By the mid-90s, Steve Wariner’s commercial success had begun to wane, causing him to take a hiatus from recording and touring, to concentrate instead on songwriting. He experienced a considerable amount of success during his “down time”, beginning when “Longneck Bottle”, a song he’d written with Rick Carnes, was recorded by Garth Brooks. Garth asked Steve to lend his voice and guitar-playing skills to the record and when it was released as a single, “Longneck Bottle” quickly shot to the top of the charts, spending three weeks in the number one spot. A few weeks later, Clint Black took “Nothin’ But The Taillights”, a song he’d written with Steve, to #1. A month after that, “What If I Said” , his duet with Anita Cochran also reached the top of the Billboard chart. By 1998, these successes caused record executives to take another look at Steve, resulting in a new contract with Capitol Records, and an unexpected late-career resurgence.
His first release for the label was “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven”, which Steve had written with Billy Kirsch. The sentimental ballad struck a chord with radio programmers and listeners, becoming Steve’s career record, some 20 years after he’d released his first record. It peaked at #2, his highest chart performance as a solo artist since “I Got Dreams” reached the top spot nine years earlier. It was also awarded the Single of the Year and Song of the Year awards by the Country Music Association in 1998, marking the first time Steve had won any awards from that organization.
Steve’s debut album for Capitol was Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down, which he produced himself. It consisted of 11 new tracks written by Steve with a variety of co-writers, along with “What If I Said”, which had been originally been included on Anita Cochran’s album. Although there were no huge radio hits to follow “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven”, the album is one of the stronger entries in the Wariner discography. For the title track, a lively Western swing number, Steve reunited with Garth Brooks, but even Garth’s tremendous star power couldn’t propel the record into the Top 20. Too retro for country radio, it stalled at #26 despite top-notch performances from both Steve and Garth. The more contemporary “Every Little Whisper” was chosen as the third single. Though it was more radio-friendly than “Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down”, it is not one of the stronger tracks on the album. It was possibly chosen because like “Holes”, it was written with Billy Kirsch, and the label may have thought they would strike gold a second time. It peaked at #36 and no more singles were released.
There are several excellent tracks — and a few mediocre ones — among the album cuts. My favorites are “I Don’t Know How To Fix It”, which was written with Bill Anderson, “A Six Pack Ago”, which was written with Jim Rushing, and “Big Ol’ Empty House”, which was written with Mac McAnally. “Road Trippin'”, written with Marcus Hummon is a lightweight tune with fluffy lyrics and catchy beat that seems like it would have been a good choice for a single release. “Big Tops”, a circus-themed number which was also written with Hummon, has a folk feel to it and sounds like something Nanci Griffith might have released a decade earlier. The two tracks that fail to deliver are “Love Me Like You Love Me” and “Smoke From An Old Flame”, which are pleasant but slightly dull.
The inclusion of “What If I Said” as a bonus track, under license from Warner Bros., was a pleasant surprise. Though thoroughly contemporary in style, the Anita Cochran-penned and produced track is beautifully written and beautifully sung by both performers. It was Cochran’s first record and only Top 40 country hit, and is on my short list of favorite Steve Wariner tracks.
Though Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down only spawned one big radio hit, it did quite well at retail. Peaking at #6, it was his highest-charting entry on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. It also went on to become his second gold album. I don’t like it quite as much as I Am Ready, but I would rank it a close second.
Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down is available from Amazon and other major retailers.