My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Angela Kaset

Album Review: Lorrie Morgan – ‘War Paint’

warpaintBy 1994, with three platinum albums and ten Top 10 singles (including two #1s) under her belt, Lorrie Morgan appeared to be at her commercial peak when her career unexpectedly lost some of its momentum. War Paint produced three singles, all of which tanked at country radio at a time when Morgan was pretty much an automatic add at most stations. The first single, the rock-tinged “My Night To Howl”, which finds Lorrie preparing for a night on the town, is admittedly not one of her best and its #31 peak seems justified, but the failure of the follow-up single was rather surprising. She finally tackled the subject of Keith Whitley’s death head-on with deeply personal and soul-baring “If You Came Back From Heaven”, which she co-wrote with producer Richard Landis. It’s the song that many fans had expected from her immediately after Whitley’s passing, but when it finally arrived, it was met with a huge ho-hum from radio. Peaking at #51, it was her worst-performing single since her breakthrough. Country radio’s lack of interest was perhaps a result of how much the country music landscape had changed in the five years since Whitley’s death. The catchy, uptempo and pop-tinged “Heart Over Mind” seemed like a safe radio-friendly choice for a third single but it too failed gain a foothold at radio, and only reached #39.

After three misfires, BNA declined to release any further singles from the album, although there were a few worthy potential candidates, including “The Hard Part Was Easy” and “Exit 99”, which is one of my all-time favorite songs from Lorrie. Foreshadowing Sara Evans’ “Three Chords And The Truth”, which would be released three years later, the tune finds Morgan hopping into her car and driving off after a fight with her husband. The further she drives, the more her anger subsides and by the time she reaches Exit 99 near the end of the song, she’s reconsidered and ready to turn around and go home. “Exit 99” was omitted from the cassette version of the album, as BMG was still engaging in its practice of including extra tracks on the CD versions of its releases, to entice buyers to purchase the more expensive format.

Lorrie has covered classic country songs on many of her albums, and on War Paint she takes on two revered numbers: “A Good Year For the Roses”, which George Jones had taken to #2 in 1970, and the Hank Cochran-penned “Don’t Touch Me”, which was a #2 hit for Cochran’s then-wife Jeannie Seely in 1966. “A Good Year For The Roses” pairs Lorrie up for the first time on record with Sammy Kershaw, who she would eventually marry. Both songs are well-performed, particularly “Don’t Touch Me”, but neither was commercial enough in the mid-1990s to be considered for single release.

Despite containing many gems, War Paint is not without its missteps. I’m not particularly fond of the lead single “My Night To Howl” or the somewhat overproduced and lyrically unsubtle title track that Lorrie co-wrote with Tom Shapiro. Likewise, I could have done without the dull Angela Kaset number “Evening Up The Odds”, which serves as the album’s closing track. None of these songs is truly terrible, but their inclusion make this album a more uneven listening experience than Morgan’s earlier work.

Even though it failed to produce any hit singles, War Paint sold respectably and earned gold certification, suggesting that Lorrie had a fan base that would remain loyal to her even if radio was beginning to cool towards her. Although she did enjoy a few more big hits on subsequent albums, her performance on the singles chart became inconsistent from this point on.

Despite its flaws, there are enough solid tracks on War Paint to recommend it. Although it is out of print, inexpensive used copies are easy to find.

Grade: B+

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Album Review: Lorrie Morgan – ‘Watch Me’

watchmeLorrie Morgan’s third release teamed her up once again with Something In Red producer Richard Landis, but 1992’s Watch Me is a less pop-oriented collection that sounds like a less ballad-heavy continuation of 1989’s Leave The Light On. The uptempo title track “Watch Me” was the first single sent to radio. More radio-friendly than “Something In Red”, the single that had preceded it, “Watch Me” delivered a “Five Minutes”-style ultimatum to an errant lover and stopped just short of becoming Morgan’s second chart-topper, peaking #2. She closed the deal, however, with another uptempo number, “What Part of No”, which found her giving the brush-off to an unwanted suitor. Spending three weeks at #1, it became the most successful single of her career and is one of her best remembered hits today.

The album’s third single and one of my all-time favorites was the ballad “I Guess You Had To Be There”, which had Lorrie once again confronting a cheating spouse, albeit less assertively than the album’s title track. As the song opens, she greets her husband upon his return from work and proceeds to tell him about her day — how on her travels she’d seen a happy couple in love and the impression it had made upon her. Her spouse’s lack of response prompts her to say, “I guess you had to be there”. The listener learns in the final verse that he was indeed there, and was one half of the happy couple spotted in a cafe. Kris Kristofferson portrayed the philandering husband in the song’s video. Surprisingly, it only reached #14. Lorrie returned to the Top 10 with her next single, the more lightweight and catchy midtempo “Half Enough”, which rose to #8.

The always reliable Skip Ewing had provided “Autumn’s Not That Cold”, one of the best cuts from Something In Red, and he made another contribution this time around, the excellent “You Leave Me Like This”. Likewise, “Something In Red” writer Angela Kaset contributed “From Our House To Yours”, a ballad about a lifelong friendship, that is just a little too sing-songy to truly work well. Much better is Lorrie’s surprisingly good cover of “It’s A Heartache”, a song that had first been introduced by Juice Newton in 1977 and covered by Bonnie Tyler who had a huge international pop hit with it that same year. Morgan’s version is better than both of them, and it probably would have had hit single potential had it not already been so well known and closely associated with Tyler.

Watch Me didn’t chart as high as Lorrie’s previous albums, reaching only #15 but it sold well enough to earn platinum certification. It re-established her country credentials after some of the pop experimentation of Something In Red. It was also her first album for BNA Records, a former indie label that had been acquired by BMG Music earlier that year to be a sister label to RCA. Lorrie was at that time the imprint’s biggest and best-selling star, though she would eventually be eclipsed by labelmates Kenny Chesney, Lonestar, and John Anderson.

Twenty years after its release, “What Part Of No” is possibly the only song from Watch Me that is familiar to many younger listeners, but if those fans are inclined to delve a little deeper into Lorrie’s catalog will find much to like in this collection.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Kathy Mattea – ‘Right Out Of Nowhere’

By the middle of the 2000s, it was clear Kathy’s time in the limelight was over. One last album for MCA (The Innocent Years) failed to score any hit singles, and she moved to independent label Narada, where she was able to concentrate on artistry with little thought for commercial viability.  The second of her albums for this label came out in 2005.  This is not a very country sounding record, but it bears the hallmarks of evident thought and attention throughout, and is clearly a serious artistic endeavour.

‘Live It’, the solo single failed to chart.  Not one of Harley Allen’s better songs, it’s a cluttered and unoriginal exhortation to live life to the full and concentrate on love.  ‘Hurt Some’ is a jazzy AC ballad with a gospel feel (particularly in the vocals).  The rather obvious lyrics attempt to be insightful, advising a woman to expect a range of emotional ups and downs, written by Tia Sillers and Mark D Sanders.

‘Only Heaven Knows’ is quite a pretty ballad about acceptance of one’s lot, which is much better.  ‘Give It Away’ is an artfully constructed, melodic and beautifully sung song written by Kathy with husband Jon Vezner and Bob Halligan.  The three-story structure narrates encounters with individuals (a veteran star backstage, a woman in a doctor’s waiting room, and finally the protagonist saving herself from breaking off a love affair in a fit of pique following an argument), giving the sage advice that with music and love,

The only way to keep is to give it away

The best of the more philosophical songs here is Darrell Scott’s ‘Love’s Not Through With Me Yet’, given a plaintive Celtic sound and with Suzy Bogguss on harmony.

The title track is an okay but unexciting story song about a woman moving on, with an attractive melody.  The breakup song ‘Loving You, Letting You Go’ is lyrically forgettable but the wheezy harmonica gives it some sonic character.

The best song is ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’, a subtly cutting piano ballad written by Skip Ewing and Angela Kaset, which sounds tailor-made for Trisha Yearwood, although Kathy does a fine job.  It narrates a meeting with the woman the protagonist’s ex left her for, finding he has moved on again:

I thought the only thing wrong with her was you

Cause you don’t find joy within
You’re always wanting out
That’s not what love is all about
You’ll never find happiness
Til you let your heart invest
Baby you don’t know how
I hope you’re happy now

This is an excellent song which is well worth downloading even if nothing else here appeals.

Kathy extended her artistic range with a couple of unexpected rock covers.  The Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ is performed confidently, and is the biggest departure from preconceived ideas of what a Kathy Mattea record sounds like.  It’s not to my taste, but is interestingly done with inventive acoustic production, and Kathy deserves credit for trying something so different.  Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Down On The Corner’ is an enjoyable singalong.  ‘Wade In The Water’, meanwhile, is a traditional gospel song which is played around with a little too much.

This record was an interesting experiment.  Not everything works, but a period in the commercial doldrums is the obvious time to try branching out. Used copies can be found very cheaply

Grade: B-