My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Bonnie Owens

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary – ‘American Grandstand’

“Traditional country music is a whole different genre,” Vincent said. “A lot of people will say that there is not a market for traditional country music, but I know that is not true as it has its own niche. I did that traditional country album with Gene Watson not long ago, and I found out that there is a tremendous audience out there for traditional country music. Daryle and I have been doing shows together, and he is so much fun. When everybody hears this new album, they will know how special it is.” – Rhonda Vincent discussing American Grandstand. h/t That Nashville Sound

It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since Your Money and My Good Looks, which helped redefine Vincent’s pedigree beyond bluegrass. American Grandstand is a companion album of sorts to the project with Watson, a chance to recreate the magic all over again. Her friendship with Daryle Singletary goes back 23 years when they were labelmates on Giant Records. One of their earliest collaborations, a cover of Keith Whitley’s “Would These Arms Be In Your Way,” appeared on his self-titled debut album. They’ve collaborated frequently through the years, most recently on “We Must’ve Been Out of Our Minds,” from Vincent’s Only Me in 2014.

To say American Grandstand has been a long time coming is an understatement. With the timing finally right, they went into the studio to craft an album that mixes old and new, covers of classic duets interwoven amongst tracks newly-composed. A few of the duets may be oft-covered, but in the care of Vincent and Singletary, are as expertly executed as they’ve ever been. They tackle the mournful nature of “After The Fire Is Gone” with ease and extract the effervesce from “Golden Ring” without issue. “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” is a revelation, one of the strongest collaborative recordings I’ve heard in years.

They also surprise, with a stunning rendition of Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens’ lesser-known “Slowly and Surely.” Also not as famous is George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s “One,” which the pair released in 1996. Vincent and Singletary’s serviceable take is the album’s lead single. Other surprises include Harlan Howard’s “Above and Beyond,” which they deliver flawlessly. A third Jones cover, “A Picture of Me (Without You)” is also very good. “Up This Hill and Down,” which originated with The Osborne Brothers, is excellent.

The remainder of the album consists of the new songs, which include a reprise of “We Must Be Out of Our Minds.” These tracks are all ballads, which varying degrees of tempo. “As We Kiss Our World Goodbye,” about the end of a relationship, feels like the kind of track Singletary would’ve recorded back in the mid-1990s. In any other era, “Can’t Live Life” would be cemented as a standard.

If you can believe it, the rest of the album only slightly pails in comparison to the title track, which showcases Vincent as a songwriter (she wrote it solo). The spellbinding ballad is a grand finale of sorts, detailing the tale of duet partners preparing for their final show and the emotions attached to such an ending. I love how Vincent presents the well-worn themes in a new and exciting light.

American Grandstand is everything you would expect from a Vincent and Singletary collaboration, yet it’s even more deeply satisfying than you could even imagine. In a rare move, they actually sang together in the studio, at the instance of Singetary, who knew immediately that recording separately wasn’t going to work. The pair were born to sing together, even if Vincent’s power overtakes Singletary’s understated charm on occasion. He sounds to me like a modern day incarnation of Whitley, with a voice that has deepened over the years. It proves that Whitley’s influence continues to this day, which only makes this record even more special and essential.

I cannot recommend American Grandstand enough.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’

your-good-girls-gonna-go-badTammy’s first single, ‘Apartment #9’, written by Johnny Paycheck, had helped her to get her record deal with Epic Records in 1966, but it was only a modest success, peaking outside the top 40. Mainly due to Tammy’s later superstardom in subsequent years, the song has become a country classic. Laden with steel guitar, it is a doleful tune about a woman abandoned by her lover which is an excellent fit to Tammy’s voice.

Her real breakthrough came with the title track to her debut album in 1967, which reached #3 on the Billboard country chart. Written by her producer Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton, it is a tongue in cheek riposte to a husband’s partying ways, with the unspoken implication being that he might not care to see his wife behaving the way he does himself, and a little nod to the classic ‘Wild Side Of Life’:

I’m gonna be the swingin’est swinger you’ve ever had
If you like ’em painted up
Powdered up
Then you oughta be glad
‘Cause your good girl’s a-gonna go bad

I’ll even learn to like the taste of whiskey
In fact, you’ll hardly recognize your wife
I’ll buy some brand new clothes and dress up fancy
For my journey to the wilder side of life

As was usual in the 60s, much of the rest of the material comprises covers of current or recent hits for other artists. ‘Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind’) was the current hit for Loretta Lynn (just established as a star); it’s a great song but Tammy’s version is basically a carbon copy of Loretta’s. Hank Cochran’s ‘Don’t Touch Me’ had been a #1 hit for his wife Jeannie Seely, whose career song it would be, the previous year, and was awarded a Grammy in 1967. Tammy’s vocal is exquisite on this yearning song, but once more it is not very different from the original.

Tammy is able to bring a different slant with the covers of hits by male artists: she does a nice job with Jack Greene’s 1966 emotional hit ballad ‘There Goes My Everything’ (another classic, this time from the pen of Dallas Frazier). ‘Walk Through This World With Me’ was the current big hit for Tammy’s future husband George Jones. ‘Almost Persuaded’ was the Grammy-winning career song of David Houston, and as it was written by Sherrill and Sutton, is an unsurprising choice of cover for Tammy; her vocal is outstanding on this song.

Less familiar was ‘Send Me No Roses’, a gently melancholy tune about separation from a married lover:

The doorbell rings
You’re sending roses again
In my room old petals fall
But darling that’s not all
I read your card
Then a million tears begin

Though the love we once knew
Still lives inside of you
The one who holds you now
Won’t set you free
To see me you don’t dare
But roses say you care
Tell her goodbye
Then please return to me
But send me no roses
Please, no more roses

‘I’m Not Mine To Give’ is an excellent song about forbidden love, with Tammy’s conscience preventing anything more:

If I’d met you sooner things might not be the same
But life is one thing you just can’t relive
Please go on without me and find someone to love
It can’t be me cause I’m not mine to give

‘I Wound Easy (But I Heal Fast)’, written by Bonnie Owens, comes from the point of view of the betrayed wife, who knows her husband will stay with her in the end.

This was an excellent debut for Tammy, and one which deservedly set her on the path to superstardom.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘1996’

MI0000090327-1Merle Haggard’s tenure with Curb came to an end with the release of 1996. While on the surface, this album had the same austere packaging as 1994, the reality is that the packaging was much more elaborate including liner note and full song lyrics. Unfortunately Curb did less than nothing to promote the album.

As for the music inside, 1996 contained many fine songs although proved to be the first Merle Haggard album not to chart. Haggard’s sound becomes a little more jazz-oriented than the earlier Curb albums and there are some guests to liven up the proceedings.

The album opens with “Sin City Blues” written by Merle, Joe Manuel and Merle’s last wife Theresa. The track has a boisterous honky-tonk blues arrangement somewhat reminiscent of “Living With The Shades Pulled Down’).

Next up is the Iris Dement composition “No Time To Cry” a stoic look at some of the problems associated with growing older. Iris plays piano on this track.

My father died a year ago today.

The rooster started crowing when they carried Dad away.

There beside my mother, in the living room, I stood,

With my brothers and my sisters, knowing Dad was gone for good.
Well, I stayed at home just long enough,

To lay him in the ground and then I,

Caught a plane to do a show up north in Detroit town.

Because I’m older now and I’ve got no time to cry.

Next up is “Beer Can Hill”, a Haggard & Abe Manuel collaboration about growing up and honky-tonkin’ in Bakersfield. Merle is joined by Dwight Yoakam, Buck Owens and Bob Teague on this track, with Dawn Sears adding harmony vocals.

Well, I learned how to walk and I learned how to run in Bakersfield

Should’ve done time over things I’d done in Bakersfield

I tasted my first taste of romance in Bakersfield

I learned how to fight and I learned how to dance in Bakersfield
Dancin’ on Beer Can Hill

Overlookin’ Bakersfield

Remembering my first thrill
Dancin’ on Beer Can Hill

Merle’s “Truck Drivers’ Blues” is a pretty standard county blues about the men who drive trucks for a living whereas Merle’s “Too Many Highways” deals with the choices a trucker and his family make – his choice of career and his wife’s choice to stick with him

Too many highways
Too many byways
Too many canyons
And too many turns
Too many bright lights
Too many long nights
And she’s one bridge I don’t want to burn.

“Five Days a Week” is Merle retelling the story he told in an earlier song “Working Man Blues”. It is a good song, but hardly essential.

“Kids Get Lonesome Too” sounds like it’s a song about kids but Haggard and co-writer Lou Bradley have something additional in mind, with the song’s narrator actually directing the song at his girlfriend or wife.

Merle and ex-wife Bonnie Owens collaborated on “If Anyone Ought to Know”, an older song from 1976 revived on this album. I cannot recall if Merle recorded this earlier, but I do regard this as good album filler.

“Untanglin’ My Mind” is a Merle Haggard song that Clint Black partially rewrote before recording it and taking it to #4. Clint’s lyric changes really neither added nor subtracted from the song’s merits. It’s a very good song. Haggard assisted Johnny Paycheck on his classic album Mr. Hag Told My Story. Here, Mr. Paycheck returns the favor:

And I’m sure no one will wonder where I’ve gone to,
But if anyone should ask from time to time
Tell ’em that you finally drove me crazy,
And I’m somewhere untanglin’ my mind.

And for what it’s worth I prefer Haggard’s recording to that of Clint Black .

The album ends with the very philosophical “Winds of Change”, Haggard’s most environmentally conscious song. Merle is assisted by John (“Seminole Wind”) Anderson on this song.

With my ears I have heard the eagle call my name
He flew in from the night to talk to me
We talked about his freedom and he spoke with great concern
He said, “Mother earth is aging rapidly”

He said, “The winds of change are blowing
And the land is disappearing more each day
Farewell my son, I must be going”
He turned and then forever flew away

With my eyes I have seen pretty mountain streams
Change from crystal clear to factory brown
The old bear shook his herd and through his eyes
He said, “I guess there’s no more salmon to be found”

He said, “The winds of change are blowing”
Telling me that I can’t stay
Farewell my friend, I must be going
He turned and then forever walked away

I’ve lived in the land where the wolf mistrusted me
He taught me that the stronger shall survive
Even in our world today, the weaker are the prey
And if we don’t fight for our planet she will die

And the winds of change keep blowing
Yet we turn the other way
If we don’t stop the wrong we’re doing
Then mother earth will surely pass away

This wouldn’t qualify as one of Merle’s fifteen or twenty best albums, but it is a very good album, with perceptive lyrics, excellent guest artists and solid instrumentation. I can’t decide whether or not this is a A- or a B+, but in memory of Merle’s recent passing I’ll go with the A-.

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘Blue Jungle’

blue jungleThe 1990s saw Haggard make what he hoped would be a new start as, following his departure from Epic, he signed a deal with Curb Records. His first album for the label featured mainly his own songs, and they’re a good collection.

There was only one single, ‘When It Rains It Pours’, which was almost ignored by radio, peaking at #30. But was this a missed opportunity? Haggard wanted his topical polemic ‘Me And Crippled Soldiers’ to be the lead single, but the label relegated it to the B-side, perhaps fearful that its message would be controversial. Written by Hag with his ex-wife Bonnie Owens, it was an outraged response to a recent Supreme Court decision which allowed burning the US flag as an expression of free speech. It may not have been a hit, but it still made an impact as a live favourite, and perhaps if it had been released in the download era I suspect it would have garnered big sales.

The actual single, ‘When It Rains It Pours’ is a rather downbeat little ballad about missing a loved one, written by John Cody Carter. It’s not a bad song, but it’s easy to see how it got lost in the competition from younger stars in the ferment of 1990.

There were other songs tackling current issues. ‘Under The Bridge’ and ‘My Home Is In The Street’ (the latter a co-write with wife Theresa) both put a personal face to the issue of homelessness. In both takes, a middle aged man loses his family’s home as the result of losing a job, and both songs express a positive attitude to life despite their dire circumstances:

No sir, I’m not homeless
We just need a house to put it in

The title track is a mellow western swing about the dreariness of a workday city life without a lover. There is a nice cover of one of Jimmie Rodgers’ lesser known tunes, ‘Never No Mo’ Blues’, with some authentic yodelling.

The best song on the album is the lost-love ballad ‘Lucky Old Colorado’, written by Red Simpson. Also excellent in the same style is ‘Sometimes I Dream’, and the wistful ‘Driftwood’, both fine new Haggard compositions.

Finally, the enjoyable shuffle ‘A Bar In Bakersfield’ which Hag wrote with Freddy Powers from the point of view of a musician who never made it big. Very charming.

This is a very nice album, with a generally subdued, low key feel, and a step back to more traditional country sounds from the jazz influences of his later Epic releases. There’s still an occasional bit of brass, but it is very much in the background. Unfortunately, lacking a big hit single or much in the way of promotion, it did not prove much of a commercial success, but it’s worth checking out.

Grade: B+

Country Heritage Redux: Liz and Lynn Anderson

An updated version of an article previously published by The 9513:

There have been a number of country singers named Anderson who have graced the genre. During the 1960s and 1970s “Whispering” Bill Anderson placed an impressive number of songs on the charts, both as a songwriter and as a performer. John Anderson graced the scene during the 1980s and 1990s, mostly as a performer. Concurrently Pete Anderson served as a musician, songwriter, producer and performer. What this group of Andersons has in common is that none of them are related to each other.

Such is not the case with the subjects of this article. Liz Anderson and her daughter Lynn both had success on the country music charts and as live performers, although Lynn is one of the true superstars of the genre whereas Liz was basically a good journeyman performer. Liz, however, had enormous success as a songwriter. Liz’s husband (and Lynn’s father), Casey Anderson, also was involved in music, working mostly behind the scenes.

Born in 1930 in Roseau, Minnesota, but raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Liz married Casey Anderson in 1946 after Casey’s return from military service. The following year their daughter Lynn was born. Eventually the family moved to California where our story begins.

Liz was a relatively late entrant to the music business, not really getting her career in high gear until the early 1960s when she started traveling to Nashville. During this period Liz recorded demos and wrote many songs. Things started rolling in 1961 when Del Reeves recorded “Be Quiet Mind” and reached fifth gear in 1964 when Roy Drusky recorded “Pick of the Week”. In 1965, Merle Haggard recorded her song “All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers”, which was to be his first top ten hit, reaching #7 (Roy Drusky also recorded the song – his version reached #6). Liz won a BMI award for this song.

Also during 1965, Chet Atkins signed Liz to a recording deal with RCA. Liz’s first two singles, “Go Now , Pay Later” (#23) and “So Much For Me, So Much For You” (#45) both charted and her third single, “Game of Triangles”, with label-mates Bobby Bare and Norma Jean, became a Top 5 hit. Her next solo release, “The Wife of the Party reached #22 and then in April 1967, Anderson again had a Top 5 Country hit with “Mama Spank”. This was to be Liz’s last top twenty recording, although she continued to chart for a few more years, switching to Epic in 1971. Among Anderson’s other popular recordings were “Tiny Tears” (#24 -1967), “Thanks A Lot For Tryin’ Anyway” (#40 – 1968), her duet with daughter Lynn, “Mother May I (#21 -1968) and “Husband Hunting” (#26 -1970).

Although she would never say so, I believe that Liz’s fall from the top of the charts can be explained in two words: Lynn Anderson. It appears that, starting in 1966, Liz was funneling her best material to her daughter Lynn. Eight of the songs on Lynn’s first album, Ride Ride Ride, were written by Liz (one a co-write with Casey) including three of the four charting singles. Liz also wrote four of the songs on Lynn’s second album, Promises, Promises and five of the songs on Lynn’s third album, Big Girls Don’t Cry.

Although her own hit records were relatively few, Liz Anderson had a significant impact on the country charts as a songwriter. Here are some of the songs she wrote that were recorded by other artists and reached the top forty of Billboard’s Country Charts:

“Strangers” – Merle Haggard (#10) and Roy Drusky (#6) both in 1965
“Be Quiet Mind” – Del Reeves (#9 – 1961) and Ott Stephens (#23 – 1964)
“Big Girls Don’t Cry” – Lynn Anderson (#12 – 1968)
“Flattery Will Get You Everywhere” – Lynn Anderson (#11-1969)
“Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart” – Conway Twitty (#18 – 1966)
“I Cried All the Way to the Bank” – Norma Jean (#21-1965)
“(I’m a Lonesome) Fugitive” – Merle Haggard (#1-1967, Hag’s first of 38 Billboard #1s)
This song was a co-write with husband Casey Anderson
“If I Kiss You” – Lynn Anderson (#5-1967)
“Just Between the Two of Us” recorded by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens (#28-1964)
“Promises, Promises” – Lynn Anderson (#4 Billboard, #1 Record World – 1968)
“Ride Ride Ride” – Lynn Anderson (#38 – 1966) and Brenda Lee (#37 pop -1966)

LYNN ANDERSON is, of course the better known of this pair. Lynn reached superstar status during the late 1960s and early 1970s. For the decade of the 1970s, Lynn ranks fourth among female singers, behind Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Lynn was born in 1947, making her mother Liz just over 17 years old when Lynn was born. Although born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Casey & Liz moved to California while Lynn was still small. Lynn first became interested in singing around the age of six, but her first Anderson became interested in singing at the young age of six, but she had her first success equestrian activities winning many trophies in and around California including becoming the California Horse Show Queen in 1966. Lynn remains active in equestrian pursuits to this very day, having achieved great success as a rider and breeder.

Being the daughter of two songwriters, Lynn took naturally to performing, landing roles on local television programs, singing background harmony on her mother’s demo recordings and working at KROY Radio in Sacramento. On one of her mother’s trips to Nashville, Lynn traveled with her to Nashville and was allowed to participate in an informal hotel room sing-a-long with various country singers such as Freddie Hart and Merle Haggard, among others. It is reported that Slim Williamson, owner of Chart Records, was present at the informal jam session and invited Lynn to record for Chart, which she did from 1966-1969. While signed to Chart, Lynn came to the attention of Lawrence Welk, who signed her for the 1967-1968 season. While with Welk, Lynn appeared on the television show and toured with the show’s touring company. During 1968, Lynn married Glenn Sutton, a noteworthy songwriter who wrote David Houston’s mega-hit “Almost Persuaded”.

Many people are under the impression that the Lynn Anderson story begins with her million selling hit “Rose Garden” and her Glen Sutton-produced recordings on Columbia. That impression is quite mistaken in that by the time Lynn signed with Columbia in 1970, she had already recorded thirteen charting records, four of which were top ten records with “Promises, Promises” reaching #1 on Record World (#4 Billboard) and “That’s A No No” reaching #1 on Cash Box (#2 Billboard) and another five records reaching the top twenty, not bad for an artist signed to a minor label. During the Chart years, much of Lynn’s material was penned by Liz Anderson. Even after the switch to Columbia, one or two of Liz’s compositions appeared on each of Lynn’s albums except Rose Garden, until near the end of her tenure with Columbia . Although Liz and Lynn were signed to different labels, in 1967 and 1968 Chart had some sort of manufacturing and distribution deal with Chart that enabled the mother-daughter duets.

Lynn’s first single for Columbia was the lively “Stay There Til I Get There” which reached #7, despite Chart issuing a competing single, a cover of Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” that reached #16. Her next single “No Love At All” only reached #15 (it would be a pop hit for BJ Thomas the following year) as it was sandwiched by two more Chart releases “Rocky Top” and “I’m Alright” both of which hit the top twenty. During this period Chart would add trumpets and strings to existing Lynn Anderson tracks before issuing then as singles, apparently to make them sound more like her current Columbia output.

Finally in late 1970, “Rose Garden” was released. A somewhat unusual choice for a single as it seemed to be (1) told from a masculine perspective and (2) was penned by pop/rock songwriter Joe South, this single made it clear to the public which label was providing the current Lynn Anderson as it soared to #1 for five weeks, reaching #4 on the pop charts and selling over a million copies in the process. The record also went to #1 in Canada, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland, reached #3 in England and went top ten in a number of other countries.

Lynn’s follow up to “Rose Garden” was “You’re My Man” penned by husband Glen Sutton which spent two weeks at #1. While Chart continued to release old material as singles throughout 1971, the only Chart release to reach the top twenty was Lynn’s cover of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”. As for the Columbia releases, from “Rose Garden” until the end of 1974, Lynn had an terrific run of success as twelve of thirteen singles made the top ten with five Billboard #1s (“Rose Garden”, “You’re My Man”, “How Can I Unlove You”, “Keep Me In Mind” and “What a Man My Man Is”) plus a Cashbox #1 (“Top of The World) and a Record World #1 (“Cry”). Along the way ten of Lynn’s songs crossed over onto the pop charts. She won a Grammy in 1971 for “Rose Garden” and was the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year for 1971.

After 1975, Lynn continued to record, but she really didn’t fit the outlaw movement that came into vogue during the second half of the 1970s (although she was undoubtedly more comfortable on a horse than any of the outlaws). Consequently the really big hits tailed off although there were still nine top twenty hits to follow with her 1979 hit “Isn’t It Always Love” reaching #10 and her late 1983 duet with Gary Morris “You’re Welcome To Tonight” reaching #9. Her marriage to Glenn Sutton came undone in 1977. Her tenure at Columbia ended in 1980 and she did not chart during 1981 and 1982. In 1983 she emerged on Permian Records and later recorded for Mercury (also, there was a duet with Ed Bruce on RCA).

After falling off the charts in 1989, Lynn continued in equestrian activities where she has one 16 national and eight world titles. Never fully retired from recording or performing music, Lynn issued a bluegrass album in 2004. Since 2006 she has been involved in recording for her mother’s Showboat label.

Lynn has been married twice. She had two children with second husband Harold Stream III, whom she divorced in 1982. At last report she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with long-time boyfriend Mentor Williams, a songwriter who wrote “Drift Away”, a huge hit for both Dobie Gray and Narvel Felts

DISCOGRAPHY

Liz Anderson
As always, all vinyl is out of print. Liz recorded eight albums for RCA, plus an album on the Tudor label released in 1983. Liz’s RCA albums all feature songs that she wrote alone or with Casey as co-writer. I assume that the Tudor album My Last Rose contains some of her compositions, but I cannot be certain of this.

Liz also recorded four singles for Epic, all of which charted, none of which made the top fifty. The most interesting of these was the single “Astrology”. Unfortunately, Epic never collected these onto an album.

Unfortunately, none of Liz’s vinyl output has made it onto CD. Liz does have her own record label Showboat Records and has issued several CDs of relatively new material. Liz and Casey can be heard on the Sons of the Guns CD and on the CD titled The Cowgirl Way .
Liz also has available a couple of holiday CDs.

Liz is an accommodating sort, and at my request she put together a greatest hits collection for me several years ago. Her available recorded output is to be found at http://www.showboatrecords.com/

Liz Anderson was hospitalized October 27, 2011, due to complications from heart and lung disease. No other information currently is available.

Lynn Anderson

VINYL

Lynn had a very prolific career during the vinyl era. Chart issued 13 albums of which three albums were compilations. Her Chart career contains a lot less of the ‘country cocktail’ that characterized her Columbia recordings and more straight-ahead country. My favorite Lynn Anderson recordings come from this period. All of the Chart Albums are worthwhile, and all feature songs written by her mother. Look for Songs My Mother Wrote which features Lynn singing her mother’s most famous songs.

Columbia released twenty studio albums on Lynn Anderson. Additionally, a Christmas album and several compilation albums were released. Greatest Hits contains most of the biggest hits; Greatest Hits Volume 2 is mostly lesser hits documenting Lynn’s slide down the charts. As far as the various albums go, if you like the ‘country cocktail’ production, you’ll like all of Lynn’s Columbia albums. Lynn was always adventurous in her choice of material, sampling material from various genres of music in order to avoid becoming stale.

After leaving Columbia, Lynn issued two more vinyl albums: 1983’s Back on the Permian label and the 1988 effort What She Does Best on Mercury. The Permian album contains Lynn’s last top ten hit “You’re Welcome To Tonight” and the Mercury album contains her last top twenty-five single, a remake of the Drifters classic “Under The Boardwalk” . Both albums vary considerably from the sound of her Columbia albums.

COMPACT DISC
Currently there are several Lynn Anderson CDs available. Collectors Choice Music has issued Greatest Hits which gathers eight of her Chart label hits with sixteen of her Columbia hits – this is the best currently available collection. The Columbia/Legacy 16 Biggest Hits has two of the Chart hits along with fourteen Columbia hits. Her 2004 project The Bluegrass Sessions is still in print and finds Lynn in good voice as she recasts her biggest hits as bluegrass. Collectibles has reissued two of Lynn’s Columbia albums on one CD – the albums Rose Garden/You’re My Man were the two biggest albums of her career. Although now out of print, you may be able to find the two outstanding collections issued by the now defunct Renaissance label – Anthology – The Chart Years and Anthology – The Columbia Years. There is also available a Lynn Anderson – Live At Billy Bob’ Texas which showcases Lynn in a live setting. Plus, there are two albums of western music recorded for her mother’s label , Cowgirl and Cowgirl 2.

You may be able to find some other CDs of Lynn’s recordings. Beware of the off-labels (Dominion, Delta, Country Stars, etc) as these will normally feature remakes of the earlier hit recordings.

There are , however, two off-label CDs worth checking out :
(1) Laser Light CD Cowboy’s Sweetheart that features original recordings of cowboy and western songs. Issued in 1992, it finds Lynn in good voice and is a worthwhile acquisition
(2) Lynn Anderson Live At Billy Bob’s Texas, a good representation of what it is like to attend a live Lynn Anderson concert

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop has a listing for a CD released on 9/26/11 by TBird titled Rose Garden – Country Hits 1970-1979. This import contains twenty-one songs and appears to be original Columbia recordings.
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Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘My Love Affair With Trains’ and ‘The Roots Of My Raising’

After over a decade on Capitol, 1976 saw Haggard calling a halt to his association with the label. He was still at his peak, and that year he was to release three albums, two of which are avilable on one CD reissue. One of these was his first thematic concept album (as opposed to his tributes to two of the musical heroes who had inspired him), My Love Affair With Trains. Haggard wanted to document his lifelong love of trains at a time when this important element of American history was being swept away, and to pay tribute to the men who had worked and lived on the railroads.

It opens with an acoustic snippet from ‘Mama Tried’ with its reference to his childhood dreams of trains, leading into the first of a series of spoken reminiscences and comments over a selection of genuine train and whistle sounds, which are interspersed with the songs. Proceedings open with the Dolly Parton-penned title track, a cheerful mid-tempo number with solid train rhythms which belies the generally elegiac mood. The subdued and melancholy ‘Union Station’, written by Ronnie Reno (the bluegrass singer and musician who was then a member of the Strangers) about a station threatened with demolition, exemplifies the overall tone.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the obvious personal resonance of the subject matter, only one song is a Haggard original. That self-penned song is the firmly autobiographical ‘No More Trains To Ride’, a catchy mid-tempo song, with somewhat wistful lyrics as Merle reflects on his father’s railroad career and the hoboes in a vanished world. Red Lane’s ‘The Coming And Going Of The Trains’ narrates the story of the railways over history by dipping into the lives of those affected. There is the arrival of the railroads, displacing the Native Americans, providing a lifeline for drought stricken farmers in Texas, giving hope to prisoners measuring time by counting off trains, and finally the regret of an engineer about to be pensioned off. Mark Yeary’s ‘I Won’t Give Up My Train’ is a first person story song about a railroad engineer who can’t bring himself to leave the travelling life even when it conflicts with his family responsibilities. Read more of this post

Album Review: Merle Haggard & The Strangers – ‘I’m A Lonesome Fugitive’ and ‘Branded Man’

Merle Haggard released two albums in 1967, I’m A Lonesome Fugitive in March and Branded Man in August. Both were produced by Ken Nelson and appear to have been recorded concurrently at Capitol Recording Studios in Hollywood. Like his previous two LPs, the 1967 offerings broke with the day’s usual practice of building albums around one or two hit singles and cover versions of recent hits by other popular artists. Instead, Haggard’s albums consist primarily of original material written by the artist himself, occasionally co-written with Bonnie Owens, and a few select entries from other well-known songwriters including Tommy Collins, Hank Cochran and Liz and Casey Anderson.

The Andersons penned “The Fugitive” (also known as “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive”), which had been released the previous December. It is noteworthy not only because it became Haggard’s first #1 hit, but also because it was his first convict record, a theme he would revisit many times over the next 40 years. Inspired by the popular television series “The Fugitive” doesn’t reveal whether the antagonist is guilty or wrongly accused, which contrasts with Haggard’s later prison songs, in which the narrator is usually guilty and remorseful. The version on the current CD is an alternate take but isn’t significantly different from the better-known hit version. Initially reluctant to discuss his past transgressions, Merle was persuaded by Johnny Cash to face the issue head on rather than giving the tabloids the opportunity to do so. “Life In Prison”, in which the protagonist concludes that a life sentence is perhaps worse than execution, is perhaps his earliest self-penned effort about life behind bars. Although “The Fugitive” was the only single released from this set, many of the album’s other cuts were possible contenders. “Someone Told My Story”, with Bonnie Owens’ prominent and familiar harmony vocals, is a particular favorite of mine, as is “My House of Memories.” There are two covers on the album — a remake of his own “Skid Row” which had been his Tally Records debut a few years earlier, and Jimmie Rodgers “My Rough and Rowdy Ways”, which is only one of three tracks on the album in which Merle did not have a hand in writing (the other two are “Mary’s Mine” and the title track. The original album closed with the spirited “Mixed Up Mess Of A Heart”, which Merle wrote with Tommy Collins. The Buck Owens influence is readily apparent on this track. The current 2-for-1 release includes two bonus tracks: alternate tracks of “Life In Prison” and “Someone Told My Story”, which while nice to have, don’t add much value to the collection.

Branded Man, released five months after I’m A Lonesome Fugitive, is a stronger set than its predecessor. This time around Merle relied a little more on outside songwriters, with Tommy Collins contributing three entries, and co-writing a fourth with Merle. The great Hank Cochran wrote “Loneliness Is Eating Me Alive”. But the highlights of this album are the two singles, both penned by Haggard. “I Threw Away The Rose”, which was perhaps inspired by the 1962 film The Days Of Wine And Roses, was Merle’s follow-up hit to “The Fugitive”. Peaking at #2 in Billboard, it just missed becoming his second #1 hit. Instead, that honor went to the next single, the album’s title track, which topped the chart in September 1967. The semi-autobiographical number deals with an ex-convict’s unsuccessful attempts to wipe the slate clean and get on with his life.

Though it was never released as a single, “Somewhere Between”, co-written with Bonnie Owens, is a well-known album cut that has been covered many times by artists such as Suzy Bogguss and Keith Whitley, and is on my short list of favorite Haggard tunes. Tommy Collins’ “Don’t Get Married” is the best of the non-Haggard penned tunes, but Merle’s cover of the classic “Long Black Limousine” is surprisingly pedestrian and the weakest cut on the album. The album closes with two bonus tracks: alternate versions of “I Threw Away The Rose” and “Loneliness Is Eating Me Alive”. Both are quite different from the better-known versions. They sound as though they were recorded live in the studio, and I suspect that both are previously unreleased Tally recordings.

Because neither album was recorded in Nashville, many of the usual names are absent from the session musician credits, although the great Ralph Mooney plays steel guitar on both albums. Glen D. Hardin, who would later become well known through his association with Emmylou Harris, plays piano. Oh yeah, and some guy named Glen Campbell plays guitar.

This 2-for-1 release, available on CD and as a digital download, is excellent value and well worth adding to your collection.

Grades:

I’m A Lonesome Fugitive: A-
Branded Man: A

Album Review: Merle Haggard: ‘Strangers’ and ‘Swinging Doors And The Bottle Let Me Down’

Haggard’s debut single was a cover of Bakersfield star Wynn Stewart’s ‘Sing A Sad Song’ which was released on independent West Coast label Tally. Although it crept into the top 20 on Billboard, Merle sounds as if he is trying too hard to copy Stewart vocally, breaking into an uncomfortable falsetto, and there is a very heavy handed string arrangement.

He followed that up with a song penned by another Bakersfield boy, Tommy Collins’s perky novelty story song ‘Sam Hill’, which is certainly memorable, but now sounds very dated, particularly the backing vocals, and it performed less well than its predecessor. On the flip side was the pained ballad ‘You Don’t Have Very Far To Go’, which Haggard wrote with fellow Bakersfield singer-songwriter Red Simpson. This is an excellent song, addressed to although the string section is overdone again.

The third and last single for Tally, the rueful ‘(All Of My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers’, was the one which really kickstarted his career. The first of many genuine classics Haggard was to make hits, it is unusual in that it was not one of his own songs, but was written by fellow Californian Liz Anderson (mother of Lynn), to whom he had been introduced by Bonnie Owens. A Bakersfield bar room take on lost love, it was his first top 10 hit single and gave him the name of his backing band, the Strangers. Even though a competing version by the more established Roy Drusky may have cut into sales, it was a big enough success that it persuaded major label Capitol to buy out his Tally contract. Six Tally sides were packaged with newly recorded material in the same vein, produced by Ken Nelson, for Haggard’s debut album in 1965.

The malicious ‘I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can’ (a Haggard original) was his first single actually released on Capitol, although it failed to break into the top 40 on Billboard. It is an energetic, personality-infused response to “get even with womankind” by breaking the hearts of every girl he meets.

Typically, country albums in the 60s featured one or two singles, a lot of filler, and covers of other artists’ hits. Haggard was much more album-oriented, even at this early stage, writing five of the album’s dozen tracks, and there are other songs which could have been hit singles given the exposure.

I really like ‘Please Mr DJ’, a disconsolate plea for the radio to play a specific song for “someone who broke my heart today”. ‘If I Had Left It Up To You’ is another very good song with the protagonist regretting his earlier fighting for a doomed relationship, as if he had not done so,

It’d all be over now except the crying
I’d be used to spending all my nights alone

A couple of tracks are still filler, with overdone string-laden productions. The heartbreak ballad ‘You Don’t Even Try’ was written with Haggard’s friend (and Bonnie Owens’s then boyfriend) Fuzzy Owen, co-owner of Tally, while steel guitarist Ralph Mooney’s romantic and sophisticated sounding ‘Falling For You’ is not a patch on ‘Crazy Arms’.

A cover of Ernest Tubb’s classic ‘Walking The Floor Over You’ is taken at a disconcertingly brisk, almost cheerful pace, which doesn’t quite work. Rounding out the set are rather better versions of another fine Liz Anderson song, the depressed ‘The Worst Is Yet To Come’, and Jenny Lou Carson’s sad but pretty sounding lament for lost love ‘I’d Trade All Of My Tomorrows’.

The West Coast based Academy of Country Music recognized this bright new star by naming him Best New Male Vocalist for 1965 and also gave him the Best Vocal Duo award for his duet album with Bonnie Owens. A year later he had advanced to the title of Best Male Vocalist. Haggard was definitely on the right track with his debut, but had not quite found his distinctive voice yet.

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Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens – ‘Just Between The Two Of Us’

Merle and his wife Bonnie Owens had a top 30 hit with this song in 1964:

Edited to add a later performance of the same song:

Book Review: ‘Buck Owens – The Biography’ by Eileen Sisk

The following review was written by MKOC reader and commenter Ken Johnson:

Buck Owens – The Biography

Author: Eileen Sisk
Publisher: Chicago Review Press

If you only know about Buck Owens via his amazing catalog of hit recordings and songs or his hayseed “Hee-Haw” persona, you truly don’t know the REAL Buck Owens. Author Eileen Sisk went behind the public facade to reveal a complicated, difficult, contradictory, vindictive, manipulative yet occasionally generous man who knew how to completely control his image long before publicists became a required member of every country performer’s staff. Singer/songwriter Gene Price perhaps summed up the Buck Owens story best when he told Sisk that she was about to “write a book about a very bad man who made very good music. “

Sisk relates how she began writing her book with Buck’s blessing after a face-to-face meeting at his Bakersfield, California headquarters in early 1997. Concerned that focusing primarily on his music would make for a boring read, Buck desired an entertaining book that would concentrate on his unpredictable and occasionally sensational personal life. True to form, three years later permission to write his story was abruptly withdrawn without warning or explanation. Rather than abandon the three years that she had already invested in the project, Sisk decided to label her work as an “unauthorized” biography. She enlisted the assistance of a former member of Buck’s “Buckaroos” band Doyle Holly who acted as her liaison to former Owens’ subordinates and encouraged them to go on the record and be forthcoming with their memories.  Because Holly was quoted “everything with Buck is fifty percent bullshit and fifty percent truth” the resulting story is probably closer to reality than if Buck had fully participated and exercised complete editorial control.

Born just two months before the stock market crash that caused the Great Depression, Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens entered the world in Sherman, Texas on August 12, 1929. The book details how despite two birth defects and serious childhood illnesses including a serious brain infection, Buck persevered. By his early teens he had become proficient on several musical instruments. Buck loved to tell about dropping out of school to help his poor struggling family and often compared his own story to the Steinbeck classic The Grapes Of Wrath. However it was the first of many fabricated tales that Buck would create throughout his career. Despite the hard times, his father was always able to find work to fully support his family. Though life may have been difficult it was far from the dire situation that many other depression-era families faced.

Young Buck found plenty of time for female companionship, an activity that would continue in excess throughout his lifetime. Contrary to what Buck wanted his fans to believe, Bonnie Owens was not his first wife. Sisk uncovered Buck’s first marriage at the age of sixteen that produced a daughter that he never knew. Buck would sire at least eight more children, both in and out of wedlock, but only publicly acknowledged three of them.

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Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘I Am What I Am’

Too often in recent years, in both song and in interviews, Merle Haggard has come across as a grumpy old man who is often (and sometimes justifiably) frustrated with both the state of the nation and the music industry. His first album of all-new material in nearly five years finds him sounding less cynical and angry, less overtly political, more optimistic — and surprisingly refreshed. Incorporating a variety of sounds — from traditional country and Western swing to folk and Dixeland jazz — he doesn’t break any new ground or cover any territory that he hasn’t visited many times in the past, yet he sounds more connected to the music than he has on his past few releases. He wrote and produced all of the album’s songs, with Lou Bradley assisting as co-producer.

The Hag is joined once again by his always-stellar band The Strangers, sans Bonnie Owens who passed away in 2006 and whose presence is missed. Cast aside long ago by country radio, Merle makes no concessions to contemporary mainstream tastes. All of the tracks on I Am What I Am, Haggard’s first release for Vanguard Records, sound as though they could have been culled from his best albums of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. His voice is showing some inevitable signs of wear and tear, but for the most part he is in good vocal form throughout the album, especially in light of the fact that he underwent surgery for lung cancer in late 2008.

The album opens with “I’ve Seen It Go Away”, a Woody Guthrie-style number with a “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” theme. He makes some social commentary, as he is often wont to do, though he makes his points more subtly here than he has in the past, taking gentle swipes at the country music establishment:

I’ve seen my share of good times come and go,
I’ve seen Bob Wills and Elvis, when they did a show.
When you’ve seen the very best, the rest can’t hardly play,
I’ve seen it, girls, and I’ve seen it go away

and America’s political leaders:

I’ve watched it all completely fall apart,
And I’ve seen our greatest leaders break the people’s heart.
I’ve seen most of what we’ve got have a whole lot better day,
I’ve seen it, kids, and I’ve seen it go away.

It’s somewhat reminiscent of 1981’s “Rainbow Stew”, which is largely forgotten today, but it is an important song to me personally, since this is the song he had on the charts around the time that I became interested in country music.

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Album Review: Amber Digby and Justin Trevino – ‘Keeping Up Appearances’

Only a few months after the release of her last solo album, Amber Digby is back with a collection of duets with her longterm producer Justin Trevino, a recording artist in his own right with a vibrato-laden tenor reminiscent of the country music of the 1960s. Their voices blend together very well, bearing comparison with the classic duos of the past, and the result is a delightful record which sounds as though it could have been made 40 years ago yet has a timeless feel. The production (credited jointly to Amber and Justin) is exemplary, with the musicians including Amber’s husband Randy Lindley on various guitars and stepfather Dickie Overbey on steel.

As has become customary for an Amber Digby record, everything here is a cover (mostly from the 1960s or early 1970s), but the pair have mixed in some obscure cuts in with the better known songs, and the quality of the 14 songs selected is uniformly high. The subject matter is exclusively relationships: love songs, cheating songs, and tales of marital unhappiness.

My favorite track on the album is the pair’s version of ‘Lead Me On’, a smash hit in 1971 for Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn. This has a couple on the verge of an illicit relationship and wanting some encouragement. The vocals are particularly outstanding here from both Justin and Amber.

The fiddle-led ‘Which One is To Blame’ is another delightful cheating song mixing regret and desire, with Amber and Justin swapping lines through the song, as they share the anguish of forbidden love:

Amber: Somehow I can’t blame myself
Although I guess I should
Justin: And I can’t put the blame on you
I wouldn’t if I could
Amber: We’ve made ourselves the gossip of the town
Justin: The things we’ve done can only bring us shame
Together: We’ve let our passion drag our honor down
I wonder which one of us is to blame

There is less penitence in the defiant passion of ‘After The Fire Is Gone’, where the couple blame their infidelity on a moribund marriage. This is a great song which has been recorded so many times I sighed inwardly when I initially saw it on the track listing, but this is a very fine version which is well worth hearing.

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Classic Rewind: John Anderson with Merle Haggard & The Strangers – ‘Swinging Doors’

Featuring the late Bonnie Owens singing harmony: