My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Aimee Mayo

Album Review: Collin Raye -‘Never Going Back’

never going backIn 2006 Collin released a Europe-only release to coincide with a tour; the US didn’t miss anything because Fearless is frankly pretty awful. Three years later, he teamed up with Saguaro Road, a Time Life imprint, and produced his most recent secular effort to date. Never Going Back is better than Fearless, but overall proved to be another disappointment with a few bright spots.

The screamed out rock of the title track, written by Collin with the album’s producer Michael A Curtis, is an over-produced, too-loud error of judgment, entirely unsuited to Collin’s strength as an artist. At five minutes, it is also far too long.

There are a couple of outright pop covers, neither successful. Pop classic ‘Without You’, performed as a duet with Christian music artist Susan Ashton has nicely understated verses but gets completely overblown on the chorus, both vocally and instrumentally. Collin’s version of ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ is just boring karaoke which seems pointless.

Collin’s voice is a bit strained at times on the over-produced mid-tempo ‘Mid Life Chrysler’, a barbed portrait of a middle aged man trying to hold on to his youth with the aid of hair dye and a hot car while jettisoning a longstanding marriage. It is the most interesting of four songs written by Neil Thrasher, this one with Wendell Mobley and Tony Martin. Thrasher and Mobley’s ‘You Get Me’ and ‘Take Care of You’ (written by Thrasher and Mobley with Aimee Mayo) are bland pop-leaning love songs. The sugary piano ballad ‘I Love You This Much’, written by Thrasher with Austin Cunningham, is not the Jimmy Wayne hit but uses the same “open arms” imagery and shift to Jesus in the last verse, to significantly less effect.

Things improve with Curtis’s beautiful ‘The Cross’, a touching story song about a widow celebrating her love at a roadside cross she visits to remember him, I presume at the site of his death:

I don’t come to mourn his dying
But to celebrate his life
Death can never stop love
Between a husband and a wife
There’s something about coming here
When I’m feeling lost
When I need to find my peace of mind
I just come to the cross

‘The Only Jesus’, written by Raye with Curtis, is also pretty good, with its inspiring story of behaving in a Christlike manner towards a drunk, because

I might be the only Jesus he will ever see

Oh, and who am I to judge him?
Don’t know what he’s been through
If I read the Bible right there’s only something God can do
If I can help him out of darkness
Let him see the light in me
I might be the only Jesus he will ever see

The heartfelt ‘She’s With Me’ was written by Collin about other people’s reactions to his disabled granddaughter.

‘Where It Leads’ is quite catchy Southern rock with bouncy piano, which works much better than most of Raye’s forays into rockier material, because there is both an actual melody and a lyric that tells a story. The soothingly melodic ‘Don’t Tell Me You’re Not In Love’ (also recorded by George Strait on The Road Less Travelled) is prettily done and one of the few tracks I thoroughly enjoyed, although I prefer Strait’s cut.

While not Collin’s best work, the good tracks are worth hearing. This is definitely a case of selective downloading.

Grade: C

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Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Waking Up Laughing’

waking up laughingIf Timeless was an encouraging reminder that Martina McBride was a real country singer underneath all the pop gloss, her next studio project was a disappointing regression in form.

Lead single ‘Anyway’ was much vaunted as Martina’s first venture into writing her own material, with the help of the Warren Brothers. Unfortunately, the would-be inspirational lyrics don’t get beyond the Hallmark level, and while no doubt heartfelt, overall it sounds like something written with more of an ear for big notes Martina could excel belting out than real depth of thought or emotion. She certainly sings the hell out of it, to the extent of oversinging at some points; this is not a song or performance with any notion of subtlety. The big contemporary piano-and-strings ballad was however what radio programmers expected and wanted from Martina, and it did much better than the singles from Timeless, giving Martina her first top 5 hit since 2003’s ‘In My Daughter’s Eyes’.

Another McBride co-write with the Warrens (plus pop-country writers Chris Lindsey and Aimee Mayo), the exceptionally forgettable, bland and overproduced ‘How I Feel’ peaked ten spots lower, at #15. It makes its predecessor sound a lot better in contrast.

Martina and the Warren Brothers also wrote (with Nick Trevissick) ‘Beautiful Again’ a frankly depressing tale of an abused girl turned single mother, set to an inappropriately perky and poppy tune. I didn’t like it at all, or find the protagonist’s cheery optimism in the face of all evidence to the contrary remotely credible. ‘Cry Cry (Til The Sun Shines)’ is well meaning but lyrically vapid. Other songs fitting the bland and boring template are ‘I’ll Still Be Me’ and ‘Everybody Does’.

The last single, the socially conscious ‘For These Times’, is a well sung and thoughtfully written Leslie Satcher song but the inevitable gospel backing vocals seem unimaginative. It crept into the top 40, but failed to get higher than #35.

Of the better songs, ‘If I Had Your Name’ (written by Hillary Lindsey, Gordie Sampson and Steve McEwan) isn’t at all bad pop-country, with a vicious little stab at her soon-to-be-ex. ‘Tryin’ To Find A Reason’ has a pretty tune and touching lyric about a relationship on the rocks. Martina’s interpretation is subtle, and Keith Urban guests effectively on harmony. ‘House Of A Thousand Dreams’ is a beautifully delivered mature reflection on a dilapidated home and marriage. ‘Love Land’ is a delicate story song, written by Tom Douglas and Rachel Thibodeau, about a teenage marriage which survives the tragedy of losing a baby. These four are worth hearing.

Overall, though, this album’s principal failing is not that it is bad (she has produced worse, particularly Emotion), but rather too often it’s just plain boring. Martina seems to have been trying to playing things far too safe placating her contemporary fans after Timeless, but the end result doesn’t really deliver on either count. It looks as if fans agreed with my assessment of Martina’s downward trajectory. Timeless was her last platinum release, with this album topping out at gold, while more recent efforts have sold even more poorly.

Grade: C

Album Review – Tim McGraw – ‘A Place In The Sun’

Capitalizing on his newfound superstar status, McGraw found an even stronger set of songs for his fifth album A Place In The Sun that bowed in May 1999. Another CMA Album of the Year winner, it was accompanied by a print campaign (in Country Weekly) that read – “how do you follow up the album of the year? With the album of the decade.”

The first single, “Please Remember Me” followed “For A Little While” and hit #1 in May of 1999. A cover of Rodney Crowell’s song co-written with Will Jennings, it marked a departure for McGraw, as it was darker in tone than most of his previous singles. A soaring ballad, the string section, drums, and softer elements combined to create his most pop sounding song to date. But it worked since it was also his most ambitious lyrically and a fine moment of introspection from the singer who brought “Indian Outlaw” into the top ten five years prior.

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Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘A Night To Remember’

Joe had followed up the disappointing sales of Twice Upon A Time with a Greatest Hits set, and in 1999 released what was to be his final effort for Epic. Produced by Don Cook with Joe’s old friend and collaborator Lonnie Wilson, it was a real return to form artistically, with not a novelty song in sight, and although it did not do as well commercially as it deserved to, he sustained his profile on radio.

The title track, written by Max D. Barnes and T. W. Hale, is a tenderly sung ballad focussing on a protagonist surrounding wallowing in tangible memories of a past relationship. It is a really good song, and was deservedly a sizeable hit, peaking at #6 on the country chart and even getting some crossover radio play. ‘The Quittin’ Kind’ is a solid enough mid-tempo love song with a slightly cluttered production. It was a poor choice as the follow-up single as it is perhaps the least interesting song here, and understandably it failed to crack the top 20. The efficiently poppy mid-tempo ‘It’s Always Somethin’’ (written by Aimee Mayo and Marv Green) isn’t much to my taste, but it appealed to country radio and gave Joe another top 5 hit.

Four of Joe’s own songs are included, three of them co-writes with Lonnie, including a couple of the highlights. One of these is ‘I’m The Only Thing I’ll Hold Against You’, written some years earlier by the pair with Kim Williams. It was originally recorded by Conway Twitty on his final album in 1993, but Joe’s version is even better. His voice really soars in the chorus as he swears unconditional love and forgiveness as he reconciles with his wife:

Sometimes things go wrong between a woman and a man
I know we’ll make it work
All we need’s a second chance
I’m the only thing I’ll hold against you

Let my lovin’ arms show you the truth
There’ll be no “I told you so”s
No matter how much heartache we go through
I love you (I’ll always love you)
I’m the only thing I’ll hold against you

Joe and Lonnie were joined by Zack Turner to express the opposing point of view in the anguished ‘Are We Even Yet’, another dramatic and beautifully sung ballad. This bitter-tinged look at a couple destroying themselves by keeping score of hurt is my overall favorite track:

My words hurt and cause you pain
Teardrops fall like pouring rain
You cry and cry
Love dies and dies some more
Revenge is sweet when you don’t talk
I’m afraid you’re gonna walk
What will it take to take back the things we’ve said?
Are we even yet?

Are we even yet?
Do we even know
If we’re holdin’ on or lettin’ go?
Nobody wins when we can’t forgive and forget
Are we even yet?

It is a shame this remained buried as an album track on one of Joe’s lower selling albums.

This trio also wrote the bittersweet midtempo ‘You Can’t Go Home’ as Joe returns to a former old marital home:

I came looking for a feeling but the feeling’s gone
You can go back but you can’t go home

Zack and Lonnie wrote the downbeat ‘Better Off Gone’ together, about a man struggling to come to terms with his decision to leave; it’s another fine song with an impassioned vocal as Joe admits he isn’t really happier sitting alone in the dark.

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Album Review: Mark Chesnutt – ‘Wings’

Around the middle of the 1990s Mark Chesnutt’s career began to wind down commercially. Wings, released in 1995, was his first album not to be certified at least gold, but it marks a return to form after the disappointing What A Way To Live, his first for MCA’s sister label Decca. There was a new producer at the helm, Mark Wright being replaced by label boss Tony Brown, and he did a good job with a sympathetic production.

Sadly, however, Mark was beginning to outwear his welcome at radio. It probably didn’t help that some of the less memorable tracks on this album were selected as singles. ‘Trouble’, with its bluesy and apparently radio-friendly groove, performed extremely disappointingly (especially as the lead single for a new release), barely cracking the top 20. The song lacks much melody, and it’s not one of my favourite Chesnutt recordings; but it is mildly notable as an early country cut for its writer, Americana singer-songwriter Todd Snider.

There must have been a sigh of relief all around when ‘It Wouldn’t Hurt To Have Wings’, a sprightly take on the difficulty of getting over someone, which lends the album its title, reached #7 on Billboard. I like this song although it is relatively lightweight. The third and last single, though, the semi-comic tale of an ill-fated night out in the ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’, penned by Jimmy Alan Stewart and Scott Miller, was Mark’s biggest flop to date, only just squeezing into the top 40. It changes the pace both in terms of tempo and mood, and is enjoyable enough, but is not really funny enough to work as a comic song.

It was lucky for Mark that ‘It’s a Little Too Late’ (from a hasty Greatest Hits release) brought him back to the top of the charts in 1997 – but he would never again enjoy the consistent streak he had had at the beginning of the 90s. No career lasts forever, but I think the label may have made the wrong choices for singles to promote this album, as there are far stronger songs on the set.

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Album Review: Easton Corbin – ‘Easton Corbin’

I’ve become somewhat jaded in the past few years and no longer expect to like new artists trying to break into mainstream country music. Country radio has gotten so bad, I haven’t listened to it in over two years. As a result, I’m not always up to date on the latest crop of new artists. I’d read a little bit about Easton Corbin on some of the other country blogs, but after hearing about his traditionalist leanings, I avoided reading too much about him until I could hear his music for myself and form my own opinion.

I initially cringed upon learning that Corbin’s debut single was titled “A Little More Country Than That”, expecting it to have come directly out of Jason Aldean’s playbook. It was a relief to learn that this wasn’t another redneck anthem. Instead of a defiant declaration of Southern pride and boasting about his tractor and pickup truck, Corbin makes use of the imagery of rural living while making a declaration of love (and possibly a proposal) to his sweetheart. In some respects, it is reminiscent of the Charley Pride classic “All I Have To Offer You Is Me”. Clearly tailor-made for radio, it’s a pleasant if somewhat fluffy song with slightly cliched lyrics. Written by Rory Lee Feek, Don Poythress, and Wynn Varble, it’s not a song that makes the listener stop in his or her tracks and listen, but it’s better than what is typically offered on country radio these days.

The album was produced by Carson Chamberlain, who has also produced Mark Wills and Billy Currington, but I won’t hold that against him since he has written some of my favorite Alan Jackson songs. Chamberlain had a hand in writing six of the album’s eleven songs, while Easton himself co-wrote four. The production choices are stellar; I can’t remember the last time I heard the pedal steel featured so prominently on a mainstream artist’s debut release. Corbin and Chamberlain don’t pander to radio’s current pop leanings and wisely avoids the production excesses that have marred so many contemporary country releases.

Corbin has been criticized for sounding too much like George Strait, and the similarities in their vocal styles is undeniable. Many of the songs, such as “Someday When I’m Old” and “Don’t Ask Me About A Woman” sound as if they came from the Strait catalog. “Someday When I’m Old”, written by Nashville tunesmiths Chris Lindsey, Aimee Mayo and Troy Verges is my favorite song on the album and “A Lot To Learn About Livin'” written by Liz Hengber, Sonny LeMaire and Clay Mills, is an example of a beach song done properly. Kenny Chesney, please take note. On the other hand “I Can’t Love You Back” doesn’t quite work. The lyrics are somewhat problematic and a bit confusing:

Girl, I love you crazy
It comes so easy, after all we had
I could love you with all my heart
But the hardest part is
I just can’t love you back

The first time I heard the chorus, it didn’t make sense to me. I thought why can’t he love her back, thinking that “love you back” meant “love you in return.” It wasn’t until the second verse that I finally realized that the protagonist’s love interest is gone, and Easton is lamenting that he can’t bring her back, which might have been a better way to phrase the sentiment.

Overall, the album is pleasant, but not particularly memorable. The material is mostly lightweight and the album would have benefited from the inclusion of one or two more substantial songs, as well as a little more variety in tempo. Corbin will also have to develop a more distinctive vocal style in order to avoid being dismissed as a George Strait wannabe. I have no doubt that he can do this; after all, Clint Black was mistaken for Merle Haggard when his first single hit the airwaves, and Owen Bradley was reluctant to sign Loretta Lynn because she sounded too much like Kitty Wells. That didn’t stop Black or Lynn from successfully developing their own styles. If Corbin can do the same, and can find some weightier material the next time around to build upon this solid debut, he has the potential to become a huge star in his own right.

Grade: B

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Southern Voice’

Southern VoiceTim McGraw has never impressed me as one of the great country voices, but where he frequently has impressed me is in his choice of interesting material, the kind of songs which are worth hearing in anyone’s hands. His tenth studio album is produced by the same production team of McGraw, Byron Gallimore and Darran Smith (the lead guitarist in Tim’s band the Dancehall Doctors) as Tim’s last three, with backing from the Dancehall Doctors on all but one track, occasionally augmented by additional musicians or string sections. The sound is definitely quite rock-influenced, and a long way from traditional country, but the production is a good deal more restrained than on much of what is emerging from Nashville at the moment. Overall, there isn’t much variation in tempo or melody, but the material is mostly interesting and adult. There isn’t much to appeal to the children and emotional adolescents at whom current radio playlists seem aimed, and this is a good thing. I don’t like everything here, but it is a serious attempt at making an artistically satisfying album.

It gets off to a discouraging start. Opening track ‘Still’, written by fellow-Curb artist Lee Brice with Kyle Jacobs and Joe Leathers, is a very well-written song with a nice reflective feel and effective restrained vocals in the verses about seeking refuge from the stresses of the world in memory and imagination, and finally in church, but the chorus is musically rather pop-sounding, with strings and detectable vocal processing in places. The next track, ‘Ghost Town Train (She’s Gone)’, a heavily allusive song written by Troy Olsen and Marv Green about a woman leaving, is a bit dull and emotionally unconvincing with a lot of soulless “oh nos” despite some nice fiddle lines from Dean Brown.

Things really start to pick up with ‘Good Girls’, the first of the well-chosen story songs which dominate the song selection. The downbeat melancholy tale of a woman’s murderous response to her husband cheating with her best friend was written by the Warren Brothers with Aimee Mayo and Chris Lindsey, and is well played out although I don’t much like the tune on the chorus.

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