My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Alex Kline

Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Stronger Than The Truth’

Back in the 1980s Reba McEntire was the leading female neo-traditionalists as well as the best selling female artist of her generation. Then around the time of her second marriage, to music industry executive Narvel Blackstock, her music began to take a more contemporary turn, one which became more pronounced as the 90s wore on. It brought her a new fanbase and enormous sales, but many of her older or more traditional-leaning fans regretted her choices.

Then a couple of years ago, after Reba’s marriage came to an end she chose to make a wonderful album of religious material, much of which harked back to older times. Now her first studio album is=n several years shows a definite return to traditional country sounds. It has been vaunted her her most country album ever, which I would disagree with – 1984’s My Kind Of Country, whose name inspired this very blog, and 1987’s The Last One To Know, would both fit that description better. But it is undoubtedly a country album, and a very good one, produced by the estimable Buddy Cannon.

For a start, Reba calls on her Oklahoma roots with two fabulous Western Swing number. Opening track ‘Swing All Night With You’ was written by Jon Randall and Sidney Cox, and is a true dancefloor delight. She wrote the equally charming ‘No U In Oklahoma’ herself with Ronnie Dunn and Donna McSpadden.

Many of the songs are slow sad ones. Jonathan has already reviewed the lead single and title track, a subtle song about heartbreak written by Reba’s nice Autumn McEntire and Hannah Blaylock. ‘Tammy Wynette Kind Of Pain’ was written by Brandy Clark, Mark Narmore and Shelley Skidmore, and is another devastating depiction of a broken heart set to a traditional country soundtrack:

‘Standing by your man’
That’s a broken plan
When he breaks your heart and all your trust
With his two cheatin’ hands
So it’s ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’
And you don’t want him to see you cryin’
So you’re ‘crying in the rain’
And this is Tammy Wynette
We’re talkin’ Tammy Wynette kind of pain

There’s a sky full of tears in every single note
And every single word is wine and whiskey soaked
So I guess it’s me and her together in this alone
‘Til I can make it on my own’

Also reflecting on a failed marriage, but from the point of view of the husband, is ‘In His Mind’, which was written by Liz Hengber and Tommy Lee James based on Reba’s idea.

In ‘The Bar’s Getting Lower’, written by Kellys Collins, Erin Enderlin, Liz Hengber and Alex Kline, the unhappy protagonist settles for a one night stand when old dreams of marriage and family haven’t been realised:

Her dreams are disappearin’ like smoke from his cigarette
She hasn’t said yes but she’s thinkin’ she might
The closer it gets to closing time
A lonely heart will take a pick-up line
Anything to get her through the night

‘Cactus In A Coffee Can’ is a heartwrenching story song written by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin, and previously recorded by Jerry Kilgore and Melonie Cannon. Reba’s version is superb, and the arrangement has a mournful feel as we hear the story of a young woman who has been reunited with the drug addict and prostitute mother who gave her up at birth, just before the latter’s death. This might be the highlight of an excellent group of songs.

Another ballad, but a little more sophisticated AC in its feel, ‘The Clown’ is a beautifully detailed story about the horrifying moment of finding out her marriage is over in public, and having to keep a brave face on it. It was written by Dallas Davidson, Hillary Lindsey and James Slater.

The minor-keyed ‘Your Heart’, written by Kellys Collins, has a classical Spanish guitar accompaniment and is atmospheric and moody. Reba sings it beautifully, but it isn’t really a country song.

A couple of more commercial contemporary up-tempo songs are well performed if less to my personal taste, and may be included to appeal to Reba’s younger fans and possibly with an eye on radio play. ‘Storm In A Shot Glass’ is quite catchy in a 90s pop country way. ‘Freedom’ is more of a rock ballad rejoicing over finding love.

The album closes with the gentle piano-led ‘You Never Gave Up On Me’, dedicated to Reba’s late mother.

While not quite as traditional as one might have been led to believe from the publicity, this is definitely the best thing Reba has released in decades. It is highly recommended, and a strong contender already for album of the year.

Grade: A+

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Album Review: Bill Anderson — ‘Anderson’

Bill Anderson released his 72nd album last September. It wasn’t until last weekend when he hosted and performed on a new episode of Country’s Family Reunion on RFD-TV that I was finally inspired to review it.

The song he performed on the show was the album’s lead single, the fantastic “Everybody Wants To Be Twenty-One,” which he co-wrote with Jamey Johnson, who joins him on it. The somber ballad is about the passage of time, with Anderson and Johnson singing:

The young wish they were old and

The old wish they were young

Everybody wants to be twenty-one

“Everybody Wants To Be Twenty-One” begs to be covered by either George Strait or Kenny Chesney, who a few years ago would’ve had a major hit with it. He continues in a reflective mood on “Old Things New,” in which he sings about playing records from the 1950s, calling old friends, and taking photos of his departed wife out of the drawer to put back on display. He’s taking old things and making them new and taking stock of his life as it is in the present moment.

He continues the theme on “Thankful,” a brilliant ballad in which he lists everything that matters to him including his more than fifty years in country music where the universe has allowed him the opportunity to live in Nashville, where he’s been able to write songs that have morphed into standards and become a legend of the Grand Ole Opry. But, in his eyes, those things pale in comparison to the folks he’s been able to entertain all these years:

For without you life wouldn’t mean a doggone thing

And I’d just be a singer with no song to sing

A wounded bird grounded with a broken wing

I’m thankful that none of that is true

cause most of all I’m thankful for you

“Thankful,” which is tastefully presented with beautiful ribbons of steel guitar throughout, is one of three cuts Anderson wrote solo. “Dixie Everywhere I Go” is an intimate conversation between a bartender and a customer, a man who moved to Buffalo from the South. The customer explains to the barkeep how he takes his southern upbringing, Dixie as he refers to it, wherever he travels. Turns out the barkeep also has a Dixie, a woman he loves. The lyric is very good and engaging, although the multiple meanings of the word Dixie are a bit cutesy for my taste.

The third of Anderson’s solo cuts is “Something To Believe In,” a list song about needing the tried-and-true in life. The Harmonica-laced “Dead To You” finds Anderson single, after his woman severed ties, making it clear she never wants anything to do with him again. He clearly wants to win her back, but clearly doesn’t know what to do. He co-wrote the ballad with John Paul White, who has made quite the career for himself in the Americana realm since The Civil Wars disbanded a number of years ago.

The harmonica makes another appearance, this time on “Watchin’ It Rain,” a mournful ballad about a man devastated in the wake of his woman walking out on him. The track is depressing and slow, with a moody bluesy undertone that fits nicely with the lyrics.

He reverses the sad tone on “That’s What Made Me Love You,” a traditional country ballad led by twin fiddles, steel guitar, and a lyric in which he lists all the things that endears him to his woman. Anderson’s vocal didn’t have enough twang for me, but other than that, this is one of the many standout tracks on the album.

“Practice Leaving Town” puts such a clever spin on the traditional breakup song, it’s amazing it hasn’t already been written before. Anderson sings of man in a relationship that’s clearly on the rocks. Neither party has the courage to end things for good, but he knows it’s coming so he fires up his “gettin’ out of dodge pickup” and drives “about fifty miles” before turning around. The relationship may or may not ever officially end, but if it does, he’ll know exactly what he’ll do and where he’ll go.

The album’s brilliance continues on “The Only Bible,” in which Anderson, in a co-write with Tim Rushlow, introduces us to Norman, a man Anderson actually went to college within Athens, Georgia. As he puts it, Norman wouldn’t attend church or go to a bible study because he felt they were full of hypocrites and fools who would talk the talk but wouldn’t walk the walk. Norman wanted people to lead by example every day since “we may be the only Bible someone ever reads.”

The only time the album deviates from its charted course is on “Waffle House Christmas,” which Anderson co-wrote with Erin Enderlin and Alex Kline. The song is a charming and humorous tale about a family displaced on Christmas morning after the tree caught on fire and the turkey burned to a crisp. They check into a motel and venture to the local Waffle House to salvage what’s left of the day. A video, which prominently featured Enderlin and Tanya Tucker, was popular this past holiday season.

“Waffle House Christmas” is an excellent addition to the album and a welcomed change of pace. Anderson typically leans heavy and serious and while it may have benefited from some lighter tunes, it’s a wonderful album of quality country music. I don’t think the majority of the songs lend themselves to repeated listenings for me, many are the “if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it” type of songs, but there isn’t a clunker in the bunch.

In the press materials for the album, Anderson said by album 72, many would assume he’d just mail it in, which he says isn’t the case. He certainly didn’t mail it in at all. The only crime here is that the album has flown so low under the radar it’s all but been overlooked. I highly recommend checking it out for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A

Album Review: Erin Enderlin – ‘I Let Her Talk’

i let her talkSinger-songwriter Erin Enderlin is responsible as a writer for two of the best songs to hit mainstream country music in the past decade: Alan Jackson’s hit ‘Monday Morning Church’ and Lee Ann Womack’s last chart record, the top 15 ‘Last Call’. Enderlin is also a fine vocalist in her own right, and has just released her second almost full length album (nine tracks). Producer Alex Kline (a multi-instrumentalist and former member of all-girl group the Lunabelles who BNA were promoting a couple of years ago) has orchestrated a traditionally-based sound with a contemporary edge. Dan Dugmore’s steel and Jenee Fleenor’s fiddle are prominent, although it is occasionally just a little too busy-sounding.

New versions of her two big successes are understandably included, and it’s always interesting to hear the writer’s take. An intimate version of the exquisitely sad ‘Monday Morning Church’ with a delicate piano backing is exceptional and tear-provoking. ‘Last Call’ is inevitably not quite as superlative as the hit versions (Erin has an excellent voice but she can’t quite match up to Lee Ann Womack), but it is still very good, and the very tasteful production supports Erin’s vocal perfectly.

Erin clearly has a gift for story songs, and there are some great examples on this record, brought alive in vivid color. The excellent title track is cowritten with the wonderful Leslie Satcher, and is a real highlight. It is written from the viewpoint of an initially sympathetic listener who, while taking refuge from her own troubles in a bar, listens to another woman tell her story of a sordid affair, with a devastating twist:

She was pouring out her heart and soul
So loud I couldn’t even think

I let her talk about the hotel room
Where she spent last night
I let her talk about the married man
And his soft green eyes
A careless drunk will show you pictures too
So baby, I let her talk about you

Another excellent story song with a bar room and cheating theme, but one more sympathetic to the woman, the very closely observed ‘Get That At Home’ is a about a desperately lonely wife fending off feelings of guilt over her pending first-time adultery. She wouldn’t be out looking for love elsewhere,

If she felt that he still loved her.

The dark-tinged exploration of a conversation with a man whose drink problem has wrecked his life, ‘You Don’t Know Jack’ is another highlight; it has been recorded by hit maker Luke Bryan, and was one of the few redeeming factors on his 2011 album Tailgates and Tanlines, and has also been cut by independent artist Jamie Richards. Erin’s version has an appropriately stark and lonesome feel.

The optimistic ‘Finding My Voice’ is about a woman leaving a bad relationship and finding herself, and is a very good mid-tempo number. The assertive ‘Unbroken’ triumphs over a lying cheating ex, and might have commercial potential.

The vibrant up-tempo ‘Countryside’ offers a gender twist on the hackneyed theme of country boy and city girl; it’s quite enjoyable and refreshingly actually sounds country, if a little bit busy production-wise. It’s very well-played, but there are just a few too many instruments to allow the song to breathe. ‘Good Kind Of Pain’ is a mid-tempo ballad about an obsessive love, and is yet another well-written song with a committed vocal, but the production feels a little cluttered.

It’s a shame one more track wasn’t included to round out the set, especially as she included versions of the two big hits on her last EP, and also that it is only available digitally, but this is still warmly recommended. It’s an indictment of the current country music industry that Erin isn’t either already a big star as an artist or on the fast track.

Grade: A-