My Kind of Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B-

Advertisements

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Ain’t No Way To Make A Bad Love Grow’

Jonathan Pappalardo’s Ten Favorite singles of 2017

While it does become harder and harder to assemble this list each year, it always amazes me that quality country music does exist, even if the upper echelon of the airplay chart screams otherwise.  Sit back and enjoy what I consider the ten best singles released this year:



10. Tanya Tucker – Forever Loving You

Go online and you’ll find countless videos of Tucker where she details the volatility of her relationship with Glen Campbell. She freely admits to the drug and physical abuse that defined their union, which became a cornerstone of her early 20s. Even after they split, and she went onto some of her greatest success, she clearly never truly got over him.

More than a tribute to Campbell, “Forever Loving You” is an exquisite love song. Tucker is in fine voice, which makes the longing for new music all the more aching. Why does this have to be a standalone one-off and not the lead track to a new album?

9. Alan Jackson – The Older I Get

Easily Jackson’s greatest achievement since “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore.” He’s in a contemplative mood, looking back in the year he received induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. If this is any indication, I look forward to whatever he chooses to do next.

8. Jon Pardi – She Ain’t In It

The best mainstream single of 2017 comes from the newly crowned CMA New Artist of the Year. The lyric isn’t earth-shattering, but the drenching of fiddle and steel more than makes up the difference. With his solid foundation in traditional country and his willingness to stay true to himself no matter the cost, Pardi’s future is bright. As of now, he’s one of the good guys.

7. Lee Ann Womack – Hollywood

A housewife is begging her husband to engage with her. He won’t bite except to dismiss her feelings or downright ignore their partnership. She’s exhausted from their loveless marriage, and the part he’s playing in it, so much so she wonders, “either I’m a fool for asking or you belong in Hollywood.” The first of two songs in this vein comes with that killer hook and Womack’s equally effective performance.

6. Alison Krauss – Losing You

Krauss revives a somewhat obscure Brenda Lee hit from 1965 and knocks it out of the park. The covers album that followed is just as rich and deeply satisfying.

5. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – If We Were Vampires

If life didn’t come with an expiration date, would we love as hard? Isbell asks that central question on the stunning centerpiece from That Nashville Sound. He proves mortality is actually a good thing, not something to be feared. For my ears, “If We Were Vampires” is the love song of the year.

 4. Chris Stapleton – Either Way

In my more than twenty years of seriously consuming country music, no song has stuck with me as long or had as great an impact on my psyche as “Either Way.” Lee Ann Womack brought it to life eight years ago in what still remains the song’s definitive version. Stapleton sings the fire out of it, too, but his greatest achievement is being the man who wrote it. He’s easily among the upper tier of the greatest country songwriters of his generation.

3. Brandy Clark – Three Kids No Husband

Clark teamed with Lori McKenna on an anthem for the women who assume all titles without a man to even the score. Both have recorded it, but it’s Clark who found the subtly within the lyric and ultimately drove it home.

2. Sunny Sweeney – Bottle By My Bed

Many songs have been written about the struggle for a woman to conceive, but none are as achingly beautiful as Sweeney’s tale of heartbreak in the wake of a miscarriage. A powerful and universal tale for anyone who has suffered the same fate.

1. Erin Enderlin – Ain’t It Just Like A Cowboy

I didn’t have a clear favorite single this year until I played these ten songs back-to-back when considering the rankings. Enderlin blows away the competition with her story of a wife realizing how foolish she is for staying with the cheating bastard who probably never loved her in the first place. A true country ballad for the ages.

Classic Rewind: Bellamy Brothers – ‘Let Your Love Flow’

The duo’s debut was only a modest country hit but an international pop smash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Lorrie Morgan – ‘Good As I Was To You’

Album Review: Chris Stapleton – ‘From A Room Vol 2’

Chris Stapleton’s second blues-influenced album of the year is broadly similar in mood to the first, but feels a little more consistent and cohesive. Wife Morgane Hayes Stapleton’s delicate harmonies augment Chris’s rougher yet soulful voice, and they could easily be billed as a duo rather than Chris as the solo star.

There are a couple of outside covers bookending the set. Kevin Welch wrote the opening ‘Millionaire’ around the turn of the millennium, and it is a laid back slightly loungy tune about true wealth coming from love. ‘Friendship’ is an old jazzy soul song which works well for Chris.

He wrote the remainder of the material with various partners. A couple of songs were written with Kendell Marvel. ‘Tryin’ To Untangle My Mind’ was slightly more country as done by Marvel on his own excellent album this year, with Chris’s version leaning more bluesy and feeling sleazier. The rock-edged honky tonker ‘Hard Livin’’ is on a similar theme of looking back at a life of hard drinking and wild living with some regret as he grows older.

‘Scarecrow In The Garden’, co-written with Brice Long and Matt Fleener, is a family story song about immigrants coming from Northern Ireland to farm on bad ground in West Virginia, ending with a doomladen picture in the third generation:

There’s a scarecrow in the garden
That looks like Lucifer
I’ve been readin’ Revelation
With my bare feet in the river

I know every single fencepost
Every rock that goes around
I’ve been starin’ at the red oak
Where I know they’ll lay me down

The fields ain’t what they once were
The rains just seem to flood
And I’ve been thinkin’ about that river
Wonderin’ how it turns to blood

I’ve been sittin’ here all morning
I was sittin’ here all night
There’s a Bible in my left hand
And a pistol in my right

A gentle acoustic arrangement allows the song to breathe.

Another highlight is ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’, written with Jameson Clark, an honest confessional with a stripped down acoustic arrangement:

I wish that I could go to church but I’m too ashamed of me
I hate the fact it takes a bottle to get me on my knees
And I hope He’ll forgive
The things you ain’t forgot
When I get drunk and talk to God

Mike Henderson, once a band mate in the SteelDrivers, co-wrote two songs. The subdued, sad ‘Nobody’s Lonely Tonight’ is extremely good, but ‘Midnight Train To Memphis’ is raucous Southern rock which is not to my taste at all.

Morgane’s father Darrell Hayes helped Chris write ‘A Simple Song’, a weary, gentle song about a working class man’s life, suffering in hard times but satisfied by family and home.

As with the previous release, there are only 9 tracks, which is disappointing.

However, while Stapleton is certainly not traditional country, his music is head and shoulders above most of the current ‘mainstream’ crop, and it is well worth seeking out.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: George Jones – ‘Just A Little Talk With Jesus’

Week ending 12/2/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Jailhouse Rock/Treat Me Nice — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Wake Up Little Susie — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: It’s the Little Things — Sonny James (Capitol)

1977The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want to Get Over You) — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1987: Lynda — Steve Wariner (MCA)

1997: Love Gets Me Every Time — Shania Twain (Mercury)

2007: So Small — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

2017: When It Rains It Pours — Luke Combs (River House/Columbia)

2017 (Airplay): Greatest Love Story — LANco (Arista)

Classic Rewind: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘Lost Forever In Your Kiss’

Classic Rewind: Ralph Stanley – ‘Nobody’s Love Is Like Mine’

Spotlight Artists: The Bellamy Brothers

Our December Spotlight Artists are the Bellamy Brothers, Howard (born 1946) and David (born 1950). The Brothers have been around seemingly forever, yet remain vital and innovative artists to this day.

I first became aware of David Bellamy when his name was listed as co-writer on Jim Stafford’s 1974 hit “Spiders & Snakes”, a #3 US pop hit that achieved success in a number of countries. As a recording group the Bellamy Brothers hit pay dirt in 1976 when “Let Your Love Flow” became a massive world-wide hit. Interestingly enough, the song was not authored by the Bellamy Brothers, having been penned by Larry Williams, a roadie for Neil Diamond. Both Neil Diamond and Johnny Rivers passed on the song.

To me “Let Your Love Flow” sounded like a country song, even If the original instrumentation wasn’t especially country. The song went #1 pop and adult contemporary, and reached #21 on the country charts, suggesting that some disc jockeys felt the same way about the song as I did. WHOO-AM in Orlando played the song in heavy rotation. The song would achieve at least top ten chart status throughout most of Europe and would succeed in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia as well.

Since then, the Bellamy Brothers have achieved many US and International hits. Their music is quite melodious, their harmonies are tight and they have an interesting sense of humor which has manifested itself many of their songs. Although their US chart action has cooled off since 1990, their strong sense of melody continues to appeal to European audiences where they remain major stars, with hit albums even after 2010. They have been particularly successful in German speaking countries where a form of sentimental pop music called “Schlager” remains popular and in Scandinavia where similar pop music tastes prevail. Many of their albums intended for European consumption have never been released in the US, and they have had at least a dozen hit singles in Europe of songs never released at all in the US.

They also have had success outside of Europe – in November and December 2017 alone they have appeared (or will appear) in South Africa, Namibia and Sri Lanka before returning home in early December.

When not touring the Bellamy Brothers live on the family ranch in Derby, Florida, near San Antonio, Florida. While I have never met the Bellamy Brothers, I have met their mother when I was an insurance underwriter quoting an insurance policy for the ranch. She was quite a lady and if her sons are anything like her, they must be fine people indeed. They are known for their involvement in charitable work for Florida’s environment (and other causes), and have played many tours for US military personnel abroad.

I digress – but the Bellamy Brothers have put together a sizeable catalog over the last forty years, and while we will be touching upon a number of albums during December, don’t think for a minute that the albums we don’t get to aren’t worthwhile. Although not all of their albums are classics, they all have their moments, so kick back while we shine our December Spotlight on the Bellamy Brothers.

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘Goodbye Time’

Album Review: Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis – ‘Come See Me and Come Lonely’

Come See Me and Come Lonely, Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis’ second collaborative album, is strictly a covers record with their version of twelve classic country songs ranging from the familiar to the slightly obscure. I didn’t even have an inkling this record was in the works, so count me among the pleased, and surprised when news broke about the impending release this past summer.

The album was produced by Richard Landis, who has handled the majority of Morgan’s production duties for more than 25 years. While he maintains the essence of each song, he updates the arraignments just enough to give the album a contemporary flair that allows the album to feel modern and not note-for-note recreations of the classic recordings from which these compositions are most known.

His choices result in a very good album that unfortunately begins with K.T. Oslin’s romantic ballad “Do Ya” sung as a duel-lead duet. The results are ridiculous but Tillis does bring vigor to an otherwise lifeless song. I had no idea what to expect from another seemingly random choice, Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs.” They handled the song with ease, as though it was born from a Nashville honky-tonk.

Skeeter Davis’ version of “The End of the World” has always been too schmaltzy and slightly comedic for my twenty-first-century ears. Morgan and Tillis’ interpretation is gorgeous and brings the underlying heartbreak in the lyrics to the forefront. “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” is similarly excellent and a brilliant nod to Tillis’ sound and style from the early 1990s.

The title track is brilliant and actually improves upon the version Dottie West released in 1978. I like their rendition of “Walk Right Back” and love how the emulate the Everly Brothers with their close-knit harmonies.

Morgan all but knocks Sammi Smith’s “Saunders Ferry Lane” out of the park, but I’ll always wonder how it would’ve sounded without so much age on her voice. “Rose In Paradise” is a southern gothic beauty, anchored masterfully by Tillis. My favorite track on the album is “Summer Wine,” presented as a duet with Darryl Worley and an almost unrecognizable Joe Diffie.

Tackling anything written and sung by Roy Orbison is a feat and Morgan and Tillis fall short on “It’s Over,” which just isn’t to my tastes at all. An acoustic take on “Blanket On The Ground” would’ve allowed Morgan and Tillis’ harmonies to shine, whereas the version they gave us drowns them out with obtrusive clutter.

Come See Me and Come Lonely isn’t a perfect album but there are some stunning performances throughout. Morgan and Tillis are on top of their artistic game even if the arrangements are too loud on occasion. I highly recommend checking this one out.

Grade: A- 

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘That’s My Job’

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Timeless’

I guess there really is a Santa Claus because I just received the “new” Conway Twitty album from Country Rewind Records, Timeless, just in time for Christmas.

These aren’t really new recordings. During the 1960s and 1970s it was not uncommon for the various branches of the US Military to put together fifteen or thirty minute radio shows for use on country radio stations. Mostly these shows aired on smaller radio stations, usually in air slots where it was difficult for them to sell advertising. Some of these shows, such as COUNTRY MUSIC TIME (a recruiting tool for the US Air Force) and COUNTRY COOKING WITH LEE ARNOLD (a recruiting program for the Army Reserves) featured some chatter with the weeks’ musical guests followed by some records by the musical guest. Others, such as NAVY HOEDOWN, featured some minimal chatter with the featured artist followed by live performances with the program’s band, or occasionally with the artist’s own band. These recordings were not made available for public purchase

Timeless comes from recordings made for an unspecified military recruiter program. The recordings were made at Scotty Moore’s Music City Recorders on May 24, 1972. The songs feature Conway’s tight road band of Joe E. Lewis on bass, Tommy Markham on drums, and the legendary John Hughey on steel guitar. Conway played rhythm guitar on the recordings and the band was augmented by Hargus “Pig” Robins on piano. At this time Conway normally did not have piano on his live performances.

The songs featured here are songs from the first half dozen years of Conway’s career with MCA. In other words, this is a real county album with none of the MOR trappings that contaminated Conway’s later recordings. The revelation here is that most of these songs were originally recorded with studio musicians and occasional Owen Bradley strings and chorus production. Here we get the real stage sounds of Conway Twitty.

Originally recorded after a brief rehearsal, in a single take, these recordings were typically played once or twice in a given geographical area and then returned or discarded. Many years later pristine recordings were found and forwarded to Thomas Gramuglia at Country Rewind Records. Gramuglia contacted Conway Twitty United, a company dedicated to preserving Conway’s legacy, comprised of Conway’s four children. Gramuglia presented his idea to find a producer to update and modernize the sound for release to Joni Twitty.

After the family listened to the tapes, they felt that releasing them would not dishonor Conway’s memory at all, but Joni suggested that they do the new production in-house. Joni was a talented artist herself, and her husband John Wesley Ryles had several hits on his own and has appeared as a harmony singer on literally thousands of tracks.

The end result is an album they could have been released during the mid-1990s. Co-producers Joni Twitty Ryles and John Wesley Ryles have produced a great album. For the most part the post-production is limited to John Wesley Ryles providing some background vocals, Ron Oates adding a bit of keyboards, and some additional acoustic guitar, most notably on “15 Years Ago”. To me the most important difference between the studio recordings of the songs on this album, and these recordings is the gigantic presence of steel wizard John Hughey.

The song list is as follows:

(Lost Her Love) On Our Last Date – a #1 single with lyrics grafted onto a Floyd Cramer’s instrumental
Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music) – album track from 1968’s Here’s Conway Twitty
Hello Darlin’ – Conway’s biggest country hit
How Much More Can She Stand – a #1 single from 1971
Working Girl – an album track from the 1967 album Conway Twitty Country
I Can’t See Me Without You – a #1 single (according to Record World) from early 1972
I Love You More Today – a #1 single from 1969
Crazy Arms – nice cover of the Ray Price classic
15 Years Ago – the follow up to Hello Darlin’ – it hit #1
Honky-Tonk Man – cover of the Johnny Horton classic
The Image of Me – Conway’s first top ten country single
If You Were Mine To Lose – an album track from the 1966 album Look Into My Teardrops
Proud Mary – cover of protégé Anthony Armstrong Jones’ hit from 1969
Next In Line – Conway’s first country number one from 1968

A-

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘Tight Fittin’ Jeans’

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘Don’t Call Him A Cowboy’

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Final Touches’

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A-

Classic Rewnd: Conway Twitty – ‘Who Did They Think He Was?’