My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Chris LeDoux

Album Review: Jennifer McCarter and the McCarters – ‘Better Be Home Soon’

Although the McCarters’ debut album had brought them some success, with top 10 hits, Warner Brothers thought they would do better if they modernised their sound a bit. They also decided that since Jennifer was very clearly the star of the group, she should get higher billing, and renamed the group Jennifer McCarter and the McCarters.

The first single from their second album Better Be Home Soon, produced by Paul Worley and Ed Seay, was ‘Up And Gone’, a sprightly up-tempo tune which was their third and last top 10 hit, peaking at #9. It was written by Verlon Thompson and Bill Caswell. The same writing team provided the next single, ‘Quit While I’m Behind’, which reached #26. It is another entertaining song, about deciding to dump a rubbish boyfriend who is cheating on her. ‘Betcha Gonna Love Me’, written by Caswell with Don Singleton, is in similar vein musically.

The title track is a ballad which, oddly, is a cover of a song by Australian rock band Crowded House. Jennifer’s vocal is lovely, but radio was not receptive when it was released as the third single.

Also a flop was the last single, ‘Shot Full Of Love’. This song, written by Bob McDill, was recorded numerous times by artists including Don Williams, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Juice Newton, Nicolette Larson, Chris LeDoux and Billy Ray Cyrus, but has never been a hit. It is about a player with a past who is transformed by discovering true love, and perhaps worked a bit better for a male artist, but is beautifully sung here:

Once I had a heart cold as ice
Love to me was only for fun
I made the mark for each broken heart
Like notches on the butt of a gun

Once I had a trick up my sleeve
And a reputation all over town
I was heartless and cold wherever I go
And I shut down every young boy I found

Yes, I used to be a moonlight bandit
I used to be a heartbreak kid
Then I met you and the next thing I knew
There I was
Oh, shot full of love

Who’d have thought that someone like you
Could take a desperado like me
But oh, here I am
I’m as meek as a lamb
With my bleeding heart there at your feet

Sandy Emory’s song ‘I Haven’t Got A Prayer’ is a beautiful ballad with some pretty mandolin. ‘Mountain Memories’ is a charming throwback to the sounds of their first album.

‘Papa Sita’ is a sweet Mexican-flavored song written by Hugh Moffatt.

‘Slow Country Dance’ is a gorgeous waltz written by Mary Chapin Carpenter, who also recorded it:

Down at the bar a woman tells stories
Batting her eyes to someone not there
Her glass is half full (or maybe half empty)
Like the jokes told about her
When they think she don’t hear
Now the perfume is cheap and the makeup is careless
And the dress out of fashion for a woman her age
But she don’t give a damn for those who would cherish
A much lighter step or a much younger face

And love’s never easy or ever as true
When the changing of partners is no longer new
You lead with your heart, closing your eyes
And dance just to dance in three quarter time

The closing ‘I Don’t Wanna Cry Anymore’ is a great upbeat song written by Nancy Montgomery offering hope for the future.

This is not as good an album as the sisters’ debt, but it is still very good, and I would recommend it.

Grade: A

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Lane Turner – Stardom Unfulfilled

George Strait was always a bit of an outlier as far as country radio was concerned, a fan of western swing who has allowed to keep some of those influences in his music as long as he came up with a reasonably mainstream sound. Of course radio afforded Strait this courtesy because of his visual aura, excellent voice and scandal-free personal life.

During 2004, another strongly western (or Texas) swing influenced artist received some airplay as a result of a pair of singles released on a major label, Warner Brothers. The single “Always Wanting More (Breathless)” was penned by Lane (with Kent Blazy and Monty Holmes) and received heavy airplay around Central Florida. The song was sold as a CD single with the second song, penned by Lane Turner the disc, “King of Pain” also receiving some airplay. On the physical single were the words “From the forthcoming Warner Brothers album RIGHT ON TIME (2/6-48655) . Unfortunately, the single did not fare as well in other markets and died at #56.

The second single released, “Right On Time” also received some airplay, but I did not see a CD single on sale for the song. I patiently awaited release of the album but by mid-2005 (after some inquiries) I resigned myself to the fact that Warner Brothers had bailed on the album. Since the market seemed to be turning away from traditional country sounds (pseudo boy-band Rascal Flatts seemed to be the hottest thing going), I doubted that Turner would get another crack at a major label.

About five years ago, a friend of mine brought me a promotional CD that he’d copied for me that was never officially released and he had added a few extra tracks he’d found. The CD was the Warner Brothers album RIGHT ON TIME.

I don’t have any writer information for the remaining songs, although I suspect that Lane had a hand in writing most of them

“King of Pain” is a ballad of lost love.

“Halfway to Mexico” is up-tempo modern country with some Mexican rhythms.

“Better to Have Loved” is a ballad of the kind that George Strait routinely turned into hits.

“Let You Go” is an up-tempo song of loss with a banjo serving as the driving force behind the melody.

I have no idea why “Right On Time” was not a hit. The song is a thoughtful slow ballad.

“Happy Hour” is a throwback to early 1970s country, not unlike some of Freddie Hart’s hits but also similar to some of George Strait’s ballads.

“Outside Looking In” is an up-tempo rocker that might have made a good single.

“Thinking Right This Time” is a mid-tempo ballad about a fellow coming to grips with his errors of omission that cost him the loss of the love of his life.

“Horses” is a dialogue between a father to his young son. The father has lost custody of his son to his ex-wife and he is reminding the son to remember the things he has learned such as how to ride horses.

“If It Ain’t One Thing It’s Another” is an up-tempo ballad about life’s little problems.

“Always Wanting You More (Breathless)” was the biggest hit for Lane Turner, an excellent ballad about the mystery generated by his love, a mystery that he cannot fathom but always wants.

Some of this album is available to view on Youtube such as this clip for “The Horses”.

I would regard this album as an A- and deeply regret that Lane Turner never got a real shot at stardom. Perhaps he was too similar to George Strait, or perhaps radio programmers of the time simply had lost interest in real county music. These were good songs that in a different time could have been his.

Lane released an EP in 2009 titled LANE TURNER, currently available as a digital download on Amazon. In 2011 he surfaced as the lead singer of the group Western Underground. This band was formerly Chris LeDoux’s road band. I believe he is still with this group.

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Live in Branson MO, USA ‘

Back in 1993, Delta Music issued four albums in their Live in Branson MO, USA series. While I think the intent was to go farther, only albums on Johnny Paycheck, Faron Young, Connie Smith and Moe Bandy were ever released.

Live albums are always a bit of a gamble; some of them are quite good, others are a waste of material. Moe Bandy Live in Branson MO, USA is a pretty decent album; moreover, at the time it was issued it was the only live recording available of Moe as a solo artist (I believe that is still the case).

Moe is accompanied by the following musicians on this recording from June 26, 1992. The album was recorded at the Moe Bandy Americana Theatre, so which of these musicians were members, if any, of these were members of Moe’s road band, I cannot say:

Phil Coontz – leader & steel guitar
John Clark – fiddle, accordion, steel & acoustic guitar, mandolin
Scooter Hill – acoustic guitar, harmonica, keyboards & harmony vocals
John Parmenter – accordion, fiddle & harmony vocals
Kris Spencer – harmony vocals
Ed Synan – piano, synthesizer & harmony vocals
Shawn Tull – guitar & harmony vocals
Tony Walter – bass & harmony vocals
Terri Williams – vocals

Whatever the case, these musicians do a nice job of presenting Moe in a country context.

The album opens with “Another Day, Another Dollar”, the Wynn Stewart classic which is used to give the band a chance to show off. Moe sings the first verse and the chorus.

Next up is Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon” which hit #21 for Moe in 1982. The song was long familiar to audiences through the Ian & Sylvia, Judy Collins and Chris LeDoux recordings (plus it was an album track on countless albums by other artists). Suzy Bogguss would have a slightly bigger hit with the song a few years later.

“Hey Joe” was written by Boudleaux Bryant and was initially a hit for Carl Smith, the father of Carlene Carter and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Carl took the song to #1 for eight weeks in 1953, the first of many #1 records written by Boudleaux Bryant. Moe &Joe (Stampley) reached the top ten with the song in 1981. This version is an up-tempo straight ahead version that I like better than the Moe & Joe duet.

“It’s A Cheating Situation” written by Curly Putman and Sonny Throckmorton, was one of Moe’s two #1 singles (Record World & Canada RPM). Terri Williams fills the Janie Fricke role here – she’s not as accomplished a singer as Fricke but acquits herself quite well.

“Rodeo Romeo” a typical Bandy song that reached #10 in 1981, is up next, followed by the first of two Moe Bandy compositions in “Many Mansions”, about a down and out homeless person’s faith in what is to follow:

Hope is a thing with feathers that perches on the soul
Said the homeless young man standing there strong against the cold
I reached into my pocket, said a penny for your poetry
But when I handed him a dollar bill he was shaking his head at me
And he said these words to me

In my Father’s house are many mansions
Though tonight some make their beds along the streets
Where I’ve seen lives still by winters bitter chill
In my Father’s house there’s a mansion for me

“The Horse You Can’t Ride” is an interesting song composed by Blake Mevis. Moe had this song on one of his albums, so it has not been widely heard but I think it is a compelling song. I think maybe Garth Brooks should hunt down this song and record it.

His boots were all beat up from the dust and the weather.
His face and hands were tanned like sun dried leather.
He rolled a Bull Durham reefer, as he thumbed my diesel down.
He said he had just blew Dallas on the first wind out of town.

He must have read my face, I didn’t think it was showing.
Anyway that old cow poke had a way of knowing.
He said judging from the way your broken up inside.
My guess would be that you just found that horse that you can’t ride.

We all find that horse that we can’t ride.
He kicks you in the heart and leaves you laying in your pride.
But every cowboy worth his salt knows its worth a little hide.
To fall and get back up on that horse that he can’t ride.

He said son now I have done an awful lot of living.
It’s too late for me to ever be forgiven.
The devil holds the mortgage on my saddle and my soul.
‘Cause I left heaven crying on a ranch in El Paso.

We split a pint or two by the time we got to Austin.
He told me how he loved it and then he told me how he lost it.
When nothing meets nowhere with nowhere.
I stopped and let him down.

He said son now this is where you are headed,
If you don’t turn this rig around..
We all find that horse that we can’t ride.
He kicks you in the heart and leaves you laying in your pride.
But every cowboy worth his salt knows it’s worth a little hide.
To fall and get back up on that horse that he can’t ride

This is followed by “Hank Williams You Wrote My Life”, a quintessential Moe Bandy song if ever there was one.

Moe Bandy didn’t seem to write a lot of songs but the ones he did right were quite good. “My Wish For You” is about a father’s wishes for his child’s well-being.

The album closes with three of Moe’s later, less hard-core country hits, plus an early hit. The later hits are “You Haven’t Heard The Last of Me” (#11 – 1987), “Till I’m Too Old To Grow Young” (#6 – 1987) and Moe’s last top ten hit “Americana” (#8 – 1988). Because Moe did not have an orchestra, these recordings have a more solidly country sound than the post-Columbia albums from which these songs were taken. Sandwiched in between these numbers is an early GRC hit, written by Lefty Frizzell, “Bandy The Rodeo Clown.”

The only real criticism I have of this album is that on a few songs, I would have preferred that Moe’s voice be a little more front and center in the mix. A few of the tracks, most notably “My Wish For You” have a quasi-acoustic setting.

This is a really fine and enjoyable album that shows off the range of Moe’s talents, and is the only exemplar of Moe’s live show of which I am aware.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Unleashed’

KeithunleashedBy 2002, you couldn’t find a male country singer bigger than Toby Keith. He was routinely topping the charts turning over multi-week numbers ones with each radio offering. But it was also during this time he lead by his ego and lost of some of his better judgment. That fall made a mockery of himself with the Country Music Association, blasting them for making him the belle of the ball with a front row set and prime exposure, only to lose each of the six awards for which he was nominated.

Two of those nominations were for the lead single from his seventh album Unleashed. I first heard “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” when Keith debuted it in April at the CMT Flameworthy Awards (now the CMT Video Music Awards). When he got to the line, “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way” I was cheering. I really enjoyed the fire in that one line.

Thirteen years later, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” is nothing more than a bombastic document capturing an era in country music. The brash attitude of the track worked well with Keith’s persona, but caught the ire of Natalie Maines, who called the track ‘ignorant.’

I still can’t believe I ate up the second single, the horrible chart-topping “Who’s Your Daddy.” Keith’s ego exploded as he failed to mix humor, brash, and country-rock on a song that had very little redeeming value. Radio was surprising cool to “Rock You Baby,” a bland power ballad that was the only slower song released from Unleashed. Given Keith’s prominence at the time, I was very surprised when it stalled at #13.

The final single was the Willie Nelson duet “Beer For My Horses.” I quite like this song, although the production has worn thin through the years. The song is a battle cry for justice, detailing despicable actions that deserve repercussions:

Well a man come on the 6 o’clock news

Said somebody’s been shot, somebody’s been abused

Somebody blew up a building

Somebody stole a car

Somebody got away

Somebody didn’t get too far

 

We got too many gangsters doing dirty deeds

We’ve got too much corruption, too much crime in the streets

It’s time the long arm of the law put a few more in the ground

Send ’em all to their maker and he’ll settle ’em down

“Beer For My Horses” went on to spend six weeks at number one, becoming Keith’s longest consecutive stay at the top. Nelson, who was 70 at the time, became the oldest male artist to score a chart topping single.

Keith had a hand in co-writing all twelve of the album’s songs, including two with long-time collaborator Chuck Cannon. “Good to Go to Mexico” is a catchy yet far too lightweight mariachi drenched number about making a permanent escape to paradise. They succeed on the splendidly sweet, “Huckleberry,” a plucky love song in the vein of Bryan White’s ‘Rebecca Lynn:’

Baby I’ll be your Huckleberry, you don’t have to double dare me

If the storm gets wild and scary count on me to be right there

You’re so extra ordinary sweet like maraschino cherries

We’ll grow up and we’ll get married

I’m gonna be your Huckleberry

Five more of the album’s tracks found Keith co-writing with his close friend Scotty Emerick. “It’s All Good” begins with poignant commentary, by ends up as an immature tale of two lovers. “Losing my Touch” is a nicely restrained ballad about the inability to shine in a relationship. “Ain’t It Just Like You” has a by-the-numbers lyric about the end of a relationship, but the melody is a bit too progressive for my liking. Even worse is “That’s Not How It is,” a slice of pure pop that goes nowhere melodically. Thankfully the pair wrote “It Works for Me,” a pure country shuffle about being with not having the newest or shiniest possessions. It’s one of the strongest tracks on the album.

The final song is the steel drenched waltz, “Rodeo Moon,” which Keith co-wrote with Chris LeDoux. It’s a great song (with beautiful harmonies by Lari White), in both Keith’s and LeDoux’s versions, but I feel like they need far more restrained vocal performances and a softer waltz melody.

I remember buying Unleashed the day it came out. I rushed to the store because I knew by the afternoon it would sell out. Looking back, I was a bit too eager to own what turns out to be a sonically disjointed album aimed at appealing to a wide array of country music fans. While most of the album is filler, I did enjoy “Huckleberry,” “It Works for Me” and the duet with Willie Nelson is a modern day classic.

Toby Keith is one of the most naturally talented country music vocalists of the past twenty or so years. More often then not, though, he fails to put his gifts to good use on quality material. There are a few notable tracks, but on the whole Unleashed just isn’t worth the effort.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘The Lost Sessions’

lost sessionsIn 2005 Garth came briefly out of retirement with the release of a lavish box set exclusive to Walmart, which included one disc called The Lost Sessions, a collection of offcuts from previous records with a handful of new songs. This was subsequently given a separate release with added tracks.

Opener and lead single ‘Good Ride Cowboy’ is a tribute to rodeo rider and cowboy singer Chris Ledoux, who was so famously namechecked in Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)’ at the start of Garth’s career, and who had died earlier that year. He launched the song on an unsuspecting world live in Times Square, New York, during the CMA awards show, and that gave the single enough impetus to send it racing up the charts. An eventual peak of #3 made it Garth’s biggest hit since 1998. Garth did not actually write the song himself; the writers include later hitmaker Jerrod Niemann. He and Steve Wariner are among the chorus of backing vocalists on the rowdy tune.

It was followed by a duet with Trisha Yearwood, to whom he was now married. ‘Love Will Always Win’, which had been recorded in 1999. It is a pleasant enough but rather bland song, and only reached #23. The third and last single, the fiddle-led ‘That Girl Is A Cowboy’, was a new Garth co-write with Niemann and Richie Brown, two of the writers of ‘Good Ride Cowboy’. It’s quite a nice song, and the arrangement makes it one of Garth’s most traditional country records.

‘Under The Table’, another Garth song (written with Randy Taylor) may date back to the recording sessions for his self-titled debut. It is an excellent song in traditional vein, a pained ballad about trying to drink away a memory. A breezy cover of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s ‘Fishin’ In The Dark’ is also very enjoyable.

Five songs have copyright dates of 1996-7, three of them Garth co-writes, and I suspect they are rejects from the Sevens recording sessions. ‘Allison Miranda’ (a Garth co-write) is a pleasantly understated story song about picking up a hitchhiker and falling in love. The heavily strung and very short (less than two minutes) ‘American Dream’, which he wrote with Jenny Yates, is a gentle ballad about growing up in America, which feels like an unfinished first draft, consisting of only two short verses disguised by an orchestra. ‘Meet Me In Love’ is a loungy jazz style number.

My favourite of these tracks is DeWayne Blackwell’s ‘Please Operator (Could You Trace This Call)’, a solidly country and entertaining drinking song about a man who’s consumed so much to forget his troubles that he has no idea where he is.

I also very much like Bruce Robison’s catchy ‘She Don’t Care About Me’, one of three songs Garth subsequently passed on to his former sideman Ty England for the latter’s 2000 Garth-produced Highways and Dancehalls album. The pleasant Tex-Mex ‘My Baby No Esta Qui No More’ is also enjoyable, but ‘I’d Rather Have Nothing’ is a bit cluttered and just okay.

Alison Krauss harmonises on the chorus of ‘For A Minute There’, a gently melancholic tune about a remembered romance which dates from 1999, and which Garth wrote with Kent Blazy. The western swing ‘Cowgirl’s Saddle’ is an attempt at quirky humor from 2001; I enjoy Garth doing this style and it sounds great musically; but the lyric (another of his co-writes) is a bit off-color. Dating from 2002, Steve Wariner and Marcus Hummon’s ‘You Can’t Help Who You Love’ is a self-justifying cheating song which is quite good, but over-produced. The brand new ‘I’ll Be The Wind’ is plain dull.

The set closes with a delicate reading of the 1950s anti-war folk song ‘Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream’.

This is a very varied, if not terribly cohesive album, with elements of most of the styles Garth has pursued over the years. It certainly wasn’t worth buying the original boxed set for, but is a better bet as a standalone especially now that used copies are available relatively cheaply.

Grade: B

Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘The Chase’

220px-GarthchaseGarth Brooks released his fourth album, The Chase, in September 1992. Produced as usual by Allen Reynolds, Brooks felt it was his most personal album to date. To date The Chase has been certified for sales of nine million units by the RIAA.

“We Shall Be Free” was the album’s lead single. Brooks was inspired to compose the track in the wake of the L.A. Riots, which were fueled by the beating of   African-American construction worker Rodney King. Brooks and co-writer Stephanie Davis covered many topics including freedom of speech, racism, and homophobia. Country radio resisted playing the highly controversial track, which peaked at #12. I’ve always loved the song, which is set to an engaging bluesy piano-heavy beat, and felt it topical without being preachy.

For the second single, Brooks and his label went with “Somewhere Other Than The Night,” a piano and lush string country-rock ballad that was the antithesis of “We Shall Be Free” and Brooks’ tenth number one. The lyric, co-written with Kent Blazy, details a woman desperate (‘She’s standing in the kitchen with nothing but her apron on’) for love and affection from her husband in the hours they’re not in bed together. The ballad is another excellent song; with Brooks turning in a master class vocal that expertly brings the woman’s despair to life with palpable emotion.

The third single follows the same pattern as the second, although the topics are completely different. “Learning To Live Again” is Brooks’ only single from The Chase he didn’t have a hand in writing. It details a man’s journey after a breakup, where feelings of isolation and alienation are slowly killing him. The #2 hit, co-written by Davis and Don Schlitz, is the closet single to traditional country, with ample steel guitar in the production. The track is a masterpiece of feeling, with Brooks once again allowing the listener to feel every ounce of the guy’s pain. It’s also one of my all-time favorite singles he’s ever released.

The final single returns Brooks to uptempo material, with a song inspired by the sweeping heartland rock of Bob Seeger. “That Summer” tells the story of a teenage boy, far from home, who’s working on the wheat-field of a ‘lonely widowed woman.’ She takes a liking to the boy, has sex with him, and he looses his virginity in the process. The track is another masterpiece, this time of delicate subtly, where the content is expertly handled in a way that gets the point across without explicitly saying anything raunchy or crude. Brooks co-wrote the song with his then-wife Sandy Mahl and frequent co-writer Pat Alger.

Each single from The Chase offered the listener something different yet showed Brooks skillfully tackling despair from both a man and a woman’s point of view. The album tracks proved more eclectic, with Brooks offering his own take on two classic songs. He turns the Patsy Cline standard “Walking After Midnight” into twang-filled bluesy traditional country while Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” morphs into honky-tonk rock. Neither are essential inclusions on The Chase and somewhat puzzling. “Mr. Right” is classic western swing and a rare instance where Brooks solely penned a track.

Lush ballad “Every Now and Then,” a Brooks co-write with Buddy Mondlock, is more in keeping with the overall musical direction of The Chase and features one of Brooks’ more tender vocal performances. The track would’ve worked well as a single, but it’s a bit too quiet. Michael Burton wrote “Night Rider’s Lament,” a steel guitar soaked classic cowboy song previously recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker and Chris LeDoux. Trisha Yearwood adds stunning harmonies to the track.

“Face to Face” finds Brooks singing another Tony Arata tune and while the sinister vibe compliments his commanding vocal, the track really isn’t that memorable. A final tune, “Something With A Ring To It,” comes courtesy of Brooks’ The Limited Series box set from 1998. The mid-tempo western swing ballad was co-written by Aaron Tippin  and Mark Collie first appeared on Collie’s Hardin’ County Line in 1990.

The Chase came at a time when industry insiders feared Brooks’ career had peaked although the listener couldn’t sense that from the music. The singles that emerged from this set have remained some of his finest singles and while the album cuts range from uneven to questionable, he manages to give us at least one worthwhile moment (“Every Now and Then”).

Grade: B

Album Review: Tracy Byrd – ‘Big Love’

Tracy_bigloveMy first Tracy Byrd album was his fourth, Big Love. Released in the fall of 1996, the project was once again produced by Tony Brown.

The major radio hits came courtesy of the first and second singles, both of which were recorded previously by other artists. The title track, written by Michael Clark and Jeff Stevens, came first and peaked at #3. An excellent uptempo declaration of man’s feelings, it was recorded by Chris LeDoux on his Haywire album two years prior.

Gary U.S. Bonds and Jerry Williams’ “Don’t Take Her She’s All I Got” peaked at #4. Under the title “She’s All I Got,” the song was first recorded by R&B vocalist Freddy North in 1971, and Tanya Tucker would release a “He’s All I Got” version in 1972. The song had its highest chart peak in 1971 by Johnny Paycheck, who took it to #2 on the country charts. Byrd does an excellent job with his cover, turning the tune into a blistering honky-tonker complete with glorious drum and steel guitar work.

Two more singles were released from Big Love although neither reached the top ten let alone the top five. “Don’t Love Make A Diamond Shine,” a honky-tonker written by Craig Wiseman and Mike Dekle, peaked at #17. The track is such a bland and generic example of the period that it’s hardly surprising it was met with such a cool reception at radio. “Good ‘Ol Fashioned Love,” a pleasant neo-traditional number, peaked at #47. Written by Mark Nesler and Tony Martin, it has the makings of a good song, but it marred in overwrought sentimentality.

Nesler and Byrd teamed up to write “Tucson Too Soon,” a neo-traditional number interesting only for the fact the guy is regretting leaving, not merely packing up to move on. Nesler wrote “Driving Me Out of Your Mind,” an ear-catching honk-tonker, solo.

Harlan Howard teamed with Kostas for “I Don’t Believe That’s How You Feel,” an excellent number Byrd copes with brilliantly. The mariachi horns took me by surprise as does Byrd’s choice in recording this, a number that seems primed for Dwight Yoakam. Harley Allen and Shawn Camp co-wrote “Cowgirl,” a beautifully produced western swing number with arguably the dumbest lyric on the whole album.

“If I Stay” comes from the combined pens of Dean Dillon and Larry Bastian. The mid-tempo number could’ve been a little more country, but it’s excellent nonetheless. Chris Crawford and Tom Kimmel’s “I Love You, That’s All” is the traditionalists dream, and a great song at that.

Big Love is a solid album from Byrd, showcasing his willingness to grow with the times and adapt his sound for the changing definition of what it took to have hit singles in 1996. There’s nothing revelatory about Big Love in any way but it is a rather enjoyable listening experience.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘No More Looking Over My Shoulder’

TNomorelookingovermyshoulderravis Tritt changed producers once again, replacing Don Was with Billy Joe Walker, Jr for 1998’s No More Looking Over My Shoulder. His sixth studio album, it was his least successful release to date spawning three singles that didn’t peak any higher than #29 on the charts.

The #29 peaking single was the first, “If I Lost You,” which Tritt co-wrote with Stewart Harris. The beautiful piano led ballad is a charming story about a man’s undying love for a woman and his feelings if he should loose this person. The record is near perfection; from the tasteful production to Tritt’s sensitive vocal. Even the video was excellent as it served as the conclusion to his Mac Singleton trilogy, a fitting tribute to the five year old daughter Mac shares with now deceased wife Annie.

I also thoroughly enjoy the Craig Wiseman and Michael Peterson penned title track, which served as the second single, peaking at #38. An excellent sing-a-long mid-tempo rocker, the song has an engaging energy and I love the acoustic guitar riffs throughout.

Unlike the majority of Tritt’s rockin’ anthems, third and final single “Start The Car” doesn’t have many overly dated elements within the production track, and Tritt adds a strong, confident vocal performance to the mix. The rock elements don’t bother me either at all but the whole thing comes off very underwhelming thanks to Jude Cole’s inability to add anything memorable to the lyrics. It’s the type of song you forget the second you’ve heard it, which likely accounts for its poor chart performance (it peaked at #52).

The rest of the project isn’t as bland as I was expecting, but as a whole the album doesn’t really get off the ground. There just isn’t that standout track needed to raise the album above just okay. It’s solid, but nothing really special.

The best album cut is probably the weakest lyric, saved only by the production, which feels heavy influenced by Patty Loveless’ seminal When Fallen Angles Fly. “Girls Like That” boasts a nice, rollicking dobro that recalls “Half Way Down” and “Handful of Dust.” It’s too bad the lyric is beyond inane, as Tritt could’ve had a showstopper here. You’d think he and co-writer Bruce Ray Brown could’ve tried to put in some effort, and not resorted to a three-minute list of attributes talking about “Girls Like That.”

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Album Review: Aaron Watson – ‘Real Good Time’

I am a big fan of Texas country singer Aaron Watson, and a new record from him is always worth hearing. The recording and completion of this latest release was understandably delayed by the personal tragedy Aaron and his wife suffered with the loss of their baby daughter a year ago, but sad songs are at a minimum here. The experience was clearly too painful to replay in music at this time, although he has written movingly about the loss in prose.

There are 18 tracks and an hour’s playing time, but sometimes less is more. In this case at least on first listen the setlist felt a bit too long with too many forgettable songs at a similar medium tempo, particularly at the start of the record. However, they almost all grew on me after a while. The rapid-fire title track is not that memorable but has an attractive instrumental lead-in, nice fiddle, and enjoyable groove which make it worthwhile. ‘Lips’ is a pleasant love song’, but ‘Summertime Girl’ (about memories of a past fling) is quite forgettable.

Among the other slow-growers, ‘Turn Around’ is a comforting religious number, offering hope to the troubled:

Some turn to a bottle
Some turn to a drug
Some turn to another’s arms
But it seems like it’s never enough
Well I wanna say
That you will never fail again
That there is grace to wash away your every sin
If you’re scared that you don’t matter
If you’re lost and need to be found
If you’re looking for a saviour
All you gotta do is turn around

You don’t have to take the broken road
You can turn around and come back home

It took a few listens to get into but I did warm to its positive message.

The mournful, fiddle-dominated ‘July In Cheyenne’ is a suitably downbeat response to the story of a rodeo rider who is killed in competition.

Six songs in, a cheerful cover of ‘Cadillac Cowboy’ (written by Chuck Pyle, and previously recorded by Chris Ledoux but first recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as ‘Other Side of The Hill’) is the first song to really pick up the tempo. It is a duet with Justin McBride (one of many guests on the record.)

Aaron duets with Elizabeth Cook on the ballad ‘Leather And Lace’, which was written by pop star Stevie Nicks for Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter’s album of that title (but ultimately dropped from the set list). It doesn’t sound very country but is quite pretty and mellow. Fellow Texans Pat Green and Josh Abbot join in on the Outlaw styled ‘Texas Boys’, celebrating and lamenting the life of travelling musicians and their long suffering wives, citing Waylon and Willie and set to a typically Waylon beat. Kevin Fowler and veteran country star John Anderson are featured on the novelty ‘Deer Blind’. It is always great to hear the distinctive Anderson, one of the few non-Texans to appear, but he seems wasted on this.

Another duet, ‘Off The Record’, sung with Texas country singer Charla Corn, is the best new song on the album . This excellent downbeat song is set in the aftermath of a failed marriage with the protagonist sharing his feelings about what has gone wrong and what feelings still remain despite it all.

Lead single ‘Raise Your Bottle’ pays tribute to old soldiers and the prices they have paid. Continuing the theme, Aaron throws in yet another version of his masterpiece, ‘Barbed Wire Halo’. While this is a genuinely great and moving song which deserves to be widely recognised as a modern country classic, this is at least the fifth time he has recorded it and this version feels a little perfunctory compared to earlier ones. If you haven’t heard the song, listen to it  and then download it.

Country-rock ‘Reckless’ (which Watson has also recorded before) sounds rather like a filler album track on a Kenny Chesney album, and is one of the more disposable moments. Another repeat offering is ‘Honky Tonk Kid’ but at least this rings the changes by bringing in guest Willie Nelson, who suits the elegy for a country singer perfectly.

The catchy ‘Fish’ is quite entertaining with sprightly fiddle, while ‘Nowhere Fast’ has a pleasantly jazzy, loungy feel.

I liked the wry kissoff song, ‘I Don’t Want You To Go’ as Aaron addresses the kind of woman who is serious bad news when it comes to a long term relationship:

You may be fun for Saturday night but the rest of the week is the pits …
I don’t want you to go – but I need you to leave

‘Hey Y’all’ is mischievously subtitled “my contribution to ruining country music country song! Ha!’ It is a parody of all those “I’m country” songs set to non-country rhythms, with every rural Southern cliché imaginable packed in. It is very cleverly done, but hard to listen to as the sound is so horrible. It is so sharp and accurate, I can imagine some people taking it as a serious attempt at meeting today’s market.

Another disappointment comes with the packaging. Liner notes are minimal, and there are no songwriter credits included.  Overall, though this is definitely a worthwhile purchase.

Grade: B+

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.

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Strait From The Heart’

straitfromtheheartGeorge Strait’s sophomore effort finds him repeating the same winning formula of his debut, from teaming up once again with producer Blake Mevis, to working a pun based on his last name into the album title. Released in June 1982, Strait From The Heart attempts to strike a balance between Strait’s traditional country roots and the Urban Cowboy sound that was prevalent in the early 80s.

“Fool Hearted Memory”, written by Byron Hill and Blake Mevis was the album’s first single. Released a month in advance of the album, this mid-tempo number holds the distinction of being the first in what was to become a very long string of #1 hits for George Strait. It was his fourth single release in total, and the third to peak inside the Top 10. By this time, Strait was beginning to develop a solid reputation as a traditionalist singer, so the next single release, took some by surprise. “Marina Del Rey” was written by Dean Dillon and Frank Dycus, and no one was more surprised than they when Strait fell in love with the song. They’d figured he wouldn’t be interested in this contemporary-sounding romantic ballad. A big departure from Strait’s previous work, “Marina Del Rey” employed a full string section, while the fiddle and steel that had figured so prominently on his earlier singles took a back seat. Despite being more in line with what radio was playing at the time, “Marina Del Rey” didn’t perform quite as well on the charts as Strait’s previous two singles, missing the Top 5, but still peaking at a very respectable #6. Though it was a pivotal record in Strait’s career at the time, “Marina Del Rey” hasn’t aged as well as most of his other hits; the production sounds dated to modern ears, particularly the singing seagull sound effect employed at the end, which is something that Strait objected to at the time. “Blake promised me that he would take the singing bird out at the end of it, which he didn’t do,” Strait said. ” And I’ve always hated that.”
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Class of ’89 Album Review: ‘Garth Brooks’

garthbrooksdebutGarth Brooks’ debut album is the only diamond-selling Class of ’89 album.  It’s success was eclipsed only by Garth Brooks’ own album releases into the early 1990s.  While the album peaked at only #2 on the country albums chart and #13 on the all-genre chart, its singles sent Garth Brooks’ star soaring into the stratosphere, where it has remained since.  Producer Allen Reynolds, with whom Garth had worked exclusively for his entire career (save for his venture into the Chris Gaines alter ego) delivers some of the most traditional recordings of Garth’s storied career for this album and makes for some awesome tracks that still sound great twenty years after their release.

The album opens with the swinging ‘Not Counting You’ which was written by Garth and served as the album’s third single. This song sounds like it would be perfectly at home on any of George Strait’s records from the time, and was perhaps Garth’s tribute to his Stetson-wearing hero.  ‘I’ve Got A Good Thing Going’ is a stone-country lament complete with twin fiddles and is still one of my favorites.  The first #1 hit from this release is up next in the now-classic ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’.  One of my favorite things about Garth Brooks was the instant recognizability of his songs, and this was the first example of that.  With the first strum of the guitar licks, it’s evident you’re listening to this chestnut.

The elegant ‘Everytime That It Rains’ follows.  Garth relates the story of two old flames who meet again years later to share a dance.  While dancing they realize the flame of their love is long gone as he sings ‘If we ever had a flame/Now it’s over and only the memory remains‘.  I always thought it was a shame this song was never released to radio.  The story of a young man who leaves his Daddy’s Alabama farm for the lights of the big city before coming home to raise his family makes the basis for ‘Alabama Clay’, another excellent traditional story song.

Co-written by Garth with Larry Bastian, ‘Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)’ is a song anybody over 21 can relate to at one point or another and was the album’s lead single.  It was also Garth’s first top 10 hit, peaking at #8 on the charts.  This song rekindled the career of Chris LeDoux in the mainstream with the line ‘a worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze/Seem to be the only friends I’ve left at all’.  Vivid imagery, a killer hook, and a singable melody make this a radio staple still today.

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Playlist: Favorite George Strait songs

George Strait

George Strait

Thursday, April 23rd, is St. George’s Day. George is the name of the patron saint of England. One of the most prominent of the military saints, legend has it that George slayed a dragon that had been terrorizing the people of Silene, in modern-day Libya, doing so on the condition that they convert to Christianity.

And of course, George is also the name of a few very important figures in country music, so this seemed like a good opportunity to dig a little bit into the back catalog of one of them. What follows is a chronological listing of some George Strait songs that, while not necessarily essential or definitive, are my personal favorites:

1. Amarillo By Morning (1983). Included on Strait’s 1982 sophomore album Strait from the Heart, “Amarillo by Morning” was released as a single in early 1983. It had previously been recorded by one of its co-writers Terry Stafford in 1973, Chris LeDoux in 1975 and Asleep at the Wheel in 1981. All of those renditions, however, were eclipsed by Strait’s. This is the first George Strait song I can remember hearing on the radio that really made an impact on me. At the time I didn’t realize it was a song about a rodeo rider. The lines “I hope that judge ain’t blind”, and “I ain’t rich, but Lord I’m free” made me think it was a song about someone who had been wrongfully imprisoned and was hoping to appear before a judge to have the conviction overturned. Eventually, I figured out that wasn’t what the song was about, but it remained a favorite anyway.

2. Right or Wrong (1984). This old Bob Wills classic has been recorded countless times. My collection includes versions by Merle Haggard and Reba McEntire with Asleep at the Wheel, but Strait’s version was the first one I ever heard. It is the only version to have gone to #1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart. It topped the chart in early 1984, becoming Strait’s fourth #1 hit.

3. Let’s Fall To Pieces Together (1984). The follow up to “Right or Wrong”, this was Strait’s fifth #1 hit. I’ve always thought it was a shame that he and producer Ray Baker only made one album together.

4. Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind (1984). The title track to Strait’s 1984 album, this marks the beginning of the “modern” George Strait. It was his first single to be produced by Jimmy Bowen, and by this time he’d begun to develop his trademark crooning-style, which was a much more relaxed style than some of his earlier releases. This song had been turned down by Reba McEntire, who didn’t feel comfortable singing it because of the line about “cold Fort Worth beer.”

5. Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her (1986). The lead single to the album #7, this song was previously recorded by its composer Dean Dillon, who has written many, many hits for George Strait. It was also included on Keith Whitley’s 1985 album L.A. to Miami, but wasn’t released as a single. This is one of Strait’s best vocal performances. He captures perfectly the pain and torment of the protagonist, who regrets having walked out on a woman that he comes to realize too late that he still loves.

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