My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Alex Harvey

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘The Gambler’

The Gambler was Kenny Rogers’ third album of 1978, after Love or Something Like It and Every Time Two Fools Collide, a duet album with Dottie West. Thanks to its career-defining title track, The Gambler was also Kenny’s best-selling studio album, with more than five million copies sold in the US.

Written by Don Schlitz, “The Gambler” was a story song, the type at which Rogers excelled. It tells the tale the down-on-his-luck narrator who receives some unsolicited advice from a professional gambler during a late-night chance meeting on a “train bound for nowhere”. It was a monster hit, reaching #1 on the country chart, #3 on the adult contemporary chart and #16 on the Hot 100, and is Rogers’ best-remembered song today. Surprisingly, he wasn’t the first to record it. Bobby Bare and Johnny Cash had both released it as an album cut and Schlitz recorded his own version, which maxed out at #65. The album’s other hit single was the ballad “She Believes in Me”, a lush ballad about a struggling musician and the supportive wife he repeatedly takes for granted. It’s a bit too AC-leaning for a lot of people, but it’s a song I’ve always liked a lot. It reached #1 on the country and AC charts, and reached #5 on the Hot 100.

“I Wish That I Could Hurt That Way Again” is another nice ballad, written by Rafe Van Hoy, Don Cook and Curly Putman, that would go on to be a big hit for T. Graham Brown in 1986. I think Kenny’s version could have been a big hit, but perhaps United Artists didn’t want to release another ballad on the heels of “She Believes In Me”. Sonny Throckmorton’s “A Little More Like Me (The Crucifixion)”, about a charismatic celebrity — a thinly veiled metaphor for Christ — is another track I really enjoyed.

In the 1970s, country artists with crossover potential rarely released albums that were country through and through, preferring instead to include a variety of styles in order to appeal to as wide an audience as possible (although more often than not they managed to please no one). Kenny Rogers was no exception. I expected The Gambler to be a more country-leaning album, but a number of tracks: “Makin’ Music for Money”, “The Hoodooin’ of Miss Fannie DeBerry” (both written by Alex Harvey) and “Tennessee Bottle” incorporate a bluesy, funky vibe that might have been considered cutting edge in the late 70s, but it hasn’t aged at all well. I didn’t like any of these songs. Add to that list Rogers’ original composition “Morgana Jones”, a hot mess of a song that features some jazz scatting along with the R&B and funk.

Overall, The Gambler is a mixed bag. Only the two hit singles are essential listening. The album can be streamed, and it may be worth picking up a cheap copy if you can find it, but I recommend cherry-picking the handful of decent songs and forgetting about the rest.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Currents’

Before we get underway with our Johnny Paycheck spotlight, we have some unfinished business concerning last month’s spotlight artist Don Williams.  Through an oversight, this review was not published on Monday, May 29th as originally intended, so we are bringing it to you now — a little late but worth the wait.

The year 1992 was an interesting year in country music as the ‘New Traditionalist’ movement reached its zenith following the first flowering in 1986 (Randy Travis, Travis Tritt,  Dwight Yoakam) and the vaunted class of 1989 led by Alan Jackson, Clint Black and Garth Brooks. By 1992 so-called hat acts proliferated and even when the music was not strictly traditionalist, fiddle and steel guitar were prominently featured in the music.

In 1987 Hank Williams Jr.  and a cadre of younger artists presaged the 1992 music scene with the video “Young Country”, but with one exception: while the listeners may have been listening to both the new acts and the older acts in concert (and through their cassette and CD collections), radio had completely discarded Haggard and Jones and almost discarded the 48 year old Hank Williams Jr.

Currents, which was released in April 1992, was the third (and final) Don Williams album to be released on the RCA label.  Don had enjoyed three top ten hits off the previous album True Love, but those would prove to be the last top forty chart hits of Don’s career.  Make no mistake about it, Currents, like every album Don released before it (or even after it, for that matter) is a very good album. The problem with the album was the ‘Young Country’ movement was in full swing and the fifty-three year old Williams looked like ‘Old Country’ even if his music was not exactly of the Ernest Tubb/Hank Sr. old school vintage. In fact with his rapidly graying beard, Don looked even a bit older than his age. Radio simply quit playing him.

The album opens up with a Hugh Prestwood song, “Only Water (Shining In The Air)”, mid-tempo ballad with a little different sound than previous efforts:

Not that long ago, I was on the run
People telling me I should be someone
And the things I’d learnt were forgotten in my haste
Till I reached the end of the rainbow I had chased
It was only water shining in thin air
I put out my hand and there was nothing there
After all the promise, after all the prayer
It was only water shining in the air
Now I’ve got a wife and she sees me through
And I’ve got a friend I can talk straight to
And I’ve got some dreams just a bit more down to earth
And I don’t forget what a rainbow’s really worth

“Too Much Love” has a sing-a-long quality to it and, again, a little more of a contemporary sound to it. Written by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, the song has rather bouncy lyrics of not much substance. The song was released as the second single; it deserved a better fate than dying at #72.

Too much coffee, too much tea, too much sugar isn’t good for me.
Too much money and too much fame, too much liqueur drives a man insane.
But too much love, too much love, there’s no such thing as too much love.
Too much fighting and misery, there’s too much trouble in this world for me.
There’s too much of this and too much of that and too much of anything will make you fat.
But too much love, too much love, there’s no such thing as too much love.

I really liked “That Song About The Water”, in fact it is my favorite song on the album. I think it would have made a good single but I doubt radio would have played it either. Penned by Charles John Quarto and Steve Gillette, the song is a slow ballad that sounds like a typical late 60s – early 70s production with steel guitar and (to a lesser degree) harmonica very prominent in the arrangement. I can hear this as a track on a Charley Pride album from that period.

I have seen the paddle wheelers
Rolling south on a summers day
I’ve seen the lovers at the guardrails
With stars in their lemonade
And I’ve heard the hobos gather
Heard their banjos brace the blade
Heard them sing about the river
Called it the lazy mans parade
Sing me that song about the river
Green going away
You know I always did feel like a drifter
At this time of day

Alex Harvey wrote “Catfish Bates” the third single from the album and the first Don Williams single not to chart after fifty-three consecutive solo chart singles. This mid-tempo ballad also features mid-70s country production. If released as a single 15-18 years earlier, I think it would have been a substantial hit. Of course, I may be prejudiced since fried catfish is my favorite form of seafood:

They call me Catfish Bates
‘Cause I can catch a catfish anytime I want to
Even when the moon man tells me they won’t bite
They call me Catfish Bates
‘Cause I know where that big ole flathead’s a hidin’.
I’m a gonna take him home with me tonight
I am the king of the Loosahatchie
My home is on the river
And them catfish they all know me by my sigh

I keep my nose on the westwind
My eye on the water
And my mind on my business all the time

Don turns to Dobie Gray for the next two songs. Gray was essentially an R&B singer who had two huge pop hits, “The In Crowd” (1965) and “Drift Away” (1972). Country fans may remember “Drift Away from Narvel Felts top ten record in 1973.

“So Far, So Good” is a slow ballad about a breakup that the narrator thinks is about to happen, but which hasn’t happened yet. “In The Family” features a Caribbean rhythm verging on reggae. It’s different but it works

 

Well I was raised up by the golden rule
In an old house with a patched up roof
We had a hard home but it pulled us close
We were family
Oh that summer, when the crops all died
Was the first time I saw Daddy cry
An’ I heard Momma say what goes on here stays
In the family

[Chorus]

Well our clothes weren’t new, that old car was used
We held our own
Whoa you just can’t buy, that sense of pride
We grew up on, In the family

I was stunned that “Standing Knee Deep In A River (Dying of Thirst)”, written by the crack team of Bob McDill and Dickey Lee, was not released as a Don Williams single. Instead Kathy Mattea took it to the top twenty in 1993. I like Kathy Mattea but Don’s version is better.

Friends I could count on I could count on one hand with a left over finger or two.
I took them for granted, let them all slip away, now where they are I wish I knew.
They roll by just like water & I guess we never learn,
Go through life parched and empty standing knee deep in a river, dying of thirst.

Pat Alger contributed “Lone Star State of Mind” a song which barely cracked the top forty for Nanci Griffith in 1987. Charles John  Quarto and Steve Gillette contributed “The Old Trail”, a jog-along ballad that isn’t as cowboy as the title suggests. Both songs are good album tracks.

The album closes up with “It’s Who You Love” a top twenty hit for writer Kieran Kane back in 1982. This song was released as the first single from the album. It died at # 73, the first indication that Don’s career as a chart singles act was through. I really like Don’s version – he is a more distinctive vocalist than Kieran Kane – but the song did not do great things in 1982, either.

Lying here beside her I’ve come to understand
If you want to be happy you can
It don’t take living like a king, it doesn’t cost you anything
All it takes is a woman and a man
Because its who you love and who loves you
It’s not where you are if she’s there too
It’s not who you know or what you do
It’s who you love and who loves you
This modern world we live in is a sad state of affairs
Everybody wants what isn’t theirs
While the race for money and success in search of happiness
We turn out the light and go upstairs

Kathy Mattea contributes backing vocals on “The Old Trail”, Dobie Gray does likewise on the two songs he wrote. Kieran Kane plays mandolin and Russ Pahl plays steel guitar. Something called the Bhundu Boys plays on “In The Family” providing guitars, handclaps and cowbells.

I doubt that there was a great conspiracy on radio to not play Don Williams records in 1992 (but I could be convinced otherwise). This is a fine album, with subtle and appropriate instrumentation and featuring a bunch of good songs. This album fits comfortably in the B+ to A- range where most of Don’s albums reside.

No further chart singles would occur for Don Williams, although his subsequent albums would occasionally reach the lower reaches of the Country Albums charts.

I guess Jerry Reed Hubbard was correct when he said “When You’re Hot You’re Hot, When You’re Not,You’re Not”.

 

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Ladies Love Outlaws’

ladies love outlawsMany of Waylon’s early albums have been made available during the digital. For some reason one of my very favorite albums, Ladies Love Outlaws, has never been made available except as an mp3. There is a CD available bearing this title but it is not this album, instead being a sampler album of miscellaneous tracks.

Released in September 1972, the album reached #11 on Bilboard’s country album charts despite being relatively bereft of single releases, with only a cover of an old Buck Owens hit “Under Your Spell Again” with wife Jessi Colter being released as a single (it reached #39) .

In his autobiography Waylon says that RCA released the album without his consent and he regarded most of the tracks as being little more than demos or ‘scratch’ tracks. That may be true, but Waylon’s demos are superior to 90% of what I hear on the radio these days.

The album opens with the title track, written by Lee Clayton, which was never issued as a single by Waylon, although the song received considerable airplay in my area. Jimmy Rabbitt & The Renegades had a marginally successful single with the song in 1980. Waylon and Jessi are mentioned in one of the verses of the song.

Jessi liked Cadillacs and diamonds on her hands
Waymore had a reputation as a lady’s man
Then one night, her light of love finally gave a sign
Jessi parked her Cadillac and got herself in line

‘Cause ladies love outlaws
Like babies love a bunch of stray dogs
Ladies touch babies like a banker touches gold
Outlaws touch ladies somewhere deep down in their soul

Next up is a cover of the Three Dog Night song “Never Been To Spain”. The song and arrangement fit Waylon’s voice well, but the vocal clearly is not intended as a final vocal. Hoyt Axton wrote the song.

“Sure Didn’t Take Him Long” is a Waylon Jennings composition about the rounder who stole his woman.

My long and lean and hungry looks really used to turn her on
Till she found two hundred pounds or true love muscle and bone
I made up my mind to keep what was mine, he made up my mind I was wrong
To take my Ann took a hell of a man but it sure didn’t take him too long

“Crazy Arms” is one of the great country songs, a major hit for Ray Price and a song that has been recorded by dozens of country artists. Waylon’s steel guitar player Ralph Mooney co-wrote the song and I think Waylon included the song on the album as a tribute to him.

“Revelation” is simply the best song on the album, although releasing religious songs as singles in the early 1970s was normally a career killer. Bobby Braddock wrote the song, which Joe Nichols included on an album a few years ago. Joe’s version is good but no one will ever top Waylon’s dramatic version

Somewhere in Vietnam a 19-year-old soldier walked out of a barroom
And he said “I must be seeing things, that bourbon hit me like a baseball bat”
In Belfast Ireland a little lady dropped her shovel in her garden
She raced across the yard and ask her neighbor Mrs Clancy what was that

In Memphis Tennessee a teacher raised the window closest to the river
And the children in her classroom swore they’d heard a choir singing down the street
In Washington DC a private secretary’s lips began to quiver
And the President just put aside his papers and rose quickly to his feet

I lay in a cheap motel in the arms of someone else’s woman
When a loud explosion rocked the room and turned the morning into night
I jumped out of bed and ran into the street with hardly any clothes on
As the sky lit up my heart stood still and I could feel my face was turnin’ white

All at once the clouds rolled back and there stood Jesus Christ in all his glory
And I realized the saddest eyes I’d ever seen were lookin’ straight at me
I guess I was awakened by the penetrating sounds of my own screamin’
And it didn’t take me long to stumble out of bed and fall down on my knees
As tears rolled down my face I cried dear God I’m thankful I was only dreamin’
And if I never go to hell, Lord, it’ll be because you scared it out of me

Larry Collins and Alex Harvey wrote “Delta Dawn”, which was Tanya Tucker’s debut single in 1972, and was an international pop hit for Helen Reddy in 1973. Because of those two versions, listeners tend to think of the song as a ‘female’ song but Waylon sings it well with the right amount of empathy in his vocals.

“Frisco Depot was a Mickey Newbury song that Waylons tackles with aplomb. The song is a slow ballad with steel guitar and acoustic guitar dominating the mix

“Thanks”, co-written by Irish folk singer Phil Coulter and Scottish folk singer Bill Martin, is a quiet folk song, or perhaps a song of praise for one of life’s more important treasures:

Sunday morning in the valley we would gather for the service
Emily Jane would run to meet me, she’d smile at papa kinda nervous
All the people came from miles around, I can still hear the sound
As they sang thanks to the Lord for the sun up in the sky
For the corn that’s growing high and for the child that didn’t die
Thanks to the Lord for the crops and for the farm
For the strength in my right arm and for keepin’ us from harm
Thanks, thanks, thanks, thanks, thanks, to the Lord for a girl like Emily Jane

“I Think It’s Time She Learned” is credited to Waylon Jennings and Mirriam Eddy (aka Jessi Colter). The song features a nice steel guitar introduction by Ralph Mooney, and is a song about a man leaving a woman who never returned his love for her.

How many times must I tell her
How many times must I say
I won’t be around to pick her up again
From now on she’ll have to find her own way.

How many years have I loved her
While she stood by so unconcerned
But the things she don’t know I’ll teach her when I go
She’s been wrong and I think it’s time she learned.

The album closed with the Buck Owens-Dusty Rhodes classic “Under Your Spell Again”, performed as a duet with wife Jessi Colter.

“Never Been To Spain” is the weakest track on the album mostly because of the rough vocals, and even it isn’t a bad track.

I’m calling this an A- because there are little finishing touches that could have greatly improved the album.