My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Boogie Back To Texas’

In Memoriam: Curly Putnum (1930-2016)

Legendary songwriter Claude “Curly” Putman, Jr passed away yesterday at age 85. Along with Bobby Braddock he co-wrote the country classics ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E‘ and ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today.’ The latter is often considered the greatest country song ever written.

Putnum’s other iconic songs include:

Porter Wagoner, ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ (#4, 1965):

Tammy Wynette and David Houston, ‘My Elusive Dreams’ (#1, 1967):

Tanya Tucker, ‘Blood Red and Going Down’ (#1, 1973): 

Album Review: Jamie Richards – ‘Latest And Greatest’

latest-and-greatestThe underrated Oklahoma-born country singer and songwriter Jamie Richards is back with a fine new release, his fifth album. He has a warm mellow voice which is always good to hear, a solid songwriting gift (he wrote or cowrote every song on the album), and is a real country singer. As the title suggests, some of the cuts are new versions of older songs, but there are five new ones as well.

‘Last Call’ (a co-write with Wayd Battle) comes off like an answer to the Lee Ann Womack song of the same name (although in fact it predates it, having made its first appearance on Jamie’s first album back in 2004. While coming from the viewpoint of the man calling up his latenight last resort inevitably lacks the devastating impact of the LAW song, there is some self awareness, as he admits

Don’t know why she still answers

‘Any Way You Want Me To’ (written with Walt Wilkins) and ‘When You Love Somebody’ (written with Bruce Bouton) are nice love songs.

‘Second Hand Smoke’ (the lead single) is a fine song about a man still struggling with the memory of his lost love, despite claiming he is completely over her:

You’d think three years clean would be plenty of time
While you’ve been out of sight, I’ve been out of my mind
Yeah I kicked the habit
I’ m back in control
I’m over you and better alone
But you’re still hangin’ around like second hand smoke

The languid ‘Never Gonna Hear It From Me’, which has an almost hypnotic feel to the melody, is another excellent song about ongoing feelings for an ex. ‘Drive’, the title track from his 2007 album, is another to brood over lost love.

The outstanding ‘Sayin’ Goodbye’ (one of the new songs) again balances the pain of loss and denial. Even better, ‘I’ll Have Another’ is an excellent song about losing a loved one which is revisited from 2013’s All About The Music.

The powerful ‘I’m Not Drinkin’’ is another displaying the protagonist’s attempts to try to keep his dignity and hide his pain from the woman who has caused it:

You say I look a little rough
I look like a man who’s given up …

No I don’t need you to drive me home
Cause I’m not drinkin’
I’m just thirsty
Your leavin’ didn’t even hurt me
I don’t really like the taste of whiskey

The track is augmented by effective backing vocals from Charla Corn.

‘Easier By Now’ (from Richards’ Sideways) is a lovely song with a beautiful melody and another sad lyric.

The fiddle led ‘Whiskey Night’ sees a hard drinker changing his ways (and his diet from whiskey to beer) a little too late:

This ain’t a whiskey night
I won’t be tight and I’ll go home
Goin’ down a dead end road
I lost my way
I lost control
And I won’t lose her without a fight

‘She’s Cold As That Beer She’s Drinking’ is about not getting lucky.

The cheerful mid-tempo ‘Real’ sets out his country boy philosophy of life:

Old boots, old hat
For skinny jeans I’m a bit too fat…
I believe most pretty boys that sing
Don’t know a thing about country twang
That’s just how I feel
Cause I like real

There are two versions of this, one straightforwardly down the line, the other a bonus cut at the end performed as a duet with Texas radio DJ Justin Frazell.

While as a longstanding fan I would have liked more new material, this makes a good introduction for newer listeners. There really isn’t a bad note here. And if you try it you have his previous albums to catch up on.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn – ‘I’m Getting Ready To Go’

Week ending 10/29/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

63c619_276324ce1c7c4a3ab87ded622871465fmv2-jpg_srz_415_314_85_22_0-50_1-20_0-00_jpg_srz1956 (Sales): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): I Walk the Line — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1966: Open Up Your Heart — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1976: You and Me — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1986: Cry — Crystal Gayle (Warner Bros.)

1996: Like the Rain — Clint Black (RCA)

2006: I Loved Her First – Heartland (Lofton Creek)

2016: Setting the World on Fire — Kenny Chesney featuring Pink (Blue Chair/Columbia)

2016 (Airplay): I Know Somebody — LoCash (Reviver)

Classic Rewind: Jeannie Seely – ‘Pride’

Classic Rewind: Johnny Rodriguez – ‘Makes Me Wonder If I Ever Said Goodbye’

Album Review: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Back to the Future Now: Live at Arizona Charlie’s Las Vegas’

0000076113Asleep At The Wheel released their fourth live album, Back To The Future Now: Live At Arizona Charlie’s Las Vegas back in May 1997. The project, consisting of twelve tracks, opened with a spirited take on “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.” They followed with “Miles and Miles of Texas” and “Roly Poly,” and “Ida Red,” which are equally excellent and feature guest vocals from Tracy Byrd.

The album was culled from a club date in December 1996. The sound of the concert captures the intimacy of the night perfectly, and there truly isn’t a wasted moment in the whole set. I very much enjoyed their spirited reading of “My Baby Thinks He’s A Train,” a song I tend to associate solely with Rosanne Cash’s hit recording. They tear through the Moon Mullican classic “Cherokee Boogie” and more than prove their prowess on “Fat Boy Rag.”

“The Letter That Johnny Walker Read” is a highlight and one of the strongest additions to their set. “Hot Rod Lincoln” is far more charged than the most traditional fare but the breakneck lyric fits in just fine. They also stun on “Boggie Back to Texas” and album closer “House of Blue Lights.”

The centerpiece of the show is the set’s sole ballad, “God Bless The Child.” The song is perfection, clocking in at seven plus minutes. It also uses the fullness of the band in all its glory. There aren’t enough good things I can say about the project, one I strongly recommend. It may be redundant as far as Asleep At The Wheel live albums go, but on its own, it’s definitely worth seeking out.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Asleep at the Wheel – ‘Sugar Moon’

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘All American Texan’

51kru08uol-_ss500-2I always thought Tracy Byrd was an underrated talent.  Perhaps it was because he happened to come along at a time when there was plenty of stiff competition from other up-and-comers or maybe too many quasi-novelty songs like “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo” and “The Truth About Men” (both of which I enjoyed) caused him to not be taken seriously by some.  But whatever the reason, he never quite broke out from the pack.   He can and does easily outsing all of the current crop of male country singers, and listening to him now it’s hard to imagine that he was ever considered a second-tier talent.

It’s also hard to believe that it’s been nearly ten years since he released an album.  All American Texan is his first collection of all new material since 2006’s Different Things, and only his second album of his post-major label career.   The independent release is pretty much in the same vein as his major label work,  but it is arguably more substantive since it lacks the novelty elements.  It sounds a lot like his 90s work, but manages to avoid sounding retro.  Instead it just makes the listener wish that the major label artists would get back to making this kind of music.  It has no EDM, no R&B vibes, no handclaps, and no bro-country clichés about tailgating in cornfields.  It’s not that the album doesn’t have its lighthearted moments;  neither the title track nor “Texas Truck” has particularly substantive lyrics, but both are enjoyable tunes.  The former has a Bakersfield feel to it, while the latter is a Western swing number.  I’m not sure what a Texas truck is, though, or how it is different from the trucks people drive in other state.  The fiddle and steel solos more than make up for that minor complaint, though.

Perhaps the highlight of the album is “It’s About The Pain” in which Tracy can’t resist taking some jabs at the music industry:

It ain’t about being pretty, fat or skinny
And it sure as hell ain’t about  your age
It’s about the songs and it’s about the pain.
True country music is a white man’s blues
When you’re hurtin’, it will hurt right along with you
It can’t be faked, it can’t be produced
It makes no promise about gold records, awards and fame
But if you live through it, it’s about the pain.

The album also contains some very nice ballads, including “Before I Die” which finds Byrd going through his bucket list of things he wants to do while he still can, and some spiritually themed songs such as “Only Jesus”, “Shame to Grace” and “Take It to the Bank”.   The album’s one outlier is “Don’t Be In a Hurry”, which is somewhat less traditional than the rest of the album.  It’s opening notes took me back to my early childhood as it struck me as highly reminiscent of the old Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds pop hit “Don’t Pull Your Love”.  It’s a bit of a stretch for Byrd but it’s not so far out of his comfort zone that it feels out of place on the album.

I wasn’t able to find any songwriter or musician credits anywhere online and without even an indie label to promote it, this self-release is unfortunately likely to linger in obscurity.   And that is a shame, because the material is quite good, far stronger than what I was expecting.  The album cover art is horrendous and cheap looking, but the music itself is likely to strike a chord with those who enjoyed Byrd’s major label albums.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Jann Browne – ‘Louisville’

Asleep At The Wheel alumna Jann Browne:

Album Review: Asleep at the Wheel & Leon Rausch – ‘It’s a Good Day’

91xsgyplbl-_sx522_Leon Rausch was the lead singer for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys during the late 1950s and early 1960 and rejoined the band for its final recordings in 1973.  In 2010, he joined forces with Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel for It’s a Good Day, a diverse collection of western swing, big band, jazz and mainstream swing (if there is such a thing) tunes.  He is front and center for the album, handling most of the lead vocals, with AATW acting as his backing band. Floyd Domino, AATW’s original pianist, rejoins the group for this project, as he did for the previous year’s Willie and the Wheel.  The album was produced by Ray Benson.

At age 83, Rausch’s voice is gravelly but still quite strong and he sings surprisingly well for his age.  He holds his own with AATW’s Elizabeth McQueen who duets with him on “Alright, OK, You Win”, a Count Basie tune written by Maymie Watts and Sid Wyche.  It had also been a hit for Peggy Lee in the 1950s, and he outsings Willie Nelson, who acts as his duet partner on “Truck Driver’s Blues”.

I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone to hear that my favorite songs on the album are the more country ones, although I really do like all kinds of swing music and enjoyed the entire album.  The best ones are those that were penned by the great Bob Wills himself:  “I Didn’t Realize”, “Cotton Patch Blues”, “Sugar Moon” (a co-write with Cindy Walker) and “Osage Stomp”, the instrumental jam-session album closer.  I also quite enjoyed “Mean Woman with the Green Eyes”, which was not written by Bob Wills but was recorded by The Texas Playboys.

Benson and his band take a back seat to Rausch on this project, but Asleep at the Wheel , which is one of the best bands in any genre of music, is the glue that holds everything together. As always, the musicianship is excellent.  It’s not a strictly country album, but there isn’t a bad song to be found here.

Grade:  A

Classic Rewind: Jake Owen covers ‘Is It Raining At Your House?’

Jake Owen pays tribute to the great Vern Gosdin.

Single Review: Garth Brooks – ‘Baby Let’s Lay Down and Dance’

baby-lets-lay-down-and-dance-cover-artI might as well just come out and say it – The return of Garth Brooks over the past two years has been one of the most infuriating “comebacks” in recent memory. He began by announcing his gargantuan world tour, which I would’ve been excited about, except for the fact it features Trisha Yearwood and doesn’t give her the full performance slot she deserves. He subjected us to Man Against Machine, which was crap, and announced his long-awaited duets album with Yearwood would consist of…Christmas songs. I haven’t even mentioned GhostTunes, which he’s now abandoned since it provided diminishing returns.

Brooks is attempting to re-write the narrative with a deal through Target which consists of an exclusive edition of his new album Gunslinger packaged in a bloated ten-disc boxed set entitled The Ultimate Collection. This is purely a marketing and sales move, but even he has to be smarter than to rehash his hits in another form at this point. I’m only invested because of Yearwood and her contributions to this new material, which are slight, to say the least.

Now, I’ve always been a fan of Brooks. His material has consistently been top notch and his ability to captivate a crowd is unlike anything country music has ever seen (especially in that combination). He knows music and I’m confident his heart is in the right place. But even I’ve had enough of his overblown ego and sense of importance. He craves relevancy, which is totally understandable, but his desperation is more than OLD.

Which leads us to “Baby Let’s Lay Down and Dance.” Quite frankly, the song is terrible. There’s nothing to latch onto lyrically and the production feels like it was generated rather than played. This is “Wrapped Up In You” minus the heart, soul and personality.

“Baby Let’s Lay Down and Dance” may be inoffensive uptempo radio fodder that doesn’t try to overreach and claim some big substantive payoff. But it also doesn’t give the listener anything to latch onto and is as empty as anything currently on country radio. This may give Brooks the hit he craves, but it more than damages his credibility as a songsmith and boasts very poorly for the quality of Gunslinger.

Grade: C-

Classic Rewind: Asleep At The Wheel ft Vince Gill – ‘Corrina Corrina’

Album Review: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Live From Austin, TX’

live-from-austin-txTheir albums are consistently enjoyable, but Asleep At The Wheel are undoubtedly at their best live. Unsurprisingly, they have recorded a number of live albums. This one, released on New West Records in 2006, consists of a 1992 performance from the Austin City Limits TV show, which saw the band teaming up with surviving members of the Texas Playboys, Bob Wills’ band (including fiddle legend Johnny Gimble who had worked with AATW before). It is also available in DVD format.

They open with the old ragtime instrumental ‘Black And White Rag’ (incorrectly credited on iTunes as a Ray Benson composition). It had been the B side to a recent single release of ‘Route 66’, also performed here.

‘Boot Scoootin’ Boogie’, a then-current Brooks & Dunn hit, had been cut first by AATW in their 1990 Arista album ‘Keeping me Up Nights; their Western swing take is slower and more relaxed than the more familiar version.

They include some of their hit singles – a nice relaxed version of the always likeable ‘Miles And Miles Of Texas’, and a racing ‘Boogie Back To Texas’ which really sets a party mood which is continued with ‘House of Blue Lights’. A lively ‘Hot Rod Lincoln’ with slightly busy accompaniment affects to reproduce the sounds of the race, with mixed results – some of it is very realistic but it sometimes feels a bit too busy. This is the kind of thing which has more impact when you are actually there.

‘Corine Corina’ is performed with great energy, with the Playboys’ Leon Rausch on lead vocals, and I also enjoyed his pacy ‘Sugar Moon’. ‘Blues For Dixie’, a duet between Rausch and Ray Benson, is less memorable, while ‘Roly Poly’ feels a bit rushed. The lesser-known Wills ballad ‘Misery’ is very good, but Ray and the guys stray a bit too far in the tasteful jazz direction for me on ‘You Don’t Know Me’.

This is an enjoyable recording, but the DVD (which I haven’t seen) would probably be a better indicator of their great live show.

Grade: A-

Week ending 10/22/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

images-111956 (Sales): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

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

1966: Open Up Your Heart — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1976: You and Me — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1986: Just Another Love — Tanya Tucker (Capitol)

1996: Believe Me Baby (I Lied) — Trisha Yearwood (MCA)

2006: Would You Go With Me — Josh Turner (MCA)

2016: Setting the World on Fire — Kenny Chesney featuring Pink (Blue Chair/Columbia)

2016 (Airplay): It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To — Billy Currington (Mercury)

Classic Rewind: Joey + Rory – ‘Amazing Grace’

Classic Rewind: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens’

Classic Rewind: Ernest Tubb – I’ll Get Along Somehow’