My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Alabama

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)’

Album Review: Alabama – ‘Southern Drawl’

southern drawlI was concerned that Alabama’s long-awaited comeback album would pander too much to the current state of country radio, and the first single did nothing to change that. Fortunately there are some bright spots and one outstanding song.

The title track and lead single sounds like a straight rock song. It’s actually not bad for what it is, apart from the woeful rap section and the very, very cliche’d picture of the South it paints. Somehow it took four writers to create it. The song at least has an insistent groove and the band sound as if they are enjoying themselves. It is not the worst track on the album; that dubious honor goes to the resolutely uncatchy ‘Foot Stompin’ Music’, whose title alone probably tells you all you need to know. The only good thing about it is the fiddle break at the end.

I was intrigued by the quirky title, ‘Hillbilly Wins The Lotto Money’, written by Randy Owen’s son Heath. It is an interesting story song with a bluesy arrangement which grew on me with repeated listens. The perky ‘Back To The Country’ features the obligatory token banjo to accompany a lyric about feeling out of place in the city and longing for a rural home. The clichés are saved by Randy Owen’s believable delivery. The mid-tempo country-rock ‘American Farmer’ pays tribute to its subjects’ hard work.

‘No Bad Days’ took six writers including James Otto, Jerry Jeff Walker’s son Django, and Jeff Cook, but is a pretty good song in folk-rock vein sung by Cook. Teddy Gentry leads on the more urgent ‘It’s About Time’ .

The ballads tend to lean AC rather than country. ‘Wasn’t Through Lovin’ You Yet’ just feels a little uninspired. ‘This Ain’t Just A Song’, written by Tim James, Rivers Rutherford and George Teren, is quite pleasant; and the Randy Owen-penned ‘As Long As There’s Love’ has a pretty melody and idealistic lyric.

‘One On One’ has Randy Owen doing his familiar laughably over-the top Conway Twitty impersonation, but the parts which are actually sung rather than spoken in an attempt to sound sexy, are pretty good.

The gentle ‘Come Find Me’ is very pretty indeed, and features Alison Krauss on fiddle and harmony vocals, although the latter are rather low in the mix. It was written by Tony Lane and David Lee. By far the best song here, though, is left to the end of the set. The beautiful ‘I Wanna Be There’ is addressed to a newborn baby girl, with the besotted new father expressing his hopes that he will experience all the joys of fatherhood in the years to come. It was written by Paul Overstreet and Harley Allen, and is genuinely moving. This alone makes a distinctly patchy album worthwhile, and I recommend both it and ‘Come Find Me’ to be downloaded even if you pass on the rest.

Grade: C+

Classic Rewind: Alabama – ‘High Cotton’

Classic Rewind: Alabama – ‘Song Of The South’

Album Review: Alabama – ‘Cheap Seats’

cheap seatsI guess the end of the road comes for everybody and in this case the end of the road is actually the end of the #1 singles for Alabama, with “Reckless” being the band’s final Billboard #1 and “Cheap Seats” being the first single in fourteen years to miss the top ten.

Cheap Seats was produced by Josh Leo and Larry Michael Lee, and was released in October 1993, with three singles released from the album (“Reckless”, “T.L.C. A.S.A.P.” and “The Cheap Seats”). The album was the second consecutive album to miss the top ten on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, reaching only #16, their worst showing to-date on RCA. Although the next four albums would chart better, even reaching the top ten in two instances, it was becoming clear that Alabama was no longer a dominant force in country music.

Despite this, I really like this album, as some of the songs personally resonate with me.

The album opens with the Rick Bowles-Josh Leo composition “Still Goin’ Strong”, a moderate rocker, that features Jim Horn on tenor sax.

Next up is “T.L.C.A.S.A.P” a song penned by the Baker-Myers duo. This song only reached #7 but likely would have been a number one a few years earlier.

Well, we work real hard six days a week,
Honey, this is somethin’ we both need…

A little TLC ASAP…
A little R & R for you and me…
A guaranteed rat race remedie,
A little TLC ASAP.

A little TLC ASAP…
A little R & R for you and me…
A guaranteed rat race remedie,
I need TLC ASAP.

TLC ASAP…
R & R for you and me…

TLC ASAP…
R & R for you and me…

“Katy Brought My Guitar Back Today” is a tender slow ballad that had little potential for use as a single. Ditto for the Mark Alan Springer ballad “On This Side of The Moon”.

The title track “The Cheap Seats” is the outstanding track on the album, even though it only reached #13. The song, a perfectly crafted uptempo ‘slice of life’ by Randy Sharp and Marcus Hummon tells it like it is in many small towns. Believe me, I’ve lived this story many times growing up:

This town ain’t big, this town ain’t small
It’s a little of both they say
Our ball club may be minor league, but at least it’s triple A
We sit below the Marlboro man, above the right field wall
We do the wave all by ourself
Hey ump, a blind man could’ve made that call
We like beer flat as can be
We like our dogs with mustard and relish
We got a great pitcher what’s his name
Well we can’t even spell it
We don’t worry about the pennant much
We just like to see the boys hit it deep
There’s nothing like the view from the cheap seats

“Cheap Seats” was the only song from this album that was made into a video.

“Reckless”, written by Jeff Stevens and Michael Clark, was actually the first single released from this album and would prove to be Alabama’s last #1 single. The song, a mid-tempo rocker, is a typical ode to restless youth:

Let’s take my Thunderbird and leave tonight,
I’ll keep the pedal to the floor till we see the morning light.
They can’t live our lives for us,
If we let them we’ll lose our love.
And love dies hard in this Texas sun,
I’d rather be reckless and on the run

Let’s roll the windows down, turn the radio up
Let the wind blow through our hair
There’s a moon tonight and a road outside, baby
We’re gettin out of here.
I could care less where it leads us
Love is reckless, let’s get reckless tonight

Teddy Gentry, Ronnie Rogers and Greg Fowler collaborated on “That Feeling”, a lovely ballad that would have made a good single. I consider this song to be the unearthed gem of this album:

I’ve made some decisions
Never not the best
Against my better judgment
I must confess
I went astray so many ways
So my dreams fall apart
And came a day I’m glad to say
I followed my heart

That feeling the one I’m feeling now
Oh that feeling that turned me all around
That feeling oh what love can do
That feeling that never let’s me down
Oh that feeling that always come around
I never need another
It’s gonna last my whole life through
That feeling I’m feeling for you

Jeff Cook had a hand in writing “This Love’s On Me” a kind of generic up-tempo rocker that, this time featuring Jim Nelson on tenor sax. Jeff Cook handles the lead vocals on this track.

“Clear Water Blues” , another Gentry- Rogers-Fowler collaboration, was not on the cassette version of this album, but was on the CD version as a ‘bonus’ track. The song is a gentle jazzy ballad which features harmonica, banjo, organ and trumpet as integral parts of the arrangement. Teddy Gentry takes the lead vocals on this song and does an excellent job of it.

“A Better Word For Love” is another track not found on the original cassette release, but available as a CD ‘bonus track’. The song was written by Andy Anderson (of NRBQ) and Gary Nicholson and is yet another gentle ballad. NRBQ would record the song on one of their albums.

The final song, Becky Hobbs’ excellent “Angels Among Us” has an interesting history. Unlike the rest of the album, this track was produced by Teddy Gentry. Not only did Becky Hobbs include the song on her excellent 1994 album The Boots I Came to Town In, but the Alabama album track received considerable attention at county radio and twice entered the country charts from unsolicited airplay: reaching # 54 in 1994, and later clocking in at # 28 in January 1995. The sonmg charted again for Alabama at #22 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart in January 1996. Maybe Alabama should have issued the song as an official single! The choir on this song was provided by the Sanctuary Choir & Young Musicians Choir of First Baptist Church, Fort Payne, Alabama.

I was walkin’home from school
On a cold winter day,
Took a short cut through the woods
And I lost my way.
It was gettin’ late, and I was scared and alone.
Then a kind old man took my hand, and led me home.
Mama couldn’t see him,
But he was standing there,
And I knew in my heart
He was the answer to my prayer.

[Chorus]
Oh, I believe there are Angels Among Us,
Sent down to us from somewhere up above.
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live
To teach us how to give
To guide us with a light of love.

This wasn’t Alabama’s best album but a strong album worth a B+. I liked all three released singles, and while “Angels Among Us” wasn’t released as a single, I have several friends who consider the song to be their favorite Alabama song. Since the album tracks were all at least passable, and most very good, no one should be disappointed with this album.

Classic Rewind: Alabama – ‘If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You’ve Got To Have A Fiddle In The Band)’

Album Review: Alabama – ‘American Pride’

00024235Alabama’s fourteenth album for RCA, American Pride, was their third produced in conjunction with Larry Michael Lee and Josh Leo. The album, released in August 1992, spawned four singles.

Slick rocker “Take A Little Trip” previewed the record and hit #2. A tale about a couple with ambitious dreams planning a staycation, the song employed heavy drums and guitars and allowed for a gravely lead vocal from Randy Owen. Final single “Hometown Honeymoon,” which peaked at #3, continued in this theme. While the latter features a fiddle-laced production I love, neither song is lyrically memorable and all but forgotten today.

The hometown theme spreads to “Homesick Fever,” which is a love-where-you’re-from mid-tempo southern rocker that’s good but nowhere near great. A more generic focus on Americana is found on the title track, the album’s most personal song thanks to Owen’s sole writing credit. He keeps the details generic, but the ballad has heart.

While listening to American Pride for review I was surprised to learn “Richard Petty Fans” was a tender ballad and not the rocker the title suggests. It certainly works, but the results feel like a typical Alabama piano ballad but with a tight focus.

The dreadful “You Can’t Take The Country out of me” has the vibe of “Pass It On Down” mixed with a lyric that mirrors “Down Home.” From the token banjo that opens the track to the southern gothic rock atmosphere, I genuinely dislike everything about this song.

The second single, and the only chart topper from American Pride, is arguably their most iconic radio offering from the 1990s. “I’m In A Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)” is brilliant commercial contemporary country music – an engaging melody (featuring drums and guitars with ample breathing space) mixed with a memorable chorus and distinct harmonies. It’s also a great song, built from a premise seemingly without promise.

For the requisite ballad single, the band offered “Once Upon A Lifetime.” The #3 peaking song tries to update their watered down slow jams from the previous decade but fails to give the listener anything interesting or exciting. I give them points for attempting to give radio a sincere love song but they shouldn’t have so blatantly mailed in their efforts.

The ballads only get worse from there. Jeff Cook co-wrote and takes the lead on “Pictures and Memories,” a track that feels like a left over from the early 1980s. I would’ve enjoyed it more had the overall vibe leaned country in even a slightly noticeable way. “Sometimes out of Touch,” which features Teddy Gentry on lead vocal, also has a dated sound. But the piano flourishes and Gentry’s interesting vocal tone keep the track from joining the others at the bottom of the remainder bin.

“Between The Two of Them” appears on American Pride in its original form. A deep album cut for the band, it would be a single from Tanya Tucker in 1994. There’s no arguing that she has the better version. Alabama’s take on the ballad is far too slow and lacks any country signifiers to make it interesting.

I had been gunning to review American Pride since I love “I’m In A Hurry” and “Hometown Honeymoon” so much. It’s also one of the first Alabama albums I purchased when I began listening to country music about twenty years ago.

But neither of those things excuses the fact that American Pride is nothing more than a bizarre album. Listening thru, it’s obvious this is nothing more than a commercial album frontloaded with the four offerings suitable for radio while the remaining seven tracks have little to no value for the listener. In most respects, it’s hard to even categorize American Pride as a country album at all.

Grade: C+

 

 

Classic Rewind: Alabama – ’40 Hour Week (For A Living)/Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)

Two of the band’s biggest hits.