My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Alan Jackson

BREAKING NEWS: Alan Jackson is the 2017 ‘Modern Era’ Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee

Jerry Reed (Veteran Era) and Don Schliltz (Songwriter) round out the class of 2017. Here’s the press conference:

 

Week ending 12/24/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

jack-greene-obit-650-4301956 (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: There Goes My Everything — Jack Greene (Decca)

1976: Sweet Dreams — Emmylou Harris (Reprise)

1986: Too Much Is Not Enough — The Bellamy Brothers with The Forester Sisters (MCA/Curb)

1996: Little Bitty — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2006: Want To — Sugarland (Mercury)

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

2016 (Airplay): Song For Another Time — Old Dominion (RCA)

Christmas Album Review: Chris Young – ‘It Must Be Christmas’

it-must-be-christmasChris Young has arguably the best voice of any male country singer currently signed to a major label. It’s a shame that of late years his musical choices have been disappointing as he chases commercial success at the expense of artistry. Happily, while his new Christmas album isn’t particularly country, it leans in the direction of, well, traditional Christmas music, rather than the bro-country he has been led astray by before.

Chris’s warm baritone voice is perfectly showcased tenderly crooning ‘The Christmas Song’ and ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ shoots for the same territory, but I found it just a little dull.

The Phil Spector-penned (i.e. 60s pop) ‘Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)’ is cheery and Christmassy with an arrangement dominated by bells, and surprisingly enjoyable. Chris’s vocal commitment also lifts the lightweight ‘Holy Jolly Christmas’; this gets a brassy arrangement.

The outstanding moment comes with a gorgeous duet with Alan Jackson on the Keith Whitley Christmas classic ‘There’s A New Kid In Town’, which is just lovely. Brad Paisley guests on a nice sincere take on ‘The First Noel’. ‘Silent Night’ has one of the most beautiful melodies of any carol/Christmas tune, and is almost impossible to mess up. Chris sings it beautifully, with 90s R&B boyband Boyz II Men used sparingly to provide ethereal harmonies on the chorus. The end result is extremely effective.

There are two new songs, both co-written by Chris, but frankly neither is particularly memorable. ‘Under The Weather’ is quite a pleasant love song set at Christmas time, but the title track is chock full of clichés.

Production is mostly nicely understated, supporting Young’s excellent vocals. This is an excellent choice to play while entertaining your non-country loving family members this Christmas.

Grade: A

Week ending 12/17/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

johnny_duncan_promo1956 (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: Thinkin’ of a Rendezvous — Johnny Duncan (Columbia)

1986: Hell and High Water — T. Graham Brown (Capitol)

1996: Little Bitty — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2006: My Wish — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

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

2016 (Airplay): May We All — Florida Georgia Line featuring Tim McGraw (Republic Nashville)

Week ending 12/10/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

alan_jackson1956 (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: It Ain’t Cool To Be Crazy About You — George Strait (MCA)

1996: Little Bitty — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2006: Before He Cheats — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

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

2016 (Airplay): May We All — Florida Georgia Line featuring Tim McGraw (Republic Nashville)

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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Classic Rewind: Alan Jackson – ‘Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)?’

In memory of those who died on 9/11, on the 15th anniversary.

Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘If I Could Make A Living’

if i could make a livingClay’s second album was released in September 1994. The engagingly bouncy title track was written by Alan Jackson, Keith Stegall and Roger Murrah, and charged to #1 on the country charts. It has a copyright date of 1989, so I assume it was a reject from Alan’s first album, but it has genuine charm if not much depth.

Passionately sung ballad ‘This Woman And This Man’ about a couple on the cusp of breaking up was another chart topper. The run of hits was halted with ‘My Heart Will Never Know’, the final single, which peaked at #16. The sad lost love song was another ballad, with a pretty melody.

‘You Make It Look So Easy’ is another sad love song, written by Chris Waters and Tom Shapiro, with the protagonist failing to cope with a breakup.

However, the record was dominated by up-tempo numbers. One of my favourites is the insistent kiss-off ‘What Do You Want For Nothin’, written by Keith Follese and Michael Woody. Clay demands scathingly,

All I wanted was your love
But it was more than you would pay
Now you want a second chance
To give me more of the same

What do you want for nothin’, baby,
A solid gold guarantee
That you get everything you need?
But there was no love in it for me
You wanna deal on the way I feel
But I’m not buyin’ that
What do you want for nothin’, baby?
Your money back???

‘The Melrose Avenue Cinema Two’ is an effervescent reminiscence of childhood friendship and teenage romance which is quite enjoyable. ‘Boogie Till The Cows Come Home’ is ramped up western swing with honky tonk piano.

Clay wrote four songs, three of them with Kim Williams and Kent Blazy. ‘Heartache Highway’ is a wistful song about failing to patch things up:
It’s a hell of a road
When you’re leavin’ heaven behind

‘Down By The Riverside’ is another remembrance of first love. ‘Money Ain’t Everything’ is a dramatic swampy story song full of atmosphere. Finally Clay wrote the solid honky tonk song ‘Lose Your Memory’ solo.
James Stroud’s production isn’t bad, a little dated in places now, but sufficiently recognisable as country music with some nice fiddle, and Clay’s vocals are good throughout. The album sold very well, and was certified platinum.

Grade: B+

Spotlight Artist: Merle Haggard in the 1980s and 1990s

merle-haggard-2Our May Spotlight Artist will be Merle Haggard in the 1980s and 1990s. Not only is this the period in which most of our readership first started following country music, but also the reality is that Haggard’s career is too enormous to cover in one or two spotlight months.

Going into the year 1980, Merle was already forty-two years old and seemingly still in the middle of an extended hot streak dating back to 1966. Through 1979 Haggard had charted sixty songs on the Billboard country charts with thirty-one songs reaching #1 on one or more of the Billboard, Cashbox or Record World country charts. Moreover, he may have been the biggest single factor in triggering western swing and Jimmie Rodgers revivals.

Haggard would remain hot through 1985 with another fourteen #1 records. Haggard’s last single of the 1970’s -“My Own Kind of Hat”- reached #4. His first single of the 1980s, “The Way I Am” got to #1 on Cashbox and Record World and #2 on Billboard.

After 1985 Haggard’s career on the singles charts would cool down considerably with only one more #1 record and only a few more top ten singles.

Merle’s last solo chart hit would occur in 1990, by which time he was fifty-two years old, a rather advanced age for any country artist to be experiencing chart success. Although many fans believe that Merle’s tenure on Curb Records killed his chart career, my belief is that the “New Traditionalist” movement, which started in 1986 and really flowered in 1989 with Clint Black, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson, ultimately killed off the chart success of the country music veterans. Moreover, because of the proliferation of music videos, the industry sought pretty girls and handsome hunks as its standard bearers. The relatively short and grizzled Haggard did not meet up to either standard.

Although Merle largely disappeared from country radio after 1990, he continued to have successful album releases. During the 1980s Haggard released about an album per year of new material (eleven solo albums during the decade) – these albums continued to chart well and were full of good and great songs and performances. There also were a bunch of duet albums with the likes of George Jones and Willie Nelson and a gospel album and some compilations.

Curb only released three albums of new material on Haggard during the 1990s, but these too were really good albums.

We will be covering the best of Merle’s albums of the 1980s and 1990s this month. I really enjoyed all of these albums as they came out and I am sure, that as you run through them, you will find many treasures along the way.

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

Country singer Josh Turner is shown in Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 9, 2007. At a time when much of Nashville seems to be retreading classic rock and pop, Turner has found success with sticking to traditional country music. While he's not the only country singer with a traditional sound, he's one of the few selling millions of records. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Country singer Josh Turner is shown in Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 9, 2007. At a time when much of Nashville seems to be retreading classic rock and pop, Turner has found success with sticking to traditional country music. While he’s not the only country singer with a traditional sound, he’s one of the few selling millions of records. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

1956 (Sales): Why Baby Why — Red Sovine & Webb Pierce (Decca)

1956 (Jukebox): I Forgot to Remember to Forget — Elvis Presley (Sun)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Why Baby Why — Red Sovine & Webb Pierce (Decca)

1966: Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line — Buck Owens & The Buckaroos (Capitol)

1976: Good Hearted Woman — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (RCA)

1986: Think About Love — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1996: I’ll Try — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2006: Your Man — Josh Turner (MCA)

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

2016 (Airplay): Break On Me — Keith Urban (Capitol)

Classic Rewind: Alan Jackson – ‘Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow’

Razor X’s Top 10 Albums of 2015

As I’ve mentioned before, I generally find it easier to compile a list of any given year’s top albums, as opposed to a list of top singles, since I don’t listen to country radio. This year I had a more difficult time than I expected putting together my albums list; surprisingly, I didn’t listen to a whole lot of new music this year. So, here is my list, along with a resolution to do a better job keeping up with current music in 2016:

81qQyIJ7gjL._SX522_10. Sammy Kershaw — I Won’t Back Down

I was somewhat underwhelmed with this album when it was first release, and my initial feelings haven’t changed. It’s included simply because I was having trouble finding a tenth album that I didn’t intensely dislike to put on my list.

814d6MygkiL._SX522_9. Daryle Singletary — There’s a Little Country Left

Released this past summer, this independent release is a good example of what I wish contemporary mainstream country music sounded like — the type of music we’d likely be getting if hick-hop, R&B and the bros hadn’t completely hijacked the genre. The track “Too Late to Save the World” says it all: “It might be too late to save the world, but can’t we still save country music?” I sure hope so.

61TTBEi0Q3L8. Dwight Yoakam — Second Hand Heart

This collection is infinitely better than 2012’s disappointing 3 Pears. It’s a throwback to Dwight’s polished 90s country-rock-pop hybrid music. It was very enjoyable but I’d have preferred something more traditional, in the vein of Guitars, Cadillacs, Buenos Noches from a Lonely Room, and his other great 80s music.

711Wx-StaxL._SX522_7. Clint Black — On Purpose

Clint Black’s first full-length album in seven years was a solid, but play-it-safe collection. There are no surprises or artistic stretches, but it sure was good to hear from him again.

the blade6. Ashley Monroe — The Blade

Country radio in recent years has not been welcoming to female artists, particularly traditional-leaning ones. Ashley Monroe is one of the best of today’s crop of artists, though she has yet to garner much attention for her solo work. I keep hoping that her big breakthrough is right around the corner.

81BsXZt8UsL._SX522_5. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell — The Traveling Kind

The second collaboration between Harris and Crowell is not quite as good as its predecessor, but topping 2013’s Old Yellow Moon would be no mean feat. The fact that it doesn’t in no way diminishes its enjoyment. This is one of the few albums released in 2015 that I kept coming back to.

images4. Chris Stapleton — Traveller

The former SteelDrivers’ lead singer’s solo debut album turned out to be the year’s biggest commercial surprise. Although his soulful, rough-edged voice isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, Traveller is just what is needed in a genre that has become stale. Whether or not its success is a one-off or the beginning of a trend remains to be seen.

cold beer conversation3. George Strait — Cold Beer Conversation

George Strait’s retirement from the road seems to have had a positive effect on his recording career, at least from an artistic standpoint. Cold Beer Conversation, his first collection produced by Chuck Ainlay is his best effort in quite some time, even if radio is no longer paying attention.

angels and alcohol2. Alan Jackson — Angels and Alcohol

Like Clint Black’s latest offering, Angels and Alcohol doesn’t offer much in the way of anything new or different, but it’s vintage Alan Jackson and that is more than good enough.

cass county1. Don Henley — Cass County

If Chris Stapleton’s Traveller was the year’s biggest commercial surprise, then Cass County is the year’s biggest artistic surprise. Country music is notoriously suspicious of artists who “visit” from other genres, with some justification. But Henley got his tribute to country music right — putting together a collection of solid songs and guest artists. Those who call the genre home would be well advised to follow his example. I hope a second volume is in the works.

Week ending 12/19/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

p12475vpn551955 (Sales): Sixteen Tons — Tennessee Ernie Ford (Capitol)

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

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

1965: Make the World Go Away — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1975: Love Put a Song In My Heart — Johnny Rodriguez (Mercury)

1985: Nobody Falls Like a Fool — Earl Thomas Conley (RCA)

1995: Tall, Tall Trees — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2005: Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off — Joe Nichols (Universal South)

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

2015 (Airplay): Nothin’ Like You — Dan + Shay (Warner Bros.)

Razor X’s top 10 singles of 2015

Compiling a list of the year’s best singles has become one of my least favorite tasks. It seems as though with each passing year country radio gets a little worse. I stopped listening to it in 2007; there is plenty of good music available outside the mainstream, but non-mainstream artists don’t always bother releasing singles to radio. Twenty years ago I’d have had trouble paring my list down to just ten songs; nowadays it is challenge to find ten singles that I like. But in the end, I always manage to find a little wheat among the mountain of chaff. It will come as no surprise to longtime readers to discover that my list is dominated by old favorites who are mostly past their commercial peaks. In fact, my list contains only one bonafide hit, and even that hit #1 without much help from country radio:

fae8ca732384cd6a272747f48c4ebbe010. I Met a Girl — William Michael Morgan

In a stronger year, I wouldn’t have taken much notice of this song but it stands out from the pack because it is a legitimate attempt to get country music back on track without all the hip-hop, bro-country and R&B influences that have come to all but drown out traditional country sounds. It peaked just outside the Top 40, but Morgan has got a good voice and is an artist I’m keeping an eye on for the future.

9. Boy and a Girl Thing — Mo Pitney

Like “I Met a Girl”, this tune is a bit generic but it’s a step in the right direction towards bringing the genre back to its roots. It failed to make the Top 40, but Pitney is an artist that deserves to be heard. Hopefully his music won’t be held hostage by his record label (Curb)

8. Time For That — Clint Black

Clint Black was one of a handful of my old favorites who made a comeback in 2015. It was a shame, but no surprise, that this single did not chart. But regardless of its commercial performance, it sure was good to hear from Clint again.

ashley-monroe-48th-annual-cma-awards-2014-arrivals_44470897. On to Something Good — Ashley Monroe

Ashley Monroe is a very talented artist whose shot at stardom has been hampered by bad timing; she’s had the ill fortune to come along at a time when female artists — particularly traditional-leaning ones — are not given much consideration by country radio. The Blade, produced by Vince Gill and Justin Niebank, is one of the year’s best albums. This single, which got stuck at #53, makes some compromises in an attempt to be heard. Hardcore country it is not, but it is very good, and in another era it would have been a big hit.

6. Cold Beer Conversation — George Strait

The title track of an album that took everyone by surprise proves that drinking songs don’t have to be mindless party songs. It also unofficially marks the beginning of Strait’s post-radio career. After an impressive 35-year-run at the top of the country singles charts, this is his fourth consecutive record not to make the Top 20, and as such, as forced his fans to finally acknowledge that even King George is no longer welcome at country radio.

5. Jim and Jack and Hank — Alan Jackson

This catchy kiss-off tune would have been a big hit during the 90s line-dancing craze. It’s a little light in the lyrics department but is an example of what passed for a fun song on the radio before country music became one big frat party in a cornfield.

lwomack4. Send It On Down — Lee Ann Womack

A beautifully crafted ballad that is a prayer to the Almighty for the strength to make it through adverse times.

3. If I Was Over You — Amanda Watkins feat. Jamey Johnson

This independent release is an interesting pairing between Amanda Watkins (formerly of the pop-country Miss Willie Brown) and Jamey Johnson, which works surprisingly well. It is a stripped down, beautifully produced and well-sung ballad, that can’t possibly have been expected to succeed commercially. However, if Watkns’ forthcoming album is as strong as the lead single, she could be well poised to be country music’s next critics’ darling.

2. Tennessee Whiskey — Chris Stapleton

I surprised myself by ranking this one so highly. When I reviewed Traveller last spring, I commented that Stapleton’s bluesy take on this Dean Dillon tune that was previously recorded by David Allan Coe and a hit for George Jones, was not to my taste. While I still greatly prefer Jones’ version, Stapleton’s remake has grown on me. It is the only decent song to make it to #1 this year, having been driven up the charts by download sales after Stapleton’s CMA wins, and without much help from country radio. It’s a ray of hope that mainstream country may finally start to improve before too much longer.

images-91. I Remember You — Trisha Yearwood

Trisha Yearwood is another old favorite who finally released some new music in 2015. This beautiful, stripped down ballad, on which her sister sings harmony, is a tribute to their late mother, and shows that although radio may have left Trisha Yearwood behind, she can still deliver the goods. This is about as good as it gets.

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2015

so this is lifeIt’s been a solid year rather than an outstanding one, with a number of interesting albums released but few really exciting ones. But any of my top 10 is well worth hearing.

angels and alcohol10. Alan Jackson – ‘Angels And Alcohol

The veteran star is reliable as ever with his latest release. It may break no new ground, but it’s good country music, and that’s something we always need more of.
Highlights: ‘Angels and Alcohol’, ‘The One You’re Waiting On’, ‘You Can Always Come Home

pageant material9. Kacey Musgraves – ‘Pageant Material
Unlike many, I actually preferred this to Kacey’s lauded debut because I found the production choices more sympathetic to her voice.
Highlights: ‘Pageant Material’, ‘Biscuits’, ‘Late To The Party

cold beer conversation8. George Strait – ‘Cold Beer Conversation
He may have retired from touring, and have lost his golden touch with country radio – but like Alan Jackson, George Strait is still making fine music. A solid classy album.
Highlights: ‘Something Going Down’, ‘Everything I See’, ‘Even When I Can’t Feel It’.

brennen leigh sings lefty frizzell7. Brennen Leigh – ‘Sings Lefty Frizzell
Only just released, this lovely tribute to one of the cornerstones of country music made a late charge up my best of the year list. A true delight. Brennen also teamed up this year with bluegrass singer Brandon Rickman and singer/fiddler Jenee Fleenor in a trio project called Antique Persuasion, which released a delightful acoustic tribute to the Carter Family in August which almost made this list, and a recent Christmas EP.

Highlights: ‘I Love You A Thousand Ways’, ‘Mom And Dad’s Waltz’, ‘How Far Down Can I Go’, ‘You Gotta Be Putting Me On

throwback6. Kevin Moon – ‘Throwback
A fabulous traditional country album from an unknown singer with a great voice. It’s a wonderful reminder of what country music used to be, with guest turns from artists including John Anderson, Rhonda Vincent and Ken Mellons. If there had only been a few more original tunes of the same quality, this would have been even higher in my year-end list.

Highlights: ‘The Storms Of Life’ (with Daryle Singletary), ‘Tennessee Courage’ (with Kevin Denney, Wesley Dennis and Billy Droze), ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)’ (with Doug Stone).

pocket full of keys5. Dale Ann Bradley – ‘Pocket Full Of Keys
Dale Ann has a pure, beautiful voice, and is one of my favorite bluegrass vocalists. This gorgeous effort shows her at her very best.

Highlights: ‘I’m So Afraid Of Losing You Again’, ‘The Stranger’, ‘Pocket Full Of Keys’.

traveller4. Chris Stapleton – ‘Traveler
Chris Stapleton’s triple triumph at the recent CMA awards, and subsequent sales spike, was one of the most unexpected in country music history. Although he was formerly lead singer of the SteelDrivers, and has been a very successful songwriter for years, he had rather flown under the radar as far as mainstream acknowledgement went. His solo debut album is a very strong piece of work, showcasing his bluesy, soulful vocals. I don’t love every track – occasionally his more esoteric leanings to blues and rock wander too far from country music for me – but when he’s at his best, he is magnificent.

Highlights: ‘Whiskey And You’, ‘Nobody To Blame’, ‘Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore’.

the underdog3. Aaron Watson – ‘The Underdog
Texan Watson has been steadily plugging on for a decade or so, and his latest album is as good as anything he’s done, with a powerful depiction of Johnny Cash at his turning point and a reflection on the state of country music. Solid Texas country music which deserves a mainstream hearing.
Highlights: ‘The Prayer’, ‘Fence Post’, ‘Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song)’.

the blade2. Ashley Monroe – ‘The Blade
A fine album by one of the best artists currently on a major label – even if that label isn’t bothering to push her work at radio. The title track in particular is exquisite.
Highlights: ‘The Blade’, ‘If The Devil Don’t Want Me’, ‘Dixie’, ‘I’m Good At Leaving’.

so this is life1. Courtney Patton – ‘So This Is Life
A lovely mature piece of work from a fine singer-songwriter, loaded with gorgeous country waltzes. For my money this is the most consistently great album of the year.
Highlights: ‘Little Black Dress’, ‘Need For Wanting’, ‘Killing Time

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

images-81955 (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: Make the World Go Away — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1975: Secret Love — Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot)

1985: I Don’t Mind the Thorns (If You’re the Rose) — Lee Greenwood (MCA)

1995: Tall, Tall Trees — Alan Jackson (Arista)

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

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

2015 (Airplay): I’m Comin’ Over — Chris Young (RCA)

Album Review: Toby Keith – ’35 MPH Town’

61O6h-fMNSL._SS280Although you won’t hear these songs on radio, Toby having committed the great sin of growing older (54) than the current target demographic of country radio, Toby has released his best album in many years.

35 MPH Town reflects the weltanschauung of a more mature artist. Although the drinking songs are still present, they do not dominate the album.

The opening track, and first song released as a single is “Drunk Americans” , the only song on that album that Toby didn’t write or co-write. While I don’t think it is a great song, had it come along a decade earlier, it would have been a top five single. Released in 2014, it reached #27 on the country airplay charts. The instrumentation has somewhat of a Cajun feel to it

We ain’t East, we ain’t West
We ain’t left, we ain’t right
We ain’t black, we ain’t white
We just came here to drink
We’re all mud flap suburbans
All ball caps and turbans
All prom queens and strippers
Where the whole kitchen sink and then here,
We’re the same, everyone knows your name

“Good Gets Here” is next and it is a typical Toby Keith country rocker, complete with machine gun lead guitar and some horn accompaniment. The song is about a man who knows he’s not top shelf but is still good enough that some woman will find him interesting.

The title track was the second single, a somewhat jaded look back at life in a small town and how it has degenerated. The song reached #42 on the country airplay charts but did not chart on the country sales charts:’

Oh we can’t blame the babies for growing up lazy
And crazy it ain’t them that let them down
If they ain’t stealing, they’re suing
Why work when we’ll give it to ‘em
It’s right there in the bible that we don’t put out
Spare the rod and you’ll sour
A thirty five mile an hour town

“Rum is the Reason” is a country song with steel drums present throughout, creating a song that sounds like Bertie Higgins or Jimmy Buffett might have sung it. The song postulates that alcohol was the reason leaders of the past (Davey Crockett, Pancho Villa, Stalin, Hitler and more) couldn’t hold power for long due to the alcohol. “Rum is the reason pirates never ruled the world,” indeed. This would have made a good single thirty years ago. Whether it would chart today is uncertain, but it is a good song.

“What She Left Behind” is a mid-tempo break up song about a relationship that suddenly fell apart. The narrator details the things, real and ephemeral, that she left behind to torment him with memories of the past. This is a very good song that I would like to see released as a single

“10 Foot Pole” is another song about the end of a relationship ending, but much less nostalgic than the previous song. The song is an upbeat rocker – “burning it up like Bonnie and Clyde …”

A well executed heartbreak ballad follows with “Haggard, Hank & Her.” The steel guitar of Russ Pahl shines throughout this slow ballad. The combination of alcohol , Haggard and Hank always serves as a catalyst for releasing emotions.

Speaking of Jimmy Buffett, “Sailboat for Sale” features Buffett in a duet with Keith. Jim Hoke’s accordion gently breezes through this song of how they got drunk and traded their fishing boat for a sailboat.

“Every Time I Drink I Fall in Love” is an upbeat country song about one-night stands and fair warning that he will indeed leave in the morning. It’s a song self-aware of its immature recklessness.

The final song is “Beautiful Stranger”, It is a sentimental ballad that was recently released as the third single and it really deserves to be a major hit. The theme is about a couple rekindling the passion. The tempo is slow with a heavy dose of acoustic guitar and violins. Far more mature than most of the offerings on county radio, the song is an appropriate close to the album and our spotlight on Toby Keith.

You give in and the night begins with the red wine kiss
I whisper something crazy about your shoes
You hush me and you crush me with your fingertips
It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this side of you

Beautiful stranger In the candle light
God must have told you that I needed this tonight
I’ve longed for this feeling alone here in the dark
With a beautiful stranger in my arms

There a window moon and and old love tune playing soft and low
Takes me back, I’ve always loved that song
I pull you in and there’s comfort in the shape we make
Wrapped up in each other all night long

My only complaint about 35 MPH Town is that the album contains only ten songs. Good thing that all of the songs range from very good to excellent.

Toby Keith has had a substantial career that has not always been properly acknowledged, an after-effect of his dust up with the media darling Chixie Tricks (or whatever their name was). After only George Strait and possibly Alan Jackson, Toby Keith has been the most significant and most consistent country artist of the last twenty-five years. I haven’t liked everything he’s released, but I’ve liked almost everything, and given his prodigious output, that’s saying a lot. This album is worth an A as is his career.

Grade: A

Spotlight Artist: Toby Keith

toby-keith-1Our October spotlight artist is one of the few remaining commercial links to the 1990s and one who arguably was the face of country music during the first decade of the twenty-first century. Toby Keith Covel was born in Clinton, Oklahoma on July 8, 1961. His interest in music was sparked during summers spent with his grandmother, who owned a supper club in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He played football in high school and played semi-professionally after graduation. During that time he was also a member of the Easy Money Band, which played in local bars, but the oil industry, where he worked as a derrick hand, paid the bills.

Covel dropped his surname for professional purposes and moved to Nashville in 1990, with the goal of obtaining a recording contract by his 30th birthday. With the self-imposed deadline looming, Keith was about to give up and return to Oklahoma, when he was signed to Mercury Records by Harold Shedd. His first single for the label, “Should’ve Been A Cowboy” quickly climbed to #1. He spent the next five years being shuffled around between Mercury and its sister labels Polydor and A&M. His records consistently made the Top 10 and he regularly achieved platinum level sales, yet he struggled to stand out from a pack that was dominated by artists such as Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, and Travis Tritt.

All of that would change when Keith left Mercury in 1998 to sign with the fledgling DreamWorks Nashville label. The following year he released his breakthrough single, the in-your-face “How Do You Like Me Now”, which he had co-written with Chuck Cannon some years earlier, but Mercury had not let him record. The suits at DreamWorks also had some reservations, but they quickly abated when the record spent five weeks at #1 in the spring of 2000.

Keith became a label exec himself, founding the Show Dog Nashville imprint when DreamWorks closed its doors in 2005. Show Dog Nashville has since merged with Universal South and is now known as Show Dog-Universal Music. By this time, Toby’s bombastic personality and his political views were beginning to overshadow his music. His response to the events of September 11, 2001, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” played to country music’s conservative base and earned him the contempt of the political left, as did 2003’s pro-military “American Solider”. Both records were multi-week #1s, and eventually led to a very bitter public feud with The Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines.

Although radio has cooled towards Toby Keith in the past few years, he remains one of country music’s most visible and prolific artists. His latest album 35 MPH Town, will be released on October 9th, providing us with the opportunity to look back at Toby’s career so far.

Single Review: William Michael Morgan – ‘I Met a Girl’

For those of us who long for country music to return to a more traditional sound, the debut single from Vicksburg, Mississippi and Warner Bros. recording artist William Michael Morgan seems to be, on the surface, at least, just what the doctor ordered. The understated, pedal steel-laced mid tempo number was written — surprisingly — by Sam Hunt with Trevor Rosen and Shane McAnally. The 21-year-old Morgan reportedly grew up listening to Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley and their influence on his singing is apparent.

But context is everything. In a genre that has seen a complete collapse of any type of defining boundaries, “I Met a Girl” seems like a breath of fresh air, a throwback to the 90s when traditional sounding “hat acts” ruled the country radio airwaves. But those of us who are old enough to remember that era will inevitably compare the record to those of Clint Black, Alan Jackson, and George Strait, and that is where the record fails to measure up. Had this record been released 20 years ago, I probably would not have deemed it worthy of much attention. It’s a very generic song and not particularly memorable. That being said, it doesn’t have an annoying hip-hop with banjo arrangement, or lyrics about tailgating in a corn field. It’s a step, albeit a tiny one, in the right direction, and in 2015 the bar has been lowered sufficiently that a small positive step is enough. Morgan is a promising vocalist and I hope ‘I Met a Girl’ garners enough attention from radio that he will be allowed to continue exploring the more traditional side of country music.

Grade: B

Week ending 8/8/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

220px-Jimmy_Dean_19661955 (Sales): I Don’t Care/Your Good For Nothing Heart — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care/Your Good For Nothing Heart — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: The First Thing Ev’ry Morning (and the Last Thing Ev’ry Night) — Jimmy Dean (Columbia)

1975: Just Get Up and Close the Door — Johnny Rodriguez (Mercury)

1985: 40 Hour Week (For A Livin’) — Alabama (RCA)

1995: I Don’t Even Know Your Name — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: Kick the Dust Up — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): One Hell of an Amen — Brantley Gilbert (Valory)