My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Billy Yates

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘I’m Doing Alright’

In 2007 Adam signed to Sony Australia, and released an excellent debut for the label. The style was a little more contemporary country than his most recent albums, but very well performed and produced.

He wrote the majority of the tracks, mostly with Rod McCormack, including my favorite, ‘Someone Else’s Dream’. This is an excellent ballad, set to a strong melody ideally suited to Adam’s deep voice, with a tasteful string arrangement, and an inspiring lyric about fulfilling your own path in life:

I’ve known hurt and pain
Seen things I hope we never see again
I’ve been bought and sold
I’ve learned not to believe most of what I’m told
We’re all busy making plans
But there’s just a few who can
Have a vision and the will to see it through

Truth knows when things aren’t what they seem
And words fall flat if you d- on’t feel what they mean
You can’t move forward
Till you know where you’ve been
The ones who stand alone see
It’s no life
Living someone else’s dream

‘Walls’ is an excellent song, referring to the Aboriginal population of Australia, the Berlin Wall and other artificial barriers:

When different people find a common ground
There’s no way to stop
Walls from tumbling down

Walls
We all build ‘em
When we need something to hide behind
But if we learn from those that came before us
We let ‘em fall
Walls

Every day we make ‘em like we need ‘em to survive
But what’s the use of feelings if they’re locked up inside?

The solemn ‘A Bigger Plan’ relates grandparental advice to a child, while the sultry jazzy ballad of ‘Will You Be Mine’ is the album’s sole love song. ‘Saturday Night’ is another likeable song about childhood memories of good times at family parties every week:

There ain’t nothing like a party at the Harveys on a Saturday night

The soundtrack include smashing bottles and police sirens.

The title track is a mid paced song with a contemporary feel about satisfaction with one’s life despite lacking material goods. Not bad. ‘Way Too Fast’ is a nice song advising taking time out from a busy life, warmly sung.

‘You’d Do The Same For Me’ is a thoughtful ballad about friendship with an attractive melody and some nice fiddle:

We all need a shoulder when life lets you down
One thing you can count on
I’ll always be around
Nothing’s too much trouble for a friend in need
You’d do the same for me

Most of his usual co-writers refused to work on him with ‘Genie In The Bottle’, which they thought was a stupid idea for a song, but while admittedly a bit silly it’s rather fun, about a lovelorn man who takes to the bottle:

The genie in the bottom of the Jim Bean bottle made me do what I didn’t wanna do
I made a wish with the genie but the genie was a meanie and he didn’t make my wish come true
I was hoping he would make your memory go away but I’m still thinkin’ of you

Of the outside material, ‘The Older I Get’ is a pleasant mid-paced tune about learning how to live well. It was written by Danny Gree, Rob Crosby and Liz Hengber.

‘Flowers’ was a very minor hit for its writer Billy Yates, with its perfectly constructed and emotionally devastating lyric about a man who (spoiler alert!) causes the death of his partner by drunk driving. It has also been cut by Chris Young. Adam’s version is decent but not my favorite, lacking a bit of the combined delicacy and intensity needed to carry it off. I don’t quite *believe* this version.

The best known cover is the Guy Clark song ‘Heartbroke’. Adam’s version is highly enjoyable but not as exciting as Ricky Skaggs’ bluegrass infused hit. Adam also takes on bluesman Keb Mo’’s ‘A Better Man’; the original actually has a jug band feel which might have worked better but Adam’s version is a bit dull.

There are “bonus” acoustic re-recordings of several of the songs on this album, and a few older songs, on my version of the album.

The album won an Australian CMA award, and is well worth finding.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Adam Harvey – ‘Workin’ Overtime’

After some time finding his feet, Adam’s first Australian gold selling album was 2001’s Workin’ Overtime. It also won him a Golden Guitar award for Best Album. It thoroughly deserved both, as this is an excellent album.

He wrote or cowrote the lion’s share of the tracks himself for the first time. The title track, ‘Workin’ Overtime (On A Good Time)’ was co-written with fellow Australian Rod McCormack and American country artist David Lee Murphey. This starts out slow and then ramps it up as Adam quits his job in favour of party time.

McCormack and Jerry Salley teamed up with Adam for ‘The Shake Of A Hand’, a sweet song set to a pretty lilting melody with a wistful nostalgia for a more innocent past. The same team produced the charmingly retro western swing ‘Two Steppin’ Fool’, in which Adam offers himself as a replacement for a cheater.

Adam and Rod McCormack were joined by Sonny Tillis to write ‘What It Used To Be’, a lovely sad ballad about the aftermath of a failed relationship. Matt King co-wrote the mid-paced ‘I’ll Drink To That’, a swaggering response to a wife’s ultimatum to stop drinking to excess in which the booze looks like winning:

Hangovers hurt me in the morning
But living with a crazy woman
Sure to give a man a heart attack
So I’ll drink to that
I’ll raise my glass and
Here’s to all the good times that you said we never had
This beer ain’t half as bitter as
This trouble you’ve been causing
With these threats that you’ll be walking
If I touch another drop
I’ll drink to that

Rick Price cowrote two songs with Adam and Rod, both love songs. ‘One Of A Kind’ is a sweet ballad, earnestly delivered by Adam, while ‘Little Bitty Thing Called’ is slighter lyrically but a fun little ditty.

A few covers or outside songs were thrown in. ‘The House That Jack Built’ is a rapid paced Billy Yates/Jerry Salley story song about a young married couple whose ideal picket fence life is broken up when a richer man comes along, with a fiddle dominated arrangement. Steel guitar leads into the superlative ballad ‘One And One And One’, also recorded by Gene Watson. Adam does it full justice as he portrays a man who retires hurt but dignified when he finds his lover two timing him:

The first time I laid eyes on you it was love for me
It never crossed my mind what all I couldn’t see
Now suddenly there’s more than me you’re livin’ for
I go to you and find a stranger at your door

1 + 1 + 1 is one too many
I can’t understand your reasons why
1 + 1 + 1 is one too many
So let me be the one to say goodbye

You say God blessed you with two good men
And you can’t choose
‘Cause in different ways we both mean the world to you
And you’re wonderin’ now if somehow
I could live with that
But God above wouldn’t call this love so I want out

‘She’s Gone, Gone, Gone’ is a Harlan Howard song first recorded by the legendary Lefty Frizzell and then a top 10 country hit for Glen Campbell. It is upbeat musically, belying a sad lyric, and highly enjoyable with a delightful acoustic arrangement. There is a tasteful cover of the Guy Clark classic ‘Boats To Build’.

‘Beauty’s In The Eye (Of The Beerholder)’ is a comic drinking song which is good fun.

The album closes with a very fine version of Chris Wall’s modern classic ‘I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight’, most recently recorded by Sunny Sweeney.

Adam is in great voice on this record, and the material is all high quality. I recommend this wholeheartedly.

Grade: A

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Music In My Heart’

Music In My Heart is Charley’s first new album since Choices, which was issued in 2011. Charley is now 79 years old; however, his voice seems to have hardly aged at all. I suspect that he may have lost a little off the top of his range but the quality of what remains is outstanding.

Noted songwriter Billy Yates served as the producer of this album, as well as providing several of the songs and singing background on a few of the songs. Yates provides Charley with an updated version of the Nashville Sound minus the strings and soulless vocal choruses. Such stalwarts as Mike Johnson, Robby Turner and Scotty Sanders handle the steel guitar, while Stuart Duncan handles fiddle and mandolin.

The album opens up with the Tommy Collins classic “New Patches” that served up the last top ten single for Mel Tillis back in 1984.

Now and then an old friend tries to help me
By telling me there’s someone I should meet
But I don’t have the heart to start all over
‘Cause my heart is laying at another’s feet

[Chorus:]
You just don’t put new patches on old garments
I don’t want no one else on my mind
I just don’t need nobody new to cling to
I still love someone I’ve known a long long time

“Country” Johnny Mathis (1930-2011), so named so as to not be mistaken for the pop singer of the same name, is nearly forgotten today, but he was a fine songwriter and “Make Me One More Memory” is a fine mid-tempo song, handled with aplomb by Pride.

Take my heart, my soul, my heaven
Take my world away from me
All I ask is one last favor
Make me one more memory

Ben Peters provided Charley with many big hits so it is natural for Pride to raid the Ben Peters songbag for material. Co-written with son Justin Peters, “Natural Feeling For You” is the kind of ballad that could have been a hit during the 1970s or 1980s.

“All By My Lonesome” reminds me of the 1992 Radney Foster song “Just Call Me Lonesome”, although this song comes from Billy Yates and Terry Clayton. This is a mid-tempo ballad with a solid vocal by Pride.

All by my lonesome
Heart broke and then some
Watchin’ ol’ re-runs
On my TV

Drinkin’ and cryin’
So close to dyin’
I’m next to no one
All by my lonesome

Thanks for sendin’ someone by to see if I’m alright
I appreciate your concern tonight
But I don’t need no company
To offer up their sympathy
If it ain’t you then I would rather be

All by my lonesome
Heart broke and then some
Watchin’ ol’ re-runs
On my TV

“It Wasn’t That Funny” was written by Yates and Dobby Lowery. The song is a lovely ballad about an almost breakup, that a couple experienced and can laugh about now, but brought moments of anguish along the way.

Lee Bach penned “The Same Eyes That Always Drove Crazy”, a mid-tempo ballad of a chance meeting after years of separation. This song would have made a good single at any point before about 2005. The song features some really nice steel guitar by Mike Johnson and piano by Steve Nathan.

Billy Yates and Billy Lawson chipped in the introspective ballad “I Learned A Lot”, in which the narrator relives the lessons he’s learned from losing his previous love. The song first appeared on Billy’s album Only One George Jones.

“You’re Still In These Crazy Arms of Mine” was written by Lee Bach, Larry Mercey and Dave Lindsey. The title references what was on the jukebox the first time the narrator met his love. The song has a nice Texas shuffle arrangement (the song references the Ray Price classic “Crazy Arms” and mentions taking out Ray’s old records). Again, this is another song that would have made a good single in bygone years.

“The Way It Was in ‘51” was written by Merle Haggard and was the title track for one of the Hag’s great albums and was the B-side of Hag’s “The Roots of My Raising”.

Sixty-Six was still a narrow two-lane highway
Harry Truman was the man who ran the show
The bad Korean War was just beginning
And I was just three years too young to go

Country music hadn’t gone to New York City yet
And a service man was proud of what he’d done
Hank and Lefty crowded every jukebox
That’s the way it was in fifty one

“Lee Bach” wrote “I Just Can’t Stop Missing You”, a nice ballad that makes for a good album track but wouldn’t ever have been considered for a single. This song apparently has keyboards mimicking the sound of strings giving it more of a Nashville Sound production than the other tracks on the album.

“Whispering Bill” Anderson wrote “You Lied To Me” a song that I don’t think he ever recorded, but Tracy Byrd recorded it on his 1995 album Love Lessons. Charley does a bang up job with the song

You looked at me as only you can look at me
You touched my cheek and told me not to cry
But you said you’d found somebody you loved more than me
And you told me I’d forget you by and by

But you lied to me, yes you lied to me
You said time would close the wound that bled inside of me
But every breath I take brings back your memory
You said I’d forget you, but you lied to me

“Standing In My Way” comes from Billy Yates and Jim McCormick, an interesting ballad of self-recriminations.

The album closes with a spritely up-tempo number from “Country” Johnny Mathis, “Music In My Heart”.

I really liked this album. In fact I would regard this as Charley’s best album in over twenty years. I like the song selections, I like the arrangements and I like Charley’s vocals. Radio won’t play these songs but they should – it’s their loss! Maybe Willie’s Roadhouse will play it – after all octogenarian Willie believes in giving the youngsters a chance. This album doesn’t have a dud among its tracks – solid A.

Album Review: Lonesome River Band – ‘Mayhayley’s House’

The Lonesome River Band are a veteran band on paper, but have seen many changes of personnel over the years. As one expects from this band, the instrumental playing is brilliant but tasteful, with banjo star Sammy Shelor anchoring the sound. Both the current lead singers are outstanding too – the smoky characterful baritone of Brandon Rickman (one of my favorite singers across country and bluegrass) almost matched by the strong, if less distincive, tenor of Jesse Smathers.

A number of well known country songs get a bluegrass treatment . Crystal Gayle’s early hit ‘Wrong Road Again’ is delightful. The Don Williams hit ‘Old Coyote Town’ is given an absolutely beautiful reading by Brandon Rickman. Western Swing classic ‘Ida Red’ becomes a pacy bluegrass romp. A less well known cover, ‘Hickory Hollow Times & County News’ was on Charley Pride’s 2011 album Choices. Rickman’s warm vocals suit the song’s sweet nostalgia.

‘As The Crow Flies’, a plaintive Billy Yates/Melba Montgomery love song which Yates has recorded, has another lovely vocal from Rickman. The lyric refers to both the title bird and to blackbirds, both of which make a more ominous appearance in ‘Blackbirds And Crows’, an excellent murder ballad about a possesive husband and restless wife he just can’t bear to let go:

Blackbird sat on a fence line
Crow flew through the sky
I whispered low into Eva’s ear
Eva you’re gonna die

She’s a half a mile out, a quarter across
Beneath those wheatfield rows
And no one knows who put her there
But the blackbirds and the crows

Folks come by and we sit around
And I tell them how she’s gone
I tell them how she packed her bags
And wrecked our happy home
Lord I tell them she’s down in Atlanta
Doin’ cocaine and God only knows
But Eva’s not gone
She’s here with me
Right here where she’ll always be
With the blackbirds and the crows

It was written by Don Humphries.

The atmospheric title track, an Adam Wright song based on a true story, is about a rural Georgia psychic from the mid 20th century, to whom the album as a whole is dedicated.

‘Diggin’’ is a pretty good mid-tempo song about struggling to make ends meet that manages to sound bright despite the despairing lyric. The similarly upbeat ‘As Lonesome As I Am’, written by Matt Lindsey and Shawn Camp, is a more overtly optimistic song about expecting things can only get better. ‘I Think I’m Gonna Be Alright’ sees the protagonist coping well enough with a breakup.

Some fantastic fiddle (from Mike Hartgrove) leads the fast paced ‘Lonesome Bone’. ‘It Feels Real Good Goin’ Down’, written by Gary Nicholson and Shawn Camp, is a vibrant drinking-away-the-pain song. Thw album closes with a frenetic arrangement of the bluegrass standard ‘Fly Around y Pretty Little Miss’.

This is an excellent album which should appeal to country fans with an interest in bluegrass.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Billy Yates – ‘These Old Walls’

these old wallsSinger-songwriter Billy Yates has released his latest independent album. As usual, it consist entirely of his own songs.

Five of the songs involve veteran and onetime George Jones duet partner Melba Montgomery as co-writer. The steel-drenched title track sadly reminisces about a childhood home.

‘No Fool Like An Old Fool’ (written with Melba and Tommy Polk) is great , with a sardonic lyric about a cheating wife who thinks she’s getting away with it – but:

Late last night in your sleep
You whispered soft and low
You told me that you loved me –
I just wish my name was Joe

This trio also wrote ‘She’s Got A Heart’, a nice love song.

Billy and Melba were joined by Monty Criswell to write the semi-up-tempo ‘Fallin’ Over Myself’ which is pleasant but not all that memorable. I preferred their ‘It’s Just A Scratch’, in which he soothes the wounded pride of a lady who has been hurt in love.

Billy and Criswell teamed up with Lee Thomas Miller for a pair of songs. The relaxed ‘You Must Be Out Of Your Mind’ is a charming love song about love triumphing over poverty. The entertaining western swing ‘Zeros’ has the poor man rejected by the object of his affections, because:

You never will amount to much nohow

Miller and Billy wrote another couple together. He is torn about taking back an ex revisiting ‘Her Old Stompin’ Grounds’. The resigned ‘Carry On’ is about pretending to be over someone as a way of working towards really getting over her. Both are good songs.

‘Waiting For The World To Turn My Way’ was written with John Northrup. The perky tune about an optimistic attitude to a really bad day and a tough life, with sprightly honky tonk piano prominent in the mix, makes this thoroughly enjoyable.

The closing ‘That’s All She Wrote’, written with Bill Able, is a breakup song in which the departing lady writes goodbye in lipstick on the wall. It’s a clever idea but the key is a bit too low for Billy in places, taking him down into a less attractive timbre.

The only solo composition is the quietly religious ‘Potter’s Hands’.

This is another excellent collection of songs from an underrated singer-songwriter whose music is always reliably genuine country.

Grade: A

Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Tracy Lawrence’

tracy lawrenceAs the new millennium dawned, Tracy’s career hit another roadblock, this time one which was not self-inflicted: his label, Atlantic, closed its doors. He was transferred to sister label Warner Brothers for 2001’s self-titled release, but the move was not a longterm success. Tracy produced the album with longtime collaborator Flip Anderson, and there are no real surprises on offer.

I really like the single ‘Life Don’t Have To Be So Hard’, an encomium to a more relaxed way of life, set to a catchy melody. Unfortunately country radio was less enamored, and the song barely crept into the top 40. ‘What A Memory’, the only other single before Tracy departed Warner Bros, did even more poorly, although it is another fine song. A tearjerking ballad about a loving mother who dies far too young, it was written by Jeff Bates and Kenny Beard, and I found it moving.

The overriding theme on the album is one of maturity, learning from one’s mistakes and looking back with varying degrees of amusement and regret on the follies of youth.

‘I Won All The Battles’ is an excellent song, which Tracy wrote with Larry Boone and Paul Nelson. The protagonist realises too late that insisting to his wife he was right all the time was ultimately the cause of losing her love. It is by far the best of Tracy’s co-writes on this record. ‘Whole Lot Of Lettin’ Go’, from the same partnership, is quite a nice ballad about the lasting effects of an old flame, while love song ‘Meant To Be’ is lyrically rather bland, although it is nicely sung and played and has quite an attractive melody. ‘She Loved The Devil Out Of Me’, the last of Tracy’s co-writes, is a pleasant mid-tempo on a well-worn theme, which I enjoyed well enough despite its lack of originality. Alison Brown’s banjo works well on this and also backs up ‘God’s Green Earth’, written by Monty Criswell and Billy Yates. The latter sounds cheerful and perky, belying a heartbreak lyric.

‘It’s Hard To Be An Outlaw’ (written by Bobby Pinson, Larry Boone and Paul Nelson) takes a more jaundiced approach to the theme of a wild young man whose woman tries to “get the devil out of” him. In this case she has failed and walked away, and the protagonist has to face reality on his own:

I wouldn’t change
And now she’s gone I’m just not the same
It’s hard to be an outlaw
Outrun or outdraw
The laws of life that you once could ignore
It’s a desperate desperado
Who can’t see through his sorrow
What he was runnin’ from or runnin’ for
Oh, it’s hard to be an outlaw
When you’re not wanted anymore
There was nowhere left to turn to
But back to my old self
“I’m living like there’s no tomorrow”
Now meant somethin’ else
The trails I used to live to blaze
Are winding up dead ends
With a voice inside my head
Reminding me what could have been
I was wild as the wind
As cold as they come,
Thinkin’ I was cool
Now looking back,
Lookin’ at a fool

The up-tempo ‘Crawlin’ Again’ (written by Kenny Beard and Michael White) is a semi-ironic mumber comparing a man’s helplessness in the face of a woman’s power to reverting to infancy:

I’m back on the bottle, cryin’ out loud
I need holding and I need it now
Someone to rock me and then tug me in
It takes a mama 20 years to make a boy a man
Another woman 20 seconds to have him crawling again

It’s quite an entertaining song, which might have been a good choice for a single.

‘Getting Back Up’(written by Pinson with Marla Cannon-Goodman) is a downbeat ballad about coping with the failure of a relationship with a somewhat traditional feel. Some nice fiddle opens the otherwise rather uninteresting jazz-inflected ‘It’s Got You All Over It’.

The slightly-too sweet ‘That Was Us’ (written by Tony Lane and Craig Wiseman) looks back fondly on the narrator’s time as one of a group of wild teenagers who make mischief in their small town but whose good hearts are revealed in the final verse, when they make real amends. It was later recorded by Randy Travis on one of his religious records.

This is a serviceable and perfectly listenable record. It is currently out of print, but available digitally and as a CD-R from Amazon, and cheap used copies are also around. It’s worth picking up if you can get it at a moderate price.

Grade: B

Album Review: Billy Yates – ‘Only One George Jones’

only one george jonesSinger-songwriter Billy Yates kickstarted his career by writing ‘I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair’ for his hero George Jones, and Jones later cover of Yates’ ‘Choices’ provided the great man’s last solo top 30 hit. Understandably, then, the shadow of the late George Jones looms large over Billy’s latest album, from the titular tribute to the “king of country soul” (which is heartfelt but not particularly insightful), to a closing version of ‘Choices’ featuring a cameo from Jones. Incidentally, the album was recorded, and dedicated to George, before his death.

The playfully vivacious semi-novelty story song ‘The House That Jack Built’ (written with Jerry Salley) is the kind of thing Jones would have cut in the 60s. It’s highly entertaining and a genuinely feelgood number, with Salley and Rebecca Lynn Howard adding harmony vocals. Another Salley co-write, the midtempo love song ‘Till The Old Wears Off’ features a Jones-style growl on the low notes, although the song itself is less memorable.

Elsewhere, the album is packed with classic sounding sad country songs, loaded with steel guitar. In ‘I Learned A Lot’, a chastened Billy claims that neglecting and losing his first love taught him how to treat a future love interest. Billy laments that his loved one still loves ‘The Man I Used To Be’, before he started cheating on her.

The appropriately titled ‘Sad Songs’ (written with Jamie Teachenor) is one of my favorites. Billy recalls listening to great country songs about broken hearts (another chance to namecheck Jones, along with Lefty Frizzell), before he understood heartbreak from personal experience. Now, though, his lover has left and:

I understand how it kills a man
When his world just walked out the door
Those lonesome refrains just add to the pain
No, I don’t buy the sad songs no more

I’m still not entirely sure (even after multiple listens) whether ‘As I Kiss My World Goodbye’ is positively suicidal about a breakup, or about actually dying. The least traditional country song on the record ‘That’s Your Memory On My Mind’ is a soulful acoustic ballad set to a piano backing; it is well done although less to my taste stylistically than the rest of the album.

The gentle retrospective ‘It Wasn’t That Funny’ looks back at the ups and downs of a relationship, as he and his spouse can laugh now at past arguments and near-breakups.

Another fine song is the piano-led ‘The Father And The Son’, written with Tom Douglas. The gripping story song shows us a young mother (revealed in the last verse to be the narrator’s mother), daughter of a preacher, struggling with her mental demons and the loss of faith for the survival of her teenage marriage:

The devil on one shoulder says “go back to your youth”
While the angel on the other is whispering the truth

There are four good reasons not to run
The father and a son
And the Father and the Son

The gently philosophical ‘The Shoulder’ written with Casey Beathard recounts a tale of a young man who inevitably falls by the wayside after growing up in a narrow small-town atmosphere, but eventually finds salvation:

I guess it goes to show God blesses even those
On the shoulder of the straight and narrow road

When enough is enough and you turn yourself around
And you pick yourself up just to fall back down
Can’t stay on top
Won’t stay in the ditch
And the best you can do is pray you’ll hitch
A ride on someone’s prayers to where you want to go

The cheerful ‘I’m A One Man Band’ picks up the tempo and sings the praises of monogamy. The driving ‘Chill My Beer’, written with Byron Hill, offers an ironic dig at a cold-hearted woman; the lyric isn’t bad, but the melody is confined to about four notes, which make it one of the record’s less successful moments.

A generous 16-strong tracklisting allows for some filler, which appears in the shape of ‘A Country Boy Just Don’t Care’, which is an okay song about being true to oneself, and ‘She Ain’t Got Nobody’ is a cliche’d song about an attractive single woman in a bar.

This is Billy’s strongest set of material for some time. production values are excellent, and this is a solidly country record worthy of being inspired by Jones.

Grade: A

Album Review: Georgette Jones – ‘Till I Can Make It On My Own’

georgette jones till i can make it on my ownGeorgette Jones’s third Heart of Texas album features her best vocals to date, but her least imaginative selection of material, as this album has been conceived as a tribute to mother Tammy Wynette. She does not sound much like either illustrious parent, but her light airy vocals have a very attractive tone which makes her worth listening to on her own merits. Her phrasing is also excellent with a natural, unforced feel. Like all Heart Of Texas records, this is impeccably produced (by the label’s Justin Trevino) in traditional country style, so it makes pleasant listening even if the repertoire is over-familiar.

Georgette’s voice works particularly well on the title track, which has a wistful air to it distinguishing it from the more impassioned original. A languid take on ‘Til I Get It Right’ with tasteful string accompaniment is also a highlight, with a subtle vocal interpretation. ‘Take Me To Your World’ is sweet and sincere, with very pretty harmonies. She sounds resigned on an understated ‘Stand By Your Man’, which I liked. The less well known ‘Stayin’ Home Woman’ and ‘Run Woman Run’ are also both quite enjoyable

There are several duets. Producer Justin Trevino helps out on the George Jones-penned ‘Take Me’, which is nicely done although it pales rather compared to the original. Billy Yates guests on ‘Golden Ring’, which is pleasant but again lacks the original’s force.

Veteran Tony Booth enjoyed a minor career on Capitol in the 70s, before backing Gene Watson for some years, and his deep, grizzled voice makes an interesting contrast with Georgette’s insubstantial sweetness on ‘My Elusive Dreams’, and one which suits the song quite well.

Someone called Keith Nixon shares the vocals on the playful ‘Something To Brag About’; this one is fun. A duet with Amber Digby on ‘Run, Woman, Run’ is repeated from Georgette’s last album, Strong Enough To Cry.

Georgette’s voice is a little too sweet and gentle for ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’ to have its full impact, although she is convincingly vulnerable. Her resolve to lose her respectability does not however convince on ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’. ‘Apartment # 9’ is delivered plaintively, but didn’t make much of an impact on me.

The CD liner notes comprise several family photographs of Georgette with Tammy, so if you want Tammy’s recipe for banana pudding (topped with meringue) this is the place to find it.

While not an essential purchase, I rather enjoyed this record.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Billy Yates – ‘Choices’

Singersongwriter Billy Yates sings his song ‘Choices’, a top 30 hit for George Jones in 1999:

You didn’t have a good time: songs about struggling with alcohol

The recent unfortunate news of Randy Travis’s apparently alcohol-fuelled decline has prompted me to bring together these songs about people struggling to give up alcohol.

Randy’s own recording of ‘You Didn’t Have A Good Time’ from his last studio album, 2008’s Around The Bend, now seems heartbreakingly prescient – or an early warning to himself of a problem that he was, one assumes, aware of. The song starts from the standpoint that the first step in tackling the problem is acknowledging its existence:

I bet you don’t remember
Kneeling in that bathroom stall
Praying for salvation
And cursing alcohol
Then went right back to drinking
Like everything was fine
Let’s be honest with each other
You didn’t have a good time

So take a good hard look in the mirror
And drink that image down
I’m truth that you can’t run from
I’m the conscience you can’t drown
And the happiness you want so bad
You ain’t gonna find
Until you start believing
You didn’t have a good time

When you woke up this morning
I guess you just assumed
That you got something out of
The empty bottles in this room
There ain’t an angel that can save you
When you’re listening to the wine
And the demons they won’t tell you
You didn’t have a good time

Trace Adkins ‘Sometimes A Man Takes A Drink’ offers an equally somber warning of the gradual fall from casual social drinking into the prison of addiction, with its melancholy warning, “sometimes a drink takes the man”. (Co-writer Larry Cordle has also recorded a superb version of the song, but Trace’s magnificent vocal edges his cut ahead.)

The same theme appears in George Jones’s bitingly honest ‘A Drunk Can’t Be A Man’, from his 1976 album Alone Again, when he was still drinking heavily himself. In this third person story, George sings of a man whose life is utterly miserable thanks to his drinking but “seems proud to have the devil for his guide”.

Sometimes it seems like a miracle that Jones is still alive in his 80s, given his chequered history with alcohol. This history has been frequently acknowledged in his choice of songs like ‘Wine (You’ve Used Me Long Enough)’, the agonized ‘Wean Me’, ‘If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)‘, I’ve Aged Twenty Years In Five’,  ‘Ol’ George Stopped Drinking Today’, and the rueful admission of ‘Wine Colored Roses’. In 1999 it was also the subject of his last solo top 30 hit ‘Choices’, a bleak Billy Yates song about the lifelong effect of bad decisions and putting drinking above those who loved him.

Jones following a 1978 DUI arrest.

One of my uncles was (and I would say he still is) an alcoholic, and while struggling with his problem in his 20s he spent some time living with his older married half-brother (my parents, before I was born). I’ve left out a whole range of songs about the impact of an alcoholic relative on his or her spouse and family, but the role of a loved one in supporting someone through the hard times is also important, and dealt with in a number of country songs. One of my favorites is ‘I’m Trying’, recorded both by Diamond Rio in duet with Chely Wright, and more recently solo by Martina McBride, which movingly shows the middle of the struggle, with a loved one trying to support the drinker.

Someone who can’t admit their problem to their loved ones is clearly not in good shape to turn the corner. Now-disbanded trio Trick Pony were best known for main lead singer Heidi Newfield, but one of their best songs (‘The Devil And Me’), sung by one of her male bandmates, dealt with the struggles of an alcoholic, shamefacedly hiding his used bottles from his wife and children, and confessing,

I’ve battled with the bottle all alone for years

Bleak though the basic situation is, he still hopes things can turn around, affirming in the last verse and chorus:

I’m hoping for a miracle
I know that I can change
No, I’m not giving up
I know there’ll come a day

When I’m not too tired to fight it
Or too ashamed to pray
And I know the Lord won’t be bored
With the promises I’ve made
I won’t live here with my secret
Where no one else can see
No, I won’t keep it
Between the devil and me

Sometimes it takes a catastrophic incident to prompt a change of heart. 80s star T. Graham Brown has recorded a moving plea to God from a man who has reached rock bottom for help to turn the ‘Wine Into Water’. In the brilliant Leslie Satcher song ‘From Your Knees’ (recorded by Matt King  (with Patty Loveless on harmony), later by John Conlee, and ironically, also by Randy Travis on Around The Bend), a wife tired of her man’s “cheating and drinking” finally leaves after 17 years, forcing him to face the truth:

Right then and there in an old sinner’s prayer
He told things he’d kept in the dark
There was no use in lying
Cause the man who was listening
Could see every room in his heart

Sometimes a man can change on his own
But sometimes I tell you it takes

Empty closets and empty drawers
And a tearful confession on the kitchen floor
And burning memories in the fireplace
He had waited too late to say he was wrong

Brother, you would not believe
What you can see from your knees

Another song from his own repertoire Travis might be advised to pay attention to, now he seems to have reached his own rock bottom point.

Before he discovered the beach, Kenny Chesney recorded some strong material, and one of the best was the earnest ‘That’s Why I’m Here’, a #2 hit in 1998. A mature reflection on the damage done to a life “when you lose control”, this seems to have a happy ending as the protagonist has learned his lesson and started attending AA meetings.

However, some damage cannot be undone, as we see from a couple of songs dealing with the effects of addiction to drugs rather than alchol. The video for Jeff Bates’ emotional ‘One Second Chance’ ties it in with his own former drug problem, while Jamey Johnson’s stunning ‘High Cost Of Living’ is one of the finest songs of its kind as it portrays someone whose addiction led to throwing away everything good in his life. Billy Yates’ minor hit ‘Flowers’ (subsequently covered by Chris Young) deals with the literally sobering aftermath of a drunk driving incident in which the protagonist killed his wife or girlfriend; change comes too late. Gravel-voiced singer-songwriter Bobby Pinson included several compelling songs referring to the drunk-driving death of a high school friend on his underrated album Man Like Me ( ‘Don’t Ask Me How I Know’, ‘A Man Like Me’ and ‘I Thought That’s Who I Was’), the culminating effect of which sounds autobiographical. In ‘One More Believer’ on the same album he looks back to a sordid past passing out drunk before finding salvation through the love of a good woman.

Joe Nichols, another star who has struggled with substance abuse in real life, chose to record ‘An Old Friend of Mine’, a moving low key confessional of the day a man gives up drinking:

I never thought I’d be strong enough to leave it all behind
But today I said goodbye to an old friend of mine…
And I heard freedom ring when that bottle hit the floor
And I just walked away not needing anymore

Yet it’s still a struggle to maintain sobriety after making that commitment. My uncle stopped drinking over 40 years ago, but still attends AA meetings regularly and can’t touch a single drop of alcohol in case it sets off the cravings again. George Jones has had the odd lapse in recent years, and it’s well documented that Randy Travis had issues with drinking among other wild behaviour as a teenager before straightening up, so his current woes may be a resurgence of a longstanding underlying problem.

Collin Raye’s hit ‘Little Rock’ shows an alcoholic trying hard to make a fresh start and making a good beginning, but only 19 days into his sobriety there’s clearly a long way to go (although his record is 10 days and counting ahead of the protagonist of George Strait’s recent single ‘Drinkin’ Man’. Co-written with Dean Dillon who has had his own issues with alcohol in the past, this searing portrait of a man whose problems go back to his early teens unfortunately proved to be a bit too close to reality for today’s country radio and became the lowest charting single of Strait’s career.  It remains one of the best singles of 2012.

Texan Jason Boland’s ‘Bottle By My Bed’, looking back on the time when “my life was as empty as the bottle by my bed,” also talks about all the false starts, when “each time was the last time, that’s what I always said”, but has the protagonist now on safer ground.

Finally, if anyone reading this thinks they have a problem: please get help. For information and resources, visit the AA.org and Al Anon websites for help for you and/or your loved ones.

Album Review: Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent – ‘Your Money And My Good Looks’

What happens when you pair the best male country vocalist of the last 35 years with the reigning Queen of bluegrass music ? You get the best album that will be released in 2011. I can think of no recent duet album that I’ve enjoyed as much as this album. Released on the Upper Management Music label, this album contains the warning ‘Contains REAL Country Music’, and truer words never were spoken.

Although Rhonda is a bluegrass artist, and there are touches of bluegrass on a few of the tracks, this basically is a modern traditional country album, with fiddles, steel guitar and truly outstanding vocals, both individually and in harmony with each other.

The title cut is probably the weakest cut on the album. This isn’t to say that Gene and Rhonda don’t sing it well, because they do, but the song itself is nothing special. The next two tracks “Gone For Good”, a slow ballad about breaking up, and “It Ain’t Nothing New” a mid-tempo ballad co-written by bluegrass legend Larry Cordle, are both really good songs, and on many albums they would be the standout tracks but on this album they are merely the hors d’oeuvres.

With the fourth track the album shifts into overdrive with a cover of Gene Watson’s 1976 hit “You Could Know As Much About A Stranger”. I had never thought about this song as a duet, but it works really well, as Gene and Rhonda trade verses and duet on the choruses, accompanied by a lightly updated version of Gene’s original backing.

From here the album covers a 1977 hit written by Cathy Gosdin for her brother Vern Gosdin, “Til The End”. Covering Vern Gosdin is a treacherous task at best, and while I regard Gene Watson as being the superior overall vocalist, Vern Gosdin had no peers at singing melancholy slow ballads. Still Gene and Rhonda do an admirable job on the song.

The Billy Yates-penned “Alone Together Tonight” is a clever twist on the theme of a lonely boy and lonely girl in a honky-tonk. The melody reminds me of the 1982 John Anderson hit “Would You Catch A Falling Star”.

Next up is a cover of Gary Stewart’s 1974 hit “Out Of Hand”. The arrangement and instrumentation are very similar to Stewart’s recording, but with very slight alterations to the lyrics, it makes a very successful male-female duet.

“This Wanting You” was co-written by Bruce Boulton, T. Graham Brown and Bruce Burch. I don’t recall the song being issued as a single but it was one of the standout tracks on TGB’s 1988 album Come As You Were and also appeared on a Bruce Burch collection.

“Making Everything Perfect Tonight” was penned by Rhonda Vincent, a spirited mid-tempo romp about life and one of the joys of domestic life.

“Sweet Thang” was a top five for its author Nat Stuckey in 1966; however, no one remembers Nat’s version anymore because of the spirited version done by the dynamic duo of Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn the following year. While the ET-LL version wasn’t a big radio hit, it was a popular concert favorite for years to follow. Gene doesn’t have quite the same degree of ‘rascal’ in his voice that Ernest did, but his vocals are better.

Saving the best for last, Gene and Rhonda demonstrate their blues chops on the old Hank Williams classic, “My Sweet Love Ain’t Around”. The track runs over five minutes so even in the good old days, it wouldn’t have received much airplay. I referred to Gene Watson as the best male vocalist currently performing in country music today but Rhonda Vincent may be the best female vocalist in country music, although most of her efforts have been focused on bluegrass. Rhonda had a crack at becoming a mainstream country star on Giant Records back in the 1990s but was let down by the material the label foisted off on her. Carrie Underwood should listen to this track, as she could learn a lot about singing from Rhonda’s vocals on this track. Carrie has a vocal range very similar to Rhonda’s but with much less command and control of her vocal abilities.

There actually is a ‘bonus track’ on the album, a bluegrass instrumental “Ashes of Mount Augustine, featuring Michael Rojas, Stuart Duncan, Mike Johnson, Michael Rhodes and James Mitchell.

This album won’t be released until June 6, 2011. By then I will have listened to the album a couple dozen times !

Album Review: Sammy Kershaw – ‘Better Than I Used To Be’

It really is tempting fate for any artist, particularly one who is past his or her commercial peak, to entitle an album Better Than I Used To Be, because (almost always) it begs a negative answer. Rich-voiced 90s star Sammy Kershaw has been away from the charts for a while, most recently concentrating on a venture into Louisiana state politics. His new album is on an independent (possibly self released) label, Big Hit Records. However, while I don’t think Sammy’s music is “better than it used to be”, the new album stands up pretty well against his back catalog. There are no obvious hit singles here, but Sammy is still in fine voice, and Buddy Cannon’s supportive production is excellent, and undoubtedly country.

The album is bookended by songs Sammy himself had a share in writing. The unremarkable but energetic ‘That Train’, which he wrote alone, opens the album. In an interview with the 9513 earlier this year, Sammy admitted:

“I’m not much of a songwriter but every once in a while I get lucky and write one in 10 or 15 minutes. If it goes any longer than that, I get rid of them. I never work on them again”

Frankly, this song does indeed sound as though it only took a few minutes to write, although it clearly inspired the cover art. Much better is the co-write with John Scott Sherrill and Scotty Emerick which closes the set. ‘Takin’ The Long Way Home’ places the protagonist in a bar, because he has too little to go home for, with a woman who’s obviously on her way out. The sweet sadness of the fiddle line underscores the delicately understated emotion of a man who has no remedy for his sense of abandonment, as he concludes at the end of the evening,

And it’ll be time for me to go
Where I’m going I don’t know
I just know I’m takin’ the long way home

However rash it may be as the title track, ‘Better Than I Used To Be’, written by Brian Simpson and Ashley Gorley, is a highlight of the record. It is a tender, even inspiring, promise from a man who has made mistakes in the past and is in the process of turning his life around:

I can’t count the people I’ve let down
Or the hearts I’ve broke
You aint gotta dig too deep
If you want to find some dirt on me
I’m learning who you’ve been
Ain’t who you’ve gotta be…

Standin’ in the rain so long
Has left me with a little rust
But put some faith in me
Someday you’ll see
There’s a diamond under all this dust

But he acknowledges this is a work in progress in this lovely, mature song. A video was made to support this song as a single earlier this year, and it is a shame it failed to make many waves.

Equally good is the subdued sadness of ‘Like I Wasn’t Even There’, written by Wes Hightower, Monty Criswell and Tim Mensy. The protagonist runs into his ex for the first time since the breakup, and is ignored as though their relationship never existed.

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Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘Tougher Than Nails’

After the loss of his Monument deal, Joe signed to the indie label Broken Bow, for whom he released one album in 2004. He shared production duties with Lonnie Wilson and Buddy Cannon.

He was still a viable hit maker on country radio, even on a minor label, and the title track (a religious song) reached the top 20. Written by Phil O’Donnell, Max T Barnes and Kendell Marvel, it links a modern story (a little boy beaten up by bullies) to the example of Jesus. Perhaps not the most innovative of lyrics, but it is well done, as the father advises his boy against revenge:

Let me tell you a little story about the toughest man I know
Hit him and he just turned the other cheek
But don’t think for a minute he was weak
Cause in the end he showed them he was anything but frail
They hammered him to a cross
But He was tougher than nails

Later on the album, Joe takes the opposite message from a rather different role model in the tongue-in-cheek ‘What Would Waylon Do’, featuring a guest vocal from George Jones (doing his best Waylon impersonation). It was written by Leslie Satcher and Wynn Varble about the tribulations of being a touring musician, and was apparently initially inspired by an incident at a real Waylon Jennings concert when the promoter declined to pay him:

There’s blue cheese in the greenroom
What are we supposed to eat?
And the opening act’s a polka band
And they can’t keep a beat

Now the sheriff’s got the drug dogs
Tearing up our bus
We’re just hillbilly singers
I think he’s profiling us
And now he wants an autograph
And a free t-shirt or two
Well, what would Waylon do?

The second single, ‘If I Could Only Bring You Back’ (selected by the label owner and written by Frank Myers and Chip Davis) failed to make much of an impact. That was radio’s loss, as it was a beautifully interpreted, if rather sad and downbeat tale of bereavement, with understated string section. The protagonist declares he would be willing to give up all his worldly goods, if only the impossible could happen, but:

There’s no words I can say
Not a prayer I can pray
No road that you can take
Back to my arms

I would even take your place
If I could only bring you back

The December-set ‘This Time Last Year’, written by Giles Godard, Bobby Tomberlin and Robbie Wittkowski, has a similar feeling of loss. ‘Good News, Bad News’, written by Danny Wells and Chris Wallin, is even better, a sensitively delivered ballad about struggling with getting over lost love with nothing to look forward to but more of the same:

I’d unfeel the way I feel
If it would make you ungone
Gotta stop livin’ in the past
Look forward and not back
This getting used to go goin’ on without you
Is gonna take some time
The good news is tomorrow’s another day
But the bad news is tomorrow’s another day

Joe wrote five of the twelve tracks, including a rare solo composition, ‘Movin’ Train’, a song about an unsettling relationship which I can imagine bluegrass-style.

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Album Review: George Jones – ‘Cold Hard Truth’

By the late 1990s, country radio had decidedly cooled toward George Jones, just as it had done with most of his contemporaries. During that decade, Jones had made the transition from hit-maker to country music’s elder statesman. Although the radio hits had tapered off, he still managed to generate respectable sales, with two of his 90s discs earning gold certification. However, the sales weren’t considered good enough for him to keep his record deal, and in 1999 he parted ways with MCA Nashville after an eight-year stint with the label. It looked as though his major label career was over when he was suddenly given a reprieve — albeit a temporary one — when he was signed to the Nashville division of Asylum Records. The label assured him that he could have complete creative control and asked only that he record the album that he would have made twenty years earlier if he had been sober.

Jones teamed up with producer Keith Stegall, best known for his work with Alan Jackson, and his old pals Vince Gill and Patty Loveless who supplied harmony vocals to the project. The album that resulted was Cold Hard Truth, which was released in June 1999. It was hailed by the label as George’s return to hardcore country, which may have been overstating things a bit, since Jones had never abandoned his traditional sound. Still, the album was a change in direction in a sense, as its material was more substantive and serious, with none of the semi-novelty tunes or beat-driven “Young Country” style songs that had been characteristic of his work with MCA.

By this time, Jones had 158 charted singles — more than any other artist in any genre in history — under his belt. He kicked off the Asylum era of his career with “Choices”, a song about living with consequences of one’s actions which Billy Yates and Mike Curtis seem to have written with George in mind. In a just world, “Choices” would have returned George to the top of the charts, much as “Buy Me A Rose” would do for Kenny Rogers a few years later. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but “Choices” did reach a respectable #30, higher than any of his MCA singles except for “High-Tech Redneck”. Interest in the song was undoubtedly fueled by the controversy that ensued when Jones refused to perform it on the CMA’s award show because that organization refused to allot him enough time to sing it in its entirety. However, the song holds its ground on its own merits, and is one of the finest performances of Jones’ career. One can imagine another singer tackling “Choices” but not with the credibility that Jones brings.

Jamie O’Hara’s “The Cold Hard Truth” was chosen as the follow-up single. It is another fine performance, somewhat similar in theme to “Choices”, but it is not quite as good a song. It stalled at #45. For the next single — his last on a major label — Jones released the more light-hearted and somewhat fluffy “Sinners & Saints”, written by Vip Vipperman, J.B. Rudd, and Darryl Worley. It peaked at #55.

Many artists have difficulty obtaining first-rate material once their hit-making days are over, but that definitely was not the case here. There are some true gems from some of Nashville’s finest songwriters among the album cuts, including “Day After Forever” from the pen of Max D. Barnes, “Ain’t Love A Lot Like That” written by Mark Collie and Dean Miller, “This Wanting You” by Bruce Burch, Bruce Bouton, and T. Graham Brown, and Emory Gordy Jr.’s and Jim Rushing’s haunting “When The Last Curtain Falls”.

The Asylum era appeared to be off to a strong start for the new millenium, but regrettably we will never know what direction they would have taken with subsequent projects. The label’s Nashville office was shut down in 2000 by its parent company Time Warner. George apparently turned down an offer to join the Warner Bros. Nashville roster, opting instead to become a partner with former Asylum president Evelyn Shriver in the newly formed Bandit Records, which has released all of his music from 2001 to the present day.

Cold Hard Truth
is somewhat of a creative renaissance for Jones, more consistent in quality than any other album he’d released in the preceding decade. Although at age 68 his voice was beginning to show signs of wear and tear, he proved that he was still worthy of the title of country music’s greatest living singer. The album was meant to be a commercial comeback for George, and indeed it was a both a critical and commercial success, earning gold certification. However, it will be best remembered as the capstone to his major label career and it is hard to imagine how he could have ended his tenure with the majors on a higher note.

Grade: A

Cold Hard Truth
is still readily available in both CD and digital form from sources such as Amazon and iTunes.

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Walls Can Fall’

George’s second MCA album was released in 1992, and showed he was still capable of competing with the younger artists musically, although he was getting squeezed out of radio playlists. Producer Emory Gordy Jr gives the up tempo tracks a muscular rhythmic backing adapted to contemporary radio trends, but the ballads get a more subtle treatment. Gordy’s wife Patty Loveless sings backing vocals, together with Vince Gill.

A select group of younger stars provided backing vocals on the age-defying ‘I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair’, with Vince and Patty joined by Garth Brooks, Joe Diffie, Pam Tillis, T. Graham Brown, Mark Chesnutt, Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson, and Clint Black. George and friends were rewarded with the CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year, in 1993, although the single was only moderately successful, peaking at #34. Written by Billy Yates, Kerry Kurt Phillips and Frank Dycus, the song has never been a favorite of mine despite its accolades. Lyrically it is dangerously close to a novelty song, with slightly overbearing production.

I prefer the cheerfully rebellious ‘Wrong’s What I Do Best’ (written by Dickey Lee, Mike Campbell and Freddy Weller), the vibrant second single, although it flopped at radio, failing to rise above the 60s. It may have been a mistake not to release the closing track, ‘Finally Friday’ (previously recorded by Earl Thomas Conley). George roars and growls his way through this insistently rhythmic ode to the end of the working week in what is in many ways a more successful defiance of age than ‘I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair’.

A ballad was picked for the final (and sadly noncharting) single, but not one of George’s heartbreak specials. The title track is also an older man’s song but a more dignified one, expressing gratitude for a love breaking through the barriers the protagonist has erected over the years, for which Yates and Dycus were also responsible (together with Bruce Bouton). It is a nice but not outstanding song, and there is better fare of the album, including the album’s other love song, veteran Wayne Kemp’s beautiful ‘Don’t Send Me No Angels’.

In the ironic ‘Drive Me To Drink’, George tells his cheating wife to drop him off at the bar on her way to meet her lover:

You’ll be in his arms again
And I’ll be off the road
The highway will be safer
And they’ll have you to thank
If you’re gonna drive me crazy, baby
Drive me to drink

The storyline may be an implausible spin on the phrase which inspired it, but George sells it vocally, and this is probably my favorite of the up-tempo numbers.

One of the standout tracks is ‘What Am I Doing There’, written by Buddy Brock and Zack Turner, a classic sounding slow sad song as fantasies about a lost love imperil a new relationship, with lonesome fiddle backing up George’s sorrowful and guilt-ridden emoting which recalls his very best:

I no longer know what’s real anymore
In the back of my mind I have opened the door
That leads to the past & the love we once shared

How could I explain to the one lying here,
She’s loving me now
What am I doing there?

It is just beaten to the title of my personal favorite on this album by a perfectly structured Gene and Paul Nelson song, ‘There’s The Door’, also recorded by Stacy Dean Campbell, where a man faces a stark choice. Having tried his wife’s patience by staggering home past midnight once too often, he is faced with her ultimatum:

She took a sip of coffee and softly said to me,
“There’s the mantel where we keep our wedding picture
There’s the bedroom where we made both love and war
There’s the ring keeps on slipping off your finger
There’s no reason we should go on anymore
There’s the door”

So I’m back here on this barstool my whole world blown to hell
Behind the bottle there’s a mirror where a fool can see himself
If I were the man I should be and not the one I am
I would go back there this minute and beg for one more chance

There’s the jukebox where I wasted all those quarters
There’s a lady trying to get me out on the floor
And there’s a chance the one I love would still forgive me
It’s a step that I just never took before
There’s the door

I particularly like the fact that we don’t get told whether he makes the choice, and whether that door remains closed or not. My feeling is that he doesn’t, but there is that glimmer of hope.

Also fantastic is the regretful ‘You Must Have Walked Across My Mind Again’, written by Kemp with Warren Robb, which sounds like classic George, as the protagonist wakes up in prison after a drunken brawl which he blames on memories of his ex. George also covers the Haggard classic ‘The Bottle Let Me Down’.

Years of abusing his body with alcohol notwithstanding, George entered his sixties in pretty good shape vocally, and although perhaps his voice was starting to show slight signs of deterioration, his interpretative ability was still second to none. He may have been starting to struggle to compete with younger stars at radio, but this album showed he was still capable of making great music. And although I started out by saying I didn’t much like ‘I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair’, its chart success helped make this Goegre’s first gold-seller since Wine Colored Roses.

It’s still easy to find, and worth adding to your George Jones collection.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Gary Allan – ‘It Would Be You’

Gary’s second album for Decca was released in May 1998, and was in many ways a continuation of the approach taken on Used Heart For Sale, but with generally better material. Like that record, it was produced by Mark Wright and the songwriter Byron Hill who had helped Gary get his deal.

The title track and leadoff single was another top 10 hit for Gary, a brooding song about a woman who epitomises the worst kind of heartache:

If it was a full moon it would be a total eclipse.
….
But if we’re talking ‘bout a heartache, it would be you

Following the pattern of his debut, the ensuing singles performed disappointingly, failing to make the top 40. ‘No Man In His Wrong Heart’ is a fine song (written by Ronnie Rogers and Trey Bruce) which deserved to do much better, a tenderly delivered tale of resisting temptation one night while affirming the protagonist’s love for the woman at home. The third and final single, ‘I’ll Take Today’ (previously recorded by Tanya Tucker) is based on a similar situation, in this case with the protagonist running to an old flame, and telling his loved one that his ex is no threat to their relationship:

Old times, next to you, can never come close
I’ll take today over yesterday, any day

Gary Allan’s love songs are never saccharine – there is usually some kind of pained undercurrent of a troubled past which, together with the grainy tone of his voice adds a real sense of authenticity to the romantic sentiments. In similar vein is the mellow-sounding Jamie O’Hara/Gary Nicholson song ‘I Ain’t Runnin’ Yet’, which has a man used to shying away from anything approaching commitment and now taken unawares by his feelings. If Decca had not closed down, perhaps this would have been a fourth single.

‘Don’t Leave Her Lonely Too Long’ (a single for co-writer Marty Stuart in 1989) picks up the tempo. It is one of two cuts from Kostas, the other being ‘Red Lips, Blue Eyes, Little White Lies’. Both songs are pretty good, and bring some variety to the record, but individually neither is particularly distinctive.

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Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘No Place That Far’

After the traditional sound of Three Chords And The Truth had failed to break Sara at radio, there was some modification and a slightly smoother, glossier sound for her second album in 1998, but without breaking away completely from her traditional roots by any means. The production chair passed from Pete Anderson to Norro Wilson and Buddy Cannon, a partnership with experience on both pure country and pop-country sides of the fence and a track record creating hits.

Leadoff single, the insistent mid-tempo Jamie O’Hara song ‘Cryin’ Game’, did no better than its predecessors, but it is a good pop-country song with a fine vocal as Sara tells a lover he’d better treat her right or she’ll be gone. I think Jamie (formerly half of the O’Kanes duo in the late 80s) sings backing vocals here. The long-awaited breakthrough came for Sara when the title track, an impressive ballad co-written by Sara herself with Tom Shapiro and Tony Martin, was selected as the next single. It was a #1 smash hit. A delicately subdued opening leads to a big chorus, with Vince Gill prominent on harmony.

Disappointingly, the third and last single, Sara’s last release of the 90s, ‘Fool, I’m A Woman’, which she wrote with Matraca Berg, was less successful, failing to reach the top 30.  It is another contemporary-sounding song, but an engagingly peppy one about a woman’s prerogative to change her mind about love, addressed to a boyfriend treating her badly.  I think this is the track featuring Martina McBride on backing vocals, although Martina is very low in the mix and is basically indistinguishable.

Altogether, Sara co-wrote almost half the material on this album, including the very traditional country gospel ‘There’s Only One’, which she wrote with the brilliant Leslie Satcher.  Closely banked female harmonies (possibly from Sara’s sisters) help this track close the set on a high as she declares God’s love is the only thing that matters.  Although the song itself is not as memorable, I also love the traditional sound of the lost-love ‘These Days’, which Sara wrote with Billy Yates, and on which Alison Krauss sings prominent harmony.

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Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Three Chords and the Truth’

Had Three Chords and the Truth been released about a decade earlier, it would have been a monster hit for Sara Evans. All of the tracks on this very traditional-sounding album would have been right at home on country radio in the late 80s, alongside the hits of Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Reba McEntire and The Judds. But by the mid-1990s, the New Traditionalist movement had run out of steam and country music began once again to drift toward a more pop-leaning sound. Someone at RCA Records apparently felt that the time was right for traditionalism to make a comeback and thought that Sara Evans was the one to spearhead the movement. Unfortunately, country radio wasn’t interested in a traditionalist revival and gave the album little support. As such, it sold poorly, despite being one of the most solid debut efforts by any artist of any era. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Pete Anderson, who was best known for his work with Dwight Yoakam. Together he and Sara Evans crafted a retro-sounding collection that makes no attempt to tone down the twang in Sara’s voice. It is part Bakersfield, part Nashville Sound, and 100% country.

Sara shared co-writing credits on seven of the album’s tracks, including ‘True Lies’ which was released as her first single in advance of the album. It stalled at #59 on the Billboard country singles chart. The follow-up single, the excellent title track, fared slightly better, peaking just outside the Top 40 at #44. It was accompanied by Sara’s first music video, which, in keeping with the song’s retro theme, depicted her driving a 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible and wearing vintage 1960s clothing. RCA made one final attempt to pitch this album to radio, with the release of a third single, ‘Shame About That’, which like its predecessors, failed to crack the Top 40, peaking at #48.

Three of the album’s eleven songs were covers: ‘I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail’ written by Harlan Howard and Buck Owens, ‘Imagine That’, a Justin Tubb composition that had reached #21 in 1962 for Patsy Cline, and ‘Walk Out Backwards’ which had been written by Bill Anderson, and had also been recorded by Connie Smith. The influences of all of these legends is apparent on these tracks, and throughout the album. The Bakersfield sound is represented with ‘I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail’. This was the song that Sara had recorded as a demo, which so impressed Harlan Howard that he helped her to secure her record deal with RCA. ‘Imagine That’ allowed her to show off her ability to sing a torch song, while “Walk Out Backwards” is pure, unadulterated, vintage country.

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Album Review: Billy Yates – ‘Bill’s Barber Shop’

billyyates7Billy Yates managed just one top 40 hit with ‘Flowers’ back in 1997, but since losing his major label deal he has released a string of records on his own MOD label, as well as forging a successful songwriting career.

Billy’s music is firmly rooted in mainstream traditional country. His voice is not exceptional, but it is good with a pleasing twang, and he is a very accomplished writer with a good ear for playful lyrics, writing or co-writing all the material on his latest effort. It opens promisingly with the plaintive honky tonking ‘Famous For Being Your Fool’, in which the protagonist, formerly happy in obscurity, finds himself a public laughing stock thanks to the woman he is hopelessly in thrall to.

Several songs tackle faltering relationships with an undercurrent of suspicion. The best of the songs tackling this theme is the slow ‘Tell Me I’m Wrong’, written with Carson Chamberlain and Billy Ryan, as a husband vainly hopes he may be reading wrongly all the signs of a woman on her way out of the marriage:

“That note you left was hard to read
Through the teardrops in my eyes
I think it said you’d rather be alone
Tell me I’m wrong

You can say I’m crazy, that I’ve lost my mind
Tell me what I’m seeing is a sign I’m going blind
And those bags sitting right there by the back door
Lead me to believe that you don’t love me any more”

Well, yes. Equally desperate not to see what is in plain view to everyone else is the protagonist of ‘I Just Can’t See It’, written with Irene Kelley, who admits,

“If I look for trouble, then trouble is what I’ll find”

but claims he “can’t see a single cloud up in the sky”, before finally declaring:

My love is strong and that will never change
And that is why I look the other way.”

The protagonist of the neatly constructed ‘Get Ready, Get Set, She’s Gone’, is a little more prepared for heartbreak, as he engages in a conversation with his heart:

“Get ready, ’cause we’re about to break
Get set for the steps she’s about to take
Hold on, be steady,
One of us has to be strong
Get ready, get set, she’s gone.”

The mid-tempo ‘It Goes Without Sayin”, written with John Raney, is the most contemporary sounding song, and is probably my least favorite as Billy seems to be glossing over the heartbreak beneath the lyric. Much more convincing is the straightforward heartbreak of the one solo composition on the set, as the subdued protagonist tries to conceal ‘This Pain Inside Of Me’ from the woman who has caused it.

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Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Taste Of The Truth’

Taste Of The TruthGene Watson is one of my all-time favorite singers, and it is good to report that he is still sounding great at the age of 65. Listening to his new album, his second for independent label Shanachie, is like listening to a masterclass in singing country music, a subtle rendering of understated emotion. Gene is not a songwriter, so the ultimate artistic success of his records always depend on finding great outside material, and fortunately he has found some fine songs here from some of the best writers currently in Nashville, which are ideally suited to his voice. The overall theme is one of lost love and regret.

It opens with ‘Speakin’ Of The Angel’, a great traditional sounding mid-tempo number written by Shawn Camp and Jim Rushing, which is a joy to listen to even though the protagonist is heartbroken dwelling on his beloved ex planning to marry another:

“If I swear that I don’t love her, God knows it’s a lie,
Speakin’ of the angel is enough to make me cry.”

The title track comes from the pen of Rebecca Lynn Howard, and is a fine ballad with a beautifully realized metaphor, delicately delivered in Gene’s best style, as he addresses another ex, this time one he now regrets having left, finding the freedo he had hungered for has a “lonely flavor”:

“I’d eat my words to have you back
If I thought I could
‘Cause the truth don’t satisfy me
Like I thought it would

In fact it leaves me hollow
With a bad taste in my mouth
It’s hard for me to swallow
Tears won’t wash it down
Knowing you don’t want me back
It’s all that I can do
To keep from chokin’ on
The taste of the truth”

Another gorgeous sad ballad perfect for Gene’s voice is ‘Til A Better Memory Come Along’, previously recorded by both Mark Chesnutt and Shelby Lynne. I like both previous versions, but this is quite lovely as Gene can’t get over the woman who has left and tells her memory so with perhaps the best vocal performance on the album:

“How long will it take before I leave you
In the past where you belong?
One day I might forget
But right now I’m not that strong
So I’ll hold on
Til a better memory comes along”

Just as good is another sad song about failing to get over someone (and obviously not trying very hard), Tim Mensy and Keith Stegall’s ‘Three Minutes At A Time’, as the narrator forgets his troubles for a while by listening to country songs on the jukebox: “it’s heartache in rhyme, but it helps me hang on”, he testifies.

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