My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Bette Midler

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Hello Darlin’

Note: I never owned this album on vinyl so I am working off a CD released on MCA Special Products in 1991, The songs are the same as on the initial vinyl release but the sequence of the songs is different on the CD.

Issued in June 1970, Hello Darlin’ was the ninth solo studio album released by Conway Twitty on Decca. The album was Conway’s first #1 country album and was eventually certified “Gold”. It also reached #65 on Billboard’s all genres chart, the highest that any of Conway’s country albums would reach, although reporting of country albums on the all-genres chart was very suspect and country albums were frequently under-reported by record shop personnel.

The CD opens with the Felice & Boudreaux Bryant classic “Rocky Top”. At the time, “Rocky Top” was a fairly new song that had not been covered to death. The Osborne Brothers had a hit with the song in 1968 and the combination of Doug Dillard, Gene Clark and Donna Washburn had a really nice version of the song on a Dillard & Clark album from that same year. Conway’s version has a banjo on it with what is otherwise an up-tempo Nashville production. Needless to say, Conway sings the song very well although he changes the words very slightly to accommodate his own phrasing.

Next up is “I’ll Get Over Losing You” a song written by Conway, a somewhat generic ballad about lost love. As always Conway sings it well, making for pleasant listening.

Conway also penned “Up Comes The Bottle” a mid-tempo song about the effects of alcohol. It’s a good song, well sung by Conway

Up comes the bottle and down goes the man

I can’t help him but I can understand

When up comes the bottle

And down, down, down, goes the man.

 

You may find him anywhere there’s heartache and despair

With loneliness so heavy you can feel it in the air

And the only thing that matters is the drink in his hand

Then up comes the bottle

And down, down, down, goes the man.

Bill Anderson wrote “You and Your Sweet Love”, which charted for Connie Smith in 1969, While I prefer Connie’s version, it would have made a good Conway Twitty single, one of many such songs stranded as album tracks on the early Conway Twitty albums. I seem to recall that Connie Smith wrote the liner notes for the vinyl album’s back cover.

The self-penned “Hello Darlin’” is the song for which Conway is best remembered, although “It’s Only Make Believe” was a huge pop hit in 1958 and by far his biggest seller. “Hello Darlin’“ reached #1 and stayed there for four weeks. The song is about a man who runs into an old flame, reigniting old feelings in the process. This was the only single released from the album.

 Hello darlin’

Nice to see you

It’s been a long time

You’re just as lovely

As you used to be

 

How’s your new love

Are you happy?

Hope you’re doin’ fine

Just to know means so much to me

 

What’s that darlin’

How am I doin’?

I’m doin’ alright

Except I can’t sleep

I cry all night ’til dawn

 

What I’m tryin’ to say is

I love you and I miss you

And I’m so sorry

That I did you wrong

Conway would revisit the theme with his next single “Fifteen Years Ago”. I saw Conway in concert several times before this song was released and several times after. From 1971 onward, this was his opening number and “It’s Only Make Believe” his closing number, perfect bookends for a great show.

“Rose” (not to be mistaken for the maudlin Amanda McBroom composition “The Rose” that Bette Midler would record later and Conway would cover) was written by L.E. White, a staff writer for Conway’s publishing company. This song is a ballad about a brother whose sister has strayed off-track in life.

“Reuben James” was a top thirty pop hit for Kenny Rogers and The First Edition (it went top ten in Canada, New Zealand and Australia) that was covered by a large number of American country artists. This is a nice mid-tempo track.

Bill Anderson also wrote “I Never Once Stopped Loving You”, which reached #5 for Connie Smith in 1970, Again, I prefer Connie’s version, but Conway does a nice job with this ballad

It is difficult to find a country album of the late 1960s-early 1970s that does not contain a Dallas Frazier composition. This album features “Will You Visit Me On Sundays” which was a top twenty single for Charlie Louvin in 1968, and the title track of a 1970 George Jones album. I can’t say that Conway’s version is better than Charlie Louvin or George Jones (the lyric seems perfect for Charlie’s weathered voice) but this would have made a good Conway Twitty single.

 Just outside these prison bars

The hanging tree is waitin’

At sunrise I’ll meet darkness

And death will say hello

Darling, touch your lips to mine

And tell me you love me

Promise me again before you go

 

Will you visit me on Sundays?

Will you bring me pretty flowers?

Will your big blue eyes be misty?

Will you brush away a tear?

Fred Rose write the classic “Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain”, a song that both Hank Williams and Rof Acuff had recorded. Since Willie Nelson had yet to record this song (Willie’s version would be released in 1975), this was not a cover of somebody else’s hit single, but simply case of Conway going “deep catalog” in finding a song that he liked. Conway’s version is not the sparse recording that Willie released but a normal Owen Bradley production applied to a classic Fred Rose composition from the 1940s.

The album closes with “I’m So Used To Loving You”, the fourth of Conway’s own compositions on the album. This is a good song that somebody somewhere should have released as a single.

I’m so used to loving you sweetheart

You’re on my mind each minute we’re apart

And I love you more each day that we go through

You’re my life and I’ll live it loving you

 

I’m so used to loving you it seems

I can’t stand the thought of losing you not even in my dream

Hold me close and tell me what I’d do without you

I couldn’t take it, I’m so used to loving you

Conway Twitty was a good and prolific songwriter who would use his own compositions on his albums, but, unlike some singer-songwriters, only if they were good songs. Through this album, the highest number of Conway Twitty and/or Mickey Jaco compositions on an album was four. There would be one future album in which he wrote eight of the ten songs (there must be a story behind this since it is a complete outlier) and several on which he wrote one or none of the songs

None of the Conway Twitty compositions that I’ve ever heard were duds, and many of them fell in the very good-to-great category

This album is a solid A with solid country production throughout

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Album Review: Kathy Matttea – ‘Time Passes By’

As the 1990s began, Kathy Mattea was the reigning CMA Female Vocalist of the Year and for her first album of the decade, she made a subtle shift away from mainstream country, releasing a collection that leaned slightly more towards the folkabilly-style music that Nanci Griffith had done a few years earlier. Time Passes By, Mattea’s sixth release also bears the stamp of Scottish songwriter Dougie MacLean, who contributed one of his own compositions and also shared production duties with Mattea and her husband Jon Vezner on a cover version of “From a Distance”, a Julie Gold-penned son that had recently been popularized by Bette Midler. There is a distinct Celtic feel to many of the tracks, foreshadowing a more pronounced move in that direction that Kathy would make a few years later.

Mattea deserves credit for taking some creative risks, even though Time Passes By is somewhat of a hit or miss affair. Not surprisingly, it was not as well received at radio as the three albums that preceded it, and though it still sold enough units to earn gold certification, it marks the beginning of the end of Kathy’s reign at the top of the singles charts. The title track, which is the most mainstream song in the collection, was the album’s biggest hit, charting at #7. Written by Jon Vezner and Susan Longacre, it is somewhat reminiscent of Kathy’s recent hit “Come From The Heart”, but the live-for-the-moment message is less effective this time around. It was the only single from the album to reach the Top 10. Kathy would only reach the Top 10 one more time in her career, three years later.

Following the positive tone of “Time Passes By”, the second single “Whole Lotta Holes” does a complete 180 and is a distinct downer. It barely scraped into the Top 20, peaking at #18. The next single, the Hugh Prestwood tune “Asking Us To Dance” is a lovely ballad that deserved to rise higher than #27.

There are a handful of standout tracks in this collection, as well as a few duds. Among the gems are “What Could Have Been”, written by Beth Nielsen Chapman and featuring harmony vocals by Emmylou Harris, and “Summer of My Dreams” which is my favorite song from this set. Dougie MacLean’s “Ready For The Storm” is also quite good. Not so good are “Quarter Moon”, on which Mattea sounds screechy as she attempts to hit some high notes that are just out of reach, and “Harley”, an offbeat number about a biker couple that whose child becomes lost when the sidecar he is riding in becomes detached and rolls away, unnoticed by his parents. The child is subsequently found unharmed in a field by a farmer and his wife who raise him as their own. It’s meant to be a light-hearted tongue-in-cheek number but it doesn’t quite work for me. Mattea’s version of “From A Distance”, which closes out the set, is a slight disappointment. It is beautifully sung, and the sparse, acoustic arrangement starts off well. I even like the bagpipes that chime in about two minutes into the song, but clocking in at five minutes, the song is dragged out too long, and it would have been a lot better without the chorus chanting “God is watching us” repeatedly as the track fades out.

Although Time Passes By is not Kathy’s very best work, it is a decent effort. It doesn’t contain any of her biggest hits, so casual fans may be inclined to give it a miss, but those who do give it a listen are bound to find a few tracks that they really like.

Grade: B

Album Review: Nanci Griffith – ‘Lone Star State of Mind’

Nanci Griffith made her major label debut as part of a marketing campaign that MCA Records labeled “country and eastern”, a moniker which also included Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle and the Desert Rose Band. All were on the fringes of the mainstream and hoped to find acceptance at country radio. None of them enjoyed any long-term success, however, and the genre is poorer off as a result. Griffith barely made a dent in the country charts as a recording artist, but she released a handful of very well crafted albums during her tenure with MCA, the first of which was 1987’s Lone Star State of Mind, which she co-produced with Tony Brown.

Up to this point Griffith had released several successful country-flavored folk albums which were released on the independent Philo label. To the extent that she was known to mainstream audiences it was for having written “Love at the Five and Dime”, which had been a Top Five hit for Kathy Mattea in 1986. Lone Star State of Mind consisted of six songs that she wrote or co-wrote, and five other songs penned by outside writers. A conscious effort was made to appeal to country fans by incorporating a generous amount of fiddle and pedal steel into the mix. Though it sold only modestly, the album was Griffith’s most successful during her tenure in Nashville.

The title track, written by Fred Koller, Pat Alger and Gene Levine was the album’s first single. Upbeat and featuring an energetic vocal performance, it rose to #36, becoming Nanci’s highest charting single on the Billboard country chart. It was followed by one of Nanci’s own compositions, “Trouble In The Fields”, which was co-written by Rick West. It tells the story of a farmer and his wife, on the brink of financial ruin due to a drought, and draws comparsions to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. But despite the hardships they face, the couple is determined to soldier on and save their farm from foreclosure:

All this trouble in our fields,
If this rain can fall, these wounds can heal,
They’ll never take our native soil.
And if we sell that new John Deere,
And we work these crops with sweat and tears,
You be the mule, I’ll be the plow,
Come harvest time we’ll work it out,
There’s still a lot of love, here in these troubled fields.

This is a beautiful song, my favorite of anything Nanci has ever done, but sadly it only reached #57. Irish singer Maura O’Connell later covered the song, bringing it to the attention of international audiences. The album’s third and final single, “Cold Hearts/Closed Minds”, another Griffith composition, is more folk than country. It too was more or less ignored by radio and topped out at #64.

Surprisingly, the song for which Nanci is best known was not released as single in the US. She was the first artist to record Julie Gold’s “From A Distance”, which four years later would become a major pop hit for Bette Midler. Nanci’s version is virtually unknown to American audiences, but it became a huge hit in Ireland where it topped the charts and established Nanci as a major star in that country.

“Ford Econoline”, another one of my favorites, is a light-hearted number about a controlling husband who makes the mistake of buying his wife a car, which she promptly uses to escape his clutches and start a singing career. The more contemplative “Nickel Dreams”, written by Mac McAnally and Don Lowery, had been recorded by Reba McEntire a few years earlier. Tanya Tucker would borrow the title for autobiography a few years later, despite never having recorded the song.

The album closes on a very personal and introspective note. “There’s A Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret)” is a re-recording of the title track of Griffith’s 1978 debut album. She uses the occasion to address a childhood friend and to reminisce about key events of their lives, including meeting Nanci’s boyfriend John, and his subsequent death in a motorcycle accident shortly after their senior prom.

Nanci’s sometimes quirky vocal style may not be to everyone’s taste, and this may have been a factor in hampering her commercial success. She did, however, write and record many literate and substantive songs, some of which went on to become hits for other artists. Lone Star State of Mind reached #23, making it Nanci’s highest charting album on the Billboard Country Albums chart. Regrettably, commercial success continued to elude her and she eventually moved in a more pop direction and had her contract transferred to MCA’s L.A. division. Shortly thereafter she departed the label altogether and began to revisit her folk roots on Elektra Records.

Lone Star State of Mind
is easy to find on CD and in digital form. New copies tend to be expensive, but used copies are quite inexpensive.

Grade: A

Who I am is who I wanna be

To finish up our Reba coverage this month, we wanted to talk about what she’s been up to for the past decade, since she’s only released 3 studio albums in that time – and I don’t count any of them among essential listening.  You should check out her take on the Kenny Rogers-penned ‘Sweet Music Man’ from her Greatest Hits 3 disc though.

In 2001, Reba took to New York to play Annie Oakley in Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, earning rave reviews and several theater awards.  Later that Fall, the ‘Reba’ television show premiered on the WB Network, and spent 6 years as the network’s highest-rated sit-com.  I asked my buddy Michael Allan to write about the show for us, and here’s what he had to say about it:

– J.R. Journey

reba show 1In the fall of 2001, traditional three-camera sitcoms with laugh tracks and live studio audiences were still big business. Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, Will & Grace and Frasier were all regular visitors to the Nielsen Ratings’ Top 20. So Reba McEntire and her family packed up their bags and moved to Hollywood to get a piece of the pie and conquer television. The result provided the WB network with it first (and only) sitcom hit since its launch in 1995:

Reba served as co-executive producer and starred as Reba Hart, a real estate agent and divorced mother of three in Houston. She was the (often sarcastic) voice of reason in the chaos that was her family life. Christopher Rich (of Murphy Brown fame) played her dim witted and vain ex-husband, dentist Brock Hart and Joanna Garcia (Privileged) was their oldest daughter, Cheyenne – a ditzy, shallow teenager who discovered she was pregnant by her boyfriend, high school football star Van Montgomery (Steve Howey) in the pilot episode. Van was far from bright but he had a good heart and proved to be an excellent father. The two married and ultimately had a daughter named Elizabeth. A storyline in later seasons focused on Cheyenne dealing with alcoholism. Garcia and Howey would later appear together in the music video for “Every Other Weekend”, Reba’s duet with Kenny Chesney and/or Skip Ewing.

Reba’s middle child Kyra was played by Scarlett Pomers. Kyra inherited her mother’s red locks and biting sarcasm. She was also musically inclined, unlike her mother. A running joke on the show was Reba Hart’s poor singing skills. I’m not sure, but I think Reba did perform on the show once or twice. Remind me in the comments section if you can remember. Over the course of the show’s run Pomers dealt with an eating disorder and had to miss most of Season 5. It was addressed light heartedly when she returned at the beginning of Season 6. Reba asked Kyra, “Where have you been?” to which she responded, “I went to get something to eat.” At another point in the same episode Van asked Kyra, “Where are you going?” and she answered, “I’m going to grab something to eat.” Van replied, “Ok. See you next year!” Pomers later became an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association.

The role of Reba’s youngest son Jake was filled by Mitch Holleman.

The breakout star of the show, however, was Melissa Peterman as Brock’s much younger hygienist and eventual second wife, Barbara Jean. Barbara Jean also finds out that she is pregnant in the series’ first episode. However, her and Brock’s son Henry and Reba’s granddaughter were rarely used in storylines and as such were seldom seen on the show. Barbara Jean was loud, boisterous, over the top and, in my opinion, her relationship with frenemy Reba provided the show with its strongest laughs. Her character would later work as a weather girl. After the show’s cancellation Peterman went on to open some of Reba’s concerts with her comedy routine and she can currently be seen as the host of CMT’s The Singing Bee.

Park Overall (Empty Nest) also played in a handful of Season 1 episodes as Reba’s best friend Lori Ann. Other notable guest stars over the years included Dolly Parton, Patrick Duffy, Kelly Clarkson, JoMarie Payton-Noble, Richard Kind, Wendy Malick, Bryan Callen, Leslie Jordan and James Denton.

The show premiered on October 5, 2001, a few weeks before the release of Reba’s third Greatest Hits collection, I’m a Survivor, the title track of which served as the sitcom’s theme song. While the reviews weren’t as harsh as they had been for other artists that had tried their hand at a weekly television series (cough cough Bette Midler, Dolly Parton), it was never a critical darling. However, due to its family friendly themes and placement on the Friday night schedule, it became the WB’s top rated sitcom. The show usually averaged 3.5 – 4.5 million viewers and fared particularly well with the Women Age 18-49 demographic. Repeats also held up strongly in the ratings. However, due to the considerably lower availability of the WB network, Reba usually ranked in the 100s and I have to question its potential (or lack thereof) on a major network like CBS or NBC.

And while Reba isn’t Lucille Ball by any stretch of the imagination, she certainly held her own in the strong ensemble cast. She won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Female Performer in a New Television Series in 2002 and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy in 2004. Reba (the show itself, not the woman) was also nominated for two cinematography Emmys in 2005 and 2006.

reba show 2

In 2006 the WB and UPN merged to form a new network, the CW, and Reba was cancelled after five seasons. However, to avoid a fine in the syndication contract, the show was suddenly renewed for a 13-episode sixth season. Even though it was the CW’s #1 sitcom, Reba didn’t exactly align with their vision for a younger, more hip image and the final episode aired on February 18, 2007. All six seasons of Reba are available on DVD and reruns air from 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM and 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM on the Lifetime television network as well as on Ion.

With 125 episodes produced, it’s hard not to see Reba as a success. However, during its run Reba only released one studio album (2003’s Room to Breathe). So while it may have increased her profile, I think it detracted from her music career. In fact, the summer of 2002 was the first one in which she didn’t tour in 25 years. Today the show provides a great way to wind down after a busy day. It doesn’t require a lot of thought or knowledge of a plot heavy background to catch a viewing and you’re guaranteed at least a few laughs.