My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Charlie Craig

Album Review: Aaron Tippin – ‘Read Between The Lines’

aarontippinBy 1992 Aaron Tippin was well on his way to becoming a one-hit wonder when his second and third singles tanked at country radio. On the surface, he seemed to have a lot of things working against him: he was slightly older than most new artists and had more twang in his voice than was generally considered commercially viable, even in those days. He also lacked the chiseled good looks that were important in a genre that was becoming increasingly image conscious.

Tippin’s commercial fortunes changed with a song about a car that, with the notable exception of its entertainment system, was a pile of junk. The catchy “There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With The Radio”, which he co-wrote with Buddy Brock, was tailor-made for radio and quickly shot to #1, becoming his first chart-topper. It was released one month in advance of his sophomore album, Read Between The Lines, which like its predecessor, was produced by Emory Gordy, Jr. He followed this success with “I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way”, which could have been titled “You’ve Got To Stand For Something Redux”. It’s a decent but not terribly original, as it is sonically and lyrically very similar to his first hit. Nevertheless, it reached the Top 5.

Aaron stumbled a bit with the album’s third single, “I Was Born With A Broken Heart”. It only reached #38, though it outperformed Josh Logan’s original 1989 version. Like all of the songs on Read Between The Lines, “Broken Heart” is a Tippin co-write. I consider it to be the weakest of the album’s four singles. “My Blue Angel”, though a bit shallow lyrically, was more radio friendly and returned Tippin to the Top 10. It’s less traditional than the rest of the album, but with a voice like Aaron Tippin’s pretty much anything sounds country.

RCA missed an opportunity by not releasing as a single the ballad “If I Had It To Do Over”, which is my favorite track on the album. I also quite like the upbeat honky-tonker “I Miss Misbehavin'”, a co-write with Charlie Craig and Mark Collie in which Tippin takes a nostalgic look back at his younger hell-raising days.

I have to admit that I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to Aaron Tippin during his commercial heyday. I enjoyed most of his radio hits but not enough to make we want to buy any of his albums. Listening to the entire album for the first time more than twenty years after its release, I realize how easy it was in the 90s to take for granted an album like this, which may not have been one of favorites at the time, but would be extremely welcome if released today.

Grade: A-

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Album Review: Alan Jackson – ‘Drive’

January 2002 saw the release of Alan’s tenth studio album, which showcases him as a confident singer-songwriter at the height of his commercial success. He is in fine voice, and Keith Stegall does his usual excellent job in the producer’s chair. Drive was the first of Alan’s albums to debut at #1 on the cross genre Billboard Hot 200 chart, despite making no concessions to crossover tastes, and it was named the ACM Album of the Year. But this is a record where one song has an impact which overshadows everything else.

Alan’s masterpiece ‘Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning?)’ defined a nation’s mood in the aftermath of 9/11. Alan had not originally intended to record it at all, but the popular response after he sang it at the CMA Awards in November 2001 led to a studio version being released as a single. When it was a #1 smash hit, it obviously had to be included on his new album. Over eight years on, it has lost none of its emotional impact, either in the studio recording or the original live version, which was added as a bonus to the end of the album, including Vince Gill’s introduction. If nothing else on the album is of quite the same calibre, that is because few songs can approach the perfection of this. Part of what makes it so effective is that it offers no judgment of the various choices he imagines people taking; it is entirely inclusive. It still makes me cry every time I hear it, with its quiet questioning and insistence that love is what really matters in the end:

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?
Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones
And pray for the ones who don’t know?
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below?….

Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers?
Stand in line and give your own blood?
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
And thank God you had somebody to love?…

But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love

The song received another accolade by being included (in a cover version by The Wrights, Alan’s nephew and the latter’s wife) as one of the songs illustrating America’s history in Song Of America, a three-CD collection produced for US schools.

Eight of the twelve songs on the album were written solely by Alan. The opening track, and second single, ‘Drive (For Daddy Gene)’, which provides the album title is a very personal nostalgic look back at a childhood spent with his father around boats and cars. Car songs tend to leave me cold, but this one has an engaging warmth impossible to dislike, and it duly headed straight to #1. The car theme is bookended with the final track, the awkwardly scanning ‘First Love’, about his teenage love for his first car, restored to him in 1993. The driving theme is further illustrated in the CD liner notes with appropriate symbols taken from road signs attached to the lyrics of some of the songs.

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Album Review: Alan Jackson – ‘A Lot About Livin’ (And A Little ‘Bout Love)’

Alan Jackson followed up — and eventually eclipsed — the quadruple-platinum success of Don’t Rock The Jukebox with his third studio release, A Lot About Livin’ (And A Little ‘Bout Love) in the autumn of 1992. Once again he teamed up with Keith Stegall and Scott Hendricks, with Stegall taking on the lion’s share of the production duties (Hendricks’ sole contribution to the album was co-producing the track “Tonight I Climbed The Wall”).

The first single, “She’s Got The Rhythm (And I Got The Blues)” was one of the products of a series of 1991 writing sessions between Jackson and Randy Travis. Among the other songs from those sessions are “From A Distance”, from Don’t Rock The Jukebox, and “Forever Together”, “A Better Class of Losers”, and “I’d Surrender All”, which were all included on Travis’ 1991 album High Lonesome. With its R&B flavored arrangement, “She’s Got the Rhythm” was originally written with B.B. King in mind, but Jackson ended up keeping the song for himself. This decision paid off when the tune easily soared up the charts, despite its stylistic departure from Alan’s earlier work. It became his sixth #1 hit in December 1992.

The next single, “Tonight I Climb The Wall”, is one of my favorite Alan Jackson songs. Unlike “She’s Got The Rhythm”, this one is pure, straight unadulterated country, and an instant, if somewhat underrated classic. Despite peaking at #4, it was excluded from his Greatest Hits Collection, though it did resurface on his second greatest hits volume a few years later.

It was the third single — “Chattahoochie” — that became the breakout hit from this collection. Not only did it provide the line that became the title of the album, it received the CMA Awards in 1993 for Single of the Year and Song of the Year. Its release in April 1993 was timed to allow it to become a huge summertime hit, which it did. It became the first Alan Jackson single to earn gold certification, as well as his seventh #1. It’s a pleasant enough light-hearted tune, but one that hasn’t aged as well as the rest of Jackson’s catalog. It would be a stretch to say that I actively dislike the song, but I have grown weary of it over the years and wouldn’t miss it if I never heard it again.

Alan followed up this blockbuster with another summertime smash, “Mercury Blues”, a remake of a song written in 1949 and recorded by K.C. Douglas, who co-wrote it with Robert Geddins. Before Alan Jackson got to the song, it was recorded by the Steve Miller Band in 1976, David Lindley in 1991 and Finn Pave Maijanen in 1987, and it was subsequently recorded by Meat Loaf in 2003 and Dwight Yoakam in 2004. Jackson’s version, which peaked at #2, is by far my favorite. A slightly retooled version of Jackson’s rendition was featured in commercials for Ford trucks,with “Ford truck” being substituted for “Mercury”.

“(Who Says) You Can’t Have It All” was the fifth and final single from this set. Written by Alan with Jim McBride, it is another straight-country, George Jones-influenced number in the vein of “Tonight I Climb The Wall”, and just like that tune, this one peaked at #4 in Billboard. This is the type of song at which Jackson excels; I hope that there is a song or two like this on his new album.

As far as the non-single tracks go, “I Don’t Need The Booze (To Get A Buzz On)” is the weakest song, which means it would probably be the lead single if this album were released today. “Up To My Ears In Tears”, written by Jackson with Don Sampson is a Texas dancehall number that would sound right at home on a George Strait album from the 80s. “Tropical Depression”, also written by Jackson and Sampson, along with Charlie Craig, is an early example of Alan Jackson in his Jimmy Buffett mode, not lyrically or melodically deep, but a pleasant light-hearted number that hasn’t worn out its welcome like “Chattahoochie” has.

Overall, I don’t like this album quite as much as Don’t Rock The Jukebox, but it’s a much stronger collection than some of Jackson’s more recent work. It peaked at #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and was certified six-times platinum, making it Jackson’s best-selling studio album. It is available from Amazon and iTunes and is well worth adding to your collection, if you don’t own it already.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Reba McEntire, ‘Have I Got A Deal For You’

Have I Got A Deal For YouReba’s third album for MCA, released in July 1985, saw her on a roll both commercially and artistically. She had just won her first CMA Female Vocalist of the Year title in 1984, and was to win again in 1985 thanks partly to the success of this album. Her rich voice is at its best, and she exercises it on a selection of excellent songs, including a couple she wrote herself. Have I Got A Deal For You was also Reba’s first production credit, alongside the experienced Jimmy Bowen – an important step in her career development, at a time when not that many artists were co-producing their records. The record feels like a natural progression from its predecessor, My Kind Of Country, retaining the traditional feel, with some lovely fiddle from the legendary Johnny Gimble, and steel from Weldon Myrick, but using newly written songs where the latter had mixed old and new.

Only two singles were released, both reaching the top 10: the fiddle-heavy western swing of the title track, written by Michael P Heeney and Jackson Leap is enjoyable if one of the lesser moments here, and reached #6. The excellent and memorable ‘Only In My Mind’, one of the few songs Reba has written, got one spot higher, and deserved to do better still. It tells of the heartstopping moment when with “a move that would have made the wind stand still”, the protagonist’s husband asks her an unexpected question. The answer he gets is a devastating one:

“He said, ‘Have you ever cheated on me?’
I said, ‘Only in my mind’.”

Not an answer designed to make him feel any better, and delivered in a perfectly nuanced manner by Reba as she then addresses the man to whom she has an emotional connection she feels her husband could never understand. Reba also co-wrote ‘She’s The One Loving You Now’ with David Anthony and Leigh Reynolds, where a downbeat lyric sounds almost inappropriately cheery.

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Album Review – Keith Whitley – ‘I Wonder Do You Think Of Me’

iwonderdoyou...I Wonder Do You Think Of Me was the first posthumous release for Keith. It was the album he was working on at the time of his death, the planned follow-up to his breakthrough Don’t Close Your Eyes. Inevitably, his death lent an additional poignancy to the songs when audiences first heard them. Even now, it is hard to completely separate the album from the circumstances of its release. Even though Keith did not write any of the songs included, many of them seem to strike a chord with his life. He clearly had a strong input into the selection of material, and he got a co-production credit with Garth Fundis.

Only three singles ended up being released to promote the album, the first being the title track, which reached #1. This excellent song by the legendary Sanger D. Shafer is really a wistful appeal to an old high-school girlfriend who “just drifted away” when they graduated, but the title, and Keith’s delicately mournful delivery, made it eerily appropriate as a tribute to him. The song has a copyright date of 1986, and I understand it was originally considered for inclusion on LA To Miami.

The label seem not to have wanted to capitalize too much on the personal tragedy, because their pick for a follow-up single was the most optimistic song on the album. The mid-tempo ‘It Ain’t Nothin”, a paean to the love of one’s spouse making up for all the troubles in life, was Keith’s last #1 hit. It is pleasant enough, but lacks the emotional impact of the best of Keith’s work; he was at his best when singing a sad country song.

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Class of ’89 Album Review: Lorrie Morgan – ‘Leave The Light On’

leavethelighton1Lorrie Morgan was one of the ‘Class of ’89’ who had been around on the fringes of the country world for a while, but who made a major breakthrough that year. Her father George Morgan was a minor country star of the 1950s, who sold a million copies of his biggest hit, ‘Candy Kisses’, and Lorrie’s first single, in 1979, was a posthumous duet with him. Thanks largely to her family connections she became an Opry member in 1984, before she had had any hits in her own right, and five years before the release of her debut album. Sadly, the release of Leave The Light On was overshadowed by the death shortly before of Lorrie’s husband, Keith Whitley, and she received a certain amount of criticism at the time for continuing to perform.

Lorrie’s warm alto voice is very good, but her qualities as an artist rest more in her interpretative ability than in the voice itself. She was fortunate in the material she and producer Barry Beckett found for Leave The Light On, because the majority of it provided a great showcase for her. Her style was rather more contemporary than many of her peers, certainly compared to her husband Keith Whitley, which may explain why she did not record any of his songs on this release.

Almost half the tracks relate to unhappy marriages past the point of repair, and given the circumstances under which it was first heard, it would be very tempting, if perhaps not altogether fair, to read a lot into the choice of material. Sequenced differently, one could almost see this as a concept album.

Lorrie’s first top 10 hit was the lovely piano-led ballad ‘Dear Me’, as the singer addresses a letter to herself, reflecting on a lost lover, a lyric delicately delivered by Lorrie. An equally beautiful and even sadder song is ‘Far Side Of The Bed’, with the narrator packing to leave an unsuspecting and sleeping husband and reflecting on the “raging love” they once shared and have now lost. Again, Lorrie interprets it perfectly.

Beth Nielsen Chapman’s beaty mid-tempo ‘Five Minutes’ tackles the same theme with a bit more energy, and gave Lorrie her first #1 hit. Yet again, she is packing to leave with the magic long gone from the relationship, but this time gives her husband a (slim) chance at winning her back – before her taxi arrives.

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