My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Bob McDill

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘New Moves’

Don’s last studio album for MCA, Café Carolina, was released in 1984, although the label continued t package compilations of his work for them for some years. He was still a consistent hit maker, but the label was keen to introduce new stars, and Don may have felt less well promoted than he had done previously, and in 1985 he signed a deal with Capitol Records. The first album for Capitol, released in January 1986, was appropriately entitled New Moves, although there were no significant changes in his music – he even retained an existing co-production partnership with Garth Fundis from his last MCA album. Half the album’s tracks ended up being promoted as singles, and all reached the top 10, proving that there was still a place for Don Williams at the top even as the younger neotraditionalists were sweeping other older artists aside.

The lead single, the Dave Loggins-penned ‘We’ve Got A Good Fire Goin’’, is a very nice love song about the comforts of a settled relationship, with a subtle arrangement, although there are unnecessary and slightly intrusive choir-style backing vocals in the second half of the song. It peaked at #3. The album’s biggest hit, the mid-paced ‘Heartbeat In The Darkness’ (another Loggins song, this time co-written with Russell Smith) was Don’s last ever chart topper, but has not worn very well, with production which now sounds a little dated, although the song itself is pleasant enough.

The pace lifts still further with the lively ‘Then It’s Love’, which peaked at #3. It was written by Dennis Linde, best known for writing Elvis’s ‘Burning Love’, and has a saxophone-dominated arrangement with Don trying out a bit of an Elvis impression at the end, which is quite fun and not typical of Williams’ usual music.

The mainly spoken story song ‘Senorita’, written by Hank De Vito and Danny Flowers, performed less well, but was still a top 10 hit. I found it rather boring. The final single, ‘I’ll Never Be In Love Again’ (written by Bob Corbin) reached #4. To my ears it is the best of the singles, a classic Don Williams gentle ballad about surviving (more or less) the loss of love, with a delicate accompaniment featuring flute and harmonica. Lovely.

A number of artists have recorded Bob McDill’s ‘Shot Full Of Love’ ranging from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (my favorite take) to Billy Ray Cyrus, but I don’t think it’s ever been the hit it deserves to be. It’s a very good song, but the lyric, about an outlaw type who has broken a lot of hearts in his time but is unexpectedly felled by love, doesn’t really fit Don’s good guy persona or smooth voice. It still makes pleasant listening, but is not entirely convincing. (The McCarters’ beautiful sounding version ha few years later had the same flaw.) Another McDill tune, ‘We Got Love’, is a pleasant love song but not very memorable.

‘Send Her Roses’, written by Pat McLaughlin, who plays mandolin on the track, is a perky number about abandoning a travelling life (with several allusions to other songs) for a settled home with the protagonist’s wife. It is highly enjoyable.

Don’s own ‘The Light In Your Eyes’ is a pretty romantic piano-led ballad, which is very nice indeed. The mid paced ‘It’s About Time’, another love song, is also pretty good.

Grade: B+

The album has been packaged with Don’s other Capitol album Traces on a 2-4-1 CD.

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Especially For You’

Don’s eleventh album, released in June 1981, continued Don’s string of successful albums, reaching #5, his ninth (of eleven) albums to reach the top ten. Three singles were released from the album, all of which made the top ten: “Miracles” (#4 Billboard/ #1 Cashbox ), the exquisite duet with Emmylou Harris “If I Needed You” (#3 Billboard/ #1 Record World) and “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good” (#1 across the board).

The instrumentation on this album is a bit unusual for a country album of this vintage as a variety of odd instruments appear including such things as bongos, congas, ukulele, shaker and tambourine. Fortunately only the second and ninth tracks feature synthesizer, and Lloyd Green is present on steel guitar to restore order on five of the tracks. Unlike Don’s earlier albums, dobro (or resonator guitar) does not show up in the mix at all, and I definitely miss its presence.

The album opens up with a tune from “The Man In Black” (Johnny Cash) in “Fair-weather Friends”. This is a religiously oriented track, but a nice song

Fair-weather friends, fair-weather sailors
Will leave you stranded on life’s shore
One good friend who truly loves you
Is worth the pain your heart endures

We never know which way the wind will blow
Nor when or where the next turmoil will be
But He’s a solid rock when troubles grow
And He’s holding out a saving hand for me

“I Don’t Want to Love You” comes from the pen of Bob McDill. Bob never did anyone wrong with a song and this song about the human dilemma is no exception

I think about you every minute
And I miss you when you’re not around
And every day, I’m gettin’ deeper in it
I’m scared to go on, but the feelin’s so strong
I can’t turn away from you now

No, no, no, I don’t want to love you
And oh, oh, oh, I’m tryin’ not to
No, no, no, I don’t want to love you
But oh, oh, oh, I think I do

“Years from Now” by Roger Cook and Charles Cochran is a tender ballad with no potential as a single

Still love has kept us together
For the flame never dies
When I look in your eyes
The future I see

Holding you years from now
Wanting you years from now
Loving you years from now
As I love you tonight

Dave Hanner was a familiar figure in the country music as a writer and performer (Corbin/Hanner). His songs have been recorded by the Oak Ridge Boys, Glen Campbell, Mel Tillis and the Cates Sisters but the capstone of his writing career is the classic “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good”, a chart topper for Don and recorded many times since then including nice versions by Lee Ann Womack and Anne Murray. Don had Corbin/Hanner for his opening act on one tour. Taken at mid-tempo, this is one of the songs that come to mind when Don’s name is mentioned.

Lord, I hope this day is good
I’m feelin’ empty and misunderstood
I should be thankful Lord, I know I should
But Lord, I hope this day is good

Lord, have you forgotten me
I’ve been prayin’ to you faithfully
I’m not sayin’ I’m a righteous man
But Lord, I hope you understand

I don’t need fortune and I don’t need fame
Send down the thunder Lord, send down the rain
But when you’re planning just how it will be
Plan a good day for me

“Especially You”, written by Rick Beresford has an artsy feel to it and has that “Nashville Sound” combination of strings and steel. I think that this song would have made a decent single

I see the rainbow in your eyes,
I see all the colors pass me by
I sure like the things my eyes can do,
Especially when they see you.

I hear the music of this day,
I sure like the songs this world can play
But most of all I like your tune,
When you whisper I love you.

My senses don’t like, I get a definite high
When you’re near I feel clear off the ground
Reach for my arms, and I will give you the stars
There is nothing that is holding us down.

Townes Van Zandt was the source of “If I Needed You”, Don’s successful duet with Emmylou Harris. I am not that much of a fan of Emmylou’s solo endeavors, but she can seemingly blend with anyone. Pair her with a good singer like Don Williams, and the end result is outstanding. I think that this is my favorite Townes Van Zandt composition:

If I needed you, would you come to me?
Would you come to me, for to ease my pain?
If you needed me, I would come to you
I would swim the sea for to ease your pain

Well the night’s forlorn and the mornin’s warm
And the mornin’s warm with the lights of love
And you’ll miss sunrise if you close your eyes
And that would break my heart in two

“Now and Then” (Wayland Holyfield) and “Smooth Talking Baby” (David Kirby, Red Lane) are acceptable album filler, but nothing more.

“I’ve Got You to Thank for That” by Blake Mevis and Don Pfrimmer is an upbeat mid-tempo love song song that grows on you over time. Blake Mevis had considerable success as a songwriter but may be best remembered as the producer of George Strait’s early albums.

I’ve got Sunday school to thank for Jesus
Got educated thanks to mom and dad
I can borrow money thanks to banker Johnson
Thanks to me I’ve spent all that I have.

I quit smoking thanks to coach Kowalsky
Thanks to lefty Thomson I can fight
It took a while learning all life’s lessons,
But I learnt about love just one night.

Honey I’ve got you to thank for that
It’s good from time to time to look back
It always reminds me that I love it where I am at
Honey I’ve got you to thank for that

The album closes with the first single released from the album “Miracles”. Written by Roger Cook, the song is yet another slow ballad. In the hands of anyone other than Don Williams, the song would seem turgid, but Don sells the song effectively. The use of strings with steel enhances the dramatic presentation

Miracles, miracles, that’s what life’s about
Most of you must agree if you’ve thought it out

I can see and I can hear, I can tell you why
I can think and I can feel, I can even cry
I can walk, I can run, I can swim the sea
We had made a baby son and he looks like me

I don’t think Don Williams is capable of issuing a bad album. It appears that Especially For You was only briefly available on CD (I’ve been reviewing from a vinyl copy), but is currently unavailable.

I prefer the more acoustic sound of Don’s earlier albums, but this is a good album that I would give a B+. Did I mention that I really missed that dobro?

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Expressions’

Don Williams released his eighth album, Expressions, in August 1978. He co-produced the album, once again, with Garth Fundis.

Expressions contains three of Williams’ most iconic singles. “Tulsa Time,” written by Danny Flowers, is a honky-tonk barnburner that took Williams out of his signature sound with ease and sophistication. He was back in his comfort zone for the beautiful self-penned “Lay Down Beside Me,” one of his most beloved ballads. The final single, Bob McDill’s “It Must Be Love” was another gorgeous uptempo number. “Tulsa Time” and “It Must Be Love” hit #1 while “Lay Down Beside Me” peaked at #3.

The singles each have versions by other artists. Eric Clapton and Pistol Annies both have versions of “Tulsa Time” and Alan Jackson brought “It Must Be Love” back to #1 in 2000. Kenny Rogers lent his voice to “Lay Down Beside Me,” as did Alison Krauss, in an ill-advised duet with rock singer John Waite.

“I Would Like to See You Again” is a lovely mid-tempo ballad accented beautifully with gentle mandolin flourishes. “You’ve Got a Hold on Me,” about a love gone by, is an AC-leaning mid-tempo number with nice accents of steel.

“Tears of the Lonely” is a lush ballad with striking piano and ear-catching percussion. “All I’m Missing Is You” picks up the tempo nicely and tells the story of a guy who does the things he used to do with an old love, missing her all-the-while. “Give It to Me” is a nice, lush song about love. He showcases his exceptional talents as a vocalist on the masterful “When I’m With You,” one of the strongest of the album’s ten songs.

Expressions captures a master at the height of their prowess when the artistic and the commercial are in near perfect balance. He also won his only industry awards as a result of this album – CMA Male Vocalist of the Year (1978) and ACM Single Record of the Year (“Tulsa Time,” 1979).

Expressions is as close to a flawless album as I’ve ever heard, from an artist who has never hit a sour note in his career. It’s just an exceptional record through and through.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Country Boy’

Although they are two very different artists, there are some comparisons to be drawn between Don Williams and George Strait. Fans usually knew exactly what they were getting when each artist released a new album; seldom where there any surprises or real creative stretches but the results were always satisfying and performed well commercially. Country Boy was Don Williams’ second album release of 1977 and his fifth overall for ABC/Dot. Released in September, it was produced by Don himself and produced three top 10 hits.

The first of those hits was “I’m Just a Country Boy”, from which the album title is derived. The song dates back to 1954, having been originally recorded by Harry Belafonte. A staid but very pretty ballad written by Fred Kellerman and Marshall Baker, its protagonist laments that his lack of material possessions will prevent him from winning over the object of his affections, who is engaged to someone else. The lyrics paint an effective picture of a simple but peaceful country lifestyle, without resorting to the cliches of today’s redneck pride anthems:

‘I ain’t gonna marry in the fall; I ain’t gonna marry in the spring
Cause I’m in love with a pretty little girl who wears a diamond ring
And I’m just a country boy money have I none
But I’ve got silver in the stars
And gold in morning sun gold in morning sun.’

While this song would be considered too mournful for radio release today, forty years ago audiences and radio programmers loved it and it reached #1 in November. The single’s B-side was a Bob McDill tune called “Louisiana Saturday Night”, a slightly more energetic version of which would go on to be a hit for Mel McDaniel a few years later. While McDaniel’s version remains the definitive one, Williams acquits himself nicely on this one and I could easily imagine his version being a hit as well.

“I’ve Got a Winner in You”, a Williams co-write with Wayland Holyfield, was the second single, which reached #7. Its B-side was another Williams composition “Overlookin’ and Underthinkin'”, a very nice number with a gentle pedal steel track and subtle strings, that is one of my favorites. Another personal favorite is the Bob McDill-penned “Rake and Ramblin’ Man”, about a free-spirit who is forced to settle down by an unplanned pregnancy. To his credit, the protagonist is quite willing to leave behind his bachelor days and embrace the next phase of his life. “Rake and Ramblin’ Man” peaked at #3.

“Sneakin’ Around” is another Williams original about a cheating spouse that I also think had hit potential. The two remaining Williams compositions “Look Around You” and the slightly more pop-leaning “It’s Gotta Magic” are somewhat less effective but still enjoyable. Jim Rushing’s “Too Many Tears (To Make Love Strong)” is pleasant but not particularly memorable.

Peaking at #9 on the albums chart, Country Boy was Don’s lowest-charting album for ABC/Dot since he joined the label three years earlier and this was the last time he would release two LPs in one year. Still, #9 is nothing to sneeze at. Its stripped-down approach was at odds with much of the music of the day but it has aged well and stood the test of time. It is available on a 3-for-1 import CD along with You’re My Best Friend and Harmony, and I highly recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Visions’

1977’s Visions was produced by Don himself, and was his usual blend of deceptively mellow tunes belying often sad lyrics.

The chart-topping only single, ‘Some Broken Hearts Never Mend’, is a great song about failing to get over someone, which was written by Wayland Holyfield. On a similar theme, and perhaps even better is I‘ll Need Someone To Hold Me (When I Cry)’, written by Holyfield with Bob McDill. Janie Fricke’s cover was a big hit a few years later, and Don’s tender version would surely have been a guaranteed hit for him. A third Holyfield tune, ‘I’m Getting Good At Missing You’ is another fine song about living with sadness, which was top 10 hit for Rex Allen Jr in 1977.

‘I’ll Forgive But I’ll Never Forget’ is excellent, a regretful song about a man who now regrets neglecting the wife who has sought comfort in another man’s arms:

He had the time he could give you
When your lips could never find mine
And our little home was paying the price
Of love left on the vine

Forgiveness is something
I guess it comes with time
But even at best, there’s one thing I know
I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget

I guess when it’s over it’s over
And your time is no longer mine
But I never meant to cause all the pain
I just wanted your love for mine

This may be my favorite track.

The opening ‘Time On My Hands’ is a gentle tune addressed to an ex who has broken his heart. ‘In The Mornin’’, composed by Don, and ‘Missing You Missing Me’, which he wrote with Allen Reynolds, are other attractive songs in the same style.

Even the hopeful ‘Fallin’ In Love Again’ dwells on the experience of losing previous loves.

The mood brightens with the optimistic and vaguely spiritual ‘We Can Sing’. ‘Expert At Everything’ is a perky love song, and ‘Cup O’ Tea’ is pleasant if slightly twee.

Don’s warm, sincere vocals, and the understated production make this an inviting auditory experience. It is not available digitally, but can be found as part of a 3 album set on a double CD, packaged with Expressions and Portrait.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘You’re My Best Friend

Don’s fourth album, released in April 1975, found Don sharing the producer’s chair with Allen Reynolds, along with writing (or co-writing) four of the album’s ten songs.

The album opens with the title track, written by Wayland Holyfield. This was the first single released from the album and it soared to #1 on the US and Canadian country charts. It also hit internationally reaching the pop charts in the UK (#35) and Australia (#50).

“Help Yourselves to Each Other” is next up. A Bob McDill/Allen Reynolds collaboration, this song is a slow ballad about mutual dependency as part of the human condition:

What a time to turn your back on someone
What a day to be without a friend
What a shame when no-one seems to bother
Who will offer shelter to candles in the wind

And it follows we are only helpless children
Ever changing like sunlight through the trees
It’s a long road we must cling to one another
Help yourselves to each other,
That’s the way it’s meant to be

“ I Don’t Wanna Let Go” is yet another slow ballad from breaking up, this time from the pen of Jim Rushing. I cannot see this song ever being released as a single by anyone but it fits nicely within the context of the album:

Sweet bitter dreams gather gently inside me
As I roll with the earth finding nothing to hide me
For my love was my shelter my shore and my home
How can time repay what I gave away
When I don’t wanna let go

Don picks up the tempo (slightly) with “Sweet Fever”, from the pens of Dickey Lee and Bob McDill. The song features some nice steel guitar from Lloyd Green. I think we have all been here:

I don’t know what happens but you come walking by
I can’t speak my knees get weak I feel half paralyzed
My temperature keeps rising my head is feeling light
I sing love songs all day long I toss and turn all night

I got a sweet fever comin’ all over me
I got a sweet fever I wonder what can it be
I got a sweet fever comin’ all over me
I got a sweet fever I wonder what can it be

Dickey Lee and Bob McDill also collaborated in writing “Someone Like You”. I think this would have made an excellent single for Don, but the song was resurrected in as a single by Emmylou Harris in 1984, reaching #26. By 1984, Emmylou’s career as a singles artist had already slowed down, which is too bad as the song deserved to be a big hit for someone.

Others have touched me soft in the night
And others have kissed me and held me tight
Good times and lovers I’ve had a few
But I was just waiting for someone like you.

Others have loved me before your time
Some who were gentle, some who were kind
Don’t it seem funny I never knew
I was just waiting for someone like you.

“Turn Out the Light and Love Me Tonight” is another Bob McDill classic that Don took to #1. I love the imagery of the song. Some of the younger listeners may remember the song as an album track on Kenny Chesney’s 1996 album Me and You. Kenny did a nice job with the song but this version is the classic version. Don penned the next song, “Where Are You”, a slow ballad that makes a good album track.

Al Turney’s name shows up occasionally on Don’s early albums. The Alabama native’s “Tempted” is handled as a mid-tempo ballad by Don. While not released as a single, it received a little airplay here in Central Florida and apparently elsewhere as well. I feel this should have been released as a single:

Tempted, tempted, tempted to fall in again
Tempted, tempted, I’m tempted to fall in love again.

Sometimes love, can hurt you bad
Make you stop and wonder what you really had
But I guess it’s all part of the master plan
To be tempted to fall in love again.

Tempted, tempted, tempted to fall in again
Tempted, tempted, I’m tempted to fall in love again.

The album closes with a pair of Don Williams compositions “You’re The Only”, a mid-tempo ballad, and “Reason to Be” a philosophical, very slow ballad of introspection.

First I was love, then I came to be
I had a heart inside of me
And though my heart was working I found
Still there was something it had not found

So I went away, hoping to see
Maybe I’d find what’s missing in me
Knowing so well but not knowing why
If I didn’t find this something I’d die

And then I came to where I had been
I knew the first was still not the end
What I had left was not what I found
Because there was you, because there I found

First I was love, then I came to be
I had a heart inside of me
And though my heart is still part of me
You give my heart its reason to be

This album is not quite up to the standard of Don’s first three albums, but it is still an excellent album that I would give an A-

Ensemble:
Don Williams – acoustic guitar, vocals, producer
Jim Colvard & Jerry Stembridge – electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Joe Allen – bass / Lloyd Green – steel guitar, dobro
Shane Keister – keyboards / Danny Flowers – harmonica
Kenny Malone – drums, marimba, congas

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Volume Two’

1974’s Volume Two was the aptly-titled follow-up to Don Williams’ solo debut album on the independent JMI label. Though it doesn’t it contain any of his best remembered songs, it does feature his first Top 10 hit. The track listing is stellar; consisting primarily of songs written by Bob McDill, Allen Reynolds, and Williams himself.

Produced by Allen Reynolds, the album consists of sparsely produced, laid-back songs that are a fry cry from the lush production usually used for country records in the early 70s. Williams’ original composition, the gentle ballad “Atta Way to Go” was the album’s first single, whose chart performance mirrored those of the singles from Volume One, peaking at #13. I was not previously familiar with it but I took to it immediately. The midtempo “We Should Be Together”, written by Allen Reynolds was the next single. It carried Don into the Top 10 for the first time, peaking at #5. Consisting of acoustic guitar and dobro, it is catchy yet mellow. I’d never heard this one before, either, which is surprising since it was Williams’ first significant hit. The third single, “Down the Road I Go”, another Williams compostion, is the closest this album gets to something up-tempo. It’s a pleasant tune, with some nice fiddle and steel work, as well as a vocal chorus that aligns it a little more closely with the mainstream of the day, but it fared poorly on the charts, topping out at #62. From this point forward, though, all of Williams’ records for the next decade would crack the Top 10.

The great Bob McDill contributed two other tracks: the album opener “I Wish I Was In Nashville” and “She’s In Love With a Rodeo Man”. The former is about an aspiring musician who has dreams of making it big in Music City; the latter is about a honky tonk angel who attracts plenty of suitors but only has eyes for a particular rodeo rider. There is an excellent steel guitar solo on this track.

The outlier on the album is the ballad “I Don’t Think Much About Her No More”, which features a subtle string section alone with the acoustic guitar and pedal steel. Originally recorded by its author Micky Newbury in 1969, it was covered many times, sometimes under its alternate title “Poison Red Berries” by artists such as Eddy Arnold, George Hamiton IV, Bobby Bare, The Carter Family, Jan Howard, and Tammy Wynette. It’s more polished than the rest of the album but still the perfect vehicle for Williams’ baritone.

Although it doesn’t contain any of Williams’ best remembered hits, Volume Two is an excellent collection that has aged well and is worth a listen. It is available on a two-for-one CD along with Volume One.

Grade: A

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Volume One’

After briefly retiring from the music business, Don Williams reemerged as a songwriter and performer for Jack Clement, with the first album being released in June 1973*.

Despite JMI (Jack Music Inc.) being a bit player in the industry, Jack Clement was already a legendary figure with established contacts so this album features the cream of Nashville’s musicians. Allen Reynolds is listed as the album’s producer.

The album opens up with a song from the pen of Bob McDill, “Come Early Morning”.  This song was released as the second single reaching #12 on Billboard’s country chart and #9 on Cashbox. This is a laid back look at love

I been walking, walking in the moonlight
Tripping in the starlight, Lord and I’m feeling down
Walking in the shadows, sneaking down a side road
Come early morning I’ll be there on the edge of town

I was a thinking, thinking about a good thing
Thinking bout a sweet dream, in my honey’s eyes
And I was a sinking’, feeling kind of lonesome
Come early morning I’ll be home at my honey’s side

Next up is a Don Williams-Allen Reynolds composition “Too Late To Turn Back Now”. This is a nice mellow ballad about falling in love. This song is not to be mistaken for the pop hit by the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose – it is a good song but not worthy of release as a single

Don covers a pop oldie with “Endless Sleep”, a huge hit for its writer, Jody Reynolds. The song was an interesting teen near-tragedy song that went to #5 pop in 1958. Many country artist covered the song as an album track, and Don’s is among the better covers

The night was black rain fallin’ down
I looked my baby she’s no where aroun’
Chased her footsteps down to the shore
Afraid she’s gone for ever more

Well I looked at the sea, seemed to say
I took your baby from you away
I heard a voice cry in the deep
Come join me baby in my endless sleep

“Shelter of Your Eyes” by Don Williams was the first single released from the album reaching #14 Billboard / #11 Cashbox. Like most Don Williams recording, this is taken at a relaxed tempo, but it tells a complete story and probably would have been a bigger hit had there been a major label pushing it forward.

In the shelter of your eyes
I have finally learned the song
It took so long to realize
I just can’t make it all alone

Words are only what they say
But this feeling isn’t wrong
I’m so glad I found my way
It’s good to be where I belong

And I’m, gonna stay,
Right here ’cause I’m
In rhythm with your mind

Tune out the world
And rest my head
‘Neath the shelter of your eyes

Although things had been slowly changing, country music at this time was still largely perceived of as the “endless ballads of booze and broads”. While a few county artists eschewed such topics (Slim Whitman comes to mind) most country artists would spend at least some time with those kind of songs. Don Williams mostly stayed away from the barroom songs.

“I Recall A Gypsy Woman” by Bob McDill and Allen Reynolds would have made a good single. Tommy Cash (1973) and BJ Thomas (1981) both released singles on the song, but neither had a big hit with it. In Central Florida several radio stations gave some airplay to Don’s version of the song, back in the days when Billboard did not chart album tracks. I love the imagery of the song:

Silver coins that jingle jangle
Fancy shoes that dance in time
Oh the secrets of her dark eyes,
They did sing a gypsy rhyme

Yellow clover in tangled blossoms
In a meadow silky green
Where she held me to her bosom,
Just a boy of seventeen

I recall a gypsy woman
Silver spangles in her eyes
Ivory skin against the moonlight
And the taste of life’s sweet wine

“No Use Running”, “How Much Time Does It Take”, “My Woman’s Love” and “Don’t You Believe” are pleasant ballads that Don penned.

The album closes with the Bob McDill classic “Amanda”. The song was the B-side of “Come Early Morning” and managed to chart, reaching Billboard #33/Cashbox #18, as many disc jockeys played both sides of the record. I think it could have been Don’s first top ten single if JMI had issued it as a separate single. Six years later Waylon Jennings would take the song to #1 on all of the country charts, and while Waylon’s version was good, I and many others preferred Don’s recording of the song

It’s a measure of people who don’t understand,
The pleasures of life in a hillbilly band.
I got my first guitar when I was fourteen,
Well I finally made forty, still wearing jeans.

Amanda, light of my life.
Fate should have made you a gentleman’s wife.
Amanda, light of my life.
Fate should have made you a gentleman’s wife.

Don Williams Volume One is a really fine album that I frequently revisit. It contains solid country production, well written songs sung with honest but not overwrought emotion. Don would have bigger chart hits and better selling albums upon movement to a major label but the foundation was laid here and few debut albums have been as impressive and satisfying as this one. Despite the lack of up-tempo songs, Don Williams is one of the few artists that can stay in a slow groove forever, without it becoming boring

Grade: A-

Musicians:

Bass – Joe Allen
Drums – Kenny Malone
Electric Guitar – Jimmy Colvard, Reggie Young
Fiddle – Buddy Spicher
Organ – Chuck Cochran
Piano – Bobby Wood, Chuck Cochran
Rhythm Guitar – Chip Young, Don Williams, Jimmy Colvard
Steel Guitar – Lloyd Green
Trumpet – Don Sheffield

* When Don moved over to ABC/Dot, this album was purchased by ABC/Dot and reissued on the ABC/Dot label.

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘These Days’

41xt6655asl-_ac_us300_ql65_Released in August 1980, These Days was Crystal Gayle’s  second of three albums recorded for Columbia. Although very successful on Billboard’s Country Albums chart reaching #6 and being certified gold s also definitely NOT a country album. It is also my least favorite of her albums, although there are many redeeming moments. The album seems to run between 80’s lounge and classic pop standards.

The album opens up with “Too Many Lovers”, a #1 record written by Mark True, Ted Lindsay, Sam Hogin. This song is moderately up-tempo with a rock guitar break.  This is followed by “If You Ever Change Your Mind”, a nice ballad written by Parker McGee and Bob Gundry. The instrumentation is basically jazz piano with orchestration. This too reached #1.

“Ain’t No Love In the Heart of The City” is typical cocktail lounge pop. Crystal sings it well but the song itself leaves me cold. Written by Michael Price and Daniel Walsh, the song leans toward modern R&B, as does the next song “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)”, which I find disappointing as Will Jennings and Joe Sample have decent track records as country songsmiths. With a different arrangement, I might like “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)”, but the background vocals on the “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)” probably belong on a Patti Labelle record rather than anything recorded by Crystal Gayle, and the Kenny G style sax leaves me completely cold.

Allen Reynolds and Bob McDill usually crafted good songs, and “Help Yourselves to Each Other” is no exception. A slow ballad with flute and string accompaniment, I could see this song being released as a single to Adult Contemporary radio. Don Williams recorded the song as an album track but I think Crystal’s version is better, even exquisite.

What a time to turn your back on someone
What a day to be without a friend
What a shame when no-one seems to bother
Who will offer shelter to candles in the wind

And it follows we are only helpless children
Ever changing like sunlight through the trees
It’s a long road we must cling to one another
Help yourselves to each other, that’s the way it’s meant to be

The great Delbert McClinton wrote “Take It Easy’ which proved to be a minor hit for Crystal Gayle, reaching #17. Crystal handles it well but her version pales to the McClinton original, and I suspect grittier female country vocalists such as Gus Hardin, Lacy J Dalton, Gail Davies, Wilma Lee Cooper or Jean Shepard  could have done the song better (not that Wilma Lee or Jean could ever have been persuaded to record this song) .

“I Just Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” is another song by Sample and Jennings, this time a mid-tempo blues number , with a traditional jazz accompaniment including clarinet.

“You’ve Almost Got Me Believin'”, by Barbara Wyrick,  sounds like cocktail lounge pop. I really didn’t like this song at all, particularly after the Kenny G-styled sax kicks in. Crystal’s vocal is nice but the song is unworthy.

“Lover Man” is a pop standard classic by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill. American listeners may recall Weill as the composer of “Mack The Knife”, but he penned many fine songs, including this one. While the song is often associated with Ella Fitzgerald, Crystal acquits herself well . The arrangement can be best describe as a very bluesy piece of piano jazz.

I don’t know why but I’m feeling so sad
I long to try something I never had
Never had no kissing
Oh, what I’ve been missing
Lover man, oh, where can you be

The night is cold and I’m so alone
I’d give my soul just to call you my own
Got a moon above me
But no one to love me
Lover man, oh, where can you be

The album reaches back to 1934 for its closing number “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, from the pen of Tin Pan Alley writer Harry M. Woods. Harry wrote a number of pop standard classics including “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover”,  “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain”, “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye”, and “Try a Little Tenderness”.  The song is performed as an up-tempo traditional jazz number with honky-tonk piano similar to what Joanne Castle, Big Tiny Little or Joe “Fingers” Carr might have played, and a very nice clarinet solo.

Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do
Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do to you

You’re in love
Your heart’s fluttering
All day long
You only stutter
Cause your poor tone
Just will not utter the words
I love you

For me this is a mixed bag. I do like pop standards and traditional jazz balladry, but I don’t care for cocktail lounge jazz. There are some very nice song on this album and some songs about which I am utterly indifferent. There is nothing remotely country on this album. I think the first two and last two songs on this album, and “Help Yourselves to Each Other” are the best songs  on the album.

Grade: B

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘When I Dream’

when-i-dreamBy 1978 Crystal was one of the biggest stars in country music, thanks to her massive crossover success. It was no surprise that the lead single from her new album, ‘Talking In Your Sleep’, raced to #1 on the country chart. A fine ballad with a beautiful melody and melancholy underpinning written by Roger Cook and Bobby Wood, it sets out a woman’s doubts of her man’s fidelity. The lush instrumentation and Crystal’s outstanding vocal helped it cross over, and it was her second biggest international hit. It was also top 20 US pop hit, and peaked at #3 on the AC chart.

It was followed by another chart topper, the handclapping ‘Why Have You Left The One You Left Me For’. Another strong emotional vocal and well-written song, albeit not as good as its predecessor, it was catchy and also crossed over, peaking at #22 on the AC chart.

It was still relatively rare to issue more than two singles from one album in the late 1970s, and it is a sign of Crystal’s stature that the third single from When I Dream, the title track, reached #3 on the country chart. The wistful ballad is a fine Sandy Mason song which Crystal re-recorded for this album, and which has become a standard.

‘Heart Mender, written by Richard Leigh and Milton Blackford, is another melodic AC ballad with a tune somewhat reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s ‘Here I Come Again’ and a delicately delivered vocal. It was released as a single in 1980 to promote Favorites, a compilation of non-hits from her time on United Artists, after she had jumped ship for Columbia; but competing with brand new material, it barely charted.

‘Hello I Love You’, written by Roger Cook and Charles Cochran, is rather boring MOR, and Dave Loggins’ ‘Don’t Treat Me Like A Stranger’ is awkwardly paced and very pop sounding.

Much better is Bob McDill’s pretty love song about keeping a marriage going, ‘Too Good To Throw Away’. ‘Paintin’ This Old Town Blue’, written by W T Davidson, is also very good in a jazzy vein.

There are a handful of covers illustrating the range of Crystal’s influences. The standard ‘Cry Me A River’ also draws on her jazz leanings, and is given a sultry reading. Story song ‘The Wayward Wind’ is also beautifully sung in an AC style. Ian Tyson’s cowboy love story ‘Someday Soon’ gets a more stripped back arrangement, and is lovely. Best of all is Crystal’s gorgeous reading of Johnny Cash’s ‘I Still Miss Someone’.

This album showcases Crystal Gayle at the peak of her powers. While it’s not the kind of country music I personally prefer, I can’t deny it’s an excellent record of its kind, well produced by Allen Reynolds, and i enjoyed listening to most of the tracks.

Grade: A

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘We Must Believe In Magic’

818pkpdvl6l-_sx522_Released in June 1977, We Must Believe In Magic was Crystal’s fourth album for United Artists. Fueled by her massive crossover hit “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”, it would prove to be her biggest selling album, reaching #2 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and #12 on the Billboard all-genres chart (her only top twenty entry on that chart). The album was certified platinum by the RIAA in 1978 and purportedly was the first platinum album recorded by a female country singer.

The album contains an eclectic mix of songs ranging from pop standards to rock ‘n’ roll hits to songs by contemporary country songsmiths.

The album opens with the first single and only single released from the album (and her biggest ever hit) “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”. Written by Richard Leigh, who had also supplied her three previous top ten hits, the sung justified the use of the word ‘magic’ in the album title by becoming a huge international hit as well as a hit in the United States and Canada. In the US the song reached #1 on the country charts, #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100, #1 on the Cashbox Top 100, and #4 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. It sweep the boards in Canada reaching #1 on the country, pop and AC charts and reached the top ten in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands and New Zealand, and the top twenty in Australia

Don’t know when I’ve been so blue

Don’t know what’s come over you

You’ve found someone new and

Don’t it make my brown eyes blue

I’ll be fine when you’re gone

I’ll just cry all night long

Say it isn’t true and

Don’t it make my brown eyes blue

“I Want To Come Back To You” is a nice easy listening ballad with a flute weaving around the melody

The third song, “River Road” comes from the pen of Sylvia Fricker, an integral part of the 1960s folk movement, both as a songwriter and half of the Ian & Sylvia duo. I do not understand why this song was not released as a single.

Although my favorite pop standards songwriter was Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter comes a close second and Crystal shows her interpretive abilities with a fine recording of “It’s All Right With Me”, one of Cole Porter’s later songs, written for the 1953 musical CAN-CAN. The song has been recorded by many jazz and classic pop artists. My favorite rendition is by Ella Fitzgerald, but Crystal acquits herself well, giving a bit of a hoedown introduction to the song while still retaining the essence of the song

It’s the wrong time, and the wrong place
Though your face is charming, it’s the wrong face
It’s not his face, but such a charming face
That it’s all right with me

It’s the wrong song, in the wrong style
Though your smile is lovely, it’s the wrong smile
It’s not his smile, but such a lovely smile
That it’s all right with me

You can’t know how happy I am that we met
I’m strangely attracted to you
There’s someone I’m trying so hard to forget
Don’t you want to forget someone, too?

It’s the wrong game, with the wrong chips
Though your lips are tempting, they’re the wrong lips
They’re not his lips, but they’re such tempting lips
That, if some night, you are free
Dear, it’s all right, yes, it’s all right with me

“Going Down Slow is another easy listening ballad, nothing special but well sung by Crystal.

Producer Allen Reynolds takes a co-writing credit on “All I Want To Do In Life”. I’m not sure that the cowbell adds anything to the song, but Crystal turns in an impeccable vocal (“Cowboy” Jack Clement, by no means as good a singer as Crystal Gayle recorded a charming take on the song years later injecting far more personality into the song).

Larry Kingston’s “Make A Dream Come True” veers closer to actually being country than does most of the songs on this album, with effective use of steel guitar in the arrangement. Kingston wrote quite a few songs recorded by the ‘Country Caruso’ Johnny Bush.

If I try as hard as I can

Maybe I can paint you again

In my mind, the way you were when you used to love me

Before you learned to think you were above me

Track eight “Green Door” was composed by Bob Davie and Marvin Moore, and was a huge pop hit in 1956 for Jim Lowe knocking Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” out of the #1 slot. The song did better still in the UK where the song was a hit single several times for various artists. I’m not sure I would be accurate in describing this as a rock ‘n’ roll, as the song’s primary instrumentation on Lowe’s version is that of a honky-tonk piano. The lyrics describe a mysterious private club forbidden to the singer. The club has a green entrance door, behind which apparently the crowds have a lot of fun. Crystal’s rendition is a little less rollicking than the Lowe version.

(Midnight, one more night without sleepin’)
(Watchin’ till the mornin’ comes creepin’)
(Green door, what’s that secret you’re keepin?)
There’s an old piano
And they play it hot behind the green door
Don’t know what they’re doin’
But they laugh a lot behind the green door
Wish they’d let me in
So I could find out what’s behind the green door

“Green Door” is a song which has aged well and I would suggest that the reader find Jim Lowe’s recording on You Tube. Lowe (May 7, 1923 – December 12, 2016) was a successful songwriter with some connections to country music, including Rusty Draper’s million-selling pop & country hit of 1953, “Gambler’s Guitar”

If I try as hard as I can

Maybe I can paint you again

In my mind, the way you were when you used to love me

Before you learned to think you were above me

“Funny” has the sound and feel of something from the 1920s. The author is listed as L. Anderson, but I really could not find out much about the song. It sounds like something Ted Lewis and his Orchestra would have performed during the vaudeville era and as such it makes a nice change of pace.

The album closes with the title track. “We Must Believe In Magic,” by Allen Reynolds and Bob McDill. The song opens with some odd SF sounds and special effects, which retreat to the background once the vocals commence. Johnny Cash would record the song on his The Adventures of Johnny Cash album, giving it a more of a folk feel.

Mad is the captain of Alpha Centauri
We must be out of our minds
Still we are shipmates bound for tomorrow
And everyone here’s flying blind

[Chorus]
Oh, we must believe in magic
We must believe in the guiding hand
If you believe in magic
You’ll have the universe at your command

I really like this album, although I don’t find it very country at all. It is well produced and well sung.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Juice Newton – ‘Shot Full Of Love’

A much-recorded song written by Bob McDill:

Album Review: Alabama – ‘Southern Star’

41OBKFV1XkLAlabama arrived on the national stage in 1980 at a time when country music was dominated by crossover acts. By mid-decade, however, the pendulum had swung wildly in the opposite direction and by the end of the decade, many veteran acts had been swept off the charts altogether. Those that survived the tide change were forced to adopt a more traditional sound in order to remain relevant. 1989’s Southern Star was Alabama’s back-to-basics album — sort of. While it was less slickly-produced than most of their earlier albums, a traditional album it is not. The radio singles were carefully crafted to appeal to the change in commercial tastes, but on the album cuts the band continued to explore different styles, including Southern rock and pop.

Southern Star found the band working with a new production team. Gone was Harold Shedd, who had co-produced all of their albums for RCA, and in his place were Barry Beckett; Larry Michael Lee, and Josh Leo. The album continued Alabama’s winning streak on the singles charts, with all four of its singles reaching #1, starting with “Song of the South”, a catchy Bob McDill number that had been recorded several times previously — originally by Bobby Bare, and later by Johnny Russell and Tom T. Hall with Earl Scruggs. Ballads were always a strong point for the band and the excellent “If I Had You”, the album’s second chart-topper was no exception. The uptempo “High Cotton” takes a look back through rose-colored glasses at growing up during the Great Depression, and “Southern Star” gives Alabama an opportunity to showcase their tight harmonies.

The rest of the songs on Southern Star could have appeared on any of Alabama’s previous albums. Though the production is more organic, the songs occasionally stray into different musical territory. “Down On The River” is pleasant if not particularly memorable Southern rock song. “She Can” is pop-flavored number that is somewhat marred by a synthesizer, “Dixie Fire”, featuring Jeff Cook on lead vocals, is similarly dated sounding. “Barefootin'” (another Cook-led effort) is a throwaway number with annoying horns.

The Randy Owen-penned “Ole Baugh Road” is one of the better album cuts. The Spanish-tinged “The Borderline”, with Teddy Gentry singing lead with guest Charlie Daniels, is the album’s biggest creative stretch.

Though not without its missteps, Southern Star proved that Alabama was able to adapt to changing commercial tastes and remain relevant after nearly a decade on charts. It was a great way to close out the decade and the album is still worth listening to today.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Country Music of Your Life

country-music_good-brightTime-Warner has long been a trusted name for providing excellently re-mastered music in various genres of music. Country music fans may remember the Country USA series that covered each year for the period 1950-1972 with 24 songs, including some interesting songs that weren’t necessarily the biggest hits (usually because they weren’t on major labels).

The R&B market was covered by a similar series and the Easy Listening market hit the jackpot with the Your Hit Parade series that exhaustive covered the years 1940-1960 by year plus a bunch of CDs that grouped music together by theme or topic and extended the series into the 1960s, I don’t know whether or not I have the entire Your Hit Parade series but I do have forty-one CDs of the series covering about 1000 recordings.

Subsequent Time-Life series have featured the same digital mastering and useful notes but have been less exhaustive in scope. The Contemporary Country series would cover a three or four year period with a single disc of 22 songs, so the lesser known and minor label songs largely were gone. The latest Time-Life series is a collaboration with Music of Your Life, a radio format largely devoted to the easy listening/adult contemporary music market. Time-Life has collaborated before with Music of Your Life in assembling CDs of the music usually associated with the format. The actual label for this set is Star Vista/Time Warner.

Titled Country Music of Your Life, this latest set is a group of five two-CD sets in standard CD jewel boxes that hold two CDs. The booklet in the jewel box gives only the songwriting and publisher credits and billboard chart information . Additional information is contained in the 36 page book enclosed in the box. The titles of the CD sets are Talking In Your Sleep, Satin Sheets, I Believe In You, For The Good Times and Sweet Country Ballads. All but the last set are named after a song featured on one of the discs of the set.

By and large the first four sets are just random assortments of songs. All of the songs are big hits performed by the artists that enjoyed the hit, and the songs cover a wide range of dates. The first set has Hank Williams’ posthumous 1953 hit “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and Kenny Rogers’ 1980 hit “Lady” with sixteen of the tracks from the 1970s. The second set follows a similar pattern with Lefty Frizzell replacing Hank Williams as the token early 1950s representative.

The fifth set would please any fan of traditional country music (aside for the two Elvis Presley tracks, one a cover of “Green Green Grass of Home”). This set includes such gems as “Crazy Arms”, “Once A Day”, “Ring of Fire”, “Walk Through This World With Me” and “Please Help Me I’m Falling”. In theory the set consists of four two-CD sets with the fifth set as a “free bonus” (the television advertising was misleading). Accordingly, the enclosed book, although truly excellent, only covers the first four sets. The book is concise and well-written, giving interesting tidbits of information about the song and/or the performance, there are eight full page photographs of some of the stars (I think they reversed the image of the Glen Campbell photograph, which I recognized as the cover photo from Glen’s Wichita Lineman album) . Here’s an example of the book’s tidbits, this one about Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night”:

“Whatever criticism that had been leveled against Nashville’s conservative approach to how records sounded, there’s no question that the songs themselves were getting edgier. Sammi Smith moved to Music City in 1967 and befriended songwriter Kris Kristofferson. County fans bought into the sexual frankness of ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’; the single went gold,earning Grammys for both Smith and Kristofferson. Smith’s record also boosted Kristofferson’s reputation as one of the best songwriters of his generation.”

Here’s another, this one on Waylon Jennings’ “Amanda”:

“Bob McDill called ‘Amanda’ an apology to his wife, Nan, and it almost became the hit that got away for Waylon Jennings. McDill sent the demo to Waylon’s office, where it got lost. Jennings, who first heard the song when Don Williams’s version came out in 1973, recorded ‘Amanda’ for his 1974 album The Ramblin’ Man. RCA added overdubs nearly five years later; the “new and improved” ‘Amanda’ gave Waylon his seventh No. 1 hit as a solo artist.”

The booklet in the jewel box for the fifth or “bonus” set is flawed in that it only gives information for the first disc in the set.

If you are new to country music and suspect that there is more to the genre than Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and (ugh) Florida Georgia Line, this set is a good starting point. With the notable exceptions of Ernest Tubb, Carl Smith and Webb Pierce, most of the most significant artists of the period 1952-1988 are represented here, even if there is a bit more Elvis Presley and Olivia Newton-John than I feel is justified. The sound quality is terrific – you won’t hear better recordings of these songs.
Apparently there is a deluxe edition available for purchase which features 270 songs on eighteen discs. In either version the discs average 15 songs per CD (30 songs per set) and cost about $15 per disc or $30 per two disc set. Payment installments are available.

I would give the following grades:

Sound Quality:    A+
Book & Booklets:  A-
Song Selection:  B-
Value:   B-

The song lists as well as ordering information can be found at the Time-Life website.

Album Review: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – ‘Let’s Go’

0215albums247The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band returned to their country roots in 1982, around the time the band started using their full name again. They had a lineup change as well, with former member Jimmy Ibbotson joining Jeff Hanna, Jimmie McFadden, and John McEuen for the sessions taking place in Nashville. With Norbert Putnam and Richard Landis producing, Let’s Go was released on Liberty Records in 1983.

The album, which peaked at #26, had two successful singles. “Shot Full of Love,” written by Bob McDill reached #19. While not overwhelmingly country, the track worked in the Urban Cowboy era of smooth country-pop and was nicely driven by the band’s excellent harmonies.

Ibbotson wrote “Dance Little Jean,” an excellent mid-tempo acoustic guitar driven number in hopes it would convince his ex-wife they should reconcile. The plan backfired although she’s reported to say he could afford to pay child support (the Jean of the song referred to the couple’s daughter), as the track would be a hit. Her prediction was correct and the song rose to #9.

The remainder of the album was peppered with tracks penned by notable songwriters. Rodney Crowell wrote “Never Together (But Close Sometimes),” a Caribbean flavored number accentuated with steel drums and an island beat that are horribly dated today. Pop singer-songwriter Andrew Gold contributed “Heartaches In Heartaches,” an excellent mid-tempo number notable for a rocklin’ beat. Dave Loggins composed “Goodbye Eyes,” a tender soft-rock ballad that would’ve been a perfect crossover hit had it been a single. And finally, Marshall Crenshaw inscribed “Maryann,” a synth-heavy ballad with a fuller arrangement than most of the tracks, but still perfectly Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Hanna co-wrote “Special Look,” a very good synth drenched number with Bob Carpenter. He and Fadden collaborated on the title track, a number that wouldn’t have been out of place in Alabama’s catalog at the time. “Don’t Get Sand In It,” isn’t country at all, but from a pop/rock perspective, it’s still good. “Too Many Heartaches in Paradise” leans more into country music from the era and would’ve been a good choice as a single.

As a whole, Let’s Go isn’t a country album and to categorize it as indicative of the Urban Cowboy era is a stretch. But the band is in fine form throughout, with clean arrangements and harmonies that may be dated today, but are still very listenable.

Grade: B+

Single Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘She Won’t Be Lonely Long’

Hits_and_Highways_AheadLee Roy Parnell wrapped his major label career in 1999 after Career Records folded back into Arista and released Hits and Highways Ahead, Parnell’s sole career retrospective. At just twelve tracks, it featured his biggest hits over the past nine years and unsurprisingly left off any offerings that didn’t ignite at radio.

To help promote the album, which like all of Parnell’s other works didn’t chart very high, the label released a single. “She Won’t Be Lonely Long,” written by Bob McDill, didn’t reverse Parnell’s commercial fortunes and became his final single to chart, peaking at #57.

Over the years I’ve found that many of the songs I really enjoy were written by McDill, who in turn is one of my favorite writers. His “Gone Country,” and Alan Jackson’s subsequent hit recording is one of my favorite singles of the 90s. It’s a masterpiece through and through. So I wasn’t surprised McDill also penned one of my favorite Parnell recordings, “On The Road.”

“She Won’t Be Lonely Long,” which isn’t to be confused with Clay Walker’s 2010 hit, sadly cannot be added to my list of favorite McDill songs. Lyrically, the song is ok, with the story of a woman coming out of a breakup lonely, but not for long.

My problem is the production, which retains Parnell’s signature electric guitar, but smothers the track in a Texas-styled arrangement far too Delbert McClinton for my tastes. This style of country isn’t in my sonic wheelhouse, so I have to really, really like it for songs in this vein to hit me just right. Also, nothing about this track is commercially country by 1999 standards either, so I’m amazed it charted at all.

Parnell had a great tenure on Arista and Career Records, with some excellent material to show for it. “She Won’t Be Lonely Long” is far from that standard, and a low note for which to end the commercial phase of his career.

Grade: C

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Every Night’s A Saturday Night’

LeeroysaturdayLee Roy Parnell released his fifth album, Every Night’s A Saturday Night, in June 1997. Parnell co-produced the project, his second release for Arista imprint Career Records, along with his touring band The Hot Links.

The album produced three singles yet failed to generate any top ten hits. Parnell and Gary Nicholson co-wrote “Lucky Me, Lucky You,” which peaked at #35 and “All That Matters Anymore,” which stalled at #50. Sandwiched between them was “You Can’t Get There From Here,” written by Tony Arata, which reached #39. While I’m not crazy about the final single, the other two are excellent, and deserved to further Parnell’s radio career for at least another year.

George Strait covered Parnell and Cris Moore’s “One Foot In Front of the Other” on It Just Comes Natural in 2006. Parnell’s vocal on the original is far less energetic than Strait’s, but the overall track is quite good. Trisha Yearwood joins Parnell on “Better Word for Love,” a surprisingly tender ballad. Her background vocal contributions to the track are wasted as she’s barely audible, and the song wouldn’t demand a close listen if she wasn’t a part of it.

Parnell dives back into the Bob McDill songbook and pulls out “Tender Touch,” a steel and electric guitar soaked mid-tempo ballad that lacks the special touch McDill usually gives his compositions. He also revives Merle Haggard’s “Honky Tonk Night Time Man” from 1974. Parnell presents his version in Jam Band style, complete with electric guitar, but also stays true to Haggard’s original. It’s an excellent cover based on his mix alone.

Guy Clark co-wrote “Baton Rouge,” an excellent country shuffle that suffers from Parnell’s unexpectedly weak vocal. The title track is a typical workingman’s rocker and the album’s lone instrumental, the bluesy “Mama Screw Your Wig On Tight,” was nominated for a Grammy.

Judging from the co-producing credit from Parnell’s road band, I expected Every Night’s A Saturday Night to retain the live energy of a concert, thus being excessively rock in nature. That’s probably a fact of the changes within the genre in the past seventeen years. I was pleasantly taken aback by how clean this album sounds, crisp and comfortable. Not every lyrical composition is a memorable masterpiece, but the overall quality of Parnell’s fifth album is very high.

Grade: A

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘On The Road’

ontheroad1993’s On The Road was Lee Roy Parnell’s third studio album and his last to be released on the main Arista label (subsequent releases would bear the Career imprint, an Arista subsidiary). Scott Hendricks, who had co-produced Parnell’s previous album, took over sole production duties, while Lee Roy shared songwriting credits on six of the album’s ten tracks. Unlike most of his 90s contemporaries, Parnell was neither a New Traditionalist nor a huge record seller. He did, however, score a handful of enduring radio hits, the most memorable of which is the Bob McDill-penned title track, which deals with three different instances of people who are ready to leave their unfulfilling lives behind in exchange for adventure into the unknown. Released in August of 1993, it was a perfect summertime single and it eventually peaked at #6. It’s one of my favorite Lee Roy Parnell songs.

“On The Road” was followed by another big hit, Tony Arata’s “I’m Holding My Own”, a midtempo number that was released in January 1994. It reached #3. He seemed to be on a roll as far as radio was concerned, but the album’s subsequent singles, both remakes of older country hits, didn’t fare as well. He beefed up his country credentials with a cover of the Hank Williams classic “Take These Chains From My Heart”, which is performed as a duet with Ronnie Dunn. I don’t ever remember hearing this on the radio and was surprised to learn that had been a single, and although not a huge hit it peaked at a very respectable #17. Even in the more traditional 90s, Hank Williams was a little too retro for country radio. His voice and Dunn’s blend together well and listeners who aren’t paying close attention might fail to notice that there are two people singing the song.

The album’s fourth and final single was a remake of “The Power of Love”, one of Charley Pride’s least country-sounding records, but a good choice for Parnell’s soulful voice. This one should have been a bigger hit, but it stalled at #51, far below the #9 peak of Pride’s original version from a decade earlier.

In another one of the album’s best songs, “Straight and Narrow”, Lee Roy and co-writer Tony Haselden rationalize — and make a compelling case for — occasionally skipping church in order to go fishing and other pursuits of life’s simple pleasures. The bluesy party anthem “Fresh Coat of Paint” is also quite good.

The album does contain two duds, both of which are Parnell co-writes with Gary Nicholson. “Straight Shooter” is a bit of bubble gum pop that sounds like a leftover from the Urban Cowboy days, while “Wasted Time”, in addition to being just plain dull, is based on the false premise that “there is no such thing as wasted time.” Well, yes, actually, there is. While neither of these are terrible songs, they both fall into the category of non-descript filler.

While not an oustanding album, On The Road is a good example of Lee Roy Parnell at his commercial peak. Cheap copies are readily available and it’s worth a listen.

Grade: B

Album Review: Tom T. Hall and Earl Scruggs – ‘The Storyteller And The Banjo Man’

banjo manHall’s career began to slow down in the later 1970s. In 1978 he left longtime label Mercury for RCA. After a few albums for that label, he moved again to Columbia in 1982, where he returned to his bluegrass roots. Teaming up with the legendary Earl Scruggs, who shares the vocals as well as playing some plangent banjo, the pair deliver a set of mainly older songs.

There were two singles released, although neither performed very well – unsurprisingly, as pop influences were pushing out more traditional sounds and bluegrass in particular had been largely banished from country radio apart from Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou Harris.

The much-married protagonist ‘There Ain’t No Country Music On This Jukebox’ complains,

I guess them boys and girls in Nashville ran out of something to say,

leaving him to listen to music that makes his “beer go flat”. He offers inspiration from his own life:

I bet they’d write a hundred country songs.

The bouncy ‘Song Of The South’(written by Bob McDill) had been recoded prevosuly by Bobby Bare and Johnny Russell is best known from Alabama’s cover which topped the country charts in 1988. The cheery vocals give this a singalong feel which bely the dark undertone of some of the lyrics, with a mother who was “old at 35”.

There is a more nostalgic look back at times past in ‘Engineers Don’t Wave From Trains Anymore’, a new Hall-penned song. It’s a bit of a shame that he didn’t write more for this record, as Hall was always a better songwriter than he was a vocalist.

Much of the material comprises older songs. I liked the gloomy and very authentic sound of the traditional ‘Shackles And Chains’, which Halls everyman persona works well on. ‘Don’t This Road Look Rough And Rocky’ is sad and gentle with an imaginative arrangement. ‘Lover’s Farewell’ is a subdued message from a dying man.

‘Lonesome Valley’ is straightforward bluegrass gospel complete with the traditional quartet vocal arrangement.

90s country fans will know ‘Don’t Give Your Heart To A Rambler’ from Travis Tritt’s ramped up version. This is a more conventional bluegrass version. The much-recorded ‘Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms’ gets a lively workout, also in standard bluegrass style.

The country classic ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud Loud Music)’ is one of my favorite songs, and it sounds good with Scruggs’ banjo dominating the arrangement. ‘No Expectations’ is another fine song with a plaintive vocal.

This is a great opportunity to hear the legendary Scruggs playing banjo, and the songs and arrangements are all flawless, but Hall really isn’t in the top flight of vocalists.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Marty Raybon – ‘When The Sand Runs Out’

sandrunsoutRarely is a stint as the lead singer of a successful band a good launching pad for a solo career; just ask Larry Stewart, Paulette Carlson, or any of the countless others who tried and failed. Marty Raybon is no exception. Although the Raybon Brothers enjoyed some modest success with the sales of “Butterfly Kisses”, Marty’s hitmaking days ended shortly before he left Shenandoah. He resumed his solo career when the Raybon Brothers disbanded. None of his solo efforts was released by a major label. One of his better efforts is 2006’s When The Sand Runs Out, a mostly acoustic effort that is part country and part bluegrass with the occasional bit of gospel thrown in.

The listener is immediately reeled in with the opening track “Looking For Suzanne”, the story of an absentee father seeking to be reunited with his now adult daughter. The parent-child relationship is examined again from a different angle later in the album with Michael A. Curtis’ “Who Are You”, which examines the lifelong relationship between a father and son, from the son’s birth, through the rebellious adolescent and teenage years, to the role reversals when the son becomes the caretaker for the now-ailing father who can no longer recognize him. Both are excellent songs that were way too serious for 21st century country radio to even consider touching with a ten-foot pole.

The upbeat “Shenandoah Saturday Night”, another Curtis composition co-written with Marty and Mike Pyle, is the closest this album gets to a commercial song. It pays homage to Marty’s days with Shenandoah and name checks many of the hits he scored during his dozen years as the band’s lead singer. The non-charting “Shenandoah Saturday Night” was the album’s only single. It leads into a highly enjoyable cover of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”, that might have been my favorite track on the album had I never heard the Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman version that appeared on The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Volume 2. The McGuinn/Hillman recording was the first version I ever heard and it remains my favorite.

The highlights of the album are the beautiful ballad “I Know Love”, which Marty wrote with his brother Tim, and “Come Early Morning”, which was written by the great Bob McDill. I also particularly enjoyed the album’s bluegrass numbers “Throw Dirt” and “Wish I’d Never”. These came as a bit of a surprise, since I’d never thought of Marty as a bluegrass artist. Admittedly, I’m not terribly familiar with his non-Shenandoah work, so I don’t know if he dabbled in bluegrass prior to this, but he proves that he is more than capable of pulling it off credibly.

When The Sand Runs Out is an album clearly not made with an eye on the charts. It is sparsely produced and sounds as though it may have been a live-in-the-studio recording as opposed to the usual practice of recording different tracks separately and assembling them later — just a guess on my part. This gives it a decidedly non-commercial feel, which coupled with first-rate material, only adds to the album’s appeal.

Grade: A