My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Charlie Daniels

Album Rewind: Kendell Marvel – Lowdown & Lonesome’

Successful songwriter Kendell Marvel’s debut album proves he is a strong singer as well with a booming baritone. The record is in a mainly Outlaw vein with honky tonk and Southern rock elements combining in a way which should appeal to fans of Chris Stapleton. Marvel co-wrote nine of the ten tracks, all with either the aforementioned Stapleton or with his producer Keith Gattis. The songs all focus on heartbreak and drinking.

The title track, written with Gattis and Randy Houser, sets the stage with its passionate and southern rock infused vocal and lyrical nods to Johnny Cash as the narrator treats a broken heart with booze and barroom life. I believe Houser is on backing vocals on the track. ‘Heartache Off My Back’ is another energetic tune about battling heartbreak, set to a train rhythm assisted by Mickey Raphael’s harmonica.

The tender ballad ‘Gypsy Woman’ (officially a single) paints a sympathetic portrait of a restless drifter, but appealing for her return home. In the misleadingly seductive sounding ‘Watch Your Heart’ the protagonist cautions a potential love interest against getting too emotionally involved with him.

There are three co-writes with Stapleton. The best of them is ‘Closer To Hell’ which Gattis also helped write. This is a traditional country drinking song about a man slowly destroying himself after his loved one moves on:

Well, my sweet little baby lit out of here like a bat out of you know where
So I’ve been drinkin’ every day and night til the dog aint got no hair…

Well, my Godfearin mama, bless her heart,
Sent the preacher out to talk to me
Sat on the couch, said “Let it all out,
Son, the truth is gonna set you free”
So I started confessin’
And he started sweating
Til he had to get up and leave
I guess the preacher agrees that

I’m just one more day closer to hell
No, it won’t be long til I’m walking with the Devil himself
I got one foot in the fire
And the other one’s on the way…

Well, they say the road is paved with good intentions
But I don’t intend on doin’ nothin’ good

‘Untangle My Mind’, which the pair wrote with Jaron Boyer, is a mid-paced tune about hard living which is quite enjoyable, loaded with honky tonk piano. ‘Tryin’ Not To Love You’, which they wrote with Casey Beathard, lacks melody, and leans a little more in the southern rock direction. However, this is the only track I didn’t much enjoy.

My favorites on this album are two sad ballads written with Gattis. ‘Hurtin’ Gets Hard’ (also written with Audley Freed) is about missing an ex whenever he is home alone and can’t distract himself any more:

You’d think that I couldn’t care
Til I walk in the front door and you’re still not there
And that’s when it stops being easy
And that’s when it all falls apart
When I’m here and you’re out wherever you are
And that’s when the hurtin’ gets hard

The steel-led ‘That Seat’s Saved’ is about a man in a bar hoping against hope that his love interest will come back.

The album closes on a high with the sole cover, Charlie Daniels’ ‘Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye’, on which Kendell is joined by Jamey Johnson.

This is a really good album which has a lot to offer.

Grade: A

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Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘The Ways To Love A Man’

the-ways-to-love-a-manBy the time The Ways To Love A Man, Tammy’s sixth solo album, was released in January 1970, Tammy and producer Billy Sherrill had found and perfected the formula for her recordings. Unlike fellow ‘Nashville Sound’ producers such as Chet Atkins at RCA, Owen Bradley at Decca/MCA and Don Law at Columbia, who made considerable use of symphonic strings and choral arrangements, Sherrill’s use of symphonic strings was minimal but his use of background voices was very aggressive indeed. Sherrill also used the steel guitar to shade the musical accompaniment in similar fashion to the way Owen Bradley would use string arrangements.

The Ways To Love A Man follows the usual formula with two singles, both of which went to #1, some covers of recent hit singles, and some filler. The album reached #3 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, making it the fifth album to do so (a religious album in 1969 only reached the top twenty).

The album opens with the title track and second single, a song credited to Tammy, Billy Sherrill and Glen Sutton as co-writers. It’s a fairly sappy song that in the hands of another artist wouldn’t be very believable, but the song was crafted with Tammy’s vocals in mind and it soared to the top of the charts.

There are so many ways to love a man and so many things to understand
And if there ever comes a time you decide to change your mind
I’ll need a way to hold you and I can
Cause I’ll know all the ways to love a man
But there’s so many ways to lose a man so quickly
He can slip through your hands
One little thing goes wrong then all at once he’s gone
I’d have no way to hold him like I planned
It takes more than just one way to love a man
With my hands my heart anything I can find
My child my home my soul and my mind
I’ll know that I can hold him yes I can
If I know all the ways to love a man

Next up is “Twelfth of Never”, a late 1950s top ten pop hit in the USA and Australia for Johnny Mathis. The lyrics were written by Jerry Livingston and Paul Francis Webster and appended to an old English folk melody. The song and was recorded by many other artists, most notably Cliff Richard, who had a major hit with the song in the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Holland, Malaysia and Norway during the mid 1960s. My favorite version of the song was that recorded by Glen Campbell on his 1968 album A New Place In The Sun. It’s a very nice song, but not particularly well suited to Tammy’s voice. That said, Tammy and Sherrill acquit themselves well on this crooner ballad.

“I’ll Share My World With You” was a major hit for her then-husband George Jones in 1969. Written by Ben Wilson, the record reached #2 for George when released by Musicor. Tammy is not in George’s league as a singer (very few are) but the song works.

“Enough of A Woman” comes from the husband and wife team of Leon Ashley and Margie Singleton. Both Leon and Margie had some success as singers (Margie as a duet partner for George Jones and Faron Young) but I don’t remember this song being a hit for anyone.

“Singing My Song” was the first single from this album, although it appears that the song may have first appeared on Tammy Wynette’s Greatest Hits which was released just before this album. This song has a triumphant feel that isn’t that characteristic of her music.

Here’s a song I love to sing,
It’s about the man that wears my ring.
And even though he’s tempted, he knows,
I’ll make sure that he gets everything.
‘Cause when he’s cold, he knows I’m warm,
And I warm him in my arms.
And when he’s sad, oh, I make him glad.
And I’m his shelter from the storm.
I’m his song when he feels like singing.
And I swing when he feels like swinging.
I don’t know what I do that’s right,
But it makes him come home at night.
And when he’s home, I make sure he’s never alone.
And that’s why I keep singing my song.

“He’ll Never Take The Place of You” was written by Charlie Daniels, Bob Johnson and Billy Sherrill. The song is a slow ballad and while she does a nice job with it, it’s just album filler. Ditto for “I Know”, a ballad composed by George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

“Yearning (To Kiss You)” was a hit for George Jones in 1957 (released as a duet with Jeanette Hicks), his first top ten duet single. George co-wrote the song with Eddie Eddings. It’s worth hearing although the original was better. “These Two” was also composed by George and Tammy, another mid-tempo ballad.

“Where Could You Go (But To Her)” is a definite misstep, a Glenn Sutton-Billy Sherrill ballad that was a charting B side hit for David Houston with “Loser’s Cathedral” as the A side. Tammy sings the song alright but Sutton and Sherrill could have done a much better job of rewriting the lyrics to suit the feminine perspective.

“Still Around” was written by Billy Sherrill is another slow ballad. It is a nice song, gently sung by Tammy with perhaps the most subdued production of any song on the album. I think this could have been a successful single for Tammy:

To make you stay I’ll never try
And when you go I will not cry
But for a time I might be found somewhere live still around
But may you find a love that’s true
Someone to love and cherish you
And if you love your whole life through
And may you love as I love you
But if you’ll ever feel alone
With no true love to call your own
And if you’ll need a place to hide
These arms of mine are open wide
And if a troubled love brings you pain
My love is all like summer rain
Always remember I’ll be found still around

A solid effort for ‘The First Lady of Country Music’, a strong A-

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis – ‘Forever and Ever, Amen’

The class of 2016 Country Music Hall of Fame inductees were announced this morning in Nashville. Fred Foster joins as a Non-Performer while Charlie Daniels holds strong in the Veterans Era category. For the Modern Era, the distinction went to Randy Travis. Randy, mostly unseen since his stroke in 2013, could barely mouth ‘thank you’ as he stood at the podium. His wife gave his speech.

Here he is 28 years ago:

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Christmas Time’

rhonda vincent christmas timeRhonda Vincent’s music is always worth hearing, so I was keen to hear her new Christmas album. The tasteful acoustic arrangements are bluegrass at its most mellow, with nothing really up-tempo or challenging. The musicians all play impeccably, with Stuart Duncan’s fiddle in particular shining, supplemented on a few tracks by additional strings. Rhonda’s lovely voice is crystal clear and expressive throughout.

Rhonda wrote four brand new songs. The opening ‘Dreaming Of Christmas’ sets the mood nicely with an upbeat depiction of a family celebration. The pleasant ‘Christmas Time At Home’ is on a similar theme. The melancholy title track is a melodic ballad about missing a loved one no longer there to share the joys of Christmas. The ultra-perky ‘Milk And Cookies’ is as up-tempo as the album gets, and rests right on that fine line between fun and annoying, falling over the latter edge at the end when she pops in a product placement for her long time sponsor Martha White.

The most memorable track is a bright and irresistible version of ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’, featuring a starry lineup comprising the Oak Ridge Boys, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, an instantly recognisable Bill Anderson whispering the “nine ladies dancing” line, an equally recognisable Dolly Parton, Ronnie Milsap (not recognisable), Gene Watson, Larry Gatlin, a sweet trio of Jeannie Seely, Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis (on “three French hens”), and child singer Emi Sunshine. This is not usually one of my favorite Christmas songs, but the effervescent mood is absolutely charming.

The other well known secular tune included is ‘Jingle Bells’, which rattles along genially with some super fiddle.

A number of well worn carols fill out the remainder of the tracklist, starting with a reflective reading of ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’. A straightforward reading of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is also nice, with a string quartet accompaniment. ‘Away In A Manger’, ‘Silent Night’ and ‘O Little Town Of Bethlehem’ are all beautifully done, but do we really need another version of any of them? Rhonda obviously had difficulty narrowing down her selection of material, because she closes up with a medley of a further seven carols apparently strung together at random, accompanied by solo piano. Standing out among these is an intense vocal on ‘O Holy Night’ and the choice of ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’. Maybe she should have hived this medley off into a completely separate EP.

So this is a lovely sounding bluegrass/acoustic country album, but not necessarily an essential purchase if you’ve already got a lot of Christmas music in your collection.

Grade: B

Album Review: Alabama – ‘Southern Star’

41OBKFV1XkLAlabama arrived on the national stage in 1980 at a time when country music was dominated by crossover acts. By mid-decade, however, the pendulum had swung wildly in the opposite direction and by the end of the decade, many veteran acts had been swept off the charts altogether. Those that survived the tide change were forced to adopt a more traditional sound in order to remain relevant. 1989’s Southern Star was Alabama’s back-to-basics album — sort of. While it was less slickly-produced than most of their earlier albums, a traditional album it is not. The radio singles were carefully crafted to appeal to the change in commercial tastes, but on the album cuts the band continued to explore different styles, including Southern rock and pop.

Southern Star found the band working with a new production team. Gone was Harold Shedd, who had co-produced all of their albums for RCA, and in his place were Barry Beckett; Larry Michael Lee, and Josh Leo. The album continued Alabama’s winning streak on the singles charts, with all four of its singles reaching #1, starting with “Song of the South”, a catchy Bob McDill number that had been recorded several times previously — originally by Bobby Bare, and later by Johnny Russell and Tom T. Hall with Earl Scruggs. Ballads were always a strong point for the band and the excellent “If I Had You”, the album’s second chart-topper was no exception. The uptempo “High Cotton” takes a look back through rose-colored glasses at growing up during the Great Depression, and “Southern Star” gives Alabama an opportunity to showcase their tight harmonies.

The rest of the songs on Southern Star could have appeared on any of Alabama’s previous albums. Though the production is more organic, the songs occasionally stray into different musical territory. “Down On The River” is pleasant if not particularly memorable Southern rock song. “She Can” is pop-flavored number that is somewhat marred by a synthesizer, “Dixie Fire”, featuring Jeff Cook on lead vocals, is similarly dated sounding. “Barefootin'” (another Cook-led effort) is a throwaway number with annoying horns.

The Randy Owen-penned “Ole Baugh Road” is one of the better album cuts. The Spanish-tinged “The Borderline”, with Teddy Gentry singing lead with guest Charlie Daniels, is the album’s biggest creative stretch.

Though not without its missteps, Southern Star proved that Alabama was able to adapt to changing commercial tastes and remain relevant after nearly a decade on charts. It was a great way to close out the decade and the album is still worth listening to today.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Brad Paisley – ‘Wheelhouse’

wheelhouse“Southern Comfort Zone”, the lead single from Brad Paisley’s newly-released album Wheelhouse is a fish out of water tale that makes the case that pushing the envelope and venturing outside one’s familiar territory can be a very positive thing. It’s a very appropriate message from an artist who has been pushing his own boundaries, with varying degrees of success, beginning with 2009’s American Saturday Night. Wheelhouse is Paisley’s most ambitious project to date; he wrote or co-wrote all of its songs, and produced the album itself. Unfortunately, the material is very uneven in quality and even the better tracks serve as evidence that up to now Paisley has benefited immensely from the guidance of Frank Rogers, who produced all of his previous albums.

With its references to Billy Graham and Martha White, “Southern Comfort Zone” is a celebration of southern culture, complete with audio clips from The Andy Griffith Show, and makes the case that travel broadens the mind. It’s an appropriate opening track to an album that takes the listener on a long (sometimes too long) musical journey that has a few twists and turns along the way. It is followed by Paisley’s current single, “Beat This Summer”, a feel-good summertime tune with not-too-deep lyrics, that suffers from production that is too cluttered and overwhelming.

Brad is joined by an eclectic roster of guest artists, including Dierks Bentley, Hunter Hayes, Charlie Daniels, the late Roger Miller, and rapper LL Cool J. Of these collaborations, the Bentley/Hayes/Miller one, “Outstanding In Our Field” is the most interesting, though the inclusion of Miller’s vocals seems gimmicky and unnecessary. “Karate”, featuring Daniels, is about a battered wife who takes her revenge by studying the martial arts. It sounds too much like a party anthem for such serious subject matter. But the album’s true zenith comes with “Accidental Racist”, in which Paisley apologizes to a Starbucks barista for wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a Confederate flag, as well as all the social injustices of the last 150 years. LL Cool J provides the other side of the conversation, which is an admirable (I suppose) attempt at a serious dialog about race, but instead comes across as pandering.

There is a fair sampling of songs that are more vintage Paisley — such as “Death of a Single Man” and “Runaway Train” (the one track on the album that I truly enjoyed), but even these are marred by overwrought production and Paisley’s attempts to sing at the top of his vocal register. Many of the album’s songs contain background vocals from annoying choruses that mimic the “oohing” and “ah-ing” of area rock concert audiences.

In addition to the standard album, there are two extended versions of Wheelhouse — the Deluxe and Cracker Barrel editions, which each containing different sets of bonus tracks, that I found more enjoyable than most of the songs on the main part of the album. The Cracker Barrel edition, which oddly enough is available for download from Amazon, contains an acoustic version of “Beat This Summer” which is far superior to the original. “Only Way She’ll Stay” and “She Never Quite Got Over Him” both deserved slots on the main part of the album.

It’s hard to fault Paisley for trying to expand his horizons, but by and large Wheelhouse does not succeed on an artistic level, and since his fingerprints are all over the project as its producer and main songwriter, the fault clearly lies with him. After the somewhat disappointing This Is Country Music, I’d hoped for a return to form. I still think Brad Paisley has a lot of good music left in him, but not enough made it into this collection. Here’s to hoping that his next album will be a bit less self-indulgent and more conventional.


Grade: C-

Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘Down The Road I Go’

travistritt1998’s commercially disappointing No More Looking Over My Shoulder was the first album of Travis Tritt’s career that did not earn gold or platinum certification. It also marked the end of his tenure at Warner Bros. Records. At the turn of the millennium he signed with Columbia and released Down The Road I Go, which brought about a change in his commercial fortunes, at least temporarily.

Travis had a hand in writing seven of the album’s eleven tracks, and once again served as the project’s co-producer with Billy Joe Walker, Jr. The first single release for his new label was the gorgeous ballad “Best of Intentions”, which returned him to the Top 10 for the first time in four years. It was also his first #1 since 1994’s “Foolish Pride” and was his fifth and last chart-topper. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most of Tritt’s ballads but if pressed, I would probably choose “Best of Intentions” as my favorite.

Now back in country radio’s good graces, Tritt followed up the success of “Best of Intentions” with the Darrell Scott-penned “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” an optimistic and upbeat number that had previously been recorded by Jon Randall. It just missed the top of the chart, leveling off at #2, as did the soulful “Love Of A Woman”. “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” tells the story of a man who finds himself on the wrong side of the law when a woman he picks up at a gas station robs a convenience store. Comparing themselves to the famous 1930s outlaw duo, the two go on the lam and are eventually apprehended by the police. The fun tune peaked at #8 and was the last Top Ten hit of Tritt’s career.

Down The Road I Go is one of Tritt’s more consistent and enjoyable albums in no small part due to the lack of Southern Rock tunes that permeated most of his earlier work. The album cuts are all well written and within the realm of what was considered mainstream country in the early 2000s. I particularly like the harmonies on “I Wish I Was Wrong” and the two tunes that Tritt penned with Charlie Daniels – “If The Fall Don’t Get You” and the closing track “Southbound Train”, which has just a hint of Southern Rock. I also quite like “Never Get Away From Me (For Waylon and Jessi)”, which sounds very much like something Waylon Jennings might have released a quarter century earlier.

Down The Road I Go
is one of the very few Travis Tritt albums that I still play all the way through. Although he released two more albums for Columbia, it marks his last hurrah as a hitmaker. It’s worth picking up even if you are just a casual fan as all of his major hits for Columbia can be found here.

Grade: A

Christmas Rewind: Charlie Daniels – ‘Jesus Is The Light Of The World’

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 3

The 1980s got off to a poor start with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wreaked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

Here are some more songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

Blue Blooded Woman
Alan Jackson
This 1989 ballad was the opening salvo for the career of Alan Jackson. While the song only reached #45, the next year it was released as the flip side of Alan’s first top five record “Here In The Real World”.

She’s Gone, Gone, GoneCarl Jackson
This 1984 cover of a Lefty Frizzell classic reached #44, the top chart performance for an incredibly talented musician better known for his work in bluegrass/ Americana.

Innocent Lies
Sonny James
After a two year chart absence, the Southern Gentleman resurfaced on the Dimension label for one last top twenty tune in early 1982. According to Billboard, Sonny had and forty-three top tens recordings of which twenty-three went all the way to the top.

Just Give Me What You Think Is FairTommy Jennings with Vern Gosdin
Tommy was Waylon’s younger brother. This was the biggest of his three chart hits, reaching #51 in mid-1980.

Theme From The Dukes of Hazzard
Waylon Jennings
Fess up – we all watched the show, mindless as it was at times . This song would reach the top slot in the fall of 1980, also reaching #21 on Billboard’s Pop Charts.

North WindJim & Jesse with Charlie Louvin
This song reached #56, a very good showing for a bluegrass act in 1982.

Give Me Wings Michael Johnson
The late 1970s-early 1980s were Johnson’s peak as a pop artist with “Bluer Than Blue”, reaching #12 Pop/#1 Easy Listening in 1978. A very talented guitarist and songwriter, Johnson found himself classified as country during the mid-1980s although his basic style remained unchanged. “Give Me Wings” and its follow up “The Moon Is Still On Her Shoulders” would both reach #1 in 1987.

Wine Colored RosesGeorge Jones
The 1980s were a huge decade for King George with three number one records and another fifteen songs that reached the top ten. George is at his best with sad songs and this wistful ballad from 1986 is one of my favorites.

Two Story House George Jones & Tammy Wynette
No longer a married couple, George and Tammy still had enough vocal chemistry to take this 1980 entry to #1 on Cashbox. There would be one more single released on Epic but this marked the end for a remarkable duo.

Why Not MeNaomi & Wynonna Judd
I was not a big fan of the Judds, but I liked this #1 record from 1984.

It’s Who You Love Kieran Kane
Basically an Americana artist, this 1982 hit was one of only two top twenty records Kane would have as a solo artist. A few years later he would be part of a more successful duo.

Thank God For The RadioThe Kendalls
I have no idea why the Kendalls faded away during the 1980s as I would have expected the “New Traditionalist” movement to have resurrected their career. The Kendalls had already started to fade away when this 1984 #1 hit returned them to the top ten for one last visit. Jeannie Kendall is about as good a female vocalist as the genre has seen in the last thirty years.

Oklahoma BorderlineVince Gill
It took Vince a while for his solo career to take off after leaving Pure Prairie League. This song reached #9 in early 1986 and was his second top ten recording. The really big hits would start in 1990 with “When I Call Your Name”.

Walk Softly On This Heart of Mine Kentucky Headhunters
This rocked up cover of a Bill Monroe song landed the group their first top thirty hit in 1989. While they would only have one top ten record, the Kentucky Headhunters brought something different and distinctive to county radio.

Cajun BabyDoug Kershaw with Hank Williams Jr.
This song was set to music by Hank Jr., from some lyrics he found among his father’s papers. Hank got to #3 with the song in 1969, but this time it topped out at #52.

Mister GarfieldMerle Kilgore with Hank Williams Jr. & Johnny Cash
Diehard Johnny Cash fans may remember the song from a 1960s album about the Old West. This 1982 record reached #52. Kilgore didn’t have a lot of chart success as a performer, but he wrote or co-wrote a number of huge hits for others such as “More and More”, “Wolverton Mountain” and “Ring of Fire”.

I Still Miss Someone
Don King
A nice take on a Johnny Cash classic, this 1981 recording topped out at #38 in 1981. Don King was a successful songwriter and publisher who was not wild about touring. When he quit working the road, his road band kept going, changing their name to “Sawyer Brown” and had considerable success.

Killin’ TimeFred Knoblock & Susan Anton
Fred Knoblock is a talented singer; Susan Anton was (is) really pretty. This record made it to #10 in 1981. Go figure.

They Killed HimKris Kristofferson
Most of Kris’s best songs date back to when he was a starving songwriter. This 1987 tribute to Jesus Christ, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King was one of his few later songs that reached his earlier standards. This song deserved a better fate than to be marooned at #67 in 1987, but back then, religious (or even quasi-religious) themes were normally the kiss of death for radio.

Sweet Sexy EyesCristy Lane
The follow up to “One Day At A Time “ (Cristy’s lone #1) this 1980 single saw Cristy returning to the shimmering pop country she had been recording. This record reached #8 in late 1980. This would be Cristy’s last top ten record. She would continue to record pop country for a few more years before turning into a largely religious performer.

Lock Stock and TeardropsKathy Dawn Lang (k.d. lang)
Lang was always a little too left field to have much success at country radio. This single reached #53 in 1988, her third of five charting singles. This song was penned by Roger Miller and this recording is the quintessential recording of the song.

Lady, Lady
Kelly Lang
Her father was Conway Twitty’s road manager, she is married to T.G. Sheppard and she is a very fine singer. Despite all that, this was Kelly’s sole chart entry reaching #88 in 1982.

That’s How You Know When Love’s RightNicolette Larson with Steve Wariner
Basically a pop artist, her “Lotta Love went to #1 on the AC charts in 1978. This song reached #9 in 1986, her only top ten country record. Nicolette sang background on may pop and country recordings. She died in 1997 at the age of 45.

I Wish I Had A Job To ShoveRodney Lay
His biggest hit, this song reached #45 in 1982. Rodney was better known as a musician and was on Hee Haw for a number of years as a member of the house band.

Ten Seconds In The SaddleChris LeDoux
This song reached #96 in 1980, no small feat considering it was pressed on LeDoux’s own label and sold at rodeos. The Garth Brooks tune mentioning him was still five years in the future

Broken TrustBrenda Lee with The Oak Ridge Boys
Brenda’s last top ten record, reaching #9 in 1980. Brenda would continue to chart for another five years, but even if she had ceased charting a decade earlier, she still had a remarkable career.

Cherokee Fiddle
Johnny Lee
Johnny Lee was the ultimate beneficiary of the Urban Cowboy movie. Johnny’s career had gone nowhere in he five years prior to the movie (six chart singles, only one reaching the top twenty). “Looking For Love” kicked off a strong five year run with five #1 records and a bunch more top twenty hits. This record reached #10 in 1982 and remains my favorite of all of his records. Charlie Daniels and Michael Martin Murphey provide backing vocals on this record.

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 1

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)“ – Alabama
Alabama made excellent music during the 1980s, although the country content of some of it was suspect. Not this song, which is dominated by fiddle. One of the few up-tempo Alabama records that swings rather than rocks.

I’ve Been Wrong Before” – Deborah Allen
An accomplished songwriter who wrote many hits for others, particularly with Rafe VanHoy, this was one of three top ten tunes for Ms. Allen, reaching #2 in 1984. This is much more country sounding than her other big hit “Baby I Lied”.

Last of The Silver Screen Cowboys” – Rex Allen Jr.
After some success as a pop-country balladeer, Rex Jr. turned increasing to western-themed material as the 1980s rolled along. This was not a big hit, reaching #43 in 1982, but it featured legendary music/film stars Roy Rogers and Rex Allen Sr. on backing vocals.

“Southern Fried” – Bill Anderson
This was Whispering Bill’s first release for Southern Tracks after spending over twenty years recording for Decca/MCA. Bill was no longer a chart force and this song only reached #42 in 1982, but as the chorus notes: “We like Richard Petty, Conway Twitty and the Charlie Daniels Band”.

Indeed we do. Read more of this post

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Not a Moment Too Soon’

If Tim McGraw’s debut album, with its three under-performing singles were released in the current decade, we would not likely hear from him again for another five years. But in the 90s, even Curb artists cranked out albums on a regular basis. Not a Moment Too Soon, Tim’s sophomore effort appeared eleven months after its predecessor, and marked the beginning of his commercial success, thanks in no small part to its controversial lead single.

“Indian Outlaw” is not a great song, but it does feature some mean fiddle-playing, reminiscent of of Charlie Daniels, which helped it to stand out from the pack. But it was the song’s lyrics, said to be demeaning to Native Americans, that offended those who make it a point to get offended by this sort of thing. Though some radio stations refused to play it, the controversy brought the single invaluable publicity, and propelled it into the Top 10 where it peaked at #8, and also earned it gold certification in an era when country singles rarely sold in the hundreds of thousands. The lyrics are inane, to be sure, but are firmly tongue-in-cheek, and the melody itself is rather catchy. To their credit, McGraw and Curb stood their ground and refused to back down to those who demanded that the single be pulled from the airwaves. The record stuck its finger right in the eye of the PC crowd, and for that reason alone I was pleased to see it succeed.

Unfortunately, “Indian Outlaw” was followed by “Don’t Take The Girl”, which managed to climb all the way to #1 despite being one of the era’s most annoying songs. Its contrived and overly sentimental lyrics and McGraw’s exaggerated twang grate on the ears. I always thought that Tim’s delivery sounded inauthentic in those days — one could say he was the Jennifer Nettles of that era — and the gradual disappearance of his twang over the years confirms this suspicion. Fortunately, the remaining three singles were much better. “Down on the Farm” written by Jerry Laseter and Kerry Kurt Phillips is not a cover of the Charley Pride tune from 1985. It’s a generic and somewhat forgettable tune that had the advantage of being released before rural pride anthems began to rule the airwaves. It just missed the top spot, peaking at #2. I quite like the remaining two singles, the title track which became Tim’s second #1 hit and “Refried Dreams” which reached #5.

Outside of the singles, there isn’t much else of interest here, just generic filler, the best of which is “Give It To Me Strait” a tribute of sorts to George Strait, though I have my doubts that he ever really one of Tim’s musical heroes. Still, the lyrics are entertaining:

Give it to me Strait, sing ‘Am I Blue’ while I sit here and cry
And tell my how my baby’s gotten so good at goodbye
It’s going to take a fireman to put this old flame out
So come on, give it to me Strait before I come unwound

There ain’t one country singer
That ain’t good for a a bad heartache
And for me there’s nothing smoother
Than a good stiff shot of Strait.

Guess this was before Tim became enamored with Def Leppard, Nelly, and Ne-Yo.

Not a Moment Too Soon went on to sell six million copies and was named Album of the Year by the Academy of Country Music in 1994. It is available at bargain prices at Amazon.

Grade: B-

Country Heritage Redux: Ernest Tubb (1914-1984)

An expanded and updated version of an article previously published by The 9513:

Disclaimer: Expect no objectivity at all from me with this article. Along with Webb Pierce and Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb is one of my all-time favorite country artists. Yes, I know he started out most songs a quarter tone flat and worked his way flatter from there, and yes, I know that 80% of The 9513s readership has technically better singing voices than Tubb had. But no one in country music (and few outside the genre, Al Jolson, Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, Phil Harris among them) was ever able to infuse as much warmth and personality into his singing.

Ernest Tubb, known as E.T. to nearly everyone, was born in 1914 in Crisp, Texas, a town in Ellis County which is no longer even a flyspeck on the map. Tubb grew up working on farms and used his free time learning to play guitar, sing and yodel. As with many who grew up in the rural southeast and southwest, E.T. grew up listening to the music of the legendary “Singing Brakeman” Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933), and like such contemporaries as Gene Autry, Jimmie Davis , Bill Monroe, Jimmie Skinner and Hank Snow, E.T. started his career sounding like a Jimmie Rodgers clone. In Ernest’s case, he eventually met Jimmie’s widow, Carrie Rodgers, who was sufficiently impressed with Tubb to sponsor his career and give him one of Jimmie’s guitars to play. Tubb played clubs around Texas and the southwest and, with Mrs. Rodgers’ help, secured a record deal with RCA. As there had already been one Jimmie Rodgers, Tubb’s sound-alike records sold only modestly.

Good luck can take many forms. In Tubb’s case, his good luck came in the form of illness. In 1939 E.T. suffered a throat infection that necessitated a tonsillectomy, robbing him of his ability to yodel and thereby forcing him to develop a style of his own.

Moving to Decca Records in 1940, Tubb continued to record. Nothing happened initially, but his sixth release–a self-penned number titled “Walking the Floor Over You”–turned him into a star. The song was released in 1941, before the advent of Billboard’s country music charts. It did, however, appear on the pop charts, selling over a million records in the process. The song was covered by such luminaries as Bing Crosby and became Tubb’s signature song. Over the years the song has been recorded hundreds of times with artists including Pat Boone, Hank Thompson, Patsy Cline, Asleep at the Wheel and Glen Campbell being among the more notable.
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Album Review: The Grascals & Friends – ‘Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin’

The Grascals are one of the most talented current bluegrass lineups, and their four albums to date have been gaining them increasing amounts of attention. The band’s singers are not among my favorite bluegrass vocalists, but their instrumental prowess is exceptional. They have already worked extensively with discerning country artists like Dierks Bentley and Dolly Parton. This side project, recorded exclusively for Cracker Barrel, consists, as the title promises, of the Grascals’ selection of classic mainstream country songs given a light bluegrass flavor, with a number of guest stars helping out on vocals. Fiddler Jeremy Abshire and banjoist Kristin Scott Benson stand out most for me, but all the musicianship is flawless, with not a note sounding out of place or misjudged – the perfect combination of virtuosity and taste.

Most of the songs are duets with the guest vocalist generally opening and one of the Grascals’ lead singers taking over halfway through. Guests range from some of the more traditionally rooted of today’s stars to veteran acts on their own classics.

Brad Paisley is entertaining on a committed version of the Buck Owens classic ‘Tiger By The Tail’ which opens the set brightly and is one of my favorite tracks. I also really enjoyed Dierks Bentley guesting on ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, although I would have preferred him to sing lead throughout rather than sharing the role, which seems to make the lyric less convincing by not being a single man’s story. The least successful cameo comes from Joe Nichols, whose music I usually like, but who sounds rather limp on ‘Mr Bojangles’ (not one of my personal favorite songs anyway, which may color my appreciation of this version).

Darryl Worley appears on the second verse of a fast-paced and playful ‘White Lightning’ which sounds as though the band had great fun recording it, and it is equally enjoyable to listen to. Country and bluegrass get some added Cajun spice with a lively take on ‘Louisiana Saturday Night’ (a Bob McDill song about down-home partying on the bayou and was a hit for Mel McDaniel in 1981), which is perfectly fine without any star guest. However, a Hank Jr medley of ‘Born To Boogie’ and All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin’ Over Tonight’ could have done with a guest to add some passion, as the treatment is just far too mild – neither boogieing nor rowdy in even the slightest degree. The instrumental backing is as attention-grabbing as ever, though.

Singer-songwriter Tom T Hall has been working in bluegrass for some years, and here he sings his ‘The Year That Clayton Delaney Died’. His voice has audibly aged, but it works well in the context of this warmly reminiscent tribute to a childhood influence, and the cut is absolutely charming. Charlie Daniels sounds even more grizzled on ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’, but the band sound a little too polite vocally backing him up, although the playing definitely has the requisite fire. The Oak Ridge Boys contribute vocals on their Rodney Crowell-penned hit ‘Leavin’ Louisiana In the Broad Daylight’ (one of the more unexpected song choices), and while this works well in its new incarnation, it isn’t one of my favorite tracks.

Dolly Parton harmonizes beautifully on her own (and Porter Wagoner’s) ‘Pain Of Lovin’ You’, which works perfectly as a bluegrass song. Dolly also guests on the single which has been released to publicize the project, ‘I Am Strong’, the only original song included (apart from a nice rhythmic instrumental, ‘Cracker Barrel Swing’). Written by the Grascals’ Jamie Johnson with his wife Susanne Mumpower-Johnson and Jenee Fleenor (currently Terri Clark’s fiddle player), it has a very pretty melody, and heartfelt lyric, sung with great soulfulness and emotion. I have to admit that if I were diagnosed with a serious or fatal illness, my own first impulse would not be to talk about how strong I felt, and I don’t think I would even want to be, so the song’s message doesn’t quite speak to me personally. Having said that, it is an attitude which does help many people, and it appealed to the Grascals enough that they recorded the song twice here, once with Dolly, then reprised at the end of the album with an all-star cast including most of their other guests, Terri Clark, Randy Owen and (bizarrely) action star Steven Seagal. (It would, incidentally, have been nice to have had a full duet with Terri on the record, as the choice of guests is rather male-dominated.) I actually found this version with everyone swapping lines more effective and moving than the earlier version, with more of a sense of universality.

Both versions are emotive in the right way, with a real sense of hope. Both end with a few lines delivered by a three-year-old patient at St Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, which inspired the song’s composition. Fittingly, a share of the profits of the album go to the hospital.

Grade: A-

Week ending 8/22/09: #1 singles this week in country music history

charlie1949: I’m Throwing Rice (At The Girl I Love) — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1959: Waterloo — Stonewall Jackson (Columbia)

1969: A Boy Named Sue — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1979: The Devil Went Down to Georgia — The Charlie Daniels Band (Epic)

1989: Sunday In The South – Shenandoah (Columbia)

1999: Amazed — Lonestar (BNA)

2009: You Belong With Me — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

Album Review: Kim Williams – ‘The Reason That I Sing’

williamskimI’ve mentioned before that I always enjoy hearing songwriters’ own interpretations of songs which they have written for other artists. The latest example comes from Kim Williams, a name you should recognize if you pay attention to the songwriting credits. Kim has been responsible for no fewer than 16 number 1 hits, and many more hit singles and album tracks over the past 20 years. Now he has released an album containing his versions of many of his big hits, together with some less familiar material.

The album is sub-titled Country Hits Bluegrass Style, although the overall feel of the record is more acoustic country with bluegrass instrumentation provided by some of the best bluegrass musicians around: Tim Stafford (who produces the set) on guitar, Ron Stewart on fiddle and banjo, Adam Steffey on mndolin, Rob Ickes on dobro, and Barry Bales on bass, with Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford providing harmony vocals. Kim’s voice is gruff but tuneful, and while he cannot compare vocally to most of those who have taken his songs to chart success, he does have a warmth and sincerity which really does add something to the songs he has picked on this album.

Kim includes three of the songs he has written for and with Garth Brooks, all from the first few years of the latter’s career. ‘Ain’t Going Down (Til The Sun Comes Up’), a #1 for Garth in 1993, provides a lively opening to the album, although it is one of the less successful tracks, lacking the original’s hyperactivity while not being a compelling or very melodic song in its own right. ‘Papa Loved Mama’ is taken at a slightly brisker pace than the hit version, and is less melodramatic as a result – neither better nor worse, but refreshingly different. ‘New Way To Fly’, which was recorded by Garth on No Fences, also feels more down to earth and less intense than the original, again with a very pleasing effect.

The other artist whose repertoire is represented more than once here is Joe Diffie. The lively western swing of ‘If The Devil Danced In Empty Pockets’ (written with Ken Spooner) with its newly topical theme of being well and truly broke is fun. Although ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ (from the 1992 album Regular Joe) was never released as a single, this tender ballad about separation from a loved one has always been one of my favorite Joe Diffie recordings. Kim’s low-key, intimate version wisely avoids competing vocally, but succeeds in its own way.

One of my favorite hit singles this decade was ‘Three Wooden Crosses’, a #1 hit for Randy Travis in 2002, which Kim wrote with Doug Johnson. A movie based on the story is apparently in development. I still love Randy’s version, but while Kim is far from the vocalist Randy is, this recording stands up on its own terms, with an emotional honesty in Kim’s delivery which brings new life to the story.

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Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘Rockin’ In The Country’

Daryle SingletaryDaryle Singletary is a man with a genuinely great voice, who might have been one of the best of the neotraditional country singers of the 1990s in terms of sheer vocal ability. Sadly, his chart career was based on fairly mediocre material, and he only had three top 5 hits. I only really got interested in him when he released the excellent Ain’t It The Truth in 1998, which was not a commercial success and proved to be his last on a major label.

This decade, he has released two albums mainly consisting of high-quality covers, but now he is back with an album of original material on E1 Music (the independent label formerly known as Koch).

I was concerned about the likely quality of the material and direction of the album when I heard the title, but I need not have been concerned. The album, produced by Greg Cole, who was responsible for Daryle’s covers sets, with label executive Chuck Rhodes, is pretty solid country throughout, and complements Daryle’s rich, textured voice well. Although the songs are not all instant classics, they are almost all good, with a couple of real highlights.

The title track is indeed as rocking as Daryle gets, which is to say uptempo country with a very faint southern rock flavor, the latter mainly courtesy of Charlie Daniels’ sizzling fiddle solo and occasional vocal interjections. The song itself is a fun number written by Paul Overstreet and Sonny Tillis about a farmer who forestalls foreclosure on his land by giving up the actual farm (selling the cows to a neighbor and building a stage in place of the barn), and putting on weekly country music shows there instead. It pays off for our hero big time – “they say the old coot’s got a million stashed”.

The most unusual track, and one which seems to be made for a video, is ‘She Sure Looks Good In Black’, written by Dale Dodson and Billy Lawson. This opens with an old country preacher (played by Christian music artist and Nashville session musician Gordon Mote) speaking at what turns out to be the funeral of the narrator, and telling us that the lady in the front row broke up with the deceased just a few weeks earlier; then we get a couple of lines from ‘Amazing Grace’ sung acapella in the voice of an elderly choir member (performed by Glen Duncan), before Daryle starts singing in the persona of the corpse. This may be my favorite track, as Daryle’s classic country voice tells us to a suitably mournful tune (with Rhonda Vincent on harmonies),

“My mama hates her, my daddy blames her,
My sister swears it’s all an act
But if she had wore [sic] red
She could have raised the dead
But my Lord, that woman sure looks good in black”

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