My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Andy Williams

Album Review: The Mavericks — ‘Hey! Merry Christmas!’

What I love about The Mavericks is you always know what to expect from their music. You’re always going to get something radically different than you could even imagine, which has been even more true with their most recent albums. Hey! Merry Christmas! is no exception, and only proves, once again, that Raul Malo can sing anything and everything, regardless of style.

The album opens with a joyous ode to the season, “Christmas Time (Is Coming ‘Round Again),” with follows in the company of “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” and “Happy Holidays.” The listener is transported to another place and time, in classic Mavericks’ style.

“Santa Does” and “I Have Wanted You for Christmas” are both excellent in their own ways, whether celebrating the omnipresent one in the red suit or tributing a love that has endured through the generations. The album’s first ballad, the beautifully sparse “Christmas For Me (Is You)” is a revelation, with Malo committing to record a spellbinding R&B and jazz style vocal you have to hear to believe.

The R&B and jazz influence continues on “Santa Wants To Take You for a Ride,” a sensual and slinky double entendre that works, despite objectification. The mournful “Christmas Without You” is in more of a traditional Christmas style and finds Malo engulfed in Christmas cheer he can’t enjoy while also mending a broken heart. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is a cover of the classic, which is well executed, but a bit too bombastic for my ears.

The title track, which appears next, swerves the album out of its detour into the emotional wrought and back into the light. It’s not my favorite song on the album, but it is very, very well done. “One More Christmas” is unremarkable at best, while the closing number “Happy Holiday,” which Andy Williams made famous, has been given the most eccentric treatment I’ve ever heard. The song, which typically exudes brightness and joy, has been stripped bare to reveal an almost suicidal underbelly I can only regard as interesting.

In my time as a Mavericks fan, I’ve come to enjoy their 1990s output more than their more recent stuff. Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of Don Cook’s signature production style or I just like their country stuff better, but I’ve had a difficult time embracing their latest works. But I have to say I really enjoy Hey! Merry Christmas! There are some excellent original tracks on here that add a bit of punch to the holiday music market and make this album well worth checking out if you haven’t heard it yet.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘RVS III’

RVS IIIRVS III appeared in January 1990, a little more than a year after Loving Proof. Like its predecessors, it was produced by Steve Buckingham and was a mixture of both new material and some carefully selected covers of older songs that were suddenly back in vogue during the New Traditionalist era. This time around, however, there was slightly less emphasis on rockabilly-style numbers on more on ballads which were proving to be Ricky’s strong point.

Preceding the release of RVS III was a maginificent cover of “Statue of a Fool”, which had been a #1 hit for Jack Greene in 1969. Ricky’s version just missed the top spot, peaking at #2, but it remains one of the standout singles of his career and is his greatest moment of this album. The uptempo “I’ve Cried My Last Tear For You”, written by Tony King (who was engaged to Wynonna Judd at the time) and Chris Waters was the next single. This one did reach #1, but it’s not one of my favorites, which is a not a criticism of the song, but a testament to the strength of the rest of the album. Another great ballad “I Meant Every Word He Said”, in which the protagonist is forced to watch the woman he loves marry another man, also topped out at #2. The album’s fourth and final single was a cover of “Life’s Little Ups and Downs”. The blues-tinged track was an underperforming single for Charlie Rich in 1969. Ricky’s version reached #4, and although it provides a change of pace, it’s my least favorite track on the album.

There are only two rocking numbers on RVS III – “Love Is Burnin'”, which is in the same vein as “Crime of Passion” and a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman”. The rest of the album was comprised of ballads, most of which could have been hit singles, but Columbia was likely reluctant to release too many ballads in a row to radio. Among these choice tracks are “You Would Do The Same For Me”, a Rory Bourke-Mike Reid composition that I would have preferred to see as a single in lieu of “Life’s Little Ups and Downs”, “I’m Starting Over” written by Kix Brooks with John Wesley Ryles and Mark Sherrill, and a fantastic version of Cindy Walker’s “Not That I Care”. This beautiful waltz had been a minor hit for Jerry Wallace in 1966 (peaking at #44) and had also been recorded by The Wilburn Brothers.

Another standout is album’s closing track “Sweet Memories”, which had been an adult contemporary hit for Andy Williams in 1968 and covered by Willie Nelson in 1979. Ricky is joined by Brenda Lee, who was long past her commercial peak, but her voice was still strong and lovely and complemented his nicely. The track features a tasteful string arrangement which gives it a little more countrypolitan feel than the rest of the album.

Despite a couple of weak spots, namely “Life’s Little Ups and Downs” and the self-penned and forgettable “I Still Love You”, RVS III is packed with top-drawer material and it quickly attained platinum status as its two predecessors have. However, by this time the formula of a few rockabilly numbers and a lot of ballads, a few old songs and a few new was starting to become predictable and may partially account for Shelton’s relatively brief reign at the top of the charts. Nevertheless, it is an album well worth listening to and I enthusastically recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Sammy Kershaw – ‘Do You Know Me? A Tribute to George Jones’

Do You Know MeIt would be futile to attempt to quantify the number of male country singers over the past 40 years or so that have cited George Jones as a major influence on their careers, so it was inevitable that tribute albums would begin to appear following the Possum’s death last year. There is perhaps no one more suited to singing an album of Jones covers than Sammy Kershaw, who not only is among the more sincere of the self-proclaimed Jones proteges, he is also the one who sounds the most like Jones.

Do You Know Me? A Tribute To George Jones was produced by Kershaw himself and released last week on his own imprint Big Hit Records. It consists of twelve songs that span the most successful stretch of Jones’ long and distinguished career, from 1955’s “Why Baby Why” to 1985’s “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”. Casual fans of both Jones and Kershaw could easily and understandably be duped into thinking that Jones himself is the performer on these recordings. More serious fans won’t have any problem distinguishig the difference, but the comparison is a bit unfair, if only because Jones made most of these recordings when he was in his vocal prime, while Kershaw is at a point where the wear and tear on his vocal chords is beginning to show. He sounds the most like Jones on uptempo numbers such as “Why Baby Why”, “White Lightnin'” and “The Race Is On”. The ballads are well done and mostly faithful to the originals, but Kershaw can’t quite match the magic that Jones and Billy Sherrill achieved on numbers such as “The Grand Tour”, “Once You’ve Had The Best” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” It should be pointed out, however, that nobody could and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing more justice to these songs than Sammy does.

My favorite track is “When The Grass Grows Over Me”, a song written by Don Chapel that Jones took to #2 in 1968. That same year Jones repaid the favor by running off with Chapel’s wife Tammy Wynette. Georgette Jones, the only child that resulted from George and Tammy’s six-year marriage joins Sammy on “Near You”, an old pop standard that dates back to 1947. It woas originally recorded by its composer Francis Craig, and later covered by the likes of The Andrews Sisters, Roger Williams, Andy Williams, and several others. George and Tammy recorded it in 1974 when their marriage was in the midst of crumbling. Released in 1977 after the couple had divorced, it reached #1 on the Billboard country singles chart. Georgette is not the singer her mother was, but she sounds enough like Tammy to make her an ideal duet partner for Kershaw. With a little background noise and if one doesn’t listen too closely, one could almost believe that it’s George and Tammy singing.

In addition to the covers of Jones’ classic material, Do You Know Me? contains two new songs, including the title track, which is biographical ballad written for Jones by Johnny Holland and Billy Lawson, which he never got around to recording. Nobody could sing this song as credibly as Kerhsaw does, and had he not recorded it for this album, it likely would never have seen the light of day, which would have been a shame. The album closes with another ballad “The Route That I TooK”, a “Choices” -like number written by Sammy himself which talks about the Possum’s tendency not to do things the easy way.

Nothing on this album is likely to ever find its way to mainstream country radio airwaves, but it is a labor of love that truly deserves to be heard and it’s a must-have for any George Jones or Sammy Kershaw fan.

Grade: A