My Kind of Country

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Album Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – ‘ Porter ‘n’ Dolly’

1708613Porter and Dolly’s eleventh collection of duets is predominately comprised of songs they wrote themselves — unlike many of their earlier efforts which relied to one extent or another on cover versions of other artists’ hits. One or the other or both are listed as the composers, with only one track “Sixteen Years” — a Wagoner co-write with Tom Pick — relying on any outside songwriters. As usual, Bob Ferguson is the credited producer.

The album is capped by two Wagoner-Parton compositions. The opening track and sole single “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me” was their only duet to reach the #1 spot in Billboard. The very pretty closing track “Sounds of Nature” has a stripped-down folk feel to it.

Porter’s solo composition “The Power of Love” is the album’s weakest track, but he redeems himself nicely on “Sixteen Years” (a collaboration with Tom Pick as noted earlier), which finds a couple about to go their separate ways after a sixteen-year marriage.

The remainder of album’s songs were written by Dolly and all of them are enjoyable. They are, for the most part, positive and upbeat — no heart-wrenching ballads about dying children or beyond-help alcoholics. Even the album’s saddest songs “Without You” and “Two” are rather subdued and devoid of any attempts at emotional manipulation. The pair seems to be largely ab-libbing — and having a great time doing so — on the light-hearted and upbeat “We’d Have To Be Crazy”. Dolly would revisit “The Fire That Keeps You Warm” two years later for her solo project All I Can Be and “Together You and I” would be recorded again for her 2011 album Better Day.

Like all of the prior Wagoner-Parton albums, Porter ‘n’Dolly is strictly a traditional affair that relies heavily on their wonderful harmonies and some excellent steel guitar work. It is not currently commercially available, but all of its tracks can be found on the Bear Family box set Just Between You and Me.

Grade: A

Album Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘Love And Music’

love and musicLove And Music was the tenth duet album by Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton. Released in July 1973, only one single was released from the album, a cover of a Carl Smith oldie from 1951, “If Teardrops Were Pennies”, a song which Carl took to #8, but Porter and Dolly took to #3. As always, Bob Ferguson is listed as the producer.

The album opens up with “If Teardrops Were Pennies”. I don’t happen to own a vinyl copy of this album, but I’ve seen it and if I recall correctly Carl Butler, who wrote this song, also wrote the liner notes to this album. The song is a mid-tempo romp that Porter & Dolly do very well indeed, although I also like Carl Smith’s version of the song and the recordings that Carl & Pearl Butler made of the song.

If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold
I’d have all the treasures my pockets would hold
I’d be oh so wealthy with treasures untold
If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold

An acre of diamonds I’d offer to you
A solid gold mansion, an airplane or two
This whole world would be yours to have and to hold
If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold

Next up is the first of four Porter Wagoner tunes on the album “Sounds of Night” a gentle ballad with a nice fiddle intro by Mack Magaha. The song describes the lonely sounds of night (whippoorwills, church bells) and how they translate to human emotions

I don’t know much about Howard Tuck, other than what I found in his obituary (http://www.mywebtimes.com/obituaries/howard-red-tuck/article_e67fea9d-9ee8-5b24-8d2c-e7e5cf4e0300.html ) but his song “Laugh The Years Away” is a good song that would have made a good single. The song is a humorous look at married life, happy even if not blessed with material wealth.

A corporation owns the factory I work in
Someone else owns the house we call our home
The bank owns the car we drive around
And we’ve got something we can call our own

We’ve got love happiness surrounds us
And we thank the Lord for every single day
And with love we’ll always have each other
And together we can laugh the years away

Next up is the first of four Dolly Parton tunes on this album “You”, a rather bland ballad of domestic bliss.

Porter’s “Wasting Love” also would have made a good single, an up-tempo song about a couple growing apart. While the lyrics are good, the strength of the song is the melody.

“Come To Me” is a slow, serious ballad, that essentially finds Porter and Dolly trading verses. The song is inspirational without being religious. The song had no potential as a single, but it is a nice song.

Porter co-wrote “Love Is Out Tonight” with Tom Pick. The song is a slow ballad with very vivid imagery.

As blue skies and daylight darken into night
Surrounding us with beauty as the stars make their light
They spell out our names all the stars up above
As they flicker and shine like letters of love

Then a warm breath of air whispers through the trees
As the leaves on their branches have blown to the breeze
Ripples of water seemed to echo the sound
Love’s out tonight there’s love all around

Small drops of dew act as nature’s perfume
Placing its fragrance on all that’s in blue
While I hold you so close your lips touching mine
With nature all around us watching our love entwine

Porter Wagoner penned “In The Presence of You”. The song features a nice piano intro to a slow ballad of a people who cannot find the right words to say to each other, although they love each other deeply.

In the presence of you I wonder
Why I can’t say the things that I want to
All the pretty words that I planned to say when I’m with you
I lose them in the presence of you

Your nearness makes my voice tremble
There’s a weakness that I feel through and through
Searching for words to describe how I love you
Don’t come easy in the presence of you

Dolly penned “I Get Lonesome By Myself”, another of Dolly’s lonesome little girl songs. In this song the narrator stumbles across the daughter he abandoned a few years back. Dolly’s part is spoken in a somewhat creepy effort at a six year old girl’s voice.

The album closes with the forth Dolly Parton composition “There Will Always Be Music”, a nice capstone to the album.

As the farmer works the fields he sings a song
The songbirds in the trees sing along
And the wind makes melodies as it whistles through the trees
Man’s burdens are made lighter with a song

There’ll always be music as long as there’s a story to be told
There’ll always be music cause music is the voice of the song
There’ll always be music

Dolly Parton has a well deserved reputation as a songwriter, but Porter was no slouch either, although neither Porter nor Dolly would rank up there with Cindy Walker, Dallas Frazier, Harlan Howard or Hank Cochran. On this album at least, Porter’s songs are stronger than Dolly’s.

This is a pretty decent album, although not necessarily one of their better albums. As Jonathan Pappalardo noted in his excellent review of The Right Combination/Burning The Midnight Oil, “[w]hile none of these songs have truly amounted to anything, they combine to make a fine collection on their own”.

My feelings exactly – B+

Album Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘We Found It’

R-3955797-1350489082-3655.jpegWe Found It, the ninth duets album by Porter Wagoner hit store shelves in February 1973. The record, produced once again by Bob Ferguson for RCA Nashville, builds on Together Always by only featuring songs written by the duo. The project was one of their lower charting albums, peaking at #20.

Wagoner solely wrote six cuts on We Found It with varying degrees of quality. The title track, second-rate joyful fluff, was the project’s only single. “Love City” is inane, “I Am Always Waiting” is mediocre and “That’s When Love Will Mean The Most” comes closet to maintaining their classic qualities. “How Close They Must Be” is also good in comparison, with Parton turning in a strong vocal.

The final cut he wrote alone is “Satan’s River,” a waltz-y ballad in which Parton runs circles around him vocally. Wagoner gave the song a second life when he recorded it for the excellent Marty Stuart produced Wagonmaster, his final record, which saw release just four months before his death in October 2007. The lyric, unfortunately, isn’t among his finest work.

Parton had her hand in the album’s remaining songs. “Between Us” is a wonderful ballad about the promise of open discourse in rekindled love. “Love Have Mercy On Us” isn’t as strong, despite the drenching of steel guitar.

Parton’s final solely written track is the madding and mysterious “Sweet Rachel Ann.” Lyrically the song is a puzzle – Why did she go away? Where did she go? Why didn’t her parents ever visit her? When she returned, why was she so abused by the great big world? Parton, especially during this period, loved to throw songs on us that make little to no sense. Now, I’m sure there exists an origin story for this song somewhere, likely within Parton herself. But without necessary context, this song lacks purpose.

“I’ve Been Married (Just As Long As You Have)” is the only number the pair wrote together. The two verses are fabulous and I love the sing-song-y beat. But when the pair starts conversing back and fourth the recording becomes heavy-handed and forces the lyric’s thematic elements on us unnecessarily. If left a bit more barebones, this would’ve been an album highlight.

We Found It is a perfect example of cracks forming in Wagoner and Parton’s façade. This later recording is indeed a later recording – it’s just not up to the level of their classic work. The majority of these songs are either fluff or beneath them. There’s just nothing essential here to latch onto lyrically. Parton, meanwhile, is a vocal revelation and proves she’s quickly emerging as the main draw. I can see exactly why she went solo – Parton is showing how much she just doesn’t need him anymore. That’s about the only thing positive to come out of this mess of an album.

Grade: C

Album Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil’

porter.wagoner.and.dolly.parton.burning.the.midnight.oilPorter Wagoner and Dolly Parton released their seventh duets album on RCA Records in January 1972. The ten-track collection, entitled The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil, was helmed by their longtime producer Bob Ferguson.

The album produced two top-twenty singles, both penned by Wagoner. “The Right Combination” is a somewhat cheesy ballad in which the pair boasts about enduring love. The record is wonderful, and Parton’s fiery vocal is fantastic, but the arrangement is spastic. Ferguson switches between lush strings typical of the Nashville Sound and the more appealing mixture of fiddle and steel so fast his intentions are difficult to pinpoint.

The only other single, “Burning The Midnight Oil, has an appealing honky-tonk groove and wonderful pedal steel that helps the mid-tempo ballad chug along quite nicely. The background singers are a dated add-on but not distracting enough to divert attention from the song’s positive qualities.

Beyond the minor radio hits, The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil is notable for the inclusion of “Her and the Car and the Mobile Home,” written by Dave Kirby and Don Stock. The novelty tune, in which a philandering husband is left abandoned and homeless, is an excellent comedy bit the pair sells brilliantly. The song grows tired on repeated listenings, which likely kept it as an album cut, but it does have very considerable charms nonetheless.

The album also contains three Parton originals. The confrontative “I’ve Been This Way Too Long” is a delightful steel drenched number about old habits and unwavering routines. A bitter truth stands at the forefront of “In Each Love Some Pain Must Fall,” a pensive ballad about how fighting doesn’t mean the end of relationships. The arrangement is oddly cheery, and the parallels to their split are eerie, but the song itself is fantastic. Their love has truly died on “Somewhere Along The Way,” a mournful ballad with the arrangement to match.

Wagoner’s additional writing contributions include two more songs. “More Than Words Can Tell” is a ballad indicative of the generations in which love prevails and vows meant divorce wasn’t an option. The song finds Wagoner and Parton old and grey, enjoying their blissful golden years. The song is a perfect counterpart to “In Each Love Some Pain Must Fall.” His other song, “The Fog Has Lifted” isn’t the most lyrically strong cut on the album, but it has significant deeper meaning knowing the couple’s complicated history and reconciliation as a musical pair.

The remaining tracks were outside cuts. Eddie Sovine composed “On and On,” another of the records tracks devoted to steadfast love. “Through Thick and Thin,” by Bill Owens, might be the album’s strongest cut and is surely one of my favorites from the project. The fiddle heavy tune is an excellent examination of marriage and the tides that bind couples for life.

Though not necessarily billed as such, The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil is a concept album exploring relationships through long-term love. As I’ve noted, these tracks examine marriage in a beautiful and honest manner without seeming sugary or overstated. The reflection on older love in “More Than Words Can Tell” is as heartwarmingly relatable as the stubborn couple at the center of “I’ve Been This Way Too Long.” The best of these, without question, is “In Each Love Some Pain Must Fall,” a sentiment as significant today as when Parton wrote it more than forty-four years ago.

I’ll admit that given my age (I’m 28) I haven’t explored the great duet partners in country music history beyond the singles that have become classics. Which means that, unlike my colleagues, I’m hearing this music for the first time with completely fresh ears. While that wasn’t an advantage with many of the other 1960s/1970s artists we’ve covered, it works in my favor here. The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil is spectacular, with Parton (who I’ve also never spent significant time with) in stellar form. While none of these songs have truly amounted to anything, they combine to make a fine collection on their own.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – ‘Two of a Kind’

Porter_Wagoner_&_Dolly_Parton_-_Two_Of_A_KindPorter and Dolly released their sixth albums of duets in February 1971. Strangely, no singles were released from Two of a Kind, but this in no way suggests that the material was in any way sub-par. As usual, most of the album’s songs are from the pen of Dolly, including three co-writes with Porter. The first of those co-writes is “The Pain of Loving You”, which features a horn arrangement similar to that of “Just Someone I Used To Know”. It should have been released as a single. The Osborne Brothers apparently did release it as a single — presumably around that same time, which may explain why Porter and Dolly’s version was relegated to album cut status. About a year later the track resurfaced as the B-side to the duo’s single “The Right Combination”. Similarly, the title track — another Wagoner/Parton composition — was the B side of “Better Move It On Home”, which was part of a hits compilation released later in 1971. The duo’s third composition is the catchy but lyrically light mid-tempo “There’ll Be Love” which serves as the album’s closing track.

The collection also includes three of Dolly’s solo compositions: the excellent “Is It Real?”, “The Flame”, and “The Fighting Kind”, which was another of those bickering husband and wife songs for which Porter and Dolly were well known. Although enjoyable, this one lacks the spunk of “I’ve Been Married Just as Long as You Have”, “Fight and Scratch” or “Better Move It On Home”.

One of the album’s best cuts — and one of only three in which Dolly did not have a hand in writing — is “Possum Holler”, a novelty tune penned by the great Dallas Frazier. It is a humorous reminiscence of a clandestine courtship that ends with a shotgun wedding. And although it’s not one of the album’s best songs, the most interesting one was penned by Dolly and Louis Owens. “Curse of the Wild Weed Flower” is a rare example of social commentary from Porter and Dolly. The anti-counterculture theme, speaking of the evils of marijuana, is certainly at odds with contemporary thinking and modern listeners would likely dismiss it as a quaint relic of a bygone era.

With no singles to support it, Two of a Kind didn’t chart quite as high as the duo’s earlier albums (reaching #13) but today it is only one of two of their original albums that is available for digital download in its original form. Bob Ferguson’s (or perhaps Porter’s) production is heavy on Nashville Sound choruses, but there are plenty of wonderful steel guitar licks throughout the album and that alone makes it worth listening to.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – ‘Once More’

folder-6August 1970, saw the release of the fifth Porter and Dolly duet album in Once More. The album featured five songs that Dolly had a hand in writing, plus two fine songs from the Don Reno and Red Smiley songbook, perhaps not so surprising since Porter’s fiddle player Mack Magaha had spent years playing with Reno and Smiley

The album opens up with “Daddy Was An Old Time Preacher Man” co-written by Dolly with her aunt Dorothy Jo Hope about the Reverend Jake Owens, Dolly’s maternal grandfather, who was a Pentecostal minister. Surprisingly, this would be the only single released from the album, reaching #4 on Record World, #7 on Billboard and #12 on the Canadian country chart. The song has the feel of an old-time gospel song and remains one of my favorite Porter & Dolly songs.


Daddy was an old time preacher man
He preacher the word of God throughout the land
He preached so plain a child could understand
Yes, Daddy was an old time preacher man
He told the people of the need to pray
He talked about God’s wrath and judgement day
He preached about the great eternity
He preached hell so hot that you could feel the heat

Yes, Daddy was an old time preacher man
Aunt Leanona would get up to testify
And we’d sing “In The Sweet By And By”
The we’d sing “I’m On My Way To Canaan Land”
Yes, Daddy was an old time preacher man

This is followed by a magnificent cut on the Reno and Smiley classic “I Know You’re Married But I Love You Still” a song that Mack Magaha wrote with Don Reno. The song, a quintessential forbidden fruit song was a staple of the Reno & Smiley repertoire for years and has been covered as an album track by many country artists. The duo of Bill Anderson and Jan Howard had a minor hit with the song as did Red Sovine.

The day I met you my heart spoke to me it said to love you through eternity
I know exact you were another’s pride I vowed I always be close by your side
I love you Darlin and I always will
I know you’re married but I love you still
You broke a heart dear that would die for you
I’d give the world if I could be with you

“Thoughfulness” is a modest ballad written by Dolly’s uncle Bill Owens. The song is a little subdued compared to most of the duo’s material but it makes a nice album track.

“Fight and Scratch” is one of those humorous ‘bickering couples’ songs that Dolly excelled in writing. I think it would have made for a good single but perhaps RCA was leery of issuing too many novelties as singles.

Fight and scratch fight and scratch that’s all we ever do
There surely must be more to love than to fight and scratch with you
You you to fight and scratch with you
Well you just bought a foal last month now you want a wig
It looks like you couldn’t understand my paycheck ain’t that big
Well what about the dough you lose in them poker games downtown
I figured you’d mention that smart aleck
Yeah and that brand new boat and that fishin’ gear
But no uhhuh I don’t reckon that’d count really
Fight and scratch fight and scratch…

Louis Owens wrote “Before Our Weakness Gets Too Strong” is a straight ahead country ballad, a let’s not cheat song. I’m guessing that Louis Owens might be one of Dolly’s kin.

“Once More” was the last top ten chart hit for the King of Country Music Roy Acuff back in 1958. Later the Osborne Brothers recorded the song for Decca. Porter and Dolly harmonize nicely on the song, but their recording sounds tame compared to the Acuff and Osborne versions. I think if the song had been considered as a single, the duo would have put more muscle into this Dusty Owens (no kin to Dolly) song.

Once more to be with you dear
Just for tonight to hold you tight
Once more I’d give a fortune
If I could see you once more

Forget the past this hurt can’t last
So I don’t want it to keep us apart
Your love I need say you’ll love me
And say you’ll give me all of your heart

Joe Babcock’s “One Day At A Time” is neither the same song has Marilyn Sellars gospel hit from 1974 and nor is the same song that Don Gibson hit from that same year. This song is a reflective song about the way to approach life.

Dolly wrote “Ragged Angel”, another one of those doomed children songs that Dolly apparently needed to write as a catharsis. It’s a good song but the lyrics are nothing special. What is of interest is the exquisite Porter and Dolly’s vocal harmonies, which are a little different than their usual fare.

“A Good Understanding” is one of Dolly’s compositions, which suggests a marital relationship in which the ground rules were agreed upon in advance. The opening lyric suggests that this might have been an open marriage but as the lyrics unfold a more traditional relationship is revealed.

The album closes with the Don Reno composition “Let’s Live For Tonight”. While still sticking with usual bluegrass array of instruments, Reno and Smiley probably were the bluegrass group whose music most closely resembled the country music of its era.

Bob Ferguson is listed as the producer on this album, but I suspect that Porter Wagoner carried the bulk of the production duties. There is a characteristic Porter Wagoner & The Wagonmasters sound that permeates all of Porter’s RCA records. That isn’t a bad thing because it made the production of Porter’s records sound different that the vast majority of RCA product, but I am sure that it must have gnawed at Dolly at least a little, because if you removed Dolly’s voice from the duet albums you would have a Porter Wagoner record that sounded incomplete, needing another voice or voices. I like this album quite a bit but for whatever reason, this album is not quite as exuberant as some of their prior (and future efforts). I’d give this a B+ but a little more emphatic treatment of a couple of the songs would have turned this into an A. 


Album Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – ‘Just Between You and Me’

Just_Between_You_and_Me_(Dolly_Parton_and_Porter_Wagoner_album_-_cover_art)Just Between You and Me was released in January 1968 and is notable for being the first collection of Porter Wagoner/Dolly Parton duets, as well as Dolly’s first recordings for the RCA label. Bob Ferguson is the credited producer; however, it has been revealed that Porter, not Ferguson, was the actual producer of Dolly’s early solo recordings for RCA, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that Porter was also involved with the production of the Porter/Dolly duets.

The album contains just one single – a common practice in those days — which was released a few months ahead of the album. “The Last Thing on My Mind” was a remake of Tom Paxton’s folk-pop smash that was recorded by dozens of artists in various genres. It is quite different from the rest of the album, as well as Porter and Dolly’s future work, which was almost always solidly in the traditional country camp. The single charted at #7 and paved the way for many more duets which would occur over the next decade or so.

The title track is one of my favorites. Written by Jack Clement, it had been a hit earlier that year for another recent RCA signee by the name of Charley Pride. Another favorite, “Before I Met You” had been a hit for Carl Smith in 1956. Charley Pride also covered this one shortly after arriving at RCA. Pride’s version did not chart, but his version is the one I’m most familiar with. Porter and Dolly’s version is also quite good but it inexplicably omits the song’s last verse.

One of the reasons given for the eventual demise of the Wagoner/Parton partnership was Porter’s domineering attitude; it was apparently made abundantly clear from the start that he was the employer and Dolly was the employee. Porter never denied the accusation; however, none of that is apparent from listening to this collection of songs. Porter was clearly the bigger, more established star at this stage of the game, but there is no hogging of the spotlight. In fact, there seems to have been a concerted effort to use this album to promote Dolly’s career. It includes several songs penned by Dolly, including “Love is Worth Living” (the B-side of “The Last Thing on My Mind”), and “Mommie, Ain’t That Daddy” which is my least favorite song on the album. The melodramatic tale of a hopelessly alcoholic husband and father (who doesn’t seem to have done anything to remedy his circumstances) is a crass attempt to tug at the heartstrings. It was not the last song of this type that Porter and Dolly would record together, although most of their future songs of this ilk involved dying children. It’s a dud, but thankfully it’s the only album’s only misfire.

The album also includes several songs that Dolly co-wrote with her uncle Bill Owens. “Because One of Us Was Wrong” and “Two Sides of Every Story” are typical of the type of song Porter and Dolly would become famous for. “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” had been the most successful Owens/Parton composition up to that time. Bill Phillips had scored a Top 10 hit with it in 1966 (featuring Dolly as the uncredited harmony vocalist). Dolly recorded the song herself for her one and only Monument album. This remake with Wagoner is unusual in that it is not a duet; Dolly sings the lead throughout, while Porter harmonizes. Another observation: unlike most modern “duets” where the artists sing around each other, Porter and Dolly actually sing and harmonize together much of the time.

Just Between You and Me might not contain any of Porter and Dolly’s most famous hits, but it was a more than satisfactory introduction to one of country music’s best male-female duos.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Love of the Common People’

51wqa0MBekL._SS280In the 1960s, sales of single records were far more important to the music industry than album sales. Albums consisted of one or two hit singles, and 8 to 10 “filler” songs, which were often cover versions of the current hits of other artists or less commercially viable songs written by the artist and/or producer. Country artists typically released an average of three albums a year. Waylon Jennings’ 1967 collection Love of the Common People was his fifth album for RCA, released a year after his debut collection for the label.

Produced by Chet Atkins, Love of the Common People is a little unusual in that none of its tracks were released as singles. It consists of the usual cover songs and original artist/producer compositions as well as a few contributions from well known songwriters of the day, such as Sonny James and Harlan Howard. Despite its lack of radio hits, the album’s material is stronger and less uneven than many albums of the day, and it sold reasonably well, peaking at #3 on the Billboard country albums chart. And although this is a slightly more polished Waylon than we would hear a few years later, the album largely avoids some of the excesses of the Nashville Sound era.

My favorite track is “Young Widow Brown”, a light-hearted tune written by Waylon and Sky Corbin, concerning a fun-loving young woman who drives her husband to an early grave and doing her best to send her many suitors to a similar fate. While not as edgy as Waylon’s later work, it’s not as far removed from his Outlaw music as one might expect.

The title track is a folk-rock tune that had been a pop hit earlier in the year for The Four Preps. It sounds like something that might have fit on Waylon’s earlier effort Folk-Country. “Taos, New Mexico”, written by RCA in-house producer Bob Ferguson, is a very nice Tex-Mex tune that’s a little ahead of its time. It sounds like something that Freddy Fender or Marty Robbins would have success with a few years later. “I Tremble For You” is a little known Johnny Cash song written by the man in black and Lew DeWitt, who was part of the original Statler Brothers lineup. It’s not the usual boom-chicka-boom style usually associated with Cash, and it shows Waylon’s strength as a ballad singer. Shoulda been a single. “If The Shoe Fits” by Harlan Howard and Freddie Hart, “Destiny’s Child” by Sonny James, and “The Road” by Ted Harris are all worth a listen.

The album does contain a couple of missteps: a cover of the John Lennon/Paul McCartney tune “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”, and Mel Tillis’ “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”. The latter about a wounded warrior suffering from physical injuries and PTSD, long before those terms were coined. His wife callously prepares to leave him on his own while she seeks her pleasures elsewhere, making no attempts to hide her intentions. The song had been a Top 10 hit earlier in the year for Johnny Darrell and two years later would become a huge pop smash for Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. It’s a good song, but Jennings’ delivery is surprisingly stiff and devoid of emotion.

Waylon Jennings, of course, had a long and distinguished career in country music and left behind a catalog so huge that it’s easy to overlook some of the entries that weren’t big hits. Love of the Common People is a gem well worth exploring.

Grade: A

Album Review: Connie Smith – ‘Just For What I Am’

The past decade or so hasn’t produced much great country music, forcing many fans to mine the back catalogs of some of the genre’s legends, in search of material that they might have initially overlooked. Germany’s Bear Family Records has released numerous extensive box sets of many legendary artists and in doing so has been a Godsend to fans of classic country music. Last month they released a second set of Connie Smith’s music, a little more than a week after it was announced that the Sweetheart of the Grand Ole Opry would finally be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Just For What I Am
is a companion piece to 2001’s Born To Sing, picking up where the earlier collection left off. Together the two collections represent the singer’s entire RCA catalog, marking the first time in decades that many of these classic recordings have been commercially available. It covers the period from 1967 through 1972, and contains 151 tracks, spanning five discs. It contains 14 Top 20 singles, several Gospel numbers, and Connie’s take on many of the then-current hits of her contemporaries, such as Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty and Waylon Jennings. It also contains nine tracks that were never released by RCA. The highest charting single in the collection is “Just One Time”, a Don Gibson number that Connie took to #2 in 1971. My personal favorites among the singles are “I Never Once Stopped Loving You” written by Bill Anderson and Jan Howard, and the Dallas Frazier compositions “Where Is My Castle” and “If It Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave It Alone)”, both of which feature the great Johnny Gimble on fiddle and stands in stark contrast to the countrypolitan that was dominating the country charts at the time.

Smith’s singles from this era were great, but most of them have been available for quite some time on the small handful of compilations that RCA saw fit to release on CD. The real gems are the album cuts, most of which have been unavailable since their initial release 40 years ago or more. Of particular interest are the covers of other artists’ hits. Waylon Jennings’ “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” seems like an unlikely choice for Connie Smith, but she attacks it with gusto, altering the lyrics slightly to represent the female point of view. Jerry Reed’s “Natchilly Ain’t No Good” gets a similar treatment, as do Conway Twitty’s signature tunes “Hello, Darlin'” and “I Can’t Believe You Stopped Loving Me”. Her rendition of Loretta Lynn’s “Before I’m Over You” rivals the original, and her version of “Here Comes My Baby” is superior to Dottie West’s Grammy winning record. My favorite of the cover songs is “If My Heart Had Windows”, which had been a Top 10 for George Jones in 1967. Patty Loveless would later score her first Top 10 hit when she covered the tune in 1988. Another highlight is Harlan Howard’s heartbreaking “The Deepening Snow”. I’d previously heard this song on Tammy Wynette’s 1992 box set; inexplicably, neither Wynette’s nor Smith’s version was ever released as a single.

It was common in the 60s and 70s for male and female labelmates to become duet partners. RCA wanted to pair Connie up with Waylon Jennings, but she resisted, fearing that a hit Jennings-Smith duet would require her to spend more time on the road promoting it. In retrospect, it’s regrettable because Jennings and Smith would have been an amazing pairing. Instead, Connie teamed up with Nat Stuckey, a singer-songwriter who had written such hits as Jim Ed Brown’s “Pop A Top” and Buck Owens’ “Waiting In Your Welfare Line”, and who would go on to co-write “Diggin’ Up Bones” with Paul Overstreet and Al Gore (not the former Vice President). That tune would become a #1 hit for Randy Travis in 1986. Smith recorded two duet albums with Stuckey, and although he was a fine vocalist, it is here that the material falters a bit. Still, there are some gems among their duets. I especially like their take on The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” and the Gospel standard “Whispering Hope.” Connie also recorded a handful of duets with Dallas Frazier, who is a great songwriter but not much of a singer.

Among the previously unreleased tracks are Connie’s interpretations of Mel Tillis’and Webb Pierce’s “I Ain’t Never”, Johnny Paycheck’s “(S)he’s All I Got”, Porter Wagoner’s “What Ain’t To Be Just Might Happen” and Dottie West’s somewhat sappy “Country Girl”.

Producer Bob Ferguson was largely responsible for creating the unique Connie Smith sound, but much of the credit should go to steel guitarist Weldon Myrick, who was featured prominently on many of Connie’s recordings. His tribute “Connie’s Song” closes out the collection. It is a steel guitar-led instrumental medley of some of Connie’s biggest hits: “Once A Day, “Then and Only Then”, and “I Can’t Remember”.

Just For What I Am
comes with extensive liner notes written by Barry Mazor, which are contained in a hardcover book. Like all Bear Family projects, it is beautifully packaged and contains a wealth of material, however, it avoids the trap of exhausting the listener with multiple takes of the same song, false starts and studio chatter which were characteristics of many other Bear Family releases. It is expensive, and will probably only appeal to diehard fans. The price, however, can be rationalized by taking into account that it contains twelve albums’ worth of material. If you’ve got some extra cash in your music budget, it is well worth checking out.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘New Harvest … First Gathering’

1977 saw Dolly making a decisive move in her career and taking full artistic control. The portentously titled New Harvest … First Gathering was controversial, as critics and country fans saw Dolly “going pop”. To be honest, her previous effort, the Porter Wagoner co-produced All I Can Do, started the popwards move, but this album (produced by Dolly with the assistance of Gregg Perry) was a big step further down that road, with only one track I would categorise as unquestionably “country”. The sound throughout is definitely experimental. The music was mainly recorded in Nashville but mixed in LA, with the steel guitar present on most tracks but relegated into the background so much as to be inaudible. Future country star Janie Fricke is among the backing vocalists.

The title track’s optimistic lyrics look forward to a new start following the end of the legal proceedings which had delayed her final break with Porter. As a single, it peaked outside the top 10 on the country charts, and failed to make the impact Dolly must have hoped on the pop charts. It expresses her feelings about being set free like an imprisoned eagle, and an impassioned and obviously heartfelt vocal is supported by Gregg Perry’s plangent piano and gospel backing vocals marking the new start musically.

The rather shouty ‘Holdin’ On To You’ has an intrusive almost disco beat and blaring horns, and might have been a better bet for pop success. ‘How Does It Feel’ is up-tempo, beaty and not too bad (although not country by any means), but gets far too repetitive. The peppy but equally repetitive ‘Getting In My Way’ is very pop and very annoying. I also dislike the closing ‘There’ with its mixture of gospel choir and child backing vocals and build from hushed start to full blown climax.

Dolly wrote most of the songs, but included two covers of R&B classics. A very whispery version of ‘My Girl’ (given a gender–neutral makeover as ‘My Love’) is a dud, but the upbeat ‘Your Love Has Lifted Me (Higher And Higher)’ is quite enjoyable.

The love song ‘You Are’ is a pop ballad with a delicately cooed vocal and string arrangement, which works well on its own terms, although not to my personal taste. The most interesting track, ‘Where Beauty Lives In Memory’, is an acute psychological portrait of a crazy old woman trapped in her memories of youth, beauty and a lost love. Almost alone on the album, the aural experimentation works for me on this rather poignant story.

The banjo-led part-recited ‘Applejack’ was the sole reminder of Dolly’s Appalachian roots, with its playful vocals, and backing vocals from a number of veteran stars, including Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells and her husband Johnny Wright, Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones and his wife, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Joe and Rose Lee Maphis and Chet Atkins, plus Dolly’s parents. In another nod to the past, Dolly’s former producer Bob Ferguson contributes the voice of Applejack, the old man from Dolly’s childhood who is the song’s subject. Dolly herself plays banjo on the track. It is charming, but at times feels a little too deliberate an affirmation that despite the pop material elsewhere, Dolly was still a country girl at heart. It was not a single, but has become a fan favorite.

This is a very varied sounding album, and one has to applaud Dolly’s willingness to try out new things with her music, even if the result is not often to my personal tastes. It was released on CD in 2007 in Europe only as a 2for1 with its immediate predecessor, but is easy to find. It is also available digitally.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home’

By 1973, Dolly Parton had been an RCA recording artist for six years, and though she managed to score a few solo hits during that time, her records were still being received by radio on a rather hit-or-miss basis. One of her most successful records during this time was 1971’s autobiographical “Coat of Many Colors”, which may have provided the inspiration for My Tennessee Mountain Home, a concept album released in 1973, in which Dolly reminisced about her childhood in the Smoky Mountains.

It was common practice in the early 70s to build an album around one or two hit singles and to round it out with covers of other artists’ recent hits and filler songs for which the artist or producer held a share in the publishing rights. My Tennessee Mountain Home breaks with that tradition; each of its eleven tracks — all written by Dolly — deals with a specific memory of her life from her childhood through her early days in Nashville. It didn’t produce any major hits, but it is the most deeply personal album of Dolly’s career and as such, is one of the most important in her discography. it’s also one of those albums that needs to be listened to in its entirety in order to be fully appreciated.

The album opens with a recitation of a letter Dolly wrote to her parents shortly after her arrival in Nashville in 1964. She tries to reassure them that she is doing well and tells them not to worry, but it is also apparent that she is deeply homesick. From there she sings “I Remember”, a tribute to her parents and then focuses on specific objects she remembered from her youth, such as “The Old Black Kettle” her mother used to cook in or “Daddy’s Working Boots.” “Dr. Robert F. Thomas” is her homage to the physician who had long-served her rural community.

The centerpiece of the album is the title track, which was the only new single in the collection. Though it only reached #15 on the Billboard country singles chart, it has gone on to become a classic. It mainly deals with happy memories of her childhood. “In The Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)”, on the other hand, paints a decidedly bleaker picture in which Dolly seems a lot more conflicted about her past, talking frankly about illness, poverty and hunger. She sums up her feelings by saying:

No amount of money could buy from me the memories that I have of then,
No amount of money could pay me to go back and live through it again.

The song had first appeared in 1968 as the title track of Dolly’s second RCA album. It was released as a single at that time and reached #25 on the charts. A newly recorded version appears on My Tennessee Mountain Home and provides some balance to the mostly positive songs, as a reassurance to listeners that Parton wasn’t looking at her childhood through rose colored glasses. Merle Haggard covered the song and included it on his 1968 album Mama Tried.

The album concludes with “Down On Music Row”, in which Dolly discusses her early days in Nashville, visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame, The Grand Ole Opry,and standing on the front steps of the RCA offices of Chet Atkins and Bob Ferguson before they signed her to the label.

Legacy Recordings released My Tennessee Mountain Home on CD in 2007 as part of its American Milestones series along with a bonus track, “Sacred Memories” which originally appeared on Dolly’s 1974 album Love Is Like A Butterfly.

In the years since Dolly’s late 1970s crossover success, she has become something of a caricature, and jokes about her clothes, wigs, and makeup — not to mention certain other assets — have unfortunately sometimes overshadowed her music. My Tennessee Mountain Home stands as a testament to her strength as a songwriter and reaffirms that there is a lot more to Dolly Parton than meets the eye.

My Tennessee Mountain Home can be purchased from Amazon or iTunes.

Grade: A

Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy’

Released in September 1969, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy was Dolly’s third solo effort for RCA and her fourth solo album overall. At this stage of her career, she was still struggling to find her commercial breakthrough, having cracked the Top 20 as a solo artist only once, with the previous year’s “Just Because I’m A Woman.” Whereas her previous two albums had produced only one single each, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy produced three, which suggests that RCA had some faith that they were on the right track. Indeed, it is a more consistent album than its somewhat uneven predecessors, and it charted higher, peaking at #6 on the Billboard country albums chart. However, none of the singles performed well on the charts, most likely due to their depressing and controversial — by 1969 standards — subject matter. Make no mistake, this album is no happy affair. The themes explored range from poverty, infidelity, and illegitimate birth to revenge, murder, suicide and prostitution.

In the first single, “Daddy”, Dolly is a young woman urging her father not to abandon her mother in favor of a woman who is younger than his daughter. One of her weaker efforts up to this point, it was an odd choice for lead single and it failed to gain much traction at radio, though it did manage to crack the Top 40 — the only single from the album to do so.

The second single was a cover of Mac Davis’ controversial “In The Ghetto”, which had been a recent hit for Elvis Presley. It tells the tale of the vicious cycle of crime and poverty in the inner city — a problem which has only worsened over the succeeding four decades. Likely considered too topical for country radio, it died at #50, despite an excellent performance which drew praise from Elvis himself. Equally controversial was the next single, the album’s title track, which tells the story of a young woman who leaves her rural home and the boy she loves for the bright lights of the city, only to find more than she bargained for and ultimately resorting to prostitution to survive. It performed slightly better than “In The Ghetto”, climbing to #45. Despite its commercial failure, it is relatively well known today thanks to its inclusion on a number of “best of” compilations over the years.

In addition to “Daddy” and the title tack, Dolly wrote three more of the album’s twelve tracks. In “Til Death Do Us Part”, the narrator commits suicide upon learning that her husband is leaving her for another woman. “Evening Shade” tells the story of an orphans home, in which the inhabitants seek their revenge by burning the place down while the cruel headmistress is sleeping inside. “Gypsy, Joe and Me” seems like a more lighthearted affair in the beginning, telling the story of a couple of free spirits and their dog. However, both the dog and the narrator’s partner meet with tragic ends, which ultimately leads the narrator to take her own life.

The fallen woman is a recurring theme throughout Parton’s early work, so it was somewhat surprising to learn that “Home For Pete’s Sake” is one of the tunes on the album which she did not write. On the other hand, it’s a little less surprising when one takes into account that this one actually has a happy ending. Unlike Dolly’s later composition “Down From Dover”, which would appear on the following year’s album, the protagonist in Rudy Preston’s “Home For Pete’s Sake” is welcomed home by her family and ex-boyfriend when she falls pregnant after moving to the big city.

Rounding out the set are covers of Joe South’s “Games People Play”, Jean Shepherd’s “We Had All The Good Things Going”, which had been a hit for Jean Shepherd, and Porter Wagoner’s “Big Wind”. While none of these can be said to be happy songs, they range from mid- to up-tempo and thus server to lighten the mood and save the album from becoming a total case of unabated misery.

The album’s cover art shows the cabin in Tennessee where Dolly grew up, and the gentleman posing as The Blue Ridge Mountain Boy is none other than Dolly’s husband, the reclusive Carl Dean. Bob Ferguson was credited as producer, but in reality, like all of Parton’s work from this era, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy was produced by her mentor Porter Wagoner. At the time, RCA would only allow employees of the label to produce, so Ferguson got the credit even though he was rarely present in the studio when Parton and Wagoner were recording.

Bleak and somber though the subject matter may be, My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy is first rate from beginning to end and is worthy of a remastering and re-release. Unfortunately, it has never been released on CD, though used vinyl copies can be purchased. In addition, most the album’s tracks can be found on various hits compilations, and many of them can be individually downloaded.

Grade: A

Country Heritage Redux: Charley Pride (1938 – )

An updated version of the article originally published by The 9513:

While he’s not exactly forgotten, it’s been twenty-five years since Charley Pride received much airplay on country radio – which seems unbelievable considering the dominant force he was on the charts. For the ’70s, Billboard has Charley listed as its third ranking singles artist behind only Conway Twitty and Merle Haggard. Pride also shows up as fourth on the Billboard Country Album chart for the same decade, while Cashbox has him as its number one artist for the period of 1958-1982.

Younger listeners who have not previously heard Pride will have a real treat coming when they sample his music from the ’60s and ’70s. He has a very distinctive voice; one not easily forgotten once it’s been heard.

Originally planning on a career in Major League Baseball, Pride grew up in the cotton fields near Sledge, Mississippi, where he listened to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. For whatever reason, Pride’s taste in music leaned towards country – perhaps he sensed (correctly) that his voice fit the genre perfectly. While pitching in semi-pro baseball in Montana, Pride was “discovered” by Red Sovine, who urged him to try his luck in Nashville. Pride did just that after his hopes of a career in baseball were gone, and soon thereafter he came to the attention of legendary producer Jack Clement. Clement did everything within his power to get Pride recorded and on a label, going so far as to self-producing the singer’s early recording sessions and shopping the masters. Clement even eventually persuaded Chet Atkins to add Pride to RCA.

Racial relations have come a long way since Pride emerged as country music’s top star and its first African-American superstar. The situation in America was so tense in 1965 that RCA issued his first few singles without the customary picture sleeves and promotional information, hoping to get country audiences hooked before they realized his race. To get the disk jockeys to play the records, they made them as hard-core country as was possible for the time, and listed the label’s four big name producers (Chet Atkins, Jack Clement, Bob Ferguson and Felton Jarvis) as the co-producers on the singles. DJs of the ’60s might not have known who Charley Pride was, but Atkins, Clement, Ferguson and Jarvis were known to all within the industry, so the records were destined to get at least some airplay.

Eventually country audiences tumbled onto Charley’s “permanent suntan” (as he put it), but it was too late. They simply loved his singing and would demonstrate this love by purchasing millions of his albums over the next 30 years, pushing four albums to gold status, a rarity for country albums with no cross-over appeal.

The first album, appearing in 1966, was Country Charley Pride; it had solid country arrangements and contained no hit singles as it was basically an album designed to introduce Pride to the marketplace. The songs included:

“Busted” — a 1963 hit for Johnny Cash & the Carter Family, and later a successful single for Ray Charles and John Conlee. It was written by the Dean of country songsmiths, Harlan Howard.

“Distant Drums”
— this Cindy Walker-penned song was a posthumous #1 for Jim Reeves in early 1966–the first of several such songs for Reeves.

“Detroit City” was a 1963 hit for Bobby Bare. Earlier in 1963, Billy Grammer had a hit with the song, recording it under the title “I Want To Go Home.” Mel Tillis and Danny Dill wrote this classic song.

“Yonder Comes A Sucker” — Jim Reeves took this self-penned song to #4 in 1955.

“Green Green Grass of Home”
— Johnny Darrell and Porter Wagoner hit with this Curly Putman classic in 1965, Porter scoring the much bigger hit of the pair.

“That’s The Chance I’ll Have To Take”
— label mate Waylon Jennings had a minor hit with this in 1965.

“Before I Met You”
— charted at #6 for Carl Smith in 1956. Smith’s star had faded by 1966, but he had been one of the biggest stars in the genre during the 1950s. This was Charley’s second single, issued in mid-1966. It would be the last non-charting single for Charley Pride for the next 28 years.

“Folsom Prison Blues”
— this was not as obvious a trendy pick as you might think. Johnny Cash took this song to #4 in 1956 – the #1 hit version and album were still 18 months away at the time this album was issued.

“The Snakes Crawl At Night”
was Pride’s first single, and while it did not chart nationally, it got significant regional airplay in the south and southwest. It was, in fact, the song that introduced me to Charley Pride.

“Miller’s Cave”
— Hank Snow had a hit in 1960 and Bobby Bare had one in 1964 with this Jack Clement-penned song (both top ten records). Clement was not simply padding his coffers by having Charley record his songs, as he was a top-flight songsmith. He wrote several Johnny Cash hits, including “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” (Cash’s top charting record), and “I Guess Things Happen That Way.”

“The Atlantic Coastal Line”
— this was the “B” side of “The Snakes Crawl At Night” but it got some radio airplay. Mel Tillis wrote this song.

“Got Leavin’ On Her Mind”
— Jack Clement wrote this song, which was never a big hit, although Mac Wiseman had a terrific record on the song in 1968, and many others recorded it as well.

Normally, the strategy of introducing an artist to the public through an album entirely composed of oldies does not succeed. This time, however, the “country classics” strategy worked to perfection in priming the demand for more. Subsequent Charley Pride albums would feature newer songs and more of Pride’s own hits – lots of hits. Before long, all of Nashville’s leading writers were pitching their best material to him, with Dallas Frazier being his early favorite. So successful was Pride that an incredible string of 35 consecutive songs reached #1 on the Billboard and/or Cashbox Country Charts. Starting with 1969′s “Kaw-Liga” and ending with 1980′s “You Almost Slipped My Mind”, every Charley Pride single (except the 1972 two-sided gospel record “Let Me Live”/”Did You Think To Pray” and the 1979 “Dallas Cowboys” NFL special souvenir edition) reached #1. After the streak ended, Charley would have another 6 songs that were #1 on either Billboard and/or Cashbox. “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” released in 1971, would, of course become his signature song.

In addition to the above milestones, Charley Pride recorded a live album in 1968 at Panther Hall in Dallas, simply one of the best live albums ever. During his career, RCA issued three best of Charley Pride albums and two Greatest Hits albums with absolutely no overlap between the albums; moreover, several major hits were left off completely. He won the CMA Entertainer of the Year award, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the ACM’s Pioneer Award (a fitting award, if ever there was one), and several Grammy awards. Global sales reportedly brought 30 of his albums up to gold status.

During the CD era, Pride was very poorly served, at least until recently. At one point in the mid-1990s, he re-recorded 25 of his classic songs for Honest Entertainment, using the original arrangements, producer Jack Clement, and as many of the original musicians as he could find. For several years these re-makes were the only versions available, as RCA neglected its back catalog of anyone not named Elvis Presley.

Charley Pride continues to perform and record. While his voice has lost some tonal quality over the years, he still sings very well indeed. His success did not herald a phalanx of African-American singers into county music. Perhaps, that was an unrealistic expectation, since voices as good as that of Charley Pride rarely come around.


Charley Pride on Vinyl

Charley’s peak period coincides with the period in which the biggest stars issued three or four albums per year. From 1966-1979 RCA released 31 albums – 28 regular albums plus 3 ‘Best of’ collections. Generally the albums from before 1972 are the best, although all of them are worthwhile. After Pride hit the big time the albums became more formulaic and contained more filler, but the hit singles remained top-notch.

From 1980 to 1986 RCA issued 11 albums including two Greatest Hitscollections. A switch to 16th Avenue saw three more albums released before the end of the vinyl era.

After leaving RCA at the end of 1986, Charley recorded for 16th Avenue Records where he charted eight singles through 1989 when the label folded. His albums on 16th Avenue were released on vinyl and audio cassette. His two biggest hits for 16th Avenue were “Shouldn’t It Be Easier Than This” (1988 – #5) and “I’m Gonna Love Her On The Radio” (1988 – #13) and he released three albums while on 16th Avenue in After All This Time, I’m Gonna Love Her On The Radio and Moody Woman.


Charley Pride’s RCA recordings on CD

The Essential Charley Pride – BMG 1997 — an adequate overview with 20 songs, 19 hits plus a cover of “Please Help Me I’m Falling.”
The Essential Charley Pride – BMG 2006 – this two CD set replaced the prior entry and contains forty of Charley’s hits. An excellent set and an excellent value.
Charley Pride’s Country – Readers Digest 1996 — for years this was best available American collection. Containing 72 songs, 20 or so hits plus some good album cuts and cover versions.
The Legendary Charley Pride — BMG Australia 2003 — 50 songs, 40 hits plus a few other songs. Now out of print, this collection still is as good as any hits collection .
36 All Time Greatest Hits — RCA Special Products 193 — 36 songs — about 50-50 hits and other songs.

Several of Charley Pride’s other RCA albums have been available on CD over the years including Greatest Hits, Greatest Hits V2 (both truncated versions of the vinyl albums), There’s A Little Bit of Hank In Me (his Hank Williams tribute) and Charley Pride In Person at Panther Hall .


Other CDs and Recent Output

The 16th Avenue recording have been available on CD under a variety of names and for a variety of labels. The Curb CD The Best of Charley Pride is mostly 16th Avenue Recordings.

As noted above, so little of his music was available during the 1990s, that Charley re-recorded twenty-five of his biggest hits for Honest Entertainment. He also recorded some newer material, along with some other songs. These recordings have been licensed to a variety of labels including the Gusto, King, Tee Vee family of companies. These aren’t bad recordings but the originals are better.

Charley continues to record, although only occasionally. Three noteworthy albums from recent years include the following:

A Tribute To Jim Reeves (2001) – Charley recorded many Jim Reeves songs during his early peak years, so this album of all Jim Reeves songs was a natural for him to record. Charley does right by Jim’s memory.

The Comfort of Her Wings (2003) – new material – a pretty good album, although it produced no hits.

Choices (2011) – more new material, given a good run by one of the most distinctive voices in the business.

Heart, soul and talent: Connie Smith’s recipe for great country music

conniesmithmyspace1A few days ago, I had the great honor and privilege of sitting down for a conversation with the legendary Connie Smith:

RX: Your entry into the country music world seems to be something that just sort of happened, instead of something that you spent a lot of time pursuing. Prior to meeting Bill Anderson, had you given any serious thought to going to Nashville to pursue a career in country music?

CS: No. It was always a dream I had to sing on the Grand Ole Opry. I remember when I was about 5 saying that, but I never thought I really would. If I hadn’t met Bill I probably wouldn’t have pursued it because I already had a young son. The way I met him was I went up to that park because I’d heard that George Jones would be there. But they’d given my husband and me the wrong date, so when we got there Bill was there. I hadn’t gone to sing, I just wanted to hear George because he was my favorite male singer. When we got there we found out that they had a talent contest every week, and my husband and friends talked me into entering. The biggest holdback was that you had to do your own accompaniment, and I can only play the guitar in the key of C, so I had to pick a song that I could do in C. And I think the reason I won was because the winner for the prior seven weeks was a seven-year-old banjo player and I guess they just wanted something different. I’d like to think it was my talent that won but I’m really not so sure. I know it wasn’t my guitar playing (laughs).

RX: But it was definitely your talent that caught the attention of Bill Anderson. You went to Nashville at his invitation, and “Once a Day”, your debut record, was a megahit – the kind that every new artist dreams of having right out of the box. Was it difficult to adjust to that kind of overnight success?

CS: I was just very lucky to have come along at the right time and to have gotten such a great, great song. But it was difficult being thrust into the spotlight so quickly. I just wanted to hear my record on the radio but I was never really career-driven.

RX: Most artists from that era, particularly women, seem to have been almost completely controlled by their labels and producers.  Did you have any say in what you got to record or how your records sounded?

downtown-country CS (emphatically):  Absolutely. I never recorded anything I didn’t want to. I was very fortunate to get to work with Bob Ferguson as my producer for the first 9 years. Any attempts to force me to record something I didn’t want to wouldn’t have gone down well with me. If he really, really wanted me to do something, I did it but I was never forced. RCA did say to me, “You can do things besides just country,” and I said, “I’m not sure that I want to.”  That wasn’t Bob or Chet forcing me – that was coming more from New York. They really wanted me to do some middle-of-the-road stuff. So we did the whole Downtown Country album. But those really weren’t the best songs for me.

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