My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Aaron Neville

Album Review: Doug Stone – ‘In A Different Light’

in a different lightDoug’s tenth album was released in 2005 on independent label Lofton Creek. he co-produced the album with John Mills and label boss Mike Borchetta (father of Scott). The main drawback to being on an independent label turned out to be a shortage of good new songs. It also sounds as if it was produced on the cheap, with a rather compressed sound in places and the vocals have a tendency to sound staccato. A number of songs were tried as singles, but unsurprisingly none gained any traction.

On the positive side, my favourite track, ‘Let The Light Shine On You’ is lovely, a very sweet romantic ballad written by Randy Boudreaux and Blake Mevis paying tribute to a woman who has supported her husband for years, and this track is worth downloading. The wistful piano ballad ‘How Do I Get Off The Moon’ about coping with a breakup (another Boudreaux song, co-written with Kerry Kurt Phillips and Donny Keen) is also quite pretty and tenderly sung, but the shoddy engineering/audio issues spoil it sonically. On the same theme, ‘The Beginning Of The End’ is well-sung and not a bad song.

Unfortunately most of the new songs are boring and many are over-produced to boot. The heavily orchestrated ‘Everything’ is probably the best of the rest, being pleasant but rather bland, on the well-worn theme of satisfaction with one’s simple life. ‘Time’ is overproduced and not very interesting. ‘World Goes round also boring, but worse, it is overproduced and poppy, with an unnaturally staccato vocal, and generally really bad. ‘To Be A Man’ is boring and far too loud.

The paucity of good new material was countered by including a number of covers of non-country songs. An unexpectedly soulful cover of the standard ‘Georgia On My Mind’ is rather good, while ‘Only You (And You Alone)’ is okay. ‘Tell It Like It Is’ is a 60s hit for R&B artist Aaron Neville which was also a minor hit at that time for Archie Campbell and Lorene Mann, and a #2 country hit for Billy Joe Royal in 1989. Doug’s version is jazzy and sophisticated and quite good although not really country. Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ is also quite nicely done, although the effect is too staccato for my taste. ‘Millionaire’ is a sprightly tongue-in-cheek Dixieland jazz/ragtime number about trying to become a kept man, with saxophone which would be quite fun if not for the uncomfortable amount of vocal processing evident, with disconcerting shifts in volume.

Finally, he revisited a couple of his older successes. The title track makes pleasant listening but completely redundant, while ‘Why Didn’t I Think Of That’ feels rushed.

Overall this is rather a disappointment. Used copies are available fairly cheaply, but I couldn’t really recommend it to anyone but a Doug Stone superfan. I love Stone’s voice – but sadly not this record.

Grade: C-

Album Review: Rodney Crowell – ‘Jewel of the South’

1994’s Let The Picture Paint Itself reunited Rodney Crowell with co-producer Tony Brown, and though they were unable to recapture the commercial spark of Diamonds & Dirt, they collaborated again for the following year’s Jewel of the South. It was the last project they worked on together.

Though not as traditional nor as satisfying as Diamonds & Dirt, Jewel of the South is nonetheless a solid album. Unfortunately, Rodney’s commercial momentum had been lost by this point, and the album did not receive the recognition it deserved. The album’s lone single was “Please Remember Me”, which Crowell wrote with Will Jennings. It stalled at #69. Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt later covered the song, as did Tim McGraw, who took it all the way to #1 on the country charts and #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1999. For the record, I prefer Crowell’s version to McGraw’s.

Crowell had a hand in writing eight of the album’s eleven tracks, including the brief Tex-Mex flavored closing track “Que Is Amor” which lists Will Jennings and the late Roy Orbison as co-writers. Clocking it at just over a minute and a half, the song doesn’t doesn’t say much or add much to the album. It is, however, very much the exception because the rest of the album’s tracks are solid. The rock-tinged “Love to Burn” reunites Crowell and Jennings with Hank DeVito; the result is reminiscent of the music Rodney made back in his Warner Bros. days. One of the album’s best tracks is the introspective “Thinkin’ About Leavin'”, which is about musician who apparently gave up life on the road for a marriage and family and is now experiencing some regret. The lyrics seem to serve as a metaphor for Rodney’s declining commercial appeal:

Sometimes I miss the bright lights sometimes I miss the crowd
Sometimes I miss the women sometimes the music loud
Sometimes I miss that world out there so cold hard and unkind
I’ve been thinking about leaving long enough to change my mind

Sometimes I miss the bright lights sometimes I miss the noise
Sometimes I miss the women sometimes the good old boys
Sometimes I miss that world out there so cold hard and unkind
And I’ve been thinking about leaving long enough to change my mind

In addition to Rodney’s original material, there are some well-chosen covers. The Harlan Howard-Buck Owens tune “Storm of Love” is perhaps an attempt to recreate the magic of “Above and Beyond”. It’s not quite as good as “Above and Beyond” but it’s still the album’s best track. There is also a very good rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Candy Man”, complete with a bluesy harmonica solo.

Despite a solid set of songs and Rodney’s connections to the label brass, Jewel of the South was a commercial failure and was Rodney’s last for MCA. It’s still worth listening to and fortunately inexpensive copies are easy to find, including a 2-for-1 import release that also contains Let The Picture Paint Itself.

Grade: B

Album Review: Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris – ‘Trio’

The 80s saw Emmylou branching out in various ways, but perhaps struggling to find a new direction after Ricky Skaggs left the Hot Band to launch his own solo career. After the tour de force that was Roses In The Snow, she released a couple of albums of out-takes from previous sessions and an album of live recordings (Last Date). After her final album with Brian Ahern, the rock influenced White Shoes (one of her poorer efforts), their marriage broke up. Emmylou found a new path when she married British born songwriter Paul Kennerley, and worked with him on the semi-autobiographical concept album, The Ballad Of Sally Rose, which saw Emmylou co-writing all the songs with her new husband. Neither this album nor its more conventional but equally underrated successor (Thirteen, also produced by Kennerley) was commercially successful.

But if Emmylou’s career had been on a downturn, 1987 saw her greatest achievement commercially, and arguably artistically, with the long awaited Trio project. She had half-formed plans for many years for a trio album with friends Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, but label conflicts meant there was never the impetus to proceed. Odd tracks appeared on some of their solo albums, others were left to languish in the vaults, but the project as a whole foundered. The mid 80s saw all three ladies at a crossroads of sorts in their acreers, and this record, while conceived as a labor of love, revitalized them all.

It wasn’t quite all acoustic, and some tracks also had string arrangements, but the choice of material and the overall feel is rooted deep in the roots of country music, particularly the side formed in the Appalachians – Dolly’s home territory, and one adopted by Emmylou on Blue Kentucky Girl. It was the strangest territory for Linda, but she was the kind of singer who can sing almost any genre and sound convincing. Producer George Massenberg was an experienced recording enginer without a track record as a producer, but he did a great job.

Emmylou opens proceedings with a crystalline lead vocal on a lovely version of ‘The Pain Of Loving You’, an old Dolly Parton/Porter Wagoner classic which opens the set. She also takes the lead on the one song not taken from the country or folk genres, the Phil Spector song ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’, given a prettily understated reading which completely transforms the original into a rootsy country song, but retains the core emotion. It was a #1 hit single. She also sings lead on a tasteful setting of the slow sad ‘My Dear Companion’, which sounds as though it could have been written in the Appalachians in the 19th or even 18th century.

Dolly was the biggest star at the time of the album’s release, but through the first two thirds of the 1980s her music had been drifting ever more popwards. She had achieved massive crossover success, but was beginning to alienate country radio and fans. She had left RCA, her longterm label, freeing her to record Trio. She was to make one more attempt at balancing her pop and country careers with the release later in 1987 the very pop and widely derided Rainbow flopping. In 1989 she was to make a definitive return to country with the Ricky Skaggs produced White Limozeen, but I believe the commercial success of Trio paved the way for her comeback.

She wrote one new song for the project, the charming ‘Wildflowers’, a possibly autobiographical song about a free spirit which recalls her music of the early 70s. It reached #6 on the Billboard country singles chart as the final single from the album, proving country radio still loved Dolly when she sang country songs. Her vocals on the classic ‘Making Plans’, a mournful song anticipating the loved one’s departure, work perfectly, and she also sings the sweet traditional ‘Rosewood Casket’ (aranged by her mother). ‘Those Memories Of You’, written by Alan O’Bryant and previously recorded by a pre-fame Pam Tillis, has a high lonesome bluegrass feel, and was a #5 single.

Although never a strictly country singer, Linda Ronstadt had had a number of country hits in the 70s with her country-rock sound, but in the 80s had been branching out into other kinds of music. 1987 was a bumper year for her; beside her country success with Trio she was enjoying some of her biggest pop hits by duetting with R&B singer Aaron Neville. Linda’s beautiful voice soars on the Jimmie Rodgers’ song ‘Hobo’s Meditation’ (will there be any freight trains in heaven?). Nitpicking, one might complain that this is just too pretty and clean sounding for a song voicing the train-hopping tramp of the lyric, but it sounds so lovely I don’t care. Perhaps it shows the true soul inside the hobo’s rough appearance, with its wistful questioning,

Will the hobo chum with the rich man?

This is my favorite of Linda’s tracks, and possibly my favorite on the album. Linda’s other leads come on more modern folk songs. Her vocals are impeccable on the plaintive ‘Telling Me Lies’, co-written by Ronstadt’s friend Linda Thompson, which has something of an AC feel and was a top 10 single. Canadian Kate McGarrigle (who died recently) contributed the haunting ‘I’ve Had Enough’.

They finish up with the spiritual ‘Farther Along’, arranged simply by Emmylou with John Starling. Dolly takes the first verse, Linda the second, with Emmylou the last to be showcased.

Everything about this album works. Critical acclaim was accompanied by significant radio support with four hit singles, one of them reaching the top of the chart. It probably also regained Dolly some much needed country credibility. It has sold over four million copies, and is an essential purchase for any country fan (or anyone who loves harmonies). Luckily, it’s still easy to find. The 1999 follow-up Trio II was good, but failed to recapture the magic of the original.

Grade: A+