My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Chris Stapleton

Album Review: Josh Ward – ‘More Than I Deserve’

Josh Ward is one of those Texan country traditionalists who are still out there, performing and recording real country music, and enjoying significant regional success which has started to reach other parts of the country. His latest album, his fourth, hopes to continue his success.

The lead single, ‘’All About Lovin’’, is a cheerful up-tempo tune written by Brice Long, Terry McBride and Chris Stapleton. A potentially radio-friendly toe-tapping groove means this could have been a hit if national country radio hadn’t lost the plot; it did hit the top of the Texas country charts.

Josh co-wrote three of the songs. He is a former rodeo rider himself, and the thoughtful ‘A Cowboy Can’ pays tribute to tough lives and those who don’t give up:

The nights get cold
And the highway never ends
Not many folks can live this life
But a cowboy can

I wouldn’t wish this on the faint of heart
‘Cause I know it ain’t for everyone
Some folks might try to look the part
We don’t do this just for fun
It’s every part of who I am
I’ve got no-quit runnin’ through my veins
It ain’t an easy way to make a buck

‘One More Shot Of Whiskey’ is an excellent song, a downbeat depiction of heartbreak:

I’ve been hangin’ with the devil
I’ve been right down on his level
And I drink his wine night after night
I’ve tried Jones and I’ve tried Haggard
Tried to find somethin’ sadder
It helped a little bit but it took too much time
I’ve only found one thing that comes close


If it takes a month of Sundays
I’ll get over you someday
Say the hell with you and I’ll find someone too
But tonight I’m in trouble and I might start shootin’ doubles
Catch a quick-fix buzz and call you up
So as long as Tennessee makes 90 proof
I need one more shot of whiskey

‘Cause I know that’s all it takes for me
To drown out your damn memory
And help my heart not hurt this way
But I won’t know it did the trick until it hits me

The almost-title track, ‘More Than I Deserved’, the last of Josh’s own songs, is a wistfully regretful song about a lost love.

‘Say Hello To Goodbye’ is a lovely ballad with the protagonist offering some sympathy to a friend who, one assumes like himself, has lost in love through his own fault.

Another highlight is ‘The Devil Don’ t Scare Me’, in which losing a loved one is the worst thing he can possibly imagine happening, including death and hell:

Preacher used to preach about fire and brimstone
I was shakin’ in the shoes in the pew I sat on
12 years old
Afraid of where I’d go
Ten years later wonderin’ how I got here
Where neon burns and they sell cold beer
Heaven seems so far away

‘Cause ever since the night she left me
Ain’t a damn thing that can help me
I’ve tried praying
I’ve tried whiskey
It’s livin’ hell wishing she’d missed me
No I ain’t afraid of dying
‘Cause I lost the one thing I was livin’ for
Now the devil don’t scare me anymore

‘Ain’t It Baby’ is a mellow ballad about staying in love, and ‘Loving Right’ is quite pleasant.

In the midpaced honky tonker ‘Another Heartache’, the narrator wants to enjoy himself and a one night stand, and not fall in love to risk the pain of the inevitable pain.

A rapid paced paean to the bar which is the protagonist’s ‘Home Away From Home’ lacks melody. ‘God Made A Woman’ is a bit generic.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album.

Grade: A-

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Week ending 3/24/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales):  Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: A World of Our Own — Sunny James (Capitol) 

1978: Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (RCA)

1988: Life Turned Her That Way — Ricky Van Shelton (Columbia)

1998: Nothin’ But The Taillights — Clint Black (RCA Nashville)

2008: All-American Girl — Carrie Underwood (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: Broken Halos — Chris Stapleton (Mercury)

Classic Rewind: George Strait ft Chris Stapleton – ‘When Did You Stop Loving Me?’

Classic Rewind: The Time Jumpers – ‘Leaving and Saying Goodbye’

Country music has been my lifelong passion. I’ve been drawn to country songs for as long as I can remember and before I even knew what name to put to it. That passion kicked into high gear when I was around 12 years old and has never wavered. From the Nashville Sound and the Urban Cowboy era to the New Traditionalist movement, I loved it all.

My Kind of Country turns nine years old this month, debuting at a time when mainstream country music was starting to head off in what many of us felt was the wrong direction. Founded by J.R. Journey, Eric Petterson and Chris Dean, it was meant not to be a forum to rant about what was wrong about country music, but to talk about the music that we did like – to introduce (or reintroduce in some cases) the songs and artists that had made country music great, and to highlight worthwhile new music. I was invited to join in February 2009 and jumped at the chance to have an opportunity to talk about my passion.

Anyone who has ever written for a blog will tell you that it is a labor of love. Although it can be deeply satisfying, the most difficult aspect is the demand that it puts on one’s time. Giving a blog the amount of time that is needed to do it properly, while still trying to juggle life’s other demands becomes increasingly difficult and eventually something must give. I’ve been feeling that pressure for quite some time and finally decided a few months ago that I would retire from blogging at the end of the year — which is now just a few days away.

Over the past nine years I’ve continued to hope that commercial country music would improve, while year after year things only seemed to get worse. There have been some glimmers of hope, lately, though with artists like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell connecting with audiences with little or no support from radio. I shall continue to hope for the emergence of the next Randy Travis to finally turn things around. In the meantime, I leave you in the very capable hands of my colleagues Occasional Hope, Jon Pappalardo and Paul Dennis. It’s been an honor working with them, and it’s been an honor writing for you, the readers. May 2018 be a happy and healthy year for all.

Razor X’s Top Albums of 2017

Another year has come and gone, and once again we lament the deplorable state of mainstream country music, while pointing out a few glimmers of hope that will never be heard on the radio. Among this year’s highlights are:

10. Dailey & Vincent – ‘Patriots and Poets’

Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent had quite a year, which included being inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry in March, followed by the release of one of the best bluegrass albums of the year. This generous sample of bluegrass and spiritual tunes is the perfect showcase for the duo’s trademark harmonies.

9. Rhonda Vincent & Daryle Singletary – ‘American Grandstand’

Not to be outdone, Darrin’s big sister Rhonda also turned in a stellar collection, teaming up this time with her former label mate Daryle Singletary. Although heavily reliant on cover material, there are some new songs here as well. This is a real treat for those who are starved for some real country music.

8. Charley Pride – ‘Music In My Heart’

The legendary Charley Pride returned after a six-year recording hiatus, with one of the strongest offerings of his post-major label career. Sirius XM subscribers who listen to Willie’s Roadhouse will no doubt be familiar with “You’re Still In These Crazy Arms of Mine”, which was my favorite song on the album. Like the Vincent/Singletary album, this one has its share of remakes but there’s not a weak one to be found.

7. Reba McEntire – ‘Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope’

Reba McEntire is my favorite female singer, but I’ve been disappointed with her offerings over the last decade more times than I care to remember. This double album which is divided evenly between traditional hymns and more contemporary inspirational songs shows that when commercial considerations are cast aside, Reba is still in a class all by herself. I’m cautiously optimistic that this album is a sign that she’s finally stopped chasing chart success and ready to release some worthwhile material again.

6. Sunny Sweeney – ‘Trophy’

While it’s regrettable that Sunny Sweeney never enjoyed the mainstream success she deserved, getting out of her major label deal was the best thing that ever happened to her from a creative standpoint. While Concrete was a bit too eclectic for my liking, Trophy gets it just right and is her best offering since Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame. “Bottle By My Bed”, which she co-wrote with Lori McKenna, would be a monster hit in a sane world.

5. Alison Krauss – ‘Windy City’

Alison Krauss is another artist with whom I’d become a bit disillusioned, but she redeemed herself nicely with this collection of cover songs, which aren’t quite classics for the most part, but deserved to be introduced to a new audience. This is the best album she’s done in years — arguably the best of her career.

4. Zephaniah OHora with the 18 Wheelers – ‘This Highway’

This collection of original material which recreates the Bakersfield and countrypolitan sounds of the 60s was a pleasant surprise. Although it could have benefited from a little more variety in tempo, this a wonderful album and I hope that it is the first of many from this native of Brooklyn.

3. & 2. Chris Stapleton: ‘From A Room: Volumes 1 & 2’

These widely anticipated follow-ups to 2015’s Traveller were presumably intended to be a double album, but Mercury Records seems to have gotten cold feet about the sales potential of a double set, so they split it into two separate releases. Both discs feature very sparse production and gorgeous harmonies from Chris’ wife Morgane Hayes-Stapleton. With a heavy blues influence, theses albums are not traditional country, but there are a perfect antidote to the overproduced pop masquerading as country music on the radio today. I liked the second volume slightly better than the first.

1. Willie Nelson and The Boys: ‘Willie’s Stash, Volume 2’

This collection finds the Red-Headed Stranger teaming up with his two sons Lukas and Micah and digging deeply into the catalog of Hank Williams. Despite their youth, the younger Nelsons show obvious enthusiasm for the material, proving that Willie raised those boys right. This was a pleasure from start to finish. My favorite track was the Hank Cochran-penned “Can I Sleep In Your Arms”, which was hit for Cochran’s then-wife Jeannie Seely in 1973 and later recorded by Willie for his Red-Headed Stranger album.

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2017

While the mainstream sinks further away from country music, I have found some great music this year. It is marked, however, that much of the best music harks back to the past in one way or another. Another difference from radio trends is that half of the top 7 are female artists. Here are my favourite full length albums of 2017:

10. John Baumann, Proving Grounds

An overlooked gem I never got round to reviewing in the summer, this release from a young Texas singer songwriter of the troubadour type was full of high quality songs. Definitely an artist to watch.

Highlights: ‘Old Stone Church’, ‘Lonely In Bars’, ‘Here I Come’, ‘The Trouble With Drinkin’’, ‘Meg’

9. Chris Stapleton, From A Room, vols 1-2

While his music is not traditional country, it is a lot better than most mainstream efforts these days. Chris Stapleton has a great voice and is a superb songwriter, and wife Morgane’s harmonies add the final touch. I am counting these two almost-full length albums as one for the purpose of this list.

Highlights: ‘Up To No Good Livin’’, ‘Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning’, ‘Either Way’, ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’, ‘Scarecrow In The Garden

8. Conway Twitty – Timeless

The recently re-released recordings are a delightful reminder of what country music used to be. Arrangements laden with steel, great songs and Conway’s emotive vocals all contribute to a wonderful album, with only a couple of less stellar moments.

Highlights: ‘Lost Her Love) On Our Last Date’, ’15 Years Ago’, ‘Next In Line’


7. Gene Watson – My Gospel Roots

This only came out on 8 December, just in time to make my year-end list. It is an excellent religious album from one of the best living country vocalists, with an interesting selection of material. The full review will be posted on Friday.

Highlights: ‘Fit For A King’, ‘Help Me’, ‘Old Roman Soldier

6. Charley Pride – Music In My Heart

The legend’s 2017 album is his best music in years. He is in fine voice and the songs are great.

Highlights: ‘Standing In My Way’, ‘I Learned A Lot’, ‘The Way It Was In ‘51’, ‘It Wasn’t That Funny

5. Jason Eady – Jason Eady

A thoughtful, often compelling collection of songs from one of my favorite singer-songwriters.

Highlights: ‘Barabbas’, ‘Where I’ve Been’, ‘No Genie In This Bottle’, ‘Black Jesus’, ‘Why I Left Atlanta’, 40 Years


4. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy

The Texan singer-songwriter released another great record this year, mixing attitude and heartbreak in eqal measures.
Highlights: ‘Bottle By My Bed’, ‘I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight’, ‘Trophy’, ‘Pass The Pain’

3. Alison Krauss – Windy City

Alison Krauss’s beautiful voice on a country leaning collection of standards, beautifully prodiced and exquisitely sung. Flawless.

Highlights: ‘You Don’t Know Me’, ‘River In The Rain’, ‘Losing You’, ‘Gentle On My Mind’, ‘All Alone Am I’, ‘Please Don’t Tell me How The Story Ends’


2. Rhonda Vincent and Daryle Singletary – American Grandstand

A delightful pairing of one of bluegrass’s best female vocalists with country traditionalist Daryle Singletary. Rhonda’s voice blends even better with Daryle than it did with Gene Watson https://mykindofcountry.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/album-review-gene-watson-and-rhonda-vincent-your-money-and-my-good-looks/ a few years ago. Magnificent.

Highlights: ‘We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds’, ‘One’, ‘A Picture Of Me Without You’, ‘After The Fire Is Gone’, ‘American Grandstand


1. Erin Enderlin – Whiskeytown Crier

The singer-songwriter’s latest album is a superb collection of story songs. My only reservation is that several of the songs have appeared upon her previous releases, but this is a truly excellent album.

Highlights: ‘Broken’, ‘Caroline’, ‘His Memory Walks On Water’, ‘The Coldest In Town’, ‘Ain’t It Just Like A Cowboy

Jonathan Pappalardo’s Ten Favorite singles of 2017

While it does become harder and harder to assemble this list each year, it always amazes me that quality country music does exist, even if the upper echelon of the airplay chart screams otherwise.  Sit back and enjoy what I consider the ten best singles released this year:



10. Tanya Tucker – Forever Loving You

Go online and you’ll find countless videos of Tucker where she details the volatility of her relationship with Glen Campbell. She freely admits to the drug and physical abuse that defined their union, which became a cornerstone of her early 20s. Even after they split, and she went onto some of her greatest success, she clearly never truly got over him.

More than a tribute to Campbell, “Forever Loving You” is an exquisite love song. Tucker is in fine voice, which makes the longing for new music all the more aching. Why does this have to be a standalone one-off and not the lead track to a new album?

9. Alan Jackson – The Older I Get

Easily Jackson’s greatest achievement since “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore.” He’s in a contemplative mood, looking back in the year he received induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. If this is any indication, I look forward to whatever he chooses to do next.

8. Jon Pardi – She Ain’t In It

The best mainstream single of 2017 comes from the newly crowned CMA New Artist of the Year. The lyric isn’t earth-shattering, but the drenching of fiddle and steel more than makes up the difference. With his solid foundation in traditional country and his willingness to stay true to himself no matter the cost, Pardi’s future is bright. As of now, he’s one of the good guys.

7. Lee Ann Womack – Hollywood

A housewife is begging her husband to engage with her. He won’t bite except to dismiss her feelings or downright ignore their partnership. She’s exhausted from their loveless marriage, and the part he’s playing in it, so much so she wonders, “either I’m a fool for asking or you belong in Hollywood.” The first of two songs in this vein comes with that killer hook and Womack’s equally effective performance.

6. Alison Krauss – Losing You

Krauss revives a somewhat obscure Brenda Lee hit from 1965 and knocks it out of the park. The covers album that followed is just as rich and deeply satisfying.

5. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – If We Were Vampires

If life didn’t come with an expiration date, would we love as hard? Isbell asks that central question on the stunning centerpiece from That Nashville Sound. He proves mortality is actually a good thing, not something to be feared. For my ears, “If We Were Vampires” is the love song of the year.

 4. Chris Stapleton – Either Way

In my more than twenty years of seriously consuming country music, no song has stuck with me as long or had as great an impact on my psyche as “Either Way.” Lee Ann Womack brought it to life eight years ago in what still remains the song’s definitive version. Stapleton sings the fire out of it, too, but his greatest achievement is being the man who wrote it. He’s easily among the upper tier of the greatest country songwriters of his generation.

3. Brandy Clark – Three Kids No Husband

Clark teamed with Lori McKenna on an anthem for the women who assume all titles without a man to even the score. Both have recorded it, but it’s Clark who found the subtly within the lyric and ultimately drove it home.

2. Sunny Sweeney – Bottle By My Bed

Many songs have been written about the struggle for a woman to conceive, but none are as achingly beautiful as Sweeney’s tale of heartbreak in the wake of a miscarriage. A powerful and universal tale for anyone who has suffered the same fate.

1. Erin Enderlin – Ain’t It Just Like A Cowboy

I didn’t have a clear favorite single this year until I played these ten songs back-to-back when considering the rankings. Enderlin blows away the competition with her story of a wife realizing how foolish she is for staying with the cheating bastard who probably never loved her in the first place. A true country ballad for the ages.

Album Review: Chris Stapleton – ‘From A Room Vol 2’

Chris Stapleton’s second blues-influenced album of the year is broadly similar in mood to the first, but feels a little more consistent and cohesive. Wife Morgane Hayes Stapleton’s delicate harmonies augment Chris’s rougher yet soulful voice, and they could easily be billed as a duo rather than Chris as the solo star.

There are a couple of outside covers bookending the set. Kevin Welch wrote the opening ‘Millionaire’ around the turn of the millennium, and it is a laid back slightly loungy tune about true wealth coming from love. ‘Friendship’ is an old jazzy soul song which works well for Chris.

He wrote the remainder of the material with various partners. A couple of songs were written with Kendell Marvel. ‘Tryin’ To Untangle My Mind’ was slightly more country as done by Marvel on his own excellent album this year, with Chris’s version leaning more bluesy and feeling sleazier. The rock-edged honky tonker ‘Hard Livin’’ is on a similar theme of looking back at a life of hard drinking and wild living with some regret as he grows older.

‘Scarecrow In The Garden’, co-written with Brice Long and Matt Fleener, is a family story song about immigrants coming from Northern Ireland to farm on bad ground in West Virginia, ending with a doomladen picture in the third generation:

There’s a scarecrow in the garden
That looks like Lucifer
I’ve been readin’ Revelation
With my bare feet in the river

I know every single fencepost
Every rock that goes around
I’ve been starin’ at the red oak
Where I know they’ll lay me down

The fields ain’t what they once were
The rains just seem to flood
And I’ve been thinkin’ about that river
Wonderin’ how it turns to blood

I’ve been sittin’ here all morning
I was sittin’ here all night
There’s a Bible in my left hand
And a pistol in my right

A gentle acoustic arrangement allows the song to breathe.

Another highlight is ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’, written with Jameson Clark, an honest confessional with a stripped down acoustic arrangement:

I wish that I could go to church but I’m too ashamed of me
I hate the fact it takes a bottle to get me on my knees
And I hope He’ll forgive
The things you ain’t forgot
When I get drunk and talk to God

Mike Henderson, once a band mate in the SteelDrivers, co-wrote two songs. The subdued, sad ‘Nobody’s Lonely Tonight’ is extremely good, but ‘Midnight Train To Memphis’ is raucous Southern rock which is not to my taste at all.

Morgane’s father Darrell Hayes helped Chris write ‘A Simple Song’, a weary, gentle song about a working class man’s life, suffering in hard times but satisfied by family and home.

As with the previous release, there are only 9 tracks, which is disappointing.

However, while Stapleton is certainly not traditional country, his music is head and shoulders above most of the current ‘mainstream’ crop, and it is well worth seeking out.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Bradley Walker – ‘Blessed’

Bradley Walker’s second religious album, and third overall, leans towards traditional hymns and other well known material. A beautiful, measured reading of ‘Amazing Grace’ opens the album. Carl Jackson and Val Storey add harmony vocals, and a little steel guitar ornaments the track. A thoughtful, sincere version of ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, also introduced with some gorgeous steel, is even better. Jimmy Fortune and Ben Isaacs help out here.

From the southern gospel tradition, Alison Krauss adds an angelic harmony to ‘Angel Band’. Vince Gill and Sonya Isaacs help on ‘Drifting Too Far From The Shore’, another lovely track. ‘I’ll Fly Away’ has energy and commitment, as does ‘Victory In Jesus’. The Gaithers’ more recent ‘Because He Lives’ is a melodic ballad.

A few classic country and bluegrass gospel tunes are included. The Oak Ridge Boys lead into ‘Family Bible’ with a line from ‘Rock Of Ages’. Some may not know that ‘One Day At A Time’ was co-written by Kris Kristofferson and Marijohn Wilkin). Bradley’s version is earnest and tasteful, with a lovely harmony from Rhonda Vincent. Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White provide harmonies on the Stanley Brothers’ ‘Who Will Sing For Me’.

There is some newer material as well. ‘I Will Someday’, written by two sets of spouses (Morgane Hayes and Chris Stapleton, and Ronnie and Garnet Bowman), is a nice upbeat song about absolute faith. The Isaacs contribute backing vocals, and there is a sprightly acoustic guitar and piano backing. ‘Cast the First Stone’ is an Isaacs song from a couple of decades ago with a Bible based lyric and strong bluegrass feel. Another Isaacs tune is the beautiful ballad ‘Say Something’.

This is a perfect example of a country religious album. The vocals are exceptional and the instrumental backings and arrangements delightful.

Grade: A

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

Album Review: Wade Hayes – ‘Old Country Song’

The latest album from 90s star and cancer survivor Wade Hayes shows he is still in possession of a great traditional country voice. He and co-producer Dave McAfee have found some excellent songs.

The opening ‘Can’t Get Close Enough To You’ is a sultry love song addressed to the protagonist’s wife of many years, and is one of four songs on the album written by Hayes, all loosely on the theme of marriage. Of the others, The nostalgic ‘Full Moon Summer Night’ is sung with passion, but is not all that interesting a song. The pace is increased with the wry up-tempo ‘I Wish I Still Drank’, which reflects on the contrast between a wild youth and a sober happy married life. The last of Wade’s own songs, ‘She Knows Me’, is a grateful commentary on his relationship with his wife:
She knows me and she loves me anyway

There are a couple of classic covers: a faithful remake of the Conway Twitty hit ‘Julia’, with an emotional vocal. Haggard’s ‘Going Where The Lonely Go’ works perfectly for Wade, and is a highlight. Wade’s love for real country music is also reflected in the title tune, a lovely Roger Springer-penned song about the power of music:

I’m as old as time
Born in a poet’s mind
I can reach across the ocean and hit the mark
Be an answered prayer to a broken heart
And I can go on and on and on about life
Talk about love
I can philosophize
Make a woman cry
Stop a man in his tracks and send him on back home
I’m just an old country song

I started out in a freight car to the rhythm of the track
One night I was left unfinished in the back of a Cadillac
Spent some time at Folsom …
And for a little while those men were free

Springer also wrote (with Tim Menzies) ‘I Don’t Understand’, an entertaining Western Swing number about the complexity of love which was previously recorded by Springer’s own band, the Roger Springer Band.

Jon Randall, Jessi Alexander and Phillip White wrote ‘What You Need From Me’, a beautiful duet with Megan Mullins about friendship and unrequited love, which was previously cut by Shelley Skidmore and Greg Bates. ‘Needed The Rain’ is a strong Chris Stapleton song.

The album closes with a tastefully stripped down and sincerely delivered version of the hymn ‘In Christ Alone’.

This is an excellent album, and I strongly recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Joe Nichols – ‘Never Gets Old’

Joe Nichols, once one of the standard bearers for real country music, seemed to have lost his way of recent years – or to have been forced from it by record label politics. On losing his major deal, he signed to the big independent label Broken Bow, who proceeded to release a number of frankly bad tracks as singles which were largely ignored by radio. Those have been forgotten without trace, and find no place on Joe’s debut album for the label, heralded with talk of a return to more traditional sounds, which naturally caused me to have considerable expectations of the record.

The true lead single, the title track, is a delightful return to form for Joe. A gently midpaced love song, it may not make waves at radio, but will satisfy real country fans. The rather charming ‘I’d Sing About You’ is another attractive love song with some nice fiddle. I very much liked ‘This Side Of The River’, with the protagonist declaring he is very happy with his current life and in no rush to make it to the next world. Celtic pipes add a spiritual flavor. ‘Breathless’ is also quite nice though not as memorable. ‘So You’re Saying’ is a relaxed chat-up number with a nice tune.

‘Girl In The Song’ is another pleasant love song, although the production is unsympathetic. This is also a problem with the sexy ‘Hostage’, which Joe doesn’t really sell. Much worse is the awful bro-country ‘Tall Boys’, no doubt left over from the sessions which produced the jettisoned singles.

The best track is ‘Billy Graham’s Bible’, an excellent love song repeated from Joe’s last album Crickets. Perhaps this revival is a sign to its being selected as a single. Another highlight, ‘We All Carry Something’, is a moving semi-story and partly religious song written by Westin Davis and Justin Weaver about the pain and scars of hard lives.

A likeable cover of the Dierks Bentley album cut ‘Diamonds Make Babies’ (a Chris Stapleton co-write) works really well for Joe, showcasing his playful side. Another cover, also with comic intent, is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard. ‘Baby Got Back’ was originally a controversial rap song in the early 90s. Joe somehow manages to make it sound like a (very) country song in terms of melody, vocal and instrumentation (although the lyrics are still somewhat offensive in a bro-country way). Southern comedian Darren Knight guests with some spoken interjections taking a different angle. I am left speechless by this track, but do give it points for at least sounding country.

So this album is still something of a mixed bag, but on the whole it is a step back in the right direction for Joe.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Bobby Bare – ‘Things Change’

After not issuing any albums of new material for over twenty years (1985-2005), Bobby Bare has now issued his third album in the last dozen years. Things Change has a sound more in line with the modern sounds of country music, while offering the sort of story songs that made country music from the period 1940 – 2005 stand apart from most other forms of popular music.

Things Change finds Bobby Bare the songwriter being spotlighted more than was normally the case in the past. Bare has always been a good songwriter, but his focus has always been to find the best songs and focus attention on the writers of those songs. For this album Bare has co-writer credits on five of the songs and was entirely responsible for two other songs.

No doubt radio won’t play this album so there won’t be any hit singles, even though this is an album full of great songs. That said, the album opens up with a song that was an enormous success in Norway in 2012, winning the third Regional Semi-Final stage of Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix 2012 and just missing being selected as Norway’s entrant (out of 800+ entrants) in the Eurovision Song Contest. The version that was so successful in Europe was a duet with Norwegian singer Petter Øien. It is a firm indicator of Bobby’s sustained vocal excellence and popularity in Europe that the Norwegians selected Bare’s song even though it was sung entirely in English. Bobby is a long-time favorite of Norwegian audiences, having toured there frequently since 1964.

The version on the album is not the version that stormed Europe but a recent studio recording. Bare is now 82 years old and brings a mature perspective to the song that perhaps cannot be as effectively told by younger performers:

Cowboy hats will blow off in the wind
Women rule the world, not the men
And things change but then
You turn around and they change again

Things change, don’t blink your eye
‘Cause if you do, they’ll pass you by
About the time you think you’ve locked it in
Things change, then change again

That winter bummed you out, just wait for spring
In the middle of a drought just wait for rain
If you think your life’s run out and you can’t win
There’s no doubt things gonna change again

Things change, don’t blink your eye
‘Cause if you do, they’ll pass you by
About the time you think you’ve locked it in
Things change, then change again

Son, that’s just life, that’s the world we’re living in
That’s the way it’s gonna be ’cause that’s the way it’s always been

Next up is “The End”, a wistful mid-tempo ballad about a love that came unwound.

Bobby teamed up with legendary songwriters Rafe Van Hoy and Billy Burnette to write “Aint No Sure Thing”. As Bobby notes the “the only sure thing is there ain’t no sure things”. This is a mid-tempo semi-rocker.

Bobby co-wrote “The Trouble With Angels” with Robert Deitch. This is a mid-tempo ballad that laments that the trouble with angels is “they never stay, they all fly away“.

Up to this point Bobby had a hand in writing all the songs; however, as noted before, Bobby has a strong appreciation for talented songwriters and he turns to Mary Gauthier for the next two songs.

“I Drink” is a slow ballad that has played itself out many times in many places. Gauthier has described the song as semi-autobiographical:

He’d get home at 5:30
Fix his drink, sit down in his chair
Pick a fight with mama
Complain about us kids getting in his hair

At night he’d sit ‘lone and smoke
I’d see his frown behind his lighter’s flame
Now that same frown’s in my mirror
I got my daddy’s blood inside my veins

Fish swim, birds fly
Daddies yell, mamas cry
Old men sit and think
I drink

“Mercy Now” is a very sad song albeit somewhat uplifting and perhaps even spiritual. It certainly speaks accurately to the human condition:

My father could use a little mercy now
The fruits of his labor fall and rot slowly on the ground
His work is almost over, it won’t be long, he won’t be around
I love my father, he could use some mercy now

My brother could use a little mercy now
He’s a stranger to freedom, he’s shackled to his fear and his doubt
The pain that he lives in it’s almost more than living will allow
I love my brother, he could use some mercy now

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit it’s going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now

I really was not familiar with Mary Gauthier, but after listening these songs, I’ve made myself a mental note to check out more of her music.

Guy Clark was one of the great songwriters and he teamed with Bobby to write “Trophy Girl”. Apparently this was the last song that Clark wrote. The morale of the story is “trophy girls don’t hang around forever.”

The next two songs “Where Did It Go” and “You Got The Light” were both solo efforts by Bobby, the former a slow ballad and the latter a mid-tempo blues rocker. Both are good songs.

The album closes with one of Bare’s signature songs, the ubiquitous “Detroit City”. Written by Mel Tillis and Danny Dill and twice a hit in 1963, the song perhaps catches the despair of homesickness as well as any song ever written. Bobby is joined by Chris Stapleton on this new recording of his classic hit. The major difference between this track and his 1963 version is a more pronounced rhythm track.

I wanna go home, I wanna go home
Oh, how I wanna go home.

Last night I went to sleep in Detroit City
And I dreamed about those cottonfields and home
I dreamed about my mother dear, old papa, sister and brother
I dreamed about that girl who’s been waiting for so long
I wanna go home, I wanna go home, oh, how I wanna go home.

Homefolks think I’m big in Detroit City
From the letters that I write they think I’m fine
But by day I make the cars, by night I make the bars
If only they could read between the lines.

Bobby Bare remains what he has always been, a relaxed but expressive singer, with a wry sense of humor and the ability to make you believe the stories he tells. The voice is a little weathered but fits perfectly with the material. Bare was never about pretense and putting the songs across is all that he really cares about – and as always, he succeeds magnificently.

This album is a solid “A” if ever I heard one.

Credits

01 Things Change (Bobby Bare/Jeff Hyde/ Roger Springer)
02 The End (Bobby Bare / John Pennell)
03 Ain’t No Sure Thing (Bobby Bare/ Rafe Van Hoy / Billy Burnette)
04 The Trouble With Angels (Bobby Bare / Robert Deitch)
05 I Drink (Mary Gauthier / Crit Harmon)
06 Mercy Now (Mary Gauthier)
07 Trophy Girl (Bobby Bare / Guy Clark)
08 Where Did It Go (Bobby Bare)
09 You Got The Light (Bobby Bare)
10 Detroit City (Danny Dill / Mel Tillis) – w/ Chris Stapleton

Produced by Max T Barnes & Jimmy Ritchey
Executive Producer: Shannon Bare
Acoustic Guitars: B James Lowrey, Darrell Scott, Max T Barnes
Drums: Eddie Bayer Jr., Shannon Forrest, Gary Kubal
Electric Guitar: Brent Mason, Max T Barnes
Bass: Jimmie Johnson, David Smith , Glenn Worf
Keys: Tim Atwood, Gary Prim, Mike Rojas, Max T Barnes
Background Vocals: Harry Stinson, Stevie Ray Anderson, Robin Barnes,
Wes Hightower, Coleen Gallagher, Bobby Bare Jr., Max T Barnes,
Danny Sheerin

Official video

2012 Performance Video

Interview, etc

Album Review: Varous Artists: ‘Gentle Giants: The Songs Of Don Williams’

Don Williams had a very successful career in Country Music and is pretty much beloved throughout the English-speaking world. Don would have a long run of chart singles (46 as a solo artist) that would run from 1973 to 1992, and he would continue to release albums of new music through 2014.

With such a long discography, the task is twofold: (1) find artists whose styles are sympathetic to the honoree’s style without being mere imitations, and (2) find some interesting catalog songs rather than simply covering the biggest hits. Moreover, tribute albums tend to be a mixed bag with some of them being very good, and others merely star vehicles for current stars rather than genuine tributes. Gentle Giants is a genuine tribute to Don.

This project succeeds in both respects. The artists cover a broad range of styles and while the songs are mostly big hits, a few lesser known songs are covered as well.

The album opens up with the Pistol Annies’ version of “Tulsa Time” a song written by Danny Flowers, one of Don’s band members. The arrangement of this 1979 #1 record for Don is considerably funkier than Don’s arrangement.

“I Believe In You” was written by Roger Cook and Sam Hogin, hitting #1 in 1980. This was probably Don’s biggest international hit, even reaching #4 on New Zealand’s pop charts. Brandy Clark does a decent job of the song, although it probably should have been tackled by a more grizzled artist than young Brandy.

“We’ve Got A Good Fire Going” was not one of Don’s bigger hits, only reaching #3 in 1986. Written by master songsmith David Loggins, the song seems perfectly suited for a vocal trio such as Lady Antebellum. The arrangement is very gentle with a light string accompaniment.

There’s a storm rollin’ over the hill
And the willow trees are blowin’
I’m standin’ here starin’ out the window
Safe and warm
I feel her put her arms around me
And it’s a good feelin’ that I’m knowin’
Oh, I’ve got a good woman and we’ve got a good fire goin’

“Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” comes from the pen of Wayland Holyfield. The song reached #1 in 1977, Dierks Bentley gives the song an acoustic, nearly bluegrass arrangement. I love the song and I love Dierks’ performance of the song.

While there are no complete misfires on the album, “Amanda” seems ill suited for the duo of Chris Stapleton and Morgane Stapleton. I really like Chris but his voice is just wrong for this song. His version is acceptable but both Don and ol’ Waylon did far better versions of the song.

Similarly Alison Krauss makes the mistake of slowing the tempo in “Till The Rivers All Run Dry”. Since all of Don’s songs are taken at slow to medium slow tempos, reducing the tempo on any of Don’s songs is a mistake. Alison provides a gorgeous vocal, but the song just seems to drag. Don co-wrote this song with Wayland Holyfield, his fourth #1 from back in 1976.

I regard John Prine as a talented songwriter but a poor vocalist with his vocal efforts ranging from mediocre to terrible. Somehow “Love Is On A Roll” works. It was a good idea to pair him with Roger Cook, especially since Prine and Cook were the writers on the song. Don took this song to #1 in 1983.

Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You”, as sung by Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, was a bit of a disappointment, mostly because Amanda Shires is no Emmylou Harris as a harmony singer. I think the song originally was an Emmylou Harris single featuring Don Williams since it was released on Warner Brothers, which was Emmylou’s label. The song only reached #3 but I thought it was an outstanding effort by Don and Emmylou.

“Maggie’s Dream” missed the top ten when released in 1984 but by then Don was staring to lose momentum as a singles artist. Also the album from which the song came, Cafe Carolina, was Don’s least successful album in a decade. Written by David Loggins and Lisa Silver, Trisha Yearwood does a masterful job with the song. I think it has one of the more interesting lyrics that Don ever tackled:

Maggie’s up each morning at four am
By five at the counter at the diner
Her trucker friends out on the road will soon be stopping in
As the lights go on at Cafe Carolina

Maggie’s been a waitress here most all her life
Thirty years of coffee cups and sore feet
The mountains around Ashevill,e she’s never seen the other side
Closer now to fifty than to forty

Maggie’s never had a love
She said she’s never had enough time
To let a man into her life
Aw but Maggie has a dream
She’s had since she was seventeen
To find a husband and be a wife

I am not that familiar with Keb Mo’ but he nailed “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good”, adding a very sincere vocal to an arrangement that is nearly a clone of Don’s original. The song was written by Dave Hanner, best known for his role in the Corbin/Hanner Band. The song reached #1 in 1981.

“Good Ole Boys Like Me”, written by Bob McDill is probably my favorite Don Williams song and Garth Brooks version tells me that Garth definitely grew up on and was inspired by Don’s songs. Billboard had this song dying at #2 but Cashbox and Record World both had it reaching #1.

All said, this is a pretty nice album. Don Williams was a pretty laid back artist and I wish someone had selected some of the more up-tempo songs (admittedly, there were not that many from which to choose). Other than Leon Redbone and Bobby Bare, no one was as good at laid-back as Don Williams.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Chris Stapleton – ‘From a Room: Volume 1’

Ever since he swept the 2015 CMA Award and his career-defining performance with Justin Timberlake at that show, Chris Stapleton has been regarded by many as the savior of country music, who will lift the genre out of its creative doldrums and set it back on a path towards traditionalism. The great irony is that Stapleton’s music is really not that traditional for the most part. Roots-oriented, organic, and substantive yes, but he’s hardly the modern day equivalent of Randy Travis in 1986. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the genre has benefited from his success. He has a powerful voice but his style owes more to blue-eyed sound southern rock than traditional country. His style is not usually my cup of tea, but I actually like Chris Stapleton quite a lot and have ever since he was the lead singer for The SteelDrivers. And regardless of whether or not one likes his vocal style, one can’t help but root for someone who can have commercial success while bypassing the cesspool that is country radio.

The follow-up to his immensely successful debut album Traveller was originally envisioned as a two-disc set, but Mercury apparently had some reservations about a double album and opted to release From a Room in two volumes, with the second set tentatively slated for an autumn release. One of the unfortunate consequences of his is that the first volume consists of a mere nine tracks. No album should consist of less then ten songs, in my opinion. I was annoyed when RCA trimmed back its albums to nine tracks in the 1980s and the practice, though rare nowadays, still does not sit well with me. Surely there were more songs recorded that could have been used to flesh out the album a bit. That criticism aside, From a Room is, for the most part, an outstanding collection.

Like Traveller, From a Room: Volume 1 was co-produced by Stapleton and Dave Cobb and recorded in RCA Studio A. Eight of its nine tracks were co-written by Stapleton (many apparently from his extensive back catalog), the sole exception being a stunning version of “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning”, which was a #2 hit for Willie Nelson in 1982. It tells the story of a morning in which everything goes wrong: the delivery of a past-due bill notice, an alarm clock that fails to go off on time, a spilled pot of coffee, among other things, culminating in the narrator’s wife or girlfriend calling an end to their relationship. Stapleton’s wife Morgane Hayes-Stapleton provides the harmony vocals.

Another tune that will be familiar to many listeners is “Either Way”, which was originally included on Lee Ann Womack’s Call Me Crazy album in 2008. A ballad about a relationship taking its last dying breaths, it is the perfect vehicle for Stapleton’s powerhouse voice. Wikipedia lists it as the current single. Don’t expect to hear it the radio.

“Up to No Good Livin'”, the sole traditional track on the album, is my favorite. Again featuring Morgane signing harmony, it is a pedal-steel drenched up-tempo number about a reformed hell raiser whose wife refuses to believe that he’s mended his ways:

Wish I could come home from workin’
And not have her checking my breath
I’m tired of her turning her questions
Into the Gettysburg Address
There’s no reason why she shouldn’t trust me
The fact that she don’t makes me mad
Can’t count all the times that I’ve begged her
Honey, just let my past be the past

I used to drink like a fish and run like a dog
Without a whole lotta sh*t not committed by law
People called me the Picasso of painting the town
I’ve finally grown up
I’ve finally changed from that someone I was
To somebody I am
But she finds it hard to believe that she’s turned me around
So I’ll probably die before I live all my
Up to no good livin’ down

It’s no surprise, given Stapleton’s reputation as one of Nashville’s best songwriters, that From a Room: Volume 1 consists of very well-crafted and well executed songs. The sole dud is “Them Stems”, a tongue-in-cheek number about a marijuana user who has come to the end of his stash and desperate for a fresh supply. It’s catchy, but songs about drug use make me uncomfortable and as a result, I really can’t get into this one. One throwaway track on an album is no big deal but it’s a little harder to overlook when there are only nine songs in total.

From a Room: Volume 1 is sure to be one of 2017’s best sellers, and deservedly so. I’ve already played it several times and actually prefer it to Traveller. I’m looking forward to hearing the second volume in a few months.

Grade: A

Single Review: Chris Stapleton – ‘Broken Halos’

Chris Stapleton has finally shared the first official taste of his highly-anticipated sophomore album, From A Room, Volume 1. He may have sung “Second One to Know” on the ACM Awards earlier this month, but “Broken Halos” is the first audio Stapleton and Mercury Records have shared with fans.

I must admit I haven’t been able to drink the Stapleton branded cool-aid. I’m not much of a fan of his style or voice, which do not excite me. My brain keeps wanting to compare him to Jamey Johnson, which for me is no contest. I love Johnson and adore That Lonesome Song. I still can’t get into Traveller no matter how many times I listen to it.

“Broken Halos” doesn’t change my perception. It’s a blues rocker, not a country song, a style that fits him well. I admire how structured the song sounds, there’s no wild abandon impeding on the listening experience. “Broken Halos” is probably as straight a reading as we’re ever going to get from Stapleton.

The song, though, is a good one. I really like the spiritual nature of the lyric, which offers a poignant message of redemption:

Angels come down from the heavens

Just to help us on our way

Come to teach us, then they leave us

And they find some other soul to save

 

Seen my share of broken halos

Folded wings that used to flysang

They’ve all gone wherever they go

Broken halos that used to shine

Broken halos that used to shine

 

Don’t go looking for the reasons

Don’t go asking Jesus why

We’re not meant to know the answers

They belong to the by and by

They belong to the by and by

My personal feelings don’t distract from how well he executes this record. The lyric could be flushed out a bit more, but the arrangement is tasteful and he uses his god-like voice to the fullness of its powers. “Broken Halos” is signature Chris Stapleton and a fine beginning to what promises to be one of the strongest artistic achievements for mainstream country this year.

Grade: B+

Single Review: Zac Brown Band – ‘My Old Man’

The Zac Brown Band have always maintained that they are not a strictly country band; however, they they have been one of the few (mostly) bright spots at country radio over the past decade.  With the release of the polarizing Jekyll + Hyde album, they ventured into the world of EDM and reggae.  It didn’t seem to hurt them commercially but it did alienate many of their fans.  The Band now seems to be extending an olive branch to those fans with their new release, “My Old Man”.

Written by Zac Brown with Niko Moon and Ben Simonetti, “My Old Man” is the latest in country music’s long-standing tradition of honoring one’s parents.  It channels old chestnuts as “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, “Daddy’s Hands”, “That’s My Job” and “Love Without End, Amen” and delivers essentially the same message as those classic songs.  While it doesn’t break any new ground, it does take the initial steps needed to get country music in general – and the Zac Brown Band in particular – back on track artistically.

A sparsely arranged ballad consisting of acoustic guitar, a little fiddle, a subtle string arrangement and the Band’s trademark harmonies, “My Old Man” opens with the narrator’s boyhood reminiscences of his father.  In the second verse, the narrator is grown with a son of his own.  The third verse reveals that the narrator’s father has passed away.  The narrator expresses hope that he can live up to the example that was set for him, and looks forward to an eventual reunion with his father in the afterlife.

“My Old Man” was produced by Dave Cobb, best known for his work with Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson.  It’s the refreshing glass of water that  fans have been crying out for during a long drought in the bro-country desert.  I look forward to hearing the Band’s forthcoming album.

Grade:  A

50th CMA Awards: Grading the Twenty Performances

Instead of the typical CMA Awards prediction post, I thought it might be fun to rank the twenty performances, all of which brought something special to the evening. Here they are, in ascending order, with commentary:

20.

imrs-phpBeyoncé Feat. Dixie Chicks – Daddy’s Lessons

The most debated moment of the night was the worst performance in recent CMA history, an embarrassment to country music and the fifty years of the organization. Beyoncé was the antithesis of our genre with her staged antics and complete lack of authenticity. If Dixie Chicks had performed this song alone, like they did on tour, it would’ve been a slam-dunk. They were never the problem. Beyoncé is to blame for this mess.

Grade: F

19.

Kelsea Ballerini – Peter Pan

I feel bad for her. It seems Ballerini never got the memo that this was the CMA Awards and not a sideshow at Magic Kingdom. Everything about this was wrong – the visuals, wind machine and, most of all, the dancers. Once I saw the harness in plain sight, I knew it was over.

Grade: F 

 18.

362x204-q100_121d9e867599857df2132b3b6c77e0c8Luke Bryan – Move

Nashville is perennially behind the trends as evidenced by Bryan’s completely out of place performance. One of only two I purposefully fast forwarded through.

Grade: F 

 17.

Florida Georgia Line feat. Tim McGraw – May We All 

Stood out like a sore thumb, for all the wrong reasons. Not even McGraw could redeem this disaster.

Grade: F  

16.

gettyimages-620669440-43407842-8b2a-437b-a6e4-f643a1b5b104Carrie Underwood – Dirty Laundry

The newly minted Female Vocalist of the Year gave the third weakest performance of this year’s nominees. I commend her use of an all-female band, but disliked everything else from the visuals to Underwood’s dancing. It all starts with the song and this one is among her worst.

Grade: D+

15.

Thomas Rhett – Die A Happy Man

The biggest hit of the year gave Thomas Rhett a moment his other radio singles proves he doesn’t deserve. He remained gracious throughout the night, proving he can turn it on when it counts. I just wish it wasn’t an act.

Grade: B- 

14.

362x204-q100_b63432d74b677e29d35917efd7490170Keith Urban – Blue Ain’t Your Color

A perfectly serviceable performance of an above average song. He did nothing to stand out from the pack neither adding to nor distracting from the night’s more significant moments.

Grade: B

13.

Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – Different for Girls 

At least Bentley wasn’t showcasing the rowdier side of Black. He and King didn’t do anything to stand out and the whole thing was more middle of the road than anything else.

Grade: B

 12.

landscape-1478192054-gettyimages-620693852Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Jennifer Nettles and Carrie Underwood – Dolly Parton Tribute 

I have nothing against Parton nor do I deny her incredible legacy as a pioneer in the genre. But it’s time to honor someone else. Parton has been lauded and it’s so old at this point, it’s unspectacular. That’s not to say this wasn’t a great medley, it was. I just wish it had been for someone different, like say, Tanya Tucker.

Grade: B

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Single Review: Brad Paisley – ‘Today’

bp_today_webWhen Brad Paisley first arrived on the scene back in 1999, I thought he was destined to be the leader of an overdue shift back towards traditional country music. That shift never really materialized but Brad remained one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bland mainstream. In the next decade and a half things would only become worse, until an all-time nadir otherwise known as bro-country was reached. During that time even some of the genre’s more reliable artists made some questionable choices (2013’s Wheelhouse in Paisley’s case). Thankfully the bro-country fad finally seems to be over, with artists such as Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton helping to end the quagmire.

Paisley’s latest effort “Today” has been lauded in some circles as a return to form for him, but to my ears it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I was hoping for another “He Didn’t Have to Be” or “Whiskey Lullaby”. “Today” is neither. That’s not to say that it’s a bad song; on the contrary it’s a fairly sizable step in the right direction. It actually contains some country instrumentation, and more importantly, it’s not a mindless, hip-hop infested party song about tailgating in a cornfield. It does actually say something. It’s a bit slicker than I would like, though with equal parts country and pop power ballad. Paisley seems to be playing it safe; he’s aiming for an adult audience but he seems a little afraid of alienating anyone by going full country. It’s not the bold step towards traditionalism that I’d hoped for and it tries a little too hard to make an emotional connection with the listener, but all in all it’s not bad. It took several years for the genre to be dismantled so I suppose it will take some time to rebuild it to where it should be. As long as things are moving in the right direction, I’ll try not to complain too much.

Grade: B

Album Review: John Prine and Friends – ‘For Better, Or Worse’

for-better-or-worseBack in 1999 singer-songwriter John Prine released a charming collaboration with a group of country and folk female singers, singing classic country duets. 17 years later here comes a sequel, which is just as delightful. Prine’s gruff vocals are set off by his duettist’s much better voices, and the combinations work very well.

Most of the collaborators are different, with the exception of Fiona Prine (John’s wife) and Iris De Ment. The latter featured on no less than four tracks on the first album, and two here, both originally recorded by Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb. The tongue in cheek opener ‘Who’s Gonna Take Your Garbage Out’ has Iris throwing out her good-for-nothing husband. He complains of being henpecked, while she declares,

Calling a man like you a husband’s like calling an ol’ wildcat a pet

They take a broken marriage more seriously in the sad ‘Mr And Mrs Used To Be’.

The wonderful Lee Ann Womack is ethereally sweet on ‘Storms Never Last’. She is even better on ‘Fifteen Years Ago’, a pained tale of long lasting heartbreak, which was a hit for Conway Twitty. Turning it into a duet transforms the song from one of solo heartache (a la ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’, but with no end in sight) to one of mutual regret, which is almost more poignant. This is my favourite track.

‘Cold, Cold Heart’ doesn’t work as well as a duet lyrically, but the cut shows duet partner Miranda Lambert can do traditional country with a lovely sounding and emotional vocal. Kacey Musgraves hams it up a bit on the ultra-retro ‘Mental Cruelty’, but the track is fun. Holly Williams is good on the sassy back-and-forth of ‘I’m Telling You’, although the song is very short (less than two minutes).

The pure voice of Kathy Mattea makes two appearances. ‘Dreaming My Dreams With You’ is gorgeously tender and romantic, while ‘Remember Me’ is pretty with a little melancholy undertone. Alison Krauss guests on the gently pretty ‘Falling In Love Again’. Probably the least known singer to a general audience is Morgane Stapleton (wife of Chris), but I’ve loved her voice since she was briefly signed to a major label a decade ago. Her performance on Vince Gill’s ‘Look At Us’ is lovely, and very reminiscent of Lee Ann Womack.

A very pleasant surprise for me was Susan Tedeschi, a blues/rock singer who does an excellent job on ‘Color Of The Blues’. Although she’s not the greatest vocalist, Americana artist Amanda Shires is also decent on ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke’ (one of my favourite songs), and adds a bit of quirky personality.

It’s fair to say that Fiona Prine is not in the same class as the other ladies vocally, but her duet, ‘My Happiness’, is quite pleasant. There is one solo track, the closing ‘Just Waitin’’, a surprisingly entertaining narration.

This is an excellent album which is vying to be my favorite of 2016.

Grade: A+