My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Bob Montgomery

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘The First Word In Memory’

Janie Fricke’s ninth album, The First Word In Memory, was released in August 1984. In accordance with her previous efforts, the album was produced by Bob Montgomery.

The album produced two singles, both of which were ballads. The string heavy “Your Heart’s Not In It” was Fricke’s sixth #1 hit. The title track, which was bogged down by clunky backing voices, peaked at #7.

Sandwiched between them was the brilliant “A Place To Fall Apart,” her collaboration with Merle Haggard, the second single from his album It’s All In The Game. Fricke’s contributions to the chart-topping ballad are slight at best, she barely sings alone at all, which I find odd given her stature as a prominent hit maker at the time.

“Talkin’ Tough” opens the album strong, in mid-tempo. “One Way Ticket” kicks up the tempo even more, would’ve made an excellent choice for a single and likely would’ve done very well. “First Time Out of the Rain,” which puts the album back into string-heavy ballad territory, is also very good.

The rockish production of “A Love Like Ours” is dated to modern ears, but Fricke delivers the barnburner flawlessly. The same can easily be said for “In Between Heartaches,” another standout cut on the record. “Another Man Like That” is another ballad, but a welcomed change with muscular opposed to lush accompaniment. “Without Each Other” is an ear-catching uptemo duet with Benny Wilson while “Take It From The Top” is a striking piano ballad.

Listening through The First Word In Memory, I regard it as a missed opportunity on the part of Columbia. The album is peppered with very strong material and yet two of the record’s most mediocre ballads were released as singles. There was a chance here to showcase another side of Fricke’s artistry and they blew it.

Columbia’s mismanagement aside, Fricke and Montgomery crafted an excellent and engaging album that nicely holds up 33 years later. There’s a definite 1980s sheen, but it doesn’t distract from any of the material.

Grade: A 

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Love Lies’

I always regarded Janie Fricke as primarily a singles artist, and the market apparently agreed as Love Lies, Janie’s eighth album (ninth album if you include the Greatest Hits album released in October 1982) was the first of her albums to reach the top ten of Billboards Country Albums chart, punching in at #10. This would prove to be rarefied air for Janie as only one more album, Black and White, in 1986, would reach the top ten.

Released in late 1983 and produced by Bob Montgomery, Love Lies was the second album he produced for Janie. Love Lies would see three singles released, “Tell Me A Lie” (#1), “Let’s Stop Talking About It” (#1) and “If The Fall Don’t Get You” (#8). “If The Fall Don’t Get You” was the first single to not go top four after eight consecutive such successes.

In the past I had described Janie’s earlier singles as ‘lovey-dovey drivel’ but perhaps I was a bit harsh. Today I would describe her previous singles as ‘confections’. I would not describe any of the singles on this album using such terms. These are more mature songs.

The album opens with “If The Fall Don’t Get You”, a biting commentary on love, co-written by Van Stephenson, who later was a member of BlackHawk.

So you say you’re thinking of falling in love
Going way out on a limb
And it seems like push is coming to shove
Just look at the shape that I’m in

I have paid the price for love
And it ain’t cheap
Better take a long hard look
Before you leap

If the fall don’t get you, baby
And your fading heart is beating still
If the fall don’t get you
Baby, the heartache will

Next up is “Have I Got A Heart For You”, a mid-tempo song which sells the virtues of a heart on the rebound. Written by Keith Stegall, the song is a decent album track.

I would also describe track three “How Do You Fall Out of Love”, a slow ballad of heartbreak as a decent album track. The Nashville String Machine is a little obtrusive but Janie’s voice cuts through the clutter.

“Love Lies” was an early single for Mel McDaniel, reaching #33 in 1979. It would be a few more years before Mel’s career caught fire, but I though his performance of the song was excellent. For whatever reason, the song never made it to one of Mel’s albums, so I am glad that Janie covered the song; however, she should have released it as a single.

Side one of the original vinyl album closed with “Tell Me A Lie”, a song carried over from the previous album It Ain’t Easy. Columbia during the 1970s and 1980s had this annoying habit of pulling songs from an existing album, releasing it as a single, then adding it to the next album. Since albums during this period only had ten songs, this meant that if you purchased both albums, you would get only nineteen different songs at rough two and a half minutes per song. This cover of a Lynn Anderson album track (and later a top 20 pop hit for Sami Jo) reached #1 for Janie.

Tell me a lie
Say I look familiar
Even though I know
That you don’t even know my name

Tell me a lie
Say you just got into town
Even though I’ve seen you here before
Just hangin’ around

Umm, tell me a lie, say you’re not a married man
Cause you don’t know I saw you slip off your wedding band

Side two of the vinyl album opens up with “Let’s Stop Talking About It”, an up-tempo that reached #1. The song was written by the dynamic trio of Rory Bourke, Rafe Van Hoy & Deborah Allen, who collectively authored many hit singles. You can give your own interpretation to what the lyrics mean:

We’ve had a lot of conversations
We’ve analyzed our situation
There’s only so much that words can say
After awhile they just get in the way

So let’s stop talking about it
And start getting down to love
Let’s stop talking about it
We’ve already said enough

This is followed the Troy Seal-Mike Reid collaboration “Lonely People”, a quiet ballad that makes for a decent album track.

Written by Dennis Linde and Alan Rush, “Walkin’ A Broken Heart” would be released as a single by Don Williams in 1985, reaching #2. Janie does a really nice job with the song and I think the song could have been a big hit for her. I slightly prefer Don’s version but it’s a thin margin of preference.

Walkin’ down this midnight street
Just the sound of two lonely feet
Walkin’ a broken heart
Walkin’ a broken heart

Empty city, not a soul in sight
And a misty rain falls on a perfect night
To walk a broken heart
To walk a broken heart

And I know that you’re thinkin’
This couldn’t happen to you
But you’re a fool for believing
Dreams don’t fly away, cause they do.

Another slow ballad follows in “I’ve Had All The Love I Can Stand”. Janie sings it well, but the song to me is a bit overwrought and not of much interest. The Nashville String Machine is prominent in the arrangement.

The album closes with “Where’s The Fire”, a nice upbeat melody camouflaging a song of angst as the narrator asks her love why he’s in such a hurry to leave.

For me this album is a bit of a mixed bag. Janie is in good voice throughout, and I appreciated the more mature lyrics but I’d like to hear more fiddle and steel. That said, this album is quite worthwhile.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘It Ain’t Easy’

By 1982, Janie Fricke’s career was on the upswing. After several years of charting top ten and top five hits, she finally hit #1 with “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby,” the final single from Sleeping With Your Memory. Fricke’s next single, the spectacular “It Ain’t Easy Being Easy,” a commanding countrypolitan ballad, quickly followed suit. The success of the song led to the It Ain’t Easy album, which was released in September.

She would top out at #4 with “You Don’t Know Love,” a similarly styled ballad that was equally as strong. Fricke returned to the top, and provided a change of pace, with the excellent uptempo “He’s A Heartache (Looking For A Place To Happen).” I actually first heard this song a few months ago, when I was flipping through the radio dial and happened upon the faint signal of a college radio station that was playing it. I was too enthralled with what I was hearing to actually process what was happening. It was a cool moment.

The remainder of the album is a mixed bag, with varying degrees of quality. The ballads “Tell Me A Lie” and “A Little More Love” are very good and I like “Trying To Fool a Fool.” The rest of the tracks veer uptempo and just aren’t that strong, coming off as fluff. Songs like “Too Hard on my Heart” and “Heart To Heart Talk” aren’t bad, they’re just too lightweight for my taste. The same goes for “Love Have Mercy” while “Who Better Than an Angel” is just mediocre.

It Ain’t Easy isn’t a terrible album in the least, but there is too much padding and not enough meat. The singles are incredible, but the album tracks fail to elevate the record to a higher artistic level. At least the sound is great, which is a testament to Bob Montgomery and his countrypolitan stylings, which are always in good taste, even if they sound dated today.

Grade: B

 

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Heart Over Mind’

515m5b-5vol-_ss500There comes a point in even the most respected and revered artist’s career when the hits stop coming. Tammy Wynette’s commercial success began tapering off in the 1980s. 1985’s “Sometimes When We Touch”, a duet with Mark Gray, was her last Top 10 record. 1987’s Higher Ground found her embracing the New Traditionalist movement. That disc spawned two Top 20 hits. 1989’s Next To You was in many ways a throwback to the style for which she was known in the 1960s and 1970s. Neither of that album’s two singles reached the Top 40. Wynette never stopped trying to get back to the top of the charts, and her label, to its credit, stuck by her. 1990’s Heart Over Mind, produced by Bob Montgomery, was an attempt to modernize her sound without sacrificing the element that made her identifiable and unique. And for a brief moment, it appeared that the strategy might actually work.

The album’s lead single “Let’s Call It a Day Today” was one of those tear-jerkers that Tammy sang like no one else could. It finds her packing her things and plotting her escape from a floundering marriage while her soon-to-be ex sleeps. Her voice was showing some signs of age, but the production was contemporary and fresh. And country radio, which had ignored her last several releases, seemed to be paying attention. I heard the record quite a lot on my local station when it was first released. Unfortunately, it soon lost its momentum and topped out at #57. The songs lyrics make reference to the couple’s children and imply that Wynette is taking them with her, but the video which was directed by Tammy’s former lover interest Burt Reynolds, shows her leaving them behind, casting her in a slightly less sympathetic vein.

The second single “I’m Turning You Loose” is a light-hearted uptempo kiss-off written by Sonny Throckmorton and Curly Putman. It failed to chart. The third and final single “What Goes With Blue” is another uptempo number which finds Tammy picking out a wardrobe as she prepares to re-enter the dating scene. It charted at #56. It is the fourth song on the album and I’ve always thought of it as the follow-up to the story told in the album’s third track, “Suddenly Single”, a ballad which finds Tammy still picking up the pieces following a break-up.

Although it produced no hits, Heart Over Mind is a consistently strong effort from beginning to end, from the bouncy title track to “Half the Way Home”, a poignant look back at al lifelong friendship, and “If You Were The Friend”, which finds Tammy agonizing over whether to tell her best friend that her husband is cheating on her, and wondering what the friend would do if the situation were reversed.

Heart Over Mind was valiant effort to regain Wynette’s commercial momentum, but sadly it confirmed for once and for all that radio was through with her. With the exception of “Where’s The Fire”, which is ill-suited for Tammy’s voice, there are no missteps. Although she continued to record until almost the end of her life, this was her final solo album. Her subsequent releases were all collaborative efforts: 1993’s Honky Tonk Angels teamed her up with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, 1994’s Without Walls found her singing with a variety of guest artists from both within and outside the country music community, and 1995’s One reunited her with George Jones. Epic also released a three disc boxed set, Tears of Fire, in 1992 to commemorate Wynette’s 25 years with the label. None of the tracks from Heart Over Mind were included, and it’s highly likely that this album was overlooked by some fans. It’s well worth a listen if you’ve missed it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Tough All Over’

51T5LRAmzsLI first became aware of Shelby Lynne when Reba McEntire predicted that she would be country music’s next big female superstar, during a 1990 appearance on Larry King Live. After hearing Shelby’s music for the first time shortly thereafter, my impression was that she definitely had promise but her material fell considerably short of her talent. Twenty-five years later my musical tastes have evolved so that I can appreciate her material a little more, but my overall assessment remains the same.

1990’s Tough All Over, Shelby’s sophomore release, was meant to be more mainstream than the previous year’s debut album. While it may have been a tiny step in the right direction from a commercial standpoint, it was still significantly out of step with the mainstream country music of its day, which was dominated by New Traditionalism. Produced by Bob Montgomery, the album is built around three singles, none of which reached the Top 20: “I’ll Lie Myself To Sleep” (#26), “Things Are Tough All Over” (#23), and “What About The Love We Made” (#45). It seems odd that three ballads were chosen as singles when an uptempo number might have received a warmer reception from radio. “I’ll Lie Myself To Sleep” is more AC than country, which was at odds with the commercial demands of the day, and “What About The Love We Made” is a power ballad that is marred by Shelby’s over-singing. While it allows her to show off her vocal prowess, the record would have benefited from some restraint.

Among the album cuts, the best are “Baby’s Gone Blues”, which had previously been recorded by Patty Loveless and was later covered by Reba McEntire. Shelby’s version is better than either of them. She also does a nice version of “Don’t Mind If I Do”, a Skip Ewing number which had been recorded by George Strait a few years ago. “Till A Better Memory Comes Along” is the album’s best and most country-sounding track. The rest of the album is an eclectic array of songs ranging from the rockabilly of Charlie Rich’s “Lonely Weekends” and an ill-advised cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, to the jazzy “Dog Day Afternoon” and a cover of Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” which closes out the set.

With the exception of “I Walk The Line”, these songs are all very good but they underscore that Lynne had not yet discovered her musical direction (it could be argued that she still hasn’t) and that Epic had no idea whatsoever how to market her. It’s the sort of album that I wasn’t particularly interested in back in 1990 but it would be a huge improvement if Nashville were to release more in this vein today.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Vern Gosdin – ‘Chiseled In Stone’

The New Traditionalist movement of the late 1980s returned traditional sounds to the country music radio airwaves and launched the careers of many new artists, but for the most part it did little to revive the flagging careers of veteran artists. Vern Gosdin was a notable exception; in 1987 he got a second shot at a major label deal when he inked a deal with Columbia — something that would never happen today to a 54-year-old singer with inconsistent chart success.

Vern’s first release for Columbia was 1988’s Chiseled In Stone, which was produced by Bob Montgomery. It contained ten tracks, nine of which were co-written by Vern, along with of some of Nashville’s finest songsmiths, including Hank Cochran, Max D. Barnes, and Dean Dillon. Up to this time, Vern had garnered a lot of critical acclaim and the respect of his peers, but now he finally began to enjoy a level of commercial success as well. His first Columbia single “Do You Believe Me Now”, released in late 1987, reached #4, becoming his first Top 10 record since 1984’s “Slow Burning Memory”. The protagonist in this dark tune has split with his ex. He’s told her in the past that he can’t live without her, and when he runs into her again by chance after hitting rock bottom, asks her, “Do you believe me now?” Imagine a story like that being told on country radio today. It was followed by what is perhaps his best-known hit, “Set ‘Em Up, Joe”, a tune he wrote with Cochran, Dillon, and Buddy Cannon. This one went all the way to #1, becoming the second chart-topper of his career (the first was 1984’s “I Can Tell By The Way You Dance”). The album’s third single was the album’s magnificent title track, which Gosdin wrote with Max D. Barnes. It tells the story of a quarreling couple; the husband storms out in anger and heads for the nearest bar to drown his sorrows. While there, he encounters a wiser and older man whose wife has died, and who helps the protagonist put things into perspective. Kenny Chesney would later revisit this theme, much less effectively, with 2002’s “The Good Stuff.” “Chiseled In Stone” only reached #6, but it should have gone all the way to #1.

Columbia released one more single in early 1989, “Who You Gonna Blame It On This Time”, which peaked at #2. In addition, there is a treasure trove among the album tracks, including “Is It Raining At Your House”, which was recently covered by Brad Paisley, a Western swing number called “Tight As Twin Fiddles”, “Nobody Calls From Vegas Just To Say Hello”, and “It’s Not Over, Yet” which isn’t my favorite track on the album, but is a close second behind “Chiseled In Stone”.

Chiseled In Stone was certified gold, proving that Vern could deliver the commercial, as well as the critical goods. It also served as testimony in an increasingly youth-obsessed industry, that an older artist could still make relevant, commercially viable music. It is this phase of Vern’s career with which I am most familiar, and it is his music from this era that I listen to most often. This is a beautifully crafted album without a single weak track. It deserves a place in every country fan’s collection. it is available digitally at a uncharacteristically ridiculous price from Amazon MP3 or at a much more reasonable price from iTunes. However, inexpensive new or used CD copies are the most economical choice for acquiring this fine album.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘Regular Joe’

Joe Diffie’s sophomore release continued to build upon the winning formula of 1990’s A Thousand Winding Roads and went on to become his first gold album in 1992. While listening to it for the first time in quite a while, caused me to experience a severe case of 90s nostalgia. The first notes of the opening track, “Startin’ Over Blues”, a single that peaked just outside the Top 40 caused me to stop what I was doing and listen in amazement at the excellent and non-pretentious picking and singing, something that I routinely took for granted in the 90s but sorely miss from most contemporary releases. Like its predecessor, Regular Joe was produced by Bob Montgomery and Johnny Slate. Diffie had a hand in writing four of the album’s ten songs.

In addition to the aforementioned “Startin’ Over Blues”, Regular Joe spawned three other singles, including two top five hits — “Is It Cold In Here” and “Ships That Don’t Come In” — which I consider to be the two finest performances of Diffie’s career. The former examines a dying relationship, while the latter is a conversation between two men in a bar — a younger one who is discontented with his life, and an older, wiser one who points out that there are plenty of others who are far worse off. It’s not exactly the type of song that would find a home on country radio today, but it’s the kind that the format so desperately needs. It’s difficult to decide which song I like better, though if forced to choose, I’d give a slight edge to “Is It Cold In Here”. Diffie shares songwriting credits on both of these masterpieces. Either one could have and should have been considered his career record; it’s a shame that he is better remembered today for his uptempo semi-novelty tunes. Following these two consecutive top five successes, Joe faltered a bit on his next single, the upbeat “Next Thing Smokin'” — another of his co-writes, which only made it to #16 on the charts. “Startin’ Over Blues” fared even worse, stalling at #41, despite being one of the more radio-friendly tracks on the album. Possibly it didn’t receive enough promotional support from the label. In the early 90s, artists tended to release albums more frequently than they do today. The lead single from Diffie’s next project was released slightly more than a year after Regular Joe, which may have been to the detriment of “Startin’ Over Blues”, his worst performance on the singles charts up to that time.

In addition the album contains several solid tracks that were not chosen for single release. Diffie turns in a fine vocal performance, reminiscent of George Jones on “Ain’t That Bad Enough”, which he wrote with Ron Moore and longtime collaborator Lonnie Wilson. The closing track “Goodnight Sweetheart” could have been subtitled “The One That Got Away”; it went on to become a Top 10 hit for the now-forgotten David Kersh in 1996. It’s surprising that Epic didn’t send this one to radio, particularly in light of the chart success of the album’s other ballads.

Despite all of these fine performances, Regular Joe is not without its flaws. It is marred by two tracks in particular — “Just A Regular Joe” and “Back To Back Heartaches” which both suffer from a now dated-sounding line-dance style beat and production which make them sound out-of-place with the rest of the album. However, both of these missteps are forgivable, detracting only slightly from the enjoyment experienced from listening to this fine album.

Grade: A

Regular Joe is still in print and available from vendors such as Amazon and iTunes.

Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘A Thousand Winding Roads’

Joe’s debut solo album was released on Epic in 1990, and immediately propelled him to stardom; overnight success (at the age of 32) which was thoroughly deserved, because this is an excellent album, and a fine exemplar of the neotraditional movement which all too briefly dominated the genre. It was produced by Bob Montgomery (then also working with Vern Gosdin) and Johnny Slate. They provided a sympathetic backing which showcased Joe’s vocal prowess.

The lead single ‘Home’ (written by Andy Spooner and Fred Lehner), which has the disillusioned protagonist looking wistfully back to his childhood, took Joe right to the top of the charts. It set records as the first ever debut single to hit #1 on all three of the major charts then in existence (Billboard, Radio & Records, and Gavin). The nostalgia feeds on the protagonist’s disillusionment about the dreams he has been pursuing:

The rainbows I’ve been chasing keep on fading before I find my pot of gold…

Now the miles I put behind me ain’t as hard as the miles that lay ahead
And it’s way too late to listen to the words of wisdom that my daddy said
The straight and narrow path he showed me turned into a thousand winding roads
My footsteps carry me away, but in my mind I’m always going home

The pained ballad ‘If You Want Me To’ was almost as successful, reaching #2 in 1991, and is my personal favorite of the four singles from this project. One of Joe’s own songs (written with Larry Williams), it was the first showcase of the apparently effortless slide between registers which is Joe’s most remarkable gift as a vocalist, as the narrator gently tells his beloved he is prepared to do whatever she wants from him, even if:

If it takes good-bye to make you happy
Then I’ll just walk away if you want me to

‘If The Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)’, written by Kim Williams (Larry’s brother) and Ken Spooner, took Joe back to #1, with its witty western swing twist on being broke and too easily swayed by a persuasive car salesman. The optimistic final single was written by Joe with his friend and regular co-writer Lonnie Wilson (who also plays drums and sings backing vocals on the album), about finding a ‘New Way (To Light Up An Old Flame)’. The only really happy song on the album, it was another #2 Billboard hit, and cemented Joe’s status as one of the brightest new stars of the early 90s.

Heartbreak also comes uptempo with the drinking-to-forget-the-heartbreak song ‘I Ain’t Leavin’ Til She’s Gone’ (written by Joe with Wayne Perry and Lonnie Wilson). Joe wails,

One drink’s too many
Ten ain’t enough
Lord, but she’s still here
So I’ll have one more

More western swing is on offer with the similarly themed ‘Liquid Heartache’, another of Joe’s songs, this one written with the veteran Red Lane, with a great groove which really lets the musicians stretch out.

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