My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – ‘ Porter ‘n’ Dolly’

1708613Porter and Dolly’s eleventh collection of duets is predominately comprised of songs they wrote themselves — unlike many of their earlier efforts which relied to one extent or another on cover versions of other artists’ hits. One or the other or both are listed as the composers, with only one track “Sixteen Years” — a Wagoner co-write with Tom Pick — relying on any outside songwriters. As usual, Bob Ferguson is the credited producer.

The album is capped by two Wagoner-Parton compositions. The opening track and sole single “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me” was their only duet to reach the #1 spot in Billboard. The very pretty closing track “Sounds of Nature” has a stripped-down folk feel to it.

Porter’s solo composition “The Power of Love” is the album’s weakest track, but he redeems himself nicely on “Sixteen Years” (a collaboration with Tom Pick as noted earlier), which finds a couple about to go their separate ways after a sixteen-year marriage.

The remainder of album’s songs were written by Dolly and all of them are enjoyable. They are, for the most part, positive and upbeat — no heart-wrenching ballads about dying children or beyond-help alcoholics. Even the album’s saddest songs “Without You” and “Two” are rather subdued and devoid of any attempts at emotional manipulation. The pair seems to be largely ab-libbing — and having a great time doing so — on the light-hearted and upbeat “We’d Have To Be Crazy”. Dolly would revisit “The Fire That Keeps You Warm” two years later for her solo project All I Can Be and “Together You and I” would be recorded again for her 2011 album Better Day.

Like all of the prior Wagoner-Parton albums, Porter ‘n’Dolly is strictly a traditional affair that relies heavily on their wonderful harmonies and some excellent steel guitar work. It is not currently commercially available, but all of its tracks can be found on the Bear Family box set Just Between You and Me.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: MC Potts – ‘I’m So Sorry’

Classic Rewind: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘We Found It’

Album Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘Love And Music’

love and musicLove And Music was the tenth duet album by Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton. Released in July 1973, only one single was released from the album, a cover of a Carl Smith oldie from 1951, “If Teardrops Were Pennies”, a song which Carl took to #8, but Porter and Dolly took to #3. As always, Bob Ferguson is listed as the producer.

The album opens up with “If Teardrops Were Pennies”. I don’t happen to own a vinyl copy of this album, but I’ve seen it and if I recall correctly Carl Butler, who wrote this song, also wrote the liner notes to this album. The song is a mid-tempo romp that Porter & Dolly do very well indeed, although I also like Carl Smith’s version of the song and the recordings that Carl & Pearl Butler made of the song.

If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold
I’d have all the treasures my pockets would hold
I’d be oh so wealthy with treasures untold
If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold

An acre of diamonds I’d offer to you
A solid gold mansion, an airplane or two
This whole world would be yours to have and to hold
If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold

Next up is the first of four Porter Wagoner tunes on the album “Sounds of Night” a gentle ballad with a nice fiddle intro by Mack Magaha. The song describes the lonely sounds of night (whippoorwills, church bells) and how they translate to human emotions

I don’t know much about Howard Tuck, other than what I found in his obituary (http://www.mywebtimes.com/obituaries/howard-red-tuck/article_e67fea9d-9ee8-5b24-8d2c-e7e5cf4e0300.html ) but his song “Laugh The Years Away” is a good song that would have made a good single. The song is a humorous look at married life, happy even if not blessed with material wealth.

A corporation owns the factory I work in
Someone else owns the house we call our home
The bank owns the car we drive around
And we’ve got something we can call our own

We’ve got love happiness surrounds us
And we thank the Lord for every single day
And with love we’ll always have each other
And together we can laugh the years away

Next up is the first of four Dolly Parton tunes on this album “You”, a rather bland ballad of domestic bliss.

Porter’s “Wasting Love” also would have made a good single, an up-tempo song about a couple growing apart. While the lyrics are good, the strength of the song is the melody.

“Come To Me” is a slow, serious ballad, that essentially finds Porter and Dolly trading verses. The song is inspirational without being religious. The song had no potential as a single, but it is a nice song.

Porter co-wrote “Love Is Out Tonight” with Tom Pick. The song is a slow ballad with very vivid imagery.

As blue skies and daylight darken into night
Surrounding us with beauty as the stars make their light
They spell out our names all the stars up above
As they flicker and shine like letters of love

Then a warm breath of air whispers through the trees
As the leaves on their branches have blown to the breeze
Ripples of water seemed to echo the sound
Love’s out tonight there’s love all around

Small drops of dew act as nature’s perfume
Placing its fragrance on all that’s in blue
While I hold you so close your lips touching mine
With nature all around us watching our love entwine

Porter Wagoner penned “In The Presence of You”. The song features a nice piano intro to a slow ballad of a people who cannot find the right words to say to each other, although they love each other deeply.

In the presence of you I wonder
Why I can’t say the things that I want to
All the pretty words that I planned to say when I’m with you
I lose them in the presence of you

Your nearness makes my voice tremble
There’s a weakness that I feel through and through
Searching for words to describe how I love you
Don’t come easy in the presence of you

Dolly penned “I Get Lonesome By Myself”, another of Dolly’s lonesome little girl songs. In this song the narrator stumbles across the daughter he abandoned a few years back. Dolly’s part is spoken in a somewhat creepy effort at a six year old girl’s voice.

The album closes with the forth Dolly Parton composition “There Will Always Be Music”, a nice capstone to the album.

As the farmer works the fields he sings a song
The songbirds in the trees sing along
And the wind makes melodies as it whistles through the trees
Man’s burdens are made lighter with a song

There’ll always be music as long as there’s a story to be told
There’ll always be music cause music is the voice of the song
There’ll always be music

Dolly Parton has a well deserved reputation as a songwriter, but Porter was no slouch either, although neither Porter nor Dolly would rank up there with Cindy Walker, Dallas Frazier, Harlan Howard or Hank Cochran. On this album at least, Porter’s songs are stronger than Dolly’s.

This is a pretty decent album, although not necessarily one of their better albums. As Jonathan Pappalardo noted in his excellent review of The Right Combination/Burning The Midnight Oil, “[w]hile none of these songs have truly amounted to anything, they combine to make a fine collection on their own”.

My feelings exactly – B+

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘Nothing Sure Looked Good On You’

Single Review: Toby Keith – ‘A Few More Cowboys’

a few more cowboysOne of Toby Keith’s biggest hits was the Western themed ‘Shouldve been A Cowboy’. His latest single revisits that territory, but using the metaphor to tackle some of today’s social issues.

Written by Keith with Bobby Pinson and Dean Dillon, the lyric is in the main a celebration of Texas and an idealized cowboy ethos, with some more questionable elements. Some of it is conventional and likeable enough:

There’d be a bunch more daddies sons could be proud of
We’d have half the crime, we’d have twice the fun
With a few more cowboys, be a lot less outlaws
With a few more amens, be a lot less bad calls
With a few more yes ma’ams and a lot less yes man
This world would be a better place to live in
With a few more cowboys

He strikes a chord with the current anti-politics mood by making jabs at professional politicians:

If the White House was in Texas, man, we’d get a straighter answer

Although I’m not sure his alternative of “more fist fights” is much of an improvement, it’s hardly a surprise coming from Toby. Naturally there’s a bit of trade protection and an allusion to beating the enemy, again archetypal Keith:

Met ’em at high noon, hell, it’s about high time
We looked ’em in the eye, got our head out of the sand
Hit ’em with a big John Wayne, by God they’d understand

Production is beefed up, but recognisably country; there is a prominent electric guitar but it is not too intrusive, and Keith’s robust vocals are solid (when he actually sings). It’s quite an enjoyable tune with a pleasant mid paced melody. The lyric video is quite good fun, especially the image which accompanies the fist fights line.
But there is one element to the lyric which is fundamentally misjudged, and as it comes in the second line, and is then repeated in as portentous drawl at the end of the song, it can’t be overlooked as a passing thought – it’s a central point of the song:

If they’d let us smoke what we want, we’d have a lot less cancer

Um, really? While I understand there are some trials using parts of the cannabis/marijuana plant, that’s a far cry from actually smoking it being beneficial. This isn’t the place for that debate; suffice it to say that it significantly mars the song for me.

Grade: B- (it would be B+ without the line I objected to)

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Classic Rewind: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘Together Always’

Album Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘We Found It’

R-3955797-1350489082-3655.jpegWe Found It, the ninth duets album by Porter Wagoner hit store shelves in February 1973. The record, produced once again by Bob Ferguson for RCA Nashville, builds on Together Always by only featuring songs written by the duo. The project was one of their lower charting albums, peaking at #20.

Wagoner solely wrote six cuts on We Found It with varying degrees of quality. The title track, second-rate joyful fluff, was the project’s only single. “Love City” is inane, “I Am Always Waiting” is mediocre and “That’s When Love Will Mean The Most” comes closet to maintaining their classic qualities. “How Close They Must Be” is also good in comparison, with Parton turning in a strong vocal.

The final cut he wrote alone is “Satan’s River,” a waltz-y ballad in which Parton runs circles around him vocally. Wagoner gave the song a second life when he recorded it for the excellent Marty Stuart produced Wagonmaster, his final record, which saw release just four months before his death in October 2007. The lyric, unfortunately, isn’t among his finest work.

Parton had her hand in the album’s remaining songs. “Between Us” is a wonderful ballad about the promise of open discourse in rekindled love. “Love Have Mercy On Us” isn’t as strong, despite the drenching of steel guitar.

Parton’s final solely written track is the madding and mysterious “Sweet Rachel Ann.” Lyrically the song is a puzzle – Why did she go away? Where did she go? Why didn’t her parents ever visit her? When she returned, why was she so abused by the great big world? Parton, especially during this period, loved to throw songs on us that make little to no sense. Now, I’m sure there exists an origin story for this song somewhere, likely within Parton herself. But without necessary context, this song lacks purpose.

“I’ve Been Married (Just As Long As You Have)” is the only number the pair wrote together. The two verses are fabulous and I love the sing-song-y beat. But when the pair starts conversing back and fourth the recording becomes heavy-handed and forces the lyric’s thematic elements on us unnecessarily. If left a bit more barebones, this would’ve been an album highlight.

We Found It is a perfect example of cracks forming in Wagoner and Parton’s façade. This later recording is indeed a later recording – it’s just not up to the level of their classic work. The majority of these songs are either fluff or beneath them. There’s just nothing essential here to latch onto lyrically. Parton, meanwhile, is a vocal revelation and proves she’s quickly emerging as the main draw. I can see exactly why she went solo – Parton is showing how much she just doesn’t need him anymore. That’s about the only thing positive to come out of this mess of an album.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Dolly Parton – ‘Sacred Memories’

Week ending 8/20/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

2bbe1af719cf21075727072bdd66bd0c1956 (Sales): Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

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

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

1966: Almost Persuaded — David Houston (Epic)

1976: Say It Again — Don Williams (ABC/Dot)

1986: You’re The Last Thing I Needed Tonight — John Schneider (MCA)

1996: Carried Away — George Strait (MCA)

2006: If You’re Goin’ Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows) — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

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

2016 (Airplay): Fix — Chris Lane (Big Loud)

Classic Rewind: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘Her And The Car And The Mobile Home’

Clasic Rewind: Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Ricky Skaggs – ‘Gold Watch And Chain’

Album Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘Together Always’

together alwaysThe duo’s eighth album, released in 1972, featured only songs written by one or the other of them. Dolly’s talent was by now outshining Porter’s at least vocally, and although she wrote only four of the songs here to Porter’s six, both of the singles were her songs. Dolly’s voice sparkles throughout, and Porter sounds mediocre in comparison on his solo sections.

‘Lost Forever In Your Kiss’ is a romantic song about falling in love which was a top 10 hit. It is very pretty, although Dolly’s vocal works better than Porter’s. The perky mid-tempo piano-led title track is about a more mature but solidly happy relationship, is not as memorable, and was less successful, although it reached #14.

‘Poor Folks’ Town’, which Dolly revised and recorded in a slightly different version a few years later, is a cheerful song with bouncy fiddle accompaniment about being happy despite lacking material things:

We got no money but we’re rich in love
That’s one thing that we got a plenty of
So come on down have a look around
At rich folks living in a poor folks town
We got no carpets on the floor
We got wall to wall love
Who could ask for more?

‘Christina’ is an adoring lullaby to a couple’s new baby; it is so personal and realistic I wonder if Dolly, herself childless, wrote this for a friend’s child?

Two of Porter’s songs are classic cheating songs. The excellent ‘Looking Down’ has an unrepentant pair of cheaters defending themselves against the criticism of others:

They say the love we steal is a disgrace
That we should be ashamed to look the world in the face
But they don’t know how much love we must hide
While the world looks down upon our pride
Seems there’s always someone looking down – down – down
Not knowing the inner feelings of the ones they’re puttin’ down
The love we feel’s as true as a baby’s cryin’ sound
Still there’s always someone looking down
We still honor the vows we made long ago
But when there’s no love at home it hurts us so
And then your heart begins to look around

In ‘You And Me, Her And Him’ the couple plan on talking it all out with their other halves:

You and me, and her and him, must get together
And see if maybe we can find a way
To put an end to hurting one another
Cause he don’t know
And she don’t know
How much we hurt each day
It’s not fair, and you and I both know it
To have to hide and love the way we do
The time is now that we must get together
Her and him
Me and you
She and I had lost it long before I met you
We tried and tried but all the love had gone
And I guess respect is all that’s kept me with him
Cause there hasn’t been no love there in so long

‘Love’s All Over’ is also about a once-illicit affair which is now all too obvious to everyone. ‘Take Away’ is a more conventional love song.

‘Ten Four – Over And Out’ is a novelty inspired by the CB radio craze of the 1970s. In fact Porter Wagoner was ahead of the game, as it didn’t become a country music trend until a few years later, after a national reduction in speed limits made the radios’ messaging system popular. In this song Dolly and Porter are a sparring married couple communicating to comic effect by the radios, which means the song is still entertaining today even if its context has dated.

Finally, ‘Anyplace You Want To Go’ is about the power of daydreams in a workaday life.

This album showcases the duo at their best. The tracks are split between the third and fourth discs of the wonderful Bear Family box set.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘The Right Combination’

Classic Rewind: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Something Of A Dreamer’

Album Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil’

porter.wagoner.and.dolly.parton.burning.the.midnight.oilPorter Wagoner and Dolly Parton released their seventh duets album on RCA Records in January 1972. The ten-track collection, entitled The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil, was helmed by their longtime producer Bob Ferguson.

The album produced two top-twenty singles, both penned by Wagoner. “The Right Combination” is a somewhat cheesy ballad in which the pair boasts about enduring love. The record is wonderful, and Parton’s fiery vocal is fantastic, but the arrangement is spastic. Ferguson switches between lush strings typical of the Nashville Sound and the more appealing mixture of fiddle and steel so fast his intentions are difficult to pinpoint.

The only other single, “Burning The Midnight Oil, has an appealing honky-tonk groove and wonderful pedal steel that helps the mid-tempo ballad chug along quite nicely. The background singers are a dated add-on but not distracting enough to divert attention from the song’s positive qualities.

Beyond the minor radio hits, The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil is notable for the inclusion of “Her and the Car and the Mobile Home,” written by Dave Kirby and Don Stock. The novelty tune, in which a philandering husband is left abandoned and homeless, is an excellent comedy bit the pair sells brilliantly. The song grows tired on repeated listenings, which likely kept it as an album cut, but it does have very considerable charms nonetheless.

The album also contains three Parton originals. The confrontative “I’ve Been This Way Too Long” is a delightful steel drenched number about old habits and unwavering routines. A bitter truth stands at the forefront of “In Each Love Some Pain Must Fall,” a pensive ballad about how fighting doesn’t mean the end of relationships. The arrangement is oddly cheery, and the parallels to their split are eerie, but the song itself is fantastic. Their love has truly died on “Somewhere Along The Way,” a mournful ballad with the arrangement to match.

Wagoner’s additional writing contributions include two more songs. “More Than Words Can Tell” is a ballad indicative of the generations in which love prevails and vows meant divorce wasn’t an option. The song finds Wagoner and Parton old and grey, enjoying their blissful golden years. The song is a perfect counterpart to “In Each Love Some Pain Must Fall.” His other song, “The Fog Has Lifted” isn’t the most lyrically strong cut on the album, but it has significant deeper meaning knowing the couple’s complicated history and reconciliation as a musical pair.

The remaining tracks were outside cuts. Eddie Sovine composed “On and On,” another of the records tracks devoted to steadfast love. “Through Thick and Thin,” by Bill Owens, might be the album’s strongest cut and is surely one of my favorites from the project. The fiddle heavy tune is an excellent examination of marriage and the tides that bind couples for life.

Though not necessarily billed as such, The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil is a concept album exploring relationships through long-term love. As I’ve noted, these tracks examine marriage in a beautiful and honest manner without seeming sugary or overstated. The reflection on older love in “More Than Words Can Tell” is as heartwarmingly relatable as the stubborn couple at the center of “I’ve Been This Way Too Long.” The best of these, without question, is “In Each Love Some Pain Must Fall,” a sentiment as significant today as when Parton wrote it more than forty-four years ago.

I’ll admit that given my age (I’m 28) I haven’t explored the great duet partners in country music history beyond the singles that have become classics. Which means that, unlike my colleagues, I’m hearing this music for the first time with completely fresh ears. While that wasn’t an advantage with many of the other 1960s/1970s artists we’ve covered, it works in my favor here. The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil is spectacular, with Parton (who I’ve also never spent significant time with) in stellar form. While none of these songs have truly amounted to anything, they combine to make a fine collection on their own.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Reba McEntire – ‘What If’

Retro Album Reviews: Joe Nichols – ‘Real Things’, and Tracy Lawrence – ‘For The Love’

for the loveBack 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.

REAL THINGS – JOE NICHOLS (2007)

Other than Brad Paisley, I cannot think of another of the current Nashville acts that has as good a grasp on what is or isn’t country music than Joe Nichols. This album simply is a delight from start to finish.

The opening track “Real Things” sets a nice placemat for the current single “Another Side of You” (currently a top 25 and rising). For this album Nichols has tapped the cream of Nashville’s songwriting community for good songs. Only one old song was selected for the album and that is the late Blaze Foley’s classic “If I Could Only Fly” performed here as a duet with Lee Ann Womack and with the legendary John Hughey on steel guitar (Paul Franklin plays steel on the remaining tracks where steel is used). All of the material is top-flight and my only fear was that it may prove “too country” for today’s wimpy country radio.

The copy of the CD I purchased has a 14th track on it, a wry song titled “When I’m Hurtin'” in which a country singer apologizes to the audience that the only time he really sings well is you know when. This song is easily a 5 star effort and should have been released as a single.

Grade: A

FOR THE LOVE – TRACY LAWRENCE (2007)

Among the younger singers, Tracy Lawrence has the best pure country voice this side of John Anderson and Randy Travis. Like previous efforts, this CD has two or three cuts that are merely okay, and the rest are terrific. My favorite songs is “Til I Was a Daddy Too” , as meaningful a song as you will ever encounter. “You Can’t Hide Redneck” is a fun romp and “Rock and A Soft Place is another highlight. Such is the vocal prowess of Tracy Lawrence that his solo cut of “Find out Who Your Friends Are” is considerably better than the cut on which he is joined by Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, both lesser vocal talents. I love this disc, an early nominee for CD of The Year honors.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘Yours Love’

Album Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – ‘Two of a Kind’

Porter_Wagoner_&_Dolly_Parton_-_Two_Of_A_KindPorter and Dolly released their sixth albums of duets in February 1971. Strangely, no singles were released from Two of a Kind, but this in no way suggests that the material was in any way sub-par. As usual, most of the album’s songs are from the pen of Dolly, including three co-writes with Porter. The first of those co-writes is “The Pain of Loving You”, which features a horn arrangement similar to that of “Just Someone I Used To Know”. It should have been released as a single. The Osborne Brothers apparently did release it as a single — presumably around that same time, which may explain why Porter and Dolly’s version was relegated to album cut status. About a year later the track resurfaced as the B-side to the duo’s single “The Right Combination”. Similarly, the title track — another Wagoner/Parton composition — was the B side of “Better Move It On Home”, which was part of a hits compilation released later in 1971. The duo’s third composition is the catchy but lyrically light mid-tempo “There’ll Be Love” which serves as the album’s closing track.

The collection also includes three of Dolly’s solo compositions: the excellent “Is It Real?”, “The Flame”, and “The Fighting Kind”, which was another of those bickering husband and wife songs for which Porter and Dolly were well known. Although enjoyable, this one lacks the spunk of “I’ve Been Married Just as Long as You Have”, “Fight and Scratch” or “Better Move It On Home”.

One of the album’s best cuts — and one of only three in which Dolly did not have a hand in writing — is “Possum Holler”, a novelty tune penned by the great Dallas Frazier. It is a humorous reminiscence of a clandestine courtship that ends with a shotgun wedding. And although it’s not one of the album’s best songs, the most interesting one was penned by Dolly and Louis Owens. “Curse of the Wild Weed Flower” is a rare example of social commentary from Porter and Dolly. The anti-counterculture theme, speaking of the evils of marijuana, is certainly at odds with contemporary thinking and modern listeners would likely dismiss it as a quaint relic of a bygone era.

With no singles to support it, Two of a Kind didn’t chart quite as high as the duo’s earlier albums (reaching #13) but today it is only one of two of their original albums that is available for digital download in its original form. Bob Ferguson’s (or perhaps Porter’s) production is heavy on Nashville Sound choruses, but there are plenty of wonderful steel guitar licks throughout the album and that alone makes it worth listening to.

Grade: B+