My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Billy Dean

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley — ‘Yours Truly’

Richard Landis, who was best known at the time for his work with Lorrie Morgan, produced Earl Thomas Conley’s eighth studio album, Yours Truly, released in June 1991. It was Conley’s final album for RCA, his final to chart (it peaked at #53), and his first not to produce a #1 hit since he joined the label ten years earlier.

The album was preceded by “Shadow of a Doubt,” an excellent and engaging uptempo rocker co-written by actor and singer Tom Wopat. It peaked at #8 yet deserved to go much higher.

The second single “Brotherly Love” was a duet he had recorded with Keith Whitley back in 1987 for the intended follow-up album to L.A. To Miami Whitley had recorded with his producer at the time, Blake Mevis. He convinced RCA to shelve the project, leaving the recordings unreleased.

In 1991, the vocals Whitley and Conley had recorded for “Brotherly Love” were rescued and given a new arraignment by Whitley’s next producer, Garth Fundis. The track served as the lead single for his first official posthumous release, Kentucky Bluebird. It peaked at #2 and was nominated for the CMA Vocal Event of the Year award in 1992, where it lost to “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For A Long, Long Time)” by Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt.

In a recently unearthed interview Whitley gave to Ralph Emory in 1987, before the album with Mevis was shelved, in fact it was even due for a September release when they spoke, Whitley said it was Joe Galante’s (The head of RCA) idea he record a duet with a male artist on the label. Galante suggested Conley. The excellent ballad, about “a bond that brother’s know” had originally been recorded by Moe Bandy in 1989 and Billy Dean in 1990. Whitley and Conley’s version was the first and only time the song had been recorded as a duet.

Conley’s commercial fortunes would greatly diminish after “Brotherly Love.” His next two singles would be his last to chart, although neither would peak very high. “Hard Days and Honky Tonk Nights,” which he co-wrote with Randy Scruggs, was a rather strong song, buried in production that was dosed in fiddle, yet just too loud. “If Only Your Eyes Could Lie” was a wonderful steel-drenched ballad in his classic style, updated for modern times. The single peaked at 36 and 74 respectively.

The ballad “You Got Me Now” opens the album as a bridge between his classic sonic textures and the updated sound Landis brought to the record. The song is unspectacular but good. “One of Those Days” is also solid, but it lacks a layer of emotion from Conley. The dobro-infused “Keep My Heart On The Line” is an infectious mid-tempo number that wouldn’t have been out of place in Whitley’s hands at all.

The cleverly titled “You’re The Perfect Picture (To Fit My Frame of Mind)” is easily the most traditional I’ve ever heard Conley, and the results are spectacular. This uptempo honky-tonker just might be the best moment he ever committed to record. “Borrowed Money” sounds like something John Anderson might have recorded at the time, and while the two artists are hardly alike, Conley does exceptionally well with this song. “I Want To Be Loved Back” is good, but the distracting, cheesy, and unnecessary backing vocalists are incredibly jarring.

Yours Truly is an excellent album, which to my ears, has aged remarkably well. I love seeing artists with a somewhat updated sound and Conley shines here. “Brotherly Love” is the standout track and well deserved big hit. Go to YouTube and stream everything else. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A

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Classic Rewind: Kenny Rogers ft Alison Krauss and Billy Dean – ‘Buy Me A Rose’

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘She Rides Wild Horses’

When She Rides Wild Horses was released in 1999, his first release on Dreamcatcher, it had been a decade since Kenny had a top ten country album or a top ten country song, and fifteen years since a Kenny Rogers song had hit the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, so it is hard to believe that expectations were that high for this album, especially since Kenny had turned 61 years old, an antique as far as the increasingly youth oriented music world was concerned.

Dreamcatcher was Kenny’s own label and perhaps his proprietary interest in the label sparked renewed life in his recording career. While not a great album, the album did feature some very interesting songs that led to a mild resurgence in Kenny’s career, reaching #6 on the Country albums chart, and selling platinum, the last Kenny Rogers album to do so (and the first one in fifteen years).

The album opens with “Slow Dance More”, a nice mid-tempo homily to the virtues of appreciating one’s family. The song was the second single released from the album, reaching #67 on the country chart. This is the most country sounding song on the album with Russ Pahl on steel guitar, Jonathan Yudkin on fiddle and Richard Bailey on banjo (the only appearance for any of them on these instruments – Bruce Bouton would do the rest of the steel guitar on the album.

Grady Johnson was a common man
Four children and some bottom land
Early to bed, he said, “well that ain’t me
I gotta spend some time with my family
Left to its own device, May becomes June
But children grow up way too soon

[Chorus]
So love your neighbor as yourself
Don’t use money to measure wealth
Trust in God but lock your door
Buy low, sell high and slow dance more”

This is followed by “Buy Me A Rose”, the third single and a surprise #1 country hit that also cracked the top forty on the Hot 100 chart. This was Kenny’s first #1 on any chart since 1987. “Buy Me a Rose” is a ballad, the story of a husband who attempts to please his wife with material objects, such as a “three-car garage and her own credit cards“, before realizing that it is the little things and gestures that truly matter.

The song features Billy Dean and Alison Krauss singing background.

He works hard to give her all he thinks she wants
A three car garage, her own credit cards
He pulls in late to wake her up with a kiss good night
If he could only read her mind, she’d say:

“Buy me a rose, call me from work
Open a door for me, what would it hurt
Show me you love me by the look in your eyes
These are the little things I need the most in my life”

Now the days have grown to years of feeling all alone
And she can’t help but wonder what she’s doing wrong
Cause lately she’d try anything to turn his head
Would it make a difference if she said:

“Buy me a rose, call me from work
Open a door for me, what would it hurt
Show me you love me by the look in your eyes
These are the little things I need the most in my life”

Next up is “I Will Remember You” written by Irish balladeer and musician Seamus Egan. This song is a very slow ballad that Kenny sings well.

Eric Kaz and Linda Thompson-Jenner penned “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”, a slow ballad of breakup and heartache.

The title track “She Rides Wild Horses” written by Bob Corbin and Ted Hewitt, was not released as a single. Although laden with keyboards and strings, I think that the song would have made a good single if pushed toward Adult Contemporary market.

It’s just her and the band and the clean up man
She’s countin’ up her tips, she did alright
She says goodnight
She drives home to a three room flat
Checks her machine and she feeds the cat
She’s almost asleep
Before she turns out the light

In her dreams, she rides wild horses
And they carry her away on the wind
And they never make a sound
As they fly above the ground
Tonight she rides wild horses again

“The Kind of Fool That Love Makes” was written by Brenda Lee (yes, that Brenda Lee), Michael McDonald and Dave Powelson

Anyone can read the signs
Or the writing on the wall
It’s all right there to see
Except someone like me
Who can’t see the truth at all.

It takes a special kind of fool
To stand out in the rain
Somewhere in between
Nothing left to lose
And nothing to be gained.

What kind of fool does it take?
To go on loving alone
Like there’s some answer in the ruins
Some silver lining to be found.

An even bigger fool might think
You would care if my arm breaks
Before the time that I admit
I’m just the kind of fool love makes.

Tom Jans’ “Loving Arms” was already an oldie, having been recorded many times since released by Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge in 1973. Dobie Gray had the biggest pop hit with the song in 1974 and Elvis hit the county top ten with his posthumous 1981 release. Kenny’s version is okay, but the slow tempo is too similar to the rest of the album.

If you could see me now
The one who said that he’d rather roam
The one who said he’d rather be alone
If you could only see me now

If I could hold you now
Just for a moment if I could really make you mine
Just for a while turn back the hands of time
If I could only hold you now

I’ve been too long in the wind, too long in the rain
Taking any comfort that I can
Looking back and longing for the freedom of my chains
And lying in your loving arms again

“I Can’t Make You Love Me,” was co-written by Allen Shamblin and Mike Reid and was a hit for Bonnie Raitt in 1981. The song is yet another slow ballad and is given a bland cocktail lounge arrangement that strips the song of any character.

Kenny recorded “Let It Be Me” with Dottie West for their album Classics. Tammy Fry sings the female harmony on this stringy ballad. This version does not compare well with his earlier rendition, and it is just another slow ballad.

The album closes with the fabulous Don Schlitz composition “The Greatest”. Although the song only reached #26 on the country singles chart, I suspect that the song reverberated with many male listeners and led them to seek out the album when it was released. I know that many times I was that little boy in the song, and I purchased the CD on the strength of this song alone without really caring about what was on the rest of the album.

Little boy, in a baseball hat
Stands in the field with his ball and bat
Says “I am the greatest player of them all”
Puts his bat on his shoulder and he tosses up his ball

And the ball goes up and the ball comes down
Swings his bat all the way around
The world’s so still you can hear the sound
The baseball falls to the ground

Now the little boy doesn’t say a word
Picks up his ball, he is undeterred
Says “I am the greatest there has ever been”
And he grits his teeth and he tries it again

And the ball goes up and the ball comes down
Swings his bat all the way around
The world’s so still you can hear the sound
The baseball falls to the ground

He makes no excuses, he shows no fears
He just closes his eyes and listens to the cheers

After a series of mediocre disappointing recordings, It was nice to see Kenny release a decent album. This isn’t a great album, and it isn’t very country, but it is good. Kenny is in good voice throughout, and several of the songs, especially the three released singles and the title track are outstanding. The album could stand some more variation in tempos, but as is, the album is worth a B

Classic Rewind: Jamey Ryan – ‘My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You’

Jamey was the second wife of Charlie Dick, widower of Patsy Cline, and had a short country career herself. In later life she spent some time managing Billy Dean.

Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Her Story: Scenes From A Lifetime’

MI0000488716Wynonna released her only solo live album to date, Her Story: Scenes From a Lifetime, in September 2005. The project was recorded live at the Grand Ole Opry House that winter. The concert traced her musical journey as one half of The Judds to her solo career and beyond.

It’s easy to view Her Story: Scenes From A Lifetime as just another live album, with little stylistic reinterpretation and little new to offer the longtime listener. But to cast it aside is to miss Wynonna at her most confident and self-assured, digging into her vocal prowess like never before. The double album is a rich tapestry perfectly encapsulating her personality through song and story.

Wynonna opened with a gorgeous rendition of “Dream Chaser,” a brilliant album cut that should’ve been a Judds single. She uses her refined grit to full effect on the plucky “Girls Night Out” and adds some bluesy charm to “Love Is Alive.” Wynonna reflects on the Mayberry-esque nature of Judds music before “Young Love” and Carl Perkins’ electric contributions to “Let Me Tell You About Love.”

For her solo music, Wynonna thanked the crowd for helping “She Is His Only Need” hit #1. She remarked on the acts (Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Billy Dean, etc) that were opening for her as “Tell Me Why” was climbing the charts. A quick story about changing diapers on the tour bus proved a poignant into to “To Be Loved By You.” There wasn’t a story, but she did elevate “No One Else on Earth” to full-fledged arena rock.

My favorite of her solo-revisions is “That Was Yesterday,” a song I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t heard before. Wynonna told the audience of a fan who finally had the courage to leave her abusive husband and as an explanation left that song playing as a loop in the CD player. It’s my favorite vocal on the whole album, a reminder of why Wynonna is one of the greatest singers country music has ever produced. Her control is spellbinding.

Wynonna took liberties with the remainder of the set list. She performed many choice album cuts and a few cover songs. A few of the tunes, “Sometimes I Feel Like Elvis,” “Burnin’ Love” and “I Want to Know What Love Is” came from her What The World Needs Now Is Love album. She reprised “Don’t You Through That Mojo On Me” from The Other Side along with a quick anecdote about Ray Benson’s role in introducing her to the blues (along with giving her, her stage name).

The covers were, not surprisingly, excellent. Wynonna’s tone lends perfectly to Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m The Only One” and Tina Turner’s “The Best.” Just as good is “Help Me,” the Joni Mitchell classic she originally recorded on New Day Dawning.

It wouldn’t be a Wynonna album without a spiritual bent. She becomes her most personal, talking about the father she never met, when introducing “I Can Only Imagine.” I used this recording in college for a presentation on spirituality. She also included “When I Reach The Place I’m Going” (From Wynonna) and “Peace In This House.”

After listening to Her Story, you feel like you know Wynonna just a little bit more. The conversational style she brought to this album brilliantly sets it apart from those cash-grabbing live projects most singers release throughout their careers. This is a full concert and is treated as such. What that in mind it does become cumbersome to listen to the tracks individually and hear the talking before the music. But that’s a small price to pay for the magical night she’s committed to tape. This is the shining example of Wynonna the singer, warts and all.

Grade: A

Single Review: Vince Gill – ‘Take Me Down’

gill-pub_hires_2_lg_wide-9ee349425fd113510d77574f8280a73deb9f1543-s900-c85Vince Gill has reached the stage in his career when he can record pretty much what he wants with no particular need to pander to commercial considerations.  Sometimes  that’s a good thing for an artist, at others it may lead to self-indulgence.

While I wouldn’t call this new single self-indulgent, it does represent a side of Vince’s artistry which isn’t my favourite. A mellow mid tempo ballad, it is beautifully sung with Vince’s vocals at their warmest and sweetest. The lyric is both romantic and sexy, lauding an existing relationship which has lost none of its fire. The production is understated and allows the voice to shine. The downside for me is that the admittedly pretty melody and arrangement are country at its most sophisticated, AC leaning.

Vince co-wrote the song with Nashville based former pop star Richard Marx, with whom he has worked before, and with Jillian Jacqueline, an aspiring artist Marx is producing. You may possibly remember her as a child back in 2001, billed just as Jillian, when she contributed to a low-charting single by Billy Dean and Suzy Bogguss called ‘Keep Mom And Dad In Love’.

It’s pleasant enough to listen to, and if not viewed through my traditional-leaning country fan ears would be a very fine offering. But it doesn’t really appeal to me viscerally. Little Big Town add harmonies, but if anything they flatten out the emotional impact for me.

This is hard to review, because objectively it is extremely well done and there is no substantive criticism I can make. If it falls short for me, that feels more like a failure on my part to appreciate it.

Grade: A-/B depending on whether it’s judged as a country song.

Classic Rewind: Suzy Bogguss and Billy Dean – ‘Something Up My Sleeve’

Album Review: Collin Raye – ‘Still On the Line: The Songs Of Glen Campbell’

still-on-the-line

Collin Raye has been a fan of Glen Campbell since he was a child, and is now proud to call himself a friend. This tribute album is conceived to acknowledge both their friendship and Campbell’s influence on Raye, with Raye saying last year that he wanted to make it while his mentor, sow suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, is still able to appreciate it. The tracklist encompasses Campbell’s biggest hits, and Raye treats them respectfully. The production is tasteful and very much in the vein of the originals, while Raye’s voice is as good as it was in his own heyday and well-suited to the songs, particularly the ballads.

http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-615/1557460/collin-raye-to-release-glen-campbell-tribute-album-new-book

‘Wichita Lineman’ allows Raye’s voice to soar and is quite good with an emotionally invested vocal and heavily strung arrangement similar to the original. You can download this track free from Collin’s website http://www.collinraye.com ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ is also beautifully sung.

I enjoyed Raye’s take on ‘The Hand That Rocks The Cradle’, the tribute to mothers which Campbell recorded with Steve Wariner towards the end of his hitmaking career. I also enjoyed Raye’s covers of ‘Galveston’ and ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, the latter featuring Billy Dean. ‘Country Boy’ is pretty good, too.

The mid-tempo ‘Gentle On My Mind’ is pleasant but unmemorable, despite a cameo from Ricky Skaggs. Movie theme ‘True Grit’ is rather an odd choice, and while it is prettily sung is also rather dull. ‘Southern Nights’ sounds phoned in and the very pop arrangement has dated badly, making this the only track I actively disliked.

‘Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife’ is okay and quite suits Raye although it is one of the poppier tracks. The sunny ‘Try A Little Kindness’ is delivered with enthusiasm, while the gloomy ‘Where’s The Playground, Susie’ is rather effective.

This is a nicely produced, smoothly sung tribute, with little to dislike about it, and much to like, but it is not groundbreaking in any way. In many ways, that’s the point; this is a loving tribute for a friend and hero.

Grade: B

Album Review: Suzy Bogguss – ‘Something Up My Sleeve’

something up my sleeveSuzy’s fifth album was released in 1993. Produced once more by Suzy with Jimmy Bowen, it is a mellow, classy album rather than an overtly commercial one, with AC leanings musically and mature lyrics. Suzy’s crystalline voice sounds beautiful throughout.

The first two singles were top five hits, and both were co-written by the artist. Suzy and husband Doug Crider wrote the philosophical ‘Just Like The Weather’, which has a pretty melody. She wrote the vicacious ‘Hey Cinderella’ with Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison, a questioning of real life happy-ever-after which is probably the album’s best remembered song

The remaining singles were less well received. ‘You Wouldn’t Say That To A Stranger’ missed the top 50 but is a thoughtful song written by Doug Crider with Pat Bunch about the harsh words that can be exchanged between lovers. It is a very good song, with a lovely melody.

‘Souvenirs’, an early Gretchen Peters song about drifting through the US, is a very singer-songwritery kind of song about the disillusionment of travelling aimlessly through the US and finding you’re not actually Jack Kerouac. It was probably a bit too downbeat and folky to have a wide appeal; not surprisingly it faltered in the 60s.

Similar in feel, ‘Diamonds And Tears’ is another mature, poetic song about learning from experience, this one written by Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison.

Suzy and Doug Crider teamed up with Steve Dorff for the melancholic unrequited love song ‘You Never Will’, which sounds very pretty with a tasteful string arrangement, and is probably my favourite track. Pat Bunch co-wrote the pleasant but slightly dull ‘You’d Be The One’ and the okay ‘No Green Eyes’ with Suzy and her husband.

‘I Keep Comin’ Back To You’ is yet another mellow sounding ballad, written by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Bill Lloyd. The title track was a duet with labelmate Billy Dean, a rather wimpy tenor who was never a big favourite of mine. It sounds pleasant but unexciting.

It was her last gold-selling studio set. Overall, it is very nice sounding although a long way removed from the traditional sounds of her debut, but few of the songs really stand out.

Grade: B

Spotlight Artist: Suzy Bogguss

Suzy BogusAledo, Illinois native Susan Kay “Suzy” Bogguss was born on December 30, 1956. She was performing in a hometown church choir by age five and playing piano, drums, and guitar by the time she was a teenager. In high school Bogguss was active in the theater program and was crowned homecoming queen in her senior year. She would go on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in metalsmithing from Illinois State University.

Bogguss played guitar and drums in Quad City area coffeehouses during her college years and began touring the United States after graduation in support of Suzy, a now rare LP she sold at her shows. She moved to Nashville in 1985 where her work as a demo singer landed her a job as feature female performer at Dollywood. The high profile gig encouraged Bogguss to record a demo cassette of her own that she sold at the theme park. The cassette caught the attention of famed record exec Jim Foglesong, who quickly signed Bogguss to a recording contract with Capitol Nashville.

Three singles were released in the late 80s, although none managed to make a mark on the charts. Somewhere Between, Bogguss’ first album for the label, came in the winter of 1989 and included the top 20 single “Cross My Heart” as well as a cover of Patsy Montana’s anthem, “I Wanna Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart.”

Now under the direction of Jimmy Bowen, a more refined sound followed. Her second album yielded no hits, but a guest appearance on labelmate Lee Greenwood’s album resulted in a top fifteen duet. By her third release she was finally making major headway. Aces, released in 1991, had four hit singles including the mesmerizing tile track and career hits “Someday Soon,” “Outbound Plane,” and “Letting Go.”

At the 1992 CMA Awards Bogguss was given the Horizon Award, an honor she no doubt richly deserved. At the time it was viewed as a shocking upset because she was nominated against Trisha Yearwood, whom the industry deemed the frontrunner and only winner. It got so bad that Yearwood went into the ceremony thinking there was no way she could lose. Then Naomi Judd called Bogguss as the winner and that was that (She and Yearwood were nominated against Brooks & Dunn, Pam Tillis, and Billy Dean).

Two more highly successful albums followed. Voices in the Wind brought Bogguss her highest charting single with the #2 “Drive South.” Something Up My Sleeve brought her two more big hits with “Just Like The Weather” and her signature tune “Hey Cinderella,” which began a friendship with her co-writer Matraca Berg that continues to this day.

Bogguss changed directions in 1994 opting to release a subtle album of duets with Chet Atkins entitled Simpatico. None of the singles charted nor did the record become the commercial success all involved were hoping for. This could’ve been due to a management shift at Capitol or the lingering effects of an ongoing feud with her labelmate Garth Brooks (between him and the label). I’ve also heard that Capitol was accused of spending too much of their promotional muscle on Brooks, thus leaving their ‘quieter’ artists (i.e. not global superstars) in the dust.

In the wake of her declining commercial fortunes, Bogguss retreated from the spotlight in 1995 to begin a family with husband (and songwriter) Doug Crider. Her next release Give Me Some Wheels came during a changing landscape for females in country music and proved her undoing. Her next album, Nobody Love, Nobody Gets Hurt would be her last for Capitol. An eponymous album was released on Platinum Records in 1999, but it didn’t fare any better.

For the better part of the last decade, Bogguss has been recording passion projects. A dream about Asleep At The Wheel vocalist Ray Benson producing a western swing/Jazz album led to their collaborative effort Swing. The more contemporary Jazz infused Sweet Danger followed shortly thereafter. The latter included “In Heaven,” one of the best singles of her career and a stunning return to form. Her latest project, American Folk Songbook was born out of inspiration Bogguss gleamed while on tour with Garrison Keillor. It’s her way of exposing new generations to that catalog of music, including such classics as “Shenandoah,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Red River Valley,” and “Ol Dan Tucker.” The album was met with glowing reviews upon release in 2011.

While she doesn’t have any new music on the horizon, Bogguss continues to keep a heavy touring schedule, opting for small intimate venues and even performing at some restaurants off the beaten path. She’s been one of my favorite vocalists since I was a kid and I’m over the moon to join my colleagues in spotlighting her music for the next month.

Classic Rewind – Sawyer Brown, Tammy Wynette, Patty Loveless, Billy Dean, and Hank Williams, Jr sing the songs of their heroes

A must hear medley from Hot Country Nights in 1991:

Album Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘No Holdin’ Back’

In 1989, Randy Travis was at the peak of his career. But his superstardom had led to a tidal wave of competitors as rival record labels rushed to sign young traditional country singers. Randy’s fourth album, released in September 1989, was another big seller for him, but his star was beginning to wane just a little.

The lead single was something of a departure for Randy – a non-country cover. ‘It’s Just A Matter Of Time’ had originally been an R & B hit for Brook Benton in 1959, although a country cover by Sonny James had been a country hit in 1970, and more recently, Randy was probably aware of Glen Campbell’s cover which had been a top 10 country hit as recently as 1986. Randy’s version was actually recorded for Rock, Rhythm and Blues, a multi-artist, cross-genre compilation of 50s covers, on which Randy was the sole country representative. I have a vague recollection this was released in aid of HIV research, but I can’t find any confirmation of this. Produced by celebrated rock/pop producer, Richard Perry, it features synthesiser and strings, plus booming doo-wop style backing vocals courtesy of Perry himself, and is one of my personal least favorite Randy Travis records despite a fine performance which allows Randy to explore the lower reaches of his vocal range. However, it saw him back at the top of the charts after the failure of ‘Promises’.

Apparently Perry suggested Randy should cover another 50s song with both pop and country heritage, ‘Singing The Blues’. It is pleasant and quite enjoyable but forgettable apart from the bass backing vocals similar to those on ‘It’s Just A Matter Of Time’.

Much better was Randy’s next #1 hit, Hugh Prestwood’s melodic ‘Hard Rock Bottom Of Your Heart’ . This finds the artist in more familiar territory, playing the part of a penitent cheater:

I keep waiting for you to forgive me
And you keep saying you can’t even start
And I feel like a stone you have picked up and thrown
To the hard rock bottom of your heart

The third and last single, ‘He Walked On Water’, peaked at #2. It is a tender tribute to a great-grandfather and childhood hero, written by Allen Shamblin with great attention to detail, and is a highlight.

Opening track ‘Mining For Coal’ is a rather good and beautifully sung ballad about unexpectedly finding love (like finding diamonds when looking for coal), written by Ronnie Samoset and Matraca Berg (who also sings harmony). Also good is the pretty but subdued ‘Somewhere In My Broken Heart’ (later a hit for its co-writer, Billy Dean).

My favorite track, however, is ‘When Your World Was Turning For Me’, written by the great Dallas Frazier and A L “Doodle Owens. It has a beautiful melody and wistful lyric about a man’s regrets for a failed relationship, whose lyrics seem to nod back to Randy’s blockbuster 1987 album:

I know that it’s over
I know that you’re leaving
I know that you’ve prayed to be free…

What happened to “always and forever I’ll love you”
And the future that was so plain to see?

Mark O’Connor’s plaintive fiddle adds to the poignant mood.

The vivacious ‘Card Carrying Fool’ is a fun up-tempo song written by Byron Hill and Tim Bays with vibrant fiddle which had also made an appearance on the soundtrack of Clint Eastwood’s movie Pink Cadillac earlier in 1989. The ironic breakup song ‘Have A Nice Rest Of Your Life’ (written by Verlon Thompson and Mark D Sanders) has a jazzy feel. Randy’s own ‘No Stoppin’ Us Now’ is filler, although his voice sounds good; this track provides the album’s title, which is perhaps a little misleading, because the overall feel is really rather restrained and mature.

Certified double platinum, the album doesn’t include any of Randy’s best remembered songs, but it is a good collection which stands up well which is worth adding to your collection. The overall feel is mellow and low-key, with Kyle Lehning’s light touch on production complementing Randy’s vocals. The resolute unflashiness has helped it stand the test of time, and I think I like it better now than I did when it first came out.

Cheap copies are easy to find.

Grade: A-

Single Review: Josh Turner – ‘I Wouldn’t Be A Man’

Josh Turner has had a spotty track record with country radio over the past eight years. During that time frame, he’s released eleven singles, most of which have peaked inside the Top 20, but only five of those made it to the Top 10. The five that made the Top 10 all peaked at either #1 or #2. He seems to have found his commercial niche with his latest release Haywire, a decent but somewhat uneven album which has spawned two #1 singles so far. Turner and his label are hoping that they can make it to the top of the charts three times in a row, with the release of his newest single “I Wouldn’t Be A Man.”

Originally a Top 10 hit for Don Williams in 1987, “I Wouldn’t Be A Man” is less traditional than most of Wiliams’ hits and it is one of his less remembered songs today. It was revived in 1996 by Billy Dean; his version stalled at #45 on the charts, and deservedly so. Turner’s version is more faithful to Williams’ original than Dean’s cover. Dean’s producers went for a completely contemporary — for the time — arrangement; Josh’s version prominently features the pedal steel guitar throughout, which helps keep the R&B-flavored tune rooted in country music.

The tune was written by Mike Reid and Rory Michael Bourke, and the record was produced by Frank Rogers. The sultry lyrics work well with Turner’s bass, which gives the record a sexy feel that should appeal to female listeners:

There’s a slow moon risin’
It’s shining on your skin.
The way your body moves me,
I know there’s no holding back:
No holding back

I wouldn’t be a man if I didn’t feel like this.
I wouldn’t be a man if a woman like you,
Was anything I could resist.
I’d have to be from another planet,
Where love doesn’t exist.
I wouldn’t be a man if I didn’t feel like this.

Turner’s rendition doesn’t quite pack the same punch as Williams’ version, but expecting him to do so would be setting the bar unreasonably high. Many of today’s fans are likely unfamiliar with the original, which should help Turner avoid any unfavorable comparisons.

The past few years have provided a tough environment for traditionalists like Turner, who have struggled to be relevant at radio while still staying true to their country roots. Josh’s inconsistent performance on the airplay charts reflects this struggle. A record like this one seems like a good compromise; it’s contemporary enough that it should appeal to radio programmers, but not so contemporary that it will alienate country fans.

Grade: B

Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘Third Rock From The Sun’

Released in 1994, this was the album where Joe really cemented his reputation for silly novelty songs, with a good half of the tracks falling into that category. The title track is actually a decently written song (if lacking in melody), and recounts an entertaining if implausible series of events all dependent on one another which Joe rattles off. It was Joe’s third #1 hit (and his first since his debut album). You can watch the video here.

The same writing team of John Greenebaum, Sterling Whipple and Tony Martin wrote the equally cheery uptempo ‘I’d Like To Have A Problem Like That’, which (while filler material) also manages to be amusing enough as Joe expresses Everyman’s envy of the problems of wealth and celebrity.

More obviously a novelty number, ‘Pickup Man’ was a four-week #1 for Joe, making this ode to pickup trucks (unaccountably) technically the biggest hit of his career. I admit the line about
I met all my wives in traffic jams
has a certain quirky appeal, but this throwaway ditty is not the song Joe deserves to be remembered for. Sadly, it is not the worst thing on offer here.

The raucously sung ‘I’m In Love In A Capital U’ is deliberately stupid and actually kind of fun, as Joe plays an uneducated “product of the public school”. It didn’t quite catch on at radio, missing the top 20:

You got me feelin’ so G-U-D
It’s more better than I thought it would be
Girl you taught me things that I never learned in school
I’m in love with a capital U

The album closes with the two silliest songs on it (possibly two of the silliest songs ever written), which really have to be heard at least once to be believed. ‘Good Brown Gravy’ is a shouted and nonsensical song about, well, marketing the protagonist’s family recipe for gravy, including yells about attempts to recruit him into the Army and Navy purely to secure it. Oddly enough this was co-written by Billy Dean (noted as an artist for his sentimental numbers). The final track, Joe’s only co-write this time around, is the even sillier ‘The Cows Came Home’, complete with mooing noises:

She told me that she’d love me ’til the cows came home

The cows came home
The cows came home
I heard somethin’ mooin’
Turned around and she was gone
Lord have mercy, the cows came home

The whole herd showed up when they heard she’d gone
But I guess it’s better than bein’ alone
Well the slammin’ of the door is like a pie in the face
But I got enough milk for the human race

These songs are so hilariously bad they are, occasionally, a guilty pleasure for me. ‘Junior’s In Love’ (written by Dennis Linde) does not even succeed on those terms and ends up just sounding pointless and slightly condescending with its tale of the hapless hillbilly of the title and his frustrated love for Wanda.

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Week ending 5/15/10: #1 singles this week in country music history

1950: Long Gone Lonesome Blues — Hank Williams (MGM)

1960: He’ll Have To Go — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1970: The Pool Shark — Dave Dudley (Mercury)

1980: Beneath Still Waters — Emmylou Harris (Warner Bros.)

1990: Help Me Hold On — Travis Tritt (Warner Bros.)

2000: Buy Me A Rose — Kenny Rogers feat. Alison Krauss & Billy Dean (Dreamcatcher)

2010: Gimmie That Girl — Joe Nichols (Show Dog – Universal)

ACM Rewind: Billy Dean – ‘Somewhere In My Broken Heart’

An acoustic version of the 1991 Song of the Year: