My Kind of Country

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

Christmas Rewind: David Ball – ‘It’s Christmas Time In The Blue Ridge Mountains’

Album Review: Little Texas – ‘Little Texas’

little-texasThe sands of time ran out quickly for Little Texas as their eponymous fourth album, their last for Warner Brothers, barely charted reaching #47. By this time lead singer Brady Seals had departed the band leaving Tim Rushlow in charge of lead vocals.

Little Texas
hit the marketplace thirty-one months after their third album, a delay that probably didn’t help their chances in the ever changing market. The three singles released from the album all tanked at radio with none reaching the top forty. Despite this, I regard this as possibly their best album, with tighter vocal harmonies and a nice array of songs.

The album opens with “Loud and Proud”, written in part by band member Porter Howell. This is one of the weaker songs on the album, sounding more rock than country, but it is not bad:

Show me a mountain
Tell me it can’t be climbed
I’ll find my way through any shadow of doubt
And I’ll meet you on the other side

I love a good challenge
Send them all my way
I’ll rise to any occasion
I am not afraid

To be loud and proud
And givin’ in to nothin’
Livin’ and a lovin’
I’ll never get enough
And all the ups and downs
I take ’em as they come
And I’ll be right here standing my ground
Loud and proud

“Bad for Us” from the pens of Porter Howell, Dwayne O’Brien and Tom Shapiro) was the first and most successful single, reaching #45. The song is a nice ballad about a relationship that seems to be on the rocks. Several radio stations featured this song as their pick of the week, but the song never did generate any momentum, not surprisingly since more than a year had passed since the band’s last single.

You really got a good one in
You hit me where it hurts
Just so you wouldn’t get the best of me
I fired back somethin’ worse

I put you down
You show me up
Good for you
Good for me
Bad for us

We keep goin’ around and ’round
When’s it gonna stop
Real love’s not a matter of
Who comes out on top

“Ain’t No Time to Be Afraid” by Porter Howell and Allen Shamblin is another nice ballad, this one rather philosophical in nature. I would have picked this song for single release:

I was scared half to death
I couldn’t catch my breath
‘Cause that old tree down by the river
Was thirty feet high

That’s when I heard my daddy’s voice
He said, Son you’ve got a choice
You can climb down now
Or you can fly

This ain’t no time to be afraid
Or look the other way
If your prayers have all been prayed
Then you just let it come what may

If you’re not brave enough to try
Then life will pass you by
All we have is today
There ain’t no time to be afraid

“Long Way Down” sounds more like up-tempo 60s pop than anything else. Nashville songsmith Bob DiPiero co-wrote this with Porter Howell and O’Brien.

The second single off the album was “Your Mama Won’t Let Me”, which died at #64 on the charts. It is pretty generic, pleasant but not all that memorable. Del Gray, Thom McHugh and Keith Follesé composed this song

Like to take you to the movies on a Saturday night
But your mama won’t let me
Steal you away for a Sunday drive
But your mama won’t let me

She’s one step ahead of me every time
When I get too close she draws that line
Thinks I’m trouble but I’m not that kind
Your mama won’t let me make you mine

“All In The Line of Love” from Porter Howell, Dwayne O’Brien and Stephen Allen Davis is yet another pleasant but fairly generic ballad

I think the label missed a bet in not releasing the Bob DiPiero-Walt Aldridge song “Living in a Bullseye” as a single. I don’t think it would have been a huge hit but I suspect it would have at least cracked the top thirty. The song is a mid-tempo ballad with clever lyrics that would resonate with any blue collar worker:

I heard the whistle blowing as I pulled in the gate
I knew without looking, I was already late
Praying the boss wouldn’t catch me again
Sweating bullets while I was sneaking in

I’m living in a bullseye, ground zero
It’s kinda scary when the arrows fly
I ain’t trying to be no superhero
I duck and cover just to stay alive
Living in a bullseye

Eight hours later, at a half past five
I’m listening to my radio and pulling in the drive
The music telling me a thing that’s good
So I’m crossing all my fingers and I’m knocking on wood

“The Call” by Walt Aldridge and Tim Rushlow was the final single released from the album, peaking at #71. It’s a nice ballad with sleek vocal harmonies. I heard it quit a bit here in Central Florida, but it apparently tanked elsewhere:

You can run but you can’t hide
You can keep it all inside
Take it from a fool who’s tried it all
Pay attention to a friend
Who swore he’d never fall again
You’re gonna answer
When you get the call

“Yesterday’s Gone Forever” (Dwayne O’Brien, Jim Rushing) has the feel and sound of eighties country minus the annoying synthesizers. When released it really had no singles potential, but I can recall times when this introspective ballad would have done very well with radio:

For all of my good intentions
Heartfelt every one
I’ve left so much love unspoken
So much of life I’ve left undone

I could’ve made a difference
I just never made the time
Now yesterday’s gone forever
And today ain’t far behind

Should’ve taken that job in Dallas
Or the one in San Antone
Should’ve left that girl in the city
And married the one back home

I’d love to run back through the years
To tell her I was blind
But yesterday’s gone forever
And today ain’t far behind

The album closes with the Porter Howell – Chuck Jones rocker “If I Don’t Get Enough of You”.

If I don’t get enough of you
I can’t think, I can’t sleep
If I don’t get enough of you
I can’t eat, I get weak

Without you there to hold me tight
Well, I can’t make it through the night
I don’t know what I’m gonna do
If I don’t get enough of you

If I don’t get enough of you
I don’t act like I should
If I don’t get enough of you
It’s a fact, I’m no good

I think this is a better album than their first three efforts – good production, decent songs (none of the Texas chauvinism that marred earlier albums) and a really tight band augmented by Jeff Huskins on fiddle and piano, and Dan Dugmore & Sonny Garrish on pedal steel guitar, plus really good harmony vocals.

Why then did this album tank ?

I think the answer is three-fold:

1) There apparently some element of dissension in the band. Both Brady Seals and Tim Rushlow thought that they could become big solo stars, something that neither achieved.

2) A long lapse between the release of the third and fourth albums – to put it bluntly, radio forgot about them.

3) Changes in the country music market place which ultimately led to the domination of faux country acts like Rascal Flatts and Jason Aldean.

I would give this album an A-

Christmas Rewind: Joey + Rory – ‘Remember Me’

Christmas Single Review: Sunny Sweeney – ‘One More Christmas Beer’

one-more-christmas-beerSunny Sweeney’s new Christmas single is a closely observed, affectionate and highly comic look at the strains of Christmas with the family. The song (written by Sunny with Monty Holmes and Buddy Owens) has been around for a while but appears to be new to iTunes.

Opening with a jaunty whistle and some Christmas bells before launching into the tune, Sunny paints a picture of family who drink, fight and drink some more to cope with the misery of being cooped up together, all with charm and good humor.

The later it gets
The drunker we are
Someone always ends up in a fight
We think that a family try to get along
At least this one day a year
Well the fact is we can’t
We never will
So pass me one more Christmas beer

Later we hear that

Grandma is bitchin’
About men in the kitchen
It’s a good thing my grandpa can’t hear

It’s left unstated whether Grandpa is just deaf or has passed beyond all earthly cares, although I presume the former.

If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em
Get drunk and annoy ‘em
I’m usually the one that tries to hold it together
Someone smoked up all my Christmas cheer
We don’t know any better
Same thing different year
God bless the family
Can’t wait till it’s over
Pass me one more Christmas beer

This is a fun counterpoint to the enforced jollity of so much Christmas music. Like most comedy, it’s deliberately exaggerated, but not so far as to seem removed from reality.

Highly recommended.

Grade: A+

Christmas Rewind: Jeff Bates – ‘That’s What Christmas Is’

Christmas Album Review: Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood – ‘Christmas Together’

christmas-togetherSuperstar Garth Brooks and wife Trisha Yearwood have been talking about recording a duet album together for years, especially since they came out of retirement. It was something of a surprise, though, to find they had chosen a Christmas album.

The opening ‘I’m Beginning To See The Light’ is a bit too jazzy and cutesy for me. It is a true duet. ‘Marshmallow World’ is too sweet. The pair work together best on the playful ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, which is my favorite track by far.

Garth takes the lead on the silly novelty ‘Ugly Christmas Sweater’, and on a boring attempt at the Mexican ‘Feliz Navidad’. ‘Merry Christmas Means I Love You’ is bland and tries too hard to be inclusive. Almost the entire record is purely focussed on the secular side of Christmas, the one exception coming with the thoughtful and rather lovely ‘What I’m Thankful For’, which is a duet between Garth and singer-songwriter James Taylor.

Trisha is, quite literally, unrecognisable on the vampish ‘Santa Baby’. Infinitely better is a gorgeous reading of ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve’, although it gets a tiny bit self-indulgent towards the end. ‘Hard Candy Christmas’, from the Dolly Parton movie ‘Best Little Whorehouse In Texas’ does have a musical theater vibe about it, but is beautifully sung. ‘Her version of ‘The Man With the Bag’ is also very well done, and I enjoyed it a lot despite its lack of any country elements.

I was very disappointed by this album as a whole, but there are a few bright spots.

Grade: C

Christmas Rewind: Pam Tillis – ‘Pretty Paper’

Album Review: Curtis Grimes – Undeniably Country’

undeniably-countryTexan neotraditionalist Curtis Grimes had a run on The Voice a few years ago, but his main musical success has been regionally. Produced by Trent Willmon, this new release is his most traditionally rooted by far, and it is well worth hearing.

Curtis is clearly an enormous Keith Whitley fan, showing his natural good taste. In ‘If You Ask Me’, a beautifully sung but otherwise ordinary statement of country philosophy-cum-love song, he is clearly referring to him when he says “The best of country music died in 1989”.

‘Everything Hank Did But Die’ was one of the songs recorded by Keith Whitley and never released (probably because it was thought to be a little too close to home to do so posthumously). Curtis sounds very much like Keith in his vocal stylings on this track, and it is great to finally hear a full produced version of the tune (Keith’s demo can be found on youtube.)

Old Hank was my hero, since I was a kid.
And I grew up relivin’ all the crazy things he did.
Whiskey drinkin’, honky tonk singin’, stayin’ out all night,
Livin’ hard and dyin’ young was just a way of life.

I’ve done everything Hank did but die
And it ain’t because I did not try
Sometimes it amazes me that I got out alive
‘Cause I’ve done everything Hank did but die

I didn’t know how dangerous that lost highway could be
Till one too many whiskey binges brought me to my knees
I saw the light that very night
Ol’ Hank is still the King
But I found out that I don’t have to kill myself to sing

Great song, excellent performance.

Much in the same vein is the somber ‘Had A Thing’, a superb self-written song in which he considers pain, sin, the life of a musician, and final salvation:

I had a thing for whiskey, women and weed
Seemed to be ‘bout all I’d ever need
Three vices with a visegrip on
Wouldn’t numb the pain for me…

I had a thing for a guitar and old dime bars
They can pay the rent or tear a home apart…

I had all I ever wanted
Thought I wanted a whole lot more
It takes a heavy toll on a Lone Star troubadour
When the price you pay ain’t worth the things you lose along the way
You come crawlin’ back to lay in the bed you made

I had a thing for sad old country songs
Tuggin’ on your heartstrings one by one
Puttin’ into words the way it feels to be alone

But having reached this low point, enduring religious faith saves him in the end, as the melody syncs into an outro of ‘Amazing Grace’.

He continues the religious mood with ‘Born To Die’, a nice song about Jesus.

The pacy shuffle ‘Right About Now’ is a highly entertaining song written in the second person, addressed to a stubborn man who prefers clinging to his hurstpride to backing down:

Well you were in the right and she was in the wrong
And sometimes a man’s gotta stand on principle…
You really kinda miss her but
You don’t wanta let her know
All you gotta do to bring her back is apologize
But hey, what’s a fella got if he ain’t got his pride

Right about now she’s out on the town
Without a reason not to be havin’ her a good time
And right about now
One of your pals is buyin’ her a third (fourth, fifth) round of applepie moonshine
You bit the bullet
You stuck to your guns
And I bet by golly you’re proud
You sure got somethin’ to be right about now

He ends wryly with the thought that the woman he has made cry has got the last laugh:

If you think she’s about to do you wrong
You just might be correct
You drew that line and she crossed it
I think you got yourself an Ex

‘Ten Year Town’ tackles Nashville and the state of country music:

I came out here so I could write and sing
Not rap on stage wearing skinny jeans

The lead single, ‘From Where I’m Standing’ is a mellow sounding romantic ballad written by Thomas Rhett, Chris Janson and Jaron Boyer, which is much better than one might expect with those origins. It’s attractive melodically, although the lyrics are a little cliche’d. ‘Put My Money On That’ is a bit generic and the album’s weakest entry, but it is pleasant enough listening.

The only real disappointment is that there are only eight tracks.

Grade: A

Listen here.

Classic Rewind: Steve Wariner – ‘One Bright Star’

Album Review: Little Texas – ‘Kick A Little’

kick-a-liittleThe band’s third album was released in 1994. The title track and first single is a country-rock styled tune urging assertiveness which was a top 5 hit. Performed with energy and sincerity, it is rather generic but pleasant enough. Although not their biggest hit, peaking at #4, the next single, ‘Amy’s Back In Austin’ may be Little Texas’s best remembered song, and in my opinion it is their best. An airy vocal sells the wistful story of a young couple whose romance and dreams have foundered. It was written by Brady Seals with Stephen Allen Davis.

Unfortunately for the guys, their momentum came to a juddering halt with the album’s third single, ‘Southern Grace’, an uninteresting ballad. It cannot have helped that joint lead singer Seals had left the band by this point.

In ‘A Night I’ll Never Remember’ the lovelorn protagonist looks forward to drinking away his troubles. It’s a pretty good song and might have been a more successful single. ‘Hit Country Song’ lists all the clichés of country hits but has an attractive and traditional sounding melody and arrangement. You can even hear a fiddle. It sounds lovely, and shows the band could have made a stab at a more traditional sound.

‘I’d Hold On To her’ is quite pleasant but ultimately forgettable. ‘Inside’ is an earnest AC/Hallmark style ballad about finding good in everyone. In ‘Your Days Are Numbered’ the protagonist warns a love rival that the girl has been crying on his shoulder; it’s well written and sung with conviction but the arrangement is bland and more AC than country.

‘She’s Cool’ is boring and over produced, while the closing Southern rocker ‘Redneck Like Me’ boasts clichés about rural Southern life. It was written by Jay Booker (who also wrote the much better ‘Sunday In The South’ for Shenandoah), and is the album’s only outside song, with the band (at least Porter Howell and Brady Seals) composing the rest of the material.

Generally the album is generally a glossily efficient example of 90s country-rock, with full bodied vocals and prominent electric guitar. It’s not quite my cup of tea, but is preferable to some of the extremes we’ve seen since.

Grade: C

Christmas Rewind: Little Big Town – ‘Children Go Where I Send Thee’

Week ending 12/10/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

alan_jackson1956 (Sales):Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1956 (Jukebox): Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1966: Somebody Like Me — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1976: Good Woman Blues — Mel Tillis (MCA)

1986: It Ain’t Cool To Be Crazy About You — George Strait (MCA)

1996: Little Bitty — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2006: Before He Cheats — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

2016: Blue Ain’t Your Color — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2016 (Airplay): May We All — Florida Georgia Line featuring Tim McGraw (Republic Nashville)

Classic Rewind: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Away In A Manger’

Christmas Rewind: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Cold Beer’

Album Review: Little Texas – ‘Big Time’

51tuggiwfdl-_ss500Little Texas’ most successful album was their sophomore disc , Big Time, released in 1993.  It produced four hit singles, three of which reached the Top 10, including their only #1 “My Love”.  The album was produced by Doug Grau, Christy DiNapoli, and James Stroud.

Based on the feedback we received, some of our readers have been less than enthusiastic about our choice to spotlight Little Texas.  I’m by no means a Little  Texas super fan; I remember most of their radio hits from the 90s but prior to this review I’d never listened to one of their albums all the way through.  So I come to this with a fresh set of ears.   Was Little Texas really the Rascal Flatts of their day?  After listening to Big Time a few times, I can only answer with a resounding no.    I expected to enjoy the singles that I remembered from the radio but I wasn’t sure what to expect from the album cuts.   I must say that I’m pleasantly surprised.  The band members had a hand in writing eight of the album’s ten tracks.  Admittedly, they aren’t all particularly memorable, but there is certainly nothing cringe-worthy in a Rascal Flatts sort of way.

The album’s best track by far is the lead single “What Might Have Been”, which rose to #2 on the country chart and enjoyed some success in the adult contemporary format as well, reaching #16 on that chart.   It was followed by the uptempo Texas pride anthem “God Blessed Texas”, which topped out at #4 and is probably their best remembered hit today.  It’s a good song but one I’ve grown slightly tired of over the years, perhaps due to overplaying by radio.   As such, it’s my least favorite of the album’s singles.   The mid-tempo “My Love” seemed like a no-brainer to replicate the AC success of “What Might Have Been”, but oddly it did not appear on the adult contemporary charts.  It is not as good a song as “What Might Have Been”, but that, along with its lack of crossover success did not prevent it from becoming a #1 country hit.   “Stop on a Dime” had originally been the B-side of “What Might Have Been”.  When released as a single in its own right, it fell short of the Top 10, landing at #14.  As the album’s final single, Warner Bros. had perhaps lost interest in promoting it.  It’s a lot countrier than much of what was played on the radio in the mid-90s; it reminds me of something that Diamond Rio might have done.

“My Town” is the only tracks that doesn’t include one of the band members in its songwriting credits.  Written by Michael Stanley, isn’t particularly country but it is catchy and allows the band to showcase its harmonizing capabilities.   “Cutoff Jeans”, written by Troy Seals, Brady Seals and Ronnie Samoset is more traditional but equally infectious.

Little Texas is one of those bands that I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to when they first arrived on the scene.  They debuted at a time when there was plenty of strong competition within the genre, and that may have contributed to them falling through the cracks to a certain extent.  If they were just getting started today, they’d be head in shoulders above most of their contemporaries on country radio, at least in my book. Big Time isn’t likely to be included on anyone’s list of best country albums, but it exceeded my expectations and is worth giving a spin.

Grade:  B+

Christmas Rewind: Dale Watson – ‘Christmas Love’

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent & The Rage – ‘All The Rage Volume 1’

all-the-rageMost bluegrass bands are at their best live, and great though she is as a recording artist, Rhonda Vincent and her road band The Rage are no exception. Her latest album, the result of a concert at Bethel University in Tennessee in May 2015, really allows her band the chance to shine on a selection of mainly lesser known tunes from Rhonda’s back catalog.

They open with a coruscating version of the Jimmie Rodgers classic ‘Muleskinner Blues’ with Rhonda wailing and yodelling impressively. This is a complete tour de force. In similar vein is ‘Kentucky Borderline’, written by Rhonda herself, while the closing ‘Mississippi River’ comes from the Mark Twain tribute album a few years back.

Slowing down the tempo, ‘Is The Grass Any Bluer (On The Other Side)’ is an affectionate tribute to Father of bluegrass Bill Monroe. There is an excellent version of the Barbara Mandrell hit ‘Midnight Angel’ (originally a bluegrass song, and also recorded by Highway 101). ‘Missouri Moon’ is a beautiful, melancholy ballad. The delicately understated ‘I’ve Forgotten You’ is one of those songs which means the absolute opposite of its title.

Rhonda takes the lead on a traditional bluegrass gospel quartet for the cheerfully judgmental ‘You Don’t Love God (If You Don’t Love Your Neighbour)’. She also sings a devout ‘The Old Rugged Cross’.

The guys are allowed to sing lead on several of the songs. The bands newest member Josh Williams, is an excellent singer in his own right, and he takes on the much-recorded rambler’s song ‘Freeborn Man’. Dobro player Brent Burke (one of Rhonda’s sons in law) shows off an attractive tenor voice on ‘The Girl From West Virginia’. Bassist Mickey Harris sings his own ‘If We Would Just Pray’.

A couple of fast paced instrumentals round out the set, a fiddle tune composed by Hunter Berry (Rhonda’s other son in law) and a banjo one by Aaron McDaris respectively.

The concert is also available as a DVD. It is an outstanding set of performances which I warmly recommend.

Grade: A+

Christmas Rewind: Skeeter Davis – ‘C H R I S TM A S’

Album Review: Kevin Moon – ‘The Kevin Moon EP’

kevin-moon-epWe were recently reminded that Kevin Moon (whose Throwback album was one of my favourites of last year) had released new music. One of my minor gripes with that album was that it consisted of rather well worn material, and here he tackles new or lesser known songs. It turns out to be halfway between an EP and a full length album, with eight tracks, and as far as I can see is only available digitally.

The best song is the opening ‘Good Whiskey’, a great song in which the protagonist first rejects alcohol as a cure for his heartbreak:

They don’t make Jack strong enough to get you off my mind
There really ain’t nothin’ they could fix me
I could drink it all but you still wouldn’t miss me
It’d be a waste of good whiskey

‘What If She Don’t’ is a nice love song with the protagonist unsure whether the object of his affections understands the depths of his love. He then explains it to her in the attractive ‘Girl That’s How’. ‘Cowgirl’s Gonna Dream’ is a sweet song about an ordinary Tennessee country boys who manages to land a Texan cowgirl as his wife.

‘Scarecrow’ is an anthroporphic description of the farmer’s friend, and has a certain charm. The relaxed ‘Blue Agave Shore’ dreams of a Mexican vacation but settles for a back porch.

There are a couple of covers, both from the 1970s. Eric Clapton’s romantic ‘Wonderful Tonight’ works surprisingly well as a country song, and has been done by country artists before – David Kersh (now largely forgotten) had a top 20 hit with it in the late 90s. Kevin’s version is tender and convincing, and really very good.

‘Daddy What If’, written by Shel Silverstein, was a hit for Bobby Bare and his 5 year old son. Kevin recruits his three year old, Weston, to sing the child’s part on this rather twee tune. The little boy has a vague approach to pitch, but the overall effect is rather sweet.

Moon has an attractive voice, and while this album has a more modern sound than Throwback, it is still solidly country. A couple of extra songs would have been welcome, but it’s still a worthwhile release.

Grade: A-

Christmas Rewind: Jim Ed Brown – ‘An Old Christmas Card’