My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Ashby Frank

Album Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘Say Forever You’ll Be Mine’

say forever you'll be mineThe duo’s 12th album, and the last before Dolly and Porter parted ways, was released in 1975.

The title track, the sole single, reached #5 on the Billboard country chart. It is one of the pair’s finest recordings vocally, a beautiful love song (one of four written by Dolly) with a faintly melancholy air to the vocals. A choir backing is perhaps a little too saccharine, but the duo’s harmonies are among their very best collaborations.

Even better is another Dolly-penned tune, ‘Something To Reach For’. This is a classic cheating song about desperation and loneliness, and being with the wrong person as a poor substitute. A great song, with an outstanding vocal from Dolly, although Porter’s solo verse isn’t quite as good. ‘I Have No Right To Care’ is an emotional statement of forbidden love, and another excellent song.

The delicate ‘The Beginning’ traces a relationship from the overwhelming delight of first falling in love, through the challenges of time and poverty, leading to “anger and regret”. The joy of parenthood then brings them back together and revives their love.

Porter wrote ‘Again’, which is quite good, about an on-off relationship. The brisk mid-tempo ‘How Can I (Help You To Forgive Me)’ is a Wagoner co-write with Tom Pick, and quite pleasant if very short (under two minutes).

Porter and Dolly co-wrote the philosophical ‘Life Rides The Train’ set to rail rhythms and a harmonica-train whistle. Dolly’s brother Randy contributed the pleasant ‘If You Were Mine’.

Frank Dycus and Al Gore co-wrote the two remaining songs. ‘Our Love’ is an earnest love song with a stately fiddle intro. ‘Love To See Us Through’ has more substance; this is a cheerful song about a couple struggling through hard times.

This is a strong album, but it is notable that the best songs are the ones Dolly wrote, and her vocals clearly outshine Porter’s. One can see why she was feeling restless as the “junior” partner in the duo, and wanted to take the spotlight solo.

Grade: A

Album Review: Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice – ‘The Story Of The Day That I Died’

the story of the day that i diedOne of my favorite current bluegrass acts is Virginia-based Junior Sisk & Rambler’s Choice. Excellent musicianship sparkles throughout the set, and they have a knack for picking interesting material. On their fourth album, everything comes together perfectly.

The outstanding title track is a witty story song written by Ashby Frank about a man who fakes his own suicide in order to make a new life in Mexico (paid for with his cheating wife’s IRA investments and credit cards):

I guess that sorry girl will never cheat again
After the way I did me in

I hope that you never learn the truth
You’re dead to me and now I’m dead to you

This is a sheer delight.

There is more misery on offer in the classically high lonesome ‘A House Where A Home Used To Be’, another fine song, written by Daniel Salyer. ‘Another Lonely Day’ is another Salyer-penned hurting song, with the band’s bass player Jason Tomlin given the chance to sing lead. While his vocals are a little uncertain, the song itself is pretty good. Another faithless wife leaving her man for a lover causes the moonshining protagonist to flee ‘High In The Mountains’, a fast paced number allowing the band to show off their instrumental chops.

‘Lover’s Quarrel’ is a sad traditional third-person story song once recorded by the Stanley Brothers, and with that pure mountain music style, about a couple who argue and separate for petty reasons. The young man begs his sweetheart to make things up, but she refuses, and after a while he dies.

The protagonist of the presumably tongue-in-cheek ‘Old Bicycle Chain’ complains about his wife’s (mostly rather minor) bad behaviour and threatens her with violence:

You trashed my trailer last Sunday
While I was at church singing hymns
I’ve had enough of your bad ways
So hold this anchor and take a swim

It’s never too late to change your ways, dear
Face your mistakes and take the blame
And don’t come back messing round here
Or I’ll whoop you with an old bicycle chain

On a more serious note, the excellent ‘If The Bottle Was A Bible’ takes a thoughtful look at a man taking refuge from the misery of bereavement in “the haze of neon lights and tortured souls” rather than God. The song was written by Ronnie Bowman, Clint Daniels and Billy Ryan. Sisk, whose vocals are at their best here, plays the part of a sympathetic bartender watching the man staring at the labels from his bottle of gin:

Imagine what he’d know
If the bottle was a Bible

I bet he’s drank the River Jordan
The flesh is weaker than what they’re pourin’
And right there in that bar we’d have revival
If that bottle was a bible

‘Walking In Good Company’, written by Sisk with his father, offers up some traditional bluegrass gospel. ‘Prayers Go Up’ is sung by mandolin player Chris Davis, and he has a warm voice well-showcased on a pleasant song celebrating homespun philosophy, written by three country songwriters, Ben Hayslip, Patrick Matthews and Bryan Simpson. The lyric is a little cliche’d, but the sincere spirit of the vocal sells the song. The title of the cheerfully pacy ‘Good To See The Home Place Once Again’ tells you all you need know about the song.

The record closes out with a cheerful Larry Sparks song praising the comradeship found at a local bar, ‘Drinking At the Water Hole’.

This album is an example of bluegrass at its best.

Grade: A

Buy the album at amazon.

Album Review: Lonesome River Band – ‘Still Learning’

The Lonesome River Band is one of those bluegrass bands which has been going for a long time with a changing cast of members. Their new Rural Rhythm release features some excellent playing (something which almost goes without saying) and a varied selection of songs. Lead vocals are split between high tenor and mandolin player Andy Ball and the distinctive and emotionally expressive voice of guitarist Brandon Rickman. Both are accomplished singers, but my personal preference is for Brandon’s voice with its interesting textures and his sensitive phrasing. Banjoist and band leader Sammy Shelor and bass player Mike Anglin lend harmony vocals, and the non-singing Mike Hartgrove plays fiddle. The instrumental work is impeccable throughout, and showed off to best effect on the sparkling ‘Pretty Little Girl’, a traditional instrumental arranged by Sammy Shelor, which closes the set.

Brandon takes the lead on the excellent opening track ‘Record Time Machine’, one of two songs written by Marvin E Clark. The song recalls being inspired by a Chet Atkins record to a life of music,

That old RCA phonograph record time machine
It took me to the places that were only in my dreams…
I could somehow see the future as I listened to the past

Clark also wrote the wistful ‘Telling Me You Love Me Again’, in which the protagonist spends his time fantasizing about his ex’s return,

Somewhere over every rainbow
Just around every bend
You’re standing there with open arms
Telling me you love me again

There is an excellent cover (with the protagonist age adjusted) of Merle Haggard’s ‘Red Bandana’, a country hit in 1979 about a teenage sweetheart manfully trying to support her musician husband,

You look like you ought to be somebody’s wife somewhere
You ain’t never going to be no Bobbie McGee but you’re trying to…

Every time you leave the stage I know you’ve had your fill
And I wonder why you grew up and I never will

The slight but enjoyable up-tempo ‘Any Old Time’ (written by one-time Lyric Street artist Kevin Denney with Tom Botkin and Mike Rogers) has the strongest harmonies, and Brandon singing in the higher part of his range as he offers to wait for the girl he loves,

Any old time you get lonely

Brandon himself teamed up with Denney and Carson Chamberlain to write ‘As Wild As I Get’, a mature expression of growing up and settling down, a theme which was at the heart of his solo album (which I recommended last year). It’s often hard to make domestic happiness interesting in a song, but this seems to be a gift of Brandon’s, both as a singer and a writer, and this song has a real charm and is beautifully phrased. He also wrote the equally pleasing and sincerely delivered mid-tempo title track, about maturity, settling down and working at being the man his loved one deserves, with the humility to admit he still has something to learn.

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