My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘It Ain’t Easy Being Easy’

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Friday Night Blues’

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘I’ll Need Someone To Hold Me When I Cry’

Janie Fricke’s commercial fortunes began to change with the release of her fourth LP in 1980. I’ll Need Someone To Hold Me When I Cry found her working with a new producer, Jim Ed Norman, and recording stronger material. Although the Urban Cowboy pop-country trend was en vogue in Nashville at the time, Janie actually bucked the commercial trend and went in a more traditional direction. Although not eschewing string arrangements entirely, the songs on this album are much less slickly produced than her earlier work. There is audible steel and fiddle throughout — the latter instrument being played by up-and-comer Ricky Skaggs who also provided background vocals on the album’s first single and Janie’s breakthrough hit “Down To My Last Broken Heart”, which eventually climbed to #2 on the Billboard country singles chart.

The album’s second single, a remake of Ray Price’s 1962 hit “Pride”, didn’t fare quite as well, landing at #12. Although it missed the Top 10, it performed as respectably as a remake of an old traditional county dog could be expected to in the early 80s. Janie rebounded nicely when the album’s title track became the third single, which made it to #4 in the US and was a #1 hit in Canada. Written by Bob McDill and Wayland Holyfield, “I’ll Need Someone To Hold Me (When I Cry)”, with its simple lyric and stripped down-production was the song that caused me to take notice of Janie Fricke and it remains one of my favorites today.

The rest of the album is a little more pop-oriented. The best of the album cuts is Janie’s take on Churchill Kohlman’s “Cry”, which had been recorded numerous times by a variety of pop and country artists. Johnnie Ray had scored a #1 pop hit with it in 1951, it had been a #3 country hit for Lynn Anderson in 1972, and Crystal Gayle would take it to the top of the country charts in 1987. Janie’s version could have been a hit but it was rare in those days to release a fourth single from an album, and the fact that it would have been the second remake (after “Pride”) to become a single may be one of the reasons it was overlooked.

“Enough of Each Other”, about a couple falling in and out of love is also quite good. “Every Time a Teardrop Falls” is a piano and orchestra ballad that is a little bland and probably the album’s weakest track, although I can’t honestly say that any of the songs are bad. “Blue Sky Shining”, the closing track is quite pretty but also a bit on the bland side.

I’ll Need Someone To Hold Me When I Cry was Janie’s first charting album and a huge step in the right direction. She was still yet to peak commercially, but this is the album that set her on the right path. With the exception of “Pride”, everything she released from this point forward reached the Top 10, until the New Traditionalist Movement finally stopped her momentum in 1986. The album is available on a double disc along with its three predecessors. While I wouldn’t necessarily run out and buy the other three, I’ll Need Someone To Hold Me When I Cry makes the collection worth purchasing.

Grade: A –

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby’

EP Review: Justin Payne – ‘Coal Camp’

West Virginia native Justin Payne’s new release is a concept EP about life in coal mining country which is well worth hearing, although it focusses more on domestic aspects than on the industry itself. Payne, whose day job is as a coal mine electrician, is a strong singer and excellent songwriter who wrote every one of the six songs, and imbues them with his real life experiences.

The opening ‘Growing Old’ is a reminiscence of growing up in a loving and hard working but poverty stricken family, full of precise details and emotional underpinning, then counterpointed with harder times today with a drug blighted countryside. A wistful fiddle solo adds to the reflective mood.

The tender ‘Holler Home’ is about the return home to the “green rolling hills of West Virginia” and the protagonist’s wife after too long an absence. ‘Miner’s Soul’ soothes the fears of a miner’s wife.

The gentle sounding but incisive ‘Make A Little Time’ is about fatherhood in a coalmining family. ‘Piece Of My Life’ is a thoughtful consideration of the importance of family, and protecting the children from the harsh reality of the mines. Along the way is a resigned critique of the country music business:

My friends all call me crazy
And say to leave this place behind
“You need to pack ‘em songs to Nashville, son
And auction off a piece of your life”

But that town don’t understand me
No, they don’t like my kind
They don’t care about the truth down there
And they don’t deserve a piece of my life

This is possibly the highlight of an album with no weak points.

The record closes with the catchy ‘The Mines’, where a toe-tapping tune complete with accordion counterpoints a sometimes gloomy lyric.

Every song here is excellent, and this record is very highly recommended. I rarely call an album flawless, but I can’t find anything to criticise here.

All the album proceeds will go to food banks in West Virginia.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Prairie Oyster – ‘I Don’t Hurt Anymore’

Album Review: Janie Fricke and Johnny Duncan – ‘Nice ‘n Easy’

Nice ‘n’ Easy was released in October 1980, in response to significant demand for an album that collected the earlier Johnny Duncan recordings that prominently featured Janie Fricke, whether or not Janie was actually credited on the original recordings. It also served as a true duets album.

The album actually falls neatly into two categories: (1) new recordings made in order to have enough tracks to complete an album and give customers who already had the earlier tracks a reason to purchase this album, and (2) the earlier hit singles. The new recordings are on side one of the album, with the older tracks being on side two.

Billy Sherrill was the producer of the album. While albums of this era often did not provide musician credits, the album cover notes tell us that on side one the background singers were Lea Jane Berinati, Jackie Cusic, Larry Keith and Steve Pippin whereas on side two the Nashville Edition provided the background harmonies.

Side one opens with “He’s Out of My Life”, a song written by Tom Bahler. Pop artist Michael Jackson recorded the song on his 1979 album Off The Wall and released it as a top ten pop single. The original title was “She’s Out of My Life”, retitled for duet purposes with Duncan and Fricke swapping verses but most of the song told from the male perspective. I think it is a bit of an overwrought ballad (Bahler wrote it after breaking up with his girl friend) but it works. The song was a #20 country hit for Johnny & Janie in 1980.

He’s out of my life
He’s out of my life

And I don’t know whether to laugh or cry
I don’t know whether to live or die
And it cuts like a knife
He’s out of my life

It’s out of my hands
It’s out of my hands

To think the two years he was here
And I took him for granted, I was so cavalier
Now the way that it stands
He’s out of my hands

Track two is the title cut “Nice ‘n’ Easy” written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Keith and Lew Spence. The song is best known for Frank Sinatra’s 1960 recording. The Sinatra album Nice ‘n’ Easy was nominated for a Grammy in 1960 and Frank took the title track onto the pop charts that year. Charlie Rich had a minor pop hit with it in 1964, and in later years country radio sometimes played the track (or a later 1970 Epic re-recording of it). It would be blasphemy to suggest that any of the covers were better than Sinatra’s recording (they weren’t) although Rich’s recording was nearly as good.

Let’s take it nice and easy
It’s gonna be so easy
For us to fall in love

Hey baby what’s your hurry
Relax and don’t you worry
We’re gonna fall in love

We’re on the road to romance – that’s safe to say
But let’s make all the stops along the way

The problem now of course is
To simply hold your horses
To rush would be a crime
‘Cause nice and easy does it every time.

Paul Anka is often thought of as a late50s-early 60s teen idol, but he was much more than that, providing a number of classic songs to other artists such as “My Way” to Frank Sinatra and “Guess It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” to Buddy Holly. “(I Believe) There’s Nothing Stronger Than Our Love” is a song that Paul kept this song for himself, recording it as a solo (#15 pop / #3 AC) in 1975 and later as a duet with Odia Coates. It works fine as a duet.

I believe there is nothing stronger than our love
I believe there is nothing stronger than our love
When I’m with you Baby
All my worries disappear

Troubles that surround me
Disappear when you are near
When you need my loving
I’ll be there

“Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)” is a 1960 song written by Clyde Otis, Murray Stein and Brook Benton. It was originally recorded as a duet by Dinah Washington and Brook Benton, and reached #5 pop / #1 R&B. Later recordings include Jerry Lee Lewis & Linda Gail Lewis, Charlie Louvin & Melba Montgomery, Michael Buble (with Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings) and Kevin Mahogany. Obviously it works as a duet, and it works for Duncan and Fricke, although they do not bring the soulfulness to the song that Dinah & Brook achieved, nor the excitement of the Jerry Lee & Linda Gail recording. By the way, if you are unfamiliar with Brook Benton and/or Dinah Washington, you really should check them out.

“Loving Arms” was written by Tom Jans and is a ballad of longing and loneliness that has been recorded many times, initially by Dobie Gray, then Elvis and many times since then including the great Etta James and acts such as the Dixie Chicks. To my knowledge no one has ever had a big hit with the song.

If you could see me now
The one who said that he’d rather roam
The one who said he’d rather be alone
If you could only see me now

If I could hold you now
Just for a moment if I could really make you mine
Just for a while turn back the hands of time
If I could only hold you now

I’ve been too long in the wind, too long in the rain
Taking any comfort that I can
Looking back and longing for the freedom of my chains
And lying in your loving arms again

This concludes side one of the album. You will note that none of these songs were initially country songs, although all were songs of a good pedigree. By 1980, for better or worse, the ‘Nashville Sound’ era had passed and none of the songs featured string arrangements. The production could best be described as pop-country with steel guitar used mostly as background shading.

Side two collects the Johnny Duncan hits that featured Janie Fricke. Since these songs have already been discussed earlier I will simply touch them lightly.

“Come A Little Bit Closer” was a cover of a Jay & The Americans hit that Johnny and Janie took to #4 in 1977. This song was billed to both of them.

“It Couldn’t Have Been Any Better” went to #1 for Johnny in 1977, his second #1. The string arrangements on this recording are by Bill McElhiney.

“Atlanta Georgia Stray” was not released as a single for Johnny Duncan. It appears on Johnny’s 1977 album Johnny Duncan.

The song was recorded by Kenny Price for RCA in 1969 and made the country charts. I was living in England in 1969, but when I returned to the USA in 1970, I recall the song receiving some airplay as an oldie. I really liked Kenny’s version, but Fricke and Duncan do a reasonable job with the song. Bergan White does the string arrangements

On the Greyhound bus trip home I was feelin’ all alone
When a long haired gal sat down next to me
She said she was Atlanta bound, kill some time, maybe kick around
Cause it sounded like a friendly place to be

From Chicago to Kentucky we just talked awhile
And somewhere in between I was captured by her smile
But why I left the bus in Nashville has been a mystery till today
Cause for two years I’ve been tracking down that Atlanta Georgia stray

“Thinkin’of A Rendezvous” was Johnny’s first #1 county hit in 1976. Bergan White did the string arrangements.

“Stranger”,also from 1976, was Johnny’s second top ten hit reaching #4 country.

I do not mean to downplay Janie Fricke’s contributions to the songs on side two, but they were released as Johnny Duncan records and Janie’s role was less prominent on some of them than on some of the others.

In retrospect, most of our readers will think that the success of these recordings was due to Janie Fricke, since Johnny Duncan dropped out of the music scene for family reasons during the 1980s and then died too young in 2006. He had a significant career and some big hits that did not feature Janie Fricke, including several of my favorites.

Janie, of course, went on to have a brilliant career and is still active today

This album has never been released on CD. The hit singles are available on several Johnny Duncan CDs and possibly some various artist collections. As best as I can tell, the tracks from side one are not available anywhere.

Johnny Duncan and Janie Fricke were both very polished performers and I think most listeners would find the tracks on side one very interesting indeed. This is a well produced album that I would give a B+

BREAKING NEWS: Glen Campbell 1936-2017

The country legend has passed following a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 81-years-old.

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘Do Me With Love’

Album Review: Joe Nichols – ‘Never Gets Old’

Joe Nichols, once one of the standard bearers for real country music, seemed to have lost his way of recent years – or to have been forced from it by record label politics. On losing his major deal, he signed to the big independent label Broken Bow, who proceeded to release a number of frankly bad tracks as singles which were largely ignored by radio. Those have been forgotten without trace, and find no place on Joe’s debut album for the label, heralded with talk of a return to more traditional sounds, which naturally caused me to have considerable expectations of the record.

The true lead single, the title track, is a delightful return to form for Joe. A gently midpaced love song, it may not make waves at radio, but will satisfy real country fans. The rather charming ‘I’d Sing About You’ is another attractive love song with some nice fiddle. I very much liked ‘This Side Of The River’, with the protagonist declaring he is very happy with his current life and in no rush to make it to the next world. Celtic pipes add a spiritual flavor. ‘Breathless’ is also quite nice though not as memorable. ‘So You’re Saying’ is a relaxed chat-up number with a nice tune.

‘Girl In The Song’ is another pleasant love song, although the production is unsympathetic. This is also a problem with the sexy ‘Hostage’, which Joe doesn’t really sell. Much worse is the awful bro-country ‘Tall Boys’, no doubt left over from the sessions which produced the jettisoned singles.

The best track is ‘Billy Graham’s Bible’, an excellent love song repeated from Joe’s last album Crickets. Perhaps this revival is a sign to its being selected as a single. Another highlight, ‘We All Carry Something’, is a moving semi-story and partly religious song written by Westin Davis and Justin Weaver about the pain and scars of hard lives.

A likeable cover of the Dierks Bentley album cut ‘Diamonds Make Babies’ (a Chris Stapleton co-write) works really well for Joe, showcasing his playful side. Another cover, also with comic intent, is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard. ‘Baby Got Back’ was originally a controversial rap song in the early 90s. Joe somehow manages to make it sound like a (very) country song in terms of melody, vocal and instrumentation (although the lyrics are still somewhat offensive in a bro-country way). Southern comedian Darren Knight guests with some spoken interjections taking a different angle. I am left speechless by this track, but do give it points for at least sounding country.

So this album is still something of a mixed bag, but on the whole it is a step back in the right direction for Joe.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Lorrie Morgan – ‘Dear Me’

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘From The Heart’

Janie Fricke’s third Columbia album (her last to be produced by Billy Sherrill) was only modestly successful. It bears all the hallmarks of its era, but on the best tracks Janie’s beautiful voice shines through. This makes the record’s shortcomings all the more frustrating, as it is so evident that she could have done so much better.

There were two top 30 singles. The first, the very poppy mid-tempo ‘But Love Me’, is marred by horribly intrusive production which makes an otherwise harmless peppy number unlistenable. Infinitely better is Janie’s version of the classic ‘Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)’, which is truly excellent.

Another highlight is the traditional country ballad ‘One Piece At A Time’ (surprisingly written by Randy Jackson). Addressed to the protagonist’s ex, the singer proudly explains how her true love has healed the hurt and banished the memory of her predecessor:

I built a brand new love with the pieces I found
I put him together one piece at a time
What was once yours and his is now his and mine
I’ve erased all those memories that you left behind

‘Some Fools Don’t Ever Learn’ is another very good song with a strong vocal, although some aspects of the production sound dated today.

Unfortunately most of the rest of the album is disposable pop- country, with Janie’s vocals all too frequently breathy and undersung, and songs like ‘Falling For You’ boring and with little or nothing about them one might describe as country.

The vocals are much stronger on ‘My World Begins And Ends With You’, but the song itself is syrupy and bland and the arrangement dated.

‘A Cool September’ (written by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton) is a heavily orchestrated loungy jazz number which Janie sings quite well, but not in a country style at all. The biggest disappointment is with Janie’s lackadaisical cooing treatment of the standard ‘When I Fall In Love’; she has the vocal chops to really deliver on this song, but she fails to dive it any oomph at all. She seems to be trying too hard to sound pretty to invest it with any real emotion. The same goes for . ‘This Ain’r Tennessee And He Ain’t You’ is a good song which sounds a little too much like something from musical theater – carefully and thoughtfully delivered, but a little detached from the song’s raw emotion.

Reba McEntire, another rising star but one who would soon surpass Janie, also recorded ‘Gonna Love Ya (Till The Cows Come Home)’. Janie’s version is pretty but forgettable and lacking in passion.

There were glimmers of potential in this album which pointed to something significantly better than the sum of the album.

Grade: C-

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘Above All’

Week ending 8/5/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear/Loving You — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: I’ll Never Find Another You — Sonny James (Capitol)

1977It Was Almost Like a Song — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1987: Snap Your Fingers — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1997: Carrying Your Love With Me — George Strait (MCA)

2007: Never Wanted Nothing More — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Yours If You Want It — Rascal Flatts (Big Machine)

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘I’ll Need Someone To Hold Me When I Cry’

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘Please Help Me, I’m Falling’

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Love Notes’

Despite enjoying success singing as a featured vocalist on songs by Johnny Duncan and Charlie Rich, Janie Fricke couldn’t launch a sustainable solo career in the late 1970s. None of her albums during this period charted, including her sophomore record Love Notes, which appeared in 1978.

She wasn’t exactly hitting it out of the park with country radio, either, although she wasn’t doing horribly. Three distinctly different ballads were released as singles. The theoretical “Playing Hard To Get” hit #22 while the MOR “Let’s Try Again” rose to #28. Sandwiched between them was the steel soaked “I’ll Love Your Troubles Away for Awhile,” which peaked at #14, her first trip into the top 20 as a solo artist.

Steel is heard amongst heavy orchestration on “Somewhere To Go When It Rains,” a ballad about a woman her friend turns to when his life is in turmoil. Fricke follows with the attractive ballad “River Blue” and the lush and pleading “Let Me Love You Goodbye.”

The theatrics continue on piano ballads “Love Is Worth It All” and “You’re The One,” which aren’t particularly country. “Stirrin’ Up Feelings” is a nice change of pace, with a bit more tempo and the welcomed inclusion of drums into the mix. “Got My Mojo Working” is a slow build, where sparse production gives way to thicker sounds as the track progresses.

While there is nothing wrong with the Billy Sherill produced Love Notes, it isn’t a particularly strong album by any means. Fricke sings gorgeously throughout, but she hadn’t found her identity yet as an artist. It would be a few more years until that would happen, which makes Love Notes an important stepping stone in her career projection. Without that context, there really isn’t anything essential here to grab the listeners‘ attention.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘He’s Got You’

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Singer Of Songs’

After nearly a decade as a background singer, and singer of television jingles, Janie Fricke finally emerged with her first ever album, released in May 1978. At the time Janie was six months past her 30th birthday, a rather late start for becoming a solo singer. This is not to say that Janie was an unknown quantity in Nashville, as she had sung background for many of Nashville’s elite such as Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap, Lynn Anderson and Conway Twitty.

Ultimately, it was her work on several of Johnny Duncan’s hits “Jo and the Cowboy,” “Thinkin’ of a Rendezvous,” “It Couldn’t Have Been Any Better,” and “Stranger” that brought her talents to the forefront. Whereas she had not been given label credit on the earlier hits, Janie was given equal billing with Duncan on his recording of “Come a Little Bit Closer”.

While Singer of Songs is a bit generic and doesn’t give Janie much chance to show off her vocal prowess, it was a decent initial effort and did produce three decent singles.

The album opens with “I Loved You All The Way”, a bland easy listening ballad with full Nashville Sound treatment. This is followed by “We Could Have Been The Closest Of Friends”, another bland ballad, albeit with a bit more muscular vocal by Fricke.

This is followed by “You Changed My Life in A Moment”, a song I can envision the Carpenters singing – in other words yet another string-laden ballad.

The nights the sky was filled with clouds
My worried mind was filled with fears
I couldn’t count all the lonely hours
Spent with memories and tears

I never thought I would see the day
When I could throw all my sorrow away
But then you came and you showed me the way
You have made all those times disappear

You changed my life in a moment
And I’ll never be the same again
You changed my life in a moment
And it’s hard for me to understand
With a touch of your hand
In a moment of time
All my sorrow is gone

The fourth track “No One’s Ever Gonna Love You”, while not very country, at least has some grit to it and finds Janie giving a forceful R&B vocal that gives a hint as to the power behind her voice.

Track five (aka the last track on the A side of the vinyl release) is “I Believe In You” a nice easy listening ballad that is not the same song as the Don Williams hit.

Track six was the first track on Side Two of the vinyl album, Janie’s cover of Hank Locklin’s huge hit “Please Help Me I’m Falling”. Janie takes the song at a slower tempo than the original but acquits herself well. This is the first song on the album that I would actually describe as Country music, and it is the only track to feature steel guitar. This was the third single from the album and reached #12 – the Canadian country charts had it reach #4.

The first single, “What Are You Doing Tonight” reached #21 and got to #14 on the Canadian country charts. This is a nice pop county song written by Bob McDill.

Maybe I’m saying too much
After all, I just met you
But I’ve got to say just what I feel
I hope it won’t upset you

I think you’re the one I’ve been dreaming of
With a little time we might fall in love

So what’re you doing tonight
What’re you doing tonight
The wind is warm and the stars are bright
What’re you doing tonight

“Week-End Friend” was released by Con Hunley as a single reaching #13. Both Janie and Con gave this song a soulful R&B treatment which effectively showcased the song. This is the only track on the album to feature trumpet and sax.

Friday night don’t come soon enough
When I’ve been waitin’ all week for love
6:05 the train will arrive
He’ll be coming in

I’ve got a week-end friend
I’ve got a week-end friend

He’ll have that special look upon his face
And if it ain’t rainin’ we’ll go to my place
And when we close the door the feeling will pour
All over us again

I’ve got a week-end friend
I’ve got a week-end friend

Track nine is “Baby It’s You” was the second single, reaching #21 (and #19 in Canada). It’s a mid-tempo ballad, again with more of an R&B feel than country. This is not the same song that the Shirells, the Carpenters and Jody Miller took onto the charts.

The album closes with another Bob McDill song, “I Think I’m Falling In Love”. On this track Janie’s vocals give strong evidence as to what her vocals would sound like on future albums.

This is a very tentative album for a singer is struggling to find her voice and her muse. In my opinion tracks 6-10 are much stronger that tracks 1-5 in that the producers took more chances with the arrangements and material and smothered her less with string arrangements. I would give this album a C+ based on the strength of tracks 6-10.

Classic Rewind: Johnny Duncan and Janie Fricke – ‘Stranger’