My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Brian Mallery

Album Review: Wesley Dennis – ‘Country Enough’

Back in 1995, Wesley Dennis was a bright new hope for country music. Signed to Mercury Records, he got exposure opening shows for Alan Jackson, but never quite broke through himself. His closest to a hit single was the excellent ‘I Don’t Know (But I’ve Been Told)’, which peaked at a disappointing #46, and after the release of three singles and one album, Wesley went home to Alabama. He may not have achieved commercial success, but I was a big fan of his music, and disappointed that he subsequently disappeared into obscurity. A couple of years ago, I named him in my list of “the ones who got away” – artists who seemed to be on the road to stardom but who never made it as far as they deserved.

So I was thrilled to find that after 17 years, he was recording again. His rich voice and fine interpretative skills have not diminished with time. The material on his new record is generally high quality, with half of it written by the artist (with no need for assitsance from elsewhere). It is solidly traditional honky tonk country which should appeal to anyone lamenting the state of the music today, tastefully produced by Greg Cole.

Wesley wrote six new songs for this project. The title track is a fiddle-led critique of modern radio which should strike a chord with many listeners:

I used to listen to the radio
But now I don’t
It sounds too much like rock and roll
No matter what is on
I can call up my local station to request “Faded Love”
They tell me, “That’s too country”
Well, you ain’t country enough

He then harks back to the disappointment of losing his record deal:

I figured things were going well
Until that telephone rang
They said, “We don’t know how to promote you
So we’re gonna give you up
The fact is you’re just way too country”
Son, you ain’t country enough

I spend a lot of my time hoping
Someday that sound will come back
In the meantime I’ll keep playing
My old cassettes and my old 8-tracks
Can’t help but voice my own opinion
I love what I love
Even this song that I am singing
It ain’t country enough

A classic Vern Gosdin style heartbreak ballad, ‘A Month Of Sundays’ dwells on the difficulty in getting over someone who has left, and is probably the best of Wesley’s new compositions. ‘Sun, Surf, And the Sand (And My Ties)’ is slightly awkwardly phrased but shows how to make a beach setting work for a country song – have the protagonist crying over his lost love while observing happiness all around, making his own sadness, “so far from paradise”, all the more poignant.

In a more positive mood, ‘You’ is a pretty romantic ballad, clearly inspired by Wesley’s wife Jan, and which I like a lot. ‘That Dog Won’t Hunt’, a sardonic kissoff to an ex who has come crawling back, is quite entertaining. The playful ‘Ring that Belle’ is more fillerish but not bad.

Wesley pays tribute to his influences by including a handful of classic covers. The best of these is a very fine version of the Keith Whitley hit ‘Lady’s Choice’, a gorgeous heartbreaker written by Bill and Sharon Rice. It’s not quite up to Whitley’s sublime version, but that is a very high bar, and Wesley’s version is very good indeed. He duets with Canadian traditionalist Brian Mallery on ‘Brotherly Love’, a sentimental fraternal hit for Whitley with Earl Thomas Conley. A more obscure choice is ‘Final Touches’, which was the title track of Conway Twitty’s final album; it’s not my favorite track, but makes a nice change of pace.

‘Lovin’ On Back Streets’ is done as a duet with Wesley’s mother; a cheating song is a curious choice for singing with a family member, and Mrs Dennis’s voice shows the signs of age in its tone and timbre, but she can hold a tune well enough, and shows some nice phrasing. It is such a great song it is always worth hearing in any case. Mrs Dennis also gets one solo, on another classic, ‘When A Tingle Becomes A Chill’, which has some lovely steel and fiddle.

The album closes with revamped versions of Wesley’s three Mercury singles – ‘I Don’t Know (But I’ve Been Told’, the guilt-filled cheating song ‘Don’t Make Me Feel At Home’ and ‘Who’s Countin’’ – all excellent songs which sound as good here as they did on Wesley’s debut.

This is an extremely welcome return for an artist, and one I’ve been waiting for ever since he left Mercury.

Grade: A

Listen to the album and order a copy from Wesley’s website.

Album Review: Brian Mallery – ‘Living My Dream’

Brian Mallery may be an obscure independent artist from New Brunswick, Canada, but he has a great coutry voice and some impressive friends. Solidly in the traditional country style with a vocal style emulating that of Vern Gosdin, this is apparently the artist’s third release. It was produced by Greg Cole and recorded in Nashville, and the backings are loaded with fiddle and steel which make it a joy to listen to.

The record opens with lovely fiddle and then a classic sounding country baritone lets loose on ‘Don’t Let Life Get You Down’, a simple but rather inspiring song about surviving bad times, which Brian wrote after suffering a serious accident in 2006. The warm empathetic vocal sells the song completely. Nothing else is quite as heartwarming, but there is some other good material.

‘Separate Ways’, another fine Mallery original, co-written with Andre McGraw, is a lost-love ballad, with the former lover of a bride puzzled at the way the couple’s love has ended, as he realizes showing up at the wedding wasn’t such a good idea. There is more disconsolate heartbreak in ‘Someone To Hold’, with the hardworking narrator gazing at his reflection and regretting neglecting his wife’s emotional needs because he was so busy working.

Paul Leblanc ‘s rueful ‘I Can’t Live’ has a man regretting having laughed at the prospect of life without his loved one. ‘What I Leave Behind’ is a rather touching song about the loneliness of being a touring musician leaving a wife at home.

The originals are counter balanced by some classic covers which indicate Mallery’s influences and pay tribute to some of his heroes without attempting a new interpretation. However, the songs picked are (mostly) such great songs, they are good to hear again anyway. There is a sincerely delivered version of John Conlee’s classic ‘Rose Colored Glasses’, with Brian’s vocal closely patterned after the sublime original. Vern Gosdin is obviously the biggest influence on Brian’s vocals. The mid-tempo ‘I Can Tell By The Way You Dance’ was a chart topper for Gosdin in 1984; Mallery is not as good as Gosdin, of course, and it is only an average song, amking it the most disposable track.

Things take a better turn when the fabulous Ken Mellons duets on ‘Chiseled In Stone’, playing the bereaved old man with his trademark intense emotion, which helps raise this one to not far below the original. It is a real highlight of the record. Daryle Singletary (another underrated singer I love) harmonises on a version of ‘Tennessee Whiskey’, a hit for George Jones (and also once cut by Gosdin). Singletary also duets on a cheerful buddyish drinking song about friendship, with the Canadian and the southerner finding common ground despite their geographical differences, over “the perfect Friday night”, ‘Hot Hands And Cold Beer’ – naturally it also involves “real country music”. Their voices are quite similar and blend well. Mallery wrote this one with Larry Wayne Clark.

‘Hillbilly Water’ is a catchy and cheerful sounding tribute to the fresh spring water of the hills (and by inference to the remembered innocence of childhood), written by Clark and David Lloyd, with rhythmic banjo and sprightly fiddle:

I’m working 9 to 5 in a hive of stone and steel
With a thirst inside no dry martini can fill
I wanna get my cup
Fill it up from a spring in a holler
And drink a deep long drink of that hillbilly water

The sardonic tale of ‘Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud’ is credited to Larry Wayne Clark, Chris Young, and Marc Rossi. It portrays a young man who has left his country home and abandoned his mother’s good advice:

A good man is judged by his handshake
So smile when you offer you hand
Say a prayer every day and put a little away
Any time that you can

So I’m shaking hands with the devil tonight
In a bar room that’s smoky and loud
What I put away is a fifth every day
If she could just see her boy now,
Lord, would mama be proud?

This is an excellent album which I enjoyed a great deal. You can listen to samples and order the CD from the artist’s website.

Grade: A