My Kind of Country

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

Retro Album Review: Danielle Peck

71PZ9Gm0f0L._SX522_Back in the days writing for The 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. We are republishing updated versions of some of those reviews here.

I received Danielle Peck’s self-titled CD for Father’s Day. I was prepared to be disappointed but instead found myself really enjoying the CD. While Ms. Peck doesn’t have the greatest voice, it is sexy and assertive and she has it under full control (none of the “shrieking diva” approach too often found on CDs by today’s country females). The songs selected are very suitable to Ms.Peck’s voice, and very good lyrically. I say this because typically, most CDs have several songs that are out and out duds, but I liked all eleven songs on the CD.

The current song being pushed to radio is “Finding A Good Man” with “I Don’t” having also received airplay. Ms Peck has co-writer credits on several of the songs although not on the current hit.

“Kiss You On The Mouth” (a somewhat steamy ballad), “Honky-Tonk Time” and “A Woman Does Too” also would make good songs to promote to radio. The CD is a little heavy on ballads; one more uptempo number inserted near the end of the CD would have been good.

Apparently Big Machine Records is one of those independent labels associated with Toby Keith, but if so, he must be allowing the artists to have complete artistic independence as he wrote none of the songs on the CD and the disc doesn’t seem to have any of Toby’s touches to the production. Ms Peck does thank her manager, Barbara Orbison in the tray card notes – I assume this is Roy Orbison’s widow.

Anyway, I highly recommend this disc and look forward to her sophomore effort. If allowed fractional ratings I would give this album 4.5 stars

2016 comment – in retrospect I would NOT give this 4.5 stars, but would leave it at 4 stars.

Classic Rewind: Joey + Rory – ‘Play Me The Waltz Of The Angels’

Week ending 7/23/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

hqdefault-81956 (Sales): I Want You, I Need You, I Love You/My Baby Left Me — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): I Walk The Line/Get Rhythm — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Think of Me — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1976: Teddy Bear — Red Sovine (Starday)

1986: Until I Met You — Judy Rodman (MTM)

1996: Daddy’s Money — Ricochet (Columbia)

2006: The World — Brad Paisley (Arista)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): Lights Come On — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Classic Rewind: Clay Walker – ‘Then What?’

Classic Rewind: Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White – ‘I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could’

Album Review: Lori McKenna – ‘The Bird & The Rifle’

lori_mckenna_cover_sq-8bf01c93fab9c51c99c2845e5912678475452f65-s300-c85The Bird & The Rifle comes on the heels of Lori McKenna finally achieving the level of songwriting success she’s so richly deserved since Faith Hill plucked her from obscurity in 2005. This record, her tenth, positions her at the next level – the masterful Dave Cobb produced it.

She’ll likely always be known more for songwriting cuts by other artists, which is a shame, since she’s a powerful artist in her own right. I’ll always be a bit biased, as McKenna is a local in my neck of the woods here in Massachusetts.

McKenna smartly included her own version of “Humble & Kind” among these ten tracks, which will hopefully draw some attention to the album. Given her local status I first heard the song when Little Big Town invited her on stage at the South Shore Music Circus in 2014. She also sang on Almost Famous, the local music show on my radio station 95.9 WATD-FM, long before Tim McGraw released it on Damn Country Music. Her version of “Humble & Kind,” which she wrote to impart wisdom to her children, is gorgeous and far more homespun than the one McGraw brought to #1.

The album, as one would expect, does go beyond that song. While she doesn’t treat us to “Girl Crush,” thank goodness, she does give us nine more original numbers. The album kicks of with the self-aware “Wreck You,” which Heidi Newfield recorded on What Am I Waiting For in 2008. The song, co-written with Felix McTeigue, details a shift in McKenna’s most important relationship:

I don’t know how to pull you back

I don’t know how to pull you close

All I know is how to wreck you

****

Somethin between us changed

I’m not sure if it’s you or me

But lately all I do seems to wreck you

McKenna also solely wrote a number of the album’s tracks. “We Were Cool” is nostalgia at its finest, reliving in brilliant detail, carefree times with great friends. Pessimism grips “Giving Up On Your Hometown,” a critical view of change in the place you grew up. “If Whiskey Were A Woman” is the perfect bookend to “Wreck You,” a darker take on a concept conceived by Highway 101 twenty-nine years ago. McKenna imagines, through a killer vocal, how much more sinister the bottle would be as a relationship partner than her, for her husband.

The Love Junkies, masterminds behind “Girl Crush,” reunite for a couple of tracks on The Bird & The Rifle. “Always Want You,” a lush waltz, deals with sameness and the idea that no matter what happens in this world, she’ll always want her man. Mid-tempo rocker “All These Things” was co-written by two-thirds of the trio (McKenna & Liz Rose) and while I love the melody, it offers little lyrically beyond a laundry list of different signifiers.

The morning after never sounded so beautifully regretful as it does on “Halfway Home,” a co-write with Barry Dean and easily one of the album’s strongest tracks. “Old Men Young Women” is brilliant commentary on the phenomenon of third wives that are often years their husband’s junior. A Modern Family rerun, in which Claire and Hailey in which the pair consider companion tattoos, inspired the title track. McKenna co-wrote the lovely ballad with Caitlyn Smith and Troy Verges.

The most apparent takeaway from The Bird & The Rifle is how little McKenna has changed in the face of momentous success. She clearly has a solid sense of self, which undoubtedly continues to serve her well. While the album does feature songs stronger than others, it’s still one of the year’s top releases and not to be missed. McKenna’s pen and Cobb’s production make for a fruitful marriage I hope continues in the years to come.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Dan Seals – ‘Those’

Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘Say No More’

Clay_Walker_-_Say_No_MoreGiant Records folded in November 2001, just two weeks after Clay Walker released Say No More, his sixth album for the label. Warner Bros. Nashville took over the promotional duties for the album almost immediately. It was also his second consecutive release not to have James Stroud at the helm.

Two singles were issued from the album. The title track, a progressive yet emotionally charged ballad, peaked at #33. “If You Ever Feel Like Lovin’ Me Again, a very strong mid-tempo fiddle drenched ballad, faired better and peaked at #27. Walker has stated it’s his favorite song on the album.

The three cuts that Walker had a hand in co-writing on Say No More rank among his finest moments on record, period. “She’s Easy To Hold” is a traditional stunner, “Texas Swing” is incredible Western Swing, and “So Much More” soars with emotional passion. Walker’s voice, distinctive to each track, is incredible and properly showcases his brilliance as a vocalist.

“Real,” a pop country power ballad co-written by Lonestar’s Richie McDonald, sounds like a reject from their Lonely Grill album. Walker elevates it with his passion and commitment to the lyric, which is strong in its own right. “Could I Ask You Not To Dance” is a presumptuous turn off bathed in an early-2000s contemporary arrangement. “You Deliver Me” is a soaring ballad, with just enough signifiers to qualify it as country.

“I Love It” gets away with being lyrically light pop country because the groove is just so darn infectious and fun. “Rough Around The Edges” is a Darryl Worley co-write with one-time Nashville Star contestant Lance Miller and Kim Williams. The song is a subdued country-rocker that plays like a sequel to “If I Could Make A Living.” It’s odd that the production isn’t pushed to the max, which makes the proceedings feel demo-ish. But this is the approach I wished these types of songs took in today’s climate.

The final cut, which actually comes smack dab in the middle of the album, is Walker’s take on the Richie Valens classic “La Bamba” from 1958. He worked hard on learning the Spanish required to sing the song because he wanted to authentically pull it off in hopes he wouldn’t get panned for it. For once, he actually succeeded.

Say No More continues Walker’s tradition of giving us albums that are a mixed bag of styles. But he incredibly got more right than wrong this time around. I could only find one true dud amongst the selections and he kept from succumbing to the ‘soccer mom’ trend that was big at the time.

If you’re wise you would’ve done this already, but my recommendation when approaching Say No More is to download “She’s Easy To Hold” and “Texas Swing,” as soon as possible. They’re essential listening from an artist who has crafted many essential songs. Go ahead and buy the rest of the album, too, but those are the two songs you have to add to your collection.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Bobby Bare – ‘Shame On Me’

Retro Album Review: Buck Owens – ‘Ruby and Other Bluegrass Specials’

51TCPbXowNLBack in the days writing for The 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. We are republishing updated versions of some of those reviews here.

Give Buck Owens credit – he knew that the “freight train ” sound was growing a bit stale and he was willing to experiment. I’ve Got You On My Mind Again was the first album to feature background voices and strings, something he continued on the next studio album Tall Dark Stranger (both 1969). In 1971 Owens took a more contemporary turn with his Bridge Over Troubled Water album, which was recorded without fiddle or steel guitar and featured songs by the likes of Paul Simon and Donovan. Later in 1971 came Ruby and Other Bluegrass Specials.

Not exactly bluegrass in it’s instrumentation (marred by drums and organ) it nevertheless is a fun romp through eight bluegrass classics plus two from the Buck Owens catalogue recast as bluegrass. Both singles issued from the album, “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “Ruby (Honey Are You Mad At Your Man)” went to #1 on the more sales-oriented Cashbox charts (Billboard had them at #2 and #3 respectively). The title cut was a hit the year before for the Osborne Brothers, so it was still fresh in the public memory as was “Rocky Top” the Osborne Brothers big hit from 1968. “Ole Slew Foot” was part of both the country and bluegrass repertoire and so was familiar to fans of both genres although the only hit on the song was by Porter Wagoner. “I Know You’re Married But I Love You Still” was one of the most requested tunes for the beloved bluegrass duo of Don Reno & Red Smiley. Of course, everyone knows “Uncle Pen”.

Owens didn’t stray too far from bluegrass with his next album Too Old To Cut The Mustard, with son Buddy Alan. but Owens never again returned to the genre after that. Good clean fun – equal emphasis on all three words.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Juice Newton – ‘Shot Full Of Love’

A much-recorded song written by Bob McDill:

Classic Rewind: Clay Walker – ‘This Woman And This Man’

Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘Live, Laugh, Love’

live laugh loveAs the 90s drew to an end, Clay stopped working with former producer James Stroud. His blandly titled 1999 album was co-produced by the artist with Doug Johnson, and saw the artist moving in a more R&B direction.

Lead single ‘She’s Always Right’ (written by Lonestar’s Richie McDonald with Ed Hill and Phil Barnhart) is a rather bland contemporary ballad about a happy marriage. Clay sings it soulfully, but the song isn’t at all memorable. It reached #16 on the Billboard country chart. The theme is repeated later on the album with the very similar ‘Woman Thing’, written by Larry Boone, Tracy Lawrence and Paul Nelson.

The beachy title track was a little more successful, peaking just outside the top 10. Written by Gary Nicholson and Allen Shamblin, it has Caribbean instrumentation and a syncopated vocal which haven’t worn well.

The album’s biggest hit at #3, ‘The Chain Of Love’, written by Rory Lee Feek and Jonnie Barnett, marked returned to more conventional country territory. The warm hearted story song offers a sweet tale of kindness from strangers.

The self penned big ballad ‘Once In A Lifetime Love’ wasn’t really a country song, and although Clay sings it well, at the turn of the millennium that was still enough to deny it any chart action when it was the album’s last single. Clay and his co-writer Jason Greene also contributed the pleasant but dull ‘Lose Some Sleep Tonight’ and the disastrously ill-judged ‘Cold Hearted’, a feeble attempt at an R&B song which falls completely flat.

‘This Time Love’ is a soul-drenched ballad which is okay on its own terms, but has nothing to do with country music.

‘If A Man Ain’t Thinking (‘Bout His Woman)’, written by Buddy Brock, Debi Cochran and Jerry Kilgore, on the other hand, is a country song, and very good. The mid-paced ‘It Ain’t Called Heartland (For Nothin’)’ is also quite enjoyable.

The best song is a cover of Earl Thomas Conley’s ‘Holding Her And Loving You’. Clay doesn’t bring anything new, but he sings it with emotion.

Clay sings with great commitment and enthusiasm on this album, but not much of it can really be classified as country. Listeners with more eclectic tastes may like this better than I did.

Grade: C-

Classic Rewind: Clay Walker – ‘Seven Sundays’

Week ending 7/16/16 – #1 singles this week in country music history

hqdefault-71956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Think of Me — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1976: The Door Is Always Open — Dave & Sugar (RCA)

1986: Hearts Aren’t Made to Break (They’re Made to Love) — Lee Greenwood (MCA)

1996: No One Needs to Know — Shania Twain (Mercury)

2006: Summertime — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): Wasted Time — Keith Urban (Capitol)

Classic Rewind: Holly Dunn – ‘The Blue Rose Of Texas’

Classic Rewind: Clay Walker – ‘If I Could Make A Living Out Of Loving You’

Album Review: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Tradition Lives’

81s3+w6kLmL._SX522_It’s been more than six years since Mark Chesnutt’s last full-length album and more than eight since his last collection of original material. His latest effort, Tradition Lives, which became available last week, reportedly took about three years to record. The long drawn-out process of producing new music has apparently paid off, resulting in the strongest album of Chesnutt’s post-major label career.

The title is self-explanatory. The biggest hit of Chesnutt’s career was his cover of Aerosmith’s pop ballad “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing”, but that song was not typical of his music and it ultimately resulted in his departure from MCA Records. He had been reluctant to record the song and flat out refused to comply when the label wanted more of the same. After leaving MCA, he recorded one album for Columbia and has been releasing music on a variety of independent labels since 2004.

Although Mark has remained true to his roots, he hasn’t always had access to great material as an indie artist. That is decidedly not the case with this album. The current single “Oughta Miss Me By Now” is a bit of a dud but the remaining twelve tracks are all top notch. None of them sound like anything that is currently on country radio today; they sound very much like the songs Mark sang in his commercial heyday. They are traditional but not dated and the material sounds fresh.

Fiddle and steel are plentiful throughout the album. There are quite a few uptempo honky-tonkers from the opening track “I’ve Got a Quarter In My Pocket”, “Neither Did I” and “Never Been To Texas”, but the ballads are the tracks that really shine. I particularly liked “Is It Still Cheating”, a Randy Houser/Jamey Johnson/Jerrod Niemann song in which the protagonist knows his wife is cheating on him but doesn’t care because it gives him time to pursue his own extramarital affair. I can’t decide if I like this one or “So You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore” better. The latter was written by newcomer William Michael Morgan and Chesnutt’s producer Jimmy Ritchey. In the aftermath of a broken marriage, the protagonist confronts the cause of the breakup — which at first appears to be another woman, but is later revealed to be the bottle:

It’s time to go our separate ways
Been goin’ through hell from all the hell we’ve raised
There comes a day to turn the page
So tonight I’m pourin’ you out on the floor
So you can’t hurt me anymore

Both of these songs are examples of the substance that used to be a hallmark of country music, but has been sadly lacking in recent years. “What I Heard” also falls into that category. It’s another break-up tale, but in this one Chesnutt refuses to accept that it’s really over and is convinced that his soon-to-be-ex will come crawling back.

Chesnutt steps out of his comfort zone for one number: “Hot”, a jazzy number written by Don Poythress and Wynn Varble. It’s not the strongest song on the album, but it’s not bad and Mark deserves credit for the creative stretch.

The album closes with an quiet number featuring only Mark’s vocal and Jimmy Ritchey on acoustic guitar. “There Won’t Be Another Now” was written by Red Lane and originally recorded by Merle Haggard. Mark’s rendition is meant to be a tribute to both recently departed legends, ending the album on a poignant note.

Tradition Lives is one the best albums I’ve heard this year; I highly recommend it.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Trace Adkins and Travis Tritt cover ‘Jailhouse Rock’

Album Review: Sara Watkins – ‘Young In All The Wrong Ways’

0607396635122Since the release of her eponymous solo debut in 2009, Sara Watkins has been embarking on an artistic journey towards finding her own voice as a singer and songwriter. She populated her first two albums with outstanding cuts by others, all the while honing her personal craft. Her output has been as rich as it is interesting, but it’s child’s play compared to Young In All The Wrong Ways, where she finally shed her inhibitions, picked up her pen and wrote the entirety of the album herself.

The difference is clear, from the strums of the blazing electric guitar on the opening title track. We’re hearing Watkins emerge as a woman for the first time, one who isn’t scared to embrace the messy and lay it all on the line. There’s a newfound defiance as she sings desperately about needing to turn the page. The aggressive backdrop provides the perfect emotional balance as she bleeds the frustration she’s kept bottled up inside.

She’s equally as punchy on “Move Me,” which I lovingly reviewed back in April. The bite in her vocal, paired brilliantly with the barn-thumping arrangement, reveals an urgency that drives the restlessness in her soul. Watkins’ agitation turns to regret on “Without A Word,” in which she gorgeously displays her stirring unease with lush precision.

Confrontation with an ex sets the stage for bluegrass romp “One Last Time,” in which she reveals he’s merely in love with the idea of her. “Say So” is introspection at its finest, a moment where Watkins looks inward to reveal the only one holding her back is herself.

The exploration continues on “The Truth Won’t Set Us Free,” a delicious slice of classic country with a modern twist, which finds Watkins fully aware that we take ourselves with us wherever we go. She takes a step back on “Invisible,” a prequel of sorts, in which she is searching for the very truth she’ll not be able to escape.

“The Love That Got Away,” one of Watkins’ finest vocals ever on record, is a spellbinding delicate mediation on voyeurism of examining life from the prospective of others. Her innate restlessness, once again, takes center stage:

All the people passing by

I wonder how they live their lives

And think of one outside of mine

I imagine and I envy all of their discoveries

Their simple, plain complexities

I’ve often taken issue with her songwriting – her songs often rely too heavily on repetition – but that gives way here to beautiful bouts of poetry, especially on “Like New Years Day” and “Tenderhearted,” two more highlights. Young In All The Wrong Ways is Watkins’ masterpiece, a searing self-exploration in which she emerges as the fully formed artist (thanks in part to friend and producer Gabe Wicher, who is also a member of Punch Brothers) her previous solo releases only hinted at.

Grade: A+

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