My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Brett Beavers

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Clancy’s Tavern’

71PR-1ECj3L._SX522_Over the past decade or so, Toby Keith has become somewhat overexposed, often making headlines for the wrong reasons, whether it was his feud with Natalie Maines, his dispute with ABC over performing “American Soldier” in its entirety or for confrontational song lyrics. I began to tune out around 2010, after the release of Bullets In The Gun, and as a result missed Clancy’s Tavern, one of his better efforts of recent years.

Catching up with this 2011 release now has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise. It is a firmly contemporary country project, but is rootsy enough not alienate most country fans, and it also lacks any awkward attempts to push the stylistic boundaries of the genre. That’s not to say that there aren’t any missteps; by Keith’s own admission, “Red Solo Cup” is the stupidest song he’s ever heard in his life (although he also labeled it “freakin’ awesome”). The Jim Beavers-Brett Beavers-Warren Brothers composition (the only song on the album that Keith had no hand in writing), is clearly not meant to be taken seriously. It’s a catchy ditty and is mildly amusing, but becomes less so with repeated listenings. Songs like this have their place as album cuts or concert staples, but they typically aren’t considered single-worthy material. Nevertheless, it landed at #9 on the country chart and #15 pop — his best showing on the Hot 100. It also sold more than 2 million copies, making it the most successful single of his career, from a commercial standpoint — further evidence that quality and commercial success are often two divergent forces.

Prior to “Red Solo Cup”, Toby scored his most recent #1 hit with “Made In America”, about a salt-of-the-earth couple from the heartland, who lament that their traditional values that are no longer in vogue. It’s not a bad song, although it lacks subtlety. It would have packed a greater punch a decade or so earlier, but by 2011 this particular theme had been overdone by Keith and others, and was wearing a little thin. “Beers Ago” a reminiscence of his teenage years written with Bobby Pinson, is my favorite of the album’s three singles. It peaked at #6 but was somewhat overshadowed by the success of “Red Solo Cup”.

“I Need to Hear a Country Song” cries out for a “three-chord, stone cold country song”, even though it sounds nothing like one itself. The upbeat “Trying to Fall In Love” is the album’s most country-sounding track, with plenty of fiddle. I’d have picked this one for a single instead of “Red Solo Cup”, although it probably wouldn’t have sold nearly as well. Also quite good is a the title track, a homage to a neighborhood watering hole and the men and women who work there. Like “Honkytonk U” a few years earlier, “Clancy’s Tavern” was inspired by the Arkansas tavern owned by Keith’s grandmother.

The standard release consists of eleven tracks, all of which can be enjoyed, though “Red Solo Cup” is the clear weakest link. The album’s deluxe version contains four bonus tracks, which were all recorded live in concert in New York City. None of them are particularly memorable, with the possible exception of Keith’s take on Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee”.

When all is said and done, diehard Toby Keith fans are going to enjoy this album, and those who dislike his politics and personality will try their best to hate it. And those who try to keep an open mind will find it to be an enjoyable, though not perfect, album.

Grade: B+

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Album Review: Craig Campbell – ‘Never Regret’

neverregretCraig Campbell’s eponymous debut album was one of the few bright spots in country music in 2011. It contained some first-rate songs, but lacking the support of a major label, it didn’t sell as well as it should have. Never Regret, which was released last month, continues in the same neotraditional vein. Keith Stegall and Matt Rovey produced the set, and Campbell shares songwriting credits on half of the album’s songs.

“Truck-N-Roll”, the opening track, is not as fluffy as the title might suggest. Co-written by Campbell with Brett Beavers and Chris Lindsey, it sounds a lot like something Beavers might have written for Dierks Bentley. It is also reminiscent of Easton Corbin’s “All Over The Road”, but it’s a better song and would make a good summertime single. Another mid-tempo number, the more contemporary “Keep Them Kisses Comin'” likewise should have a lot of appeal to radio, as would the humorous “My Baby’s Daddy” in which Campbell discusses an uneasy relationship with his future father-in-law. To date, however, only one single has been released — “Outta My Head”, a pleasant but forgettable piece of fluff that cracked the Top 40 last fall.

The album’s best track is the ballad “When She Grows Up”, about a father’s aspirations for his infant daughter, though I could have done without the very young child singing “Jesus Loves Me”, which serves as the song’s intro. “That’s Why God Made A Front Porch” is another winner, though it is probably not commercial enough to be released to radio. Another Campbell co-write, it is one of those increasingly rare songs that manages to pay homage to the country lifestyle without a lot of amped-up electric guitars and redneck posturing. “You Can Come Over”, is another nice ballad in which Campbell attempts to keep at arm’s length an old flame that he’s not quite over yet.

There isn’t anything particularly memorable about the remainder of the album’s songs. Overall, the material on Never Regret isn’t as strong as that of the first album. Campbell didn’t write as many of the songs this time around, and it appears as though he and his producers may have had some trouble finding an entire album’s worth of first-rate tunes. It comes off as a largely play-it-safe effort that probably won’t earn Campbell any new fans, but also won’t alienate those who liked his first album.

Grade: B

Single Review: Dierks Bentley – ‘5-1-5-0’

Having been beaten to the punch by Bradley Gaskin with ‘Diamonds Make Babies’, in my opinion the second best song on Dierks Bentley’s latest album (after his #1 hit ‘Home’), Dierks has turned for his own new single to the unusually titled ‘5-1-5-0’, written by the artist with regular collaborators Brett and Jim Beavers. The record is rapidly making its way up the charts and well on its way to becoming the third straight #1 hit from Home.

Lyrically, it uses the California Police Code for an insane person to symbolise the intensity of the protagonist’s obsessive feelings for his new love. It isn’t as effective as past songs comparing the madness of love to clinical insanity, such as John Conlee’s unforgettable ‘I Don’t Remember Loving You’, Dolly’s ‘Daddy Come And Get Me’, or Porter Wagoner’s controversial ‘Rubber Room’. Partly that’s because the mood is more frivolous, and Dierks doesn’t really seem to take it seriously – this comes across as the excuse for a fun song. The lightweight atmosphere is underlined by the odd reference to the police as “po-po”.

On the plus side, the record sounds very good with engaging vocals and attractive instrumentation despite a rather limited melody. There is a breezy carefree feel to the bluegrass-influenced arrangement which suit Dierks’s voice and may make this work across the summer airwaves. It’s also a refreshing change from radio’s usual fare, musically. But lyrically, it falls well short of Dierks’ better material, and this is a disappointing choice of single for me, and a disconcerting sequel to the far superior ‘Home’.

Grade: C+

Album Review: Dierks Bentley – ‘Home’

It was inevitable that Dierks Bentley’s follow-up to 2010’s Up On The Ridge would be a more radio-friendly project; I was slightly fearful that he would offer up a collection of mindless party songs in the vein of “Sideways” in order to get back in the good graces of country radio programmers.  What I didn’t expect was an album that was more mainstream while retaining many of the bluegrass-flavored elements of its predecessor.  This is likely the handiwork of Jon Randall, who produced Up On The Ridge, and who is back on board to share production duties with Luke Wooten and Dierks’ longtime producer Brett Beavers.

The similarities to Up On The Ridge are immediately apparent from the first notes of the opening track “Am I The Only One”, (reviewed by Occasional Hope last April) which reached #1 last September.   It starts off with a prominent banjo track, though the slightly too loud electric guitars take over by the time the song ends.   “Gonna Die Young” takes a similar approach, though this song works less well overall; the production is a little more heavy-handed and there is a slight hip-hop rhythm to the lyrics. “5-1-5-0” and “Heart of a Lonely Girl” both sound as though they could have been recorded during the Up On The Ridge sessions.

One of the album’s highlights is the title track and current single, which was selected as the official song of Dierks’ native Arizona’s Centennial Commission.  Written by Dierks with Brett Beavers and Dan Wilson in response to the shooting of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last year, the song breaks from the rock-grass formula of the album’s first three tracks. It currently resides at #6 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. I reviewed the single back in October. Since that time, former Drive-By Truckers member Jason Isbell has accused Bentley of plagiarism, citing similarities between “Home” and his own “In a Razor Town”. Listen here and decide for yourself.

Things take a less serious turn when Dierks advises a friend who is about to get engaged, about the slippery slope he’s embarking on, in “Diamonds Make Babies.” I’d like to see this one become a single, but I’m inclined to think that the generic, play-it-safe “In My Head” will be the next track sent to radio. On the bluesy “When You Gonna Come Around”, Dierks is joined by Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild. Though their voices blend well together, the tune itself borders on bland. As the least country-sounding track on the album, it too could be a contender for a future single release.

Dierks saves the best for last. The closing track “Thinking of You” is a beautiful acoustic number, which at just over seven minutes is too long. After an extended instrumental break, it fades out after about five and a half minutes, only to fade back in several seconds later with a verse sung by a very young child, presumably Dierks’ daughter. Some will find this precious, but I could have done without it.

Not every track is stellar. “Tip It On Back”, about finding an escape from life’s daily trials and tribulations, and “Breathe You In” are both throwaways, but overall, Bentley succeeds in creating a sound that is contemporary while deeply rooted in country and bluegrass. There is plenty here to appeal to country radio, without alienating longtime fans.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘All I Want’

Once Tim had made his commercial breakthrough, he was able to be a little more adventurous with his third album in 1995. This marks the point at which one can call Tim McGraw an artist rather than just a singer. The song quality was good, but the production (orchstrated as before by James Stroud and Byron Gallimore) lacks subtlety and leans a little too heavily to electric guitars front and center. Although sales were less than for its predecessor, Tim had found a firm place on country radio, as evidenced by five top 5 singles, two of them #1s.

Lead single, the silly but somehow irresistibly catchy ditty ‘I Like It, I Love It’ (complete with a nod to the Big Bopper), was Tim’s third #1. It also had some pop airplay. The singalong nature of the song for once makes crowd noise acceptable. This song should probably fall in the guilty pleasure category, but I don’t even feel guilty about it.

The rather good emotional string-laden ballad ‘Can’t Be Really Gone’, written by Gary Burr, fell just short, peaking at #2. Tim is not one of the best vocalists around, but this is one of his better efforts, with a real emotional commitment to this song about a man in denial about the permanence of his wife’s leaving. Title track ‘All I Want Is A Life’ is an up-tempo rocker without much melody and with too-loud and now dated sounding production, but a relatable lyric about struggling with poverty and aspirations for something more. It was the least successful of the album’s singles, but still peaked at #5.

Also a bit heavily produced but less obtrusively so, ‘She Never Lets It Go To Her Heart’ was another chart-topper, written by the hitmaking team of Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters. The mid-tempo ‘Maybe We Should Just Sleep On It’ (written by Jerry Laseter and Kerry Kurt Phillips) also did well, peaking at #4. These two are okay but not outstanding, and there was better material on the album, such as the relatively understated ballad ‘The Great Divide’, written by Brett Beavers. This is a very good depiction of a couple trapped in a tired marriage, who would rather pay attention to their respective book and TV show than one another. There is still hope their love can be rekindled.

‘I Didn’t Ask And She Didn’t Say’ is a nicely observed song, written by Reese Wilson, Van Stephenson and Tony Martin. Flight delays lead to an awkward encounter with a long-past ex, where the real questions remain unanswered. Tim’s voice has an urgency in it betraying the protagonist’s suppressed passion as he recalls past happiness, before they part with everything unresolved:

We said our goodbyes
Swore we’d stay in touch
Then we went our separate ways
Knowing no one ever does

‘When She Wakes Up (And Finds Me Gone)’ is another mature song with complex emotions which is well sung by Tim, but would have worked better for me with more stripped down production. The extended electric guitar solo at the end is excessive and adds nothing worthwhile. ‘Don’t Mention Memphis’ is another good song about a breakup, written by Bill LaBounty and Rand Bishop, but the rhythm is abit jerky and the track is over-produced. The impassioned ‘You Got The Wrong Man’ is also quite entertaining if rather processed sounding, as Tim tries to persuade a woman burnt by love before that he isn’t like the man who broke her heart.

Then there are a couple of real missteps. ‘Renegade’ is a boring rocker with Tim unconvincing as a rebel. ‘That’s Just Me’ is a southern/country boy pride number written by Deryl Dodd which sounds musically a little like a slightly slower ‘Indian Outlaw’. Dodd recorded it himself a couple of years later when making his Columbia Records debut.

Overall, the material selected here was a major advance for Tim McGraw, but the production choices are less palatable. Tim had found his musical direction, and if it was a long way from the traditionalism of his first album, it held a lot of appeal for country radio and cemented his fanbase. Triple platinum sales meant this was not quite as successful as its predecessor, but it is a better, more mature work. Better still, from Tim’s point of view, while topuring in support of the album, he fell in love with opening act Faith Hill, and by the time his next album came out he would be a husband and father.

Used copies are available very cheaply.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Emotional Traffic’

Were I unaware of the longstanding feud between Tim McGraw and Curb Records, and the resulting lawsuit surrounding the release of Emotional Traffic, I would likely be asking myself what on earth Tim was thinking when he recorded this collection. It’s difficult to imagine that he thought his fans were clamoring for an album of overproduced junk that, with only a few exceptions, is far removed from the realm of country music. One possible explanation is that it is an act of deliberate sabotage on Tim’s part, a parting shot at an unscrupulous company that went to great lengths to extend his contract term. It seems like a stretch at first, but the more I listened to the album, the more plausible the theory seems. While I do think that Curb treated McGraw shabbily, I’m slightly more sympathetic towards them after giving Emotional Traffic several spins. While Curb’s legal objections to Emotional Traffic were concerned with the timeframe in which the album was recorded, a more meritorious argument would have been that it doesn’t meet the standards of McGraw’s earlier work and that it provides them with very little usable material to promote to country radio. Make no mistake, this is one hot mess of a record.

Emotional Traffic was co-produced by Tim and Byron Gallimore, who has had a hand in producing Tim’s records since the very beginning of his career. Originally recorded in 2010, the album was shelved in favor of a redundant hits compilation and was then further delayed by the court case. One track, “Felt Good on My Lips” was released as a single in September 2010 and made it to #1. Though I’m not overly fond of the song, it does have a catchy melody, and despite its throwaway, fluffy lyrics, it’s one of three songs on the album that is at least tolerable. It was written by the Warren Brothers — who contributed four songs to the album — along with Brett Beavers and Jim Beavers. This foursome also collaborated on the rather annoying and sing-songy “Hey Now.” Tim himself shares songwriting credits along with Brett and Brad Warren and Martina McBride on “I Will Not Fall Down”, an introspective song about getting older that aims to be inspirational (“I will not fall down without getting up”), which ultimately falls flat due to the constant repetition of the title line, over-processed vocals and too-busy production.

“Touchdown Jesus”, written by Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson, and Ben Hayslip is not a great song but it’s infinitely superior to most of the other offerings here. It has the potential to be a hit single, and I think I could get to like it more with repeated listenings, although it does degenerate into a bombastic gospel-like song towards the end.

Of the twelve tracks on this album, only one — the current single “Better Than I Used To Be” — is truly good — although, as Occasional Hope recently pointed out, it cannot compete with Sammy Kershaw’s far superior version. Nevertheless, I’m glad that someone who is still getting radio airplay decided to give it a chance. The only truly country-sounding song on the album, it is currently on the verge of cracking the Top 20 and will likely reach the higher rungs of the chart.

With the exceptions of “Better Than I Used To Be”, “Touchdown Jesus” and the mediocre “Felt Good On My Lips”, I’m afraid that I found Emotional Traffic to be quite unlistenable, and I imagine that all but the most dedicated McGraw fans will be disappointed in it. While Tim has never been one of my favorite artists, he has had a knack for picking some very good material in the past. Hopefully he has some better songs on hold for his next project once the remaining legal issues play out.

Grade: D

Single Review: Sunny Sweeney – ‘Drink Myself Single’

The third single from Sunny Sweeney’s excellent Concrete album is the unashamed honky tonker ‘Drink Myself Single’.

Currently just outside the top 40, let’s hope it matches the top 10 status of last year’s ‘From A Table Away’ after ‘Staying’s Worse Than Leaving’ failed to do so. Radio seems more inclined to play up-tempo numbers these days, so that may be a good sign for this vibrant number. It sounds like her most commercial release to date without sacrificing her country roots, mixing in loud but not excessive electric guitars with the fiddle and steel. The lively tune and the winsome charm of Sunny’s delivery give this a singalong feel.

Fed up of her boyfriend’s drinking ways, Sunny goes out on the town determined to beat him at his own game (and declare her new single status at the same time) by drinking a couple of bottles of wine (although as she’s apparently not a regular drinker this may mean she ends up not so much staggering home to bed like her ex, as under the table in the bar). She wrote the song with Monty Holmes, although it clearly isn’t autobiographical, as Sunny recently married her longterm boyfriend.

This level of excessive drinking may not be the best way to get over a man in real life, but it makes for a great country song. And with the help of producer Brett Beavers, Sunny is the kind of singer who knows how to satisfy the demands of both modern radio listeners and more traditional country fans.

Grade: B+

Single Review: Dierks Bentley – ‘Home’

Patriotic songs have long been a staple of country music, and in recent years, we’ve heard quite a few of them. Too much of anything can wear thin after a while, and even the most patriotic country music fans are bound to have grown weary of the steady diet of “God and country” songs they’ve been fed since the September 11th attacks a decade ago. But just when we’ve begun to think that the songwriters have run out of new ways to sing America’s praises, Dierks Bentley proves otherwise in his latest single.

Written by Bentley with Dan Wilson and Brett Beavers, “Home” is a tastefully produced record that avoids jingoism or overt references to the USA. Instead, he focuses on the country’s natural beauty, “from the mountains high to the wave-crashed coast” and acknowledges the challenges facing the nation, while maintaining a sense of optimism that these challenges will eventually be overcome. The production is fairly stripped down in the beginning, and slowly builds up to a more anthemic feel by the beginning of the second verse, without succumbing to the temptation of bombastic overproduction. “Home’s” message is simple — “it’s been a long hard ride, got a ways to go, but this is still the place that we all call home” — and it’s a refreshing change from the more confrontational or support-the-troops pro-America songs that have dominated the airwaves for the past ten years.

Grade: A

Album Review: Deryl Dodd – ‘RanDDom as I Am’

Deryl Dodd’s eighth album is released on Texas music specialists Smith Music Group, and is produced by the artist himself. His distinctive nasal tones work well interpreting the material, almost all self-written, and this record has a little more of a Texas/Red Dirt singer-songwritery feel than his previous work.

I really enjoyed the amusing self-mocking ‘Baby Where’s My Bottle’. The semi-alcoholic honky tonker compares himself to a baby, throwing a fit when his sweetheart has taken his bottle of booze away. The entertaining up-tempo honky tonker opens the album with a bang, and is also serving as the first single.

The melancholic ‘Loveletters’ (one of the few outside songs, written by Nate Kipp) has a pretty tune, with the protagonist addressing Virginia, an old love who has left him for an attempt at movie career. He wishes her well but has been unable to drag himself away from the ties of home to follow her:

Love letters and cigarettes
It’s been three years I can’t forget
Unwrap this chain around my neck for good
I’ve memorized every word you wrote and each night they go up in smoke
And I’m gonna die or I’m gonna choke, it’s true
I’m still not done with you

The highlight of the album is ‘Losin’ Ground’, a co-write with his one-time producer Brett Beavers, offers a gripping picture of an embattled farmer who is literally losing land to new highways. Also on a rural theme, ‘FM 2213’ (written by Tommy Conners and D Vincent Williams) paints a pleasantly atmospheric if rather rambling picture of a remote flatland country road.

‘Anybody Out There’ has a singer-songwriter feel. The mellow tune belies the lyric’s portrayal of depression and loneliness, with the protagonist wondering if anyone else has experienced the same feelings.

Fallin’ is a bit dull, repetitive lyrically and limited melodically, but there are better takes on romance on offer. ‘I Can Do This (Joy’s Song)’ is a tender love song with a fine vocal interpretation. Deryl’s own ‘Love Around Here’ is a charming but fairly conventional (and presumably autobiographical) picture of happy domestic life. The pretty, touching ‘Coming Home To You is a personal-sounding love song from a musician on the road missing his wife. Another travelling musician gets an unhappy ending, as his wife tells him he’s been gone ‘One Night Too Long’ in another of the highlights.

Defiant post-heatbreak, the protagonist of the bluesy ‘Somethin’ Ain’t Always Better Than Nothin’, declares,

I’d rather have nothin’ than somethin’ like you

‘Can’t Say No To Larry Joe’ with its raucous singalong pays tribute to a friend with exceptional persuasive powers – particularly when it comes to extending the night’s drinking, so that his
Let’s just have one more” turns into 22″

Deryl warns,

The best advice I can give is never say hello
Cause you can’t say no to Larry Joe

The record closes with ‘Who Am I’, a rather good humble gospel song.

Overall, this is a solid record, a world away from current radio tastes, but worth a hearing.

Grade: B+

Single Review: Sunny Sweeney – ‘Staying’s Worse Than Leaving’

Like Ashton Shepherd, Sunny Sweeney has spent the past couple of years struggling to get new music released and stay alive commercially. And like Shepherd, Sweeney has had to tweak her sound just enough to find some mainstream acceptance, but not enough to be labeled a sellout. She managed to find the right balance on her recent single and first Top 10 hit “From A Table Away”.

Her latest release, “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving”, which Sunny co-wrote with Brennan Leigh is in a similar vein. Producer Brett Beavers has included plenty of prominent electric guitar work and drums to appeal to contemporary tastes, but there is also a generous amount of pedal steel, fiddle, and Sunny’s East Texas twang, which is the glue that holds the recording together. The first few electric guitar notes sound like the intro to an old Ray Price record, but things quickly take a more contemporary turn as the song gets underway. It deals with a couple confronting each other about the state of their broken relationship and reluctantly concluding that it’s better to go their separate ways than to stay together. The tune, which is surprisingly upbeat given the subject matter, was apparently not influenced by Sweeney’s own recent divorce.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed Sunny’s 2006 album Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame, it was obvious that nothing from that collection had any serious shot at mainstream success. Her recent EP should serve as a primer on how to broaden one’s mainstream appeal without sacrificing the country elements. There’s no reason to expect that “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving” won’t follow “From A Table Away” into the Top 10. Country radio will be greatly improved if it embraces artists like Sunny Sweeney.

Grade: A-

“Staying’s Worse Than Leaving” is available for individual download, but I strongly recommend buying her entire 5-track EP, which is available from both Amazon and iTunes.

Album Review: Dierks Bentley – ‘Dierks Bentley’

Dierks Bentley was the singer’s major label debut, which appeared in 2003, two years following the independently released Don’t Leave Me In Love. The major label phase of Bentley’s career received a jump-start with his first single, the infectious ‘What Was I Thinkin’, which quickly shot to #1 and became Bentley’s first gold single. Irresistibly catchy, it was one of the very few — perhaps the only — #1 hit that year to feature the dobro as a prominent instrument. Capitol hoped to duplicate this success with the follow-up single, the slightly syrupy and sentimental ‘My Last Name’, a tune about family pride and honor, which stalled at #17. Bentley recovered with the album’s final single, the upbeat “How Am I Doin'”, which climbed to #4. Like its two predecessors, ‘How Am I Doin’ was co-written by Bentley, as were eight more of the album’s thirteen tracks.

All three of the album’s singles were enjoyable, but the album cuts are where the truly interesting material can be found. Bentley and producer Brett Beavers seem to have deliberately followed a strategy of building the album around some hit singles, and using the rest of the album as an opportunity to branch out a little more with some more traditional material that was considered less radio-friendly. Overall, the approach works well and the end result is an album that has more depth and breadth than most debut efforts.

Among the more traditional cuts on the album is ‘Bartenders, Etc.’, which Bentley wrote, and had previously recorded for his independent album. Not a drinking song per se, it pays homage to the barroom. This type of song has long been a staple of country music. As an uptempo number, it initially seems like a good choice for a single, but the barroom theme may have been a little to politically incorrect for country radio in 2003. “Distant Shore” was also strong enough to warrant release as a single, but Capitol may have been reluctant to send another ballad to radio after ‘My Last Name’ failed to reach the Top 10.

‘My Love Will Follow You’ was written by Buddy and Julie Miller. One of only two songs on the album not written or co-written by Dierks, it had previously appeared on Buddy’s 1995 album Your Love and Other Lies. The other tune in which Dierks did not have a hand in writing is ‘I Bought The Shoes’, a honky-tonker which is my favorite song on the album:

I bought her fancy clothes, for all occasions
And that new car so she could go just any ole where she pleased
I bought the golden band she wore, on the hand that closed the door
And I bought the shoes that just walked out on me

In what would become a tradition for Dierks’ albums, the set closes with a bluegrass number, ‘Train Travelin’, on which Dierks is joined by the Del McCoury Band. It stands out in stark contrast in an era in which country stars often claimed to have a deep appreciation of country music’s traditions but rarely demonstrated that appreciation in their own music. Dierks was the sole writer of ‘Train Travelin’, which adds to its authenticity; this song wasn’t the product of a “songwriter’s committee” where the artist got a songwriting credit merely for being present in the room while professional writers did all the heavy lifting. It also serves to underscore that there is a lot more to Dierks Bentley than what we hear from him on the radio. I’ve been underwhelmed by some of his single releases over the years, but hearing his debut effort has made me realize that listening to some of his later albums in their entirety may be a worthwhile exercise.

Grade: A-

Dierks Bentley is widely available from major retailers, including Amazon and iTunes.

Album Review: Deryl Dodd – ‘Together Again’

Together AgainTexan singer-songwriter Deryl Dodd emerged in 1996 with his excellent One Ride In Vegas album on Columbia. He had a couple of top 40 hits, a cover of ‘That’s How I Got To Memphis’ and ‘A Bitter End’, before his career was derailed by serious illness. He never regained the lost momentum, and eventually lost his record deal after his third album for Columbia failed to produce any hit singles. He continued making music, and has released several albums on independent labels, of which the latest is Together Again, released by Smith Entertainment.

He has several advantages over other artists who have been cut loose by a major label: a strong, distinctive voice which marks out his material, and good songwriting ability which means he need not rely on seeking out more successful singers’ rejects from Music Row. He co-produced his 2004 album Stronger Proof (also recommended), but this is the first time he has tackled production duties on his own. He has done a capable job, I suspect on a tight budget, which is not obvious from the results. Deryl uses his road band throughout the sessions, bringing in outside musicians where required, and he plays acoustic guitar himself. The overall feel is modern Texas country, with the electric guitar quite strongly in evidence, but not overwhelming the material or Deryl’s compelling voice with its interesting inflections.

Deryl has written virtually all the songs, sometimes with other writers. They are pretty good on the whole, but there is no individual standout comparable to the finest moments on his previous albums. The best song is the title track, a sparkling cover of the Buck Owens classic where Deryl successfully combines a modern sound which is still respectful to the original. A very authentic Buck-influenced solo vocal, but lacking the characteristic harmony of the original, plays against a prominent electric guitar.

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