My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Blake Shelton

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.)

Week ending 7/11/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

tanya-tucker1955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — 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: Lizzie and the Rainman — Tanya Tucker (MCA)

1985: She’s a Miracle — Exile (Epic)

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.)

Predictions for the 50th annual ACM Awards

To celebrate their 50th anniversary, The Academy of Country Music Awards is being held at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, TX  this Sunday on CBS. Blake Shelton is returning for his fifth year as host while Luke Bryan will co-host for the third consecutive time. Notable performers include George Strait, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, and Dierks Bentley along with the usual mainstream country suspects. Nick Jonas and Christina Aguilera will also take the stage as part of unique duets.

Along with the regular awards, the ACM will also be handing out specially designed 50th anniversary Milestone Awards to Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Brooks & Dunn, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks and George Strait. (Swift is expected to accept in person despite distancing herself from the genre).

Check out the nominations, here.

UnknownEntertainer of the Year

Garth Brooks, who has six previous wins, is nominated for the first time since 2001 in a year that saw him break ticket sale records, but underwhelm with his Man Against Machine album. The absence of Taylor Swift, George Strait and Tim McGraw left the category open for some fresh blood, resulting in Florida Georgia Line’s first nomination.

Should Win: Garth Brooks – he continues to show how it’s done, twenty-five years after his debut.

Will Win: Luke Bryan – he’ll ride his CMA momentum all the way to the finish line, scoring his second win in three nominations.

4e35192a48a8e1409d2f92873a0dbab7Male Vocalist of the Year

Despite eight previous nominations with five wins, it’s not shocking to see Brad Paisley included here. But after such an underwhelming year, it’s still surprising to see him included in a six-way tie. Dierks Bentley scores his second nomination in ten years, while half of the remaining four consist of previous winners. Jason Aldean has taken home this award for the past two years.

Should Win: Dierks Bentley – His only previous nomination came in 2005, while he was still in the promotional cycle for his sophomore album. His stature has only risen in the years since, with critical acclaim and consistent support from country radio, making him long overdue for his turn in the spotlight.   

Will Win: Luke Bryan – He’s arguably the biggest male artist in country music right now, eclipsing Aldean, Eric Church, and Blake Shelton with his stadium show, fast rising singles, and immense popularity. There’s little chance he’ll walk away empty handed, taking home his first win on his third consecutive nomination.

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Week ending 3/14/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

The-Statler-Brothers-Jimmy-Fortune-Lineup1955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

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

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

1965: I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: Linda On My Mind — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1985: My Only Love — The Statler Brothers (Mercury)

1995: You Can’t Make A Heart Love Somebody — George Strait (MCA)

2005: Bless The Broken Road — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

2015: Take Your Time — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Lonely Tonight — Blake Shelton ft. Ashley Monroe (Warner Bros.)

Single Review: Ashley Monroe – ‘On To Something Good’

10897474_10152665343499290_10152665343189290_32068_427_bAnother day, another artist gifting us the first taste of their forthcoming album. This time it’s Ashley Monroe, timing this new single to come just as her ridiculous duet with Blake Shelton ascends to upper levels of the country charts.

Ashley Monroe will always be a step above every attempt mainstream Nashville makes to break her through to the big leagues. “Like A Rose” is a masterpiece, one of the best singles of the decade thus far, and criminally unheard by those who only know her from “Lonely Tonight,” “Bruises,” or her work as one-third of the Pistol Annies.

“On To Something Good” attempts to be the middle ground between the two, occupying a space we’ve yet to see her in. On the onset the track feels like the most frivolous thing she’s ever recorded. Without a compelling story for Monroe to sink her teeth into, we’re left with the least amount of depth she’s ever displayed on a solo single.

So, why does “On To Something Good” work so well? Well, Monroe had the smarts to retain Vince Gill and Justin Niebank, the team behind Like A Rose. They gift us with a slinky psychedelic production that’s easily the most engaging of almost any single currently vying for our attention. It’s upbeat, cool, and the perfect match for Monroe’s perfectly effervescent vocal.

We’ve often seen female artists try to pull of contentment, but few do it is effortlessly as Monroe. She straddles the fine line between genuine and schmaltzy, drawing us in to feel her happiness right along with her. Monroe makes it looks easy, but she’s in a rare class.

Is “On To Something Good” Monroe’s finest moment? No, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less engaging than anything else she’s ever done. I cannot wait to hear the rest of this album.

Grade: B+

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

eddierabbitt.1955 (Sales): Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

1955 (Jukebox): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

1965: Once A Day — Connie Smith (RCA)

1975: Ruby, Baby — Billy “Crash” Craddock (Monument)

1985: The Best Year Of My Life — Eddie Rabbitt (Warner Bros.)

1995: Not A Moment Too Soon — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2005: Some Beach — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

2015: Something In The Water — Carrie Underwood (19/Arista)

2015 (Airplay): Perfect Storm — Brad Paisley (Arista)

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

carlsmith1955 (Sales): Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

1955 (Jukebox): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

1965: Once A Day — Connie Smith (RCA)

1975: The Door — George Jones (Epic)

1985: Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind — George Strait (MCA)

1995: Pickup Man — Joe Diffie (Epic)

2005: Some Beach — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

2015: Something In The Water — Carrie Underwood (19/Arista)

2015 (Airplay): Shotgun Rider — Tim McGraw (Big Machine)

Week ending 1/3/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

joe_diffie1955 (Sales): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Once A Day — Connie Smith (RCA)

1975: I Can Help — Billy Swan (Monument)

1985: Why Not Me — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1995: Pickup Man — Joe Diffie (Epic)

2005: Some Beach — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

2015: My Baby’s Got A Smile On Her Face — Craig Wayne Boyd (Dot)

2015 (Airplay): Shotgun Rider — Tim McGraw (Big Machine)

Week ending 12/27/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

thejudds1954 (Sales): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Once A Day — Connie Smith (RCA)

1974: I Can Help — Billy Swan (Monument)

1984: Why Not Me — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1994: Pickup Man — Joe Diffie (Epic)

2004: Some Beach — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

2014: Shotgun Rider — Tim McGraw (Big Machine)

2014 (Airplay): Shotgun Rider — Tim McGraw (Big Machine)

Christmas Rewind: Blake Shelton & Miranda Lambert – ‘Home’

A look back at 1989: Part 1 – George Jones

one woman manThe year 1989 saw the debuts and/or emergence of a fine crop of new artists that would continue the neo-traditionalist movement that flickered in the early 1980s with the arrival of Ricky Skaggs and started building up steam in 1986 when Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam arrived. Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt were the biggest names to emerge in 1989, but there were others as well.

This is not to say that the old guard didn’t produce some excellent records that year, even if they were having difficulty getting playing time. I will look at three of the old guard whose records particularly appealed to me in 1989 starting with the acknowledged master of the genre, the one and only “King George” – Jones, that is.

GEORGE JONES – ONE WOMAN MAN (1989)

The decade of the 1980s was a good one for George Jones as he finally got himself clean and remained in good voice; however, Father Time waits for no one and as the 1990s approached George’s chart success was beginning to wane.

By 1989 when ONE WOMAN MAN was issued, George was 58 years old and beginning to struggle for airplay as he was crowded out by the vaunted “Class of 89”.

George Jones albums during the 1980s tended to follow the formula of three or four singles (some of which were covers of old country classics) plus some other songs – often some more covers of old country classics – and some top grade new material. Even though the hot young songwriters weren’t necessarily pitching their good stuff at him, he was still finding enough good material to make some great albums.

My favorite George Jones album of the 1980s was ONE WOMAN MAN. More so than any of his earlier albums in the decade, this album relied on older material.

“One Woman Man”, the first single off the album would prove to be George’s last top twenty single as a solo artist, peaking at #5, this after a run of five consecutive singles that had missed the top twenty. The song, written by Johnny Horton and Tillman Franks had reached #7 for Horton in 1956. I liked Horton’s version but there is a decided difference between a pretty good singer like Horton and a great singer like George Jones.

Track 2 on the album was a Louvin Brothers classic, “My Baby’s Gone. You really can’t beat the Louvins at their own material (although this song was written by Hazel Houser), but George does quite well with the song. The Louvins had that brotherly harmony going for them but the vocal harmony singers here are put to good use and the steel and fiddle are used effectively. My one criticism of the song is that it is taken at a slightly too fast tempo.

Track 3 is the old Hank Cochran classic “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me”, recorded previously by, among others, Ray Price, Ronnie Milsap, Jack Greene. The Greene version remains my favorite version, but Jones never did wrong by a good song.

Track 4 is “Burning Bridges” another old-timer, but this one originally by rock/pop star Jack Scott. Jack Scott’s version was excellent, as was that of Ray Price, but George takes a back seat to no one in being able to wring the pathos and emotion out of a song.

Track 5 is a novelty song, originally titled “Yabba-Dabba-Do” but changed to “The King Is Gone (and So Are You)” in order to avoid threatened copyright litigation (which the songwriter & publisher would likely have won, but at great expense). In the song, a man whose girl has left him, laments the fact by pulling the head of Elvis off a Jim Beam decanter, pouring it into a Flintstones jelly bean jar and drinking up, imagining conversations with Elvis Presley and Fred Flintstone in the process. He eventually comes to the realization that his girl was never coming back. The song wasn’t a big hit but in the hands of almost anyone else, it would have been a total flop – it seems that only George Jones and Hank Thompson could get away with recording novelties (some of them really ludicrous) and scoring hits with them. This was the second single off the album and it reached #31 on the charts. The track features some nice dobro or slide guitar.

George gets back to serious songs on Track 6 with “Radio Lover”. Thematically this song is very similar to Porter Wagoner’s “Cold Hard Facts of Life”, except that the protagonist is a radio disk jockey rather than a truck driver and the song has a less ominous set up than Porter’s classic. Our hero pre-tapes his show so he can spend his first wedding anniversary with his wife, walks in on her with her lover in bed with her and he dispatches with both of them – meanwhile his radio show is playing on her radio. This was the fourth single and it topped out at #62. Here in Central Florida the song seemed to get the radio airplay one would expect of a top ten single.

I know I heard someone else perform Track 7, “A Place In The Country” before George Jones wrap his vocal cords around it. This song is about a man who worked in the city for thirty years but whose dream was to retire to the country.

Track 8 was a Patsy Cline song, “Just Out of Reach”. It was not released as a single but was taken as the title track for Patsy’s third Decca album and became well known in the years following her death. While I prefer Patsy’s version, George has nothing for which to apologize here.

The album closes with some original material in “Writing On The Wall” (track 9) and “Pretty Little Lady from Beaumont, Texas” (track 10). In the hands of most other performers, these songs would be filler, but in the hands of George Jones they are decent songs . They also point out why George was turning to so much older material – he simply wasn’t being pitched the best new material.

“Writing On The Wall” was the third single taken from the album and it reached #31. The year before the song had reached #96 for Kenny Carr.

For his next album, 1990’s YOU OUGHTA HERE WITH ME, George reversed course and obtained a batch of new songs. None of them would become hits (and the two singles released from the album would not chart at all) but one of the songs, “Ol’ Red” would reach #14 for Blake Shelton in 2002.

YOU OUGHTA BE WITH ME marked the end of the line for George Jones with Epic. From here Jones would go to MCA for a few albums and then to MCA and various other labels, eventually settling into elder statesman status. George’s solo albums from here would be spottier affairs, but there would be a number of special projects involving guest artists that would keep his face in front of the public.

Still, his penultimate album for Epic was a fine effort well worth digging out to play, and I do, periodically. It would be in my top ten albums for 1989.