My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Alice Randall

Album Review: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Speed of Life’

220px-NGDB-SpeedThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released their most recent project Speed of Life on their own NGDB Records distributed by Sugar Hill in 2009. George Massenburg and Jon Randall Stewart produced the album, which peaked at #59 on the Billboard Top Country Albums Chart. The album, which didn’t produce any singles, is folksy bluegrass. Given Stewart co-produced it, he helmed Dierks Bentley’s Up On The Ridge, that isn’t a surprise.

Jeff Hanna’s wife Matraca Berg contributed two songs to the project. Both are mid-tempo harmonica laced ballads. “The Resurrection,” which she co-wrote with Alice Randall, is about a lost soul in a nowhere town, while “Good To Be Alive,” (a co-write with Troy Verges) is sing-a-long folk. Both tracks are very good, although I enjoy the latter a bit more even though the cadence is a cheesy for my taste.

John McEuen also contributed two tracks while Bob Carpenter, who co-wrote one with him, supplied four. “Earthquake” is a western swing meets bluegrass fusion ballad complete with gorgeous old-time steel guitar riffs. McEuen composed “Lost In The Pines,” a slow instrumental solo, and while it’s heavy on banjo, it really isn’t my thing.

Carpenter also co-wrote “Something Dangerous” and “Amazing Love.” The former is a plucky mid-tempo number while the latter skews contemporary country. Both are very good although “Amazing Love” is more appealing both sonically and lyrically.

The remaining tracks on Speed of Life offer more of the same bluegrass meets folk mid-tempo numbers that are all expertly crafted if not terribly exciting. “Tulsa Sounds Like Trouble To Me” is an exception, opting for a more upbeat style that gives the track a bit more muscle and energy. “Going Up To The Country” and “Brand New Heartache” follow suit, but they’re more organic in style.

Overall, Speed of Life is a very good album that continues the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s legacy of strong, cleanly produced projects that sound great but aren’t a real punch in the gut. The band could stand to be a bit more adventurous, but that’s just not their style. I would recommend this album to anyone that likes their music mixing bluegrass and folk with organic sounds throughout.

Grade: B+

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Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘Cornerstone’

cornerstoneHolly’s second album for MTM, released in 1987, built on the success of ‘Daddy’s Hands’ and a hit duet with Michael Martin Murphey (the charming ‘A Face In The Crowd’), and saw her cementing her status as a rising star for the fledgeling label.  Her high soprano voice is well suited to the songs selected.

The mid-tempo ‘Love Someone Like Me’, which Holly wrote with Radney Foster, was the lead single, and it only just missed the top spot on the country chart.  It had previously been recorded bluegrass style by the group New Grass Revival; Holly’s version is a little more on the pop-country side and the production has dated a bit, but it isn’t bad, thanks mainly to her vocal.

Better is ‘Only When I Love’, a post-breakup number in which the protagonist is mostly okay – until she falls for someone else.  It was one of a brace of songs written by Holly with her most frequent writing partners, Tom Shapiro and her brother Chris Waters, and reached #4.

Holly and Chris wrote the third and last single ‘Strangers Again, a rueful ballad about the pain of a breakup, in which they are left

not even friends.

Wistful fiddle backs up Holly’s emotional vocal, making this by far my favorite of the singles.

The Dunn/Waters/Shapiro team also wrote one of my favorite tracks, ‘Why Wyoming’, in which a cowboy’s jilted sweetheart bemoans the competition of the wide open spaces:

He’s the only cowboy that I’ve got

And you’ve got all you need

He could never love a woman

Like he loves being free

Tell me, why, Wyoming

Do you take him from me?

 

The beautiful ballad ‘Fewer Threads Than These’ (also recorded by Dan Seals) is another highlight, with Holly supported by a sympathetic harmony vocal.

Jim Croce’s ‘Lover’s Cross’ is a pretty sounding but angsty ballad about breaking away from a difficult relationship:

It seems that you wanted a martyr

Just a regular girl wouldn’t do

But I can’t hang upon no lover’s cross for you

The small town lifestyle is often idealised in country songs, and the big city seen as a poor alternative.  Holly offers a more jaundiced view with her vibrant reading of ‘Small Towns (Are Smaller For Girls)’.  This winsome depiction of the limitations of small town life for a restless teenager was written by Mark D Sanders, Alice Randall and Verlon Thompson.  The protagonist feels stifled and restricted by a life where:

Everybody that she knew knew every move she made

So she stood behind the backstop playing sweet 16

While the boys were stealing bases and pitching for their dreams

She knows that there’s gotta be more

Small towns are smaller for girls

She learned to dance around desire

And act like the nice girls act

So the boys found out about love with the girls across the tracks

While their souls burned holes through the heat of the southern night

She was reading about New York City with her daddy’s flashlight

Holly hedges her bets a little though, with her fond tribute to a ‘Little Frame House’, with the Whites singing harmony vocals.  The title track is an idealistic eulogy to the central importance of love, written by Dave Loggins and Don Schlitz.

The production on the up-tempo ‘Wrap Me Up’ (a Radney Foster co-write) sounds a bit tinny now, and this is the only track I really don’t like.

This is not easy to find at a reasonable price these days (partly because it was on a label which lasted only a few years), but it is a fine album which is well worth checking out if you can find it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Thinkin’ About You’

Released in February 1995, Trisha Yearwood’s follow-up to the platinum-selling The Song Remembers When is in some respect a back-to-basics project. Like its predecessor, Thinkin’ About You is highly polished, though not overproduced, and allows Yearwood to kick up her heels just a bit more than the ballad-heavy Song Remembers When.

Garth Fundis once again assumes production duties, with Harry Stinson acting as co-producer on the album’s advance single, “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl).” Written by Matraca Berg and Alice Randall, “XXX’s and OOO’s” became Trisha’s second #1 hit, and her first since her debut single “She’s In Love With the Boy” nearly four years earlier. MCA had stopped promoting The Song Remembers When after sending only two singles to radio. “XXX’s and OOO’s” raced up the charts more quickly than anyone expected, leaving the label with somewhat of a dilemma when there was no album ready to cash in on the single’s success. Five months after “XXX’s and OOO’s” reached the top spot in Billboard, an album was finally released. Fortunately, the delay did not result in any loss of sales momentum, thanks to the success of the title track, which was released as the album’s second single. It also reached #1.

The next single, a cover of Melissa Etheridge’s “You Can Sleep While I Drive” didn’t fare as well on the charts, stalling at #23. It’s somewhat similar to Trisha’s earlier hit “Walkaway Joe”, and perhaps for that reason it didn’t have a lot of traction at radio. Or perhaps there were too many other ballads on the charts at the time; at any rate, it is one of the album’s highlights, beautifully sung and tastefully produced, and it deserved more attention than it received.

Trisha returned to the Top 10 with “I Wanna Go Too Far” which reached #9. This is one of those songs that is forgotten as soon as it falls off the charts; I didn’t even remember that it had been a single until I started preparing for this review. The album’s fourth and final single, a cover of Gretchen Peters’ “On A Bus To St. Cloud” died at #59, becoming the first Trisha Yearwood single to peak outside the Top 40. A critical favorite, it is a well-crafted record that was probably a poor choice for a single. Piano led, and with a string section provided by The Nashville String Machine, it’s not the type of song that historically has done well at country radio. However, Yearwood and MCA deserve some credit for thinking outside the box and sending an atypical choice to radio.

Travel is a recurring theme throughout this album — by car, as seen in “You Can Sleep While I Drive”, by bus as seen in “On A Bus To St. Cloud”, and by train on “O Mexico”, which would have been one of my choices for a single release. The production is understated, and Trisha resists falling into the trap of oversinging. One can easily imagine this song being performed more loudly and bombastically by, say, Faith Hill or Martina McBride, but Yearwood’s subtle interpretation is extremely effective in conveying the protagonist’s sense of loneliness and solitude to the listener.

On several occasions, The Song Remembers When came dangerously close to adult contemporary territory. The production on Thinkin’ About You is just as glossy, but it finds Trisha more firmly in the country camp. This is most evident on the tracks “The Restless Kind”, which is my favorite on the album, and the album closer, a tasteful cover of the Tammy Wynette classic “Till I Get It Right”, which resurfaced a few years later when it was included on a tribute album following Wynette’s death. It was one of a few standouts on that somewhat disappointing collection, and it is the perfect note on which to end Thinkin’ About You.

Though its singles performed inconsistently at radio, Thinkin’ About You did well at retail, reaching #3 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, and earning platinum certification for sales in excess of one million units. It is still widely available from retailers such as Amazon and iTunes.


Grade: A-