My Kind of Country

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

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Album Review: Natalie Maines — ‘Mother’

For most of this decade, the story of Dixie Chicks has been one of separate lives, at least as far as recordings are concerned. Martie & Emily have released two albums as Court Yard Hounds and Natalie Maines released her own solo record, Mother, in 2013.

Maines has said the album came together serendipitously through sessions with Ben Harper. She has gone on to say she had no idea they were even making an album until they had ten recorded songs. In truth, this isn’t the first time Maines ventured outside Dixie Chicks. In 2008 she appeared alongside Neil Diamond for the spellbinding ballad “Another Day (That Time Forgot)” and she also contributed a version of Beach Boys “God Only Knows” for the final season of the HBO drama Big Love.

Mother is a pop-rock album that makes offers no apologies about its lack of anything even remotely resembling country music. Maines even went as far as to distance herself from country music, saying she never really liked the genre at all and said she found Fly unlistenable because she hated her accent on the songs. This all came from Rolling Stone Magazine, which exaggerates everything for personal gain, so her comments have to be taken with a grain of salt.

The album itself isn’t very imaginative at all, with the ten songs consisting mostly of cover tunes with only a couple originals. The selections themselves are great, but one would’ve liked Maines to let loose a bit with her own pen, especially since it had been seven years since she entered a studio to record anything for herself.

Being mostly a country music fan, I’m not overly familiar with most of these songs. Her version of the title track doesn’t deviate too much from Pink Floyd’s original. I do really like her take on Dan Wilson’s “Free Life” and her interpretation of Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” is very good.

A highlight for me is the blistering “Silver Bell,” which was the title track of Patty Griffin’s unreleased album where Maines found both “Truth No. 2” and “Top of the World.” The track, while overly loud, is a delight.

Another notable selection, “Come Cryin’ To Me” is an outtake from the writing sessions for Taking The Long Way. The song, which was co-written by the trio with Gary Louris of The Jayhawks, was deemed too rock to appear on the album. Maines had said she wanted to have her bandmates appear on the album, as co-writers, at least once. The lyric is excellent, although I can’t really decipher the meaning of the lyric:

Dragging around

The sins of your father

Handed on down

From one to another

Spinning new wheels

From lover to lover

Afraid to come now

From under the covers

 

When the world’s on your shoulders

And you just feel like hiding

When there’s nowhere to run to

You can come crying

Come crying to me

You know how to fly

On the wings of disaster

 

You try to stand still

But you keep going faster

And faster

You thought it’d be easier

In California

The tables will turn

And they won’t even warn you

 

When the world’s on your shoulders

And you just keep on sliding

When there’s nowhere to run to

You can come crying

Come crying to me

 

When the night seems colder

But the sun’s gonna shine

I won’t leave you behind

No you won’t stay behind

My issue with Mother isn’t that it’s a pop/rock recording. Maines is excellent vocally throughout and it doesn’t feel like a country artist suppressing their twang to fit into a bigger musical landscape. My problem is the album is sonically horrid. The arrangements are very muddled and extremely loud, with no real way to decipher between instruments. This just doesn’t feel like a cohesive album as much as a collection of songs and I don’t hear much masterful artistry in the recording as a whole.

Mother honestly could’ve been so much more. Dixie Chicks put so much into Taking The Long Way and Martie and Emily put effort into Court Yard Hounds. I just wish it had extended here with Maines. Mother could’ve been great. As it stands, it’s just an odd and very strange missed opportunity.

Grade: C

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Gentle on My Mind’

51cP-6ZEttLBy 1967 Glen Campbell had been a Capitol Records artist for five years. He was well known to the public from his frequent television appearances as well as his stint touring with The Beach Boys in early 1965. He was also in demand as a session musician but he was still having difficulty establishing himself as an A-list solo recording artist.

Campbell’s fortunes began to change in late 1966 when he teamed up with Al De Lory, who produced Glen’s first solo Top 20 country hit “Burning Bridges”, which peaked at #18 in early 1967. Their next notable collaboration was “Gentle on My Mind”, released in June 1967, which became the centerpiece of the album of the same title, released a few months later. As the story goes, Campbell heard composer John Hartford’s original version and quickly recorded a demo version of the song to pitch to DeLory. Unbeknownst to Campbell, DeLory released the demo version as a single after doing a little minor clean-up work, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“Gentle on My Mind”, a song about a free spirit who feels genuine affection for a female friend but not enough to settle down with her, is regarded as a classic today, but surprisingly it was not a huge hit at the time. It peaked at #30 on the country chart, far lower than “Burning Bridges”, and it topped out at #62 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart. Employing a strategy that Warner Bros would borrow with Randy Travis nearly two decades later, Capitol re-released “Gentle on My Mind” in mid-1968. This time it performed worse on the country chart (#44) but better on the Hot 100 (#39). It also became a #8 adult contemporary hit as well as a Top 20 country hit in Canada. In 1968 Campbell hosted a variety program on CBS, while The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was on summer hiatus. This led to his own program The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour beginning in January 1969. “Gentle on My Mind” served as the show’s theme song, which eventually pushed the album’s sales past the platinum mark. This is a textbook example of a song that has endured and stood the test of time, despite somewhat underperforming on the charts — and also a lesson in why chart performance should never be used as a measurement of quality.

Gentle on My Mind the album, follows the usual template of its era; the title track is the album’s only single. The rest of the track list is made up of cover versions of songs that had been hits for other artists, and other songs (including one co-written by Glen) that were regarded as filler but still provide for a pleasant listen. First and foremost, one must bear in mind that this is not a country album. At this stage of his career, Campbell was based in Los Angeles, not Nashville, and was working with a pop producer. It was, however, an era when country, pop and adult contemporary relied on orchestrated arrangements, which made it relatively easy for Glen and other artists of the day to score hits in multiple radio formats. There are no fiddles or steel to be found in this collection, although there is a little banjo here and there, and plenty of acoustic guitar picking, which was probably an influence from the then-popular folk music movement.

The album’s most country-sounding track is the Campbell-Joe Allison co-write “Just Another Man”, which is a very nice and understated acoustic ballad. The rest of the album is difficult to categorize, but if pressed, I’d call it melodious late 60s pop, which was the perfect showcase for Glen’s voice. There are country influences on “It’s Over” and “Crying”, both of which had been hits for Roy Orbison. The former was written by Jimmie Rodgers. The latter has always been one of my favorite pseudo-country songs, and I would probably have been blown away by Glen’s version had I never heard the Orbison original. Nobody will ever sing that song like Roy did, but that doesn’t mean that Glen’s interpretation isn’t enjoyable.

There are traces of country on “Bowling Green” which also relies heavily on strings and a double-tracked vocal. In the end it’s more pop than country but still quite good. Ditto for “Catch The Wind”, which has a Byrds-like feel to it. There’s nothing country at all about “You’re My World”, which sounded to me like something Dusty Springfield might have sung, but my research showed that it was Italian in origin, had had been a hit in the English speaking world for British singer Cilla Black.

Gentle on My Mind was meant to capitalize on the success of Glen’s television program, and as such it makes sense that Capitol was aiming for a wider audience than country music typically reached. It contains some country elements, but was clearly intended for mass consumption. The strategy worked; the album sold more than a million copies and Glen’s singles over the next few years for the most part charted significantly higher than anything he’d done up to that point. While this is not an album for hardcore traditionalists, there is plenty here to appeal to those who enjoy the popular music of the late 1960s.

Grade: B+

Spotlight Artist: Glen Campbell

glen campbellAs he slowly fades away due to Alzheimer’s, I think it appropriate that we take a look at the long and illustrious career of Glen Campbell.

Assessing Glen’s career is very difficult because he was so very talented. As a singer and musician he probably was as talented as anyone who ever graced the American musical stage. Over the course of his career Glen placed eighty songs on Billboard’s Country, Hot Hundred and Adult Contemporary charts with many of the songs appearing on multiple charts. Many of his singles charted in England, Australia and Ireland, with scattered hits in non-English speaking countries.

Glen could sing anything and sing it well, be it rock and roll, country, pop standards, rhythm and blues or folk. Jimmy Webb heard an early Glen Campbell single on the radio and decided that he wanted Glen Campbell to sing his songs.

As a musician you can hardly name a stringed instrument that Glen Campbell couldn’t play. He was a wizard on the twelve string guitar, six string guitar (electric and acoustic), bass, banjo, fiddle, If you can name it, Glen Campbell probably could play it.

Although Glen was not especially known as a songwriter, he did pen a few songs. He might have written more songs, but with the top songwriters of the day pitching their best material to him, there wasn’t a compelling need for him to do so.

Glen Travis Campbell was born in 1936 in the town of Billstown, Arkansas; however, he was usually billed as being from the nearby town of Delight, Arkansas. He started playing guitar as a teen and moved to Albuquerque in 1954 to play in his uncle’s band and later to form his own band. In 1960 he moved to Los Angeles to become a session musician, playing on recordings by artists as diverse as Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Jan & Dean and Ricky Nelson. He also became part of a group known as the Champs and obtained a recording contract with Crest Records.

In 1962 Glen signed with Capitol Records. Capitol had great faith in the Glen allowing to record five non-charting albums and a bunch of relatively unsuccessful singles before finally achieving his first solo top twenty country single with “Burning Bridges” in 1966. Along the way he became a touring member of the Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson on road dates.

Capitol Records teamed Glen with producer Al DeLory in 1966. The first collaboration, “Burning Bridges” got the ball rolling for Glen. From that point forward over a decade’s worth of hit singles and best-selling albums would follow, along with a television show, movie roles and many concert appearances . Although Glen’s recording career would cool off during the 1980s, he would continue to place singles and albums on the charts through the end of the decade and into the early years of the 1990s. A brief renaissance would occur after 2005.

Our spotlight series will start with Glen’s first platinum album Gentle On My Mind, but the five albums that preceded it are worth investigating as they will show Glen in a variety of setting of musical settings from bluegrass to traditional country to folk to rock to pop country. I would particularly recommend checking out The Astounding Twelve String Guitar of Glen Campbell and The Big Bad Rock Guitar of Glen Campbell to get a dose of Glen’s awesome instrumental prowess.

We are proud to present Glen Campbell as our November Spotlight artist.