My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: The Gibson Brothers – ‘Brotherhood’

brotherhoodThere’s something very special about the harmonies created by two brothers. One of the best duos in modern bluegrass or country music consists of the Gibson Brothers, Leigh and Eric. in their latest release, they pay tribute to some of the great fraternal partnerships of the past, and the result is sublime.

Their version of the Everly Brothers’ big pop hit ‘Bye Bye Love’ is darker and more melancholy than the perky original, drawing on the implicit sadness of the Felice/Boudleaux Bryant lyric. Another Everlys cut, ‘Crying In The Rain’ showcases the pair’s compelling vocals on a tune written by iconic pop singer-songwriter Carole King.

The haunting ‘Long Time Gone’ (also once recorded by the Everlys) is another standout. The similarly titled but pacier ‘Long Gone’ comes from the same writer, Leslie York of the York Brothers, a sibling duo active in the 1940s and 50s.

‘The Sweetest Gift’, a beautiful story about a mother visiting a prisoner son, has been recorded by everyone from the Blue Sky Boys in the 40s to the Judds. The Gibson Brothers’ version is wonderful, imbued with the tenderness and desperation of the mother’s love for her “erring, but precious son”, and stands up against any of the previous versions, with an interesting arrangement of their harmonies. ‘Eastbound Train’ also deals with a prisoner’s loved one, and is a traditionally styled ballad telling the sweetly sentimental story of a little girl taking the train to seek a pardon for her father, who is not only in prison but also blind. The conductor is moved by her sad story and lets her travel for free.

Also very much in traditional vein, the Louvin Brothers’ melancholy ‘Seven Year Blues’ is outstanding.

‘I’m Troubled, I’m Troubled’ picks up the pace with a jaundiced lyric, while the perky ‘Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes’ brightens the mood. A tender ‘It’ll Be Her’ (a hit for Tompall and the Glaser Brothers) is gorgeous.

The Gibsons are joined by Ronnie Reno, a onetime member of the Osborne Brothers’ band, to sing ‘Each Season Changes You’, a pretty plaintive song popularised by the latter. Reno also helps out on the upbeat ‘How Mountain Girls Can Love’.

‘I Have Found The Way’ is traditional bluegrass gospel, written by Bill Monroe’s brother Charlie and recorded by the Monroes in 1937,before Bill invented bluegrass as a discrete genre. Ronnie and Rob McCoury join the Gibsons on a sincere ‘What A Wonderful Savior Is He’. The lesser known ‘An Angel With Blue Eyes’ anticipates reunion in heaven with a loved one, an dis sung with commitment.

The combination of compelling harmonies and great songs, backed by tasteful bluegrass arrangements make this an essential putrchase.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘Here Comes The Rain’

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘The Mavericks’

3148RANN18LIn September 2003, The Mavericks released an eponymous album, which was the first after leaving MCA and their last before they disbanded after their 2004 tour.

Since their inception in 1989, The Mavericks had been an eclectic band, though most of their major label work fit firmly in the mainstream country of its day. The Mavericks, however, which was released on the British-based Sanctuary Records, is in no way, shape or form a country album, nor — to its credit — does it pretend to be.

The band had enjoyed some international success a few years earlier with Trampoline. On the surface, The Mavericks, appears to be an attempt to appeal to mainstream pop fans in Europe, but I can’t find any data on how well it actually sold there. Stateside, it made very little impact, with only one of its three singles — a remake of “The Air That I Breathe”, a 1974 pop hit for The Hollies, appearing on the country charts, peaking at #59.

This is an album that has to be approached with the right frame of mind. Once the listener accepts that it is not a country album, he/she will likely conclude that it is a pretty good pop album. Some of the songs have a Latin influence, but mostly this is reminiscent of 1960s pop, before the lines between pop and rock became blurred.

There are a few names that will be familiar to country fans among the songwriting credit: Rick Trevino co-wrote “In My Dreams”. His own version appears on his 2003 album of the same name, which was produced by Raul Malo. Jaime Hanna, son of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna, co-wrote several tracks with Raul Malo and Alan Miller. And surprisingly, Dale Watson, one of the most outspoken critics of “poptry” music, had a hand in writing the Latin-flavored “I’m Wondering.”

My favorite track is the catchy earworm “Would You Believe”, which sounds like something from one of my Dad’s old Herman’s Hermits albums. Willie Nelson joins the group for “Time Goes By”, which is less Roy Orbison-esque than most of the album. It wasn’t released as a single, but seems like it could have had a shot at being a hit, although country radio had pretty much abandoned The Mavericks by now.

This isn’t the type of music I usually listen to and it’s probably not for hardcore country fans, but it does remind me of the kind of pop music that could be heard on the radio when I was growing up, and it makes a nice change of pace. It’s not essential listening, but loyal Mavericks fans will enjoy it.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Dolly Parton – ‘Thank God I’m A Country Girl’

Week ending 3/14/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

The-Statler-Brothers-Jimmy-Fortune-Lineup1955 (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: I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: Linda On My Mind — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1985: My Only Love — The Statler Brothers (Mercury)

1995: You Can’t Make A Heart Love Somebody — George Strait (MCA)

2005: Bless The Broken Road — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

2015: Take Your Time — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Lonely Tonight — Blake Shelton ft. Ashley Monroe (Warner Bros.)

Classic Rewind: Patty Loveless ft Ricky Skaggs -‘How Can I Help You Say Goodbye?’

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘All That Heaven Will Allow’

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘ Trampoline’

61AdyrEL0RL._SS280The Mavericks’ fifth studio album, Trampoline was their most successful album globally, not reaching only #9 on the US country chart, but unlike any of their other albums, before or after, also having significant success  in other countries. The album reached #3 on the Canadian country charts, #43 on the Canadian pop charts, #10 on the British and New Zealand pop charts and charting on the album charts of Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.

This was fueled by the success of “Dance The Night Away”, which while not a big hit on the US or Canadian country charts, reached #4 on the British pop chart, #25 in the Netherlands. Another British single from the album, “I’ve Got This Feeling” also cracked the top thirty.

As time went on, The Mavericks’ albums focused less on the band as a whole, and more on lead singer Raul Malo. I suppose this was inevitable, given the unique vocal talents of Malo, and this album completed that progression. Less country than its predecessors, Trampoline seamlessly blends together all of Malo’s musical influences. Of the albums thirteen songs, Malo either wrote or co-wrote twelve, the only exception being “I Hope You Want Me Too” from the pens of “Big” Kenny Alphin and Jaime Hanna.

Some of the songs feature a lot of musicians. In addition to the band members, twenty-one other musicians plus the Nashville String Machine play on the album. This includes a full complement of horns and reeds., as well as banjo and steel guitar.

The album opens up with the Latin-flavored “Dance The Night Away”, which while not an across the board hit on the US country charts (#63 US country  / #72 Canada country) received huge radio airplay in Florida (and I suspect other markets with large Latino populations).  The song is about what the singer is doing since his girl left him.

“Tell Me Why” , co-written with Al Anderson, has a strong 70s soul/ R&B ballad flavor to it  This is followed by the Latin-tinged “I Should Know” which despite the horns and steel guitars sounds like something from one of the British invasion bands of the 1960s

Every night alone
Every night I spent without you
Every little thing about you
Runs right through my mind
I wonder where you are
And do you ever think about me
And if you get the feeling that
There’s something missing too
But I should know
You’ll never come back to me
Even though I will always love you
I should know

“Someone Should Tell Her”, also co-written with Al Anderson, didn’t chart on the US and I am not sure that it was released as a single here. It was a single in the United Kingdom, reaching #45 and is probably my favorite song on the album.

Someone should tell her
How much I love her
Before she goes and
Runs away with him
If you should see her
Tell her I need her
Maybe then
She’ll come back to me
Ever since I broke her heart
She won’t talk to me
All I need is a one last chance
To make up and say I’m sorry

“To Be With You” is a nice country love ballad, devoid of Latin flavoring that would likely have been a hit had it been issued during the period from 1965- 1985. The Nashville String Machine is prominently featured on this track.

The next track is a bluesy curve ball, the languid “Fool #1″ , which sounds like something you might hear on a modern (but not too modern) jazz album or perhaps in some cocktail lounge somewhere, except Malo is a better singer than anyone you would likely hear in such a setting. The Nashville String Machine is tastefully employed in service of this song.

“I Don’t Even Know Her Name” also sounds like British Invasion pop, which may explain why it was issued as a single in the UK , reaching #27. On this song, Malo dials down his vocals a bit to sound more like a typical British invasion vocalist.

All in all this is a very interesting album flitting from genre to genre and reflecting a wide array of influences. I’ve pretty much covered the highlights of the album, but the entire album is worth hearing.  “Melbourne Mambo” probably comes closest to the sound of Malo’s Cuban heritage. Really , the only misstep is “Dolores”, which has a 1890s sound (piano and clarinet are the dominant instruments) with Malo singing into a megaphone – shades of “Winchester Cathedral” by The New Vaudeville Band of the 1960s, or earlier still, Rudy Vallee in the late 1920s/early 1930s. The track is not terrible but it is a waste of Malo’s unique voice.

The two closing tracks “Save A Prayer” which has that tent-revival sound and feel to it, and “Dream River” which has the feel of a Pat Boone or Elvis Presley ballad from the 1950s.

I really like this album and would give it an A+ but as what ?

A country album ??

A pop album ??

An easy listening/adult contemporary album ??

Classifications can be so meaningless. Just sit back and enjoy the album !

Classic Rewind: The Everly Brothers – ‘That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine’

Single Review: Lee Ann Womack – ‘Send It On Down’

LeeAnnWomack5Small town suffocation songs succeed when the trapped protagonist accurately conveys why they feel confined while precisely expressing how their internment is affecting them. Unfortunately, the majority of these songs center on young adults off to make crazy dreams come true. They’re not suffocating as much as growing up.

That’s why it’s so deliciously satisfying to hear Lee Ann Womack sing of a despondent alcoholic looking to Jesus for a final attempt at salvation. When Womack ends the chorus with ‘while I’m still able to be found’ you can hear the faint glimmer of hope in her voice, the tiny glimpse of positivity in an otherwise grim situation.

Womack has always shined brightest when narrating the most miserable of stories either of women on the brink of self-destruction or of marriages that have nearly imploded. Through it all she’s been guided by her keen self-awareness, a key factor in her ability to correctly communicate stories portraying intuitive women free of denial. Her characters always know exactly how they feel, even if they lack the solution to better their situation.

What sets “Send It On Down” apart is the way it subtlety illustrates the woman’s distress lyrically, while powerfully employing emotional resonance sonically. Chris Knight and David Leone’s story gives just enough details to keep the anecdote interesting, while Chuck Ainlay, Frank Liddell and Glenn Worf pair the tale with beautifully mournful piano and light ribbons of haunting pedal steel. That Womack tops it off with a brilliantly understand vocal is almost beside the point.

In her legendary career, Womack has already gifted us some of country music’s finest moments of the past eighteen years. She’s a shoo-in for the Country Music Hall of Fame, even if she never sang publicly again. I still prefer the cleaner sound of her eponymous debut, but there’s no denying this is just a killer record.

Grade: A+

Listen Here

 

Classic Rewind: Wilburn Brothers – ‘Heart Over Mind’

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘Music For All Occasions’

MusicforAllOccasionsIn the wake of their landmark What A Crying Shame, the Academy of Country Music named The Mavericks Top New Vocal Group for 1994, and Top Vocal Group in 1994 and 1995. The Country Music Association followed suit, with Vocal Group honors in 1995 and 1996.

Amidst the praise from the industry, they released Music For All Occasions, in the fall of 1995. Co-produced by Don Cook and Ralo Malo, the LP peaked at #9 and contains two of the most beloved singles they’ve ever released.

The Malo and Kostas penned “Here Comes The Rain” peaked at #22. The mid-tempo ballad became an instant classic despite it’s lack of airplay, and won the band their lone Grammy – Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal – in 1996.

The catchy as hell second single “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” was their most unconventional single to date at the time, with an unapologetic Tex-Mex vibe courtesy of featured accordionist Flaco Jiménez. The bright sing-along nature of the track, combined with Malo’s distinctive twangy vocal, helped the song soar to #13.

With The Mavericks’ biggest radio hit yet under their belt, MCA chose the astonishing string and steel soaked ballad “Missing You” as the final single. Despite another brilliant vocal from Malo, the track criminally stalled at #54.

Like “Missing You,” the majority of Music For All Occasions is a melting pot of 60s pop mixed with elements of the Nashville Sound and neo-traditional country. Album opener “Foolish Heart” is a prime example as are “One Step Away,” “My Secret Flame,” “Loving You” and “I’m Not Gonna Cry for you.” They also go honky-tonk with “The Writing On The Wall” and “If You Only Knew,” gifting listeners with rip-roaring pedal steel and a swinging attitude.

To make one more left-of-center statement, The Mavericks close the record with a cover of Frank Sinatra’s “Something Stupid.” A duet between Malo and Trisha Yearwood, the track features a Spanish-influenced lead guitar mixed with flourishes of harmonica. Like everything Yearwood graces, the results are outstanding.

Music For All Occasions is a revelation that moves the genre forward by bucking all popular trends, nodding to the past, and flawlessly executing on all fronts. The album brilliantly captures a group at the height of their prowess, creating magic at every turn. It pains me to think it sold roughly half of What A Crying Shame because this is music that desperately needs to be heard.

I urge everyone to seek out a copy. Music For All Occasions redefines the idea of essential listening and sounds just as fresh and exciting today as it did twenty years ago.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘I Should Have Been True’

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘What A Crying Shame’

51C7p4ENGmL._SS2801994’s What A Crying Shame was The Mavericks’ third album overall, their second for a major label and the first to have any significant commercial impact. It paired them for the first time with Don Cook who would produce (or co-produce with Raul Malo) all of the group’s albums for MCA from this point forward.

The Mavericks made their first chart appearance in 1992 with a remake of Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Looking'”, which peaked at #74. “What A Crying Shame” did significantly better, reaching #25. There were four additional singles released from the album. two of them – “O What A Thrill” and “There Goes My Heart”, reached the Top 20. “I Should Have Been True” reached #30 and the final single “All That Heaven Will Allow” topped out at #49.

As noted in some other discussions, The Mavericks were largely considered to be a “fringe” act; however, What A Crying Shame is bonafide country with plenty of fiddle and pedal steel — albeit with glossy production and highly polished vocals from Raul Malo that are often reminiscent of Roy Orbison. It is solidly within what was considered mainstream country at the time, which makes radio’s tepid response a bit puzzling. I can only speculate that it is because there was a lot of formidable competition in the 90s. Perhaps in another era The Mavericks would have made more of an impact.

What A Crying Shame may not have received a lot of support from radio, but it did connect with fans, and generated platinum-level sales. It’s a shame that it didn’t get more airplay because it is an excellent album from start to finish. Most of the songs have a 60s feel to them. Raul Malo had a hand in writing seven of the album’s eleven tracks, teaming up on several of them — including the title track and my favorite “There Goes My Heart”, with Kostas, who was one of the hottest songwriters in Nashville at the time.

In addition to Raul Malo and Kostas, What A Crying Shame boasts some impressive songwriting credits, including Jesse Winchester who wrote “O What A Thrill”, Bruce Springsteen who wrote “All That Heaven Will Allow” and the great Harlan Howard who co-wrote “Ain’t Found Nobody” with Kostas.

Even though it sold more than a million copies in the US, the album’s limited radio airplay means that few outside of the million people that bought it have heard most of these songs, and younger fans are unlikely to have heard them at all. I strongly recommend that anyone who hasn’t heard the album pick up a copy; this is exactly the sort of country music that Nashville should be making today.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Sammi Smith – ‘Then You Walk In’

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘From Hell To Paradise’

from hell to paradiseIf their independent album was a promising start from a band with better things to come, the Maverick’s major label debut showed them start to fulfil that promise.

They chose to recut a number of the best songs from the record’s independent predecessor, all written by Raul Malo. They opened with ‘Mr Jones’, about a return to an abandoned home, followed by ‘The End Of The Line’, a powerful indictment of disgraced TV preacher Jim Bakker. Also repeated were ‘A Better Way’ and the soaring Orbisonesque ballad ‘This Broken Heart’, which showed how Raul’s vocals had improved since the first album.

Two classic covers were included, perhaps to seal the band’s country credentials in the neotraditional environement currently dominating country radio. A raucous take on Hank Williams ‘Hey Good Lookin’ is full of energy but lacks light and shade, and was an unsuccessful first single.. A great cover of the Buck Owens hit ‘Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got A Heartache)’ is excellent.

The Bakersfield sound was brought up to date with a bit of a country-rock edge in the shape of ‘Forever Blue’, a Raul Malo solo composition, and ‘I Got You’, which Raul wrote with Radney Foster. The latter is a very good song about a loving relationship making hard times bearable. It was the album’s second single, but unfortunately failed to chart.

The title track is a Raul Malo song about the experience of Cuban refugees, with an impassioned chorus sung partly in Spanish,
I’ll always pay the price.

The most memorable song is the waltz time ‘Children’ a impassioned song about child abuse and neglect with a beautiful fiddle leading in.

The child who is raised by an unworthy hand
Has a less of a chance of being a man
Who will try to remember and then understand
Why a mother would cry while her husband lay dead
Shot down by the gun of a runaway train
Cause life in the fast lane it all ends the same

Well, the same children’s lives they will always regret
Are the children who never forget…

Good night, good night, sweet child
Why don’t you dream with the angels to forget for a while
To forget of the life that’s been handed to you
Where everything’s real yet nothing is true

It is the only record I have ever heard where a child chorus actually worked, and the song is very moving.

This was an excellent introduction to the mainstream for the band. It did not break them as stars, as the singles got very limited airplay, but it is very much worthwhile tracking it down.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Jamey Johnson – ‘I Saw The Light’

Week ending 3/7/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

wadehayes09-280x2101955 (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: I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: It’s Time To Pay The Fiddler – Cal Smith (MCA)

1985: Baby Bye-Bye — Gary Morris (Warner Bros.)

1995: Old Enough To Know Better — Wade Hayes (Columbia)

2005: Bless The Broken Road — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

2015: Take Your Time — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Make Me Wanna — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘There Goes My Heart’

Classic Rewind: Rhonda Vincent sings Hank Williams – ‘Your Cheating Heart’

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