My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Aaron Tippin

Album Review: Michael White – ‘Familiar Ground’

4187bvloazlAs the composer of such songs as Blake Shelton’s “The Baby”, Mark Wills’ “Loving Every Minute” and Michael Ray’s “Kiss You in the Morning”, Michael White has been more successful as a songwriter than as a performer, but he did record briefly for Reprise Records in the early 1990s. Familiar Ground, his sole album for Reprise (or anyone else as far as I can determine) was released in 1992. It produced three chart singles, one of which reached the Top 40, but failed to establish him as recording artist.

Timing is everything. If Familiar Ground were being released today, we’d all be talking about Michael White as a new standard bearer for traditional country music, much in the way that Mo Pitney and William Michael Morgan are. But 25 years ago when the music still usually sounded country and there was no shortage of talent, Michael White simply did not stand out from the pack. It’s regrettable because he has a very fine voice, that is reminiscent of Tracy Lawrence, with occasional touches of Aaron Tippin and Keith Whitley.

The lead single “Professional Fool” was the album’s biggest hit and one of the best songs on the album. It peaked at a very respectable-for-a-first-release #32. A more uptempo number may have been a better choice to introduce a new act to radio. Reprise tried that strategy with the next two singles: the title track which was penned by White and “She Likes to Dance”, which peaked at #43 and #63 respectively. “Familiar Ground” is a decent small-town homage, but it’s barely distinguishable from dozens of other similar songs. “She Likes to Dance” is a bit of lightweight fluff.

All of the songs are good, but my favorites are the ballads: “Back to Texarkana”, “If I Had a Mind To”, and “The Boy Next Door” who is overlooked by the object of his affections. I also enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek swing number “One of My Near Mrs.” I can imagine Tracy Lawrence singing this one.

I’d never heard of Michael White prior to preparing for this month’s spotlight feature. I’m very pleased and pleasantly surprised to have come across this overlooked gem. Used cheap copies are readily available.

Grade: A

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘A Friend In California’

a friend in californiaAs the neotraditionalists came to prominence in the second half of the 1980s, Haggard seems to have taken something of a contrarian turn, with this sometimes self-indulgent album, his first after the live Amber Waves Of Grain. The songs are almost all either Haggard originals, or from the pen of his friend Freddy Powers, and he produced the album with Ron ‘Snake’ Reynolds.

There were two singles, both making the top 10. The self-penned ‘I Had A Beautiful Time’, which peaked at #5, is excellent, a mid-paced story song about a one night stand. The arrangement is great, with interesting piano and brass elements which don’t overpower the tune, and an invested vocal which make the song catchy despite the moral ambiguity.

It was followed up by the title track, written by Powers which is a bit jazzy for me, and not really very interesting. Also rather heavy on the brass, but a better song, is the regretful jazz-inflected ballad ‘This Time I Really Do’. The country standard ‘This Cold War With You’ is treated in the same vein; the languid vocal works quite well with the lyric, but the instrumentation isn’t to my taste. These three songs open the album, leading me to fear the worst, but ‘I Had A Beautiful Time’ then picked up the mood.

‘The Okie From Muskogee’s Comin’ Home’ feels a little self -referential. Haggard draws on his own life as a touring musician “tired of making love to a telephone”, allied to a very brassy Dixieland jazz arrangement.

The best song on the band is also autobiographical. ‘Mama’s Prayer’ pays tribute to Haggard’s mother’s devotion; it might perhaps be seen as the mirror image of his classic ‘Mama Tried’, because this time mama’s efforts were not in vain:

Back when I was doing time
There’s a night I can’t forget
A madman with a knife in hand
Tried to kill me while I slept
Somehow the knife missed its mark
And I pinned the raging man
Somehow my mama’s prayers had worked again

Mama’s prayers were always with me
Through the battlefields of life
She prayed for me and said amen
In the name of Jesus Christ
From the death house in San Quentin
I walked away a better man
Somehow my mama’s prayers had worked again

‘This Song Is For You’ is a sympathetic look at a waitress whose husband is in prison, while unaware the song’s narrator is in love with her:

You’re here every night
Servin’ our drinks
Wearin’ your superficial smile

You still wear the wedding band
On your left hard workin’ hand
For a memory of a man who’s chained and bound

Lord knows you need a man
And an understandin’ hand
Before you run completely out of love

You can’t stay in love with a memory
You can’t stay in love with a dream
Yet you’ve fallen in love with a picture on the wall
The sad part is the picture’s not of me

That cold December day
They took her man away
Never dreamin’ of a gentle heart they broke

Now she waits by the phone
She waits there all alone
But the only one who ever calls is me
Now I’m a prisoner of a slave to one-way love
I’d wish they let him go so I’d be free
Break this chains that bind and release this heart of mine
Before I run completely out of love

The fiddle is prominent on this excellent song.

Short but sweet, the two-minute long ‘Texas’ is a nice western swing tune. ‘Silverthorn Mountain’ is inspired by the Silverthorn Resort on Lake Shasta, which Merle owned. The lyric is somewhat impenetrable but it sounds nice, with an attractive melody and arangement.

Merle’s then-wife Debbie Parret, who he had married in 1985, gets a co-writing credit on the rather sappy ‘Thank You For Keeping My House’ which closes out the set with more brass.

This isn’t vintage Haggard, but it’s still Merle, so it’s worth giving it a hearing.

Grade: B-

Week ending 1/2/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

aarontippin1956 (Sales): Sixteen Tons — Tennessee Ernie Ford (Capitol)

1956 (Jukebox): Sixteen Tons — Tennessee Ernie Ford (Capitol)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Love, Love, Love — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1966: Buckaroo — Buck Owens & The Buckaroos (Capitol)

1976: Convoy — C.W. McCall (MGM)

1986: Have Mercy — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1996: That’s As Close As I’ll Get To Loving You — Aaron Tippin (RCA)

2006: Come a Little Closer — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

2016: Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

2016 (Airplay): Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

Week ending 12/26/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

cw-mccall1955 (Sales): Sixteen Tons — Tennessee Ernie Ford (Capitol)

1955 (Jukebox): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Love, Love, Love — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Buckaroo — Buck Owens & The Buckaroos (Capitol)

1975: Convoy — C.W. McCall (MGM)

1985: The Chair — George Strait (MCA)

1995: That’s as Close as I’ll Get to Loving You — Aaron Tippin (RCA)

2005: Come a Little Closer — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

2015: Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

2015 (Airplay): Gonna — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Album Review: Kevin Moon – ‘Throwback’

throwbackWhen reviewing the year’s releases for my end of year lists, I realised that I never reviewed this album properly. As the album’s title hints, Alabaman Kevin Moon is a thorough going traditionalist who could have been a big star if he had been around in the late 80s or early 90s – the era of most of the songs on this album. He has a fabulous country voice with rich tones and characterful inflections, and he stands up well against the stars who guest on this album.

He teamed up with Ken Mellons (who he sounds very like) to rework the latter’s ‘Honky Tonk Teachers’. It’s an appropriate choice with its loving tribute to the great country singers of the past, and this version is great.

Kevin pays tribute to the late Keith Whitley a number of times, starting with a nice version of ‘Til A Tear Becomes A Rose’, with Rhonda Vincent taking Lorrie Morgan’s duet part. This is one track where the original is better, but it is a beautiful song with a lovely melody. Whitley wrote ‘Hopelessly Yours’, recorded by John Conlee, George Jones, and Lee Greenwood/Suzy Bogguss. Moon’s cover is an emotional duet with young singer Mary Sarah. The heartbreaking ‘Tennessee Courage’ serves as tribute to both Whitley and to Vern Gosdin, and is performed with two artists who should have been stars, Wesley Dennis and Kevin Denney, and a younger singer I hadn’t previously come across but who bears further investigation, Billy Droze.

Another star not currently available to help out is Randy Travis, so Travis’s one-time protégé Daryle Singletary helps out on an excellent version of ‘The Storms Of Life’. Conway Twitty’s son Michael assists on the sentimental ‘That’s My Job’.

John Anderson guests on his early 90s comeback hit. ‘Straight Tequila Night’ – again, I prefer the original, but this is still good. Marty Raybon’s voice blends beautifully with Moon’s on a lovely version of Shenandoah’s ‘Moon Over Georgia’. Doug Stone still sounds good on a version of his ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)’. ‘You’ve Got To Stand For Something’ features Aaron Tippin, but is less forceful than the original.

A couple of new songs are included. ‘Low Key’ dreams about a much-needed beach vacation, mixing a steel guitar dominated arrangement with Spanish-influenced guitar, and is nicely done. The title track strings together quotes from a selection of great country classics and calls for some throwback country, “with some drinkin’, cheatin’ lyin’, leavin’”, and is quite clever.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album from a young man with a lot of talent. The lack of originality in making most of the material cover songs is ameliorated by making them duets with, in most cases the original stars.

Grade: A

Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘The Chase’

220px-GarthchaseGarth Brooks released his fourth album, The Chase, in September 1992. Produced as usual by Allen Reynolds, Brooks felt it was his most personal album to date. To date The Chase has been certified for sales of nine million units by the RIAA.

“We Shall Be Free” was the album’s lead single. Brooks was inspired to compose the track in the wake of the L.A. Riots, which were fueled by the beating of   African-American construction worker Rodney King. Brooks and co-writer Stephanie Davis covered many topics including freedom of speech, racism, and homophobia. Country radio resisted playing the highly controversial track, which peaked at #12. I’ve always loved the song, which is set to an engaging bluesy piano-heavy beat, and felt it topical without being preachy.

For the second single, Brooks and his label went with “Somewhere Other Than The Night,” a piano and lush string country-rock ballad that was the antithesis of “We Shall Be Free” and Brooks’ tenth number one. The lyric, co-written with Kent Blazy, details a woman desperate (‘She’s standing in the kitchen with nothing but her apron on’) for love and affection from her husband in the hours they’re not in bed together. The ballad is another excellent song; with Brooks turning in a master class vocal that expertly brings the woman’s despair to life with palpable emotion.

The third single follows the same pattern as the second, although the topics are completely different. “Learning To Live Again” is Brooks’ only single from The Chase he didn’t have a hand in writing. It details a man’s journey after a breakup, where feelings of isolation and alienation are slowly killing him. The #2 hit, co-written by Davis and Don Schlitz, is the closet single to traditional country, with ample steel guitar in the production. The track is a masterpiece of feeling, with Brooks once again allowing the listener to feel every ounce of the guy’s pain. It’s also one of my all-time favorite singles he’s ever released.

The final single returns Brooks to uptempo material, with a song inspired by the sweeping heartland rock of Bob Seeger. “That Summer” tells the story of a teenage boy, far from home, who’s working on the wheat-field of a ‘lonely widowed woman.’ She takes a liking to the boy, has sex with him, and he looses his virginity in the process. The track is another masterpiece, this time of delicate subtly, where the content is expertly handled in a way that gets the point across without explicitly saying anything raunchy or crude. Brooks co-wrote the song with his then-wife Sandy Mahl and frequent co-writer Pat Alger.

Each single from The Chase offered the listener something different yet showed Brooks skillfully tackling despair from both a man and a woman’s point of view. The album tracks proved more eclectic, with Brooks offering his own take on two classic songs. He turns the Patsy Cline standard “Walking After Midnight” into twang-filled bluesy traditional country while Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” morphs into honky-tonk rock. Neither are essential inclusions on The Chase and somewhat puzzling. “Mr. Right” is classic western swing and a rare instance where Brooks solely penned a track.

Lush ballad “Every Now and Then,” a Brooks co-write with Buddy Mondlock, is more in keeping with the overall musical direction of The Chase and features one of Brooks’ more tender vocal performances. The track would’ve worked well as a single, but it’s a bit too quiet. Michael Burton wrote “Night Rider’s Lament,” a steel guitar soaked classic cowboy song previously recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker and Chris LeDoux. Trisha Yearwood adds stunning harmonies to the track.

“Face to Face” finds Brooks singing another Tony Arata tune and while the sinister vibe compliments his commanding vocal, the track really isn’t that memorable. A final tune, “Something With A Ring To It,” comes courtesy of Brooks’ The Limited Series box set from 1998. The mid-tempo western swing ballad was co-written by Aaron Tippin  and Mark Collie first appeared on Collie’s Hardin’ County Line in 1990.

The Chase came at a time when industry insiders feared Brooks’ career had peaked although the listener couldn’t sense that from the music. The singles that emerged from this set have remained some of his finest singles and while the album cuts range from uneven to questionable, he manages to give us at least one worthwhile moment (“Every Now and Then”).

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Aaron Tippin ‘My Blue Angel’

Classic Rewind: Aaron Tippin – ‘Drill Here, Drill Now’

A controversial song from 2008’s presidential campaign, this wasn’t a hit for Aaron but got national attention:

Album Review: Joe Diffie, Sammy Kershaw and Aaron Tippin – ‘All In The Same Boat’

all in the same boatAaron Tippin, our current Spotlight Artist and two fellow 90s stars we have highlighted in the past, Joe Diffie and Sammy Kershaw, have been touring together recently, and this inspired them to team up for a new album together.

It isn’t really a trio record, with most tracks featuring a single lead singer, with the others relegated to backing vocals. Each man also produces his own tracks, with Diffie assisted by regular collaborator, drummer Lonnie Wilson, and Kershaw taking over production duties on the three tracks on which vocals are shared. The album features a fairly eclectic mix of revivals of each of the guys’ hits, new songs, and a couple of unexpected covers.

The three share the lead vocals only occasionally, with the tracks which bookend the setsetting a buddyish mood. The first is the title track, penned by Wynn Varble, Jamey Johnson and Don Poythress. The humorous song, about a group of friends escaping their wives for a fishing trip, is being promoted as a single, complete with comedic video which nicely undercuts the masculine posturing, and is one of those clips which does add something to the song it illustrates. The closing track is a tribute to ‘Old Friends’ through thick and thin, written by Ben Hayslip and Jim Beavers. Both are decent songs if not particularly memorable ones, and they work well presenting the men as friends. The three also collaborate on a new Sammy Kershaw composition, ‘The Route That I Took’. This is a serious song about experiences and life’s choices.

Of the revivals, Aaron picks ‘Kiss This’ (one of his less subtle numbers but tackled here with undeniable enthusiasm which makes it palatable) and the inspirational tribute to his dad, ‘He Believed’. Sammy’s ‘She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful’ is pleasant enough but seems redundant. Honestly, though, all three of the revivals could have been omitted as none adds anything to the original.

More adventurously, Joe Diffie chooses to cover country rocker Neil Young’s ‘Heart Of Gold’; the arrangement is nice with a prominent harmonica but Joe’s voice sounds a bit rough. Aaron Tippin is not really suited vocally to a standard like ‘The Way You look Tonight’, but it was an interesting idea if ultimately unsuccessful, and it’s nice to see artists taking the occasional risk.

Sammy Kershaw sings ‘On And On’ well but it’s rather a boring song. His best vocal of the album comes on the sincere ‘I Love To Work’, avowing his dedication to family and job, which he wrote with Bradley Gaskin and Billy Lawson.

Joe Diffie delivers a great vocal on his own ‘I’m Hangin’ On’, which is a pretty good song about a relationship falling apart, which he wrote with Steve Pippin. I also enjoyed his vocal on the playful up-tempo ‘Misery Loves Country’, written by Josh Kerr, David Fraiser and Edward Hill. These two cuts, and the three trio songs, are the pick of the bunch, and the most individually download-worthy, followed by ‘I Love To Work’.

This is not a bad album by any means, and there are quite a few tracks I like, but it’s not going to rank high on the discographies of any of its participants or to be an essential purchase for most fans.

Grade: B-

Album Review – Aaron Tippin – ‘Stars & Stripes’

220px-TippinstripesDuring the sessions for People Like Us Aaron Tippin had a song that for whatever reason was kept off the project. When the album’s final single finished charting, it was just as the nation was gripping with the attacks of September 11. As the story goes, he now new the song was meant for a greater purpose.

In the wake of the attacks Tippin recorded and rushed released the song – “When The Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” – to radio and retail. The track was released as a CD single, accompanied by “You’ve Got to Stand For Something” as the B-side. The excellent number, co-written by Tippin, is one of my three favorite of his singles (along with “You’ve Got To Stand For Something” and “That’s As Close As I’ll Get To Loving You”). I’m still upset it only peaked at #2 as it deserved to be a chart-topper.

It would be a whole year before Tippin would include that track on a full-length project. He would release his eighth studio record (and third for Lyric Street Records) on Sept 10, 2002 again co-produced by Mike Bradley and Biff Watson. Tippin would name the release Stars and Stripes although it wasn’t a full-on patriotic album as the title and cover art suggest ever so misleadingly.

The second (but first official) single from this set was another duet with his wife Thea. Their co-written “Love Like There’s No Tomorrow” was a far more cohesive duet than their last pairing and just a wonderful song. Mrs. Tippin’s voice may lean towards adult contemporary, but she’s a gifted singer in her own right. It only peaked at #35, which is disappointing seeing as it had the potential of being as big as Clint Black and Lisa Hartman Black’s “When I Said I Do” two years prior. Two other singles, the disastrously progressive “I’ll Take Love Over Money” and downright juvenile “If Her Lovin’ Don’t Kill Me” hit like the duds they are, peaking outside the top 30.

He slightly recovered on some of the remaining tracks, most notably “I Believed,” which went on to be the title track of an album that was shelved in 2005. The track reinforces the Americana theme of the project:

And the closer that I looked within

The further I could see

And I really didn’t have much other choice

So, I believed

Unfortunately, the rest of the album is subpar at best. Only “At The End of The Day” is even up to his standards. Tippin spends too much time trying to appeal to the tastes of radio thus degrading his sound with progressive beats and licks that are beneath even him. The project is so widely uneven it feels more like a hodgepodge than a cohesive whole. But I guess I should’ve taken my cue from the overly patriotic packaging that represents little to nothing of what’s inside.

Grade: C 

Classic Rewind: Aaron Tippin – ‘Where The Stars And Stripes And The Eagle Fly’

Album Review – Aaron Tippin – ‘People Like Us’

TippinpeopleBy the turn of the century, Aaron Tippin was fading into obscurity. His What This Country Needs album didn’t yield any career defining singles and he hadn’t scored a major hit in more than five years. For his second album for Lyric Street, he got the career jolt he was looking for.

An argument between him and his wife Thea birthed the stoke of luck he needed. Muscular revenge anthem “Kiss This” brought Tippin one of his most significant career singles, complete with a perfectly biting lyric:

Why don’t you kiss, kiss this

And I don’t mean on my rosy red lips

Me and you, we’re through

And there’s only one thing left for you to do

You just come on over here one last time

Pucker up and close yours eyes

And kiss this goodbye

“Kiss This” may have everything to do with rock, and I can see where some may deem it distasteful, but for me it works. Tippin gives beautifully confident vocal that works in favor of his unique styling and I love the track’s biting edge.

The success of “Kiss This” pushed Tippin’s People Like Us album into the top 5, marking it the highest charting record of his career. Unfortunately for Tippin, the commercial success of the project ends there.

The similarly sounding title track, which wouldn’t have been out of place on any of Tippin’s earlier work, only managed to squeak into the top 20 where it peaked at #17. A third single, the excellent fiddle-laden ballad “Always Was” petered out at #40.

Given the progressive nature of “Kiss This,” I fully expected People Like Us to lean more in that vein, but co-producers Mike Bradley and Biff Watson keep the record fairly traditional. “And I Love You” has wonderful fiddle riffs even if the lyric is a bit generic, “I’d be Afraid of Losing You” is an excellent country shuffle (written by Mark Collie and Leslie Satcher), “Lost” has a nice early-2000s style honky-tonk beat and lyric, and “Every Now and Then (I Wish Then Was Now)” makes more use of fiddle to give it ear catching appeal.

He slicks up the proceedings again on “Big Boy Toys,” and in the context of the album, it would’ve made a worthy single choice. The track, which Tippin co-wrote with Buddy Brock, isn’t great but it works for his aesthetic and brings out a nice tone in his voice. Same goes for “The Night Shift,” which recalls “Girl on the Billboard” era Del Reeves thanks to Tippin’s somewhat deadpan delivery. He also does well on the twangy “Twenty-Nine and Holding.”

Tippin closes People Like Us collaborating with his wife on the tender “The Best Love We Ever Made.” It’s good, but hearing him trying to pull of tenderness with his gruff voice is kind of laughable. He may be a sweet husband and father, but that doesn’t translate through his vocal on this song.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear the decidedly country arrangements on People Like Us as I had anticipated an amped up rockfest. He doesn’t really hit on anything revelatory with any of the songs here (apart from “Kiss This”) but he gives it a nice valiant effort. People Like Us is a solid, if somewhat unspectacular album.

Grade: B

Album Review – Aaron Tippin – ‘What This Country Needs’

CountryneedsChange was afoot for Aaron Tippin in 1998. His tenure at RCA Nashville ended in 1997 and Lyric Street Records quickly signed him in early 1998. He went to work on a new album, and released What This Country Needs in October. Tippin co-produced the project along with Pat McMakin, marking their first time working together.

He previewed the album with Mark Nesler and Tony Martin’s “For You, I Will,” which peaked at #6. A love song, it succeeds on a pleasant mid-tempo production featuring a nice dose of fiddle and steel. It’s a fairly middle of the road song at best, and Tippin’s somewhat disengaged vocal is partly to blame. But I do really enjoy the production.

Subsequent singles didn’t fair as well. The neo-traditional “I’m Leaving” hit #17 and is quite good, although his vocal is too gruff and out of place. Piano and steel ballad “Her” peaked at #33 and overall is much better than its predecessors, especially vocally, although the track isn’t anything overly special. The in your face title track, a Tippin co-write with Donny Kees, hit #47. Somewhat clever play on words the track isn’t talking about America (like the opening lines suggest), but the country genre’s move in a poppier direction:

‘Cause what this country needs

Is a little more steel guitar

And put a little fiddle right in the middle

Straight out of a Texas bar

And give us a song, we can all sing along

From sea to shining sea

Be proud of it and always love it

That’s what this country needs

Tippin may get his point across, but the track is no “Murder On Music Row.” The rock production is too jarring for a song about reconnecting with traditional sounds. He mostly sticks with those traditional sounds on the remaining tracks, with “Don’t Stop (We’re Just Getting Started)” leading the pack. By 1998 this line dance ready barroom romper was a bit dated, but the drenching of steel helps it rise above the pack.  The same classic elements bring the excellent “Somewhere Under The Rainbow” to life.

“I Didn’t Come This Far (Just to Walk Away)” is a favorite track of mine because I really enjoy both the melody and overall country feel. Same goes for “Back When I Knew Everything” and “Sweetwater,” two barroom anthems. The honky-tonk production and twang-y guitars are excellent additions to the songs. The remaining tracks, “Nothing Compares to Loving You” and “You’re The Only Reason For Me” are the only clunkers suffering from being too loud and far too adult contemporary, respectively, for my tastes.

Overall, What This Country Needs is just an okay album – nothing terrible yet nothing outstanding (none of the songs are particularly memorable in any significant way). My main issue with the project is Tippin himself – he sounds neither comfortable nor confident and gives spotty vocals throughout. He’s proven he can be strong enough on somewhat traditional material, but he hardly brings any of those goods here.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Aaron Tippin – ‘That’s As Close As I’ll Get To Loving You’

Album Review: Aaron Tippin – ‘Tool Box’

toolboxAaron Tippin’s 1994 album Lookin’ Back At Myself showed some signs that Tippin the songwriter’s well of ideas was beginning to run dry. Though it earned gold certification, it failed to produce any Top 10 hits, so for his next effort, 1995’s Tool Box, Tippin finally relented and recorded some songs from some outside songwriters. This time around he only had a hand in writing two of the album’s songs, not including “Country Boy’s Tool Box”, which originally appeared on his previous album. The less said about that song, the better. Steve Gibson was back on board as producer.

Opening the door to other songwriters had little commercial impact — Tool Box reached gold status, matching the sales level of Lookin’ Back At Myself — but it did provide a fresh perspective that had been lacking from the prior year’s album.

The album opens with a catchy Dennis Linde number, “Ten Pound Hammer”, which would have been an excellent choice for a single. It was covered two years later by Barbara Mandrell for her final album. It is followed by the album’s first single “That’s As Close As I’ll Get To Loving You”, a slightly slicker-sounding number than what we had usually heard from Aaron up to this point. The record managed to reverse Aaron’s chart decline; it reached the #1 spot, becoming his first record to crack the Top 10 in two years. The album’s subsequent singles did not fare as well, however. “Without Your Love” only reached #22, while “Everything I Own” peaked at #51 and “How’s The Radio Know” a Tippin co-write with Michael P. Heeney stalled at #69. “How’s The Radio Know” is the album’s most traditional-sounding single; that and perhaps declining promotional support from the label may account for its poor chart performance.

There are some pleasant surprises among the album cuts. One of my favorites is “A Real Nice Problem To Have”, a Rick Bowles co-write with Tom Shapiro. Tippin also dusts off Billy Swan’s 1973 hit “I Can Help”. It’s not the type of song I’d expect Aaron Tippin to cover, but he pulls it off reasonably well. “You Gotta Start Somewhere”, another Tom Shapiro effort co-written by Bob Regan, is also quite good.

The album’s sole dud is the psuedo-title track, which, as noted earlier, was carried over from Tippin’s previous album. It is included here as an eleventh song. Had it been omitted, the album would not have suffered. Why it was resurrected is a mystery; I suspect that it was included because someone took a liking to “Tool Box” as an album title.

Tool Box
was Tippin’s final album for RCA. As such, the label probably had little interest in promoting it too heavily with radio programmers. Nevertheless, it sold well and Aaron proved that he had a few more hits left in him when he moved to Lyric Street Records for his next release. Tool Box is a definite improvement over Tippin’s previous few albums; inexpensive copies are easy to find and worth picking up.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Aaron Tippin – ‘Lookin’ Back At Myself’

tippinLike his labelmate Clint Black, Aaron Tippin had a hand in writing most of the songs he recorded, and also like Black, after a few albums it became apparent that he was starting to run out of good ideas. Even a new producer, Steve Gibson couldn’t keep Lookin’ Back At Myself, Tippin’s fifth release for RCA, from sounding like a rehash of his earlier work. The lead single “I Got It Honest” is another ode to the blue collar work ethic, while the title track revisits the theme of standing by one’s convictions no matter what the consequences and “Lovin’ Me Into An Early Grave” sounds way too much like “There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With The Radio” to be truly enjoyable.

The familiar themes were beginning to wear thin at radio; “I Got It Honest” failed to reach the Top 10, peaking at #15. The album’s second single “She Feels Like A Brand New Man Tonight” is a less traditional number that at least attempts to venture into new territory. However, it is one of Tippin’s poorer efforts and it only reached #39. The fact that RCA didn’t release any further singles may have been a sign that Tippin was beginning to lose the support of his label. That is a shame, because even though the rest of the album is a mixed bag, it contains a handful of decent songs that might have been better choices for singles. “She’s Got A Way (Of Makin’ Me Forget)” is a fiddle-led traditional number in the vein that Aaron Tippin was born to sing. The same goes for “Standin’ On The Promises”. “Lookin’ Back At Myself” is likewise a very enjoyable song, despite being a bit unoriginal. “Bayou Baby” is a bit fluffy, but might have had a successful chart run as a summmertime release.

On the other hand, “Country Boy’s Tool Box” is an unmitigated disaster that was presumably inspired by the then-popular line dancing craze. The beat is annoying, the lyrics are shallow and it is lacking in melody. Unfortunately the song made another appearance on Tippin’s subsequent album. “Mission From Hank” is a forgettable number, notable only for being the only song on the album that Tippin didn’t co-write.

Overall, Lookin’ Back At Myself is a good, but slightly uneven effort. The album cuts are better than the tracks that were released as singles. RCA seems to have been marketing Tippin as salt-of-the-earth, hardworking and God-fearing and the single choices definitely reflect that but by this time, it was beginning to become a cliche. It’s too bad they didn’t try harder to market some of Aaron’s other singles; if they had he might have enjoyed a few more years in the spotlight. Despite its missteps, the album is certainly good enough to justify the small expenditure required to pick up a cheap copy.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn, Cissy Lynn and Crystal Gayle – ‘Wings Of A Dove’

After the song there is a chat with this month’s Spotlight Artist Aaron Tippn.

Classic Rewind: Aaron Tippin – ‘Honky Tonk Superman’

Album Review: Aaron Tippin – ‘Call Of The Wild’

call of the wildAaron’s third album, released in 1993, saw a change of producer with a move to Scott Hendricks. Hendricks is a heavier handed producer than Emory Gordy Jr, so the change was not for the better, and the album did not sell as well as Read Between The Lines, but was still certified gold. As before, Tippin wrote every song with a variety of collaborators, mostly on themes relating to working class pride.

The lead single ‘Workin’ Man’s PhD’ is archetypal Aaron Tippin; if you type his name into a search engine, “aaron tippin working mans phd” is the suggested completion. Paying tribute to blue-collar workers’ hard work and contribution to society, it was the album’s biggest hit, peaking at #7. It’s a bit shouty and lacking in melody, but the honesty of the message exemplifies part of what makes country music great.

On a less serious note, the fairly forgettable title track (about a woman who likes to let her hair down in a honky tonk every now and then) faltered ten spots lower on the chart. The tongue-in-cheek ode to being a beer-fueled ‘Honky Tonk Superman’ failed to crack the top 40 despite a comic video featuring Reba McEntire as the bar owner. Both song and video are fun, although the latter exaggerates the comedy to cartoonish effect.

The final single ‘Whole Lotta Love On The Line’ reached #30 and is a good song about desperately trying to save a relationship, with a sincere vocal. Unfortunately it is smothered by a cluttered production with far too much going on.

‘My Kind Of Town’ is a rocking number about finding a small town to settle down in which would fit in on today’s country radio. It is a bit of a disappointment considering it was a co-write with the legendary Sanger D Shafer, but is not unlikable. The fast-paced ‘When Country Took The Throne’ celebrates the commercial rise of country music in the 90s and traces it back to the pioneering music of Jimmie Rodgers.

‘Trim Yourself To Fit The World’ is an attempt to recapture the magic of ‘You’ve Got To Stand For Something’, and while it offers nothing really new, it is catchy with a memorable chorus:

If you trim yourself to fit the world there won’t be nothing left
Just a little here and a little there till you won’t know yourself
You’ll be a pile of shavings when they put you in your grave
If you trim yourself to fit the world you’ll whittle yourself away

There is also a prescient dig at the self-styled outlaw types, when Aaron notes,

Each time the good Lord makes a man He always breaks the mold
So it sure does raise the flag for that rebel in my soul
When some phony carbon copy says “I’m the black sheep of the fold”

‘Let’s Talk About You’ is a cheery mid-tempo love song which is quite enjoyable, but ‘Nothing In The World’ is completely forgettable fluff.

In the midst of the honky tonking and positive expressions of working class pride, the best song here by far comes from a bleaker angle. Along the same lines as the classic ‘My Elusive Dreams’, the protagonist of ‘I Promised You the World’ admits defeat in life, but is sustained by the love of the woman he feels he has let down:

I had dreams that were bigger than the Montana sky
We were gonna do great in Great Falls
I just knew we were, this time
But when winter finally broke, so were we
You’ll never know how bad that hurt
‘Cause this ain’t what I meant
When I promised you the world

I lost the farm in Kansas
Along with a lot of pride
And I almost lost my life
Down in that West Virginia mine
And that motel room in Memphis
Was a long ways from diamonds and pearls
And that sure ain’t what I meant
When I promised you the world

I swear your love is stronger
Than any dream of mine I’ve ever drug you through
And I swear I wasn’t lying
They just never did come true
You’ve always bet on this old gambler
Every time I gave the wheel a whirl
But this ain’t what I meant
When I promised you the world

Now this Shreveport sun is settin’
On another broken dream of mine
And I guess that mansion on the hill
Is pretty hard to see tonight
But as long as there’s a breath of life in me
I’m gonna get it for you, girl
‘Cause this ain’t what I meant
When I promised you the world

Set to a slow, reflective pace which sets it apart on a mainly up-tempo record, this is a real hidden gem which deserves to be better known, with a touching delivery from Aaron.

Overall, this is a solid album, which is mostly typical Tippin fare, with one hidden classic everyone should hear.

Grade: B

Album Review: Aaron Tippin – ‘Read Between The Lines’

aarontippinBy 1992 Aaron Tippin was well on his way to becoming a one-hit wonder when his second and third singles tanked at country radio. On the surface, he seemed to have a lot of things working against him: he was slightly older than most new artists and had more twang in his voice than was generally considered commercially viable, even in those days. He also lacked the chiseled good looks that were important in a genre that was becoming increasingly image conscious.

Tippin’s commercial fortunes changed with a song about a car that, with the notable exception of its entertainment system, was a pile of junk. The catchy “There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With The Radio”, which he co-wrote with Buddy Brock, was tailor-made for radio and quickly shot to #1, becoming his first chart-topper. It was released one month in advance of his sophomore album, Read Between The Lines, which like its predecessor, was produced by Emory Gordy, Jr. He followed this success with “I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way”, which could have been titled “You’ve Got To Stand For Something Redux”. It’s a decent but not terribly original, as it is sonically and lyrically very similar to his first hit. Nevertheless, it reached the Top 5.

Aaron stumbled a bit with the album’s third single, “I Was Born With A Broken Heart”. It only reached #38, though it outperformed Josh Logan’s original 1989 version. Like all of the songs on Read Between The Lines, “Broken Heart” is a Tippin co-write. I consider it to be the weakest of the album’s four singles. “My Blue Angel”, though a bit shallow lyrically, was more radio friendly and returned Tippin to the Top 10. It’s less traditional than the rest of the album, but with a voice like Aaron Tippin’s pretty much anything sounds country.

RCA missed an opportunity by not releasing as a single the ballad “If I Had It To Do Over”, which is my favorite track on the album. I also quite like the upbeat honky-tonker “I Miss Misbehavin'”, a co-write with Charlie Craig and Mark Collie in which Tippin takes a nostalgic look back at his younger hell-raising days.

I have to admit that I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to Aaron Tippin during his commercial heyday. I enjoyed most of his radio hits but not enough to make we want to buy any of his albums. Listening to the entire album for the first time more than twenty years after its release, I realize how easy it was in the 90s to take for granted an album like this, which may not have been one of favorites at the time, but would be extremely welcome if released today.

Grade: A-