My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Amy Dalley

Album Review: Jo Dee Messina – ‘Me’

meJo Dee’s latest album, released last year on her own label after she was released from her longstanding contract with Curb Records, was crowdfunded thanks to a Kickstarter campaign by her fans. It is broadly in keeping with Jo Dee’s work on Curb, contemporary pop-country which sounds positively understated compared to some of the current fare, but lacking even token nods to more traditional country instrumentation.

The lead single ‘Peace Sign’ is an assertive response to a breakup, with the protagonist cheerfully calling herself “dumb” for falling for the kind of man who dumps her by e-mail. While not the subtlest of songs, it should appeal to Jo Dee’s fans. It is one of two songs co-written by Jo Dee’s former Curb labelmate Amy Dalley, the other being ‘Breakin’ It Down’, another well-written (though unfortunately over-produced and sung) breakup song with an upbeat edge, although this time she is the one breaking away.

The assertive second single, ‘A Woman’s Rant’, is a self-penned plaint about the specific difficulty of modern life for women trying to juggle motherhood and career while getting paid less than male counterparts:

There’s so many things I can’t begin to understand
The differences that are between a woman and a man
You see, women they do twice the work and get half the pay
Men they climb the ladder while the women pave the way
They say that we’re the weaker sex
I’d have to disagree
I’d walk a mile in his shoes if he’d walk a half a mile in these

This is one of the best songs on the album, and it may be excessively self-deprecating to call it a rant, although it’s certainly unapologetically feminist.

In contrast, Jo Dee also wrote ‘Say Goodbye To Superman’, my favorite track on the album. This tearjerker is about a woman trying to explain to her young son why his idolised daddy isn’t coming home any more. It begins gently sad, building into a big ballad.

Jo Dee wrote two songs here with Alyssa Bonagura, daughter of Kathie Baillie and Michael Bonagura of 80s group Baillie & The Boys. The defiant country-rock opener ‘Not Dead Yet’ is about being a survivor, possibly addressed to her former label as she declares,

You’re the one who stopped believin’
While I’m still in the chase.
You shattered my feelings,
But you won’t shatter my faith

The other Bonagura co-wrote, ‘He’s Messed Up’, is more pop-rock than country of any variety, and it comes as no surprise to learn that it was written for rocker Pink. It is rather too loud and shouty for my taste, although I think there’s a decent lyric buried there, warning girls against a player (apparently based on a real life example).

Bonagura’s mother co-wrote the title track with Jo Dee. It is a pretty melodic tune about feeling inadequate. Jo Dee also co-wrote ‘Love On A Maybe’, a busily produced pop-rocker about a potential relationship with a guy paying hot and cold, and the rather boring ‘I’m Free’.

‘Strong Shot Of You’, written by Australian country singer-songwriter Sherrie Austin with Clay Mills and Weston Davis is energetic pop-rock-country with over-processed vocals. ‘Take It’, written by Hillary Lindsey, Brett James and Angelo Petraglia is even more horribly processed and more or less unlistenable. The wistful ‘Like A Kid Again’, written by Adrienne and Keith Follese and Tammy Hyler is better.

The arrangements and production aren’t the kind of country music I personally like, but it is very well done, with Jo Dee singing well on some strong material. I do applaud her for making the kind of music she wanted to, and fans of Jo Dee’s 90s/early 2000s peak should find much to like about this record.

Grade: B

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Taken’

It was a surprise when Rhonda Vincent, probably the leading female bluegrass singer of this millennium, announced earlier this year that she had left Rounder after ten years, in favour of releasing her latest album on her own label. She has now released her first independent release.

It opens brightly with the sprightly and unforgiving ‘The Court Of Love’, written by Mike O’Reilly. Rhonda firmly tells her erring man he should go:

“To a prison full of broken hearts
That’s where you’ll do your time”

Lying and cheating earns him a life sentence without her, too, as she refuses to believe his professions of love and penitence.

As predominantly a country fan, it is perhaps unsurprising that my favorite tracks (other than the aforementioned The Court Of Love’) are the country songs given a bluegrass treatment. ‘Back On My Mind’, about struggling with an old love despite trying to move on with the protagonist’s life, was a big hit for Ronnie Milsap back in 1979, it is well suited to Rhonda’s voice with its almost piercing clarity.

I also enjoyed a revival of Barbara Mandrell’s 1971 top 10 hit about a trucker’s fiancee anxiously awaiting her man’s return armed with a ring: ‘Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home’ (written by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton). The bluegrass makeover works surprisingly well.

Things take a more sophisticated turn with ‘A Little At A Time’, a downbeat contemporary country ballad about a relationship which the protagonist senses is about to come to an end, co-written by former Curb artist Amy Dalley with Tony Martin and Tom Shapiro. It’s very well executed, but takes a little longer for its qualities to emerge than some of the other tracks. The title track is a beautifully sung and played but rather boring AC love ballad, featuring a harmony vocal from 80s pop star Richard Marx.

In contrast, ‘God Is Watching’ is a delightful traditional slice of handclapping bluegrass gospel sung with the band. Rhonda teams up with her talented daughters Sally Berry and Tensel Sandker to sing a close harmony trio (with swapped leads) on a charming Roger Brown song which sounds like a traditional Appalachian folk number, ‘When The Bloom Is Off The Rose’. The girls’ band Next Best Thing also gets a maternal plug in the liner notes, and they sound as though they’re worth looking out for in the future.

The low-key murder ballad ‘In The Garden By The Fountain’ (also written by Brown) is also lovely sounding with a heavenly harmony line from Dolly Parton which really lifts it, belying the grim theme. Rhonda herself co-wrote ‘Song Of A Whippoorwill’, about the bird, and again the melody is attractive but the song is of limited interest.

The Rage, Rhonda’s band, co-produced the record with her as well as providing the core of the backing, and although there are no instrumental tracks this time, they get their own showcase on ‘Ragin’ Live For You Tonight’, a celebration of their musicianship and live show written by three of the band members. The song served as the title track on Rhonda’s 2005 live album http://www.amazon.com/Ragin-Live-Rhonda-Vincent/dp/B0007GAEO4 and I imagine it goes down a storm live. It also allows Rhonda to put in a plug for her longtime sponsor Martha White. The company appears to be contributing to the costs of the album, a model which other artists planning on following the same route might be tempted to adopt. In return, the CD includes a recipe leaflet complete with Rhonda’s seal of approval. They also get a product placement in the charmingly nostalgic ‘Sweet Summertime’.

Rhonda also had one really bad idea when making this record, and it materialises at the end of the record. Listening through this album for the first time, as the final track opened I thought ‘You Must Have A Dream’ was a pretty, if Disneyesque and slightly anodyne, inspirational song with a lovely vocal from Rhonda, but then the children started singing. Not only is there a child chorus (never something I am enthusiastic about), but two of the verses feature solo and duet vocals by child singers (who are frankly not very good). There may well be a story behind this inclusion, but the end result is really awful.

The first time I listened to this I was a little disappointed overall with the material, but listening in-depth allows the subtle qualities to shine through. The vocals are spot-on throughout, apart from the children, and the backing is superb. This one is definitely worth checking out.

Grade: B