My Kind of Country

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

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

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Classic Rewind: Jim Lauderdale – Jim Lauderdale – ‘I Met Jesus In A Bar’

Week ending 9/8/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Bird Dog / Devoted To You — Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Mama Tried — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: I’ve Always Been Crazy — Waylon Jennings (RCA)

1988: Do You Love Me (Just Say Yes) — Highway 101 (Warner Bros)

1998: I’m Alright — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2008: You Look Good In My Shirt — Keith Urban (Capitol Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Life Changes — Thomas Rhett (Big Machine) 

 

Classic Rewind: Carl Smith – ‘Are You Teasing Me?’

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

Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard – ‘Listening To The Wind’

Classic Rewind: Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss – ‘When You Say Nothing At All’

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: Jason Eady – ‘I Travel On’

Jason Eady, for some time one of my favorite singer-songwriters, has collaborated with dobroist Rob Ickes and his musical partner Trey Hensley for his latest album, recorded live and acoustic in studio with Jason’s road band providing the rest of the backings. Ickes’ and Hensley’s contributions to the lively, fresh arrangements were completely spontaneously produced in the studio. This music is acoustic, but definitely not stripped down.

The up tempo opener sets the scene, with a lively old time feel as the narrator reflects on what has made him the man he is. There is a similar vibe on the upbeat ‘Now Or Never’. The catchy ‘That’s Alright’ is a relaxed tune about stress-free living, with some very nice fiddle.

The warm, mellow ‘Happy Man’ and the up-tempo ‘Pretty When I Die’ is are about making a good life one can be satisfied with.

‘Calaveras County’, inspired by an incident in Eady’s childhood, is a tribute to the goodhearted people of which is reminiscent to me of Tom T Hall.

‘Always A Woman’ is a slow solemn blues influenced number about the power of a good woman to help a man in trouble.

‘Below The Waterline’ is a fine story song co-written with Jason’s wife Courtney Patton about a flood when a river bursts its banks, with more lovely fiddle.

‘She Had To Run’ is a beautiful sounding bluegrass waltz about a woman fleeing domestic violence who manages to get out just in time:

Nothing could be worse than what she was leaving …
She knew the next time he’d do what he always said he would.

This understated but powerful song is the best on the album.

The vocals are a bit muddy on ‘The Climb’, and I couldn’t decipher it all, but it is a portrait of a man unsure of his future

He’s too low to reach the top
He’s come too far to go back down
He’s not lost, he just don’t know what to do

Finally the title track offers a gentle narrative about being trapped in a travelling life:

I’m out here searching for something I can’t hold

This is a thoughtful and rewarding album which is worth hearing, and might be summarised as in the troubadour tradition with a bluegrass twist, rather than the more traditional country of Jason’s recent work.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Kitty Wells – ‘Paying For That Backstreet Affair’

September Spotlight Artist: Jim Lauderdale

Our September Spotlight features one of the true Renaissance persons of roots music, Jim Lauderdale. Born in 1957, Lauderdale has a thorough-going knowledge of country, bluegrass, roots-rock, folk and jazz and incorporates elements of all of these into his songwriting and performances. He has performed in theatre, as a member of various bands, and as a solo performer. He has an affable personality and a decent, but not necessarily terrific, singing voice that could, under different circumstances, led him to become a major recording star in the fields of bluegrass or traditional country music. As it is, Jim has had difficulty in receiving airplay for his own recordings and never made much of an impact on radio with his only charted single, “Stay Out of My Arms” reaching #86 on Billboard’s country chart in 1988. If heard at all on the radio, it is most likely to be on bluegrass programs (usually on NPR) or on Bluegrass Junction on Sirius-XM as his duet recordings with Ralph Stanley are quite popular with the bluegrass crowd.

As a songwriter, he has been far more successful with his songs being recorded by many artists across a variety of genres including George Strait, Gary Allan, Elvis Costello, George Jones, Buddy Miller, Blake Shelton, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, and Patty Loveless. I don’t know how many of his songs George Strait recorded, but it is a bunch.

Although not a household name with modern county radio audiences, Jim Lauderdale has been quite busy, co-hosting Music City Roots, the annual Americana Music Awards Show (since 2002) and appearing on various other television shows. He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead), Dr. Ralph Stanley, Nick Lowe and Roland White.

Between television and touring, he stays quite busy. We have selected an interesting array of albums to review, so please join us in saluting our September Spotlight Artist – Jim Lauderdale.

Classic Rewind: Jim Lauderdale, Rosanne Cash and Levon Helm – ‘The Weight’

Week ending 9/1/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Blue, Blue Day — Don Gibson (RCA)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Mama Tried — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: Blue Skies — Willie Nelson (Columbia)

1988: I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried — Rodney Crowell (Columbia)

1998: I’m Alright — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2008: Should’ve Said No — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Drowns The Whiskey — Jason Aldean Feat. Miranda Lambert (Broken Bow)

Classic Rewind: Nat Stuckey – ‘Sweet Thang’

Classic Rewind: Carl Smith – ‘There She Goes’

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: Shooter Jennings – ‘Shooter’

I’ve never been much of a fan of Shooter Jennings, who has seemed to ride on the coat tails of being Waylon Jennings’ son without the same talent, or actually making country music himself. But his latest release draws much more directly on his heritage. While the weak point remains his vocals, which are limited (he sounds rather like a louder Bill Anderson on the quieter songs), this is a rather good album.

It opens with the exciting rockabilly ‘Bound To Git Down’ which is loud and fast and brassy and highly entertaining. Lyrically it traces Shooter’s musical past performing rock in LA, but it makes for a great opening track.

Next up is the engaging ‘Do You Love Texas?’, which was released as a single in aid of Hurricane Harvey relief. A selection of Texas musicians join the call-and-response chorus on this feel-good ode of love to the state. Shooter’s vocal limitations so not detract from this track with its homemeade feel.

‘D.R.U.N.K’ is a relaxed medium tempo number about the joy of alcohol, with a number of lyrical nods to country songs including ‘Whiskey River’. I enjoyed this. ‘I’m Wild & My Woman Is Crazy’ is an enjoyable up-tempo tune.

‘Living In A Minor Key’ is a very nice heartbreak ballad with lovely harmonies and steel guitar, with a tribute to Hank Williams. A better singer would make this a modern classic.
The mid-paced ‘Fast Horses & Good Hideouts’ is rather good, with its nostalgic longing for childhood innocence. ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ is a pleasant love song.

I really didn’t care for the bluesy Southern rock ‘Shades & Hues’, where Shooter’s vocal flaws are more evident. ‘Denim & Diamonds’ closes the set with a rather boring mid-paced song.
While this isn’t an attempt by Shooter to recreate his father’s sound, and nor should it be, it is much better than I was expecting. However, the decision to include nine tracks shortchanges purchasers.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: The Judds – ‘Why Not Me?’

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