My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘Life Of the Party’

A never-recorded song from a TV show.

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Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Friday Night Blues’

Album Review: John Conlee — ‘Friday Night Blues’

The title track was the first of three singles released off of John Conlee’s third album Friday Night Blues, which came out in May 1980. The excellent mid-tempo ballad tells the story of a lonely housewife desperate for the affection of her oft-absent husband:

He’s been working all week

he’s got mental fatigue

and that old couch sure looks fine

All week he’s been gone

she’s been sitting alone

slowly going out of her mind

As he kicks off his shoes for the six o’clock news

she’s getting all prettied up

Oh she’s wanting to boogie

he’s wanting to lay there

she’s got the Friday night blues

 

And the Friday night blues

they get in your shoes and

they work to get you down

Oh and there ain’t a lady that I ever knew

who didn’t need her a night on the town

But the hills and the bills and a week’s worth of deals

has got him feeling more than used

Oh, he’s kicking his shoes off she’s putting hers on

she’s got the Friday night blues

 

there once was a time she was top of the line

her nights like teenage dreams

Now it’s operas at noon,

dancing round with her broom

talking to the washing machine

Oh, the girl down the street

says her old man is neat and

she makes it sound so true

Now she’s feeling lonely thinks

she’s the only one

with the Friday night blues

It’s a great story song that deservedly peaked at #2. The follow-up single, “She Can’t Say That Anymore,” a ballad about a cheating man, matched it. The alluring, yet much slower, “What I Had With You” stalled at #12.

“Honky Tonk Toys” is the story of a mother, her daughter, and the bar they call home:

Annie Mae Johnson gave birth to a child

In a room, at the back of this bar

She named her Rainbow, cause she came at midnight

In the light of a blue neon star

 

Rainbow brought sunshine to Annie Mae’s life

While Annie served drinks to the boys

She’d sit on the floor, in the back of this bar

And play with her honky tonk toys

 

And there were honky toys, like beer tops and beer clocks

But her most favourite toys of all

Was a beer carton cradle and a table cloth blanket

And a little brown beer bottle doll

 

Rainbow turned eighteen, two summers ago

Old enough to go out on her own

She wanted to know, what her Daddy was like

So she left her honky tonk home

 

Annie Mae still loved the man she divorced

Til he became Rainbow’s first choice

Now all that’s left, of Annie Mae’s Rainbow

Are three little honky tonk toys

 

And there were honky toys, like beer tops and beer clocks

But her most favourite toys of all

Was a beer carton cradle and a table cloth blanket

And a little brown beer bottle doll

The song, which was later covered by Red Sovine in 1980, is typical of its era, complete with the horrid twist. It’s certainly memorable.

Conlee is quizzical on “Old Fashioned Love,” questioning whatever happened to the idea of making a life-long commitment to someone. He follows with the splendid “Misery Loves Company,” a classic barroom anthem for the down and depressed. Conlee’s hot streak continues on “Let’s Get Married Again,” which finds a couple headed towards the ultimate reconciliation.

A nice dose of fiddle and twang provide the backdrop on “When I’m Out of You.” A strong conviction from a man to his woman is at the heart of “We Belong in Love Tonight” and “Always True” is about a man’s steadfast loyalty to his lady.

Friday Night Blues is a splendid album from start to finish, without a single throwaway track in the bunch. Conlee’s sound was beginning to change by the end of the decade. He was still retaining the producing prowess of Bud Logan, but his album’s, especially this one, aren’t suffocated by heavy orchestration. The songs are given their rightful place and are allowed to shine, just like they richly deserve.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Before My Time’

Classic Rewind: Janie Fricke – ‘She’s Single Again’

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Forever’

Forever, John Conlee’s second album, and first for MCA, was released in 1979, produced by Bud Logan. The album’s excellent pop-leaning first single “Before My Time” is a ballad about a woman scared by a previous relationship, just like the guy in Trisha Yearwood’s equally wonderful “The Woman Before Me.” The song peaked at #2.

MCA sought fit to release just one more single from the album. “Baby, You’re Something” is a mostly unremarkable and dated heavily-orchestrated ballad. It reached #7.

“Let’s Keep It That Way” finds a man pleading with his would-be mistress to end things before the affair even starts. Devotion leads the way on the title track, which finds Conlee as a man declaring his loyalty to his woman.

“You Never Cross My Mind” finds him trying to convince himself he’s over his love, despite crying himself to sleep at night. The album’s first truly great song is “I Wish That I Could Hurt That Way Again,” which was recorded by Kenny Rogers on The Gambler a year earlier. Conlee’s version is excellent, despite the heavy orchestration.

The uptick in quality continues on the wonderful “No Relief In Sight,” which was also recorded by Conway Twitty and Dawn Sears. He doesn’t slow down on “The In Crowd,” which finds him coming home to his wife and kids at the end of a long work day.

Looking at the album’s track list I could only wonder if “Crazy” was indeed the song I thought it would be. I have no idea why MCA and/or Conlee would feel the need to include the country standard here, updated to fit within the trends of the late 1970s, except to introduce it to younger audiences who might not be familiar with it. He does handle it well.

Conlee concludes the album with “Somebody’s Leavin,’” which is a stereotypical breakup song, but very good nonetheless. Listening through Forever, I can say the same about the album. There are some excellent tracks, namely those also recorded by other artists, mixed in amongst some filler. In retrospect the singles are among the album’s weakest offerings, especially with more worthy candidates sprinkled throughout.

Forever is very pop-leaning, with heavy orchestration and little to no elements traditional to country music. At least the songs are good to great, which helps a lot.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Backside Of Thirty’

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Lady Lay Down’

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Rose Colored Glasses’

The title track was a surprise hit for John Conlee, and a career-defining hit. Swathed in strings, but allowing his powerful voice to cut through, the insightful lyrics are about a man who is almost fooling himself about a woman who is obviously over their relationship. It was written by Conlee with George Baber. The single peaked at #5 on Billboard, but its influence outweighed that by far.

The album elicited two even more successful hits, now that John Conlee was a known quantity. ‘Lady Lay Down’, written by Rafe VanHoy and Don Cook, is an emotional ballad in which the protagonist begs the woman who is threatening to leave to sleep with him again, to make up for all his past neglect. This and the final single made it all the way to #1.

The last single, ‘Backside Of Thirty’, is another self-penned tune about a successful man whose life ‘all comes undone’ when his wife leaves him and feels he no long has anything to look forward to:

Makin’ money at thirty with a wife and a son
Then a short five years later it all comes undone
She’s gone back to mama with the boy by her side
Now I’m wine-drunk and running with them on my mind

I’m on the backside of thirty and back on my own
An empty apartment don’t feel like a home
On the backside of thirty,
The short side of time
Back on the bottom with no will to climb

It’s dawn Monday morning and I just called in sick
I skipped work last Friday to drink this much red
And when my friends ask me, Lord, I’ll tell them I’m fine
But my eyes tell a story that my lies can’t hide

Conlee wrote another couple of songs on the album, but they fall into the filler category. ‘I’ll Be Easy’ is addressed to a woman who wants to take things more slowly than he does. ‘Hold On’
‘Something Special’ is a nice mid-paced love song written by Dave Loggins. ‘Let Your Love Fall Back On Me’ is a very good song addressed to an ex who has found new love:

I hear you’ve put your happiness
In the hands of someone new
That’s alright I guess
I want the best for you

If all I hear is true
There’ll soon be wedding bells
I guess you’ve set the date
I guess I wish you well

If you find the road you’re on
Hard to travel any way at all
If you should stumble and fall
Let your love fall back on me

Max D Barnes and Rayburn Anthony wrote ‘She Loves My Troubles Away’, a cheerily positive love song about making it through the hard times:

Lost my job down at the docks
My old Chevy’s up on blocks
I got holes in both my socks
But she loves me
Her ol’ washing machine still squeaks
Our hot water heater leaks
I ain’t worked in 14 weeks
But she loves me

And she loves my troubles away
Every night she makes my day
Troubles get me down
But they never stay
Cause she loves my troubles away

I can’t give her fancy things
Pretty clothes or diamond rings
Nor the pleasure money brings
But she loves me
Late at night she takes my hand
Says “you know I understand
You just do the best you can”
Then she loves me

The legendary “Doodle” Owen contributed two songs. ‘Just Let It Slide’ urges reconciliation and tolerance within a relationship:

I don’t even know what started the fight we just had
One minute we’re happy
Next minute we’re both fighting mad
And what does it get us
Outside of this hurting inside?
Cause we’re not forgiving,
We’re never willing
To listen and just let it slide.

Wild accusations lead us to a quarrel every time.
And then comes that game of
Who’s right and who’s wrong in our minds.
When the trigger of temper is pulled by the finger of pride.
Baby lets be forgiving and try to be willing
To listen and just let it slide

Just think of the time we’ve already wasted on hate
And count out the hours when love had to stand back and wait
Then the next time our anger puts us on opposite sides
Baby let’s be forgiving and try to be willing
To listen and just let it slide

‘Some Old California Memory’ is an excellent song written by Owens with Warren Robb, which had been a minor hit (#28) for Henson Cargill in 1973. It sees a loved one leaving by plane.

The production, courtesy of Bud Logan, bears all the hallmarks of its era, with a string section adding sophistication, but it is just subtle enough laid over a country basis to allow Conlee’s voice and the strong material to shine. It is available digitally.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘He Touched Me’

Week ending 3/2/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: Don’t Take Your Guns To Town — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1969: To Make Love Sweeter For You — Jerry Lee Lewis (Smash)

1979: Golden Tears — Dave & Sugar (RCA Records)

1989: I Still Believe In You — The Desert Rose Band (MCA/Curb)

1999: I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing — Mark Chesnutt (Decca)

2009: Down The Road — Kenny Chesney & Mac McAnally (Blue Chair/BNA)

2019: Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Rose Colored Glasses’

Classic Rewind: Eddie Rabbitt and Marty Robbins sing a medley of songs

From Marty Robbins Spotlight in 1978:

Spotlight Artist: John Conlee

John Conlee was born into the post-war Baby Boom, on 11 August 1946, in Kentucky, where his father was a tobacco and hog farmer. He grew up singing and playing music, but did not immediately plan on making it his career, instead becoming an undertaker. This career path figured largely in early publicity material, and as recently as 2010 when he briefly opened up a twitter feed, he described himself as “Christian, husband, father, farmer, singer, Opry member, undertaker”. He moved to Nashville in 1971, where he found work as a rock radio DJ, while he pursued his own country music on the side.

In 1976 he secured a record deal with ABC. A couple of flop singles later, overnight success dawned with the unforgettable ‘Rose Colored Glasses’, a top ten hit in 1978. He moved to MCA the following year, when ABC was taken over, and a decade of hitmaking ensued, first on that label and then on Columbia. Throughout his career he has worked with producer Bud Logan.
Over 30 when he first became a star, and never glamorous, he fell out of favour with country radio when the New Country movement of the late 80s cast aside older stars. At the end of the 80s he moved to independent 16th Avenue until the label folded.

The next decade was a quiet one with no recorded output, as John and his wife Gale raised their family on a working farm near Nashville. 1999 saw a return to music with a live album release, and in the present century he has taken to rerecording his earlier material with a few new tracks. Although, regrettably, not all his original recordings are readily available, this has helped to reach a new audience in the digital era.

Conlee was instrumental alongside Willie Nelson in running the Farm Aid concerts to support struggling American farmers in the 80s and 90s. Fans’ cash gifts when he sings his 1983 hit ‘Busted’ live are devoted to charity, initially Feed The Children and currently the Wounded Warrior Project.

He became a member of the Opry in 1981, and in recent years has become the unofficial father of the Opry.

We are delighted to announce that John Conlee is the MKOC Spotlight Artist for March 2019.

Classic Rewind: Scotty McCreery covers JMM – ‘Letters From Home’

Single Review: Reba McEntire — ‘Stronger Than The Truth’

You’ll have to go back twenty years to find the last time Reba McEntire introduced a new studio album with a ballad. It’s exceedingly rare, and a welcomed change of pace, especially when it introduces a project McEntire is calling one of the most country of her career.

She’s introduced the album with the title track, which was co-written by former Eden’s Edge frontwoman Hannah Blaylock and her niece Autumn McEntire. The song finds Reba in the wake of learning her husband has taken up with someone new:

I never dreamed of wantin’ more

Than a small town, simple life

A little money in our pockets

You’re my husband, I’m your wife

 

But then I fell in icy water

Standing in the grocery line

I overheard my name and yours

And one I did not recognize

 

Now everything I thought I knew is walking out the door

There’s a bottle on the table tellin’ me the only thing I know for sure

Is there’s not a sound, a sound as loud as silence

There’s not a blade sharper than a lie

There’s not a low lower than being the last one to know

You got a brand new start with someone new

And there’s no whiskey stronger than the truth

“Stronger Than The Truth” comes just four years after McEntire and her manager husband Narvel Blackstock divorced after 25 years, a decision she has said, “wasn’t her idea.” It’s an excellent lyric and I love how the writers take us back to her eighties hits, by overtly name-checking “The Last One To Know” and placing her in a grocery store line, like she was in “What Am I Gonna Do About You.”

This time around, though, she has a plan, even if it’s a faulty one:

The only thing I can do

Is pour a glass and pretend

That this pain’s gonna end

“Stronger Than The Truth” isn’t as dynamic as her biggest heartbreakers nor is it as traditional as I would’ve liked. Pedal steel and fiddle are in the mix, but their presence is too subtle for a ballad with such a mournful lyric. But “Stronger Than The Truth” is a formidable first taste of McEntire’s new album, which comes out April 5, two days before she returns as host of the 54th annual Academy of Country Music Awards.

Grade: B+

NOTE: To wet our appetites further, McEntire will be releasing a new song from the album every Friday until April 5. Last week she evoked “Have I Got A Deal For You” with the charming “No U in Oklahoma,” which you can hear HERE. 

Classic Rewind: Alan Jackson – ‘Better Class Of Losers’

Album Review: John Michael Montgomery – ‘Time Flies’

After he was dropped by Warner Brothers. JMM released one further album, 2008’s Time Flies, on independent label Stringtown Records. Recorded in his brother Eddie’s home studio, it was produced by Byron Gallimore with, for the most part, his trademark sheen and lack of subtlety.

The lead single (or at least the first song released, as it did not chart), ‘Mad Cowboy Disease’, is a tongue in cheek country rocker written by Jamey Johnson, Jon Maddox and Jeremy Popoff. JMM sings it with a commitment which carries off a sometimes silly lyric, and there’s even a fun nod to Mel Tillis in the song. Next up was ‘If You Ever Went Away’, an emotional ballad written by Randy Houser and Daryl Burgess. It is a nice song which JMM sings well, but a bit over-produced. ‘Forever’, which was an actual radio single and made it into the top 30, is a very boring AC song.

Jamey Johnson contributed another pair of songs. ‘What Did I Do?’ (written with George Teren) is a rocking love song – not bad but over-produced. ‘Let’s Get Lost’ is quite a pleasant ballad which Johnson wrote with Arlis Albritton and Jeremy Popoff.

‘Loving And Letting Go’, written by Greg Barnhill and Gary Hannan, is a rather dull AC ballad. ‘Fly On’ is better, a wistful ballad about loss.

Luke Bryan’s own career has led to considerable (and often justified) disdain from more traditional country fans, but his cowrite with Kelley Lovelace and Lee Thomas Miller included here, ‘With My Shirt On’ is actually rather good, with a wryly amusing lyric about noticing the ravages of middle age:

Remember Key West spring break
We were 21, in perfect shape
We stayed oiled up and half naked all week long
But that was 10 years and 20 pounds ago
Girl, you’re still a 10 but I’m somewhere below
So tonight can I make love with my shirt on?

Now you say our love has grown beyond the physical
And you tell me that you think I’m irresistible
Today I had a salad but I gave in and ate a roll
So tonight can I make love with my shirt on

The best tracks all cluster at the end of the set, with Gallimore reining it back a bit. The best is ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’, a powerful Chris Stapleton song which Stapleton himself finally recorded in 2017. JMM’s vocal is much less intense but it is a pretty good performance of a great song which feels believable, and there is a tasteful steel-laced arrangement.

‘All In A Day’ is a warmly sung song about the passage of time as a beloved grandfather comes to the end of his life, set to a soothing melody. Written by Daryl Burgess and Dan Denny, it provides he album’s title.

JMM co-wrote the charming autobiographical ‘Brothers Til The End’, about growing up playing country music in a family band with his parents and brother Eddie, and thein their rival country music careers, “chasing each other up and down the charts”.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Geezinslaw Brothers – ‘You Call It Country (I Call It Bad Rock And Roll)’

Album Review: Brandon Rickman – ‘Things Kids And Dogs Know’

Brandon Rickman, best known as a member of the Lonesome River Band, released an excellent solo album almost a decade ago. At last the follow up has arrived, and he mixes country and bluegrass to similar effect.

He opens with a nice cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s ‘Black Rose’. If anything it is a little too pretty and not quite forceful enough vocally, but the arrangement is a bluegrass delight.
The self-styled ‘front porch philosophy’ and faith of ‘Prayers Go Up’ is warmly sung and sweetly positive, and is very pleasing. The title track is also rather charming, celebrating simple values:

I think we’d all be a lot better off
If we thought with our hearts and gave our minds some time off
If we did what we did ‘cause we love what we love
Living would never get old
Then we would know things kids and dogs know …

Monsters are real
Magic is real
And car rides are better with your head out the window

‘By His Hands’ is a religious song and very nicely done.

‘Tunnel Tunnel’ is a vibrant bluegrass story song about a prisoner who tires to dig his way out of prison, with fatal results when it caves in on him and the warders seal it up behind him.

‘Lowdown Blues’ is one of those bluegrass songs which sound upbeat musically despite downbeat lyrics. ‘It’s In My Mind To Wander’ is about a man who has tired of roaming and sounds like a traditional tune.

‘It’s Easy As Sin’ is a western swing love song with some lovely fiddle. ‘One Step, Two Step’ is a charming Texas dancehall delight.

‘Train Long Gone’ is a Dennis Linde song Randy Travis recorded on his 2004 album Passing Through. The lovely ballad ‘Hearts Aren’t Made To Break’ (written by Roger Murrah and Steve Dean) was a hit for Lee Greenwood in the 80s.

This is a really appealing record with a lot to offer fans of both bluegrass and country.

Grade: A