My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Barry Beckett

Album Review: Dawn Sears – ‘What A Woman Wants To Hear’

Dawn Sears’ debut album on Warner Brothers Records was released in 1991. Barry Beckett acted as producer. ‘San Antone’, her very first single for Warner Brothers, having failed to chart the previous year, it was removed from consideration for the album, but if you want to hear this very retro Patsy Cline style ballad, you can check it out on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIAyvGo_-DQ

However, the label retained the second single, although it too had made no chart impact. ‘Till You Come Back To Me’ was another beautifully sung slow ballad, but slightly more contemporary in style, and was written by Mike Reid and Troy Seals. Dawn’s vocals soar on this big ballad.

Dawn showed she was as good with up-tempo material with a committed cover of Highway 101’s ‘Good Goodbye’ (a track on that band’s debut album a few years earlier and co-written by Paulette Carlson). Dawn’s version uses the same arrangement as the original, but she delivers the attitude believably. Warner Brothers’ last unsuccessful attempt at getting Dawn on the radio came with ‘Tell Me I’m Crazy’, another Mike Reid tune (co-written this time with Rory Michael Bourke). This sophisticated loungy ballad is exquisitely performed, and was later covered in very similar style by Shelby Lynne.

‘Odds And Ends (Bits And Pieces)’ had most recently been recorded by Lynne on her own 1989 debut album, but was an older classic, written by Harlan Howard. It is another slow paced ballad which was ideally suited to both artists’ vocal ability.

A number of the other tracks were either covers or were later picked up by other artists. The classic Hank Williams hit is treated very authentically and highly enjoyable. ‘He’s In Dallas’ was recorded by Reba McEntire on her 1991 album For My Broken Heart, and was later covered by fellow Spotlight Artist Linda Davis. A mournful ballad about the failure of a relationship and the collapse off all the protagonist’s dreams for her future, as she returns home to her mother in Minnesota, disconsolate. Dawn’s vocal is exceptional.

The title track (coincidentally a song co-written by Davis) is another excellent ballad yearning to be treated well, which should have been a big hit for someone. This is another of the highlights on this album. ‘Old Fashioned Broken Heart’ is a great traditional country heartbreak ballad written by Donny Kees and Terri Sharp, is superb, and one of my favorite tracks here, assisted by some nice fiddle.

She delivers up some western swing on the assertive ‘No More Tears’, and sultry blues on ‘Could Be The Mississippi’, showing her range.

This was a very good album which slipped beneath the radar.

Grade: A-

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Album Review: Alabama – ‘Southern Star’

41OBKFV1XkLAlabama arrived on the national stage in 1980 at a time when country music was dominated by crossover acts. By mid-decade, however, the pendulum had swung wildly in the opposite direction and by the end of the decade, many veteran acts had been swept off the charts altogether. Those that survived the tide change were forced to adopt a more traditional sound in order to remain relevant. 1989’s Southern Star was Alabama’s back-to-basics album — sort of. While it was less slickly-produced than most of their earlier albums, a traditional album it is not. The radio singles were carefully crafted to appeal to the change in commercial tastes, but on the album cuts the band continued to explore different styles, including Southern rock and pop.

Southern Star found the band working with a new production team. Gone was Harold Shedd, who had co-produced all of their albums for RCA, and in his place were Barry Beckett; Larry Michael Lee, and Josh Leo. The album continued Alabama’s winning streak on the singles charts, with all four of its singles reaching #1, starting with “Song of the South”, a catchy Bob McDill number that had been recorded several times previously — originally by Bobby Bare, and later by Johnny Russell and Tom T. Hall with Earl Scruggs. Ballads were always a strong point for the band and the excellent “If I Had You”, the album’s second chart-topper was no exception. The uptempo “High Cotton” takes a look back through rose-colored glasses at growing up during the Great Depression, and “Southern Star” gives Alabama an opportunity to showcase their tight harmonies.

The rest of the songs on Southern Star could have appeared on any of Alabama’s previous albums. Though the production is more organic, the songs occasionally stray into different musical territory. “Down On The River” is pleasant if not particularly memorable Southern rock song. “She Can” is pop-flavored number that is somewhat marred by a synthesizer, “Dixie Fire”, featuring Jeff Cook on lead vocals, is similarly dated sounding. “Barefootin'” (another Cook-led effort) is a throwaway number with annoying horns.

The Randy Owen-penned “Ole Baugh Road” is one of the better album cuts. The Spanish-tinged “The Borderline”, with Teddy Gentry singing lead with guest Charlie Daniels, is the album’s biggest creative stretch.

Though not without its missteps, Southern Star proved that Alabama was able to adapt to changing commercial tastes and remain relevant after nearly a decade on charts. It was a great way to close out the decade and the album is still worth listening to today.

Grade: B+

Album Review: T. Graham Brown – ‘Bumper To Bumper’

bumper to bumperT. Graham Brown took on production duties for his fourth album, released in 1990, alongside Barry Beckett. The production is mellow with strong blues/soul influences, but quite tastefully done.

The lead single, ‘If You Could Only See Me Now’, written by Susan Longacre and Rick Giles, peaked at #6. It was a ballad with a strong vocal about a man who has changed his life around too late to save his marriage. The second single, a more mellow ballad ‘Moonshadow Road’ looks back fondly at teenage romance. It was a top 20 hit, and although heavily loaded with saxophone it is a very nice song.

The third and last single, ‘I’m Sending One Up For You’, written by Brown with Gary Nicholson and Ray Kennedy, unfortunately flopped. It is a sincerely delivered love song about praying for a former lover’s happiness.

The mid tempo ‘You Can’t Make Her Love You’ is a great song about an elusive woman, written by Jerry G. Ward and effectively sung. ‘I’m Expecting Miracles’ is a prettily melodic romantic ballad written by Brown with Verlon Thompson and Gary Nicholson.

The second half of the album is pretty much entirely blues/soul rather than country. A cover of soul classic ‘I’ve Been Loving You Long’ is quite well done. Brown’s idealistic ‘Bring A Change’ is in similar vein musically, with a very long sax solo.

I like ‘Blues Of the Month Club’, which is atmospheric and cleverly written but goes on a bit too long. ‘Eyes Wide Open’ and ‘For Real’ are boring all the way through. The closing ‘We Tote The Note’ is about touring as a musician but is definitely too blues for me.

This is a difficult record to grade because it is objectively very good. It just isn’t all that country,

Grade: B-

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Love Without Mercy’

220px-LoveWithoutMercyTo record his sophomore album Lee Parnell stuck with producer Barry Beckett although Scott Hendricks, who most recently has been producing Blake Shelton’s post-Bobby Braddock work, joined him. Love Without Mercy would be Parnell’s breakthrough release containing three top ten singles despite peaking at #66 on Billboard’s country albums chart.

Lead single “The Rock,” where Parnell sounds like a slightly less powerful Ronnie Dunn, failed to ignite (peaking at #50) despite no obvious shortcomings. The contemporary ballad was perfectly inline with commercial trends in 1992 and I quite like the lush tenderness Parnell brings to the proceedings.

He finally scored his breakthrough hit with “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am,” an excellent rocker written by Al Carmichael and Gary Griffin. The #2 peaking song succeeds on Parnell’s rough vocal and slide guitar that doesn’t overwhelm the track at all. The infectious melody was all over the radio when I was a kid and I love it as much today as I did then.

Arista’s next single choice was the title track, a Don Pfrimmer and Mike Reid ballad originally recorded by Oak Ridge Boys in 1987. Reid, who topped the charts with “Walk On Faith” two years prior, released his own version the same year as Parnell. The bluesy ballad, which peaked at #8 for Parnell, is an excellent song perfectly suited for Parnell’s voice. Oak Ridge Boys version is great, too, but somewhat dated.

The album’s final single, the infectiously upbeat “Tender Moment” matched “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am,” peaking at #2 in Mid-1993. It’s another fantastically commercial moment for Parnell, succeeding on the brilliant melody, and among my favorite of his singles.

The rest of Love Without Mercy skews towards uptempo rocks including the Parnell co-wrote “Road Scholar,” a semi-autobiographical tale about a man who got his education in honky-tonks, that features Delbert McClinton. The bluesy Texas Rock isn’t my favorite, but the predictable lyric does give the track some needed substance.

“Night After Night” finds Parnell as a man consumed by the memory of his ex and the whole thing is as predictable as it is muscular. “Roller Coaster” is slightly better although I wish it retained even more country elements beyond the audible steel guitar. “Ain’t No Short Way Home” is a pre-curser to the ‘Bro-Country’ of today with its mentioning of trucks and women, and while it’s light years better in quality than today’s dreck, its still too generic for me.

“Back In My Arms Again” retains more of the country elements Parnell brought to the singles, and is an improvement over the other album cuts as a result. “Done Deal” is the best non-single and follows the formula of “The Rock” and the title track.

Love Without Mercy is a typical boom years country album that focuses on some outstanding singles while populating the album with a fair share of filler. Nothing here is horrible, but the magic of “What Kind of Fool” and “Tender Moment” isn’t repeated beyond those two cuts. But the album as a whole is still listenable and worth seeking out.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Lee Roy Parnell’

Lee Roy Parnell’s debut album on Arista Records in 1990 was very different from the neotraditional style which was then at its peak, although not really unique (T Graham Brown was making quite similar music at the time, and doing well). The album was produced by Barry Beckett, a Nashville session man and producer whose roots lay in Muscle Shoals soul, and the combination of producer and artist was a good fit.

Lee Roy’s rise coincided with the fall from favour with country radio of T Graham Brown, who had similar influences and musical stylings. Perhaps there was only room for one, and the newer guy would win out soon, but at the time of this release, Brown was still at his peak.

Lee Roy’s first single, ‘Crocodile Tears, crept into the top 60. It’s a pretty good mid-tempo tune which he wrote himself, in which the protagonist rebuffs his wife’s insincere protestations of love, and at another time might have done better on country radio.

Only marginally more successful, the second single. ‘Oughta Be A Law’ is a chugging mid-tempo country-blues-rock number written by Gary Nicholson with Dan Penn, with a prominent brass section. It is quite catchy, but not very country, and I can see why it didn’t catch on.

Final single ‘Family Tree’ was even less of a success, which is a shame because it is my favourite of the singles. It is a cheerful uptempo song about a family’s prodigal son, who:
Went out on a limb and fell off the family tree.

I quite like ‘Fifty Fifty Love’, a solid tune written by Parnell and Nicholson, with a rhythmic groove which moves along nicely, although the horns are out in force again.

‘Mexican Money’ is an entertaining song about a blue-collar Texan planning to abandon the US, where he can’t make ends meet, to live with his Mexican sweetheart.

The solemn ballad ‘Where Is My Baby Tonight’, written by Troy Seals and Graham Lyle, slows the pace, as does the bluesy love song ‘Down Deep’. ‘Let’s Pretend’ is a soul ballad. ‘You’re Taking Too Long’ picks up the tempo again, but isn’t very interesting. The closing ‘Red Hot’ is old fashioned rock n’ roll.

Overall, this album is well done in its way, but it has quite a loose connection to country music and isn’t really my cup of tea with far too much brass rather than steel guitar. Fans of Lee Roy Parnell may be interested in exploring his earliest recorded work, but it probably isn’t the place to start.

Grade: B