My Kind of Country

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

Classic Rewind: Jack Greene – ‘The Last Letter’

Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘This Ole Boy’

91fn7FvtfDL._SX522_Craig Morgan took a four-year hiatus from recording after leaving BNA Records. He re-emerged in 2012 via Black River Entertainment with This Ole Boy. In theory, signing with an indie label would give him more independence to record the kind of music he wanted. In practice, however, there is nothing to really distinguish the album from what the major labels were putting out.

As with his last few releases, Morgan shared production duties with Phil O’Donnell. Morgan co-wrote half of the album’s songs. This Ole Boy spawned three singles, the most successful of which was the title track which peaked at # 13. “Corn Star” reached #50, which is far more than it deserved, and “More Trucks Than Cars” topped out at #38. The album itself reached #5 on the albums chart.

In a nutshell, with one or two exceptions, This Ole Boy is a collection of songs that range from bad to mediocre. There is only two tracks that I truly enjoyed: the Monty Criswell/Tim Mensy composition “Country Boys Like Me” and the closing number “Summer Moon”, a Morgan co-write with Chris Wallin. The rest of the album falls into the trap of trying to offer something for everyone, a type of approach that usually leaves all unsatisfied. “This Ole Boy” is a not bad, faced paced number that had previously been recorded by Joe Nichols. “More Trucks Than Cars” is a cliche-ridden laundry list of buzzwords that are typically associated with southern living — lazy songwriting at it worst. I can’t decide which of the two bro-country numbers is worse: “Corn Star” or “Show Me Your Tattoo”, but currently I am leaning towards the former. Morgan is a decent vocalist whose talent is wasted on garbage songs like those, and it’s particularly difficult to forgive these kinds of transgressions from more mature artists who surely ought to know better.

“The Whole World Needs a Kitchen” is not a bad song, but it lacks originality. The theme reminds me of Tracy Lawrence’s “If the World Had a Front Porch”, which was a much better song. “I Didn’t Drink” is an interesting number and one of the few moments of originality on the album: a man walks into a bar to drown his sorrows following a bad break-up but doesn’t know what to order because he is a teetotaler. It’s an interesting concept, but it doesn’t quite work — mainly because it’s performed as a pop-tinged power ballad. This kind of theme needs a more traditional treatment.

With only two really good songs, I can’t really recommend this album. It’s available for streaming on Amazon Music, and presumably other streaming services as well for those who want to give it a listen before buying.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Ernest Tubb – ‘Try Me One More Time’

Dixie Chicks Live: long time gone, but back once again

imageIf there was ever a time for Dixie Chicks to mount a comeback tour in the United States, it would be now, while we’re in the midst of the most decisive presidential election in our nation’s history. Dixie Chicks are a political band, for better or worse, and not just because they register folks to vote in the concession area before, during and after each show.

The election does play a role, albeit a small one, in this latest production. The MMXVI Tour, as it’s being called, exists to commemorate the watershed moment Natalie Maines replaced Laura Lynch as lead singer twenty years ago. The success that followed forever changed the trajectory of mainstream country music, although this show, fierce country-tinged rock, spends more time ignoring that legacy than honoring it.

The balance skewed Taking The Long Way-heavy (although “Easy Silence, complete with a lyrical video, and the unexpected and rarely performed “Silent House” were fabulous), which allowed banjos, fiddles and dobros to act as accents opposed to centerpieces for the majority of the evening. But this being a Dixie Chicks show, they honored their past with fiery renditions of “Sin Wagon,” “Wide Open Spaces,” “Some Days You Gotta Dance,” “Mississippi” and “Not Ready To Make Nice.” Lush renditions of “Cowboy Take Me Away” and “Landslide” were also excellent, while the latter had a beautiful backdrop containing reflective images of the Chicks’ heads.

The rock theme was matched by the black and white set, minimal yet powerful, which hit you in the face with lights and sound as Dixie Chicks took the stage for the one-two punch of “The Long Way Around” and “Lubbock or Leave It.” They added significant muscle to the uptempos from Home, giving “Truth No. 2” and “Long Time Gone” a charge of energy unmatched by their humble acoustic beginnings.

The show is broken into two separate sections at the conclusion of highlight “Goodbye Earl,” and is bridged by a black-and-white car chase in which the ladies race to the sounds of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades.” They returned with the night’s strongest segment, an acoustic set that hinted at their beginnings (“Traveling Soldier” and “White Trash Wedding”) while nicely showing where they could go with a cover of Beyoncé’s “Daddy’s Lessons,” from her recently released Lemonade. (They excluded their brilliant reading of Patty Griffin’s “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida,” for obvious reasons). They concluded this portion with an instrumental they concocted that had Maines banging a single drum framed in bluegrass beats.

FullSizeRenderThey skewed the presidential race jib-jab style on “Ready To Run,” my favorite moment of the whole show, which ended with red, white and blue confetti festively blanketing the audience. The eluded to Donald Trump just twice more; giving him devil horns during “Goodbye Earl” and when Maines said she’d protect a bug that had flown on stage by ‘building a wall’ around it.

It actually wasn’t Trump, but the recently deceased Prince that dominated the evening. They set the stage for the evening with him singing “Let’s Go Crazy” (after a video about wrongly incarcerated inmates, Dixie Chicks trivia questions and a random selections of Maines’ always colorful tweets) and treated the crowd to a stunning cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” that brought fourth unforeseen colors in Maines’ voice soaked in a backdrop of his giant purple symbol. They ended the evening with Ben Harper’s “Better Way,” which they dedicated to the Pulse Nightclub victims in Orlando.

This Mansfield, MA stop on their tour was my fourth time seeing Dixie Chicks live. I saw them open for George Strait in 1999 and headline their own Top of The World (2003) and Accidents and Accusations (2006) tours. I was supposed to see them open for Eagles in 2010 at Gillette Stadium, but an unforeseen engagement got in the way. Each show has been dramatically different from the last, providing its own distinct flavors and textures.

While I’ll likely always regard their 2003 outing as their finest, this show wasn’t without considerable charms. The Chicks haven’t lost an ounce of the spunk they’ve cultivated over the past twenty years. They may have been pushing a bit too hard – the show was much louder than it needed to be – but the true essence of Dixie Chicks came through wonderfully. They’ve only gotten better, which is a testament to their incredible prowess. Ten years was a long time, but it was certainly worth the agonizing wait.

Classic Rewind: Craig Morgan – ‘Love Remembers’

Album Review: Ashton Shepherd – ‘Out Of My Pocket’

out of my pocketAshton Shepherd’s major label career did not work out, despite a handful of top 20 singles, and now she is making music at home in Alabama. Her latest self-released album is now available. Her distinctively stretched out vocals aren’t to all tastes, but they work well on her new material, all of it self-penned, and better than the songs on her last album, It’s America, which I was a little disappointed by.

‘With Us Tellin’ The Truth’ is a poor working class woman’s lament against the state of the American economy. ‘I Just Need A Minute’ also successfully expresses the frustrations of a harried mother, although it collapses into melodrama at the end when she is reminded how much she loves them after a car accident. ‘Can’t Tell You No’ is about love carrying a couple through the hard times. This is the one misstep on the album, with some irritating oh-oh-oh sounds, although the song itself is a decent one.

One of my favourite tracks, ‘This Rainy Sunday’ is a dramatic song about a wife who returns from Sunday to discover her cheating husband in flagrante in what feels like the precursor to a murder ballad:

I thought I was walkin’ with God
But I guess now I’m not
Everything I did believe is erased
The man I love’s done more than I can take
And I’m losing my faith

The anguished ‘Glass And Nails’ sees the protagonist’s husband hiding from their troubles in a bottle:

I’m not walkin’ on pins and needles, baby,
I’m walkin’ through glass and nails

‘It’s You’ is a fine song about a woman struggling her way through life through a series of bar pickups and one night stands after a breakup:

That ain’t me
It ain’t who I ever was
Doesn’t anyone remember who I used to be
No, that ain’t me
I swear it’s the truth
That ain’t me
It’s you

‘I Don’t Know Why’ is another pained song about heartbreak following the end of a relationship.

The brash, confident honky tonker ‘I Like Bein’ Single’ is much more positive about a newly single status:

The bar’s open and I’m goin’ out tonight
No I ain’t worried about what’s wrong or what’s right
You thought I’d be cryin’ since you left me alone
But there ain’t been a tear shed here, hon, since you’ve been gone
I never knew I could be this happy without you around

The protagonist of ‘Take It Back Real Slow’ begs her husband to revert to the early romantic stages of their relationship. The tender ‘Come Here To Me’ has a lullaby feel, while ‘Don’t Wake Me Up’ is a happy love song. ‘Baby Doll’ relates a girl’s relationship with her father, from a little child not wanting to go to school, to the final separation of death.

This is an encouraging return from a talented singer-songwriter.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: George Jones – ‘She Thinks I Still Care’

Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘That’s Why’

thats whyReleased in October 2008, That’s Why continued Craig Morgan’s recent run of success, reaching #8 on Billboard’s country albums chart. Released on BNA, Craig’s first and only album for the label, That’s Why would see four singles released with varying success.

Morgan co-produced the album with Phil O’Donnell and together they wrote the lead-off single (and first track on the album), “Love Remembers”, which became Morgan’s sixth top ten hit in November 2008. The song is a ballad but with somewhat noisy guitars but with the requisite steel and fiddle to qualify this as a country song. Morgan gives a strong but somewhat overwrought reading to the song.

You can forget what love was wearing
When it walked out your front door
Where you fell down to your knees
And you can forget the kind of suitcase
That was packed out on the sidewalk
While you cried there beggin’ please
But love remembers

You can lie and tell yourself
You’re over it and someone else will take love’s place
And this is for the best
You can lie in that bed
In a stranger’s arms reachin’ for comfort
Close your eyes and still get no rest

Cause love remembers
The smell of a summer day
Lying in a hammock over fresh cut grass
And the promise of forever
Yeah love remembers
The sound of the pouring rain
Beatin’ down on the top of a car
On the side of the road
Where it couldn’t wait
Yeah love remembers

Craig Morgan would have a hand in writing six of the tracks on this album, five of them in conjunction with Phil O’ Donnell.

The next song up is “Bonfire”, a very noisy up-tempo with rock guitar accompaniment. The song describes a summer party around a bonfire. The first verse is about the partiers and the second verse tells of an incident in which a police officer arrives to break up the gathering, but decides instead to participate. This was the third single from the album and reached #4. Morgan wrote the song with Kevin Denney, Tom Botkin and Mike Rogers.

At this point I should mention that this album went through several different releases. “Bonfire” was NOT on the first release of the album, replaced by “Summer Sundown”. Listeners who picked up the album upon its initial release will also notice that the songs are sequenced somewhat differently than I am describing. Cracker Barrel Restaurants released a version of the album with three bonus tracks including “Summer Sundown” and the previously unreleased “You” and “Evel Knievel”.

Kerry Kurt Phillips, Chris DuBois wrote the stoic “This Ain’t Nothing”, in which a newspaper reporter interviews an old man about a tornado that destroyed his house. The old man tells of the real losses in his life – his father, his brother, a good friend and his left hand during a battle in Vietnam, and his wife of fifty years – and explains that losing the house is nothing because unlike the other losses in his life, the house can be replaced. This song was released as the fourth single in 2010 and reached #13 country airplay / #83 pop. I think it is the best song on the album. I should note that this song was not on the CD release of the album, which featured a much juvenile song in “Every Red Light”.

“And last year, I watched my lovin’ wife
` Of fifty years waste away and die
And I held her hand ’til her heart of gold stopped pumpin’
So, this ain’t nothin'”

He said, “I learned at an early age
There’s things that matter, and there’s things that don’t
So if you’re waitin’ here for me to cry
I hate to disappoint you boy, but I won’t”

Then he reached down in the rubble and picked up a photograph
Wiped the dirt off of it with the hand that he still had
He put it to his lips and he said, “Man she was somethin’
But, this ain’t nothin'”

Dave Turnbull joins Morgan & O’Donnell as co-writers of the title track “That’s Why” an uplifting mid-tempo ballad that should have been released as a single.

My alarm goes off early,
Can’t afford to be late.
If I don’t get a move on then I won’t get paid.
So I throw back those covers and get my butt out of bed.
It’s still dark when im leavin’ so I let my lady sleep.
I know her and them babies are countin on me
To put food on the table and keep this roof over our head.

Prior to this album, most of Craig’s hits had been up-tempo numbers (such as “Redneck Yacht Club” and “I Got You”) but most of this album is taken at slower tempos. The last track on my copy of album is the gospel-tinged “Ordinary Angels”, complete with a choir. It is a very nice song, one that could easily be true to life for military veteran Craig Morgan.

It could be a waitress at coffee shop you never saw before
A soldier that’s just coming home from fighting in the war
We all got a little superman ready to take a fly
And save a life, oh save a life
Take a look around and you’ll see ordinary angels

It could be someone walking down the street
A stranger on a bus
A little kid on his way to school or any one of us
We all got a little superman ready to take a fly
And save a life, oh save a life
Take a look around and you’ll see ordinary angels

Unfortunately everything else on the album strikes me as filler, although someone at the label thought that track five, “God Must Really Love Me”, would make a good second single. It reached #26 breaking Craig’s string of seven consecutive top twelve hits.

“Sticks”, for example, reminds me of Craig’s 2007 top ten hit “International Harvester”, but it is not as good. The rest is just nondescript filler, neither terrible nor terribly interesting.

That’s Why is a decent album, particularly in the reissued versions. Still, this would be the last Craig Morgan album I would purchase, since it seemed that the promise of the first album was being wasted with pop-country production slathered upon it. I feel that Craig would make a really good traditional country artist. As a modern pop-country artist, Craig Morgan is just another good artist. Perhaps when he has given up on chart success, an album worthy of his debut album will emerge.

C+

Below is the track listing of the version of the album I reviewed:

01. Love Remembers – writers: Craig Morgan, Phil O’Donnell
02. Bonfire – writers; Morgan, Kevin Denney, Mike Rogers, Tom Botkin
03. This Ain’t Nothin’ – writers; Kerry Kurt Phillips, Chris DuBois
04. That’s Why – writers: Morgan, O’Donnell, David Turnbull
05. God Must Really Love Me: -writers Jim Collins, Troy Verges
06. Lookin’ Back with You – writers: James, Morgan, O’Donnell
07. Sticks – writers: Galen Griffin, Gary Hannan, Morgan, O’Donnell
08. It Took a Woman – writers: Jimmy Melton, Turnbull
09. Planet Her – writers: Kirby, Morgan, O’Donnell
10. Ordinary Angels – writers: Angelo Petraglia, S. Olsen, R. Supa

Classic Rewind: Craig Morgan – ‘Country Side Of Heaven’

Week ending 6/18/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

hqdefault-61956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Heartbreak Hotel — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1966: Take Good Care of Her — Sonny James (Capitol)

1976: I’ll Get Over You — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1986: Life’s Highway — Steve Wariner (MCA)

1996: Blue Clear Sky — George Strait (MCA)

2006: Summertime — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

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

2016 (Airplay): T-Shirt — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

Classic Rewind: Craig Morgan – ‘International Harvester’

Classic Rewind: David Ball – ‘Thinkin’ Problem’

Single Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ b/w ‘High on a Mountain of Love’

51bARUV4GWLDwight Yoakam’s latest effort comes to us courtesy of Third Man Records, a niche label specializing in vinyl releases that was founded by Jack White in 2001. The 7″ single was released last week, with White himself producing. Both the A and B sides of the record are remakes of songs whose origins are from outside of country music. Written by Tommy Boyce and Steve Venet, ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ was originally a 1966 album cut for The Monkees. I’d never heard it before but it works reasonably well as a rockabilly number and is not all that different from a lot of Yoakam’s other rock-tinged offerings. It’s a decent song, but probably not one I would have chosen to resurrect for a single release. I prefer the B side of the record, ‘High on a Mountain of Love’, which was recorded by a number of pop acts in the 1960s. It was also a #1 country hit for Charley Pride in 1981. I remember listening to and greatly enjoying that version when I was growing up.

Both songs are pleasant enough and well performed by Dwight, but Jack White is not my favorite producer and his choices here had tremendous negative impact on my ability to enjoy either song. The arrangements on ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ are cluttered and busy. ‘High on a Mountain of Love’ is better in that respect, but one has to almost strain in order to hear Dwight’s vocals over the music. This is also true, to a somewhat lesser extent on the A side of the record. Both recordings have a very tinny low fidelity sound, which I suspect was deliberate and probably a way to tie into the “vinyl is cool” mentality. They sound like they were recorded in a garage. I didn’t like that production approach when White used it with Loretta Lynn and I don’t like it now. Both of these tracks would have been a whole lot better if they had been recorded in a more conventional manner.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Craig Morgan – ‘Tough’

Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘Little Bit Of Life’

little bit of lifeCraig’s third and final album for Broken Bow was released in 2006. He co-produced the record with the always reliable Keith Stegall, and it sounds solid throughout, but suffers from relatively weak material.

The rapid paced rather generic title track about country living was the first, and most successful, single, reaching #7. ‘Tough’ just missed the top 10, peaking at #11. A tender ballad paying tribute to a hard working wife and mother, it was written by Monty Criswell and Joe Leathers, and is nicely sung. The effervescent ‘International Harvester’ (about a tractor driving farmer happy to block the roads for other motorists) got Craig back into the top 10. It got some critical attention online at the time, but I always liked it. There is a genuine charm about Craig’s delivery.

Craig co-wrote four songs this time around. ‘I Am’ and ‘My Kind Of Woman’ are rather bland filler. The rapid paced and not very melodic ‘I Guess You Had To Be There’ is a bit silly, with Craig sounding like Joe Diffie at his novelty worst. ‘The Song’ is a pleasant sounding but not terribly interesting semi-story song about the power of a record to touch people’s lives.

Morgan’s friend and frequent cowriter, Phil O’Donnell, also wrote ‘Nothin’ Goin’ Wrong Around Here’ with Buddy Owens and Gary Hannan; once more this sounds decent but is lyrically dull. Much the same goes for ‘Sweet Old Fashioned Goodness’, written by Michael White, Carson Chamberlain, and Lee Thomas Miller.

Much better than any of these is ‘The Ballad Of Mr Jenkins’ a tearjerker of a story song written by D Vincent Williams and Steve Mandile. Williams also co-wrote the album closer, ‘Look At ‘Em Fly’, with Jim Femino; this is a nice little song about noticing the little things.

The songs are limited lyrically, but this is a recognisably country sounding record, which is always a plus.

Grade: C+

Classic Rewind: Craig Morgan – ‘This Ain’t Nothin’

EP Review: Shelley Skidmore – ‘Shelley Skidmore’

shelley skidmoreKentucky-born Shelley Skidmore co-wrote (with Brandy Clark and Shane MacAnally) a song I loved a few years back when Joanna Smith recorded it – ‘We Can’t Be Friends’. Now she has released her own five track EP (produced by Paul Worley), and proves to have a fine voice with a smooth tone, and a genuine country sensibility. In a recent interview she cites her favorite albums of all time as Lee Ann Womack’s There’s More Where That Comes From and Patty Loveless’s When Fallen Angels Fly – definitely an indicator of someone who loves traditional country music and knows great songs when she hears them.

The excellent ‘White Picket Fences’ was written by Shelley with Brandy Clark and Jessie Jo Dillon, and it’s a very typical Clark story song. It paints a scathing picture of the guilty secrets lying behind both a small town’s respectable surfaces, which are not so very different from the open sins of the dreaded big city:

It’s all white picket fences
It’s all pink and purple pansies
Its the face of small town grace
The perfect place to raise a family
We’re all scandal
We’re all scripture
We’re all smiling for the picture
It’s alright because it’s all white picket fences

A little bit of tasteful brass adds a jocular air.

This is the only song on the set Shelley had a hand in writing – it’s a shame she didn’t include her own version of ‘We Can’t Be Friends’.

The very best song on the album is another Brandy Clark song, this time a co-write with Troy Verges. ‘Pawn Shop’ is a modern classic of a story song, as a woman pawns her wedding ring to raise the money for a bus ticket away from her bad marriage:

It ain’t stolen
It ain’t hot
Someone told me it cost a lot
Man ain’t that the truth
I thought I’d wear it my whole life
It never even crossed my mind
Back when it was new
It’d end up in a pawn shop on Charlotte Avenue

A musician then hands over his beloved guitar, and with it gives up his dreams. And the dreams of both love and music will pass to other dreamers in their turn. This is beautifully written and sung, and deeply moving.

Shelley’s husband, Greg Bates, had a shortlived career with one hit a few years back. Greg never released an album despite a top 5 single, and seems not to have enjoyed the touring aspects of being a star. He duets with Shelley on the ballad ‘What You Need From Me’, a beautiful sad song about a failed relationship written by Jon Randall, Jessi Alexander, and Phillip White:

Woman: You need a trophy on your arm
So you don’t look so lonely
Someone to get you through the nights
Someone to start your morning coffee

Man: You need a man that you can count on
Someone who’ll finish what he started
Not a restless soul that comes and goes
And only leaves you broken hearted

Both: I’m so sorry that I’ll never be what you need from me

With regret they acknowledge their mutual failure to meet the other’s needs. Greg sounds very good here, and it’s enough to make me regret the loss of his career as a solo artist before it had really got going. The tasteful and understated arrangement is very traditional country, with some lovely steel and fiddle.

The one song that doesn’ t appeal to me is the jaunty ballad ‘Making Babies’, written by Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, and Matt Jenkins, about pressure from the in-laws to start a family. It is neatly written but the melody is the least country sounding on the album, and doesn’t quite work for me with the song.

The album closes with the quirky ‘Back In The Saddle’, a 20 year old Matraca Berg song which Berg recorded on her 1997 album Sunday Morning To Saturday Night Shelley’s version uses the same arrangement, with backing vocals from Berg, Deana Carter, Kathy Mattea and Brandy Clark. It’s very entertaining and ends the too-short set on a high.

This is a great EP I very much enjoyed. I only wish it was a full length album.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Craig Morgan – ‘Little Bit Of Life’

Single Review: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Oughta Miss Me By Now’

she oughta miss me by nowIt’s always a good news day when you hear Mark Chesnutt has released new music. His first album in eight years is due next month, with the encouraging title, Tradition Lives, and in the mean time here is the first single.

Written by Tony Ramey and Trey Matthews, this is an excellent song about the aftermath of a breakup, loaded with irony. The man is missing his ex, and even kind of stalking her, but is making no actual effort to get her back. Yet he is surprised that she hasn’t come back to him. Plaintively he bemoans the fact that she doesn’t ring him, even though he admits he hasn’t tried calling her either. Somehow one isn’t surprised it’s not working out – but Mark’s emotionally compelling vocals make one sympathise with his pain regardless:

I haven’t wrote
I haven’t called
Ain’t sent one single rose at all
I haven’t showed up at her door
Don’t go to places that she goes
I’ve moved on for all she knows
That should make her want me more
She oughta miss me by now

She oughta pick up that phone
For crying out loud this has gone on too long
She should’ve come to her senses
And want to work it all out
As bad as I’m hurtin’
She oughta miss me by now

Chesnutt’s voice is as good as ever, and the solid country backings and a prominent steel guitar make this mid-paced tune a delight to listen to. I await the new album with bated breath.

Listen to the track.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Kenny Rogers and Lee Ann Womack – ‘Every Time Two Fools Collide’

The song starts a couple of minutes in:

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