My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Blake Shelton

September Spotlight Artist: Jim Lauderdale

Our September Spotlight features one of the true Renaissance persons of roots music, Jim Lauderdale. Born in 1957, Lauderdale has a thorough-going knowledge of country, bluegrass, roots-rock, folk and jazz and incorporates elements of all of these into his songwriting and performances. He has performed in theatre, as a member of various bands, and as a solo performer. He has an affable personality and a decent, but not necessarily terrific, singing voice that could, under different circumstances, led him to become a major recording star in the fields of bluegrass or traditional country music. As it is, Jim has had difficulty in receiving airplay for his own recordings and never made much of an impact on radio with his only charted single, “Stay Out of My Arms” reaching #86 on Billboard’s country chart in 1988. If heard at all on the radio, it is most likely to be on bluegrass programs (usually on NPR) or on Bluegrass Junction on Sirius-XM as his duet recordings with Ralph Stanley are quite popular with the bluegrass crowd.

As a songwriter, he has been far more successful with his songs being recorded by many artists across a variety of genres including George Strait, Gary Allan, Elvis Costello, George Jones, Buddy Miller, Blake Shelton, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, and Patty Loveless. I don’t know how many of his songs George Strait recorded, but it is a bunch.

Although not a household name with modern county radio audiences, Jim Lauderdale has been quite busy, co-hosting Music City Roots, the annual Americana Music Awards Show (since 2002) and appearing on various other television shows. He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead), Dr. Ralph Stanley, Nick Lowe and Roland White.

Between television and touring, he stays quite busy. We have selected an interesting array of albums to review, so please join us in saluting our September Spotlight Artist – Jim Lauderdale.

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Classic Rewind: Blake Shelton – ‘Savior’s Shadow’

Spotlight Artist: Earl Thomas Conley

Born in October 1941, Earl Thomas Conley is the quintessence of the term “late bloomer” as far as becoming a country music star. Although he had some very modest chart success starting in 1975 with GRT Records and again with Warner Brothers in 1979, it wasn’t until Conley reached independent label Sunbird in late 1980, that Earl (or ETC as he was often called) began to achieve real success as a recording artist. By then, he was thirty-nine years old.

Earl Thomas Conley was the oldest and most successful of the triumvirate of somewhat similarly named country artist of the 1980s (the others were Con Hunley and John Conlee), each of whom had very distinctive voices. Earl had an extended run of success, both as a recording artist and as a songwriter. Between 1980 and 2003, he recorded ten studio albums, including seven for RCA. During this same period he charted more than 30 singles on the Billboard country charts, with 18 reaching #1.

Earl was raised in a working class family that had a love for music and the arts, and painting – which he started when he was 10 – was Earl’s first love. At age 14, Earl’s father lost his job with the railroad and Earl went to live with an older sister in Dayton, Ohio, where he continued to paint and develop his skills as an artist. While painting was his first love, Earl’s father had introduced him to music and Earl began to be more aware of it as an influence in his life.

After graduating high school, Earl decided against college, joining the Army instead. While in the Army, Earl became a member a Christian-influenced trio, where his musical talent and vocal ability were first placed on public display. At some point Earl decided that performing might not be a bad way to make a living. Accordingly, he delved more deeply into the classic country sounds of artists such as Merle Haggard and George Jones. During this period Earl first tried his hand at songwriting. In 1968, after his discharge from the Army, Earl began commuting from Dayton to Nashville.

With nothing happening for him in Nashville (and tired of back and forth commuting), Earl moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to be 150 miles closer to the recording industry. While in Nashville on a song-plugging visit in 1973, Earl met Dick Herd, who produced the great Mel Street. This meeting eventually led to the Conley-Herd collaboration on the song “Smokey Mountain Memories”, which Street took into the top 10 in early 1975.

Prior to Street’s recording Earl had moved to Nashville, where he met record producer Nelson Larkin, who signed Earl to his publishing house and helped sign him with independent label GRT in 1974. Larkin placed one of Earl’s songs with his brother Billy Larkin, “Leave It Up to Me”, which Larkin took to #22 in late 1975. Nelson Larkin would produce Earl’s sessions through the end of the 1980s.

GRT released four of Earl’s singles without much success. Meanwhile, Earl placed “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me,” with Conway Twitty, who took it all the way to the top in 1975, giving Earl his first #1 record as a songwriter.

On the strength of his successful songwriting, Warner Brothers signed Earl to a recording contract. Unfortunately, the three singles Warner Brothers issued in 1979 on ‘Earl Conley’ failed to achieve much traction.

After his stint at Warner Brothers was over, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) signed with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with producer Nelson Larkin. “Fire & Smoke,” released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40.

The success of “Fire and Smoke” caused RCA to pick up Earl’s contract and purchase the rights to Earl’s Sunbird recordings for release on RCA. Ultimately RCA became his home for the next decade during which time the following songs reached #1:

•“Somewhere Between Right and Wrong”
•“Your Love’s On The Line”
•“Holding Her and Loving You”
•“Don’t Make It Easy For Me”
•“Angel In Disguise”
•“Chance of Loving You”
•“Love Don’t Care (Whose Heart it Breaks)”
•“Nobody Fall s Like A Fool”
•“Once In A Blue Moon”
•“I Have Loved You Girl”
•“I Can’t Win For Losing You”
•“That Was A Close One”
•“Right From The Start”
•“What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)”
•“We Believe In Happy Endings” (w/Emmylou Harris)
•“What I’d Say”
•“Love Out Loud”

While Earl Thomas Conley tended to regard himself as a straight country artist, his rather smoky voice helped gain him acceptance across the board. Earl appeared on the television show Soul Train in 1986, and to the best of my knowledge he is the only country artist to be so featured.

Chart success basically ran out for Earl at the end of the 1980s although there were some decent chart hits through 1992, including the 1991 recording of “Brotherly Love” a duet with Keith Whitley released after Keith’s death.

Since then, Earl has continued to tour occasionally and write songs but has done relatively little recording, with a seven year recording hiatus 1991-1997. This hiatus was due to a number of factors, including vocal problems, disenchantment with record label politics, road fatigue and mental burnout. Earl finally emerged with another album in 1998, Perpetual Emotion, aided and abetted by long-time friends Randy Scruggs and Curly Corwin. His last albums were Should Have Been Over By Now, released in 2003, and Live at Billy Bob’s, released in 2005.

Earl is now 76 years old and no longer maintains a website, although he does maintain a Facebook page. Earl retired from performing about a year ago.

Various artists continue to record his songs, and Blake Shelton released Earl’s “All Over Me” as a single in 2002. Earl has always eschewed fads, not becoming a ‘hat act’ during the late 1980s and continuing to write thoughtful, non-gimmicky songs.

The digital age has seen much of Earl’s recorded legacy restored to the catalogue, so finding his songs should not be difficult. We hope you enjoy discovering (or rediscovering) the music of our very distinctive Spotlight vocalist Earl Thomas Conley.

Week ending 7/28/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958:  Guess Things Happen That Way / Come In Stranger — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Folsom Prison Blues — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1978: Only One Love In My Life — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1988: Don’t We All Have The Right — Ricky Van Shelton (Columbia Nashville)

1998: I Can Still Feel You — Colin Raye (Epic)

2008: Home — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros. Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: Get Along — Kenny Chesney (Blue Chair/Warner Nashville)

Week ending 7/21/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958:  Guess Things Happen That Way / Come In Stranger — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Folsom Prison Blues — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1978: Only One Love In My Life — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1988: Set ‘Em Up Joe — Vern Gosdin (Columbia)

1998: I Can Still Feel You — Colin Raye (Epic)

2008: Home — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros. Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: Get Along — Kenny Chesney (Blue Chair/Warner Nashville)

Single Review: Blake Shelton – ‘I Lived It’

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a Blake Shelton single I actually liked, but here comes this track from his current album Texoma Shore which is his newest radio single. Even more surprisingly, it’s co-written by Rhett Akins, Ben Hayslip, Ashley Gorley and Ross Copperman.

A gentle understated melody and arrangement leads into a relective lyric about childhood memories. Things that seemed annoying at the time are seen in retrospect with love as things that made the protagonist who he is today.

There’s not a lot more to it, but the details are specific and lovingly recalled, painting a completely believable picture of a suburban Southern upbringing. Musically, it’s also recognisably country music with no extraneous elements.

This might not be a standout in past generations, but heard today it’s a real step in the right direction.

Grade: a slightly generous A-

Week ending 12/30/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): My Special Angel — Bobby Helms (Decca)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): My Special Angel — Bobby Helms (Decca)

1967: For Loving You — Bill Anderson & Jan Howard (Decca)

1977Here You Come Again — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1987: Somewhere Tonight — Highway 101 (Warner Bros.)

1997: Longneck Bottle — Garth Brooks (Capitol)

2007: Our Song — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2017: Meant to Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Warner Bros.)

2017 (Airplay): I’ll Name the Dogs — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Christmas Rewind: Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert – Home (Christmas)

Week ending 7/15/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Four Walls — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1967: All The Time — Jack Greene (Decca)

1977I’ll Be Leaving Alone — Charley Pride (RCA)

1987: All My Ex’s Live In Texas — George Strait (MCA)

1997: It’s Your Love — Tim McGraw with Faith Hill (Curb)

2007: Lucky Man — Montgomery Gentry (Columbia)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Every Time I Hear That Song — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Take This Job And Shove It’

1977 was the peak of Johnny Paycheck’s career, seeing the success of his signature song, the only chart topping single of his career. The album from which it came was also his most successful, his only platinum record, and was arguably his best. By now Billy Sherrill knew what kind of production suited Paycheck, and he gives him the right backings for this excellent selection of songs.

‘Take This Job And Shove It’, written by fellow Outlaw David Allan Coe, is a true country classic which is still instantly recognisable – and relatable – today. More casual country fans may think of it solely as an assertive blue collar walkout from an underpaid, boring factory job with bosses he despises, but at heart it is a heartbreak song. The narrator’s motivation is the woman he loves. He has been enduring the job he loathes in order to try and make a home for her – but now she has left, he plans on making is true feelings known. Paycheck’s growling delivery is completely convincing. The song had such a popular impact it even loosely inspired a movie a few years later, in which both Paycheck and Coe had cameo roles.

The spoken ‘Colorado Kool-Aid’ is a rather bizarre intended-to-be-funny tale of a bar fight in which the narrator’s Mexican friend cuts off a drunken aggressor’s ear as payback for the latter spitting beer at him:

If you’re ever ridin’ down in south Texas
And decide to stop and drink some Colorado Kool-Aid
And maybe talk to some Mexicans
And you get the urge to get a little tough
You better make damn sure you got your knife-proof ear-muff

Hey, ain’t that right, big man?
I said, ain’t that right, big man?
Ah, hell he can’t hear
Nnot on this side anyway, he ain’t got no ear

It was the B side to the physical single of ‘Take This Job And Shove It’, and it got some airplay in its own right.

The album’s other single, the booze-drenched Bobby Braddock’s ‘Georgia In A Jug’, was less successful, peaking at #17, even though it is an excellent song. Younger fans may know it better from Blake Shelton’s cover. Like ‘Take This Job’, it appears to be one kind of song, in this case a drinking song, with an underlying narrative of heartbreak over the woman who has left. Mexican horns, Caribbean steel drums, and Hawaiian steel are used sparingly, and tastefully, to illustrate the exotic destinations the happy couple will never now visit in real life. A similar alcoholic tour, this time of the US, to try and get over a woman, take space in ‘The Spirits Of St Louis’.

Another superb song, ‘From Cotton To Satin (From Birmingham To Manhattan)’ (covered by Gene Watson a few years later) is about a marriage which founders due to financial pressures. The poor farmer hero scrapes together just enough to take his wife on a vacation to New York City, where she dumps him for a rich man. Ironically, just after she has done so, his Alabama farm turns out to be the site of an oilwell.

‘Barstool Mountain’ was written by Donn Tankersley and Wayne Carson (who recorded it first), and also recorded by Moe Bandy. A classic honky tonk ballad about “drinking away I love you”, it’s another great tune.

‘The Fool Strikes Again’ (written by Steve Davis, Mark Sherrill and Gary Cobb) is a delicate ballad about a loyal wife whose man continually lets her down:

Lady Luck never smiles on those who cheat to win
Every time I get her back
The devil tempts me into sin
And with a smile on his face
The fool strikes again

It was subsequently a single for Charlie Rich, although not a particularly successful one.

‘When I Had A Home To Go’, penned by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton, might depict the same relationship a little later. The wealthy protagonist admits to the bartender,

She loved me more than life itself
But the liquid diet I was on starved our love to death
So it’s not hard to figure out why my baby’s gone
‘Cause when I had a home to go to
I never did go home

Luckily for him, she actually seeks him out in the bar where he has taken refuge, and offers him a second chance, and he has suffered enough to take it up:

So forget the double
Keep the change
And you can call me gone
Cause while I’ve got a home to go to
This time I’m going home

‘The Four F Blues’ is more light hearted, with Paycheck cheerfully playing the field:

I ain’t never seen a woman that didn’t like the 4-F blues

Ooh I like to find ’em, fool ’em, free ’em and forget ’em
And love ’em till they’re satisfied
Then look around for something new

‘The Man From Bowling Green’ is a nice, rather sad story song written by Max D Barnes and Troy Seals., about a naïve young girl seduced by an older man, a musician who moves swiftly on once he has got what he wanted.

This is a great album, which I strongly recommend. If you have nothing else by Johnny Paycheck nin your collection, this is the album to go for. You can find it on a joint CD with Armed And Crazy, and half the tracks from Mr Hag Told My Story, reviews for both which will follow later this week.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Michael White – ‘Familiar Ground’

4187bvloazlAs the composer of such songs as Blake Shelton’s “The Baby”, Mark Wills’ “Loving Every Minute” and Michael Ray’s “Kiss You in the Morning”, Michael White has been more successful as a songwriter than as a performer, but he did record briefly for Reprise Records in the early 1990s. Familiar Ground, his sole album for Reprise (or anyone else as far as I can determine) was released in 1992. It produced three chart singles, one of which reached the Top 40, but failed to establish him as recording artist.

Timing is everything. If Familiar Ground were being released today, we’d all be talking about Michael White as a new standard bearer for traditional country music, much in the way that Mo Pitney and William Michael Morgan are. But 25 years ago when the music still usually sounded country and there was no shortage of talent, Michael White simply did not stand out from the pack. It’s regrettable because he has a very fine voice, that is reminiscent of Tracy Lawrence, with occasional touches of Aaron Tippin and Keith Whitley.

The lead single “Professional Fool” was the album’s biggest hit and one of the best songs on the album. It peaked at a very respectable-for-a-first-release #32. A more uptempo number may have been a better choice to introduce a new act to radio. Reprise tried that strategy with the next two singles: the title track which was penned by White and “She Likes to Dance”, which peaked at #43 and #63 respectively. “Familiar Ground” is a decent small-town homage, but it’s barely distinguishable from dozens of other similar songs. “She Likes to Dance” is a bit of lightweight fluff.

All of the songs are good, but my favorites are the ballads: “Back to Texarkana”, “If I Had a Mind To”, and “The Boy Next Door” who is overlooked by the object of his affections. I also enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek swing number “One of My Near Mrs.” I can imagine Tracy Lawrence singing this one.

I’d never heard of Michael White prior to preparing for this month’s spotlight feature. I’m very pleased and pleasantly surprised to have come across this overlooked gem. Used cheap copies are readily available.

Grade: A

Week ending 2/11/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

morris10-21957 (Sales):Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Jukebox): Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1967: Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind) — Loretta Lynn (Decca)

1977: Near You — George Jones & Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1987: Leave Me Lonely — Gary Morris (Warner Bros.)

1997: It’s a Little Too Late — Mark Chesnutt (Decca)

2007: Watching You — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2017: Better Man — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2017 (Airplay): Guy With A Girl — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Week ending 2/4/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

220px-danseals-21957 (Sales):Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Jukebox): Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1967: There Goes My Everything — Jack Greene (Decca)

1977: Let My Love Be Your Pillow — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1987: You Still Move Me — Dan Seals (EMI America)

1997: Nobody Knows — Kevin Sharp (Asylum)

2007: Watching You — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2017: Blue Ain’t Your Color — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2017 (Airplay): Guy With A Girl — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Week ending 1/28/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

rodney_atkins-21957 (Sales):Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Jukebox): Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Singing the Blues — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1967: There Goes My Everything — Jack Greene (Decca)

1977: I Can’t Believe She Gives It All To Me – Conway Twitty (MCA)

1987: Cry Myself To Sleep — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1997: Nobody Knows — Kevin Sharp (Asylum)

2007: Watching You — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2017: Blue Ain’t Your Color — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2017 (Airplay): Guy With A Girl — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘A Whole Lot More To Me’

CraigMorgan-AWholeLotMoretoMeFor his seventh album, A Whole Lot More To Me, Craig Morgan wanted to craft a record that broke down genre stereotypes and cast him in a new light. It’s his first album of original material in four years as well as his second album for Black River.

The first single, “When I’m Gone” was released back in September and peaked at #48. Written by Justin Ebach and Steven Dale Jones is an optimistic banjo-driven uptempo about wanting to be remembered as someone who lived life to the fullest.

The second single, released in May and yet to chart, is the power ballad “I’ll Be Home Soon” written by Ebach, Jones and John King. The lyric is typical of modern country love songs, but Morgan brings an emotional gravitas that elevates the song to just above generic.

Morgan had a hand in co-writing five of the album’s twelve tracks. “Living On The Memories” is a bombastic power ballad he collaborated on with Scott Stepakoff and Josh Osborne. Mike Rogers joined him for the title track, where he goes out of his way to debunk his country boy image with an interesting laundry list of illustrations emoted by a vocal that could’ve been toned down a few notches. “I’m That Country” walks everything back by devolving into Morgan’s typical style. “Remind Me Why I’m Crazy” is an excellent ballad about lost love with a cluttered treatment that intrudes on my overall enjoyment. Morgan’s final co-write, “I Can’t Wait to Stay,” is nothing more than a song about remaining in the town where your family has generational roots.

It feels as if a prerequisite of any modern day country album is having a song co-written by Shane McAnally. His contribution, a co-write with Eric Paslay and Dylan Altman is “Country Side of Heaven,” which is actually a great song. The overall track would’ve been better served with an acoustic arrangement, which would’ve brought fourth the interesting lyric a lot more.

“All Cried Out” is a bombastic power ballad ruined by atrocious wall-of-sound production that causes Morgan to over sing. “Nowhere Without You,” co-written by Michal McDonald and John Goodwin, is much better although I found the piano based production rather bland. Will Hoge and Gordie Sampson teamed with Altman on “Who Would It Be,” a name-check song about the legends you would spend time with if you could.

The final cut, “Hearts I Leave Behind,” features Christian Rock singer Mac Powell. The song was originally recorded by Pete Scobell Band Featuring Wynonna Judd, which I reviewed last year. It’s far and away the crowning achievement of A Whole Lot More To Me and a perfect song for Morgan.

The marketing materials for A Whole Lot More To Me describe the album as ‘sexy,’ which I most certainly would not. There is hardly anything here in that vein, unlike Dierks Bentley’s Black, which makes it an odd descriptor. Morgan does sing at full power, which showcases his range but unintentionally sound like Blake Shelton circa 2008. The album is bombastic and unremarkable on the whole, but I give Morgan credit for giving into mainstream pressures without selling his soul. A Whole Lot More To Me is nowhere near the upper echelon of albums for 2016, but it is far from the scrap heap. He could’ve done better, but it’s clear he is giving his all.

Grade: B

Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘My Kind of Livin”

unnamed2005’s My Kind of Livin’ stands as Craig Morgan’s most successful album to date. His second release for Broken Bow, it remains his only album to be certified gold and features his biggest charting singles.

Morgan’s previous album established him as a syrupy balladeer of emotional story songs. He gained moderate traction with hits like “Almost Home” and “Every Friday Afternoon,” but he still hadn’t found his footing. That changed when “That’s What I Love About Sunday” hit radio in November 2004. The warm ballad, with ribbons of dobro and a pure bright melody, skyrocketed to #1. The track held the top spot for four consecutive weeks, went on to become Billboard’s number-one song on the year-end country chart and gave Broken Bow their first multi-week chart topper. I quite like the song, which manages to maintain a spiritual bent while celebrating the Sabbath without overwrought clichés.

I adore the album’s second single, the infectious banjo, fiddle and steel guitar-heavy “Redneck Yacht Club.” The song foreshadows bro-country with themes of summertime, partying and scantly glad women but it mostly focuses on the fun (and innocence) of being out on the lake with your friends and doesn’t even hint at hookups, sex or gender objectification. Listening in to it again for the first time in many years, I’d almost forgotten that a song this country was able to score major radio airplay just a few short years ago. I’m not suggesting “Redneck Yacht Club” is even close to the greatest song ever written, but it illustrates what summertime country music should aspire to sound like. It makes me sick how far we we’ve devolved in the decade since and even more perplexed as to why we even had to change so much in the first place (I’d add Blake Shelton’s “Some Beach,” co-written by Rory Feek, to this conversation, as well).

Morgan co-wrote the album’s third and final single while on tour with Keith Urban with the hopes he would put it on his next project. After cutting the demo, he felt “I Got You” fit his own style and decided to keep it for himself. The song is a somewhat unremarkable uptempo love song that Morgan saves with his sincere vocal and arrangement that borderlines muscular, but saves enough breathing room for the steel guitar to nicely shine through. Those benefits weren’t enough for the song to gain traction, though, and it stalled at #12.

Morgan also had a hand in co-writing six more of the album’s tracks. The album’s title comes from “I’m Country,” a mid-tempo laundry list of southern clichés that has traditional elements but little else by way of appeal. “Ain’t The Way I Wanna Go Out” explores cheating, a scorned husband and murder with cluttered production values that grate on the listener.

“Rain For The Roses” is a workingman’s anthem about The Roses, a farming couple in a southern town. I would’ve enjoyed it more without the title’s cutesy play-on-words and Morgan’s insistence of turning the chorus into a power ballad. “That’s When I’ll Believe That You’re Gone,” returns Morgan to the syrupy emotional ballads from his previous set, with mixed results. The production is good, but the lyric is too middle-of-the-road to reach maximum emotional complexity.

“If You Like That” is reminiscent of turn-of-the-century Mark Chesnutt and is one of the better songs amongst his co-writes. I love the simple arrangement and heartfelt lyric. Morgan’s final co-write “Blame Me” is a terrible duet with John Conlee and Brad Paisley that joins “I’m Country” in wasting space with uninspired southern signifiers.

“Lotta Man (In That Little Boy)” gives a lot away by its title and offers little more as a song. The ballad just isn’t as compelling as it could be with a story that settles for predictable rather than surprising. “Cowboy and Clown” centers around friendship on the rodeo circuit and despite a stupid title is a slightly above average song. The album’s final number, “In My Neighborhood” is nothing more than a ‘where I’m from’ type of song.

My Kind of Livin’ mostly gets the sonic overtones right. I have to give Morgan and his co-producer Phil O’Donnell credit for sticking with production values that lean heavy on actual country instrumentation. That’s unfortunately all for not since they got the music wrong. Besides the three singles, there’s hardly anything here worth salvaging. My Kind of Livin’ isn’t an embarrassingly bad album, it’s just wrought with clichés and tries too hard to play up the southern themes it panders to. This is squarely mid-2000s country lacking in imagination and originality. Check it out if you want to, I always recommend people come to their own conclusions, but it did little for me.

Grade: B-

Week ending 6/11/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

6ed60564e3c8840a18860e94616bbd651956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Heartbreak Hotel — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1966: Distant Drums — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1976: One Piece at a Time — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1986: Happy, Happy Birthday Baby — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1996: Blue Clear Sky — George Strait (MCA)

2006: Settle For a Slowdown — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): Came Here To Forget — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Week ending 12/26/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

cw-mccall1955 (Sales): Sixteen Tons — Tennessee Ernie Ford (Capitol)

1955 (Jukebox): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Love, Love, Love — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Buckaroo — Buck Owens & The Buckaroos (Capitol)

1975: Convoy — C.W. McCall (MGM)

1985: The Chair — George Strait (MCA)

1995: That’s as Close as I’ll Get to Loving You — Aaron Tippin (RCA)

2005: Come a Little Closer — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

2015: Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

2015 (Airplay): Gonna — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Album Review: Jo Dee Messina – ‘The Unmistakable Trilogy’

539wJo Dee Messina’s commercial fortunes dwindled once Delicious Surprise fell from the charts. Curb Records stopped actively promoting her and Messina all but disappeared. Her final chart hit came courtesy of a non-album single entitled “I’m Done.” While not her strongest work the upbeat rocker was in keeping with her strong woman style and should’ve peaked higher then #36.

Messina was then to reemerge with a new album entitled Unmistakable. The full-length project was due in April 2010. At the last minute, Curb Records had other ideas and split the album into three EPs subtitled Love, Drive, and Inspiration. In addition to the newly recorded numbers, each project had a couple acoustic renderings of her hits thrown in where they best fit the given theme.

The EPs marked the first time Tim McGraw and Byron Gallimore weren’t at the helm as producers. Scott Hendricks, who oversaw Blake Shelton’s two six-pack releases that same year, took over production duties. The first of the three, Unmistakable: Love, came out two weeks after the original album was supposed to have hit stores.

MI0002915145Unmistakable: Love consisted of seven original tracks. The majority of them are filler, pleasant album cuts that are easily passed over in favor of getting to the good stuff on a project. The title track of the trilogy is found here and it’s very good, although a second rate knockoff of “Burn.”

The next two EPs were released on the same day that November. The second volume is Unmistakable: Drive. Appropriately titled for the harder edge found in the production, the second volume features “Biker Chick” a Messina single from 2007 that came just after the final single from Delicious Surprise.Unknown The track is atrocious, easily among the worst she’s ever released. The rest of the EP follows suit with lazier songwriting
and uninspired melodies. Messina can shine in this vein, but none of these numbers are anywhere near close to the heights she reached with “Bye-Bye.”

The final EP, Unmistakable: Inspiration has a more spiritual bent. These six original songs are anchored by “That’s God,” the only single officially from the trilogy. The piano ballad works splendidly, 5150681and although it didn’t chart, is a great latter day radio offering from Messina. The remainder of the tracks contain worthy sentiments we’ve all heard before and offer little that is interesting or noteworthy.

The six acoustic numbers, all recorded live, are the best tracks found on the trilogy. “Bring on the Rain,” “BecauseYou Love Me,” and “Stand Beside Me” are all pretty faithful to the studio versions. “I’m Alright” has a bit of a Latin feel that is quite ear catching and “Lesson In Leavin’” shows some imagination from the original. “Even God Must Get The Blues,” an I’m Alright album cut, is a revelation. Messina’s vocal soars in ways she’s hardly ever sung before.

Usually when a record label tries a gimmick like this, there’s a legitimate reason. In this case, there just isn’t much here for the fan to sink into. The majority of the 19 original tracks are mostly forgettable filler and hardly anything stands out as a bonafide hit. Releasing these recordings as a trilogy was likely a way for Curb Records to drum up whatever excitement and publicity was left for Messina by that point.

At the end of the day, the Unmistakable Trilogy finds Messina in flawless voice. She ventures far too pop for much of the songs opting to deemphasize the gorgeous twang that soaked her debut album. But she still sounds better than ever, and that should count for something. I just wish there were more standout moments among these 19 newly recorded songs.

Grade: B-

Week ending 7/18/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

portergibson1955 (Sales): I Don’t Care/Your Good For Nothing Heart — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): A Satisfied Mind — Porter Wagoner (RCA)

1965: Before You Go — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: Movin’ On — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1985: Forgiving You Was Easy — Willie Nelson (Columbia)

1995: Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident) — John Michael Montgomery (Atlantic)

2005: Fast Cars and Freedom — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Sangria — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)