My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Buck Owens

Week ending 10/13/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Bird Dog / Devoted To You — Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Harper Valley P.T.A. — Jeannie C. Riley (Plantation)

1978: Heartbreaker — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1988: Streets of Bakersfield — Dwight Yoakam & Buck Owens (Reprise)

1998: Where The Green Grass Grows — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2008: Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven — Kenny Chesney (Blue Chair/BNA)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Blue Tacoma — Russell Dickerson (Triple Tigers)

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Album Review: Jim Lauderdale — ‘Country Super Hits, Vol. 1’

Released in 2006, Country Super Hits, Vol. 1 is an oddly titled collection, as it sounds like a greatest hits or tribute record when indeed all the tracks are original. But Jim Lauderdale does perform the album in a traditional style, which is a nice change of pace.

Lauderdale co-wrote eleven of the album’s thirteen songs with Odie Blackmon, who is perhaps best known as the writer behind Lee Ann Womack’s “I May Hate Myself In The Morning,” which came out a year prior to this album. The pair kicks the album off with “Honky Tonk Mood Again,” a mid-tempo shuffle about a guy following his woman since she undoubtedly knows where the party is at.

“Playing On My Heart Strings” is a Dwight Yoakam-esque ballad. “Too More Wishes” is a steel-drenched uptempo number about a man who feels luck is on his side. Lauderdale shines on the spellbinding “Cautious,” about a man who’s jumping into his new relationship slowly and surely. A fiddle plays a prominent role on “If You’ve Never Seen Her Smile,” which is as striking as the woman Lauderdale and Blackmon are describing in the lyric. “Right Where You Want Me” is country rock and not to my taste at all and “Are You Okay” is a modernized shuffle.

“Single Standard Time” is reminiscent of Buck Owens and is one of the album’s strongest tracks. “That’s Why We’re Here” is slow and sparse, with Lauderdale exaggerating his twang. The album rebounds with “Change,” which has a wonderful melodic structure and an ear-catching sonic makeup. “You Can’t Stop Her,” about a guy who realizes his girl isn’t ever coming back, is firmly within the 1990s country style and would’ve worked brilliantly in George Strait’s hands during that era.

The album also features two non-Blackmon tracks. Lauderdale teamed with Leslie Satcher for “I Met Jesus In A Bar” and Shawn Camp for “She’s Got Some Magic Going On.” The former is much strong than its title would indicate while the latter has an interesting and engaging melody.

Both songs are very good, as is the album, which owes more to Americana than country, despite the abundance of traditional instrumentation. I highly recommend checking this one out. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A- 

Classic Rewind: Buck Owens – ‘Hello Trouble’

Classic Rewind: Buck Owens – ‘Pick Me Up On Your Way Down’

A half-dozen songs that never really were big hits (but may have been famous)

It is not so much true since the late 1970s but in all genres of music (except rock) there was a strong tendency for songs that were really big hits to be covered by many artists.

Here we will be looking at three really well-known country songs that never really were major hits for anyone, yet were so frequently covered that they became well-known hits, two songs that had Billboard not discontinued its regional charts, would have been recognized as big regional hits, and one song that was a huge copyright for a well known singer that isn’t well known and never charted at all.

1) Back in 1968, I purchased a few 45 rpm records. Lacking the patience to fool around with flipping records every 2:35, I soon switched to purchase of LPs. Among the few 45s that I purchased was Merle Haggard’s “The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde”. This record certainly was a hit reaching #1 on the Billboard and Record World country charts, but the B side was the revelation for me.

Back then I often didn’t get around to playing the B side of a 45 until later, but Dad had the Branded Man album that Haggard had issued the year before and every song on it was really good, so I flipped over the single to find one of the truly great country songs in “Today I Started Loving You Again”,

Back then Billboard did not usually track B sides and album tracks, so as far as Billboard is concerned the real hit on the song was Sammi Smith’s single from 1975 that reached #9. Kenny Rogers, Arthur Prysock and Emmylou Harris all issued singles that failed to crack the top forty. Record World, which did track B sides, had Haggard’s version reach #25.

I have no idea how many artists recorded “Today I Started Loving You Again” as an album track. Certainly, dozens of country artists did it (I probably have thirty country albums from the late 1968-1972 period that contain the song) and untold numbers of singers from other genres such as pop singer Al Martino, R&B singers Bobby Bland and Bettye Swann. I still hear country bands perform the song to this very day. For me, it’s a song I memorized on first hearing it and it has stuck in my memory since then

 What a fool I was to think I could get by

With only these few millions tears I cry

I should have known the worst was yet to come

And that crying time for me had just begun

2) Almost as well known as “Today I Started Loving You Again” is “Silver Wings”, which was an album track on Hag’s 1970 album A Portrait of Merle Haggard and was the flipside of “Working Man Blues. I can basically make the same comments about “Silver Wings” as I did about “Today I Started Loving You Again”. I heard the song frequently on the radio, but it never charted for Haggard. In fact, the only time the song ever charted was by the Hager Twins, Jim and Jon, who took it to #59 in late 1970.

 Silver wings shining in the sunlight

Roaring engines headed somewhere in flight

They’re taking you away, leaving me lonely

Silver wings slowly fading out of sight

“Don’t leave me,” I cried

Don’t take that airplane ride

But you locked me out of your mind

Left me standing here behind

3) Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote many famous songs that were big hits for the likes of the Everly Brothers, Carl Smith, Jimmie Dickens and countless others. While “Bye Bye Love” surely is their best-remembered song, I suspect that “Rocky Top” may be their second most famous song. The bluegrass duo of Sonny & Bobby Osborne got the song up to #33 on Billboard’s country chart in 1968 and Lynn Anderson got it to #17 in 1975 but that is it as far as chart success is concerned. The song ’s fame has spread far and wide beyond its limited chart placements it is an official Tennessee State Song, it is the University of Tennessee’s unofficial fight song, and has been recorded hundreds of times. The progressive bluegrass duo of Doug Dillard & Gene Clark (with Donna Washburn on vocals) issued the song in 1969, and that remains my favorite version of the song. Artists as diverse as Phish, Buck Owens, and Conway Twitty have recorded the song. Everybody knows the song and everybody sings along whenever the song is played

 Rocky Top you’ll always be

Home Sweet Home to me

Good ol’ Rocky Top

Rocky Top Tennessee

Rocky Top Tennessee

4) Bob Luman’s 1969 recording of “Come On Home And Sing The Blues To Daddy” probably was a regional hit in the southern states, reaching #24 on Billboard’s country charts (it reached #13 on Record World). Written by Ray Corbin, Luman’s record was featured in heavy rotation as a oldie when I returned to the US in August 1971; during its chart run WHOO DJ Clay Daniels told me that it often was the most requested song on the station and I know from personal experience that nearly every county cover band in Central Florida kept it in their playlist for a good decade after the song’s chart run.

Charley Pride, Wynn Stewart, Waylon Jennings and Bobby Bare recorded the song as an album track (so did many others) and I have heard Waylon and Bare perform it on stage.

 I hear say your new romance has faded

Just the way ours did some time ago

I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve waited

For you to tell me that you’ve missed me so

Come on home and sing the blues to daddy

If things don’t work out the way you planned

Come on home and sing the blues to daddy

Tell it all to one who understands

Just like a child that’s found a brand new plaything

Each one is more fun than those before

But there’s a faithful one that’s always waiting

To be picked up and kicked around some more

5) Nobody much remembers Pat Daisy, and RCA artist who got lost in the shuffle at RCA, but her recording of “Everybody’s Reaching Out for Someone” reached #20 on the Billboard country chart in 1972 (it reached #13 on Record World). Written by legendary songwriter Dickey Lee, the song reached #1 on the WHOO and WSUN Countdowns and I suspect that the tale for both Luman’s song and Daisy’s song is that either a station played the song and played it a lot, or simply never added the song at all (or perhaps added a different recording of the song). Whatever the case, the song was recorded by numerous artists including Lynn Anderson, Brenda Lee, Dickey Lee and Kitty Wells

Everybody’s reaching out for someone

Everybody’s knocking at some door

And long before I ever found you

You’re the one that I was reaching for

 

Just like the trees along the river bend

Lift up the branches to the sun above

We spent our lifetimes reaching for a friend

Cause everybody reach someone to love

 

And everybody’s reaching out …

Interestingly enough the song was revived in 1993 when the Cox Family recorded the song as the title cut for their first album on Rounder. The album was produced by Alison Krauss, and through their efforts, the song made its way into the bluegrass repertoire, where it is occasionally heard to this day.

6) Until “Harper Valley PTA” was released on August 24, 1968, Tom T Hall’s biggest copyright was a song that you may have never heard. By 1968 Tom had written a number a number of hits for other artists, including Johnny Wright’s #1 country hit “Hello Vietnam”, and had written a couple of minor hits for himself. “Hello Vietnam” received no pop airplay and sales of county singles in that era could be 50,000 copies.

On September 25, 1965, The Statler Brothers released a Tom T. Hall song as the B side of their debut single for Columbia. The single, “Flowers On The Wall” went #2 country, #4 pop and #1 in Canada, selling nearly a million copies in the process. The album Flowers On The Wall also sold well and for each 45 or album sold, Tom T Hall picked up a songwriting royalty. The song “Billy Christian” did not receive much airplay (I heard it a few times on WCMS) but I’m sure it helped keep the wolves away from Tom T’s door

It’s a pretty good song and is (or has been) available in a digital format

 If you’re listenin’ Billy Christian come on home

Are you listening Billy Christian if you are then go on home

Everything is like you left it she spends all the time alone

All that music never thrills her like it did when you were there

 

Go on home Billy Christian if you care

What a team they were together Billy Christian and his wife

People loved to hear them singin’ that was their success in life

But the eyes of Billy Christian were the wild and wandering kind

 

Now Billy’s wife sings solo all the time

Are you listening Billy Christian…

All the fellows tried to date me but she never blinked an eye

Every night she sings her same sad song and cries

 

Now where is Billy Christian does he ever hear the song

Does Billy Christian know he’s welcome home

Are you listening Billy Christian…

Go on home Billy Christian if you care

Classic Rewind: Buck Owens ft Ray Charles – ‘Crying Time’

Album Review: Buck Owens – ‘The Complete Capitol Singles 1967-1970’

Stereo recording technology has been around since the early 1950s, although it came into general use in recording music albums around 1959. For the first decade or so thereafter, albums were issued in both stereophonic and monaural versions, with the stereo version costing about $1.00 more. By 1968 US record labels were no longer issuing separate versions, as turntables had begun featuring lighter “stereo-compatible” styluses and tone arms that could play stereo records in monaural without groove damage to the record.

Pop singles were another matter as 45 rpm records remained available only in monaural until the end of the 1960s when some labels began issuing 45 rpm in stereo. Why the delay in making singles available in stereo sound?

Well, as Buck Owens himself said:

“The reason my Capitol records sounded the way they did—real heavy on the treble—was because I knew most people were going to be listening to ’em on their AM car radios. At the time, nobody else was doing anything like that, but it just seemed like common sense to me. And it was one more reason that you knew it was a Buck Owens record as soon as it came on the radio—because it just didn’t sound like those other records…”

Buck was right – much of the music listening, done by youthful listeners, was done in automobiles over AM radios. AM – FM radios would not become standard equipment in automobiles until the mid-1970s. While FM radio existed during the 1960s, most FM stations played classical music.

Whether you are a fan of country, Motown or pop music as it was played and heard before 1970, you likely have complained that the music available on stereo albums doesn’t sound like it did on your car radio. This is true whether due to the way the mono and stereo was mixed, or the fact that many songs were recorded separately for release on stereo (Motown fans and fans of the Mama & Papas have been lamenting this for years),

With The Complete Capitol Singles (1967-1970) Omnivore has made available the Buck Owens mono singles for the first time in ages. Comprising the A&B sides of Buck’s singles, Omnivore has put together a two-disc set of 36 Buck Owens songs. Disc one is entirely monaural mixes but by the time most of the songs on disc two were issued, Capitol was issuing stereo 45 rpm singles.

Unlike jazz artists who often re-recorded their tracks for stereo release (June Christy’s Cool is a notable example), for the most part, country artists did not record separate stereo and mono tracks. The sound difference is in the mixing and the fact that sometimes certain instruments get lost in the monaural mix (usually the lower pitched instruments). In the case of Buck Owens, the treble is brighter and sometimes the steel guitar seems mixed more prominently up front.

As far as I can tell the only track which seems to have been modified significantly in the stereo version is “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone” which had some annoying clapping sounds and other overdubs applied. Also, the distortion guitar on “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” seems less pronounced than on the stereo albums, but I could be mistaken about that. There is one live track on the album “Johnny B. Goode” – my Dad and I were in the audience (it was his 44th birthday) and if you listen very carefully you might hear Dad and I applauding!

This is not quite Buck Owens at his peak (none of his very biggest hits are here) as Buck was beginning to be bumped off the mountaintop and was getting a bit more experimental in an effort to stay current. Also, Steel wizard Tom Brumley left the group in late 1968 to be replaced, briefly, by Jay Dee Maness. Maness was a fine steel player but his sound is very different than that of Tom Brumley

Especially noteworthy are “I’ve Got You On My Mind Again” which was the first Buck Owens single to feature strings and background voices, and “Tall Dark Stranger” which is unlike anything else Owens recorded.

The sound on this set is fabulous and I really enjoyed Disc One which transported me back to my teen-aged years listening to these songs on the radio. Disc Two documents Buck’s slow decline, and also gathers his duets with Susan Raye.

This isn’t where I would start my Buck Owens collection (Rhino’s fabulous box set from 1992, The Buck Owens Collection 1959-1990, is where I would start, although there are other good sets available, including a pair of two-disc sets by Omnivore Records in Buck ‘Em ! – Volume One and Buck ‘Em ! Volume Two) but this is a nice addition to any collection, collecting some otherwise unavailable material

Grade A      

DISC ONE

01 Sam’s Place

02 Don’t Ever Tell Me Goodbye

03 Your Tender Loving Care

04 What A Liar I Am

05 It Takes People Like You [To Make People Like Me]

06 You Left Her Lonely Too Long

07 How Long Will My Baby Be Gone

08 Everybody Needs Somebody

09 Sweet Rosie Jones

10 Happy Times Are Here Again

11 Let The World Keep On A Turnin’ (w/Buddy Alan)

12 I’ll Love You Forever And Ever (w/Buddy Alan)

13 I’ve Got You On My Mind Again

14 That’s All Right With Me [If It’s All Right With You]

15 Christmas Shopping

16 One Of Everything You Got

17 Things I Saw Happening At The Fountain On The Plaza

18 Turkish Holiday

DISC TWO

01 Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass

02 There’s Gotta Be Some Changes Made

03 Johnny B. Goode [Live 03-09-1969]

04 Maybe If I Close My Eyes [It’ll Go Away]

05 Tall Dark Stranger

06 Sing That Kind Of Song

07 Big In Vegas

08 White Satin Bed

09 We’re Gonna Get Together (with Susan Raye)

10 Everybody Needs Somebody (with Susan Raye)

11 Togetherness (with Susan Raye)

12 Fallin’ For You (with Susan Raye)

13 The Kansas City Song

14 I’d Love To Be Your Man

15 The Great White Horse (with Susan Raye)

16 Your Tender Loving Care (with Susan Raye)

17 I Wouldn’t Live In New York City

18 No Milk And Honey In Baltimore

All tracks on Disc 1, and Tracks 1–2 on Disc 2 are Mono Single Versions. After “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” all US singles for Buck were issued in stereo. Although British and German releases were still mostly monaural.

Album Review: Bobbie Cryner – ‘Bobbie Cryner’

The early 1990s saw all the major country labels scrambling to find new talent, and a number of fine artists got lost in the mix. Among them was Bobbie Cryner, a singer songwriter in her early 30s with a velvety voice and a bluesy edge, who was signed to Epic Records in 1993. Sadly, none of her three singles for the label peaked higher than the 60s on Billboard.

Her debut single, the self-written ‘Daddy Laid The Blues On Me’, was perhaps a little too bluesy for the neotraditional sounds in vogue, but it is a great record. The pacy tune, possibly autobiographical, relates the tale of a teenage lover turned walkaway father and the effects on his child:

Way back in their younger days, when they were running wild,
My Daddy had a dream, and Mama had a child
He said: “Girl you can’t be tying me down, I’m only
seventeen
And a man’s gotta get around, if you know what I
mean.”
Then my Mama said: “Go on” as she stood and cried
And my Daddy said:”I’m gone, I gotta live my life”

And I was born one summer night,
When the world loved Patsy Cline.
I was raised by the tracks
In a tar-paper shack
On the Georgia Alabama line
Mama taught me how to play and sing
And we headed up to Tennessee
Mama sold my soul on country, rock and roll
But Daddy laid the blues on me.

Well I signed that dotted line
I climbed my way to being a star
When I ran across my Daddy in a downtown Tallahassee bar
He said “Girl there ain’t no life on the road
You’d better come with me.”
I said “Dad, I gotta get around if you know what I
mean”
Well my Daddy said “Come on” with a tear in his eye
I said: “Sorry Daddy, I’m gone
I gotta live my life”

Some great piano and harmonica backs Bobbie’s strong vocals.

The follow up, ‘He Feels Guilty’ is a sultry mid-paced ballad written by Verlon Thompson and Tommy Polk about a relationship growing cold, and foundering under suspicion of infidelity.
The last single, my favorite of the three, is ‘You Could Steal Me’, an exquisitely beautiful ballad which Bobbie wrote with Jesse Hunter. A subtle cello backs Bobbie’s unhappy trophy wife longing for love.

She cowrote ‘I’m Through Waitin’ On You’ with Tim Nichols and Zack Turner, in which her character displays more agency and attitude telling an unsatisfactory spouse he needs to do his share:

We both work hard bringin’ home the bacon
You want me to cook it whileyou sit there waitin’
Well, those days are over
Round here things are gonna change
I still love you but I didn’t take you to raise

I’ve waited tables till I ain’t able
I’ve taken orders till I’ve turned blue
From now on baby
You can make your own gravy
Cause I’m through waitin’ on you

Give you an inch and you think you’re a ruler
My feet are hurtin’ and I won’t stand for what you’re doing

The other songs written by Bobbie are solo compositions. My favorite is the devastating ballad ‘I Think It’s Over Now’, in which she gently but firmly calls the bluff of the man who is juggling two loves:

You don’t have you say you love me
If you think there’s any doubt
But if you have to think it over
Well, I think it’s over now

Also excellent is the downbeat ‘Leavin’ Houston Blues’, a closely observed about a woman packing up her things and planning on leaving town post-divorce, with some lovely fiddle. A simple acoustic guitar leads into ‘This Heart Speaks For Itself’, a gently delivered ballad about heartbreak which betrays itself.

‘Too Many Tears Too Late’, written by Carl Jackson and Jim Weatherly, is a lovely sad country ballad in which the man who broke her heart is back again, but

There’s no way we can turn back time
I don’t want to hear you say how much you love me
Now that I’ve cried all my love for you away

Here is some gorgeous fiddle and steel on this.

Another outstanding traditional country ballad is ‘The One I Love The Most’, an agonised cheating song written by Gene Dobbins, Michael Huffman and Bob Morrison. The protagonist is torn between loyalty and passion, and we are left to wonder what her final choice will be:

There’s a letter in my pocket I don’t know where to send
Telling someone that I love I won’t be back again
But who will I address it to
Who’ll read these lines I wrote?
The one I’ve loved the longest
Or the one I love the most?

One has stood beside me in the good times and the bad
One has brought out feelings I never knew I had

One’s a burning ember, the other’s fire and smoke
One I’ve loved the longest and the one I love the most

You can’t stand at a crossroads
You’ve got to move along
I know either way I turn I’ll do someone wrong
So who do I hold on to and who do I let go?
The one I’ve loved the longest or the one I love the most?

Dwight Yoakam duets with Bobbie on a wonderfully authentic Bakersfield style cover of the Buck Owens classic ‘I Don’t Care’.

Beautiful vocals, excellent songwriting and tasteful production combine to make this a favorite album of mine, which I have loved for years. It is available on iTunes, and I highly recommend it.

Grade: A+

Week ending 4/7/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: How Long Will My Baby Be Gone — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1978: Ready For The Times to Get Better — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1988: Love Will Find Its Way To You — Reba McEntire (MCA)

1998: Perfect Love — Trisha Yearwood (MCA)

2008: Small Town Southern Man — Alan Jackson (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Most People Are Good — Luke Bryan (Capitol Nashville) 

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘That’s Why I Sing This Way’

By the end of the 90s, Daryle’s hits had dried up at radio as the industry moved away from his pure country sound, and Giant decided to drop him from the label. He moved to independent label Koch Records, and released Now And Again, an album which mixed his Giant hits with a handful of new songs (including two of his own co-writes, the title track and ‘I’ve Thought Of Everything’, a very good mournful ballad which is worth downloading).

2002 saw Daryle pay tribute to his roots with a set of mainly classic country covers. Not everyone likes this kind of project, but if nothing else it proves definitively that Daryle was a great country singer who would have been an enormous star had he been born a few decades earlier.

Two singles were released, both peaking in the 40s. The title track was the album’s sole new song, and was written by the great Max D Barnes. Set to a cheerful mid-tempo, the tongue-in-cheek song recalls a childhood devotion to country music:

My mama used to tell me
“Son, you better get your work done
Your Daddy’s coming home at five
And if you ain’t all through with the chores you gotta do
Boy, I’m gonna tan you alive”

I was glued to the radio, listening to my hero
Singing them sad old songs
Singing them sadder than a one car funeral
Nobody sings like Jones

I’d take that old kitchen broom up to my room
And I’d play it like an old guitar
Or sit out on the porch tryin’ to sing like George
Dreaming of becoming a star

Well, things I never did when I was just a kid
Made me what I am today
You see, Mama used to whoop me with a George Jones album
That’s why I sing this way

‘I’d Love To Lay You Down’, Daryle’s last ever charting single, is a sensual love song to a wife, which is a cover of a Conway Twitty hit.

George Jones, namechecked in the title track, also receives tribute in the form of a cover of, not one of his heartbreak classics, but his trustingly romantic ‘Walk Through This World With Me’, a hit in 1967. The arrangement is gorgeous, with piano, steel and fiddle prominent, and Jones himself sings harmony.

Merle Haggard makes a guest appearance on his ‘Make Up And Faded Blue Jeans’, in the form of a couple of lines near the end. Johnny Paycheck provides a similar cameo on one of the highlights, an intense version of ‘Old Violin’; the fiddle on this is suitably beautiful.

John Wesley Ryles is one of the most ubiquitous of backing singers in Nashville, but he started out as an artist in his own right, with the song ‘Kay’, a top 10 hit in 1968, when he was only 17 years old. Daryle’s version of this fine song about the man left behind to a life driving a cab, when his sweetheart makes it big in country music is excellent, and Ryles adds harmonies.

Rhonda Vincent joins Daryle on a superb version of one of my favorite classic country duets, ‘After The Fire Is Gone’. The final guest, Dwight Yoakam, plays the part of Don Rich on the Buck Owens classic ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here Again’. Daryle also covers Buck’s Hank-Cochran-penned hit ‘A-11’ in authentic style. I think Darrin Vincent may be among the backing vocalists here.

A measured version of ‘Long Black Veil’, a mournful ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’ and ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)’ are all also highlights.

Grade: A

This album set the tone for the remainder of Daryle’s career, focussing on great traditional style country music. We have reviewed all his subsequent albums.

Johnny Cash: A Look Back

We lost Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash within months of each other back in 2003, so 2018 marks a very sad 15th-anniversary farewell to the “Man In Black”.

The release last year of UNEARTHED, a nine album 180 gram vinyl box set (originally released on CD two months after his death) of unreleased tracks recorded by Rick Rubin, (it features some interesting pairings such as Fiona Apple providing guest vocals on Cat Stevens’ “Father & Son,” and the late Joe Strummer’s duets with Cash on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”) provides us with a excuse to take another look back at his career.

While modern country radio has no use for the likes of Johnny Cash, preferring more commercial fodder, other sections of the music industry have kept his music alive, whether on Willie’s Roadhouse (Sirius XM Radio) or through the musical press. Cover bands continue to play his music and while younger so-called country singers play music that bears little connection to country music, his music remains a staple of Roots-Rock, Texas Red-Dirt and Bluegrass performers

Make no mistake about it: Johnny Cash was a huge commercial success, despite his own apparent lack of concern about how commercial his music was at any given moment–Cash’s inquisitive artistry meant that he flitted from realm to realm, sometimes touching down in areas with limited commercial appeal.

Cash had 24 songs reach #1 on the Billboard, Cashbox or Record World country charts (often all three), but unlike more chart-oriented artists including Webb Pierce, Buck Owens, Sonny James, Alabama, Conway Twitty or George Strait, Cash never ran off a long string of consecutive #1s, with his longest streak being four during 1968 when “Roseanna’s Going Wild,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “A Boy Named Sue,” and his iconic “Folsom Prison Blues” all reached the top of one of the charts.

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Legends (and others) lost in 2017

For one who grew up on the country music of the period (1960-1975) the last few years have been tough as we have seen many legendary figures come to the end of the road. 2017 was no exception. Let’s take a look back with a few words about the various stars that were dimmed in 2017. I should note that I’ve included a few non-country personal favorites.

Junior Barber
, a fantastic dobro player died at the age of 73. He worked with the Gibson Brothers bluegrass for seven years and his son Mike has played bass for the Gibson Brothers for the last twenty-five years.

Chuck Berr
y, 90, was a pioneer of rock ‘n roll and while many would not regard him as country, Buck Owens thought that Berry wrote great country songs, and the bluegrass duo of Jim & Jesse McReynolds recorded an entire album of his songs (Chuck wrote the liner notes) so who am I to disagree with them?

Sonny Burgess, 88, rockabilly pioneer and early Sun Records artist. There is a younger country artist with the name Sonny Burgess, whom I don’t believe is related. This guy was a great on-stage performer.

Glen Campbell
, 81, singer and guitarist who first came to my attention as a session musician for Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys (with whom he sometimes toured). Glen, who died after a long bout with Alzheimer’s, could play anything with strings and could sing anything. My favorite tracks by him include “Galveston”, “Wichita Lineman”, “Wherefore and Why” and “I’m Gonna Love You”. Glen hosted a television show, appeared in movies and was simply one of the giants of the industry.

Antoine “Fats” Domino, 89, wasn’t a country singer but his music was infectious fun and enjoyed across the board. His hits were too numerous to list and many of them were covered by country singers.

Dave Evans, 65, had one of the best voices in bluegrass music being a great tenor singer, as well as being a good banjo player. It would be difficult to find another singer who sang with as much heart as Dave Evans.

Troy Gentry, 50, of Montgomery Gentry duo, died in a helicopter crash in Medford, New Jersey. I wasn’t a big Montgomery Gentry fan, but they had some good numbers and performed with enthusiasm.

Michael Johnson, 72, singer and guitarist whose country hits included “Give Me Wings” and “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder”. Michael was a terrific acoustic guitar player and had a major pop/adult contemporary hit with “Bluer Than Blue”.

Pete Kuykendall, 79, banjo champion and editor and publisher of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. I have subscribed to Bluegrass Unlimited for many years and think it is the finest magazine in the world of music.

Miggie Lewis
, 91 was a part of the first family of bluegrass gospel, the Lewis Family. The group disbanded years ago but youngest brother “Little” Roy Lewis a dynamic banjo player, comic and personality who still plays the bluegrass festival circuit.

Sam Lovullo, 88, was the producer and casting director of the long-running Hee Haw TV series (1969-1992). If he was only remembered for Hee Haw that would be sufficient legacy, but his son Torey Lovullo played major league baseball for eight years and then became a major league manager (he was the National League Manager of The Year for 2017). I am not ashamed to admit that I watched Hee Haw every chance I had, and that I know dozens of verses to “Pffffft, You Were Gone”.

Geoff Mack, 94, composer of the tongue-twisting and widely recorded “I’ve Been Everywhere,” in his native Australia. The lyrics familiar to American listeners were not the original lyrics, but a rewritten version to reflect North American place names.

Kevin Mahogany, 59 was a brilliant jazz baritone singer. He appeared and performed in Robert Altman’s 1996 movie, Kansas City.

Jo Walker Meador, 93, as executive director built the Country Music Association from a tiny, ragged startup into one of the nation’s most visible and successful trade organizations. Jo is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and I can make a pretty good case for her being one of the two or three most important women in the history of country music.

D.L. Menard, 85, singer and songwriter widely known as the “Cajun Hank Williams” and most celebrated for his 1962 recording of “La Porte en Arriere,”. He died in his native Louisiana.

Tom Paley
died in England at the age of 89. Tom was a founding member (along with Mike Seeger and John Cohen) of the New Lost City Ramblers, a group that did much to further the acceptance of bluegrass among folk audiences. I saw them once in 1962 and they were terrific.

Leon Rhodes, 85, was the lead guitarist for Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours and later played in the Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw staff bands. He was also a successful session musician.

Kayton Roberts
, 83, steel guitarist in Hank Snow’s Rainbow Ranch Boys band from 1968 to 1999. His son Louie Roberts also had a career in country music.

Curley Seckler who died in late December at the age of 98, was one of the last links to the first generation of bluegrass musicians, having performed with Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. Curley was old enough to remember Jimmie Rodgers and the Original Carter family being played on the radio. He also appeared on several segments of the Marty Stuart Show on RFD.

There was nothing country about Keely Smith, 89, but she was a fine singer with a terrific comedic touch. Her act with ex-husband Louis Prima played to packed houses in Las Vegas for the better part of a decade.

Tammy Sullivan died at the much too young age of 52, of cancer. Tammy was a marvelous singer best known for her work with the Sullivan Family, a bluegrass gospel band.

Wendy Thatcher, 69, was a formidable singer who is best remembered for her years with Eddie Adcock’s various bands.

Mel Tillis, 85, songwriter, singer, actor, comedian and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, died in Ocala, Florida. Mel first came to prominence as a songwriter, with early efforts becoming hits for the likes of Webb Pierce and Ray Price during the early 1960s. It would be a decade before his career as a performer went into overdrive, but when it did he racked up many hits and won the CMA Entertainer of the Year Award. I liked many of his songs but my favorite is “Would You Want The World To End (Not Loving Me)”. I saw Mel live on several occasions.

Don Warden, 87, was a former steel guitar player in Porter Wagoner’s band and subsequently Dolly Parton’s manager. You can sometimes catch Don in RFD’s reruns of the Porter Wagoner Show.

Don Williams, 78, was a singer and songwriter who regularly topped the country charts during the 1970s and ’80s. Starting out with the folk-country Pozo Seco Singers, Don’s solo career made him an international star and landed him in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Norro Wilson, 79, producer, songwriter and former recording artist, whose hit compositions included George Jones’ “The Grand Tour” and Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl,” died in Nashville.

Bob Wooton
, 75, Johnny Cash’s lead guitar player from 1968 until Cash’s retirement in 1997, died in Gallatin, Tennessee. Bob was the replacement for Luther Perkins.

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Next In Line’

1968 was the year that country audiences began to get over their skepticism about Conway Twitty’s authenticity and accept him as a bonafide country artist. He enjoyed his first Top 5 hit that year with “The Image of Me” (from the album Here’s Conway Twitty & His Lonely Blue Boys). And shortly thereafter, “Next In Line” hit #1, becoming the first of his 44 #1 Billboard country hits.

“Next In Line”, the only single from the album that shares its name, was written by Wayne Kemp and Curtis Wayne, and produced by Owen Bradley. At this stage of his career, Conway was still recording hardcore country. The song tells the story of unrequited love as the narrator admires from afar his love interest, who is drowning her sorrows over a breakup. He keeps feeding the jukebox to keep her happy and waits for the day that she will “give up the music and the wine” and give him a chance. This was an important record for Conway, although it would eventually be overshadowed by the many hits that followed it.

As we’ve come to expect from albums released in the 1960s, there are plenty of remakes of songs that had been recently popularized by other artists. 1968 was a particularly good year for country music; among the songs that Twitty covers are Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and “I Started Loving You Again”, Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, and Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”, which works surprisingly well from the male perspective. The two Haggard tunes are well done, although “Mama Tried” lacks the original’s signature Telecaster licks. “Folsom Prison Blues”, however, was a bit of a disappointment because, let’s face it, no one can sing that song the way Johnny Cash did.

“Ain’t It Sad to Stand and Watch Love Die” is a song I’d never heard before. It has a Johnny Cash-type vibe to it and quite liked it. It is a bit of a departure for Conway, as it lacks the pedal steel that was so prominent on most of his country recordings up to this point. The steel is back, front and center on “The Things I Lost in You”. The album closer “I’m Checking Out” has a Bakersfield feel to it and sounds like something Buck Owens might have recorded.

Like Conway’s other early Decca albums this is a very strong collection that traditional country fans will want to sample. It’s available on a 2-for-1 disc with Twitty’s next Decca LP Darling, You Know I Wouldn’t Lie.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Conway Twitty Sings

Conway Twitty’s first country album was released by Decca in 1966. It shared its title with his first rock-and-roll album that had come out seven years earlier. Unlike other rock-and-roll artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, none of Conway’s rock records had crossed over to the country charts. Although he had grown up listening to country and professed that it was his first musical love, he was initially viewed by many in the country music community with skepticism and suspicion. Later in his career he would introduce influences from pop and R&B into his music, but at this early stage he and producer Owen Bradley bent over backwards to establish his country credibility. This is a hardcore, steel guitar drenched country album from start to finish, that largely eschews the Nashville Sound trappings that were prevalent in the 60s. The vocal choruses are kept to a minimum. Stylistically, the album reminds me of the music that Connie Smith and Charley Pride were making at the time over at RCA.

Conway Twitty Sings contains Conway’s first charted country hit, “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, written by Liz Anderson. A mid tempo number with a rich melody and plenty of pedal steel, this would probably have been a bigger hit had it been released a few years later. It charted at a modest #18, but that was enough to give Conway a toehold on the country market. There were no further singles released from the album and it would be another two years and five more singles before Conway reached the Top 20 again (with 1968’s “The Image of Me”, which would peak at #5).

The rest of the album follows the standard 1960s practice of covering other artists’ recent hits. The Gordon Lightfoot-penned “Ribbon of Darkness” had been a #1 hit a year earlier for Marty Robbins — and would be a hit again in 1969 for Connie Smith. Twitty’s version is too reminiscent of the original Robbins recording; even some of Conway’s enunciations sound like he was channeling Marty. I was a little disappointed in this one; nor did I care for his take on the Johnny Horton (and 20 years later, Dwight Yoakam) hit “Honky Tonk Man”. One would think that this rockabilly number — the only one of its kind on the album — would be tailor-made for Conway Twitty, but this version just doesn’t work.

The rest of the album, however, is stellar and his versions of these songs are all at least equal to the original artists’ renditions — from the Curly Putman-penned Porter Wagoner hit “Green, Green Grass of Home” and Bill Anderson’s “Tip of My Fingers” to “Truck Driven’ Man” which had been a hit for Terry Fell in 1954. A young Buck Owens had sung harmony on the Fell recording and Buck later went on to record “Together Forever”, which Conway also covers on this album.

My favorite track is the country weeper “I’ll Have Another Cup of Coffee (Then I’ll Go)”, in which the protagonist is trying to prolong a visit with his soon to be ex-wife and children. I wasn’t previously familiar with the one but it was a Top 5 hit for Claude Gray in 1961.

Conway Twitty Sings is not one Twitty’s best remembered works, nor is it essential listening. It provides only a glimpse of what Conway would go on to become, but the material is exceptionally strong and it’s always interesting to look back at a legend at the very beginning of his or her career. It is available on a 2-for-1 CD along with his next Decca LP Look Into My Teardrops. These sound like needle-drop recordings; the original masters may have been destroyed in the infamous Universal fire, but the sound quality, while not stellar, is quite adequate.

Grade: A

Album Review: Kenny Rogers and Dottie West – ‘Classics’

Male-female duets still exist today, although usually in the form of acts that always (or nearly always) perform as duets. Acts that normally perform as solo acts may combine for a song or two (“Special Events”), but rarely do they issue albums of duets

The album Classics, released in 1979, was the second (and final) album of duets released by the unlikely pairing of Kenny Rogers and Dottie West. Kenny, of course was a country & pop superstar but Dottie West was a veteran second-tier country artist, whose 1978 album with Kenny (Every Time Two Fools Collide) would trigger a brief renaissance on the United Artists/Liberty label.

I am not sure why this particular pairing came about, although I have some suspicions. United Artists was not a major player in country music and did not have a deep roster of female artists. Billie Jo Spears, arguably the leading female country singer on the label, did not have a voice that would blend well with Kenny’s voice.

The recently signed Dottie West, on the other hand, had a track record of being able to blend and harmonize with male singers. Her track record at RCA had included successful recordings with such diverse singers as Jim Reeves, Don Gibson and Jimmy Dean. Dottie’s first album and the second album, released on the heels of the first duet album, did not produce any top fifteen hits but the first duet album did produce a #1 and a #2 single.

That brings us to this album, a collection of some county songs, some borderline pop-country-easy listening songs and some pop songs. Produced by Larry Butler, the album was not quite as successful as its predecessor duet album, but still sold over two million copies.

The album opens up with “All I Ever Need Is You”, a top ten pop hit and #1 Adult Contemporary hit for Sonny & Cher and a top twenty county hit for Ray Sanders, both versions in 1971. This version would rise to #1 on the country chart. While not as country as the Sanders version (still my favorite), it is not as pop as the Sonny & Cher versions. Both steel guitar (by Pete Drake) and string arrangements are featured in the arrangement. The song works well as a duet.

Sometimes when I’m down and all alone
Just like a child without a home
The love you give me keeps me hangin’ on
Oh honey, all I ever need is you

You’re my first love, you’re my last
You’re my future, you’re my past
And loving you is all I ask, honey
All I ever need is you

The Wynette, Richey, Sherrill composition “ ‘Til I Can Make It On My Own” is up next. The song was a #1 country hit for Tammy Wynette in 1976. The song works as a duet but is in a key where Kenny seems to be struggling to hit some of the notes.

“Just The Way You Are” was a #3 Billboard / #2 Cashbox top ten pop hit for writer Billy Joel in 1977. The arrangement of this song reeks of cocktail lounge balladry. I’d rather hear Billy Joel perform this song and I am no fan of his music.

Randy Goodrum penned “You Needed Me”. Goodrum would co-produce Dottie’s 1979 album Special Delivery and write six of the songs on that album. I think that this song, as recorded by Anne Murray (#1 pop / #4 country), , was his biggest hit as a songwriter. The arrangement on this one is definitely easy listening.

“(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” was made famous by B.J. Thomas, winning the 1976 Grammy Award for Best Country Song. The song’s writers, Larry Butler and Chips Moman definitely cleared the bases with this song as it went to #1 on the country, pop and A/C charts in the US, nearly duplicating that success in Canada. Kenny & Dottie do a nice job with the song although the arrangement can be best described as ‘countrypolitan’. Steve Glassmeyer is featured on soprano sax.

It’s lonely out tonight
And the feelin’ just got right for a brand new love song
Somebody done somebody wrong song

Hey, wontcha play another somebody done somebody wrong song
And make me feel at home while I miss my baby, while I miss my baby
So please play for me a sad melody
So sad that it makes everybody cry-why-why-why
A real hurtin’ song about a love that’s gone wrong
Cause I don’t want to cry all alone

There is no questioning the country credentials of the next song, “Together Again” written by the great Buck Owens. Although initially released as the B side of Buck’s 1964 single “My Heart Skips A Beat”, most disc jockeys played both sides of the record resulting in both songs reaching #1, although in different weeks.

Unfortunately, the song is given an easy listening arrangement with strings and keyboards and not a trace of a steel guitar in the arrangement. There is a key shift whenever Kenny takes over from Dottie in singing a verse. I liked Dottie’s vocal on the song, Kenny’s not so much. The net effect is really disappointing.

Paul Craft was a successful songwriter who penned “Midnight Flyer”. The song is probably best remembered for Eagles recording of the song, although the song entered the realm of bluegrass music
through the Osborne Brothers terrific single recording of the song in 1973. Producer Butler gives the song the (fairly) acoustic arrangement the song demands. Kenny & Dottie acquit themselves well on this song.

Oo, Midnight Flyer
Engineer, won’t you let your whistle moan?
Oo, Midnight Flyer
I paid my dues and I feel like trav’lin’ on

A runaway team of horses ain’t enough to make me stay
So throw your rope on another man
And pull him down your way
Make him into someone who can take the place of me
Make him every kind of fool you wanted me to be

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were a highly successful songwriting team and Phil Spector was a successful producer and occasional songwriter best known for his ‘wall of sound’ production style. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” was certainly the biggest hit that the Righteous Brothers would ever have, and possibly the most successful song from the Mann-Weil songwriting team. After hearing the Righteous Brother’s version it is difficult to accept any of the cover versions, of which there have been many. Kenny & Dottie do a decent job with the song, which is given a somewhat subdued ‘wall of sound’ production, but it pales in comparison to the original.

“Let It Be Me” is a popular song originally published in French in 1955 as “Je t’appartiens”. Written by Gilbert Becaud & Pierre Delanoe, the song became a worldwide hit when Manny Curtis appended English lyrics to the song. The Everly Brothers (#7 pop – 1960) and a duet by Betty Everett and Jerry Butler (#5 pop – 1964) cemented the song’s popularity in the English speaking world. In 1969 Glen Campbell and Bobbie Gentry had a pop and country hit with the song. Kenny and Dottie sing the song quite well – I think Kenny’s best vocals on this album are to be found on this song. The song is not country, the arrangement is very orchestral, but the net effect is very nice.

Like most of Kenny’s albums, this is essentially a pop album with a nod toward country music. There would be no more duet albums by this pair and after a brief resurgence in 1979 through early 1981, Dottie’s solo career would fade away (not surprisingly as Dottie would turn 50 in 1982). The younger Rogers (b. 1938) would continue to have varying degrees through the end of the 1980s, followed by a long coda.

I like parts of this album, but there are tracks I tend to skip over – I give it a C+

Album Review: Nathan Carter: ‘Celtic Roots (Live)’

For whatever reason, I was unable to obtain a digital copy of the album Where I Wanna Be. Instead, Amazon continuously linked me to the above-referenced album, which contains the song “Where I Wanna Be”, so I went ahead and purchased the digital download.

I will say that this 2017 release is not exactly a country album, but it is a good value for money with 18 tracks of mostly Celtic music, well performed. I happen to be a huge fan of traditional Irish folk music with a large collection of the stuff. This album apparently is of a performance for public television.

Recorded in Ireland, this album presents an interesting mix of classic of Irish folk songs, Celtic ballads, some country-flavored ballads and some of his hits. Nathan is joined by his stage band, a string quartette, a choral group and also by a former member of the group Celtic Woman, Chloe Agnew.

The album opens up with “Loch Lomond”, a very familiar Scottish tune given the full Scottish treatment with bagpipes and some sort of orchestral backing and a modern rhythm track. Nathan slows the song down considerably at the start of the vocal but picks up the tempo on the second verse. Nathan presents a very interesting treatment of a song that I’ve heard countless times before, including in many Hollywood movies.

Next up is “Where I Wanna Be”, a country single from 2013, written by Carter, that is simultaneously both country and Irish.

This hotel is just like yesterday’s,

And the city has no name.

It just stands there in the Grey haze,

And my room is the same.
 

Well I’m gonna call that number,

So far across the sea.

I wish I was in Ireland,

That’s where I wanna be,

That’s where I wanna be.

This is followed by “Caledonia” an Irish folk song (not the 1940s jump hit by Louis Jordan and/or Woody Herman. This lovely ballad was released as a single in 2013.

“Banks of Roses” is a very Celtic ballad with bodhrán, fiddle, accordion, penny whistle – the sort of thing the Chieftains would play.

The medley of “Spanish Lady”, “As I Roved Out” and “The Real Auld Mountain Dew” is a reflection of the great Irish folk groups of the past two generations such as The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Maken, The Dubliners and The Dublin City Ramblers with perhaps a little more rhythm thrown in. This is a fabulous medley – even someone with two left feet such as I, feels the urge to get up and dance.

Next up is Chloe Agnew with the quiet ballad “Grace” basically accompanied by acoustic guitar and little else. This is probably the slowest song on the album.

An Irish tin whistle (or pennywhistle) opens up “Hard Times”, served up as a duet between Choe and Nathan. Most will probably be familiar with the song through Bob Dylan’s recording, but the song dates back to 19th century American writer Stephen Foster:

Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,

While we all sup sorrow with the poor;

There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;

Oh! Hard times come again no more.

Chorus:
 ‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,

Hard Times, hard times, come again no more.

Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;

Oh! Hard times come again no more

“Temple Bar” was a 2016 single for Nathan:

There’s a busker playin’ on the street
Watching all the people meet
The boys and girls are back in Dublin town
There’s young ones there from everywhere
From America to God knows where

It’s just another night in Temple Bar
So come on down, out on the town
Cause’ this is where a good time can be found
So bring along the old squeeze box, the fiddle and guitar
Let’s have a good old night in Temple Bar

For me, the only misstep on the album comes with the next song “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, a Paul Simon song that I’ve heard far too many times. Nathan sings it well but the chorus and strings are overkill – he should have given it the two minute Buck Owens treatment.

“Wagon Wheel” was a Bob Dylan song fragment that Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show completed. Nathan released it as a single in 2012. The song reached #12 on the Irish pop charts, his biggest hit. I really like this version, probably better than any other version I’ve heard aside from Jeremy McComb’s outstanding hard country version from decade ago.

This is followed by an up-tempo, virtually breathless, instrumental medley of reels.

“Jealous of The Angels” is a very slow sad ballad about the unexpected loss of a loved one. I don’t know who wrote the song, but it was originally recorded by Donna Taggart of Celtic Woman (she may have written it) and is a stunning song that Nathan Carter positively nails

I didn’t know today would be our last
Or that I’d have to say goodbye to you so fast
I’m so numb, I can’t feel anymore
Prayin’ you’d just walk back through that door
And tell me that I was only dreamin’
You’re not really gone as long as I believe

There will be another angel
Around the throne tonight
Your love lives on inside of me
And I will hold on tight
It’s not my place to question
Only God knows why
I’m just jealous of the angels
Around the throne tonight

The mood and tempo stay down with the old Irish folk song “Home to Donegal”

Fortunately the mood brightens and the tempo picks up with of the most famous of Irish folk songs, “The Irish Rover”. Usually when I hear this song the audience, the performer or both are well lubricated (and they would need to be for the lyrics to make much sense). Usually too, the audience is singing along. Many will remember the song from the Pogues, but the song is much older than that. Nathan gives it a very exuberant treatment

In the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and six,
We set sail from the Coal Quay of Cork
We were sailing away with a cargo of bricks
For the grand City Hall in New York
We’d an elegant craft, it was rigged ‘fore and aft
And how the trade winds drove her
She had twenty-three masts and she stood several blasts
And they called her the Irish Rover

There was Barney Magee from the banks of the Lee
There was Hogan from County Tyrone
There was Johnny McGurk who was scared stiff of work
And a chap from Westmeath named Malone
There was Slugger O’Toole who was drunk as a rule
And fighting Bill Tracy from Dover
And your man Mick McCann, from the banks of the Bann
Was the skipper on the Irish Rover

We had one million bags of the best Sligo rags
We had two million barrells of bone
We had three million bales of old nanny goats’ tails
We had four million barrells of stone
We had five million hogs and six million dogs
And seven million barrells of porter
We had eight million sides of old blind horses’ hides
In the hold of the Irish Rover

We had sailed seven years when the measles broke out
And our ship lost her way in a fog
And the whole of the crew was reduced down to two
‘Twas myself and the captain’s old dog
Then the ship struck a rock, oh, Lord what a shock
And nearly tumbled over
Turned nine times around then the poor old dog was drowned
I’m the last of the Irish Rover

“The Town I Loved So Well” is a slow sentimental ballad. At six plus minutes, it could drag a little but the Nathan Carter vocal carries you along.

It’s back to high gear with “South Australia”, a popular folk song found in the English, Irish and Australian musical canons. Nathan starts it slowly then kicks it up.

The album closes with “Liverpool” a 2016 single and “Good Time Girls”. The latter shares the melody and most of the lyrics of the American folk song “Buffalo Girls”

Having only heard the video clips on the MKOC blog and a few snippets on Amazon, I wasn’t what to expect. Now I know that Nathan Carter is an excellent vocalist who can put on an outstanding live show. To fans of modern country music (such as it is) the linear resemblance to American country music is remote. To those of us who grew up thinking that Haggard, Jones, Snow, Tubb, Cline and Arnold are representative of country music, the line back to the Irish folk music is short and direct. While there are only traces of classic country instrumentation, the songs and the vocals make clear that connection.

With few exceptions, I really love this album and I can live with the few tracks that I don’t love.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Nathan Carter – ‘The Way That You Love Me’

Nathan Carter, born in Liverpool to Northern Irish parents in 1990, followed a similar path to that of Lisa McHugh. He moved to Ireland on his own at just 18 with the aim of making a career in country music. His very pleasing smooth tenor voice is ideally suited to both country ballads and Irish songs, with its lovely tone and timbre.

The Way You Love Me, his second album (the first, Starting Out, was released when he was just 17), is a very assured and mature record from such a young artist. The title track is a likeable mid-tempo shuffle of a love song with a Bakersfield feel. This theme is revisited a little less successfully with a Buck Owens medley, which unfortunately ends up feeling rather karaoke; I feel tackling a single song would have worked better. Nor does he quite convince on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s ‘story song ‘Face On The Cutting Room Floor’, although there is a lovely fiddle solo.

‘After All These Years’ is a lovely ballad, a cover of a song popularised by veteran Irish country duo Foster & Allen. The song really suits Nathan’s voice. The Patty Loveless hit ‘Mr Man In The Moon’ also works very well, allowing him to soar vocally. His take on Vince Gill’s ‘I Still Believe In You’ is just gorgeous and, perhaps surprisingly, rivals the original, although the orchestral arrangement is a bit too much in the later stages.

Another nice cover is of ‘Break My Mind’, which was originally written by John D Loudermilk and had been recorded by dozens of country singers over the years, with Vern Gosdin’s version being the one I am most familiar with. Nathan’s version of the Gene Watson hit ‘Got No Reason Now for Going Home’ is also very good. ‘How Could I Love Her So Much’, a Johnny Rodriguez hit from the early 1980s, is another great song, in which the narrator has a little chat with his old flame’s new love. I also quite enjoyed a catchy version of Joe South’s ‘Games People Play’.

‘My Dear Ireland’ is a pretty Irish folk style paean to the country. Also in the same style is an enjoyably sprightly medley of ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’, ‘Star Of The County Down’ and ‘Donegal Danny’, which is very entertaining and probably a live favorite.

I was really impressed by this album. I like Nathan’s voice a lot, and if I had not known he was only 20 when this album was released I wouldn’t have believed it. Although the selected songs are all covers (with the possible exception of the title track), they are a well chosen group, and the arrangements are excellent.

Grade: A

Album Review: Lisa McHugh – ‘#country’

Lisa McHugh’s most recent album was released just about a year ago. While its predecessors were heavily reliant on cover versions of other artists’ hits, none of the tracks on #country are originals. While that in itself does not concern me, the 14-track collection does lack focus and could have benefited from a little pruning. I think this is definitely a case of “less is more” and the omission of a few tracks could have resulted in an outstanding album instead of just a very good one.

Let’s start with what does work: Many of the songs will be familiar to country fans on this side of the Atlantic; McHugh covers a variety of artists that have had success in North America. Her versions of The Wilkersons’ “26 Cents” and Sweethearts of the Rodeo’s “Satisfy You” rival the originals, and she turns in a stunning version of The Pistol Annie’s “I Hope You’re The End of My Story”. She handles uptempo material like Jann Browne’s “Who’s Gonna Be Your Next Love” as adeptly as she does ballads like Joey + Rory’s “To Say Goodbye”. She also turns in a reverent treatment of Loretta Lynn’s first Top 10 hit “Success”. Less familiar to most listeners are “Play Me the Waltz of the Angels”, which has been recorded many times — as far as I can tell the original version was by Buck Owens. This is my favorite track, followed by “Peggy Gordon”, an old folk song of Canadian origin, which is given a Celtic arrangement and sung as a duet with Malachi Cush, a folk singer from Northern Ireland. Lisa’s voice has been compared many times to Dolly Parton; on this particular track there are definite traces of Alison Krauss.

Not working as well are “He’s a Good Ole Boy”, which was Chely Wright’s debut single from 1994. I’ve always liked this song, which can best be described as Loretta Lynn with a twist — the protagonist confronts her romantic rival but instead of warning her to stay away, she is more than happy to unload her ne-er-do-well lover:

To steal him is your number one ambition
But sister, here’s one safe that you don’t have to crack
I’ll hand him over under one condition:
A deal’s a deal and you can’t give him back.

I’ve always liked this song and felt it deserved more attention that it received – and I really wanted to like McHugh’s version, but her delivery lacks the passion that Chely Wright brought to it. Her versions of Crystal Gayle’s “Why Have You Left the One You Left Me For” and Alabama’s “High Cotton” work a little better, but she doesn’t bring anything new to either of these songs. I would have omitted all of them from the album — and that goes double for the album’s biggest misstep “Stuck Like Glue”. The organic Celtic arrangement is not nearly as obnoxious as the Sugarland original but this is a bad song no matter who sings it.

McHugh is an extremely talented vocalist and this is a solid effort — with only one truly terrible song (“Stuck Like Glue”), but one gets the sense that McHugh is still struggling to find her artistic direction. She seems willing to record anything and everything. I’d like to hear more “Peggy Gordons” and “Play Me The Waltz of the Angels” and fewer “Stuck Like Glues” in the future. Still the album is worth downloading — just be sure to skip over “Stuck Like Glue”.

Grade: B+

Week ending 9/9/17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales): Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On — Jerry Lee Lewis (Sun)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Bye Bye Love — The Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1967: Your Tender Loving Care — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1977Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1987: She’s Too Good to Be True — Exile (Epic)

1997: She’s Got It All — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2007: These Are My People — Rodney Atkins (Curb)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): No Such Thing As a Broken Heart — Old Dominion (RCA)

Album Review: Robert Mizzell – I Don’t Want To Say Goodbye

When the group here at My Kind of Country opted to focus on Irish country acts, I certainly was not displeased as I became quite familiar with the Irish version of American country music during my years living in London (1969-1971). Unfortunately, before the days of the internet, it was nearly impossible to keep up with the more contemporary Irish artists. For the most part, the Irish artists I recall are deceased, retired or else really old. Louisiana-born Robert Mizzell is the exception to that statement in that a friend of mine brought back three Robert Mizzell cassettes for me after a visit to the emerald island some years ago. Since I rarely listen to cassettes anymore, I had forgotten about them. I pulled them out, listened to them and decided to digitize them.

Robert Mizzell is indeed an exceptional singer, so I was looking forward to reviewing his newer material. I Don’t Want To Say Goodbye was released in December 2013; unfortunately, music purchased via digital download does not come with liner notes (or any other useful information for that matter), so while I suspect that a few of these songs may be original to Robert Mizzell, I recognize most of these songs as exquisitely performed covers.

The album opens up with “Louisiana Red Dirt Highway”, a 1990 solo endeavor by William Lee Golden. The song did not chart for WLG but it was a video hit, an excellent song and worthy of revival:

Pulled out the driveway
Passed an old tar paper shack
Standing at her mailbox
An old woman waves as I look back
I’m going to miss my family
And I’ll need all the letters that they’ll send
It’s going to be a long time before I travel doen this red dirt road again

Louisiana Red Dirt Highway
I’ve been down a million times
Where the tin barns and the pine trees
I’m going to take them with me in my mind
I’m gonna take them to the city
Where a man could make good money so they say
I’m already pretty lonesome and my tires ain’t even swung off all the clay

“Little White Line” is not the Shooter Jennings song of a few years ago but it is a well performed mid-tempo song of youthful indiscretion.

“The Colour Of Your Dreams” is a gentle ballad about the loss of a brother.

“Wham Bam!” was as featured as a Buck Owens duet with son Buddy Alan on the 1972 album Too Old To Cut The Mustard. The song is given the same up-tempo treatment that Buck gave it.

“Your Man” was a 2005 US hit for Josh Turner. While Mizzell’s voice is not as low pitched as Turner’s, he does have a nice resonant voice and does an outstanding job with the song.

Baby, lock the doors and turn the lights down low
Put some music on that’s soft and slow
Baby, we ain’t got no place to go
I hope you understand
I’ve been thinking ’bout this all day long
Never felt a feeling quite this strong
I can’t believe how much it turns me on
Just to be your man

Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart had a fine recording of “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’ Anymore”. Mizzell keeps the buddy feel of the song with duet partner Chuck Owens

“Loving You Could Never Be Better” comes from the George Jones song bag, a #1 (Record World) hit for George in 1972. Doing George Jones material can be tricky – the shadow of the Possum tends to hang over the material, particularly when covering the more familiar material. This was not one of George’s more famous (or best remembered) songs so the shadow is lessened. Mizzell does a very good job on this song, which will undoubtedly be new to many listeners. George’s recording was given the full ‘Nashville Sound’, which is missing here.

Well here we are, again, tonight alone just us two
Where the lights are dim and true love is comin’ through
There’s no one else in this whole world as far as we’re concerned
We’ve built ourself a fire, so let it burn

When you look at me like you do right now I go to pieces
Because I know what’s on your mind, it’s just me
You’ve got that love-me-look in your eyes like you’ve had so many times and how
Loving you could never be better than it is right now

“I Love A Rainy Night” was a #1 pop and country smash for the smiling American of Irish descent, Eddie Rabbitt. Rabbitt, who died much too young at age 57, seems largely forgotten. While retaining the basic rocking rhythm of Rabbitt’s recording, the instrumentation is much more country.

Another George Jones classic “Wild Irish Rose” is next up. Whether the song is considered anti-war or is simply the story of a combat vet who returned as damaged goods, I will leave up to the listener to decide:

They sent him to Asia to fight in a war
He came back home crazy and asking, “What for?”
They had him committed oh, medals and all
To a mental hospital with rubber walls

They cut off the funding oh, they cut off the lights
He hit the street runnin’ that cold winter night
Now the streets are the only place he can call home
He seems, oh so lonely, but he’s never alone

“One More Last Chance” was a 1993 Vince Gill hit. Mizzell’s voice is pitched lower than Vince’s and it doesn’t seem to work as well on this song. Don’t get me wrong, Mizzell’s recording is quite decent but pales next to the original:

Give me just a one more last chance
Before you say we’re through
I know I drive you crazy baby
It’s the best that I can do
We’re just some good ol’ boys, a makin’ noise
I ain’t a runnin’ ’round on you
Give me just a one more last chance
Before you say we’re through

I never saw the film Brokeback Mountain, but my wife said she recognized “I Don’t Want To Say Goodbye” from the movie so I looked it up and found that the song was written by Teddy Thompson. It’s is a nice ballad sung well by Robert Mizzell

“Sweet Home Louisiana” may be original material. The song is upbeat, up-tempo and has a definite Cajun feel complete with accordion. I really liked the song.

“Down On The Bayou” is another upbeat up-tempo Cajun-flavored song. This is not the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, but perhaps original material.

This album is excellent. I wish I knew the names of the musicians so I could give them proper credit. The musicianship is both real country and excellent. Robert Mizzell has a great voice and knows how to use it.

I look forward to hearing more from him.

A