My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Alabama

Week ending 7/7/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958:  Guess Things Happen That Way / Come In Stranger — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Guess Things Happen That Way — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: D-I-V-O-R-C-E — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1978: I Believe In You — Mel Tillis (MCA)

1988: Fallin’ Again — Alabama (RCA)

1998: If You See Him/If You See Her — Reba McEntire/Brooks & Dunn (MCA Nashville/Arista Nashville)

2008: Better As A Memory — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Tequila — Dan + Shay (Warner Bros. Nashville)

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Album Review: Linda Davis – ‘Shoot For The Moon’

Linda Davis released her third album Shoot To The Moon in the wake of the massive success of “Does He Love You.” It was her first of two releases for Arista Nashville.

The album employed the technique of maximizing exposure from a superstar collaboration, a ploy that honestly never works (just ask Ashley Monroe and Cassidee Pope). The album was a modest hit for Davis, though, peaking at #28.

I’ll be honest and say I only had access to have the album’s tracks courtesy of YouTube, which I’ll be using to assess the project. I dislike making that admission, but the record has yet to be made available digitally.

Lead single “Company Time” is an enjoyable uptempo number written and previously recorded by Mac McAnally. The song tells the story of an employee facing a reprimand by her boss. It’s good, but lacks punch and feels weak for a track so upbeat. t unsurprisingly stalled at #46.

The second and final single “Love Didn’t Do It” is a much stronger song and far more inviting than its predecessor. Going back and watching the video, it’s hilarious how much Arista was attempting to morph Davis into Reba McEntire, with the hair ‘jacked to Jesus’ performing to an arena crowd with one of those microphones on her head. The “live” video is entertaining but a bit presumptuous. The track stalled at #48.

Speaking of McEntire, Shoot for the Moon includes a cover of “He’s In Dallas,” which comes from For My Broken Heart. I’ve always loved Davis’ natural twang and she shines here perfectly.

“When You Took Your Love Away” is a nice rootsy surprise that breaks up the somewhat AC-leaning aspects of the album. I love the heavy dose of mandolin and dobro.

The final of the five songs, “In Pictures,” is best known as the title cut from Alabama’s 1995 release. They released as a pretty successful single. I’m not sure how many people know Davis’ version of it, but it was included as one of the seven previously released songs on her 1998 I’m Yours album, which is how I got to know it.

The track tells the story of a father estranged from the mother of his child. He does his best to support them from afar and as a reward has to watch his child grow up through photographs and thus miss all the important milestones:

He missed her first steps

Her first words

And “I love you daddy” is something he seldom heard.

Oh, it hurts him so…

To watch his girl grow…

Up in Pictures

Davis’ vocal on the song is a revelation. You can hear the ache in her throat as she sings the tune, especially the final verse. It’s a record for the ages.

From what I heard of Shoot On The Moon, this is a fabulous album. I can see why it didn’t make her a star — the songs just didn’t have that extra radio friendly punch Davis’ needed to push her over the top. But she always had the goods, that much is true.

Grade: A-

Week ending 3/10/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: Take Me To Your World — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1978: Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (RCA)

1988: Face T0 Face — Alabama feat. K.T. Oslin (RCA)

1998: Round About Way — George Strait (MCA)

2008: Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy) — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Marry Me — Thomas Rhett (Valory Music Group)

Johnny Cash: A Look Back

We lost Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash within months of each other back in 2003, so 2018 marks a very sad 15th-anniversary farewell to the “Man In Black”.

The release last year of UNEARTHED, a nine album 180 gram vinyl box set (originally released on CD two months after his death) of unreleased tracks recorded by Rick Rubin, (it features some interesting pairings such as Fiona Apple providing guest vocals on Cat Stevens’ “Father & Son,” and the late Joe Strummer’s duets with Cash on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”) provides us with a excuse to take another look back at his career.

While modern country radio has no use for the likes of Johnny Cash, preferring more commercial fodder, other sections of the music industry have kept his music alive, whether on Willie’s Roadhouse (Sirius XM Radio) or through the musical press. Cover bands continue to play his music and while younger so-called country singers play music that bears little connection to country music, his music remains a staple of Roots-Rock, Texas Red-Dirt and Bluegrass performers

Make no mistake about it: Johnny Cash was a huge commercial success, despite his own apparent lack of concern about how commercial his music was at any given moment–Cash’s inquisitive artistry meant that he flitted from realm to realm, sometimes touching down in areas with limited commercial appeal.

Cash had 24 songs reach #1 on the Billboard, Cashbox or Record World country charts (often all three), but unlike more chart-oriented artists including Webb Pierce, Buck Owens, Sonny James, Alabama, Conway Twitty or George Strait, Cash never ran off a long string of consecutive #1s, with his longest streak being four during 1968 when “Roseanna’s Going Wild,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “A Boy Named Sue,” and his iconic “Folsom Prison Blues” all reached the top of one of the charts.

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Album Review: The Bellamy Brothers – ‘Restless’

Although the New Traditionalist movement would not get fully underway until 1986, there were some signs of the changes that to come as early as 1984. That was the year that The Judds enjoyed their first #1 hit with “Mama He’s Crazy” and Reba McEntire received both critical accolades and commercial success with My Kind of Country, while George Strait and Ricky Skaggs continued to keep traditional country on the radio.

1984 also saw some changes for The Bellamy Brothers, although they moved in the opposite direction, with more layered production and pop elements than had previously been the case with their music. The change was likely precipitated by a change of co-producers, with Steve Klein taking over for Jimmy Bowen, a switch that was probably brought about by a change in label affiliations. In the 1970s and 1980s Curb Records was not a standalone label; they typically partnered up with a larger label to distribute and promote their artists. Up to now, the Bellamys’ albums were released jointly by Curb and either Warner Bros. or Elektra, but beginning in 1984, their music was released by MCA/Curb.

Restless, their first release under this new arrangement, was warmly received by radio, with all three of its singles reaching the Top 10 or better. “Forget About Me” (which I actually had forgotten about) reached #5. The very mellow “The World’s Greatest Lover”, complete with its Kenny G-esque saxophone, reached #6 and “I Need More of You” — the best of the three — climbed all the way to #1, becoming the duo’s seventh country chart-topper. “Forget About Me” was written by Frankie Miller, Troy Seals and Eddie Setser, while the other two singles came from the pen of David Bellamy.

Overall this is a very mellow album with mostly mid-tempo numbers, with “Rock-A-Billy” — which is exactly the kind of song its title suggests — and the title track being notable exceptions. The poppy and lyrically-light “I Love It” is a very catchy toe-tapper. “Diesel Cafe”, about a run-down greasy spoon truck stop has a melody that reminds me of Alabama’s “Christmas In Dixie.” I did not care for the reggae-flavored “We’re Having Some Fun Now.”

While there is nothing truly objectionable on Restless, it seems to be somewhat of an opportunity for the duo to explore other musical styles, which unfortunately results in them straying a bit too far at times from their country roots. I wouldn’t necessarily go out and buy this one, but it is worth streaming.

Grade: B

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Borderline’

Released in March 1987, Borderline marked Conway’s return to MCA after five year interlude with Elektra/Warner Bros. Frankly, other than the Lost In The Feeling album, I really had consistently disliked his recent output.

I received this album as a birthday present in April 1987. While I had high hopes for a return to the earlier Twitty sound my hopes were dashed when I read the back of the album and saw the following:

Musicians:

James Stroud – Drums
Emory Gordy, Jr. – Bass
John Jarvis – Piano
David Innis, Mike Lawler – Keyboards
Richard Bennett – Acoustic Guitar
Reggie Young, Fred Newll – Electric Guitar
Background Harmonies – Vince Gill and Conway Twitty

That’s right – no John Hughey, or any other steel guitar player for that matter.

My expectations suitably lowered I put the album on the turntable and played it. The album opened up with the first single release, John Jarvis-Don Cook song “Julia” which topped out at #2. This song is bland 80s ballad with cocktail lounge production. The song itself is not bad, but the production ruins it for me.

Brent Mason and Jim McBride collaborated on “Lonely Town”, a mid-tempo song about a one night stand. I would have picked this song as for single release. By the standards of this album, this was a country song

She gave into him last night
She thought he was Mr. Right
But he left like all the others
Before the morning came around

Same old story in lonely town
The sun comes up, the heart goes down
She’s tried everything she knows

Come so far and yet so close
She keeps searching for the magic
But it’s nowhere to be found
But that’s how it is in lonely town

The sun comes up, the heart goes down
There’s got to be a way out
Someday she’ll find it, she won’t always be alone

The one she’s been waitin’ for
Will turn her life around and take her away
From this lonely town

The sun comes up, the heart goes down
There’s got to be a way out
Someday she’ll find it, she won’t always be alone
The one she’s been waitin’ for
Will turn her life around and take her away
From this lonely town

Track three was “I Want To Know Before We Make Love” by Candy Parton and Becky Hobbs. Good advice no doubt – no point getting involved with a sociopath – but I think this song works better from the femine perspective. This song also reached #2.

Track four is the title track “Borderline” a decent song marred by cheesy 80s production. Walt Aldridge wrote this song. He wrote several #1 records for the likes of Earl Thomas Conley, Ronnie Milsap, Alabama and Travis Tritt.

Track five (the last track on side one of the vinyl album) concludes with “Not Enough Love To Go Around”  a slow R&B ballad that is nice but ultimately uninteresting.

Track six is “Snake Books”, written by Troy Seals. Troy wrote many great songs, but this wasn’t one of them. This is followed by “I’m For A While” by Kent Robbins, a generic song about a man who swears that he is not looking for a one night stand.

Most songs written by committees stink, but “Fifteen To Forty-Three” by Don Goodman, Frank Dycus, Mark Sherrill and John Wesley Ryles is a terrific ballad about a fellow sorting through a box of memories and regrets. This has a very country feel to it and would have made a great single.

<blockquote>I just cut the string
On a dusty old shoe box
And opened a door to the past
Now I’m sittin’ here with my souvenirs
And these faded old photographs.

Fightin’ back tears
Lookin’ back through the years
And wonderin’ why dreams fade so fast
Now the young boy I see
Don’t look like the me
Reflected in this old looking glass.

The man in the mirror
Sees things so much clearer
Than the boy in the pictures
With his eyes full of dreams
Oh, the men that I’ve tried to be
From fifteen to forty-three
Never believed that they’d end up like me.

The ninth track “Everybody Needs A Hero” was written by Troy Seals and Max D Barnes. It’s a great song that Gene Watson released as a single. Although Conway does a nice job with the song, it is not quite as nice as Gene’s version (I like the production on Gene’s record better).

The album closes with Gary Burr’s “That’s My Job”, the last single released from this album. The single reached #6 but deserved a better fate. It is one of the best songs Conway ever recorded

I woke up crying late at night
When I was very young.
I had dreamed my father
Had passed away and gone.
My world revolved around him
I couldn’t lay there anymore.
So I made my way down the mirrored hall
And tapped upon his door.

And I said “Daddy, I’m so afraid
How will I go on with you gone that way?
Don’t want to cry anymore
So may I stay with you?”

And he said “That’s my job,
That’s what I do.
Everything I do is because of you,
To keep you safe with me.
That’s my job you see.”

Borderline was one of Conway Twitty’s last big hit albums, reaching #25, higher than any subsequent Conway Twitty studio album would reach. There are some good songs on this album, but the filler truly is filler and the production sounds as phony as most late 1980s country production. This album is somewhere between a C and a C+.

Album Review: Lisa McHugh – ‘#country’

Lisa McHugh’s most recent album was released just about a year ago. While its predecessors were heavily reliant on cover versions of other artists’ hits, none of the tracks on #country are originals. While that in itself does not concern me, the 14-track collection does lack focus and could have benefited from a little pruning. I think this is definitely a case of “less is more” and the omission of a few tracks could have resulted in an outstanding album instead of just a very good one.

Let’s start with what does work: Many of the songs will be familiar to country fans on this side of the Atlantic; McHugh covers a variety of artists that have had success in North America. Her versions of The Wilkersons’ “26 Cents” and Sweethearts of the Rodeo’s “Satisfy You” rival the originals, and she turns in a stunning version of The Pistol Annie’s “I Hope You’re The End of My Story”. She handles uptempo material like Jann Browne’s “Who’s Gonna Be Your Next Love” as adeptly as she does ballads like Joey + Rory’s “To Say Goodbye”. She also turns in a reverent treatment of Loretta Lynn’s first Top 10 hit “Success”. Less familiar to most listeners are “Play Me the Waltz of the Angels”, which has been recorded many times — as far as I can tell the original version was by Buck Owens. This is my favorite track, followed by “Peggy Gordon”, an old folk song of Canadian origin, which is given a Celtic arrangement and sung as a duet with Malachi Cush, a folk singer from Northern Ireland. Lisa’s voice has been compared many times to Dolly Parton; on this particular track there are definite traces of Alison Krauss.

Not working as well are “He’s a Good Ole Boy”, which was Chely Wright’s debut single from 1994. I’ve always liked this song, which can best be described as Loretta Lynn with a twist — the protagonist confronts her romantic rival but instead of warning her to stay away, she is more than happy to unload her ne-er-do-well lover:

To steal him is your number one ambition
But sister, here’s one safe that you don’t have to crack
I’ll hand him over under one condition:
A deal’s a deal and you can’t give him back.

I’ve always liked this song and felt it deserved more attention that it received – and I really wanted to like McHugh’s version, but her delivery lacks the passion that Chely Wright brought to it. Her versions of Crystal Gayle’s “Why Have You Left the One You Left Me For” and Alabama’s “High Cotton” work a little better, but she doesn’t bring anything new to either of these songs. I would have omitted all of them from the album — and that goes double for the album’s biggest misstep “Stuck Like Glue”. The organic Celtic arrangement is not nearly as obnoxious as the Sugarland original but this is a bad song no matter who sings it.

McHugh is an extremely talented vocalist and this is a solid effort — with only one truly terrible song (“Stuck Like Glue”), but one gets the sense that McHugh is still struggling to find her artistic direction. She seems willing to record anything and everything. I’d like to hear more “Peggy Gordons” and “Play Me The Waltz of the Angels” and fewer “Stuck Like Glues” in the future. Still the album is worth downloading — just be sure to skip over “Stuck Like Glue”.

Grade: B+

Week ending 4/15/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox): There You Go/Train of Love — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Gone — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1967: Lonely Again — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1977: Lucille — Kenny Rogers (United Artists)

1987: You’ve Got the Touch — Alabama (RCA)

1997: Rumor Has It — Clay Walker (Giant)

2007: Last Dollar (Fly Away) — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Fast — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

Album Review: Sawyer Brown – ‘Somewhere In The Night’

When discussing country music released in the late 1980s, it’s almost customary to frame it within the context of the new traditionalist movement. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that not every artist releasing albums at that time adhered to the sound ushered in by Randy Travis on Storms of Life. Acts like Alabama, K.T. Oslin, Rosanne Cash and others were sticking with the pop-country sound that had dominated the better part of the decade. These artists were not only going against the trend, they were dominating at radio alongside everyone else.

You can easily add Sawyer Brown to this category, as well. Their fourth album, Somewhere In The Night, arrived in May 1987 under the direction of Ron Chancey. He had taken over for Randy Scruggs who wouldn’t produce a Sawyer Brown album until The Boys Are Back, two years later. Many know Chancey’s son Blake from his notable production work with David Ball, Dixie Chicks, Montgomery Gentry and Gretchen Wilson in the 1990s-2000s.

Sawyer Brown wasn’t exactly dominating at this point in their career. When Somewhere In The Night was released, the band was on a streak of six consecutive singles missing the top 10. Their most recent, “Savin’ The Honey for the Honeymoon” has petered out at #58. They needed a reverse in fortunes, and while this wasn’t the album to get them there, it did give them a slight reprieve with radio.

The title track, co-written by Don Cook and Rafe VanHoy, had originally appeared on the Oak Ridge Boys classic Fancy Free six years earlier. Sawyer Brown’s version retains a 1980s sheen, complete with dated harmonies and synth piano, but is otherwise an excellent and restrained ballad. The track peaked at #29.

The album’s biggest success came when second single “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine” peaked at #2. The ballad, co-written by Mike Geiger and Woody Mullis, is a wonderful example of the other side of late 1980s country music. While it might sound a bit dated today, the production is nicely restrained with Chancey framing their harmonies beautifully.

Kix Brooks, Kenneth Beal, and Bill McClelland are responsible for the album’s final single, “Old Photographs,” which stalled at #27. The lush ballad isn’t a strong one, a bit of filler that never would’ve made it as a single in any other era.

“In This Town,” co-written by Tom Shapiro and Michael Garvin, would’ve made a fantastic choice for a single, and probably would’ve sailed up the charts behind “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine.” Everything about the ballad is on point, from the melody to the harmonies.

Somewhere In The Night contains its share of uptempo material, so it’s curious why the label didn’t see fit to break the ballad fatigue with one of these tracks. Two such songs were solely penned by Dennis Linde. “Dr. Rock N. Roll” is a slice of catchy slick pop while “Lola’s Love” is a nice dose of country-rock. The latter is the better song, and as a single for Ricky Van Shelton from his 1994 album Love and Honor, it peaked at #62. Linde also wrote “Still Life In Blue,” a mid-tempo ballad with dated accents of synth-pop.

The percussion-heavy “Little Red Caboose” was written by Steve Gibson and Dave Loggins and recorded by Lee Greenwood on his 1985 release, Love Will Find Its Way To You. The results are catchy and brimming with personality.

“Still Hold On” was originally released by its co-writer Kim Carnes in 1981 and Kenny Rogers in 1985. The ballad soars, thanks to Mark Miller’s vocal, which is an outstanding example of pathos that hints at the gravitas he would bring to the band’s 1990s hits “All These Years” and “Treat Her Right.”

The final track, “A Mighty Big Broom” was written solely by Miller. It’s the album’s most adventurous track, with a rock-leaning arrangement and a silly lyric.

When approaching Somewhere In The Night, I fully expected not to be able to pick out the Sawyer Brown I know from this set of songs. I came to the band like all my country music, in 1996, long after “The Walk” had revolutionized their sound and grounded them with depth and substance. So I was surprised I could hear subtle hints of what the band would eventually become, on this album. It’s a stellar project through and through, with a nice batch of above average material.

Grade: A

Single Review: Marty Stuart – ‘Whole Lotta Miles (With A Million More To Go)’

maxresdefaultAs I began writing this review, I started thinking about the last time a real truck drivin’ anthem made a play at country radio. I had to go back twenty years for Sawyer Brown’s cover of the Dave Dudley classic “Six Days on the Road.” Before that, all I could think of was Alabama’s “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler).”

There used to be a time, long since in the rearview mirror, when mainstream country music cared about the working class, the blue collar folks who make their living keeping our country afloat each and every day. It’s hard to believe there used to be an era when paychecks and harsh realities outweighed the scantily clad country girls fulfilling the fantasies of horny teenage boys.

Marty Stuart is looking to resurrect the long-forgotten subgenre with “Whole Lotta Highway (With A Million Miles To Go).” Who better to take on this challenge than a man who has had traditional country music coursing through his veins since birth? Stuart is the master, a fact he’s proven time and again in his career and has turned into an art form over the past ten years.

“Whole Lotta Highway (With A Million Miles To Go)” is a very good song and I have no doubt everyone brought his or her ‘A’ game to make this work. My problem is, I can’t get past the sound of this record at all. The wall-of-sound production drowns the song in loud twangy and steel guitars that could’ve been pleasant if they were turned downed in order to let the lyric, and Stuart’s vocal, breathe. There’s nothing wrong with the pacing or the melody, the song itself is just too damn loud.

It’s a shame, but then again, I do hold Stuart in a class of his own with expectations no normal human could ever reach. I’m still highly anticipating Way Out West, although my expectations have been slightly lowered after hearing “Whole Lotta Miles.”

Grade: B

In Memoriam: Mark Gray (1952-2016)

Singer/Songwriter Mark Gray has passed, aged 64. The onetime member of Exile wrote ‘The Closer You Get,’ which was recorded by Alabama and hit #1 in 1983. Another notable recording, ‘Sometimes When We Touch’ paired him with last month’s spotlight artist Tammy Wynette. The song peaked at #6 in 1985. It would be her final Top Ten charting single. His biggest solo single, “Please Be Love” peaked at #7 the same year.

 

Week ending 12/3/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

life_tillisjump121615_16350281_8col1956 (Sales):Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1956 (Jukebox): Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1966: Somebody Like Me — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1976: Good Woman Blues — Mel Tillis (MCA)

1986: Touch Me When We’re Dancing — Alabama (RCA)

1996: Strawberry Wine — Deana Carter (Capitol)

2006: Before He Cheats — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

2016: Blue Ain’t Your Color — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2016 (Airplay): A Little More Summertime — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

50th CMA Awards: Grading the Twenty Performances

Instead of the typical CMA Awards prediction post, I thought it might be fun to rank the twenty performances, all of which brought something special to the evening. Here they are, in ascending order, with commentary:

20.

imrs-phpBeyoncé Feat. Dixie Chicks – Daddy’s Lessons

The most debated moment of the night was the worst performance in recent CMA history, an embarrassment to country music and the fifty years of the organization. Beyoncé was the antithesis of our genre with her staged antics and complete lack of authenticity. If Dixie Chicks had performed this song alone, like they did on tour, it would’ve been a slam-dunk. They were never the problem. Beyoncé is to blame for this mess.

Grade: F

19.

Kelsea Ballerini – Peter Pan

I feel bad for her. It seems Ballerini never got the memo that this was the CMA Awards and not a sideshow at Magic Kingdom. Everything about this was wrong – the visuals, wind machine and, most of all, the dancers. Once I saw the harness in plain sight, I knew it was over.

Grade: F 

 18.

362x204-q100_121d9e867599857df2132b3b6c77e0c8Luke Bryan – Move

Nashville is perennially behind the trends as evidenced by Bryan’s completely out of place performance. One of only two I purposefully fast forwarded through.

Grade: F 

 17.

Florida Georgia Line feat. Tim McGraw – May We All 

Stood out like a sore thumb, for all the wrong reasons. Not even McGraw could redeem this disaster.

Grade: F  

16.

gettyimages-620669440-43407842-8b2a-437b-a6e4-f643a1b5b104Carrie Underwood – Dirty Laundry

The newly minted Female Vocalist of the Year gave the third weakest performance of this year’s nominees. I commend her use of an all-female band, but disliked everything else from the visuals to Underwood’s dancing. It all starts with the song and this one is among her worst.

Grade: D+

15.

Thomas Rhett – Die A Happy Man

The biggest hit of the year gave Thomas Rhett a moment his other radio singles proves he doesn’t deserve. He remained gracious throughout the night, proving he can turn it on when it counts. I just wish it wasn’t an act.

Grade: B- 

14.

362x204-q100_b63432d74b677e29d35917efd7490170Keith Urban – Blue Ain’t Your Color

A perfectly serviceable performance of an above average song. He did nothing to stand out from the pack neither adding to nor distracting from the night’s more significant moments.

Grade: B

13.

Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – Different for Girls 

At least Bentley wasn’t showcasing the rowdier side of Black. He and King didn’t do anything to stand out and the whole thing was more middle of the road than anything else.

Grade: B

 12.

landscape-1478192054-gettyimages-620693852Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Jennifer Nettles and Carrie Underwood – Dolly Parton Tribute 

I have nothing against Parton nor do I deny her incredible legacy as a pioneer in the genre. But it’s time to honor someone else. Parton has been lauded and it’s so old at this point, it’s unspectacular. That’s not to say this wasn’t a great medley, it was. I just wish it had been for someone different, like say, Tanya Tucker.

Grade: B

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Album Review: Asleep at the Wheel – ‘Keepin’ Me Up Nights’

0001597610Released in 1990 as their only studio album for Arista Records, Keepin’ Me Up Nights will do just that as it is a interesting effort throughout.

Asleep At The Wheel (“AATW”) can often feature an astounding number of musicians on stage but this album finds the band being comprised of Ray Benson on lead vocals and guitar; Larry Franklin on fiddle, guitar, and harmony vocals; Tim Alexander on piano, accordion and harmony vocals; John Ely on pedal and lap steel; Michael Francis on saxophone, Joe Mitchell on acoustic and electric bass; and David Sanger on drums. The band is augmented by Greg Jennings playing guitars and six string bass.

The album opens with “Keepin’ Me Up Nights”, a bluesy/jazzy number written by James Dean Hicks and Byron Hill.  In the albums notes Benson says the intent was to do a ‘Ray Charles sings western swing’ arrangement. I would say there were successful.

“Boot Scootin’ Boogie” was written by Ronnie Dunn and would prove to be a major hit for Brooks & Dunn two years later. Since I heard AATW’s version jazzy version first, I found myself surprised at the Brooks & Dunn arrangement and frankly I think AATW did it better, albeit quite differently and definitely not suitable for line dancing.

“Dance With Who Brung You” is a Ray Benson original inspired by a phrase used by former Texas football coach Darrell Royal. This song is done as a mid-tempo ballad.

You got to dance with who brung you, swing with who swung you,
Don’t be a fickle fool,You came here with a gal, who’s always been your pal
Don’t leave her for the first unattached girl, it just ain’t cool
You got to dance with who brung you, swing with who swung you,
Life ain’t no forty-yard dash, be in it for the long run,
’cause in the long run you’ll have more fun, if you dance with who brung You to the bash

Ray collaborated with co-producer Tim Dubois on “Quittin’ Time”, a boogie with real nice sax solos by Michael Francis.

Lisa Silver (who played fiddle on AATW’s second album), Judy Rodman and Carol Chase join the band to provide background vocals on Bobby Braddock’s lovely “Eyes”, an exquisite slow ballad.

Troy Seals and John Schneider wrote “Goin’ Home” is a ballad about the joys of going home after being away too long. This song has a rhythmic arrangement suitable for line dancing.

Well I’ve got a lot of friends on the West Coast,
Got a lot of memories
Well I want you to know that I won’t forget
Everything you’ve done for me
But it’s been too long, just too long
T-T-T-T-T-Too long, I’m a-goin’ home
New York, Detroit, Chicago
You were really somethin’ else
You treated me just like kinfolk y’all,
And I swear I can’t help myself
But it’s been too long, way too long
T-T-T-T-T-Too long, I’m a-goin’ home

I’m gonna write a letter,
I’m gonna send a telegram
Gonna tell everybody this wanderin’ boy is packing his bags right now
And I’m’a goin’ home

“That’s The Way Love Is” was written by former (and founding) AATW member Leroy Preston in 1989. The song, a mid-tempo ballad with a strong Cajun feel to the arrangement (fiddle and accordion), tells of the ups and downs of life. John Wesley Ryles, briefly a star in his own right, chips in background vocals

“Gone But Not Forgotten” was penned by Fred Knobloch and Scott Miller is an up-tempo western swing song about where money goes. We’ve all lived this story …

The great Harlan Howard wrote “You Don’t Have To Go To Memphis”. The premise of the song is that you don’t have to go to Memphis to get the blues, just fall for the wrong woman. The song features nice piano and fiddle solos

You don’t have to go to Memphis to get the Blues
You just fall in love with the kind of women I do
Well, I’ve had me a dozen but I never had me one that
Did not fall through
You don’t have to go to Memphis to get the Blues
There she goes, here I stand
Watching good love slip away
Once again, I’m all alone
Love has come and gone

“Beat Me Daddy (Eight To The Bar)” is a classic boogie from 1940, originally recorded by Will Bradley’s Orchestra (with Ray McKinley on lead vocals). The song was a huge hit for Bradley and has been recorded many times since Bradley’s recording including Commander Cody, Ella Fitzgerald and The Andrews Sisters. The song was completely written by Don Raye although some other names also show up on the writer’s credits

In a little honky-tonky village in Texas
There’s a guy who plays the best piano by far
He can play piano any way that you like it
But the way he likes to play is eight to the bar
When he plays, it’s a ball
He’s the daddy of them all
The people gather around when he gets on the stand
Then when he plays, he gets a hand
The rhythm he beats puts the cats in a trance
Nobody there bothers to dance
But when he plays with the bass and guitar
They holler out, “Beat me Daddy, eight to the bar”

“Texas Fiddle Man” was written by fiddler Larry Franklin and he takes the lead vocals on this song, which features some extended fiddle solos. The folks at Alabama (the band) contributed the idea for the closing riffs.

The album concludes with “Pedernales Stroll” a gentle instrumental tribute to finger pickers such as Chet Atkins, Merle Travis. The song is the only instrumental on the album and as such, the perfect ending to an exciting album

Grade: A+

Album Review: Lonestar – ‘Let’s Be Us Again’

lets-be-us-againBy the time Lonestar released Let’s Be Us Again in 2004, the country music landscape had been brutally transformed from a country music with ever increasing rock elements into essentially rock music with country elements such as fiddle and steel guitar tossed into the mix, often gratuitously. Most of the fiddle heard during this are seemingly more Cajun than country, and lead guitar solos often seemed to owe nothing at all to country music.

In order to maintain radio airplay Lonestar co-opted the rock sounds while trying to maintain some country elements. The transition really began in 1999 with the Lonely Grill album, which had its sales buoyed by the remarkable success of “Amazed”, clearly their career hit.

The cost was high as each succeeding album was less country than its predecessor and more superficial. Gone was the Texan honky-tonk swagger, replaced by power ballads and Eagles-like country rockers. Worse yet, the John B Stetson hats and cowboy boots were replaced by attire that would have worked for N’SYNC or New Kids on The Block.

This is not to say that Let’s Be Us Again is a bad album, far from it. It is simply isn’t a very good album, the next to the last gasp of a band losing its way. In the short run the move paid off, but after two more top ten albums, the bands sales would slide toward the abyss. The song charted at #4.

The album opens up with “County Fair”, a pleasant if pointless rocker that is little more than a laundry list of things that one might do at a county fair. Some of the guitar riffs sound stolen from “Sweet Home Alabama” but with some fiddle tossed in.

Twenty bucks buys ten coupons
Two ears of corn and one ride on
The tilt-a-whirl with your favorite girl
Keep on walking down the midway
Three-eyed goats and games to play
Step right up, carny says try your luck
You can tell the sweet smell of summer in the air
Whole town shuts down, everybody’s gonna be there

Next up is “Class Reunion (That Used To Be Us)” a look back at how people have changed over the decade since graduation. The song was issued as a single and reached #16. While I think the lyrics celebrated a tenth reunion, I think it would be more meaningful in the context of a twentieth or later reunion.

I had a drink with some buds, played a lot of catch up
Danced with my date from the prom
But as hard as I tried until I closed my eyes
Everybody I knew was gone
There was Mr. Finch – he taught English and French
He was dancing with a couple of canes
And that homecoming queen, yeah, the girl of my dreams
S He didn’t even remember my name

That used to be us; we used to be cool
With the music cranked up, hanging out after school
That used to be Jill, that used to be Joe
Tell me, where in the world did we all go?
That used to be us

I would describe “Let Us Be Us Again” as a straight ahead subdued power ballad – it could have been sung by any band but Richie McDonald had a hand in writing it, so Lonestar recorded it.

I really do not feel like doing a song by song analysis of this album since most of the rest of the songs are simply okay, mostly generic with some good melodic hooks. Skipping to track eleven we find the song that typifies the album in the rather wordy, “Mr. Mom”. The song isn’t bad, in fact it is rather amusing, but it seemed to appeal more to people who really didn’t much care for country music in general or Lonestar in particular. I knew the end was near for Lonestar when my wife opined that she liked the song. “Mr. Mom” would prove to be the last #1 for Lonestar and, although two more scattered top ten records would follow, the band started losing traction after this song.

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah
Lost my job, came home mad
Got a hug and a kiss and that’s too bad
She said, “I can go to work until you find another job”
I thought I like the sound of that
Watch TV and take long naps
Go from a hard working dad to being Mr. Mom

Well, Pampers melt in a Maytag dryer
Crayons go up one drawer higher
Rewind Barney for the fifteenth time
Breakfast at six, naps at nine
There’s bubblegum in the baby’s hair
Sweet potatoes in my lazy chair
Been crazy all day long
And it’s only Monday, Mr. Mom

Track twelve is “From There To Here” with Randy Owen of Alabama making a guest appearance, on an up-tempo song celebration of love. Randy, of course, is a superlative vocalist and this song is right up his alley:

Brothers Wilber and Orville Wright
Built wings out of wood and steel
Folks said that thing’ll never fly
They said, “Watch, I bet it will”
We’ve been defyin’ gravity now goin’ on a hundred years
It was paper wings, faith, and dreams
That’s how we got from there to here

A nickel brought a soda pop way back then
And a movie only cost a dime
He came home with a scar and a purple heart
She waited all that time
Today they’ll cut a golden wedding cake
How’d they made it all those years?
It had to be tough; they just said it was love
That’s how they got from there to here

You either do or you don’t believe
That it can or can’t be done
An ounce of faith and a touch of grace
And it can happen to anyone

If I had to pick a best song from the album, it would be “Somebody’s Someone” which harkens back to what the band had been doing earlier in their career. The song was never released as a single but charted due to random unsolicited airplay. Richie McDonald wrote this song by himself and without the posturing that often happens in co-writes, turned out a really meaningful song, probably the best song he has ever written. Coming so closely on the heels of 9/11, the song undoubtedly struck a chord with many listeners and definitely should have been released as a single:

Turn to the six o’clock news – another soldier dies
Tried to hide it, but I couldn’t help it: I had to cry
When my little boy asked me, “daddy, was he your friend”
I said, “no, I didn’t even know him”

[Chorus]
But he was somebody’s someone, a neighbor, a husband
A brother, a father, and a mother’s only son
He was an uncle, a cousin, somebody’s best friend
And I’m sure at times a shoulder to lean on
He was somebody’s someone

So I sat there in that chair and helped him understand
How this brave young man gave his life for our land
And although he’s someone we’ll never know
To you and me he is a hero

[Chorus]

To the world he was a total stranger
Who kept us safe and out of danger
But now he’s just a picture on TV
Somebody’s memory

[Chorus]

He was somebody’s someone

Up until this point I had purchased Lonestar albums as they were released, but this album marked the end of my Lonestar purchases. I give this album a C+ mostly on the strength of the last three cuts on the album, which I regard as the strongest.

Spotlight Artist: Lonestar

lonestarFor many years, the prototypical country group took the form of a gospel quartet or quintet, modeled after such gospel favorites as the Jordanaires, The Old Hickory Singers, The Oak Ridge Quartet or the Blackwood Brothers. These groups were strictly vocal groups, with some sort of instrumental accompaniment, often nothing more than someone playing the piano. It was rare that the group handled its own instrumentals, other than perhaps the original version of the Sons of The Pioneers; and aside from western groups such as the Sons of The Pioneers, the repertoire was almost entirely gospel.

The first group to venture off into mostly secular music was the Statler Brothers in 1965, with the electrifying hit “Flowers On The Wall”. The Statler Brothers were strictly a vocal group, although the great Lew DeWitt played some acoustic guitar. In 1976, the Statlers were followed by the Oak Ridge Boys (formerly the Oak Ridge Quartet). Like the Statler Brothers, the Oak Ridge Boys were a gospel quartet that went secular. Both groups tended to strongly resemble the gospel groups from which they had arisen, and both groups had all four members vocals featured prominently.

It was not until Alabama came to prominence in 1980 that the modern day concept of a country group entered the public conscience. Alabama was comprised of three cousins (Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook) plus a very talented outsider in drummer Mark Herndon. Unlike other country groups, Alabama had a designated lead vocalist in Randy Owen, with the other members providing instrumental support and taking an occasional lead vocal, mostly on album cuts.

Alabama proved to be hugely successful with dozens of #1 singles and millions of albums sold. Soon additional similarly structure groups would arise such as Atlanta (1983), Exile (1983), Restless Heart (1985), Shenandoah (1987), Diamond Rio (1991), and Little Texas (1991).

Of course, every trend and/or fad runs its course and Lonestar (1992) would prove to be the last really successful band of the wave that started with Alabama.

Lonestar was unusual in that as they originally were constructed, Lonestar had two singers who perceived of themselves as the lead vocalist of the group. Richie McDonald was the lead vocalist but bass player John Rich also sang some leads (mostly on album tracks) and would be booted out of the group after the second album.

Lonestar would prove to have staying power, releasing eleven studio albums (five reached gold or platinum status) and enjoying a large number of hit singles including nine that reached #1 and another nine that landed in the country top ten. One of their #1 singles, “Amazed” also reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for two weeks sandwiched between singles by Savage Garden and Destiny’s Child, and it charted in the United Kingdom.

Although the top ten singles ceased in 2006, Lonestar is still around having just issued a new album. Richie McDonald left the group for a while, but has since returned and the band once again consists of Richie McDonald on lead vocals and piano, Michael Britt on lead guitar, backing vocals, Keech Rainwater banging on the drums and Dean Sams on keyboards, acoustic guitar and backing vocal. This is essentially the original group minus John Rich.

Lonestar has a website and is playing a full schedule of road appearances. They still sound good, and if you liked them during their 1990s heydays, you’ll like them now.

So sit back as enjoy our Spotlight review of the one of the leading country groups of the 1990s and the early 2000s.

Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘She Won’t Be Lonely Long’

she won't be lonely longClay’s first album in three years was released in 2010. It was mainly produced by Keith Stegall, with Doug Johnson taking the helm for a few tracks, but neither man shows his usual light hand.

The first single, the title track, was the album’s only big hit, peaking at #4. It’s a good song about a woman who “wants to hold a stranger, but not the one at home”, who has done her wrong. Clay sings it strongly, if lacking nuance.

‘Where Do I Go From You’ was a minor hit, making the top 30. A mid-tempo tune about getting over an ex, it is well written but Walker’s vocal lacks real emotional conviction and towards the end he oversings. ‘Like We Never Said Goodbye’ didn’t make the top 40, but offers a more subtle vocal on a fine song about a meeting with an ex and the complicated emotions it produces.

The final single, Western themed ‘Jesse James’ opens with a bluegrass feel and an impressive wailing vocal , but soon deteriorates into a horrible over produced mess. It was a deserved flop.

Clay contributed four co-writes, three of them with old friend Jason Greene. ‘Double Shot Of John Wayne’ is the best of these (and infinitely better than the similarly themed ‘Jesse James’), a very traditional country tribute to old western movie heroes. I really liked this. The pair’s other songs are ‘All American’, a very bland patriotic number which was used as a campaign theme tune by one of the unsuccessful candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012; and ‘Summertime Song’, a rather boring song about a working man dreaming of beach time, which might work better if it contrasted the two worlds more consistently through the song, but does have some nice fiddle. Clay wrote ‘Wrong Enough To Know’ with Kim Williams and Doug Johnson. It is an unremarkable but adequate mid-tempo love song given a poppy production.

‘People In Planes’, written by Barry Dean and Luke Laird, is an observational song about fellow travellers spotted on a flight, spoiled by very intrusive electronic effects and autotuning. ‘Keep Me From Loving You’ reminiscences about a high school romance which lasts, despite the disapproving parents. The song is okay, but it is heavily over produced.

Randy Owen harmonises on the Alabama hit ‘Feels So Right’, which is well sung but not a favourite of mine, and is given a very AC production with heavy use of strings. ‘Seven Sundays’ is very pretty sounding, and is an affectionate tribute to church attendance.

Overall this is a record which doesn’t seem to know how to position itself. There are some decent songs mixed in with more mediocre fare, and blatant attempts at getting radio play set against some real country sensibility.

Grade: B-

Week ending 4/16/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

tammy-wynette1956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Blue Suede Shoes — Carl Perkins (Sun)

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

1966: I Want To Go With You — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1976: ‘Til I Can Make It On My Own — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1986: She and I — Alabama (RCA)

1996: No News — Lonestar (BNA)

2006: What Hurts the Most — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

2016: You Should Be Here — Cole Swindell (Warner Bros.)

2016 (Airplay): You Should Be Here — Cole Swindell (Warner Bros.)

Week ending 11/14/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

images-71955 (Sales): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

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

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

1965: Behind the Tear — Sonny James (Capitol)

1975: I’m Sorry — John Denver (RCA)

1985: Can’t Keep a Good Man Down — Alabama (RCA)

1995: Check Yes or No — George Strait (MCA)

2005: Better Life — Keith Urban (Capitol)

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

2015 (Airplay): Break Up With Him — Old Dominion (ReeSmack/RCA)

Classic Rewind: Alabama – ‘I’m In A Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)’