My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Charlie Black

Album Review: The McCarters – ‘The Gift’

The McCarters were three young sisters from near Dolly Parton’s neck of the woods. The Gift, released in 1988 was truly a revelation resembling nothing else being played on the radio at that time. One critic described the album as the sequel to the Trio album that Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt had not gotten around to making yet.

High praise indeed and based on this album, the McCarters seemed to have a bright future ahead. The shimmering sibling harmonies and brilliant acoustic settings made this album something special and unique. I should note that this is NOT a bluegrass album, although I would not be surprised to hear the songs on bluegrass radio. With the exception of the piano and presence of drums, all of the instruments on the album are acoustic, played by such aces as Mark O’Connor (fiddle, viola, mandolin, mandola), Carl Jackson (acoustic guitar) and John Jorgenson (acoustic guitar, mandolin, mandocello). Jennifer McCarter was the lead singer on all songs, with younger twin sisters Lisa and Teresa providing the vocal harmonies.

The album opens up with “I Give You Music” a story ballad written by Dennis Adkins. This was the third single released from the album. It charted at a disappointing #28 (#16 in Canada).

Next up is “Timeless and True Love”, the debut single released in late 1987. Written by Austin Roberts, Charlie Black & Buzz Cason, the song soared to #5. The song is a very nice ballad featuring Mark O’Connor’s fiddle through the arrangement:

For mine is a timeless and true love
An endless river rollin’ on and on
Forever and ever for you love
Oh mine is a timeless and true love

Just look at how the mountains reach up to the sky
So strong against the hard winds as the years go by
My love is no less tender born of fire and steel
And the world could never change the way I feel

This is followed by a Bill Graham-Carl Jackson-Buddy Landon collaboration “Flower In The Desert”, a mid-tempo ballad with some excellent fiddling by Mark O’Connor. The song is album track with strong Appalachian overtones.

Lola Jean Dillon was a successful songwriter who wrote several of Loretta Lynn’s big hits and co-wrote with L. E. White the funny Conway Twitty / Loretta Lynn duet “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly”; “Where Would That Leave Us” is not a humorous but a fine ballad about a relationship that seems to be the salvation of the singer.

“I Know Love” comes from the pens of Randy Albright, Mark D Sanders and Lisa Silver. The song is a another slow ballad, nicely sung, but I do not think the song is anything special; however the next track “The Gift” by Nancy Montgomery is indeed something special .

Darling let me tell you the way I truly feel
A simple explanation from a heart so real
I have been the whole world over and sailed a thousand seas
And still come back to you

[Chorus}
Now I believe that gold is not so precious or so real
For I Have Seen The Miracle of Love As It’s Revealed
And When You Hear This Song I Hope That You Will See
The gift I give to you, my love forever true

“The Gift” would be the biggest hit reaching #4 (#2 in Canada). After that it would be downhill, as it would be for the rest of this album, four more songs that fit nicely in context with the album.

The Gift appeared at one of those brief moments in history when something as retro sounding as this album could break through, if only momentarily. In 1989 the ‘New Traditionalist’ movement (in reality the new honky-tonk traditionalist movement) would have its leading avatars appear thus wiping out the market for The McCarters’ music. In fact after the first two singles, the market had already turned away from the McCarters. A second album would follow and then it was over.

I would give this album an A+, but as much as I enjoyed the album at the time it was released, I realized that it was an outlier and unlikely to be repeated.

Album Review: Ronna Reeves – ‘The More I Learn’

Ronna’s second album for Mercury was released in 1992. It was slightly more successful in gaining radio play, although there were still no bona fide hits.

The mid-paced title track, ‘The More I Learn (The Less I Understand About Love)’, was written by one of the most successful female songwriters of the era, Karen Staley, with Steve Dean, and it is radio friendly enough to have been a potential hit. Its #49 peak would make it the closest ever Ronna ever got to the charts.

Follow-up ‘What If You’re Wrong’, written by Austin Cunningham and Denise Davis, is a big ballad in which Ronna offers to set her a restless husband free:

If you think the magic is gone
I agree, maybe you should move on
If you’re sure that your love for me has really died
If there’s something still missing for you
Then there’s nothing more I’ll know to do
So I’ll have to go along with whatever you decide

But what if you’re wrong?

Some nice steel augments the song effectively. It peaked at a dismal #70, one place higher than the third and last single, the pacy ‘We Can Hold Our Own’, which is pleasant if unremarkable.

My favorite track is ‘Nobody Here To Love’, an excellent Bob Mc Dill ballad about the loss of love. There is a gentle Celtic feel to the fiddle arrangement on the verses behind Ronna’s vulnerable vocals, which then soar on the chorus:

I was living all alone
And though I had a heart of stone
You touched my hand and melted me
And I believed

It was you that made me see
What love could be
But I walked in today and no one was there
Now nothing matters after all

Funny how things work out
Can’t believe somehow
You could leave me now
Tell me, what were you thinkin’ of
‘Cause now that you taught me how
There’s nobody here to love

Another solid McDill tune, ‘Honky Tonk Hearts’, had been a minor hit for Dickey Lee in 1980, and was also recorded by John Anderson. Ronna’s version is pretty good. ‘I’ll Be Faithful To You’ is a sweet love song (written by Paul Kennerley) offering a second chance to someone who has been hurt by another. It was previously recorded by Don Williams. I also quite enjoyed the up-tempo ‘Heartbreak Shoes’.

‘Frontier Justice’, written by Bobby Fischer, Charlie Black and Austin Roberts, is a dramatic number in which Ronna seethes about being done wrong and lied to:

‘Cause you can’t hang ’em high
You can’t lay ’em low
The way you could a hundred years ago
When love and honor were the law of the land
If frontier justice prevailed today
My daddy and brothers would make you pay
That’s the kind of justice you’d understand

Ronna’s attitude is directed triumphantly at her lover’s ex in the upbeat ‘Bless Your Cheatin’ Heart’, an entertaining song written by Buddy Cannon and Jessica Boucher:

You know, it’s almost funny to see you standing there in tears
I just wanna thank you dear, because he no longer cares about you

You had everything you didn’t want but then somehow
He started looking good to you the minute he fell in my arms
And I’m obliged to you
And bless your cheatin’ heart

Sammy Kershaw duets with Ronna on ‘There’s Love On The Line’. Their voices work well together on this song (written by Jerry Fuller) about a separated couple laying phone tag as they try to make a connection again.

There was a lot of strong material on this album, and it’s one I enjoyed listening to.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Dan Seals – ‘Fired Up’

One of the signs of an artist in trouble is when someone who has consistently written a fair proportion of his own material suddenly drops it in favor of (often inferior) material from outside. Another is moving to a hot new producer in search of the latest sound. It rarely works, and it didn’t work for Dan Seals in 1994. For Dan’s second and final release for Warner Brothers, he left Kyle Lehning in favor of Jerry Crutchfield and a punchier more contemporary sound which just didn’t suit Dan’s natural style.

The rocked up title track ‘All Fired Up’ was the only single to chart at all, peaking at a miserable #66. Previously recorded by rockabilly throwback Bobby Lee Springfield, who co-wrote it, on his 1987 album of the same title, it’s a bit poppy but quite entertaining with genuine energy, although his voice sounds a little thin. They were clearly trying to recapture the chart success of ‘L.O.A.’, but the very poor ‘Love Thing – boring repetitive lyric, very little melody as well as very pop-orientated production – understandably failed to make any impact at all, and with a whimper rather than a bang, Dan ended his major label career. ‘Call Me Up’ is another forgettable pop number entirely unsuited to Dan’s voice and style, while Jesse Winchester’s ‘Gentleman Of Leisure’ is a badly produced and not very interesting song about wanting to do nothing.

There are two decent ballads up to Dan’s usual standards, which are well worth downloading. ‘A Rose From Another Garden’, written by Joe Doyle and Glen Davies, has a very pretty melody which allows Dan’s voice to soar, allied to a brooding poetic lyric about a man suspicious of his wife’s interests elsewhere as their own love fades:

Is she tending to a rose from another garden
While ours slowly grows dry
Is she tending to a rose from another garden
Letting our love die on the vine

A beautifully subtle vocal is perfect for this song, by far the best on the record.

‘Still Reelin’ (From Those Rock ‘n Roll Days)’ is the only song Dan wrote (with Allen Shamblin), and it’s a fine song, a gently nostalgic look back at youth and memories of being inspired by seeing the young Elvis on television.

The up-tempo ‘Hillbilly Fever’ (written by Joe Doyle and Todd Wilkes) is actually quite good, but in the light of today’s massive overuse of the theme, feels a bit generic about being tired of city life. The quite catchy ‘When’ was written by Robert Ellis Orrall and Gilles Godard, and Ricky Skaggs recorded it the following year on his album Solid Ground.

‘Jayney’ is a pleasant pop-country ballad written by Johnny Nestor, a little more interesting than the frankly dull ‘A Good Place To Be’, a Rory Michael Bourke/Charlie Black ballad about satisfaction with one’s life, without much energy or passion.

It’s still easy to find, but I would recommend digitally cherrypicking the best tracks.

Grade: C

Album Review – Dan Seals – ‘On Arrival’

Released in February 1990, On Arrival was Dan Seals’ final studio album for Capitol Records, his label home since 1985. The album, produced yet again by Kyle Lehning, would extend Seals’ success into the 1990s, although it would be short lived.

The first two singles marked Seals’ final trips to the top of the charts. The title track, a Seals original, preceded the album. A honky-tonk charger, “Love on Arrival” features a committed vocal by Seals, but the drum and guitar centric arrangement hasn’t held up over the years.

More interesting was the second single, a cover of Sam Cooke’s 1964 hit “Good Times.” Lehning frames Seals vocal in a pleasantly uncluttered arrangement, while the sing-a-long nature of the recording recalls vintage Eddie Rabbit. Unfortunately, the horns were dated, even for 1990, and give an unwelcoming campy vibe to the proceedings. But I quite appreciate what Seals was going for here, even though the polish was a bit too shiny.

The third and fourth singles, the Seals and Bob McDill co-write “Bordertown” and Bruce Burch and J.P. McMean’s “Water Under The Bridge” were the first of Seals career not to crack the top 40. The lack of airplay was surprising, seeing as both tunes were comfortably within Seals straightforward acoustic ballad wheelhouse, although neither proved as good, or memorable, as his classic hits in this vein.

The rest of On Arrival sounds like an album typical of its era, with a mixed bag of results. Roger Ferris’ “She Flew The Coupe” is a bloated (and forgettable) honky-tonk thumper, Charlie Black and Rory Michael Bourke’s “A Heart In Search Of Love” is overly sentimental and slightly predictable, while Paul Brady’s “Game Of Love” is too sugary sweet.

Slightly better is “Lonestar,” a Seals and J.D. Souther co-write about a girl who can’t get the affection of her desired man. Seals infuses the track with a wonderful vocal while the soaking of steel guitar keeps the accompaniment rather enjoyable on the ears.

Another good one is “Wood,” a Seals original finding him back in his “Everything That Glitters” vein. The track tells a sweet story about a relationship between a father and son, complete with life lessons:

I left a little taller

wiser, and free

I learned the use of tools

for the carpenter in me

I don’t have all the answers

but one thing I have have found

We are the choices that we make

when the chips are down, wood.

I also enjoy “Made For Lovin’ You” a Curly Putman and Sonny Throckmorton penned tune that went on to be a #6 peaking single for Doug Stone in 1993. Easily the best lyric, vocal, and musical track on the whole project, its hard to understand why the song was never a single for Seals, who easily has the superior version of the song.

Overall, On Arrival finds Seals up to his usual tricks while trying to stay relevant in the changing musical climate of the early 90s. The album is sentimental, marking the end of an era in which Seals topped the charts eleven times and turned out some of the best country music of its time.

On Arrival proves his previous solo singles were near impossible to match let alone top and he had somewhat mixed results in trying to do that here. But even though the results weren’t as consistent as in the past, he still managed to find (and sometimes write) a few great songs.

Grade: B

Album Review: Dan Seals – ‘San Antone’

Dan’s second country album, released in 1984, saw him move to Liberty, but keep Kyle Lehning as his producer. The material largely comprises gentle, melodic, ballads perfect for his warm vocals. It is perhaps a little one paced, with not a lot of variation in tempo.

There were three top 10 singles, starting with ‘(You Bring Out) The Wild Side Of Me’, one of Dan’s own songs. A charming love song with a pretty tune and steel and fiddle making it one of the more traditional country songs on the album, the only flaw is that Dan’s naturally warm, gentle vocal could do with a bit more aggression to make it a bit less cosy. He’s entirely convincing as the “gentleman” of the first verse, but the passion doesn’t quite convince.

‘My Baby’s Got Good Timing’, the biggest hit, peaked at #2, but while it is a pleasant enough romantic pop-country song which Dan wrote with Bob McDill, the poppy production is now rather dated and it is understandably not well remembered today. Much better is the Thom Schuyler’s affectionate tribute to a beaten up old vehicle, ‘My Old Yellow Car’, which surprisingly only made it to #9. This is one of the best songs ever written about a car; of course that’s partly because it’s not really (or only partially) about the car itself. The car (“a dream that was made of American steel”) just symbolizes lost youth; it is all about nostalgia for what has been lost with time, and Dan was the perfect singer for it:

Somewhere in a pile of rubber and steel
There’s a rusty old shell of an automobile
And if engines could run on desires alone
That old yellow car would be driving me home

Take a look at me now throwing money around
I’m paying somebody to drive me downtown
Got a Mercedes Benz with a TV and bar
And God, I wish I was driving my old yellow car

The subdued title track, ‘In San Antone’ paints a nicely detailed picture of leaving home for a country music career. The protagonist is struggling “on Broadway” (presumably the one in Nashville rather than New York), but takes comfort in thoughts of the one waiting back home who remains his biggest fan.

There is a lovely, understated cover of the country standard ‘She Thinks I Still Care’, with some tasteful steel and fiddle from Doyle Grisham and Hoot Hester. Dan is no George Jones, but his plaintive interpretation works in its own right.

‘She’s Leaving’ is a pretty, sensitively sung ballad about an impending breakup, which Dan wrote with Bob McDill. The strings, synthesizer and vocoder betray the track’s age, but the vocal is beautiful. ‘Oh These Nights’, written by Dan with Rafe VanHoy, is another fine ballad, with a downcast Dan slowly getting over his heartbreak one day at a time. This one has a more sympathetic production, with some pretty fiddle. Less successfully, ‘Who’s Gonna Keep Me Warm’ has the emotion of the lyric, about a breakup, flattened out by too intrusive a choir and string arrangement.

An ode to long lasting true love, ‘The Loving Proof’ (written by Gary Nicholson) has a smooth pop country arrangement. The equally romantic ballad ‘Tonight Is For the Lover In You’, written by Bob McDill and Charlie Black, is more attractively arranged, as the protagonist tenderly encourages his wife to rekindle their romance after a hard day chasing career dreams.

The album closes with the very short (under two minutes) ‘One Friend’, an absolutely lovely and tenderly delivered declaration of love written by Dan and dedicated to his wife Andi:

Sometimes the world was on our side
Sometimes it wasn’t fair
Sometimes it gave a helping hand
Sometimes we didn’t care

Cause when we were together
It made the dream come true
If I had only one friend left
I’d want it to be you

Overall, this was a good record which has some of the limitations of a commercial country record of the mid-1980s, but the vocals, songs and Kyle Lehning’s relatively restrained hand at the helm all make it a good example of its kind.

Grade: B+

It is avilable digitally, although CDs are hard to find.