My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Billy Joe Walker Jr

Classic Album Review: Roger Miller – ‘Roger Miller’

This eponymous album, released by MCA in 1985, would prove to be the last album of original material that Roger would release during his lifetime. All of the songs were written or co-written by Roger, and seven of the album’s ten tracks were taken from the highly acclaimed Broadway musical BIG RIVER for which Roger wrote the words and music. In 1985, Roger won three Tony Awards for best musical score, best music and best lyrics. The play, based on Mark Twain’s book Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was revived on Broadway in 2003 and has since been performed by various amateur, high school and college theater groups. It is well worth seeing if it comes your way.

The soundtrack for the play sold well, and many of the songs work outside the context of the play. For me the revelation was hearing Roger perform his own songs with a sympathetic background featuring many of Nashville’s finest studio musicians, including John Jarvis (keyboards), Billy Joe Walker, Jr. (acoustic guitar), Reggie Young & Larry Byrom (electric guitar), Hoot Hester (fiddle) and Jim Horn (sax and flute). The redoubtable trio of Curtis “Mr. Harmony” Young, Colleen Peterson, and Mary Miller (Roger’s wife) provide the background vocals. Strangely, there is no steel guitar but that particular instrument really was not an essential part of Roger’s music.

The album opens up with five songs from the play BIG RIVER starting with “River In The Rain”, a lovely ballad comparing the flow of the Mississippi to life itself:

River in the rain
Sometimes at night you look like a long white train
Winding your way away somewhere
River I love you don’t you care

If you’re on the run winding some place
Just trying to find the sun
Whether the sunshine, whether the rain
River I love you just the same

But sometimes in a time of trouble
When you’re out of hand
And your muddy bubbles roll across my floor
Carryin’ away the things I treasure
Hell, there ain’t no way to measure
Why I love you more than I did the day before

Next up is “Hand For The Hog”. This song really doesn’t stand apart from the play; however, the song is so quintessentially Roger Miller that it would have been criminal for Roger not to include it on the album. This is Roger the scat singer at his finest:

Ya say, a hog ain’t nothin’ but a porky thing
Little forked feet with a nosey ring
Pickle them feel folks
How about a hand for the hog

If you took a notion I’ll bet
A good hog would make a hell of a pet
You could teach him to ride and hunt
You could clean him up and let him sit up front

In the scheme of things the way things go
You might get bit by the old Fido
But not by the gentle, porker friend.
How about a hand for the hog

A feller and a hog had a comedy act
The feller was terrible as a matter of fact
But that hog was so funny
How about a hand for the hog

If you took a notion
I’ll bet you could teach a hog to smoke a cigarette
Well, it might take a little bit of time
But hell, what’s time to a hog

The third track is my favorite song from the play, “Leavin’s Not The Only Way To Go”. This song is a haunting ballad that should have been a hit for someone. I am not aware of anyone releasing the song as a single; however, Merle Haggard recorded the song on his 2005 album Chicago Wind.

Do the mornin’s still come early, are the nights not long enough?
Does a tear of hesitation fall on everything you touch?
Well, it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go

Maybe lyin’ at your feelin’s, grow accustomed to the dark
By mornin’s light, it just might solve the problems of the heart
And it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go

People reach new understandings all the time
Take a second look, maybe change their minds
People reach new understandings every day
Tell me not to reach, babe, and I’ll go away

But do the mornin’s still come early, are the nights not long enough?
Does a tear of hesitation fall on everything you touch?
Well, it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go

“Guv’ment” was sung by John Goodman in the original cast play. It’s not much of a song but it echoes the sentiments of many.

Well, you dad gum guv’ment
You sorry so and so’s
You got your damn hands in every pocket
Of my clothes

“You Oughta Be Here With Me” is another lovely ballad of forlorn longing and loneliness:

If you think it’s lonesome where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me
If you think there’s heartaches where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me

CHORUS:
Because with you I’m whole, without you I’m cold
So if you think about me where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me

If teardrops are falling where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me
Loneliness calling where you are tonight
Then you oughta be here with me

The first five songs comprise side one of the original vinyl album/audio cassette release. Side two opens up with “Some Hearts Get All The Breaks” the first of three songs not from BIG RIVER. This song is a mid-tempo contemporary country ballad, with 1980s production values with synthesizer in the mix. The 80s production is not as noticeable on the tracks from BIG RIVER which has its own dynamic.

I guess I’ll never learn
Some Hearts got love to burn
I guess that’s what it takes
Some hearts get all the breaks

We’re back to BIG RIVER for “Arkansas”, a nostalgic but humorous story song that is performed with some interruptions in the play:

Arkansas, Arkansas
I just love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas

Well, I ain’t never traveled much
But someday when the money’s such
I’d like to see the world and all
And take a run through Arkansas

Grandpa he was always good
I’d play horsey on his foot
He’d tell me when I’d get tall
We’d both go see Arkansas

Arkansas, Arkansas
I just love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas

The next two songs are not from the play. You probably could not get away with a title like “Indian Giver” given our current hyper-sensitive politically correct environment.

The title of the next song “Days of Our Wives” would likely be barely acceptable, but the song is an up-tempo song somewhat reminiscent of the Glen Campbell hit “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife” or perhaps Bobby Russell’s “1432 Franklin Park Circle Hero”. The arrangement features some mariachi style horns and makes a nice change of tempo.

So fly away heart on the wings of make-believe things
It’s nice to pretend and maybe cry at the end
She watches the soaps and sometimes just sits there and cries
Like sands through the hourglass so are the days of our wives

Fittingly, the album closes with yet another song from BIG RIVER, “Muddy Water”, a song of wanderlust and perhaps escape.

Look out for me, oh muddy water
Your mysteries are deep and wide
And I got a need for going some place
And I got a need to climb upon your back and ride

You can look for me when you see me comin’
I may be runnin’ I don’t know
I may be tired and runnin’ fever
But I’ll be headed south to the mouth of the Ohio

Look out for me, oh muddy water
Your mysteries are deep and wide
And I got a need for going some place
And I got a need to climb upon your back and ride

To the best of my knowledge this album has never been available in a digital format. The Broadway cast BIG RIVER soundtrack album has remained in print forever in various formats. The play is well worth seeing and the Twain’s story of Huckleberry Finn is worth passing down to subsequent generations. If you are not familiar with the Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Finn saga, you should read the books first, then tackle this album or the soundtrack album (or both) as it will greatly enhance your appreciation for the story.

Many of Roger’s performances of the songs on Roger Miller are available on You Tube.

This album isn’t Roger’s best album but it is a good one and represents the last chance to hear new material from Roger Miller. Roger would pass away from lung cancer in 1992 without having recorded any more studio albums. The man was a musical treasure and probably still ahead of the times.

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Album Review: Bryan White – ‘Between Now and Forever’

between-now-and-foreverBryan White was an established newcomer when Between Now and Forever dropped in March 1996. The final two singles from his self-titled debut had topped the charts and he was on his way to winning the ACM for Top Male Vocalist and the CMA Horizon Award.

White teamed once again with Kyle Lehning and Billy Joe Walker, Jr for his sophomore set. They led with “I’m Not Supposed to Love You Anymore,” an excellent power ballad written by Skip Ewing and Donny Kees. The song tells of a man conflicted by thoughts of his former flame:

We agreed that it was over

Now the lines have all been drawn

The vows we made began to fade

But now they’re gone

Put your pictures in the shoebox

And my gold ring in the drawer

I’m not supposed to love you anymore

 

Now Sherri says she’s jealous

Of this freedom that I’ve found

If she were me, she would be out on the town

And she says she can’t imagine

What on earth I’m waiting for

I’m not supposed to love you anymore

 

Oh, I shouldn’t care or wonder where and how you are

But I can’t hide this hurt inside my broken heart

I’m fighting back emotions that I’ve never fought before

‘Cause I’m not supposed to love you anymore

Also admirable was the second single “So Much For Pretending,” a break-neck uptempo that became White’s third number one hit. The catchy guitar and drum driven arrangement coupled with the charming lyric make this one of my favorites of his.

White was back in ballad territory for the lowest charting single, the #15 peaking “That’s Another Song.” The ballad of lost love is lovely, with a beautiful steel-led instrumental break framing White’s passionate performance. I wanted to say this was my least favorite of the album’s singles, but I love it as much as anything he released from his first two albums.

The album’s fourth single, the uptempo “Sittin’ On Go” impacted country radio twenty years ago this week. It’s yet another worthy turn from White and a perfect slice of uptempo radio fodder. The song deservedly hit #1 and retained its impact for years, at least on my local country station here in Boston.

I’ve owned this album since its release; I was nine at the time, a point in my musical journey in which I primarily listened to the radio hits a record had to offer. But I distinctly remember being enamored with the title track, a mid-tempo ballad co-written by White. I still find the track appealing although it is a bit more thickly produced and less subtle than the ballads released as singles.

The remaining uptempo numbers – “Nickel in the Well” and “A Hundred and One” are typical mid-1990s album filler. White also co-wrote “Blindhearted,” a ballad with nice flourishes of steel and “On Any Given Night,” just more of the same steel-fueled pop balladry.

I hold anything Mac McAnally writes in the highest of regard, as he composed “Café On The Corner,” one of the strongest down-on-your-luck working man tunes of the 1990s, and the best of the sub-genre I’ve ever heard. To Between Now and Forever he contributes “Still Life,” a ballad I wouldn’t have given a second look but for he wrote it. The track begins shaky, and is not McAnally even close to his best lyrically, but hits its stride in the second verse when the story, about a man stuck without his woman, takes a memorable turn:

The chances were given to get on with livin’

The truth is that he never tried

And no one ever sees him most folks don’t even

Remember which one of ’em died

But he still denies it, he closes his eyes and

 

It’s still life without you and I still hold on

What it feels like you can’t go by that

It’s still life, still life without you

Oh, still life, still life without you

Between Now and Forever is above average as far as squarely mainstream releases go. The set is very solid and the singles were worthy of release. White would have success as a writer when Diamond Rio took his co-penned “Imagine That” into the Top 5 in 1997. He would score just two more notable hits, both coming the following year. He would hit #4 with his own “Love Is The Right Place” and #6 as Shania Twain’s duet partner on “From This Moment On,” which later abandoned his contributions in favor of a solo pop-focused rendition of the now-classic love song. He would fade away at dawn of the new millennium.

Between Now and Forever captures an artist at their artistic peak, a time when everything worked for hits and platinum level sales. White was never truly a hot comity in country music although those from this era will remember his music, especially “Sittin’ On Go.”

Grade: A

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘The Truth About Men’

truthaboutmenBy 2003, Tracy Byrd was struggling to remain commercially viable so he and co-producer Billy Joe Walker, Jr. took a three-pronged approach for his RCA swan song,The Truth About Men, which combines the neotraditional sounds for which he had become well known with more contemporary material and a pair of novelty songs that they hoped would allow them to further capitalize on the success of the prior year’s #1 hit “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo”.

First out of the box was the tongue-in-cheek but blatantly honest title track that bravely declares how men (allegedy) really feel: “We ain’t wrong, we ain’t sorry, and it’s probably gonna happen again.” Written by Paul Overstreet with Rory Lee Feek and Tim Johnson, and with guest vocals provided by Andy Griggs, Blake Shelton and Montgomery Gentry, “The Truth About Men” didn’t reach the lofty heights of “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo”, peaking at #13. And no doubt everyone involved had some explaining to do to their wives. Novelty tunes tend to wear thin after repeated listenings, but this is a fun song that I’ve always enjoyed. The follow-up single, “Drinkin’ Bone”, which is one part novelty tune and one part party song, fared much better. It landed at #7, marking the last time that Byrd would chart inside the Top 10. Playing it safe and pandering to radio’s growing interest in less substantive songs, RCA released the Carribbean-flavored “How’d I Wind Up In Jamaica”. The production is a bit cluttered on this one and by the time of its release, Byrd was on his way out at RCA, so the single received little promotion and stalled at #53. A missed opportunity was the Rodney Crowell composition “Making Memories of Us”, which should have been released as a single. Byrd’s version is much better than the version Keith Urban took to #1 two years later.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag. The steamy “You Feel Good” is my least favorite song on the album. I admit to being put off by the reference to Byrd sleeping in the nude in the opening line, and that made me really not want to listen much to the rest of the song, but the real problem is that it requires a more soulful performance than Byrd delivers. Conway Twitty could probably have made this song work. “That’s What Keeps Her Getting By” and “When You Go” are attempts to move along with the musical times but both are forgettable filler, as is the power ballad “Somewhere I Wanna Go”. On the other hand, I quite enjoyed the Keith Stegall-penned “Tiny Town” and “Baby Put Your Clothes On”, which was written by Paul Overstreet, Bill Anderson, and Buddy Cannon. Not surprisingly, Byrd is at his best when he’s singing more traditional songs.

The album closes with a live version of “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo”, which not surprisingly works well in a concert setting.

The Truth About Men marks the end of the major-label phase of Tracy Byrd’s career. It was a modest success, peaking at #5 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart but it failed to earn gold certification. It isn’t his very best work, but it contains enough worthwhile songs to warrant purchasing a cheap used copy.

Grade: B

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘Ten Rounds’

TenroundsTracy Byrd’s second album for RCA Nashville, Ten Rounds, saw a reversal of commercial fortunes that got Byrd back in the game at a time when he needed the support of country radio to remain relevant. Released in 2001, the album was once again co-produced by Billy Joe Walker, Jr.

A Rivers Rutherford co-written slice of terrible country rock entitled “Good Way To Get On My Bad Side,” a duet with Mark Chesnutt, was issued as the lead single. Hardly memorable and wholly generic, the track peaked at #21. While the track could be seen as an early indication of the genre’s future, Walker and Byrd get one thing right – the loudness, despite heavy electric guitars, is kept to a minimum.

The Spanish flavored “Just Let Me Be In Love” returned Byrd to the top ten for the first time in three years when it peaked at #9. Byrd returns to form here with a triple punch – memorable lyric, forceful vocal, and wonderfully listenable production.

The third and final single, “Ten Rounds With Jose Cuevro,” a lively honky-tonker, topped the charts giving Byrd his first number one single in eight years and his second chart topper to date. The ruckus nature of the track coupled with Byrd’s immersion into the character helped propel the single’s success at radio. While the novelty wears off after repeated listenings, the track isn’t without modest commercial charms.

The remainder of Ten Rounds balances tenderly produced ballads with rowdy up-tempo numbers. The latter group leaves much to be desired, especially “Summertime Fever” and “Somebody’s Dream,” which are pure dreck. Thankfully the other uptempo numbers are far more listenable and delicately produced.

The former provide moments where Ten Rounds shines as bright as it’s going to with tracks that are great, but nothing revelatory. Surprisingly, three of them are covers – “Wildfire” is the Michal Martin Murphy song from the 70s, “How Much Does The World Weigh” was previously recorded by Sammy Kershaw, and “Keeper of the Stars” is an updated version of his signature song. The covers are good, but he brings nothing new to them except for “Keeper of the Stars,” which comes off more country than the original. “Needed,” as close to neo-traditional as the record gets is good, too.

All and all Ten Rounds is a squarely commercial country album aimed at positioning Byrd as a major player for continued airplay on country radio. While that objective was achieved, Byrd and Walker could’ve amassed a far more memorable collection of songs that were stronger both sonically and lyrically. As it stands, Ten Rounds is nothing more than a mixed bag that gets more wrong than right.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘Down The Road I Go’

travistritt1998’s commercially disappointing No More Looking Over My Shoulder was the first album of Travis Tritt’s career that did not earn gold or platinum certification. It also marked the end of his tenure at Warner Bros. Records. At the turn of the millennium he signed with Columbia and released Down The Road I Go, which brought about a change in his commercial fortunes, at least temporarily.

Travis had a hand in writing seven of the album’s eleven tracks, and once again served as the project’s co-producer with Billy Joe Walker, Jr. The first single release for his new label was the gorgeous ballad “Best of Intentions”, which returned him to the Top 10 for the first time in four years. It was also his first #1 since 1994’s “Foolish Pride” and was his fifth and last chart-topper. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most of Tritt’s ballads but if pressed, I would probably choose “Best of Intentions” as my favorite.

Now back in country radio’s good graces, Tritt followed up the success of “Best of Intentions” with the Darrell Scott-penned “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” an optimistic and upbeat number that had previously been recorded by Jon Randall. It just missed the top of the chart, leveling off at #2, as did the soulful “Love Of A Woman”. “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” tells the story of a man who finds himself on the wrong side of the law when a woman he picks up at a gas station robs a convenience store. Comparing themselves to the famous 1930s outlaw duo, the two go on the lam and are eventually apprehended by the police. The fun tune peaked at #8 and was the last Top Ten hit of Tritt’s career.

Down The Road I Go is one of Tritt’s more consistent and enjoyable albums in no small part due to the lack of Southern Rock tunes that permeated most of his earlier work. The album cuts are all well written and within the realm of what was considered mainstream country in the early 2000s. I particularly like the harmonies on “I Wish I Was Wrong” and the two tunes that Tritt penned with Charlie Daniels – “If The Fall Don’t Get You” and the closing track “Southbound Train”, which has just a hint of Southern Rock. I also quite like “Never Get Away From Me (For Waylon and Jessi)”, which sounds very much like something Waylon Jennings might have released a quarter century earlier.

Down The Road I Go
is one of the very few Travis Tritt albums that I still play all the way through. Although he released two more albums for Columbia, it marks his last hurrah as a hitmaker. It’s worth picking up even if you are just a casual fan as all of his major hits for Columbia can be found here.

Grade: A

Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘No More Looking Over My Shoulder’

TNomorelookingovermyshoulderravis Tritt changed producers once again, replacing Don Was with Billy Joe Walker, Jr for 1998’s No More Looking Over My Shoulder. His sixth studio album, it was his least successful release to date spawning three singles that didn’t peak any higher than #29 on the charts.

The #29 peaking single was the first, “If I Lost You,” which Tritt co-wrote with Stewart Harris. The beautiful piano led ballad is a charming story about a man’s undying love for a woman and his feelings if he should loose this person. The record is near perfection; from the tasteful production to Tritt’s sensitive vocal. Even the video was excellent as it served as the conclusion to his Mac Singleton trilogy, a fitting tribute to the five year old daughter Mac shares with now deceased wife Annie.

I also thoroughly enjoy the Craig Wiseman and Michael Peterson penned title track, which served as the second single, peaking at #38. An excellent sing-a-long mid-tempo rocker, the song has an engaging energy and I love the acoustic guitar riffs throughout.

Unlike the majority of Tritt’s rockin’ anthems, third and final single “Start The Car” doesn’t have many overly dated elements within the production track, and Tritt adds a strong, confident vocal performance to the mix. The rock elements don’t bother me either at all but the whole thing comes off very underwhelming thanks to Jude Cole’s inability to add anything memorable to the lyrics. It’s the type of song you forget the second you’ve heard it, which likely accounts for its poor chart performance (it peaked at #52).

The rest of the project isn’t as bland as I was expecting, but as a whole the album doesn’t really get off the ground. There just isn’t that standout track needed to raise the album above just okay. It’s solid, but nothing really special.

The best album cut is probably the weakest lyric, saved only by the production, which feels heavy influenced by Patty Loveless’ seminal When Fallen Angles Fly. “Girls Like That” boasts a nice, rollicking dobro that recalls “Half Way Down” and “Handful of Dust.” It’s too bad the lyric is beyond inane, as Tritt could’ve had a showstopper here. You’d think he and co-writer Bruce Ray Brown could’ve tried to put in some effort, and not resorted to a three-minute list of attributes talking about “Girls Like That.”

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Album Review: Jerrod Niemann – ‘Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury’

Jerrod Niemann seems to have something of a split personality musically. He is a competent if not particularly distinctive singer with a nice grainy quality at times, who seems determined to compensate for that by over-ornamenting his records with gimmicks. The songs are interspersed with a set of comic sketches conceived by Jerrod with Dave Brainard (with whom he shares production credits). These share the fatal flaw of not actually being funny. Most of them weren’t even funny the first time I listened to them, with the sole exception of a pointed if unoriginal little jab at radio demographics and teenage girls not being interested in drinking songs. After listening through the number of times I needed to in order to review this, I hated them. Self-indulgent in the extreme, these make an excellent argument to download selected tracks. There is a particularly annoying piece right at the end which implies one needs to be drunk to appreciate the album. I’m not so sure that’s wrong, either.

His current big hit, ‘Lover, Lover’, which has propelled this album to good early sales figures, is a remake of a 90s pop song which is very catchy with multi tracked vocals all from Jerrod himself, even though it has very little to do with country music. There is one other cover, Robert Earl Keen’s double-entendre ‘The Buckin’ Song’, which has some fine instrumental breaks but is tiresome to anyone sober over the age of about 15. Keen is a significant Texas songwriter, but this particular song is juvenile. However, I was familiar with Jerrod’s name as a songwriter, and had hopes for this album. He has written or co-written all but two of the tracks, most often with one Richie Brown.

In fact, one of my favourite tracks was a song which was already familiar. ‘How Can I Be So Thirsty’ was one of my favourite tracks from last year’s John Anderson release, which Jerrod wrote with Anderson and Billy Joe Walker Jr. Jerrod’s version is enjoyable if lacking the vocal punch Anderson brought to this hangover complaint. Jerrod has an obviously penchant for the subject matter, as Jerrod’s only solo composition here is the far less likable ‘For Everclear’, a drunken college (I hope) student’s song rather implausibly involving getting way too close to one of his teachers (an ex-stripper). Niemann appears to be about ten years past the point at which this song would be appropriate.

‘One More Drinking Song’ is a relaxed-sounding defence of that sub-genre, which has no actual reasons included, and has an irritating repeated hey-hey-hey in the chorus, but is good-humored and bearable. It was released as a single last year, but sank without trace. ‘Down In Mexico’ is very nice sounding, but a rather generic Chesney-style song about the impossibility of being depressed on the beach.

Written with Dallas Davidson and Jamey Johnson is the jazzy loungy ‘They Should Have Named You Cocaine’ which is a pretty good song about a woman with a hold on the singer, which would have been more pleasing to listen to without the pointless artificial sound effects in the mix. ‘Bakersfield’ is a pleasant sounding ballad about nostalgia for a weekend’s romance in California. Co-written with Wayd Battle and Steve Harwell, the song isn’t bad but the production gets a bit busy towards the end. ‘I Hope You Get What You Deserve’, a generous goodbye wish to an ex, also has too much going on musically. All these songs might have sounded better with a more stripped down approach.

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