My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Bucky Jones

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Blue Highway’

What was to be John Conlee’s last studio album for MCA, 1984’s Blue Highway saw him making some adjustments to his sound in the light of the pop-leaning music which was dominating comntry radio at the time.

The lead single, however, ‘Years After You’, was vintage Conlee – an emotional lost love ballad written by Thom Schuyler with strings and a lovely melody. The backing vocals have dated, but the song itself is gorgeous and Conlee’s vocals excellent; it did well on radio, just missing the top spot:

I don’t know if I can explain it
‘Cause there’s really nothing different at all
The sun still burns
And the earth still turns
And the winter still follows the fall
I knew that it wouldn’t be easy
For my heart to find somebody new
But I never thought it still would be broken in two
These years after you

They tell me time is a natural healer
It kinda smooths the pain away
But this hurting within hasn’t yet given in
And it’s been over two thousand days
I still remember the taste of your kisses
And your eyes that were beautifully blue
And I can still hear the sound of your voice
When you said we were through
These years after you

Years after, years after you
I’m still cryin’
Tears after, years after you
I’m still tryin’ to make it through
These years after you

There’ve been mornings when I couldn’t wake up
There’ve been evenings when I couldn’t sleep
My life will be fine
For months at a time
Then I’ll break down and cry for a week
‘Cause when I told you I’d love you forever
I know you didn’t think it was true
But forever is nothing
Compared to some nights I’ve been through
These years after you

The next single, ‘Working Man’, peaked at #7. It is a well observed and sympathetic song about coping with everyday life and a difficult boss in a blue collar job. The title track served as the album’s third and last single, and was another top 20 hit. It is a melancholy ballad about having to work away from home and his loved one, with a slightly more AC vibe.

A possible missed opportunity arose with the memorable ‘Radio Lover’, an ironic and dramatic story song about a radio DJ who ends up killing his cheating wife and her lover. Written by Curly Putman, Ron Hellard, and Bucky Jones, it had been recorded by George Jones the previous year; neither man released it as a single at this time, but Jones re-released it in 1989. Few singers can compete with George Jones, and Conlee (although a great vocalist in his own right) is no exception, so the Jones version is obviously better, but it is still an excellent record with Conlee bringing the story to life.

The best of the other tracks (despite intrusive production) is Bobby Braddock’s tender portrait of elderly couple ‘Arthur And Alice’:

Poor Arthur, he’s got a bad heart and she’s nearly blind
At least that’s what doctors say
But his heart’s full of love and she reads his mind
Arthur and Alice, Arthur and Alice are doin’ OK

These are by far the best tracks and the ones worth hunting down.

Although it doesn’t sound very country with the steel pan drum accompaniment, ‘De Island’ is quite interesting lyrically – a story song about a man who starts a new life in the Caribbean with, it emerges, money stolen from his business.

‘Down To Me’ is a pretty loungy AC ballad with a rather busily orchestrated arrangement including saxophone. ‘A Little Bit Of Lovin’’ is quite a nice mid-tempo song, with more (and more intrusive) brass. ‘But She Love Me’ pays tribute to a wife and mother who has sacrificed her own dreams for her man, but is a little dull. Even more dreary musically is the closing ‘Is There Anything I Can Do’.

The album is not widely available at present. Beware: the title has been used for a compilation which is on CD and iTunes but with only a few songs from the original album release.

Grade: B-

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Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘I Just Started Hatin’ Cheatin’ Songs Today’

Moe’s debut album in 1974, on the GMC label, based in Atlanta, was a moderate success in its time, but a classic today.

The title track, and Moe’s first hit single, peaking at #17, is a classic honky tonk lament, written by legendary writers A L “Doodle” Owens and Sanger D Shafer. The narrator is a country fan whose love for songs about the wild side of life hits a juddering halt when they turn out to be reflections of reality in his own life and his wife turns out to be cheating on him. Drinking his troubles away is no good when the jukebox is loaded with songs which are all too close to home. Loaded with steel guitar and honky tonk piano, it is a great song, with many lyrical nods to other classic songs.

The second single, which reached #24, was the same writers’ ‘Honky Tonk Amnesia’. Another solid honky tonker, with a bit of tongue in cheek in the lyrics, this one has the protagonist the one on the cheating side, fuelled by his heavy drinking:

She’d be hurt if she knew I was drinking
Cause one’s too much and twelve just ain’t enough
She knows how it messes up my thinking
How it makes me look for someone else to love

I get honky tonk amnesia
I forget where all my love belongs
I get honky tonk amnesia
And sometimes it lasts all night long

His poor unsuspecting wife, meanwhile, sits trustingly at home.

Sanger D Shafer composed ‘Cowboys And Playboys’, an amusing song from the point of view of a wealthy northerner who finds a new perspective on life when he moves to Texas and the girls are unimpressed by his Cadillac style. Shafer co-wrote ‘How Long Does It Take (To Be A Stranger)?’ with Dallas Frazier, a short steel laced ballad lamenting a breakup.

Frazier and Doodle Owens wrote ‘This Time I Won’t Cheat On Her Again’, with Moe rebuffing former illicit flame who might be in the market again. Owens teamed up with Dave Burgess for ‘Home Is Where The Hurt Is’, a great steel dominated ballad about a man delaying his return to an empty home:

My glass is empty
And so are my arms
The lights are down low
And so am I

I drink not to think
And I hate to go home
Home’s where the hurt is
My sweet love is gone

Owens also wrote a couple of tunes with Gene Vowell. In ‘How Far Do You Think We Would Go; he dances around the idea of breaking up another couple’s marriage:

Are you sure that loving me would be worth losing him?
Would his memory ever leave us alone?

‘Get All Your Love Together (And Come On Home)’ (co-written by the pair with Glenn Sutton) appeals to his estranged spouse to make a new start. ‘I Wouldn’t Cheat On Her If She Was Mine’ is another fine song, in which Moe wants to offer a new love to a women who has been hurt by the past. It was written by Bucky Jones, Joane Kelle and Paul Huffman.

‘Smoke Filled Bar’ (written by Ginger Boatwright) is a honky tonk wailer about missing a deceased wife

Some other bar
Another round and I’ll get drunk again
If the party girls sing about what might have been
Do angels miss the ones they love in heaven where you are
And I’m so lonely as I play my sad guitar

And tonight I’ll sing my songs again about you
And try to face another night without you
I’ve tried to find someone and learn to love once more
But then I stopped ’cause you knock at my memory’s door

The album is available on iTunes, and is an essential part of any traditional country fan’s music collection.

Grade: A

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Saddle The Wind’

The rise of the New Traditionalists in the late 1980s meant that the sooth pop-country which had served Janie well earlier in the decade was sounding dated. Janie was also now over 40, as younger artists came forward, and radio abandoned her, with no really successful singles from her 1987 album After Midnight. She took on the challenge with gusto, adapting to a much more traditional country style for 1988’s Saddle The Wind, with the help of producer Steve Buckingham. She was still, incidentally, using the new spelling of Frickie, which she had adopted for Black And White.

There were three singles to promote this album. Unfortunately, none did very well, but they are all excellent songs, beautifully sung and unmistakeably real country. ‘Where Does Love Go (When It’s Gone)’ is a brisk Peter Rowan song with a bright upbeat feel despite a lyric pondering the reasons for a breakup.

‘I’ll Walk Before I’ll Crawl’ is a lovely mid-paced ballad (written by Gidget Baird and Linda Buell) gives a cheating husband an ultimatum. The third and last single, ‘Heart’, was written by the ultra-successful writing team of Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet. It is an excellent song about a woman desperately tempted to cheat on her husband.

On a somewhat similar theme, Hank Cochran’s classic ‘Don’t Touch Me (If You Don’t Love Me)’ explores the draw of sexual desire knowing the loved one cannot offer what the protagonist needs:

Your hand is like a torch each time you touch me
That look in your eye pulls me apart
So don’t open the door to heaven if I can’t come in
No, don’t touch me if you don’t love me, sweetheart

Your kiss is like a drink when I am thirsty
Oh and I’m thirsty for you with all my heart
But don’t love me, then act as though we’ve never kissed
Oh, don’t touch me if you don’t love me, sweetheart

Janie’s intense vocal is superlative on this song.

Several other classic covers are also included. Willie Nelson’s ballad The Healing Hands Of Time’ is another true classic song given an exquisite vocal, with some tasteful steel and piano. The album opens with a sprightly version of the Western Swing ‘Sugar Moon’ which is delightful, and Janie also revives the up-tempo ‘Crazy Dreams’, one of Patsy Cline’s lesser known early recordings.

‘I’m Not That Good At Goodbye’, a much recorded song written by Bob McDill and Don Williams, has another excellent vocal from Janie. ‘If I Were Only Her Tonight’, written by McDill with Bucky Jones and Dickey Lee, is another fine song about unrequited love and the pull of an old flame.

There is a Marty Robbins Mexican flavor to the title track, with Spanish guitar accompanying a story song written by the album’s producer Buckingham, about a star-crossed border romance with a bandido.

Janie had a truly lovely voice, but at her commercial peak she was too often buried under poppy production. In this album she finally married her voice to great production and songs, making this by far her best work. I would recommend it to anyone.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘Rumor Has It’

Clay_Walker_-_Rumor_Has_ItWalker released his fourth album in the spring of 1997. It was his first project since revealing his diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis. For Rumor Has It, Walker’s mission was to be loyal to the fans by recording the best songs he could and putting out hit records.

To that end the title track, a co-write with M. Jason Greene was issued as the lead single. It follows in the footsteps of his brilliant uptempo numbers, but is more slick than raw. His sixth and final number one, it’s among my favorite of his singles.

He followed with what has become his most critically panned single to date, the cloying “One, Two, I Love You.” I always enjoyed the fiddle-laced production but agree that consensus has been reached regarding Ed Hill and Bucky Jones’ lyric. The song peaked at #18.

Walker rebounded into the top 5 with “Watch This,” a slightly cheesy love song that hasn’t aged well in nineteen years. He followed with his most left-of-center single to date, “Then What,” a loose dose of Caribbean Country that rocketed to #2 (I was shocked it didn’t top the charts). Likely his signature song, “Then What” has enjoyed a long life as a recurrent and is probably his best-remembered hit today.

The album features just two more songs Walker had a hand in composing. He solely wrote “Country Boy and City Girl,” a pleasant love song about an opposites attract romance. “That’s Us,” another love song, was co-written with Tim Mensy.

“I’d Say That’s Right” is a brisk fiddle-soaked love song. “Heart Over Head Over Heels” plays up the charm factor yet feels like it’s a leftover from his previous album and not styled with distinct 1997 production (which is far from a bad thing). “You’ll Never Hear The End of It” is yet another uptempo love song. I do love the overall vibe of “I Need A Margarita,” but the lyric is cheesy as hell.

Walker’s comments regarding finding the best songs he could confirmed what I unfortunately know for sure. Those sentiments usually mean we’re going to a generic album dosed with a radio-friendly sheen, which is certainly true in this case.

Walker has opted to go with an album loaded with similar sounding love songs, which comes off as too pleasing. Beyond the title track and “Then What” there just isn’t anything here to set him apart or show any real attempts at artistry. He never truly broke through and its easy to see why – his albums just weren’t at an a-list level.

But he’s still one of my favorite country singers. Rumor Has It isn’t the worst country album I’ve ever heard, far from it, but it does suffer from an overtly commercial sheen that drags it down a few notches.

(By the way, you HAVE TO, check out or reacquaint yourself with the videos for “Rumor Has It” and “Watch This.” If anything, Walker gave us brilliant documents of the late 1990s while trying to be George Strait’s little brother. At least he loosen up with “Then What”).

Grade: B-

Single Review: T. Graham Brown – ‘I Tell It Like It Used To Be’

tgb“I Tell It Like It Used To Be” was T. Graham Brown’s breakthrough single and the title track of his debut album, which is out of print and therefore, was unavailable for us to review. Written by Ron Hellard, Michael Garvin and Bucky Jones, it was the follow-up single to “Drowning In Memories”, which barely cracked the Top 40 in early 1985. “I Tell It Like It Used To Be” outperformed its predecessor by a mile, peaking at #7 and establishing T. Graham Brown as a new artist to watch.

The record’s intro is reminiscent of a Billy Sherrill countrypolitan record of the 1970s, but once the song gets underway, there is very little about it that is country. The verses are a mixture of rockabilly and 50’s doo-wap and Brown’s soulful vocal performance accompanied by a saxophone, adds a touch of R&B as well. This is particularly true on the chorus, during which the narrator admits that when asked, he doesn’t tell people that he and his ex have broken up and instead leads them to believe that things still are as they once were. It’s a very catchy tune that sticks in the listener’s head. It’s that earworm quality that allowed the record to buck the trend and land in the Top 10 at a time when country music was obsessed with rediscovering its roots. It’s also evidence that country radio programmers of the day had some appreciation for diversity — something that is sorely missing today.

T. Graham Brown’s reign at the top of the charts was very brief, but “I Tell It LIke It Used To Be” was the first of a string of Top 10 hits, including three #1s, that continued until 1988. It is available for download as a single and also as part of hits compilations, but be sure that you are getting the original version and not a re-recording.

Grade: A

Album Review – Holly Dunn – ‘Getting It Dunn’

HollyDunnGettingItDunnA year after releasing her first retrospective, Holly Dunn returned with the album that would serve as closure to the commercial phase of her career. Getting It Dunn was released in June 1992 and spawned four singles, none of which cracked the top 40 on the charts.

Mel Tillis’ mid-tempo honky-tonker “No Love Have I,” served as the first single, peaking at #67. Despite a generous helping of steel, and Dunn’s impeccable vocal, the track didn’t chart higher although it deserved to. The Dunn/Chris Waters/Tom Shapiro penned “As Long As You Belong To Me” charted next, peaking at #68. The mid-tempo rocker had a confident vocal from Dunn, although it just wasn’t commercial enough to pop in the current radio climate. “Golden Years,” the third and final single, did slightly better, peaking at #51. A co-write by Gretchen Peters and Sam Hogin, the track is wonderful despite the somewhat sappy string section heard throughout.

The album’s other notable track is “You Say You Will,” composed by Verlon Thompson and Beth Nielsen Chapman. Dunn’s version of the bluesy Dobro infused number appeared just two months before Trisha Yearwood’s take on her own Hearts in Armor album. Both versions are remarkably similar and equally as good, although Yearwood turned in a slightly more polished take, which helped the pensive tune reach #12 in early 1993. Warner Brothers didn’t release Dunn’s version as a single.

Dunn’s usual co-writers Waters and Shapiro helped her write a few other tunes for the project. “Let Go” is somewhat light, with an engaging drumbeat and muscular electric guitar heard throughout. Steel and synth ballad “I’ve Heard It All” is a revelation, with Dunn playing the part of a jilted lover done with excuses. “You Can Have Him,” marks similar territory and is the best of three, with an engaging beat, and polish that had it ripe to be a single.

Shapiro teamed up with Michael Garvin and Bucky Jones to write “I Laughed Until I Cried,” a fabulous break-up power ballad with one of Dunn’s most emotion filled vocals on the whole album. Craig Wiseman co-wrote “If Your Heart Can’t Do The Talking” with Lynn Langham. The steel and dobro infused mid-tempo number is excellent and wouldn’t have been out of place on one of Yearwood’s early albums. Wally Wilson and Mike Henderson composed “Half A Million Teardrops,” another mid-tempo number and one more example of the excellent recordings found on Getting It Dunn. Karen Brooks and Randy Sharp’s “A Simple I Love You” rounds out the album, and Dunn provides the project’s standout vocal. I love the steel on this, too, although the rest of the production is a touch heavy-handed.

Holly Dunn will always be a quandary to me. Her vocal and songwriting abilities are outstanding, but the production on her records was always lacking in that little bit of extra polish that would’ve sent her over the top to the leagues of say a Trisha Yearwood or a Kathy Mattea. But that isn’t to suggest her music was lacking in any particular way to be less than excellent, it just wasn’t always embraceable by country radio and their standards at the time. But, thankfully, commercial prospects aren’t everything, and Getting It Dunn is another glorious addition to her already wonderful discography.

Grade: A

Album Review – Doug Stone – ‘From The Heart’

DougfromheartDoug Stone was riding high with the success of his platinum selling sophomore album when he began feeling dizziness, arm & chest pain, and feelings of disorientation while on tour. He canceled his appearance at the 1992 ACM Awards and underwent Quintuple Bypass Surgery. Stone changed his eating and exercise habits in order to quickly resume his tour schedule.

His third album, the aptly titled From The Heart, was released that August with Doug Johnson producing once again. Upon its release critics had a field day with the irony of the album’s title in the wake of his medical issues.

Lead single “Warning Labels” was released in June. The uptempo shuffle, written by Kim Williams and Oscar Turman, casts Stone as a broken man in a barroom observing that “they ought to put warning labels on those sad country songs” coming from the jukebox. It’s an excellent and memorable lyric, but the production comes off forceful (and dated 21 years later), a little too in-your-face, and drowns out Stone’s vocal at times. The single was his seventh top-five hit in two years and peaked at #4.

Gary Burr and Victoria Shaw wrote “Too Busy Being In Love,” which topped the charts in early 1993. Like most of Stone’s trademark ballads, “Too Busy Being In Love” plays like a cheesy Lifetime movie, down to the slick piano-laced production. That being said, Stone’s tender vocal coupled with the production is still a winning combination to my ears, no matter how cheesy and horrid this sounds today.

“Made for Loving You” broke Stone’s streak of top five singles when it peaked at #6 (his second song to do so) in mid-1993. Previously recorded by both Clinton Gregory and Dan Seals, and written by Sonny Throckmorton and Curly Putman, the track is very similar in style to “Too Busy Being In Love,” though not nearly as polished, or hook-laden.

Stone returned to #1 with the album’s finale single, Paul Harrison and Bob McDill’s “Why Didn’t I Think of That.” A regretful uptempo honky-tonker, in which a man plays his last relationship out in his head after she’s moved on, is the album’s best single because it gets everything right – vocal, lyric, and production. It is also Stone’s most played (and remembered) recurrent single and the only one from this record that’s aged gracefully. It’s one of my favorite things Stone has ever done.

“Leave The Radio” exemplifies one of country music’s worst trends from the era, the clichéd breakup song with a woman packing her suitcase, leaving her man, etc. This variation has him begging her to leave him the radio. It’s nothing more then a horrid piece of embarrassing filler. “Left, Leaving, Going, or Gone” boasts a better execution, but is still as tired as “Leave The Radio” thematically. “She’s Got A Future In The Movies” (another Burr and Shaw co-write) is one of those novelty songs you hear once and like, but it grows grating on repeated listenings.  Meanwhile, “Working End of a Hoe,” an ode to farming cotton fields, has a nicely restrained production that works well. The chugging beat, laced with harmonica, works nicely with Stone’s twangy vocal.

Thankfully the remaining ballads are of a much higher quality. Stone co-wrote neo-traditional weeper “This Empty House” and brings palpable pain to his vocal performance. This would’ve been a home run if the steel had been more pronounced and heavier while Stone’s vocal is a bit too quiet.

The most outstanding and easily the strongest of the album cuts is Bucky Jones, Red Lane, and Royce Porter’s “Ain’t Your Memory Got No Pride At All.” The neo-traditional production is fabulous and Stone delivers one of the project’s strongest vocals. This should’ve been the single in place of “Made for Loving You,” and I bet it would’ve done really well.

There’s nothing wrong with an album that ties itself this closely to mainstream trends per se, but you wouldn’t know that from listening to From The Heart. Stone and Johnson highlight the worst of commercial country, forgoing any attempts to create a project with a long shelf life. Considering his contemporaries released everything from Hearts In Armor (Trisha Yearwood), I Still Believe In You (Vince Gill), The Chase (Garth Brooks), and A Lot About Livin’ (and A Little ‘Bout Love) (Alan Jackson) that same year, this is as mailed in as efforts get.

Grade: B- 

Album Review: Doug Stone – ‘Doug Stone’

dougstoneReleased towards the end of the New Traditionalist movement, Doug Stone’s eponymous debut is his best and most traditional album. The Epic album was produced by Doug Johnson and featured top-notch songs and an impressive roster of musicians including Mark O’Connor, Mac McAnally, and Paul Franklin. The album’s first single was the superb country weeper “I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)”, an indulgent tale of self-pity written by Johnny MacRae and Steve Clark. Songs like this are the reason many people dislike country music, but they are also the reason so many of us love it so passionately. Stone knocked it out of the park on his first try; although he released many songs after this that I thoroughly enjoyed, nothing ever matched this masterpiece. It peaked at #4 but deserved to go to #1, and I’ve often thought it might have become a top charter if it had been held back and released after Stone had built up some name recognition, instead of being the first out of the box. But chart position aside, it’s a great record.

The rest of the album is almost as good. Doug’s follow-up single “Fourteen Minutes Old” is another break-up song despite its uptempo arrangement. Written by Dennis Knutson and A.L. “Doodle” Owens, it topped out at #6. The Harlan Howard tune “These Lips Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye”, another favorite of mine, fared slightly better by reaching #5. Stone finally reached #1 with the album’s fourth and final single, “In A Different Light”, which was written by the great Bob McDill along with Dickey Lee and Bucky Jones. It is the album’s least traditional song, but its biggest hit, perhaps foreshadowing country music’s imminent shift back to a more pop-oriented sound. It also allowed Stone to showcase his skills as a balladeer and it cast the template for many of his future hits.

I’ve often second-guessed record label choices for singles, but in the case of this album I think that Epic got it right. The album’s remaining songs are good, but not as strong as the ones sent to radio. “Turn This Thing Around” is not quite as good as Keith Whitley’s version from the year before. “High Weeds and Rust”, my least favorite song here, was later covered by its songwriter David Lee Murphy. Producer Doug Johnson’s “We Always Agree On Love” isn’t quite as strong as the rest of the album, but I really liked Randy Boudreux’s “My Hat’s Off To Him” and “It’s A Good Thing I Don’t Love You Anymore” by Bobby P. Barker and Keith Palmer.

I was still in college when this album was released and it certainly does not seem like nearly a quarter of a century has passed since then. In listening to the album again, though, it’s age is sometimes betrayed by the electronic keyboard arrangements, which were considered cutting-edge at the time but seem quite dated today. Thankfully, producer Doug Johnson avoided being too heavy-handed with them, and they are not as intrusive as the keyboard arrangements on other records of the era. It is however, the album’s sole flaw, albeit a minor complaint overall. Albums this good were not uncommon in the early 90s, and thus were sometimes easy to take for granted. This one is especially worth dusting off and listening to again, particularly for those fans who have become disillusioned with the current state of mainstream country. Inexpensive copies of Doug Stone are easy to find.

Grade: A

Album Review: Kathy Mattea – ‘Lonesome Standard Time’

1992’s Lonesome Standard Time saw Kathy working with a new producer, Brent Maher, probably best known for his work with the Judds in the 80s. Happily, this didn’t change the overall style, and Kathy was able to maintain her usual standard of high-quality material with a strongly non-mainstream feel.

The punchy title track, written by Jim Rushing and Larry Cordle, draws on the high lonesome tradition of bluegrass to portray the sad emotions of a broken heart, when the sound of a “crying fiddle is the sweetest sound on earth”. The lead single, it just failed to break into the top 10 but is a great track with a committed, energized vocal which opens the album with a real bang.

The pensive ballad ‘Standing Knee Deep In A River (Dying Of Thirst)’ contemplates losing touch with friends not treasured enough. A mature lyric and string laden production make this a bit more AC than most of her work, but the lovely tune, sensitive vocal, and wise lyrics (penned by Bucky Jones, Dickey Lee and Bob McDill) would stand out in any company. Its genre crossing capacity is shown by the fact that blues-rock musician Joe Cocker covered the song in 1994, followed by country veteran Don Williams in 1995. Kathy’s version was the album’s second single and just squeezed into the top 20.

Equally thoughtful, the spiritual ‘Seeds’ (which peaked at #50) takes a philosophical look at human potential, declaring,

We start the same
But where we land
Is sometimes fertile soil
And sometimes sand
We’re all just seeds
In God’s hands

The final single, Nanci Griffith’s uplifting ‘Listen To The Radio’, where country radio acts as the protagonist’s friend and companion while she drives away from her man, performed even more poorly despite being packed full of vocal character – not to mention the presence of Eagle Bernie Leadon on guitar.

The sardonic and catchy ‘Lonely At The Bottom’ had recently been recorded by former duet partner Tim O’Brien in his shortlived attempt at a solo country career. The protagonist is talking to an old friend who has found success has not brought happiness; unfortunately, Kathy informs him, poverty has brought nothing better either. A great acoustic arrangement, Kathy’s playful interpretation supported by call and response backing vocals make this highly enjoyable.

‘Forgive And Forget’ is a mid-tempo Kieran Kane song which sounds potentially radio friendly, and had previously appeared on Kane’s underrated 1993 solo Atlantic album Find My Way Home following the breakup of The O’Kanes. A lively, confident cover of ‘Amarillo’ is also highly entertaining.

The gentle ‘Last Night I Dreamed Of Loving You’ is a beautiful song by country-folk poet-songwriter Hugh Moffatt, given a delicately stripped down production, with the haunting harmonies of Tim O’Brien balancing the raw emotion of the lead vocal.

There are just a couple of tracks which fail to sparkle. ‘Slow Boat’, written by Kathy’s husband Jon Vezner with George Teren is pretty and laidback but a little forgettable. ‘33, 45, 78 (Record Time)’ takes a metaphorical look back at the passing of time.

Despite the relatively disappointing performance of teh singles, sales were good, and it was Kathy’s fourth successive gold record. The limited airplay may mean, however, that more casual fans may have missed out on an excellent album. Luckily, you can make up for that, as used copies are available very cheaply.

Grade: A

Album Review: Dan Seals – ‘Rebel Heart’

Rebel Heart was not Dan Seals’ first solo album but it was his first to enjoy any level of commercial success. His two prior solo albums for Atlantic Records had produced five non-charting singles (actually two of them did reach the lower rungs of the pop charts), but the tide began to change when he made the move to Liberty Records in 1983. Like its two predecessors, Rebel Heart was produced by Kyle Lehning. Dan wrote or co-wrote seven of the album’s ten songs, including the first single “Everybody’s Dream Girl”, which became his first Top 20 country hit, peaking at #18.

For the most part, the songs on Rebel Heart are not that different from the music Seals had released as a pop artist; it would not be inaccurate to describe much of it as adult contemporary or soft rock with a dose of steel guitar, which is typical of the era. In fact, the production is quite restrained by 1983 standards, though with its synthesizers, drum machines and reverb it often sounds dated to modern ears. That is not to say, though, that it is not enjoyable. “After You” reminds me a lot of the music that Vince Gill was making at the time. The Paul Battle/Bucky Jones/Chris Waters tune was released as the album’s second single. It peaked at a disappointing #28, and the next single “You Really Go For The Heart” performed even worse, stalling at #37.

Just when it appeared that the project would be another commercial disappointment, Liberty released a fourth single — an unusual move in those days, particularly since none of the three previous releases had made a big impact at radio. But that all changed with the self-penned “God Must Be a Cowboy”, which jump-started Dan’s country career and landed him inside the Top 10 on Billboard’s country singles chart for the first time. A simple ode to the cowboy’s way of life, it is one of the few songs on the album with no pop overtones. It’s the best song on the album, and in fact, one of the best of Seals’ career. It was the breakthrough hit he had been waiting for; it was the first in a series of Top 10 singles that continued until 1990.

“On A Night Like This” is my second favorite song in the collection that seems like it would have been a better choice for a single release than some of the cuts that were actually sent to radio. “The Banker” is a very good but non-commercial ballad about a down-on-his-luck farmer whose property is about to enter foreclosure when he suddenly strikes oil. Dan wrote both of these songs as well as two rather bland numbers — “Up On A Hill” and “Candle In The Rain” — that sound like they might have been been written back during his England Dan and John Ford Coley days. “Down the Hall” is a decent pop-country number written by Dan’s cousin Troy Seals with Mike Reid. The song also appeared on The Oak Ridge Boys’ American Made album, which was also released in 1983.

Rebel Heart is a pleasant, though not essential, listen. It is currently only available as digital download , unless you’re willing to shell out nearly $200 for an imported CD copy. However, it is scheduled to be re-released in October on a 2-for-1 CD along with Dan’s 1988 album Rage On, and this appears to be the most economical way to purchase it.

Grade: B

Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘Full Circle’

This Is Me, the follow-up to Wind In the Wire, revived Randy’s career after that side-project, with four top 10 hits including the chart-topping ‘Whisper My Name’. Surprisingly, though, his next album was a commercial disappointment, with none of the singles doing at all well. Released in August 1996, Full Circle was produced as usual by Kyle Lehning, but the sound is a little fuller than on their previous work together. Randy’s resonant baritone is at its best, and the material is generally high quality.

The first two singles, ‘Are We In Trouble Now’ and ‘Would I’ both faltered in the 20s. The former is a well-written ballad about falling in love which was rather surprisingly written by British rock guitarist Mark Knopfler. (Knofler has had a longstanding interest in country music, and has recorded albums with Emmylou Harris and Chet Atkins.) Randy gives it a sensitive, tender delivery worthy of a much bigger hit. The up-tempo ‘Would I’, on the other hand, is pleasant but forgettable, and frankly makes me think of the songs criticised in Alan Jackson’s ‘Three Minute Positive Not Too Country Uptempo Love Song’ from a few years later.

‘If It Ain’t One Thing, It’s Another’ is a much more entertaining, personality-infused up-tempo number, co-written by Joe Stampley (best known for his Moe & Joe duets with Moe Bandy), and not picking this as a single feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. It could have made the basis of an amusing video too.

The excellent ‘Price To Pay’ (written by Trey Bruce and Craig Wiseman) was perhaps just a little too downbeat to succeed in a period when pop influences were once more gaining ground on country radio. A cheating song, the remorseful protagonist regrets having ever let it start, when it would have been so much easier to call a halt:

Your heart wasn’t mine to take
Mine wasn’t mine to give
And love wasn’t ours to say
I shoulda let you go when I could
When the memories weren’t so many or so good
And one night was such a small price to pay

It barely charted despite being the best of the three singles, and that signalled the end of Randy’s time with Warner Brothers, at least for a while.

The atmospheric opener ‘Highway Junkie’, written by blue-collar singer-songwriter Chris Knight with Sam and Annie Tate, sets the portrait of a trucker using his focus on life on the road to get over heartbreak against a muscular beat. The song namechecks Roger Miller and his classic ‘King Of The Road’, and quite fittingly later in the record there is a loping cover of that very song, which also appeared on the soundtrack of the movie Traveller.

Another very good song is ‘Long On Lonely (Short On Pride)’, written by venerable songwriting team of Bob McDill, Dickey Lee, and Bucky Jones. The weary protagonist appeals to his former lover:

I won’t say I love you, don’t know if it’s true
I will say I need you, God knows I do

Randy revived an old song he had written (with John Lindley) and recorded back in the Randy Ray days, ‘The Future Mister Me’. This mournful response to a failed relationship was well worth revisiting, and is quite beautifully sung by a defeated sounding narrator, who has obviously caused his share of problems for his ex wife but is now wishing her luck with her new man. He also wrote two more songs for the album. ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ (written with Ron Avis, the driver of Randy’s tour bus) is excellent. In this intense ballad, the protagonist is desperate for his chance-met ex not to see him crying at the sight of her with her new love. The tender love song ‘I Can Almost Hear Her Wings’ was written with Buck Moore and Eddie Lee, and is lovely.

The beaty ‘Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me’ is enjoyable enough, but lacks much of a melody and is one of the weaker moments. The album closes with the philosophical and relaxed sounding ‘Ants On A Log’, written by Skip Ewing and Donny Kees.

Full Circle is easy to find cheap. Although it was not a commercial success for Randy, it is underrated and worth seeking out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Curly Putman – ‘Write ‘Em Sad – Sing ‘Em Lonesome’

Curly Putman, now 80 years old, is one of the great country songwriters. This record (apparently released via Curly’s publishing company Sony/ATV), allows him to offer his own interpretations of some of his classic songs. While his aging voice is not up to much technically, I always enjoy hearing songwriters deliver their own material, and he can still hold a tune better than some of today’s big names. His phrasing is perfect (as one might expect given that these are his own songs), and he is able to convey the emotions effectively. The album is well produced by Curly himself with percussionist Adam Engelhardt in traditional country style, with some fine musicians backing him and plenty of fiddle and steel. And the quality of the material is absolutely exceptional, with a focus, as the album title suggests, on the sad songs that form the heartblood of country music.

There are three duets with female vocalists, which are among the highlights. 80s star turned successful Music Row songwriter Deborah Allen joins Curly on a downbeat and tuneful version of ‘Only Oklahoma Away’, where the male protagonist’s longing is palpable. Dolly Parton sounds lovely on the tender love song ‘Made For Loving You’, one of the few positive-themed numbers. Sarah Johns is a revelation as the duet partner on ‘My Elusive Dreams’, a semi-autobiographical song which Curly released as a single back in 1967, just before Tammy Wynette and David Houston’s classic version. This is one of my favourite tracks, with Curly’s abraded voice (redolent of failed ambition) contrasting with Sarah’s pure, sweet voice (much better here than on her 2008 solo album Big Love In A Small Town, where she sometimes sounded shrill). It makes me hopeful for new music from Sarah in the future.

The tragic drama of ‘Radio Lover’ with its spoken verses and sung chorus, and the heartbreaking ‘Wino The Clown’ (also partly-spoken) were both written with Bucky Jones and Ron Hellard and recorded by George Jones in the mid-80s. Curly’s versions work well and are extremely convincing (although I think he was probably wise to avoid tackling his very best known George Jones cut, ‘He Stopped Loving her Today’).

My favorite track is the tragic prisoner’s dream ‘Green, Green Grass Of Home’, one of Curly’s most recorded, and greatest, compositions. There is a long and delicate instrumental intro leading into a low-key mournful vocal which sounds doomed right from the start, with every word sounding as though it comes straight from the heart. Technically speaking, I have heard better versions of the gorgeous sad ballad ‘Couldn’t Love Have Picked A Better Place To Die’, but once more, Curly’s version does effectively convey the intensity of the protagonist’s despair.

Opening track ‘Older The Violin’ (a late hit for Hank Thompson in 1974) is a sprightly lightly swinging defiance of middle age (the protagonist is 45) along the lyrical lines of the Johnny Paycheck 80s classic ‘Old Violin’, with the protagonist telling the woman who seems to be putting him out to grass in favour of a younger rival:

The older the violin, the sweeter the music
These specks of gray that’s in my hair
Just make me look distinguished
That don’t mean I’m over the hill
Baby I’m not extinguished

There are a few songs I hadn’t heard before, including the last-mentioned. Of the others, ‘That Runaway Woman’ is a Caribbean-flavored tale of a man chasing through various beach destinations after the woman who has left him, and fetching up in a bar somewhere to drink away the pain, which Curly wrote with Don Cook. ‘Magnolia In The Snow’ is a slow and rather depressing song about leaving Colorado for the sun, and regretting what has been left behind, which seems to include a dead child.

Ending the album on a more positive note, there is a moving expression of absolute faith in the face of a troubled life, in the emotionally sung religious closing track ‘Foot Prints’, a co-write with Don Cook and bluegrass singer Ronnie Bowman (who, with his wife Garnet, sings harmonies throughout):

I sail my ship in deep and troubled waters
I drift so far I cannot see the shore
Sometimes my soul feels lost at sea
And all my hope is gone
He left His footprints on the water
So I can find my way home

Before I knew, my heart believed
He loved the broken heart of me
He sacrificed His precious life
So He could give me mine

The proceeds of the sales of the album are partly devoted to the Sean Putman Memorial Fund at Cumberland University, Lebanon, TN, in memory of Curly’s grandson who died of cancer as a child, and to whom the record is dedicated.

This is a fascinating example of one of the greatest living country songwriters singing some of his best songs, and given his age, perhaps the last opportunity to do so.

Grade: A-

It is available on iTunes, or as a hard copy CD from CDBaby or Amazon.

You can sample some of the songs via Curly’s Facebook page.

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Who Was That Stranger?’

Although the movie had brought Loretta mainstream attention, her musical career was winding down in the 1980s. She had enjoyed only one top 10 hit that decade (‘I Lie’ in 1982), and her last single to reach the top 40 was the #19 ‘Heart Don’t Do This To Me’ in 1985. The neotraditional revival of the late 80s may have brought country sounds back to country radio, but older artists were, by and large, jettisoned along with the pop-country stars of the mid 80s. This album, Loretta’s swan song for MCA, was released in 1988. It was coproduced by Loretta herself with label president Jimmy Bowen and Chip Hardy.

She was not as prolific a songwriter as she had been earlier in her career, writing only two tracks here, the very short (just under two minutes) and bouncy up-tempo ‘Mountain Climber’, a look at working your way up the hard way with a tart sideswipe at those who want to start at the top, and the affectionate portrait of a old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone rural preacher, ‘Elzie Brooks’. It should come as no surprise that he was a real person, the preacher whose services Loretta attended as a child in Butcher Holler; she notes in her book Coal Miner’s Daughter that he never took a penny for his ministry, and in this song compares him to TV preachers with their demands for money. These are both bright and entertaining if less memorable than Loretta’s classics.

The title track and lead single faltered at #57 on Billboard. A brightly delivered tale about rescuing a tired marriage written by Curly Putnam, Max D Barnes and Don Cook, the production sounds a bit dated now and I must confess even after a number of listens I’m slightly unclear whether this is intended to depict a marriage which only comes alive after dark, or a complete fantasy. The follow-up single, the gospelly ‘Fly Away’, penned by Frank Dycus and featuring Bela Fleck’s banjo, did not chart at all, and that marked the end of Loretta’s long association with MCA and its predecessor Decca.

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