My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘Cheatin’ Heart Attack’

51MFGTxuTyL._SS280There is no question that country music has changed (some would say “devolved”) over the past 15-20 years to the point that most of the music released today bears little or no resemblance to the music that preceded it. But although no one would argue that the music hasn’t changed, one doesn’t always realize how far the genre has strayed from its roots until one listens to an album like Cheatin’ Heart Attack, an unapologetic honky-tonk album that should be held up as one of the benchmarks of what country music should aspire to be.

Alabama native Dale Watson and his band The Lone Stars recorded the album in Austin and it was released in 1995 on the HighTone label. It consists of a generous 14 tracks, 13 of which Watson had a hand in writing. The only song he didn’t write or co-write is a cover of Stonewall Jackson’s “Don’t Be Angry”. The rest of the songs are in the vein of what is known in the Lonestar State as “Texas music”: honky-tonk numbers and two-steps with a dash of Western swing. There is plenty of fiddle and pedal steel and none of the pop, arena rock or hip-hop influences that have infiltrated Nashville. This is clearly an album that was not made with an eye on the charts, and any doubts about that are put firmly to rest with the track “Nashville Rash”, in which he complains that he is “too country for country”. It reminds me of something that Waylon Jennings might have recorded, while he channels Johnny Cash on “Holes In The Wall” and Asleep at the Wheel on “South of Round Rock, Texas” — my favorite song on the album.

Watson proves to be a surprisingly effective ballad singer on the weeper “She Needs Her Mama” and does an equally adept job on the waltz “Tonight, All Day Long”. There are no missteps on this album, although the cover of “Don’t Be Angry” is the weakest link.

It would be nice to be able to say that Cheatin’ Heart Attack played a pivotal role in bringing country music back to its roots, as Randy Travis’ Storms of Life did in the 80s, but twenty years after the album’s release the mainstream has only gotten worse and the differences between it and albums like this are even more pronounced. If you miss how country music used to sound, pick up a copy of Cheatin’ Heart Attack. Albums like this are worth supporting.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Terri Clark – ‘A Little Gasoline & If I Were You’

Album Review: John Anderson – ‘Goldmine’

goldmineSix years after his last album was released John Anderson has been in the recording studio again. He wrote or co-wrote almost all the material, produced with his fiddle player Joe Spivey, and the album is on his own Bayou Boys label. Freed of any record label demands, the result is a sometimes eccentric, often somber, but always enjoyable collection designed for Anderson and his fans.

John wrote a couple of the new songs with Josh Turner. The title song is a nice, straightforward love song, which Anderson delivers with great warmth. The funky ‘I Work A Lot Better’ is also about a romantic relationship but more overtly sexy than one normally associates with Turner. ‘On And On And On…’, another love song, was written with the Statler Brothers’ Jimmy Fortune, but is unfortunately a bit dull.

Anderson joined with John Rich to write the pleasant sounding and idealistic ‘Don’t Forget To Thank The Lord’, rattling off a too-obvious list of people to be grateful to. Veteran songwriter Buddy Cannon co-wrote ‘Song The Mountain Sings’, a stately tribute to traditional Appalachian mountain music. Solo Anderson composition ‘I Will Cross O’er The Water’ is a Celtic-styled ballad about death and the prospects of heaven, with a pretty melody and intense vocal.

The opening ‘Freedom Isn’t Free’ is a gloomy sounding tribute to US soldiers. It is one of three songs written with the comparative unknown James C Hicks, senior. Love song ‘Happily Ever After’ also has a downbeat melody. ‘You All Are Beautiful’ is more cheerful, as Anderson thanks his fans for their support.

‘Back Home’(written with another unfamiliar name, Jimmy Stephens) is a downbeat story song about a dying woman longing for home and family, with a little twist I won’t give away. Stephens also co-wrote perhaps the strongest song, the serious ‘Holdin’ On’. This depicts a man in desperate financial and personal straits, with debts he has no idea how to repay and a woman who is obviously cheating on him:

These days you know it’s all that I can do
Holdin’ on to what I’m holdin’ to

I thought I had a grip on things
Then it slipped away
Now I just keep on fallin’ every day

A steel-laced arrangement supports the song perfectly.

The one cover is a playful Merle Haggard story song, ‘Magic Mama’, which Hag wrote while in hospital with pneumonia a few years ago. Equally quirky is ‘Louisiana Son Of A Beast’, the story of catching an alligator, which Anderson wrote with Bill and Jody Emerson

This is a solid album from a great singer who has been much missed, and one which always sounds good – but it does lack real standout tracks, other than ‘Holdin’ On’. I would still recommend it to John Anderson fans.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Shania Twain – ‘Dance With The One That Brought You’

Released in July 1993, this Sam Hogin and Gretchen Peters co-write was the second single from Twain’s eponymous album. On the charts for eleven weeks, the track peaked at #55. Sean Penn directed the music video.

Spotlight Artist: Dale Watson

dale watsonAs noted British detective Sherlock Holmes might have observed, “It’s really elementary, my good fellow. If you want to hear good country music, go listen to Watson”

We have already spotlighted the great Gene Watson and the young Texas swing/honky-tonk star Aaron Watson, and perhaps sometime we will spotlight the great Doc Watson. This month, however, we spotlight the most iconoclastic (or perhaps sardonic) of the Watson clan, Dale Watson.

While I regard Dale Watson as being quintessentially country, Dale no longer refers to himself as “country” preferring to distance himself from the fodder currently being produced in Nashville, but to listeners of my generation, Dale Watson is unquestionably country. Whether you use Dale’s preferred term “Ameripolitan” or “country”, Dale Watson is the real deal.

Dale Watson was born in October 1962 near Pasadena, Texas. Watson wrote his first song as a pre-teen and make his first recording at age 14. Apparently Watson had a contentious upbringing as he was emancipated before the normal age of eighteen. He spent the next several years playing the juke joints, skull orchards and night clubs in Texas.

Dale moved to Los Angeles in 1988 on the advice of Rosie Flores and soon joined the house band at North Hollywood’s famous Palomino Club. Dale first came to national attention when he appeared on the third volume of the compilation series A Town South of Bakersfield, in 1992, an interesting album I highly recommend (this was my introduction to Dale Watson). From there, he moved to Nashville and eventually to Austin, Texas.

Once back in Texas, Dale formed his band, the Lone Stars, and landed a recording deal with Hightone Records, a very forward thinking independent label. His first album Cheatin’ Heart Attack, was released in 1995. The album featured a shot-across-the bow at radio country in “Nashville Rash.” This was followed by the excellent Hightone albums Blessed or Damned (1996) and I Hate These Songs.

Changing labels to Koch, Dale next released The Truckin’ Sessions (1998), the first of three such albums that Dale would record over the years devoted to truck-driving songs.

In 2000 Dale suffered a tragedy in his life when his girlfriend Terri Herbert was killed in an automobile accident. The story of Dale’s attempts to cope after this tragedy is the subject of the Zalman King documentary Crazy Again. Dale’s next album Every Song I Write Is For You (2001) served as a catharsis for Dale.

Since then, Dale Watson has released (or has had released by former labels) an album or more per year on a wide variety of labels. Although he is a proficient and accomplished songwriter, he has no reluctance to cover the material of other writers and/or recording artists, if he feels the material to be worthy of recording. At least one of his albums has charted on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, but Dale Watson’s focus is on making good music, not making the charts. Since I’ve never heard a bad Dale Watson album, I’d say his focus has been proper.

We hope you enjoy this month’s Spotlight Artist, Dale Watson.

Discography (since 1999)

People I’ve Known, Places I’ve Been 1999
Christmas in Texas 2000
Preachin’ to the Choir 2001
Every Song I Write Is for You 2001
Live in London…England 2002
One More, Once More 2003
Dreamland 2004
Heeah!! 2005
Whiskey or God 2006
Live at Newland, NL 2006
From the Cradle to the Grave 2007
The Little Darlin’ Sessions 2007
Help Your Lord 2008
To Terri with Love 2008
The Truckin’ Sessions Vol. 2 2009
Carryin’ On 2010
The Sun Sessions 2011
El Rancho Azul 2013
The Truckin’ Trilogy 2014
The Truckin’ Sessions, Vol. 3 2015
Call Me Insane 2015

Week ending 5/30/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

f4ac01695547e2a27830265b2fa433c0_lg1955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: This Is It — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1975: I’m Not Lisa — Jessi Colter (Capitol)

1985: Radio Heart — Charly McClain (Epic)

1995: What Mattered Most — Ty Herndon (Epic)

2005: Making Memories Of Us — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): A Guy Walks Into A Bar — Tyler Farr (Columbia)

Classic Rewind: Allison Moorer – ‘Send Down An Angel’

Classic Rewind: Allison Moorer ft Shelby Lynne – ‘Bring Me All Your Lovin”

Classic Rewind: Allison Moorer – ‘Pardon Me’

Album Review: Allison Moorer – ‘Down To Believing’

down to believingAllison Moorer’s first release since the end of her marriage to Steve Earle is filled with personal songs inspired by her life. She has long since left country music behind, and this is effectively genreless singer-songwriter fare.

There are a few tracks I really liked. The title track is a pretty, delicate ballad with a dreamlike feel about the final stages of the relationship:

Comin’ down wasn’t easy but we tried our best
Said we used it up and didn’t put any back
Now you look so surprised ‘cause there ain’t none left
And we’re just empty hearted and sad

I guess it comes down to believing and whether we do or we don’t
Guess it comes down to stayin’ or leavin’ and whether we will or we won’t

A haunting steel guitar adds to the melancholic mood, although the song’s structure is not conventionally country.

‘If I Was Stronger’ is a lovely sounding thoughtful piano-led ballad about the wearying effect of a bad relationship with no communication:

Wish there was something in my heart to give you
But I’ve felt around and nothing’s left
I’ve tried to dig deeper but I’ve hit the bottom
I got to let go and save myself…

I’m tired of talking cause you just ain’t giving
You turn away each time I speak
Now my soul is weary, threadbare and broken
And arms that were open feel so weak

If I was stronger I’d hold on longer
I’d be your saviour and I’d stay

‘Gonna Get It Wrong’ is another excellent song, stripped down both musically and emotionally, about surviving failure.

‘Blood’, inspired by Allison’s relationship with sister Shelby, offers a more positive view of love, and is pretty good. ‘Wish I’ isn’t bad, although the instrumental backing is a little overwhelming. Allison’s cover of John Fogerty’s ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain?’ is nicely sung but doesn’t really add anything to the song.

Of the tracks I really didn’t care for, ‘Like It Used To Be’ is angry, flat and lacking in melody. ‘I Lost My Crystal Ball’ has more life but is not for me. ‘Thunderstorm/Hurricane’ is more subdued in parts, but Allison’s voice sounds strained in others and I really disliked the rock backings. However, it was not the worst track for me – that was the very repetitive and pop sounding ‘Back Of My Mind’, which sounds like something Taylor Swift would do.

‘Mama Let the Wolf In’ was inspired by her autistic five year old son and is too loud and repetitive for my taste, but it has a certain power. ‘Tear Me Apart’ has a hypnotic rhythm which grabs the attention, although again it’s not the kind of thing I would choose to listen to. ‘I’m Doing Fine’ is just rather dull.

It’s hard to judge an album like this fairly, because while it is a strong artistic statement it doesn’t pretend to be a country record (notwithstanding the occasional use of steel guitar). Just because I don’t like a lot of it doesn’t make it bad per se – but I can’t honestly recommend something I don’t much like beyond a few tracks.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Allison Moorer – ‘Alabama Song’

Album Review: Connie Smith – ‘The Lost Tapes’

lost tapesDuring 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 chatter with the featured artist playing with the program’s band.

CONNIE SMITH – THE LOST TAPES comes from the NAVY HOEDOWN radio programs. Unlike most of the military recruiter programs, NAVY HOEDOWN would feature the same artist for four consecutive weeks. Each program was fifteen minutes long, and would feature some chatter with host Hal Durham (later to become the general manager of the Grand Ole Opry), some recruitment plugs and four songs. Marty Stuart is the producer of this reissue project. I remember hearing these programs sometime during 1973 or 1974 so they were probably recorded in 1972 or 1973, which was about the time Connie was moving from RCA to Columbia.

There are no revelations here, as the NAVY HOEDOWN program focused upon the artists’ hits and other songs familiar to the artist. What we do have is eleven excellent recordings of Connie Smith at her vocal peak singing songs. Below is the list of the songs on this project:

1. Just One Time
2. I Never Once Stopped Loving You
3. Louisiana Man
4. Cincinnati, Ohio
5. Just For What I Am
6. Once a Day
7. If It Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave It Alone)
8. Long Black Limousine
9. The Race Is On
10. Amazing Grace
11. How Great Thou Art

Songs 1-7 were songs that were singles for Connie Smith on RCA. Tracks 8 & 9 were hits for other artists and tracks 10 & 11 were gospel songs Ms. Smith has always sung. Cracker Barrel has a CD version with two additional songs, “Where Is My Castle ? ” (my favorite Connie Smith song) and the gospel song “He Touched Me”. The sound quality of the CD is better than the mp3 download.

There are no personnel listings with the digital downloads I obtained so I am guessing as to who plays on the sessions. The steel guitar player clearly is NOT Weldon Myrick, so that alone is enough to give the recordings a different feel than her RCA recordings. My best guess is that Pete Drake is playing the steel guitar. I think the fiddler is Johnny Gimble. From the liner notes, it seems that Marty Stuart is sure that Pete Drake was the steel player and Johnny Gimble was the fiddle player. I have no idea as to the identity of the other musicians on the sessions, but they are clearly members of Nashville’s A-Team.

Regardless of who is playing on the sessions, this is Connie Smith at the absolute peak of her powers with appropriate, but different enough instrumental backing to make this a desirable purchase for her fans. Definitely an A+ recording.

Classic Rewind: Tompall and the Glaser Brothers – ‘Trying To Outrun The Wind’

Album Review – Shelby Lynne – ‘I Can’t Imagine’

1035x1035-ShelbyLynne_FinalCover_RGBFor the first time in twenty years Shelby Lynne has recorded an album outside of Southern California, where she first found her artistic voice on I Am Shelby Lynne. The sessions for I Can’t Imagine, her fifth self-produced set, took place at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana.

The album continues Lynne’s penchant for jazzy acoustic ballads, a signature of her most recent work. The title track, a co-write with Pete Donnelly, was issued as the lead single. An excellent mid-tempo ballad, the track centers on a breakup with a woman friend sympathizing with the man, unable to comprehend what he must be feeling.

Lynne co-wrote half the album, while she authored the other half solo. On the self-penned tracks, Lynne finds herself exploring themes of exploration and self-examination. She desires to find herself within the woman she’s become on “Back Porch, Front Door” while she longs for her place in this world on “Son of a Gun,” which straightforwardly references her mother’s death. “Following You” centers on a flashback to her childhood, where she’s more observant of her father’s habits then she chooses to let on.

She finally breaks on “Paper Van Gogh,” the soaring centerpiece that opens the album with a defiant roar. Lynne leads with the record’s greatest statement, that little in her life is organic and real, a mantra that threads the personal confessions that follow. Rock thumper “Down Here” is the columniation of her five-track odyssey, where she seeks comfort in her relationship to God, the only person who knows who she feels truly knows her.

These tracks are wonderful explorations of Lynne’s broken soul, segmented into different fractions of her shattered spirit. While they transmit a decided lyrical heaviness, she keeps them approachable by giving each moment enough tempo to engage the audience. We hear her pain because prodding arrangements don’t bog us down.

Lynne finds some positivity in “Love Is Strong,” a co-write with Canadian Singer-Songwriter Ron Sexsmith. Even though her vocal may suggest otherwise, she feels newly born; an odd one-off on an album filled with despair. Her other co-write with Sexsmith, “Be In The Now” is the album’s lone anthem, a battle cry to enjoy the present for it isn’t as bad as the darkness that surrounds it.

“Sold The Devil (Sunshine)” is the lone track Lynne co-wrote with Mavericks guitarist Ben Peeler. The song rests on the brilliant metaphor “we sold the devil a dash of sunshine,” one of the greatest ways of describing desperation I’ve ever heard.

“Better,” the other track co-written with Donnelly, is an ambiguous ballad with a beautifully poetic lyric. The protagonist is stronger now that she’s without her man, better off now that he’s long gone.

I Can’t Imagine is as emotional an album as you’re going to find this year, a project that finds Lynne in a strong a voice as she’s ever been. It’s an incredible glimpse into her psyche as she battles the demons that have followed her for most of her life. It’s a journey well worth taking with an artist who gets better and better with each passing album.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Allison Moorer – ‘A Soft Place To Fall’

Album Review: Allison Moorer – ‘The Hardest Part’

412ARG3SR7LOne could easily be forgiven for confusing Allison Moorer for Shelby Lynne because their voices are remarkably similar. However, Moorer’s early music is a lot more rootsy than her older sister’s work at the same stage in her career. And while Lynne has mostly avoided discussing the violent murder-suicide that claimed the lives of their parents, Moorer tackled the issue head-on with her sophomore album.

Released in 2000 by MCA, The Hardest Part is an album of all original material written by Moorer and her then-husband Doyle Lee Primm, who co–produced the project with Kenny Greenberg. According to Moorer, it is not a factual recounting of her parents’ tragic story, rather it is a concept album about a disintegrating relationship and was inspired by what she saw her mother endure after she left Moorer’s alcoholic father. Surprisingly, this is not the downer of an album one might be expecting. While the songs are not lighthearted fare, they are, for the most part, typical break-up songs that have long been a staple of country music. Listeners who aren’t familiar with Moorer’s backstory won’t consider the album anything out of the ordinary.

Not surprisingly, the album’s more traditional tracks are my favorites, from the title track that opens the album, to “Is It Worth It” and “Feeling That Feeling Again”, which is the best song on the album. The more contemporary tracks, while enjoyable and still containing plenty of fiddle and steel, are a bit heavy on the strings and electric guitar for my liking.

The most moving song on the album is the one that directly addresses the night Moorer’s parents died. “Cold, Cold Earth”, a hidden track at the end of the album, is an acoustic murder ballad that is surprisingly sympathetic to her father. At times it comes close to excusing his actions. Attempting to reconcile with his family, Moorer’s father becomes despondent and “drunk with grief and loneliness, he wasn’t thinking straight”, and shoots his ex-wife and then himself when it becomes clear she isn’t interested in reconciling. Even as a work of fiction, it would be a sad story, but it’s absolutely tragic to think that the singer is recounting a personal experience.

The Hardest Part produced two radio singles, “Send Down An Angel” and “Think It Over” which charted at #66 and #57, respectively, but despite its lack of hits the album itself reached #26 on the albums chart. It’s a very good album that might have fared better if it had been released a few years earlier. In 2000 when Shania Twain and Faith Hill were having huge crossover hits, it wasn’t what country radio wanted. It is, however, well worth checking out.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Shelby Lynne – ‘Slow Me Down’

This was Shelby’s last charting country single:

Single Review: Chris Young – ‘I’m Comin’ Over’

i'm comin' overI was very disappointed with Chris Young’s last album as, with the exception of a couple of tracks, the demands of commercial relevance seemed to have pushed out artistic considerations. I am encouraged to find his new single is a return to something significantly better (if not his very best work).

It is a nice sounding tune with an attractive melody, and the production is tastefully understated. It’s not super-traditional, but there is audible steel guitar and the instrumentation generally serves as backdrop to the vocal.

Young’s warm, inviting vocal is always appealing, and he is convincing selling this tale of love that just won’t die even though it doesn’t quite work as a relationship. They may have broken up, but when she calls late at night he rushes over to her place.

In some ways reminiscent of Lady Antebellum’s monster hit ‘Need You Now’, both melodically and lyrically, it lacks the latter’s undercurrent of regret or sense that it is a one-time only deal born out of desperation and loneliness. This one is a pattern which doesn’t look like ending any time soon, and Chris doesn’t sound at all sorry about it. Nor is there any alcohol involved – just as well when he’s driving to see his lover. Maybe the untold story is that it is the girl who is ambivalent about the relationship, as he asks her, or himself, the rhetorical question,

Why put out a fire when it’s still burnin’?

He wrote the song himself along with Corey Crowder (who also produced) and Josh Hoge, and it is neatly constructed and believable. We could do with a lot more like this on country radio and I hope it does well for Chris.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘I Find Jesus’

Week ending 5/23/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

hqdefault-21955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Girl On The Billboard — Del Reeves (United Artists)

1975: (Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song — B.J. Thomas (ABC)

1985: Step That Step — Sawyer Brown (Capitol/Curb)

1995: Gonna Get A Life — Mark Chesnutt (Decca)

2005: My Give A Damn’s Busted — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Raise ‘Em Up — Keith Urban ft. Eric Church (Hit Red/Capitol)

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