrass, you’ll love this album. If bluegrass isn’t your thing, you’ll likely still like it, because of the well-crafted songs and the fine vocal pairing. While Lauderdale takes most of the lead vocals, Jim knew even then that there are certain songs that just scream for Ralph Stanley to sing, particularly, and like any dutiful apprentice, Jim lets the master sing the leads on those songs

It is difficult for me to pick out a favorite song but I do have great fondness for the two Carter Stanley compositions. Here’s a sample of the lyrics of “Who Will Sing For Me”

If I sing for my friends
When death’s cold hand I see
When I reach my journey’s end
Who will sing one song for me?
I wonder (I wonder) who
Will sing (will sing) for me
When I’m called to cross that silent sea
Who will sing for me?

Jim is a competent musician, but on this album he and Ralph sing, leaving the instrument chores to Ralph’s Clinch Mountain Boys: James Cooke – acoustic bass & baritone vocals; James Alan Shelton – lead guitar; Ralph Stanley II – guitar & baritone vocals; Steve Sparkman – banjo & James Price – fiddle, mandolin & vocals

This is a solid A. Better yet, another such collaboration would follow.

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Classic Rewind: Jim Lauderdale – ‘If I Were You’

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale — ‘Country Super Hits, Vol. 1’

Released in 2006, Country Super Hits, Vol. 1 is an oddly titled collection, as it sounds like a greatest hits or tribute record when indeed all the tracks are original. But Jim Lauderdale does perform the album in a traditional style, which is a nice change of pace.

Lauderdale co-wrote eleven of the album’s thirteen songs with Odie Blackmon, who is perhaps best known as the writer behind Lee Ann Womack’s “I May Hate Myself In The Morning,” which came out a year prior to this album. The pair kicks the album off with “Honky Tonk Mood Again,” a mid-tempo shuffle about a guy following his woman since she undoubtedly knows where the party is at.

“Playing On My Heart Strings” is a Dwight Yoakam-esque ballad. “Too More Wishes” is a steel-drenched uptempo number about a man who feels luck is on his side. Lauderdale shines on the spellbinding “Cautious,” about a man who’s jumping into his new relationship slowly and surely. A fiddle plays a prominent role on “If You’ve Never Seen Her Smile,” which is as striking as the woman Lauderdale and Blackmon are describing in the lyric. “Right Where You Want Me” is country rock and not to my taste at all and “Are You Okay” is a modernized shuffle.

“Single Standard Time” is reminiscent of Buck Owens and is one of the album’s strongest tracks. “That’s Why We’re Here” is slow and sparse, with Lauderdale exaggerating his twang. The album rebounds with “Change,” which has a wonderful melodic structure and an ear-catching sonic makeup. “You Can’t Stop Her,” about a guy who realizes his girl isn’t ever coming back, is firmly within the 1990s country style and would’ve worked brilliantly in George Strait’s hands during that era.

The album also features two non-Blackmon tracks. Lauderdale teamed with Leslie Satcher for “I Met Jesus In A Bar” and Shawn Camp for “She’s Got Some Magic Going On.” The former is much strong than its title would indicate while the latter has an interesting and engaging melody.

Both songs are very good, as is the album, which owes more to Americana than country, despite the abundance of traditional instrumentation. I highly recommend checking this one out. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A- 

Classic Rewind: Jim Lauderdale – ‘Old Time Angels’

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale – ‘Whisper’

Produced by Jim with Blake Chancey in 1998 for BNA Records (making it his third album and his third record label), Whisper is one of his most traditional country records. Not coincidentally it is one of my favorites, but not only for the musical style. The song quality on this album is exceptionally high.

Jim collaborated with songwriting legend Harlan Howard on two songs. The opening honky tinker ‘Goodbye Song’ is an excellent song about denying a relationship has come to its end. ‘We’re Gone’ is also great, with Jim brooding over his lost love and their empty former home after a too-early marriage comes to an end:

She lives on the right side of the tracks
I’m on the wrong
There’s nothin’ but the TV going on

One-time George Jones duet partner Melba Montgomery, another fine songwriter, helped Jim with my favorite song, ‘What Do You Say To That’, a charming love song notable for its truly gorgeous melody. It was to be one of George Strait’s Lauderdale-penned hits a couple of years later but Lauderdale’s original is lovely too. Strait and Wade Hayes both later covered the John Scott Sherrill co-write ‘She Used To Say That To Me’, another super song with an ironic edge to the lyric.

Jim teamed up with Frank Dycus to write several songs. Twin fiddles introduce the fine ‘In Harm’s Way’, with its hindsight recollection of a romance which was always headed for disaster, just like the Titanic. Jim’s vocal’s have a high lonesome quality on the right song, and it works to perfection on this track. ‘Without You Here It’s Not The Same’ is another strong song regretting failure to see trouble before it hit the relationship. I also liked ‘Take Me Down A Path (My Heart Won’t Know)’. I didn’t like ‘Sometimes’ as much aurally, as its melody is more repetitive, but it is another well written song.

The rhythmic ‘Hole In My Head’, written with Buddy Miller, is repetitive, unmelodic and my least favourite track.

Jim wrote the remaining songs solo. The slow title track is a love song loaded with gorgeous steel guitar which would benefit from a cover by someone with a sweeter voice. ‘It’s Hard To Keep A Secret Anymore’ is an excellent song with Jim’s protagonist guessing his wife is cheating. ‘You’re Tempting Me’ is a pretty good song about initial attraction.

The album closes with the bluegrass gospel of ‘I’ll Lead You Home’, featuring Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys – before Stanley’s career was revived by O Brother, Where Art Thou. This is a lovely recording.

Overall this is a very strong album worth checking out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale — ‘Every Second Counts’

Jim Lauderdale released his third album, Every Second Counts, in 1995. His second and final album for Atlantic, it was co-produced by Lauderdale and Dusty Wakeman.

The record opens with “It’s Time When It’s Time,” a rather generic mid to fast tempo rocker. “That’s Not The Way It Works” follows in the same vein, although the melody, while uninteresting, is engaging.

“Don’t Build Your World Around It” is straight up rock, with a cluttered arraignment that somewhat drowns out the lyric. I don’t think it’s a bad song and would benefit from a more traditional accompaniment. Lauderdale co-wrote “Always On The Outside,” a horn-drenched mid-tempo rocker, with Nick Lowe. It’s the first truly interesting song to appear on the album.

I really like the ballad “Charmed” and can see a lot of potential with the track, although the production feels very dated. “Fireball,” the first song that feels like classic Lauderdale, is one of two tracks co-written with Jamie Hartford. The other, “I’m Still Learning How to Crawl,” is an excellent ballad about a man going back to the love he lost, accentuated with muscular guitars.

The overall sonic makeup of the title track really isn’t to my taste, but I do like “Echo,” which appears next. Lauderdale’s delivery on the song is sleepy, but the song is good. “Ready To Ramble” is straight up Americana in the truest sense of the style, and while it isn’t something I would normally gravitate towards, it shows why he’s a pioneer of that genre.

“If You Look Real Close” is far more my speed and a song that grabbed me from the first note. He closes the album with its strangest offering, the bluesy “Bluebell,” which is fine on its own, but it proceeded with a hidden track I couldn’t quite decipher, which sounds like a choral gospel number.

When James Chrispell of AllMusic reviewed Every Second Counts he said Lauderdale was “playing it safe.” I would have to agree and add the music also feels uninteresting and not really all that memorable, even on multiple listenings. I was really hoping to enjoy this album a lot more than I actually did.

Grade: B (for effort)

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale – ‘Pretty Close To The Truth’

Released in 1994, Pretty Close To The Truth was Jim’s second album and the first of two albums to be released on Atlantic. I cannot exactly describe the album as country as it runs the gamut of roots influences from country to Americana, roots rock, blues and classic soul.

My copy of the album is on audio cassette so I am missing much of the peripheral information, so I will operate on the assumption that the songs were all written or co-written by Jim Lauderdale.

The album opens with “This Is The Big Time”, a clever song that compares a entertainment career with the ups and downs of a romantic relationship. In terms of sound, the arrangement reminds me of “Honky Tonk Song”, a 1957 hit for Webb Pierce. Some seem to think that this would have made a good song for Dwight Yoakam to record and I can’t say that I disagree.

Everybody makes mistakes sometimes seems like I live one
When they’re handing out the second tries I hope they save me some
Cause I’m gonna play for keeps this time
Don’t even think of lettin’ go
Cause this is the big time this is the big time
Don’t you run off don’t you get lost this is the big time

I never knew a social grace until I met one
The bells went off inside my head and all that other stuff
There’s gonna be a lot of people callin’ out your name
And saying I’m a lucky guy
Cause this is the big time…

Next up is “I’m On Your Side”, a song that has hints of Buck Owens and early Beatles without being a clone of either and with more blues influence than either.

People tell you what you need is a lesson in defeat
Got you bothered got you down not so sure you want me around
Baby I’m on your side you don’t even have to read my mind
I’m on your side we’ll talk about it more back home
Those who’d come to your defense would not laugh at your expense
Don’t waste time and bear a grudge towards the ones who should not judge
Baby I’m on your side…

“Why Do I Love You” is a slow ballad with a 70s soul vibe that I could hear Al Green or perhaps Sam Moore wrapping their vocal cords around. Lauderdale isn’t as soulful as either Green or Moore but acquits himself well. There is a fair amount of steel guitar as background shading.

Why do I love you why do I love you
Oh I give myself away I give myself away
I had it coming for holding on to nothing
Oh knowing you won’t change you’ll never feel the same

Oh but I’m so weak I’ve lost my strength
To fight such a liar that’s filled me with desire
Why do I miss you I’m dying just to kiss you
I give myself away I don’t want to give myself away

The arrangement on “Divide and Conquer” reminds me of Terry Stafford’s “Suspicion, ”and is similarly paranoid. Danni Leigh had a nice recording of this song

Divide and conquer that’s what he’s gonna do
Getting nearer everytime he gets close to you
Crying on his shoulder you say he’s just your friend
Why’s he standing in the wings waiting for us to end

You don’t have to be afraid while I’m away
Don’t go crying wolf or one’s gonna stake his claim
Divide and conquer tearing us apart
Hitting me where it hurts taking you by the heart yeah

“Grace’s Song” is a mid-tempo ballad thematically similar to the David Wills song “Song On The Jukebox” in that it tells of that special song that individuals or couples associate with themselves.

Yes we’ve been waiting to hear celebrating
For time to stand still and see us all shine some
Yes it gets better dust has to settle
Shook my head out on the sound long enough to look around
Grace’s song is playing…

“Run Like You” is a gentle ballad with a semi-acoustic arrangement

Rome wasn’t built in just one day you better tie those shoes
How do you expect to find your way till daylight’s breaking loose
Good things come to those who wait I won’t be hard to find
If you stop through and hesitate hope that you’re still kind
Get moving you’re proving things to us all
You’re teaching we’re reaching out before we fall
I want to run like you right beside what’s true
I want to run like you no telling what we’d find

The next song, “Can’t Find Mary” picks up the tempo, again with a strongly acoustic feel to it and some very nice guitar picking on the breaks. I don’t know if this would have made a hit single for anyone but I really like the lyrics

When he just appeared and those two first met
I knew there’d be some trouble that we never would forget
She’s just a precious thing such a fragile kind
She didn’t need nobody leaving messing with her mind
Can’t find Mary where’d she go
With the stranger but I don’t think that she knows
Where’s she headed lost somewhere
She just sits there and I don’t think that she cares
When she left our world it was a sudden thing
I lost my only sister waitin’ there in so much pain
And the only shame the only one disgrace

She doesn’t feel the cold rain runnin’ down from off her face
Can’t find Mary where’d she go…
How long how long how long till she’s going to come back home
How long how long how long till she’s going to come back home

“Don’t Trust Me” is a jog-along ballad sung to a girl advising her to be cautious around him

“Three Way Conversation” is an interesting song that sounds much like a modern folk effort mixed with some Buddy Holly guitar licks and an early rock feel.

“Pretty Close To The Truth” is about as close to singing the blues that Lauderdale gets. I could imagine the Rolling Stones singing the song but I don’t regard the song as anything special

Well I just need a little more time I’m begging you to give me
It’s just not right to carry on this way with you
A big boy that oughta act like a man someday
Yeah that’s pretty close to the truth

The album closes with “When The Devil Starts Crying”, a folk blues number that starts rockin’ midway through. Truth be told, I’m not much of a fan of the blues and the last two tracks somewhat spoiled my enjoyment of the album. I would still give the album something in the B to B+ but there are many Jim Lauderdale albums I like better than this album.

While I don’t have a list of the musicians playing on any given track, the following musicians do appear on the album:

Buddy Miller – electric & acoustic guitar, harmony vocals
Gurf Morlix – steel guitar, mandolin, various other guitars
Dusty Wakeman – bass
Tammy Rogers – mandolin, harmony vocals
Greg Leisz – electric & steel guitar, dobro
Donald Lindley – drums, percussion, tambourine

Classic Rewind: Jim Lauderdale – ‘The King Of Broken Hearts’

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale – ‘Planet Of Love’

Jim Lauderdale was already a successful songwriter when he secured his first album deal with Reprise Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. His debut album in 1991 was produced by Rodney Crowell and John Leventhal, and Lauderdale wrote every song, mostly with Leventhal.

The label tried three singles, none of which saw any chart action. ‘Maybe’, co-written by Lauderdale and Leventhal with Crowell, may not have been the best choice to launch Lauderdale as a solo artist. It is a decent mid-tempo song with an optimistic message about taking a chance in love, but it is not very interesting musically.

‘I Wasn’t Fooling Around’ is much more on the mark, and it is a shame it didn’t get airplay. A great traditional country shuffle, it was picked up by George Strait a couple of years later. The third single, ‘Wake Up Screaming’, is a minor keyed country rock number later recorded by Gary Allan on his debut album, but I don’t’ particularly like it.

Other artists also saw potential hits from this album’s set list. My favorite is ‘The King Of Broken Hearts’, later covered by George Strait, and still later by Lee Ann Womack. This is a loving tribute to George Jones and Gram Parsons, ornamented by tasteful steel guitar from Glen D. Hardin. Emmylou Harris adds harmonies. ‘Where The Sidewalk Ends’ was another Strait pick, and was also recorded by Jann Browne. It’s a very good song about a breakup, but I prefer both the covers to Lauderdale’s own version.

The jazzy and sophisticated title track was covered by Mandy Barnett and the pre-Natalie Maines incarnation of the Dixie Chicks. The soulful ‘What You Don’t Know’ was later recorded by Jon Randall.

‘Heaven’s Flame’ is a midpaced warning against a femme fatale. ‘Bless Her Heart’ is a low-key love song and is rather sweet, with gospel style backing vocals. The valedictory ‘My Last Request’ is slow and sad, with Rodney Crowell adding a prominent harmony.

Lauderdale’s main problem as an artist was that his vocals were not strong enough. He may also have been a bit too eclectic. However, he is a great songwriter, and this album has a lot to offer, especially if you have more adventurous tastes.

Grade: B

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Live at Billy Bob’s’

Smith Music Group’s Live at Billy Bob’s series has proven to be a really mixed bag of albums. Virtually all of the recordings feature top name artists of the past – usually of the not-too-distant past, The recording sound quality is variable (usually decent, sometimes much better) but the bands vary in that sometimes the artist uses his own band (Merle Haggard and his Strangers) but often the band is a few musicians that the artist brought with them augmented by the house band. The Doug Stone set seems to have caught him on a night when he had a cold because he sounded terrible, yet I saw him a few months later doing a largely acoustic set and he sounded terrific. The albums all contain 14-18 songs, usually the artist doing the hits with perhaps one or two other songs included.

Earl Thomas Conley – Live At Billy Bob’s follows the usual pattern being comprised of sixteen songs, all but one of the songs being top ten hits for Earl (the exception is “Hard Days & Honky Tonk Nights” which died at #36). The album was recorded in 2004, at which point Earl (or ETC, if you prefer) was already 63 years old and had suffered some vocal erosion. ETC still can sing better than most but there is definitely some loss of vocal quality and it sounds like on one song “What’d I Say” that the song was sung in a lower key than on the original recording.

Here is the track list (* Billboard #1 country chart hit):

Somewhere Between Right and Wrong *
Your Love’s On The Line *
Don’t Make It Easy For Me *
Angel In Disguise *
Chance of Lovin’ You *
Hard Days & Honky Tonk Nights
What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)*
Holding Her and Loving You *
Once In A Blue Moon
Brotherly Love
Heavenly Bodies
What I’d Say *
Fire & Smoke *
Love Don’t Care (Who’s Heart it Breaks)*
Shadow Of a Doubt
I Can’t Win For Losin’ You *

This is not the album I would recommend to someone unfamiliar with ETC’s work as there are better introductions to his music. It is, however, always interesting to hear an artist in a live setting. I would give this somewhere between a B and a B+

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘What I’d Say’

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Should’ve Been Over By Now’

In 1998 Earl decided to return to the studio after a seven year break, with independent label Intersound; the tracks from that album (entitled Perpetual Emotion) were rereleased in 2003 on Smith Entertainment as Should’ve Been Over By Now, with the set list juggled and one added song.

‘Scared Money Never Wins’ was released as a single in 1998, but did not chart. Conley wrote the midpaced contemporary country song with Randy Scruggs and Bat McGrath, and it is a pretty solid song about taking chances. The pair also wrote ‘Don’t Want To Be In Love Without You’, a pensive number about holding on to a relationship.

Conley and McGrath were joined by Clint Daniels to write ‘The Closer You Are’, and with Rick Ferrell for ‘I Ain’t Crazy’. The former is a nice ballad, but I don’t care for the double tracked echo of the backing vocals. The latter is mid-paced and quite pleasant.

My favorite of the new 1998 recordings is ‘You Don’t Have To Live with It’, a vinrant mid-tempo number written by ETC, Ferrell and Steve Clark. The protagonist rejects some unwanted advice from a well-meaning friend as to moving on.

He also chose to revisit a number of his past hits. ‘Holding Her And Lovin’ You’ is a classic, and the new version is beautifully done. The remake of the soulful ‘I Can’t Win For Losing You’ benefits from a more restrained and less breathy vocal and less dated production, and I prefer it to the original. ‘Once In A Blue Moon’ has more passion than the original, and again I prefer it. ‘Your Love’s On The Line’ is solid with a more tasteful production than the hit. The up-tempo ‘Don’t Make It Easy For Me’ is less to my taste but it okay.

The 2003 release added the new title track ‘It Should’ve Been Over By Now’, written by Conley and Scruggs. This is a nice song about falling in love unexpectedly with someone who was meant to be a passing fling.

This is a strong collection which makes a decent introduction to Conley’s work.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)’

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Once In A Blue Moon’

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Yours Truly’

Richard Landis, who was best known at the time for his work with Lorrie Morgan, produced Earl Thomas Conley’s eighth studio album, Yours Truly, released in June 1991. It was Conley’s final album for RCA, his final to chart (it peaked at #53), and his first not to produce a #1 hit since he joined the label ten years earlier.

The album was preceded by “Shadow of a Doubt,” an excellent and engaging uptempo rocker co-written by actor and singer Tom Wopat. It peaked at #8 yet deserved to go much higher.

The second single “Brotherly Love” was a duet he had recorded with Keith Whitley back in 1987 for the intended follow-up album to L.A. To Miami Whitley had recorded with his producer at the time, Blake Mevis. He convinced RCA to shelve the project, leaving the recordings unreleased.

In 1991, the vocals Whitley and Conley had recorded for “Brotherly Love” were rescued and given a new arraignment by Whitley’s next producer, Garth Fundis. The track served as the lead single for his first official posthumous release, Kentucky Bluebird. It peaked at #2 and was nominated for the CMA Vocal Event of the Year award in 1992, where it lost to “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For A Long, Long Time)” by Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt.

In a recently unearthed interview Whitley gave to Ralph Emory in 1987, before the album with Mevis was shelved, in fact it was even due for a September release when they spoke, Whitley said it was Joe Galante’s (The head of RCA) idea he record a duet with a male artist on the label. Galante suggested Conley. The excellent ballad, about “a bond that brother’s know” had originally been recorded by Moe Bandy in 1989 and Billy Dean in 1990. Whitley and Conley’s version was the first and only time the song had been recorded as a duet.

Conley’s commercial fortunes would greatly diminish after “Brotherly Love.” His next two singles would be his last to chart, although neither would peak very high. “Hard Days and Honky Tonk Nights,” which he co-wrote with Randy Scruggs, was a rather strong song, buried in production that was dosed in fiddle, yet just too loud. “If Only Your Eyes Could Lie” was a wonderful steel-drenched ballad in his classic style, updated for modern times. The single peaked at 36 and 74 respectively.

The ballad “You Got Me Now” opens the album as a bridge between his classic sonic textures and the updated sound Landis brought to the record. The song is unspectacular but good. “One of Those Days” is also solid, but it lacks a layer of emotion from Conley. The dobro-infused “Keep My Heart On The Line” is an infectious mid-tempo number that wouldn’t have been out of place in Whitley’s hands at all.

The cleverly titled “You’re The Perfect Picture (To Fit My Frame of Mind)” is easily the most traditional I’ve ever heard Conley, and the results are spectacular. This uptempo honky-tonker just might be the best moment he ever committed to record. “Borrowed Money” sounds like something John Anderson might have recorded at the time, and while the two artists are hardly alike, Conley does exceptionally well with this song. “I Want To Be Loved Back” is good, but the distracting, cheesy, and unnecessary backing vocalists are incredibly jarring.

Yours Truly is an excellent album, which to my ears, has aged remarkably well. I love seeing artists with a somewhat updated sound and Conley shines here. “Brotherly Love” is the standout track and well deserved big hit. Go to YouTube and stream everything else. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Nobody Falls Like A Fool’

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Chance Of Loving You’

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘The Heart Of It All’

Released at the heart of the New Traditional era in 1988, The Heart Of It All did not stray too far from ETC’s accustomed wheelpath, although producers Emory Gordy Jr and Randy Scruggs made sure the arrangements were a bit less AC than previously. He was still a reliable hitmaker beloved by country radio, with singles destined to reach #1, and the first four singles from this album followed the pattern.

The lead single is a nice ballad written by Bob McDill and Paul Harrison about a woman tied to an unworthy husband, who she loves regardless. ETC’s hushed vocals are lovely, and the production fairly restrained.

Harmonies from Emmylou Harris make any song better, and the next single was the lovely duet ‘We Believe In Happy Endings’, another McDill song about keeping a marriage going, but a more positive one. It had been a top 10 solo hit for Johnny Rodriguez a decade earlier. This is one of my favorite ETC recordings.

‘What I’d Say’, written by Robert Byrne and Will Robinson, is another excellent ballad. This one faces up to the immediate afterbreak of a breakup, with the protagonist uncertain how he would react if he met her unexpectedly.

What would prove to be Earl’s very last #1 hit was Thom Schuyler’s ‘Love Out Loud’. A more upbeat tempo enlivens a sincerely sung song about an inarticulate man who nevertheless loves his lady. It is my least favorite of the singles from this album, but not a bad song.

The long run of #1 and 2 hits, dating back to 1982’s ‘Somewhere Between Right And Wrong’ was to come to a juddering halt with this album’s fifth single, which peaked at a very disappointing #26. It was the first time ETC had attempted more than four from one album, but the main problem may have been the underlying shifts in country radio. He would experience only two more top 10s, one of which was a posthumous duet with Keith Whitley. ‘You Must Not Be Drinking Enough’ is actually a fine song which deserved better, and more traditional sounding than much of ETC’s oeuvre (despite being a Don Henley cover). A soulful vocal is backed up with steel guitar as ETC offers advice to a lovelorn friend, or perhaps himself:

You keep telling yourself she means nothing
Maybe you should call her bluff
You don’t really believe it
You must not be drinking enough …

You keep telling yourself you can take it
Telling yourself that you’re tough
But you still want to hold her
Must not be drinking enough

You’re not drinking enough to wash away old memories
And there ain’t enough whiskey in Texas
To keep you from begging “please, please, please”
She passed on your passion, stepped on your pride,
Turns out you ain’t quite so tough
Cause you still want to hold her
You must not be drinking enough

The rambunctious ‘Finally Friday’ would be a single for George Jones a few years later. ETC’s version is more restrained, but the accordion-led production lends it a happy Cajun feel which works pretty well.

ETC co-wrote three songs, two of them with producer Randy Scruggs. The title track, ‘Too Far From The Heart Of It All’, is quite a pretty ballad on a religious theme although the meaning is not very clear. ‘Carol’ is a tender, thoughtful ballad about a man who regrets having left his wife years ago:

If I could turn back time to yesterday
I’d be coming home this time to stay …
I guess I never felt this way before
Feeling like a stranger at my own door
I wouldn’t have to ask you how you’ve been
And I wouldn’t have to fall in love again

Carol
No one has replaced you
I’ve never looked a day beyond goodbye
And Carol
Time could not erase you
It’s only made me wish I’d never tried

Guess some of us just don’t know when to stop
Reaching out for something we ain’t got

‘No Chance, No Dance’, written with Robert Byrne, is a brassy uptempo tune about not playing things safe.

Byrne teamed up with Tom Brasfield to write ‘I Love he Way he Left You’, an AC leaning ballad hoping a woman who has been hurt by a previous relationship will end up with him.

This is one of ETC’s best albums and it is definitely worth checking out.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Angel In Disguise’

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Too Many Times’

Earl Thomas Conley was coming off of another of his biggest hits “Once In A Blue Moon,” when he readied his sixth album, Too Many Times. It was his first album in two years, the longest he had gone without a proper studio album since his career began. Mark Wright joins Nelson Larkin as co-producer, on what would be ETC’s last big album, peaking at #3.

All but one of the singles topped the charts. The outlier was the first single, the title track, a very smooth and pop/R&B flavored duet with Anita Pointer. It peaked at #2 despite not resembling country music at all.

The second single, “I Can’t Win For Losin’ You” follows a similar sonic path, but sets itself apart with an excellent and memorable chorus. “That Was A Close One” is also of high quality. “Right From The Start” is the album’s strongest single overall, with a production that slightly ups the tempo and allows ETC to dip into his more distinctive lower register.

“Dancin’ With The Flame” is even more uptempo, and while it’s still smooth, it’s a nice change of pace. “Attracted To Pain” has some intrusive muscular guitar on it that gives ETC something to work with, but proves to distract overall.

“Many Forgiving Years” is the most country-leaning song on the album thus far, even if it doesn’t sound like it in the least. The same is true for “I Need A Good Woman Bad,” one of the album’s more excellent offerings both vocally and lyrically. “Preservation of The Wild” is also wonderful, a bit dark, and would’ve worked splendidly in Hank Williams Jr’s hands. “If Leavin’ Was Easy” is also very, very good.

Too Many Times is a strong album, with a handful of some truly great songs, most of which were buried as album tracks. I have a hard time buying most of this as being country, but this is what some of the genre still sounded like in the crossover period when the New Traditionalist Movement pushed out the Urban Cowboy era. All of the tracks can be streamed on YouTube, which I highly recommend doing.

Grade: B+