My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Chris Hillman

Album Review: Chris Hillman – ‘Bidin’ My Time’

Veteran folk-country-rocker Chris Hillman is always eclectic, but his latest album (produced by the late Tom Petty and longterm confrere Herb Pedersen) leans a little more in the folk-rock direction than the acoustic country work he had been making in recent years.

The opening ‘Bells Of Rhymney’ is a rather depressing song about struggling Welsh miners, written by Pete Seeger based on a 1930s poem by Idris Davies. Hillman previously recorded the song with The Byrds in 1965, in their jangly folk-rock period. The new version is rather better sung (with ex-Byrd David Crosby on harmonies), but it makes for a rather depressing opening.

There are a couple of co-writes with Hillman’s old Byrds bandmate Roger McGuinn, including a revival of ‘Here She Comes Again’, an older song but one they had not previously recorded. This is OK but a bit too Byrdsy for me, with McGuinn’s guitar prominent in the mix. ‘Old John Robertson’ has been revised (and retitled ‘New Old John Robertson’), and is very charming if very short, with a bluegrass arrangement. Another jangly Byrds cover comes with the Gene Clark-penned ‘She Don’t Care About Time’, which is quite pleasant.

Most of the new material comes from the longstanding songwriting partnership of Hillman and Steve Hill. The title track is a lovely waltztime reflection on the longing to return home to the countryside, prettily ornamented by Hillman’s mandolin. ‘Restless’ is a short and quite nice midpaced song about passage through life.

‘Different Rivers’ is a gentle, poetic ballad painting the portrait of a couple navigating a difficult world. ‘Given All I Can See’ is a vaguely spiritual plea for God’s “mercy and grace” on himself and the world in dark times. ‘Such Is The World That We Live In’ is a charming bluegrass influenced mid-tempo tune with an engaging melody, airy vocals and lyrics addressing the state of the USA from the point of view of a pair of fictional characters:

I never thought the day would come
When I’d see America on the run
And not sure what they’re running from
When all that’s lost in our schools
When the godless ones attempt to rule
We can only wonder who’s the fool

The pretty, lilting ‘Wildflowers’ is a cover of a Tom Petty song, and has a charming acoustic arrangement. ‘Walk Right Back’ was a pop hit for the Everly Brothers, and a country one for Anne Murray. Herb Pedersen’s close Everlys style harmony makes this track another joy. A more obscure cover is of ‘When I Get A Little Money’, a charming folk-style song written and previously recorded by Nathan G Barrow.

Overall I enjoyed this album, but it is not as commercially appealing as, say, Hillman’s work with the Desert Rose Band.

Grade: B

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Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Fist City’

fist cityThe lead single of Loretta’s 1968 album Fist City, ‘What Kind Of Girl (Do You Think I Am)?’, a plaintive tune written by Loretta with Teddy Wilburn, was a top 5 single in 1967. It’s a nice song, but not one which is remembered today – perhaps because its subject matter now seems old fashioned, with the demure protagonist reproving her sweetheart for wanting to anticipate their wedding vows:

You want me to prove my love for you
I’m surprised that’s the way you’re askin’ me to
You’ve known me so long I can’t understand
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

What kind of a girl do you want for a wife?
Do you want a girl who knows that much about life?
Well, if that’s what you want
Take me out of your plan
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

What kind of a girl would do the things
You’re askin’ me to, without wedding rings
Is it what you must do to prove you’re a man?
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

It was also soon overshadowed by the title track, which became the record’s second single, and is one of Loretta’s classic self-penned hits. Positively aggressive in its takedown of a real life romantic rival who apparently had eyes for Loretta’s husband Doolittle, it typifies the sassy attitude and self-confidence which Loretta had previously exhibited on ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)’:

You’ve been makin’ your brags around town that you’ve been a lovin’ my man
But the man I love when he picks up trash, he puts it in a garbage can
And that’s what you look like to me and what I see’s a pity
You’d better close your face and stay out of my way
If you don’t wanta go to Fist City

If you don’t wanna go to Fist City you’d better detour round my town
Cause I’ll grab you by the hair of the head and I’ll lift you off of the ground
I’m not a sayin’ my baby’s a saint cause he ain’t
And that he won’t cat around with a kitty
I’m here to tell you gal to lay off of my man if you don’t wanna go to Fist City

Come on and tell me what you told my friends if you think you’re brave enough
And I’ll show you what a real woman is since you think you’re hot stuff
You’ll bite off more than you can chew if you get too cute or witty
You better move your feet if you don’t wanna eat a meal that’s called Fist City

Loretta’s vocal has an almost playful quality to it which belies the violence, and makes the song highly enjoyable.

‘I’m Shootin’ For Tomorrow’, another Lynn composition, is a vivacious mid-tempo number about writing off an old relationship:

Well I used to think you was the only man
But I’ve found out you’re not
So I’m a shootin’ for tomorrow
‘Cause today’s already shot
I used to keep the home fires burnin’
But I let ’em all go out

No song on this album is longer than three minutes; this one is under two minutes, as is ‘You Didn’t Like My Lovin’, written by Loretta with Teddy Wilburn and Joe “Red” Hayes. This one’s protagonist has happily moved on to someone new and sends her ex away with a flea in his ear. Loretta also covers Hayes’ country gospel classic a Satisfied Mind.

‘Somebody’s Back In Town’ was a hit for the Wilburn Brothers in 1959, although for some reason iTunes credits Loretta as their co-writer (I believe it was really Don Helms). This is an excellent song I know from Chris Hillman’s 1980s cover, and Loretta does the pained ballad justice with an emotional reading.

The best-known cover, Tammy Wynette’s recent #1 hit ‘I Don’t Wanna Play House’, is also sung very believably; if Loretta had got the song first I am sure she could have ahd a hit with it herself. Tammy and Norma Jean both had contemporary cuts of ‘Jackson Ain’t A Very Big Town’, a ballad about a newly wed in a small town where the dating pool is small and rumours fly.

Loretta’s brother Jay Lee Webb contributed ‘You Never Were Mine’, a nice resigned ballad about a breakup.

‘I’ve Got Texas In My Heart’ is a Western style tune which doesn’t really suit Loretta, and ‘How Long Will It Takes’ is s filler with dated backing vocals.

Overall, though, this is an excellent album from Loretta at her peak.

Grade: A

Album Review: Don Henley – ‘Cass County’

cass countyI was more than prepared to dislike this album. I haven’t liked Henley’s previous solo endeavors, nor the efforts of his band mates such as Glenn Frey, and I never liked Henley’s band the Eagles. Nevertheless, the song titles on the album intrigued me so I agreed to review the album.

Over the years many outsiders have attempted to enter the country music genre in an effort to revitalize flagging careers. There have been some outsiders who proved to have bona fide country credential, most notably Carl Perkins, Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chris Hillman and Vince Gill.

Most, however are imposters peddling a brand of faux country (Jessica Simpson and Bret Michaels come to mind. Imagine my surprise, when I listened to this album and found that I enjoyed it as much as the new George Strait and Clint Black albums. While I wouldn’t describe this as 100% country, I would call it 100% very good!

Yes, Henley has brought in a bunch of country superstars to assist him in this endeavor, but they really were not needed, not that I don’t appreciated the talents of Miranda Lambert , Merle Haggard, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill and Allison Krauss.

Cass County opens up with Tift Merritt’s “Bramble Rose,” with Miranda Lambert and Mick Jagger joining Henley. While I don’t think Jagger adds anything positive to the mix, neither does he destroy it.

Next up is a Henley composition “Cost of Living”. Henley collaborates with the legendary Merle Haggard, a somber ballad about the price of living and the challenges of growing older. I really don’t know much about Henley but Haggard surely knows these lessons as well as anyone, and maybe more so.

“Take A Picture Of This” is an odd song about a couple looking back on the past. The twist on the song is that that by the song’s end the man realizes that he doesn’t really know his wife anymore and decides to leave her.

“Waiting Tables” tells the tale of a young girl who grew up in a timber town, got married too young and wound ended up a single mother at 23 years old. Now she’s stuck waiting tables and hoping for a new love that will be more than a one night stand. This song is a nice example of songwriting craftsmanship.

The least country song on the album follows, the rockin’ blues number titled “No, Thank You” follows. The song advises the importance of viewing everything with a skeptical eye.

The pedal steel guitar dominates “Praying For Rain”, a song about drought stricken farmers hoping the rains will come soon. The stark realism of the song hits home.

“Words Can Break Your Heart” is slower and emotional. I regard the feel of the song as album filler, but if you listen closely to the lyrics, it is clearly more than that.

I haven’t anything from this album on the radio but it is my understanding that the first single from the album was “That Old Flame”. The song features Martina McBride in the role of an old flame wishing to make new acquaintance of a love from long ago. He wonders about her motives.

The album contains twelve songs with the deluxe edition containing sixteen songs and while I won’t comment on all of the remaining songs, I will comment on two songs that proved Henley’s bona fide credentials within the genre:

The Louvin Brothers were never massive sellers or hit makers but their influence ran both deep and wide. Dolly Parton joins Don on the Louvin’s “When I Stop Dreaming”. If this recording doesn’t stir your soul, just head for the morgue – you’re already dead and just hadn’t bothered to fall down.

The other song that Henley recorded that really interested me was the lovely “She Sang Hymns Out of Tune”. I think it is my favorite song on the album. Anyone who can dig out “She Sang Hymns Out of Tune” has more than a passing familiarity with country music. I have the song on a late 60s Dillards album but I am not sure who else may have sung it, although I have heard the song performed at bluegrass festivals. I think this song is only on the deluxe edition of the album; if that’s the case spend the extra money – it’s worth it!

I give this album an A and hope Don Henley hangs around the genre a little longer.

Album Review: John Cowan – ‘Sixty’

sixtyJohn Cowan is best known to country fans as the lead singer of New Grass Revival in the late 1980s, but he is a musician with broad tastes, and this latest solo album covers a number of bases.

‘The Things I Haven’t Done’ (featuring bluegrass banjoist Alison Brown) mixes bluegrass the country-rock of the 1960s/70s. The plaintive song looks back at a life’s choices. ‘Why Are You Crying’ is in similar vein, with an airy Cowan vocal, and is played by Chris Hillman, Bernie Leadon, and John Mcfee of the Doobie Brothers (who also produces). ‘Rising From The Ashes’ is a bit less memorable, but quite pleasant.

My favourite track is an inspired cover of the Marty Robbins’ hit ‘Devil Woman’. Cowan’s vocal is spectacular and I love this. His voice also soars on the beautiful ‘Feel Like Going Home’, backed by a melodic, churchy piano. A sultry Dixieland jazz version of ‘Miss The Mississippi (And You)’ works well and is something of a grower.

‘Helplessness Blues’ is a curious 60s style folk-rock number, with some weird sound effects and hippyish lyrics, but that soulful voice saves it.

The churchy gospel ‘Happiness’, featuring Sam Bush from New Grass Revival, and Bonnie Bramlett on vocals, rambles a bit but its questioning but soulful vocal is compelling:
Now that I’ve found peace at last
Tell me, Jesus, will it last?

‘Who’s Gonna Cry For You’ features Alison Krauss, but wasn’t what I expected from that collaboration, rather it’s a slow bluesy soul song with brass backings, with Alison barely audible. It was well done of its kind, but I was disappointed because I would have loved to have heard the pair of them on a high lonesome bluegrass song.

‘Sugar Babe’ is basically an instrumental with a few vocal spots inserted, allowing Cowan to showcase the playing of friends including Sam Bush, Ray Benson, John Jorgenson (from the Desert Rose Band) and rock harmonica player Huey Lewis.

This eclectic album is not quite what I expected, but it is beautifully sung and played, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen – ‘If I Could Only Win Your Love’

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Album Review – Chris Hillman – ‘The Other Side’

The_Other_Side_(album)Chris Hillman’s most recent solo project, The Other Side, was released nine years ago. Produced by Herb Pedersen, the fourteen-track album was issued by Sovereign Records.

Among the fourteen songs are nine that Hillman co-wrote with his longtime collaborator Steve Hill. “True Love” is a mid-tempo dobro and mandolin centric number about the joy marriage and children bring to life. “Drifiting,” an acoustic ballad, is gorgeous and is similarly themed to “True Love.” Gospel themed “The Other Side,” adds a nice dose of fiddle into the mix and has an effecting lyric about heaven told through Hillman’s high lonesome bluegrass harmonies.

“Heaven Is My Home” is an excellent gospel themed acoustic ballad about God and the Pearly Gates that’s also beautifully executed. “Touch Me” is more of a country ballad, with acoustic touches, and it’s very, very good. I also quite enjoyed the mid-tempo bluegrass of “The Wheel,” thanks to Hillman’s harmonies and the stellar production bed.

Hillman and Hill also co-wrote “Heavenly Grace,” another excellent gospel flavored bluegrass number with beautiful ribbons of fiddle heard throughout. “I Know I Need You” and “Our Savior’s Hands” aren’t much different, while the latter is far more musically sparse, with acoustic guitar leading the way to frame Hillman’s voice.

Hillman co-wrote “It Doesn’t Matter” with Hill and folk singer Steven Stills and it’s one of the album’s strongest tracks, thanks to a production bed that allows room for Hillman’s voice to shine through. “Missing You,” which Hillman wrote with Richard Sellers and Tom Russell, follows the same pattern and is another wonderful song.

Two of the most interesting tracks on The Other Side are covers. Hillman gives a nice country-fried update to The Byrds “Eight Miles High” that transforms from 60s rock into stunning acoustic country. I love hearing the fiddle and mandolin front and center. The other cover is the traditional Celtic folk song “The Water Is Wide.” It’s the album’s centerpiece thanks to the crisp production and Hillman’s clear voice.

By all accounts The Other Side, an acoustic country meets bluegrass meets gospel album is an outstanding project. The musicianship is clean and crisp and none of the material is second-rate. I just wish Hillman’s voice were more prominent on most of the tracks, with his vocals pushed to the front, as opposed to being somewhat behind the instrument bed. That slight change would’ve made The Other Side a slam-dunk for me. But I’m probably just being nit-picky about an album that really doesn’t have any major faults or weaknesses

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Desert Rose Band – ‘Story Of Love’

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Album Review: Chris Hillman – ‘Like A Hurricane’

likeahurricaneThis 1998 release, Hillman’s first solo effort since 1984’s Desert Rose, found him back on the Sugar Hill label and working once again with his former Desert Rose Band colleagues Herb Pedersen, who produced the album, and Jay Dee Maness, who played steel guitar. Jerry Douglas and David Crosby also appear among the musician credits. Hillman co-wrote eleven of the album’s twelve songs, ten of them with Steve Hill.

Like A Hurricane is a combination of country and rock, with a touch of folk and the occasional pop flourish thrown in. It’s not terribly different from Hillman’s work with the Desert Rose Band, although it is not as slickly produced. Had it appeared a few years earlier, it would probably have been considered a solidly mainstream release and not relegated to a roots-oriented indie label such as Sugar Hill.

In the hands of a lesser artist, an eclectic album like this would seem choppy and disjointed, but Hillman makes the transition from more acoustic and rootsy fare like “Angel’s Cry” and “Second Wind” to harder-edged rock numbers like “Run Again” and “Livin’ On The Edge”, seamlessly and effortlessly. At first glance, the Jackie DeShannon-penned “When You Walk Into The Room” seems out of place on this album. A 1964 pop hit for The Searchers and a #2 country hit for Pam Tillis in 1994, it is the only non-original song on the album, and although it appears to be an odd choice, Hillman puts his owns stamp on the song, and I enjoyed this version much more than I thought I would.

Not surprisingly, Like A Hurricane didn’t produce any charting singles, but it contains a number of well-crafted songs, such as “Second Wind” (my favorite), the title track, and the beautiful “Heaven’s Lullaby” which closes out the album. The folk-tinged “Carry Me Home” reminds me of something that Irish singer Maura O’Connell might have recorded, in no small part due to the dobro-playing of Jerry Douglas. I was slightly bored by some of the more rock-oriented songs like “Livin’ On The Edge” and “Run Again”, which will come as no surprise to my long-time readers.

Like most non-major label releases by artists over the age of 50, Like A Hurricane received little radio airplay and was likely overlooked by a large segment of the record-buying public. If, like me, you missed this ablum when it was first released, you may want to give it a try now. There is much here to enjoy.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen – ‘The Old Crossroads’

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Album Review: Rice, Rice, Hillman And Pedersen – ‘Out Of The Woodwork’

out of the woodworkIn 1996 Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen teamed up with brilliant bluegrass brothers Tony and Larry Rice to record a delightful acoustic record together, calling themselves an “anti-supergroup”. The four had first met as teenage musicians at a California bluegrass festival back in 1963. Their paths crossed a number of times over the next few decades, and in the mid 1990s came up with the idea of working together after the Rice Brothers played at the same festival as Herb’s then group, the Laurel Canyon Ramblers.

Vocals are split between Chris, Herb and Larry.

Larry Rice takes the lead vocal on the best track on the album, his own ‘Street Corner Stranger’. This haunting tale tells the somber story of an alcoholic who has lost everything good in his life thanks to his addiction, and is reduced to taking advice from a man who has fallen even further.

He also sings lead on Richard Thompson’s contemporary folk classic ‘Dimming Of The Day’, Norman Blake’s ‘Lord Won’t You Help Me’, and his own ‘Just Me And You’ – all fine performances and songs.

The wistful ‘Somewhere On The Road Tonight’, written and sung by Chris Hillman, has a protagonist dreaming of home. ‘So Begins The Task is a resigned take on learning to live without a former love. ‘Change Coming Down’, which he wrote with Steve Hill, picks up the tempo, but not the mood, with the protagonist bemoaning the departure of his loved one.

Soul classic ‘Do Right Woman’ is completely reinvented both musically and with the inversion of gender of the original, and works remarkably well, with Chris’s sympathetic lead vocal making it a very unexpected highlight. There are also revivals of the Desert Rose Band’s ‘Story Of Love’ and ‘Hard Times’, slowed down and more intimate and contemplative.

Herb sings ‘No One Else’, which he had also done on the Desert Rose Band’s True Love, and the philosophical Mac McAnally song ‘Only Passing Through’ with a coyly disguised ‘Mystery Singer’ (I think McAnally himself) on harmony.

Everything is tastefully arranged and beautifully played. In short, this is an excellent record which should appeal to all lovers of acoustic music.

Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen reunited for two further collaboration: a self-titled effort i n 1999 and Running Wild in 2001

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Desert Rose Band – ‘Running’

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Album Review: Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen – ‘Bakersfield Bound’

chrishillmanAlthough not marketed as such, 1996’s Bakersfield Bound is, in many ways, a Desert Rose Band reunion album, as it finds Chris Hillman working with both Herb Pedersen and DRB steel guitarist Jay Dee Maness again. The music is decidedly more traditional and less commercial than anything that the Desert Rose Band ever attempted and that may be why Hillman and Pedersen avoided labeling it as such.

Despite its title and Hillman’s and Pedersen’s west coast roots, this is not, strictly speaking, a salute to the Bakersfield sound in the same vein as many of the tribute albums that have been released since Buck Owens died in 2006. There is a healthy dose of Bakersfield, to be sure, but there are plenty of non-Bakersfield influences as well. Hillman and Pedersen harmonize on the albums 13 tracks in ways that are in reminiscent at times of The Everly Brothers, The Louvin Brothers, and the Willburn Brothers as well as Buck Owens and Don Rich. The album’s first track “Playboy” was written by Eddie Miller, who was more famous for having written “There She Goes” for Carl Smith, “Thanks a Lot” for Ernest Tubb, and “Release Me” which was recorded by Kitty Wells and countless others. Hillman and Pedersen effectively channel The Louvin Brothers with an excellent cover of “My Baby’s Gone”. Also excellent is their version of “Lost Highway”, a 1948 composition by Leon Payne, which was most famously recorded by Hank Williams in 1949..

Perhaps the most surprising cover here is “Time Goes So Slow”, a beautiful waltz that was written by Skeeter Davis and Marie Wilson, which finds Herb Pedersen harmonizing at what has to be the very top of his register.

These songs aside, the meat and potatoes of this album are the Bakersfield tunes, which pay tribute to such legends as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Owens is saluted with covers of “He Don’t Deserve You Anymore”, “There Goes My Love”, and “Close Up The Honky Tonks”, which was written by Red Simpson. Haggard is represented by a cover of the Hank Cochran and Glenn Martin-penned “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)”. The album closes with two Hillman co-writes, “Just Tell Me Darlin'” and the title track.

This an outstanding album with impeccable song choices and excellent singing and picking throughout. It’s virtually impossible to select any favorite tracks, because they are all so good. It is a must-have for fans of Chris Hillman, The Desert Rose Band, and fans of roots music in general.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Desert Rose Band – ‘Why You Been Gone So Long?’

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Album Review – The Desert Rose Band – ‘Life Goes On’

220px-TheDesertRoseBandLifeGoesOn1993The Desert Rose Band’s final album Life Goes On hit stores in September 1993. Amidst lineup changes and other band-related discord it’s a miracle the CD even came out all.

Life Goes On spun two singles. Chris Hillman and Steve Hill wrote the lead “What About Love,” which was the only one to chart, peaking at #71. The track was typical fare for 1993 country radio complete with fiddle, drums, and ample steel. It’s actually not a bad song at all and likely would’ve charted higher had the band been a more solid unit with full support from their record label. Another excellent tune, “Night After Night” came next and failed to chart. I like this one, too, because of the beautiful steel guitar and drums in the production.

Compared to the band’s earlier work, Life Goes On is a very solid album. Gone are the horrid synth-heavy 80s arraignments and in their place are gorgeous pure country production choices that were nice to listen to and mostly in line with what was popular at the time.

Hillman had a hand in writing nine of the album’s ten tracks. Besides the singles he co-wrote, along with R. Alan Thornhill, the excellent mid-tempo “Walk On By,” mid-tempo shuffle “Love’s Refugees,” drum and mandolin-centric “That’s Not The Way,” mid-tempo steel heavy “Till It’s Over,” “A Little Rain,” pure blistering bluegrass, and steel-centric ballad “Throw Me A Lifeline.” Every one of the tracks, mostly co-written with Steve Hill, are excellent and among the strongest music The Desert Rose Band ever released. The only track Hillman didn’t have a hand in writing is Herb Petersen’s “Hold On,” an acoustic guitar led mid-tempo shuffle that’s another wonderful track.

My familiarity with The Desert Rose Band prior to our Chris Hillman spotlight was “One Step Forward” and “I Still Believe In You,” so I knew their music to have contained an 80s sheen, especially on the latter ballad. So it’s a very welcomed surprise that they made one decidedly country sounding album in their career although heartbreaking to know it came at the end, when radio and the fans had moved on to bigger and better during the 90s country boom. Life Goes On may just be their strongest album together and deserved to find a wider audience. It’s a shame the record label didn’t promote it better as it could’ve been a much, much bigger album if it was just given the change. I highly, highly recommend seeking out a copy if you haven’t done so already. You won’t regret it.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: The Desert Rose Band – ‘One Step Forward’

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Album Review: The Desert Rose Band – ‘True Love’

true loveAfter just three albums, the band released a Greatest Hits compilations (A Dozen Roses). Alongside the hits were a couple of new songs, minor hit ‘Will This Be The Day’ and the less successful ‘Come A Little Closer’. Changes were on the way. Steel guitarist Jay Dee Maness left in 1990, replaced by former Buckaroo Tom Brumley, while Tony Brown took up the producer’s role for the groups’s fourth studio album. The result was a mellower, more low key album than their first three, but although its pleasures are more subtle than the joyful country rock of their commercial heyday, this is a fine album.

Neither of the two singles selected did well. The first of them ‘You Can Go Home’ (written by Hillman with Jack Tempchin, best known for writing the Eagles’ ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’), is actually an excellent song about the impossibility of going back again to a former life. ‘Twilight Is Gone’ (one of four songs written with Steve Hill) is also good, a reflective mid-tempo song about loneliness and regret over a failed relationship. It may have been too low key for radio play.

The title track (another of Hill’s co-writes) is a warmhearted celebration of love. The urgent ‘Glory And Power’ is about the central importance of love in one’s life, in the context of a man who finds it hard to communicate his feelings. ‘Shades Of Blue’ is a tasteful ballad.

The best of the other songs is the pretty ‘Undying Love’, the only non-Hillman tune (it was written by Peter Rowan), which is a duet with Alison Krauss. Krauss’s angelic tones work well responding to, and harmonising with Chris. She was not yet well known in country music circles, or perhaps this would have been a single.

The philosophical and optimistic ‘It Takes A Believer’, co-written with Michael Woody, is pleasantly melodic. Woody also co-wrote the more downbeat ‘Behind These Walls’.

Herb Pedersen sang lead on the brisk ‘No One Else’, which he wrote with Chris, and which is perhaps the most reminiscent of the band’s earlier work. ‘A Matter Of Time’ has a solid country rock groove although it isn’t that memorable lyrically.

The album lacked the bright tone and sparkle of the group’ s first three albums, and I can see why it slowed down their career. Tony Brown had a reputation as a hitmaking producer, but it may have been a mistake to call on him this time. But the album has a lot to offer the more thoughtful listener.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Desert Rose Band – ‘He’s Back And I’m Blue’

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Album Review – The Desert Rose Band – ‘Pages of Life’

PagesofLifeIn early 1990 The Desert Rose Band released their third album, Pages of Life, produced once again by Paul Worley and Ed Seay. The band’s third album, it was their most commercially successful, and their final charting release.

Chris Hillman and Steve Hill wrote the album’s three singles. Synth heavy ballad “Start All Over Again” peaked at #6, mid-tempo electric guitar and drum led “In Another Lifetime” peaked at #13 (their third single to peak outside the top 10), and steel laced “Story of Love” peaked at #10. All three of the singles are horribly dated by today’s standards, but the Byrds-era steel riffs on “Story Of Love” help it stand slightly above the pack.

At the time of its release, Pages of Life was distinguished for being a harder hitting album, even more so than the band’s two previous releases. Listening to it now, it isn’t terribly overly rock, although the drums are prominent. The album’s main shortcoming with regards to the arrangements is the synthesizers and use of late 80s production techniques that haven’t aged well at all in the last 24 years.

Beyond the three singles, Hillman co-write six more of the album’s tracks, three with Hill, and three more with other writers. Hillman and Hill co-wrote “God’s Plan,” another ballad heavy on synth that utilizes the band’s harmonies framed in a horrible 80s sheen that mixes grossly with the flourishes of steel guitar in the musical bed. “Time Passes Me By” is far more tasteful, with the steel allowed room to breathe, but it’s still not a home run. “Darkness on the Playground” is even better still, livelier, and has a nice sinister production to match its ‘social cause’ story about troubled youth.

Hillman co-wrote “Missing You” with Tom Russell and Richard Sellers. With glorious mandolin and the band’s tight harmonies, its easily one of the more country sounding tracks on Pages of Life, and a nice organic escape from the 80s sheen that suffocates most of the album. John Jorgenson co-wrote “Just A Memory” with Hillman and while track retains the awful 80s sheen, I don’t hate it, mostly because it also has a sunny vibe that keeps it somewhat engaging.

“Everybody’s Hero,” which Hillman co-wrote with Michael Woody, is another of the album’s better tracks. I like the drum work and overly uptempo vibe but Hillman’s lead vocal sounds a little listless given the energy of the backing track. Hillman’s final co-write is courtesy of “Desert Rose,” co-written with Bill Wildes. It sounds like something Emmylou Harris would record, and was originally done by Hillman on his solo album of the same name. It’s a fabulous number and I love how its decidedly country.

Overall Pages of Life is a shoddy album, thanks mostly to bad 80s style production that, as I aforementioned, hasn’t held up in the last 24 years. The songs themselves aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re made less enjoyable by the production.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Desert Rose Band – ‘Ashes Of Love’

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Album Review: The Desert Rose Band – ‘Running’

desertrosebandLike The Desert Rose Band’s eponymous debut album, 1988’s Running is heavily-influenced by the Bakersfield sound. Paul Worley was back on board as producer, this time joined by Ed Seay. Chris Hillman was involved in writing most of the ablum’s songs, joined by his songwriting partner Steve Hill for seven of the album’s ten tracks. The previous album’s final single “He’s Back and I’m Blue” had become the band’s first chart-topper. Their chart success continued with the new album. The first single, the mid-tempo “Summer Wind”, just missed the top spot, peaking at #2. It was followed by another Hill-Hillman collaboration, “I Still Believe In You”, which did reach #1. Although it is a very good song, it hasn’t aged as well as the rest of the album. The heavy emphasis on the drum machine gives it a somewhat dated feel.

Interestingly, the album’s two best tracks were written by outside songwriters. “She Don’t Love Nobody”, which peaked at #3 in early 1989 is a John Hiatt composition. The song had previously been recorded by Nick Lowe, but it was adapted for country music with very little tinkering and is much more mainstream-sounding that much of Hiatt’s work. It is one of my very favorite Desert Rose Band recordings. The fourth and final single was “Hello Trouble”, an Orville Couch and Eddie McDuff number that had originally been recorded by Couch in 1962. A cover version appeared on a 1964 Buck Owens album. The Desert Rose Band’s version just missed the Top 10, peaking at #11. It deserved to chart higher.

The rest of the album’s tracks are very much in a country-rock vein, with plenty of steel guitar to appease purists, and not enough rock to alienate anyone. The band touches on some social issues with with a few tracks, but avoids doing so in a heavy-handed way. “For The Rich Man” examines some of the ways in which life is different for the haves and have nots; “Homeless”, which examines the plight of a former rodeo queen who is abandoned by her unemployed and alcoholic husband, comes a little closer to preaching —

“In this land of milk and honey we share with all who need
Except the ones outside our door, the ones we cannot see”

— but still manages to avoid sending the listener on a gratuitous guilt trip. The album closer “Our Songs”, meanwhile, is a semi-autobiographical look at some aging baby boomers, who came of age in the turbulent 1960s, and contrasts that era with the relatively more stable (and then contemporary) 1980s.

Along with the band’s debut album, Running is representative of The Desert Rose Band’s very best work and an interesting look back at how country and rock used to be melded together — with solid, well-written songs that avoided cliches and obnoxious, overloud production. Hardcore, traditional country it is not, but it is type of music that I would really like to see Nashville embrace again.

Grade: A