My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Chuck Berry

Legends (and others) lost in 2017

For one who grew up on the country music of the period (1960-1975) the last few years have been tough as we have seen many legendary figures come to the end of the road. 2017 was no exception. Let’s take a look back with a few words about the various stars that were dimmed in 2017. I should note that I’ve included a few non-country personal favorites.

Junior Barber
, a fantastic dobro player died at the age of 73. He worked with the Gibson Brothers bluegrass for seven years and his son Mike has played bass for the Gibson Brothers for the last twenty-five years.

Chuck Berr
y, 90, was a pioneer of rock ‘n roll and while many would not regard him as country, Buck Owens thought that Berry wrote great country songs, and the bluegrass duo of Jim & Jesse McReynolds recorded an entire album of his songs (Chuck wrote the liner notes) so who am I to disagree with them?

Sonny Burgess, 88, rockabilly pioneer and early Sun Records artist. There is a younger country artist with the name Sonny Burgess, whom I don’t believe is related. This guy was a great on-stage performer.

Glen Campbell
, 81, singer and guitarist who first came to my attention as a session musician for Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys (with whom he sometimes toured). Glen, who died after a long bout with Alzheimer’s, could play anything with strings and could sing anything. My favorite tracks by him include “Galveston”, “Wichita Lineman”, “Wherefore and Why” and “I’m Gonna Love You”. Glen hosted a television show, appeared in movies and was simply one of the giants of the industry.

Antoine “Fats” Domino, 89, wasn’t a country singer but his music was infectious fun and enjoyed across the board. His hits were too numerous to list and many of them were covered by country singers.

Dave Evans, 65, had one of the best voices in bluegrass music being a great tenor singer, as well as being a good banjo player. It would be difficult to find another singer who sang with as much heart as Dave Evans.

Troy Gentry, 50, of Montgomery Gentry duo, died in a helicopter crash in Medford, New Jersey. I wasn’t a big Montgomery Gentry fan, but they had some good numbers and performed with enthusiasm.

Michael Johnson, 72, singer and guitarist whose country hits included “Give Me Wings” and “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder”. Michael was a terrific acoustic guitar player and had a major pop/adult contemporary hit with “Bluer Than Blue”.

Pete Kuykendall, 79, banjo champion and editor and publisher of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. I have subscribed to Bluegrass Unlimited for many years and think it is the finest magazine in the world of music.

Miggie Lewis
, 91 was a part of the first family of bluegrass gospel, the Lewis Family. The group disbanded years ago but youngest brother “Little” Roy Lewis a dynamic banjo player, comic and personality who still plays the bluegrass festival circuit.

Sam Lovullo, 88, was the producer and casting director of the long-running Hee Haw TV series (1969-1992). If he was only remembered for Hee Haw that would be sufficient legacy, but his son Torey Lovullo played major league baseball for eight years and then became a major league manager (he was the National League Manager of The Year for 2017). I am not ashamed to admit that I watched Hee Haw every chance I had, and that I know dozens of verses to “Pffffft, You Were Gone”.

Geoff Mack, 94, composer of the tongue-twisting and widely recorded “I’ve Been Everywhere,” in his native Australia. The lyrics familiar to American listeners were not the original lyrics, but a rewritten version to reflect North American place names.

Kevin Mahogany, 59 was a brilliant jazz baritone singer. He appeared and performed in Robert Altman’s 1996 movie, Kansas City.

Jo Walker Meador, 93, as executive director built the Country Music Association from a tiny, ragged startup into one of the nation’s most visible and successful trade organizations. Jo is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and I can make a pretty good case for her being one of the two or three most important women in the history of country music.

D.L. Menard, 85, singer and songwriter widely known as the “Cajun Hank Williams” and most celebrated for his 1962 recording of “La Porte en Arriere,”. He died in his native Louisiana.

Tom Paley
died in England at the age of 89. Tom was a founding member (along with Mike Seeger and John Cohen) of the New Lost City Ramblers, a group that did much to further the acceptance of bluegrass among folk audiences. I saw them once in 1962 and they were terrific.

Leon Rhodes, 85, was the lead guitarist for Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours and later played in the Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw staff bands. He was also a successful session musician.

Kayton Roberts
, 83, steel guitarist in Hank Snow’s Rainbow Ranch Boys band from 1968 to 1999. His son Louie Roberts also had a career in country music.

Curley Seckler who died in late December at the age of 98, was one of the last links to the first generation of bluegrass musicians, having performed with Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. Curley was old enough to remember Jimmie Rodgers and the Original Carter family being played on the radio. He also appeared on several segments of the Marty Stuart Show on RFD.

There was nothing country about Keely Smith, 89, but she was a fine singer with a terrific comedic touch. Her act with ex-husband Louis Prima played to packed houses in Las Vegas for the better part of a decade.

Tammy Sullivan died at the much too young age of 52, of cancer. Tammy was a marvelous singer best known for her work with the Sullivan Family, a bluegrass gospel band.

Wendy Thatcher, 69, was a formidable singer who is best remembered for her years with Eddie Adcock’s various bands.

Mel Tillis, 85, songwriter, singer, actor, comedian and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, died in Ocala, Florida. Mel first came to prominence as a songwriter, with early efforts becoming hits for the likes of Webb Pierce and Ray Price during the early 1960s. It would be a decade before his career as a performer went into overdrive, but when it did he racked up many hits and won the CMA Entertainer of the Year Award. I liked many of his songs but my favorite is “Would You Want The World To End (Not Loving Me)”. I saw Mel live on several occasions.

Don Warden, 87, was a former steel guitar player in Porter Wagoner’s band and subsequently Dolly Parton’s manager. You can sometimes catch Don in RFD’s reruns of the Porter Wagoner Show.

Don Williams, 78, was a singer and songwriter who regularly topped the country charts during the 1970s and ’80s. Starting out with the folk-country Pozo Seco Singers, Don’s solo career made him an international star and landed him in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Norro Wilson, 79, producer, songwriter and former recording artist, whose hit compositions included George Jones’ “The Grand Tour” and Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl,” died in Nashville.

Bob Wooton
, 75, Johnny Cash’s lead guitar player from 1968 until Cash’s retirement in 1997, died in Gallatin, Tennessee. Bob was the replacement for Luther Perkins.

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Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘The Lost Nashville Sessions’

the-lost-nashville-sessionsDuring the 1960s and 1970s it was not uncommon for the various branches of the US Military to put together fifteen or thirty minute radio shows for use on country radio stations. Mostly these shows aired on smaller radio stations, usually in air slots where it was difficult for them to sell advertising. Some of these shows, such as Country Music Time (a recruiting tool for the US Air Force) and Country Cooking With Lee Arnold (a recruiting program for the Army Reserves) featured some chatter with the weeks’ musical guests followed by some recordings by the musical guest. Others, such as Navy Hoedown, featured chatter with the featured artist playing with the program’s band.

Waylon Jennings – The Lost Tapes comes from recordings made for an unspecified military recruiter program. The recordings were made at Scotty Moore’s Music City Recorders on July 13, 1970. They have not been commercially available before now.

The songs featured here are songs from the first half dozen years of Waylon’s career with RCA. In other words, these songs pre-date the “Outlaw” movement. The revelation here is that most of these songs were originally recorded with the heavily produced strings and chorus-laden production of the time, but here they are featured without those trappings. As such, this is a real treat for his fans.

Originally recorded, on a rush basis, with members of Waylon’s band, the tracks had problems with the bass and drums, so the tapes were turned over to Robby Turner, a former member of Waylon’s band for post-production work and overdubbing. Robby Turner overdubbed steel guitar, keyboards and dobro; Paul Martin played the bass parts and the drum kit; and Paul Martin, his wife Jamie, Robby Turner and Colene Walters adding vocal harmonies. Waylon plays guitar on the recordings.

The end result is early Waylon songs that sound almost as if they had been released during the ‘New Traditionalist’ era. The song list is as follows:

1. Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line (#2 hit from 1968 – #1 in Record World)
2. The Chokin’ Kind (#8 hit from 1967)
3. Stop The World And Let Me Off (#16 hit from 1965 – Waylon’s first top 20 record)
4. Anita You’re Dreaming (#17 hit from 1966)
5. Just To Satisfy You (he & Don Bowman wrote – minor hit for Bobby Bare, 1965 & Waylon & Willie, 1982)
6. Green River (#11 hit in 1967)
7. Singer of Sad Songs (#12 hit from 1970)
8. Love of The Common People (title track for one of Waylon’s albums)
9. MacArthur Park (#23 hit from 1969, cover of a pop hit by Richard Harris)
10. Brown Eyed Handsome Man (#3 hit from 1970 – #1 in Record World, written by Chuck Berry)
11. Mental Revenge (#12 hit from 1967)
12. Time To Bum Again (#17 hit from 1966)
13. Sunday Morning Coming Down (Kristofferson wrote it, Cash released single in September 1970)
14. Young Widow Brown (Waylon wrote it and released it as an album track)

I picked up my copy at Cracker Barrel. The songs were all familiar to me but I really enjoyed hearing the frequently less orchestrated versions on this disc. Bass and drums are a little loud so I give this a B+, but the concept is definitely worthwhile, and more modern listeners than I likely will give this an A.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Clancy’s Tavern’

71PR-1ECj3L._SX522_Over the past decade or so, Toby Keith has become somewhat overexposed, often making headlines for the wrong reasons, whether it was his feud with Natalie Maines, his dispute with ABC over performing “American Soldier” in its entirety or for confrontational song lyrics. I began to tune out around 2010, after the release of Bullets In The Gun, and as a result missed Clancy’s Tavern, one of his better efforts of recent years.

Catching up with this 2011 release now has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise. It is a firmly contemporary country project, but is rootsy enough not alienate most country fans, and it also lacks any awkward attempts to push the stylistic boundaries of the genre. That’s not to say that there aren’t any missteps; by Keith’s own admission, “Red Solo Cup” is the stupidest song he’s ever heard in his life (although he also labeled it “freakin’ awesome”). The Jim Beavers-Brett Beavers-Warren Brothers composition (the only song on the album that Keith had no hand in writing), is clearly not meant to be taken seriously. It’s a catchy ditty and is mildly amusing, but becomes less so with repeated listenings. Songs like this have their place as album cuts or concert staples, but they typically aren’t considered single-worthy material. Nevertheless, it landed at #9 on the country chart and #15 pop — his best showing on the Hot 100. It also sold more than 2 million copies, making it the most successful single of his career, from a commercial standpoint — further evidence that quality and commercial success are often two divergent forces.

Prior to “Red Solo Cup”, Toby scored his most recent #1 hit with “Made In America”, about a salt-of-the-earth couple from the heartland, who lament that their traditional values that are no longer in vogue. It’s not a bad song, although it lacks subtlety. It would have packed a greater punch a decade or so earlier, but by 2011 this particular theme had been overdone by Keith and others, and was wearing a little thin. “Beers Ago” a reminiscence of his teenage years written with Bobby Pinson, is my favorite of the album’s three singles. It peaked at #6 but was somewhat overshadowed by the success of “Red Solo Cup”.

“I Need to Hear a Country Song” cries out for a “three-chord, stone cold country song”, even though it sounds nothing like one itself. The upbeat “Trying to Fall In Love” is the album’s most country-sounding track, with plenty of fiddle. I’d have picked this one for a single instead of “Red Solo Cup”, although it probably wouldn’t have sold nearly as well. Also quite good is a the title track, a homage to a neighborhood watering hole and the men and women who work there. Like “Honkytonk U” a few years earlier, “Clancy’s Tavern” was inspired by the Arkansas tavern owned by Keith’s grandmother.

The standard release consists of eleven tracks, all of which can be enjoyed, though “Red Solo Cup” is the clear weakest link. The album’s deluxe version contains four bonus tracks, which were all recorded live in concert in New York City. None of them are particularly memorable, with the possible exception of Keith’s take on Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee”.

When all is said and done, diehard Toby Keith fans are going to enjoy this album, and those who dislike his politics and personality will try their best to hate it. And those who try to keep an open mind will find it to be an enjoyable, though not perfect, album.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Waylon’

Waylon_waylonWaylon Jennings began the 1970s with the self-titled Waylon. Nashville Brass founder Danny Davis joined Chet Atkins, Jennings sole producer until that time, to co-produce the project.

Waylon is best remembered for its only single, a spirited cover of Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” that quickly rose to #3. Another significant track is Mickey Newbury’s “The Thirty-Third of August,” a dated and dreary ballad. The track was an early cut for the Texan, who would go on to key prominence in the Outlaw Movement and even be elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The jaunty harmonica drenched “Yellow Haired Woman” gave Jennings his sole writing credit on Waylon. Jennings co-wrote the tune, about his third wife Barbara Hood, with Red Lane. Lane solely contributed “Just Across The Way,” a schmaltzy ballad about a man, his lover, and the geographical distance that keeps them apart.

Jennings featured a heavily pop leaning version of Liz Anderson’s “Yes, Virginia” on his 1967 album The One and Only. An alternate take on the tune was featured here three years later. The confessional lyric is far better suited to the guitar-heavy production, which puts the man’s transgressions front and center.

“I May Never Pass This Way Again” is a cautionary tale written by Ray Buzzeo. The lyric focuses on a man’s warnings to a ‘little girl’ not to throw her virginity at him for the taking. Jennings’ commanding baritone only haunts the already creepy proceedings.

Another tale with a warning label is George Pollock’s “Don’t Play The Game.” Jennings is a man burned by a woman who doesn’t love him back. He has to learn the hard way that ‘if you don’t like the rules, don’t play the game.’

The heartache continues on “Shutting Out The Light,” which finds Jennings so fed up with his lady’s cool response that he puts an end to the relationship. The Nashville Sound signifiers, namely the background singers, date the recording significantly after forty-five years.

“This Time Tomorrow (I’ll Be Gone)” has Jennings in the role of a man realizing the woman he married is just like all the rest. He gives a mournful vocal on the tune about a man’s decision to leave town as a result of his enlightenment.

Waylon features two tracks that stand above the rest. Jim Owens’ “Where Love has Died” is an excellent ballad about a man trapped in a dead end marriage. The other highlight rests on a happier note as Anita Carter joins Jennings on Merle Haggard’s “All of Me Belongs To You.” Carter’s spirited vocal helps the delightful duet shine.

Jennings’ twelfth recording is a very, very good collection of ballads concerning various states of relationships as they reach their end. It’s a project that’s well worth seeking out, especially if you’re unfamiliar with this era of Jennings’ career.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Emmylou Harris – ‘(You Never Can Tell) C’est La Vie’

Fellow Travelers: Louis Jordan

Louis JordanThis is the seventh in a series of short articles about artists who, although not country artists, were of some importance to country music.

WHO WAS HE ?
Louis Jordan was the very successful purveyor of the variety of rhythm and blues usually referred to as “jump blues”, the essential link between big band swing and rock and roll. Jordan was enormously successful during the 1930s and 1940s with several singles that were million sellers. He had eighteen #1 records on Billboard’s R&B/Race charts with another fifteen that reached the top three and several more that stalled out at number four or five. Billboard has Jordan as the fifth most successful R&B chart artist of the twentieth century. Billboard didn’t start its R&B charts until October 1942 and Louis had several big records before that date. His records spent a total of 113 weeks at #1 on Billboard’s R&B charts – Stevie Wonder is second with 70 weeks at #1. From July 1946 – May 1947, Jordan scored five consecutive #1 songs, monopolizing the top slot for 44 consecutive weeks (“Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” held the top slot for eighteen weeks).

On the pop charts Louis Jordan reached the top ten on nine occasions with “G.I. Jive” reaching #1 and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” reaching #2. Many of his songs were used in movies and Jordan made numerous “soundies”, the precursor to modern-day music videos.

Chuck Berry regarded Louis Jordan as one of his primary influences, and if you were to change the instrumentation on many of his records replacing Jordan’s alto sax with an electric guitar, you would have rock and roll music. B.B King recorded a tribute album to Louis Jordan. English “New Wave” artist Joe Jackson’s 1981 album Jumpin’ Jive was dedicated to Louis Jordan and was an early harbinger of the ‘Swing Revival’ that occurred about fifteen years later. It also revived interest in Jordan leading to the successful Broadway (US) / West End (UK) musical Five Guys Named Moe that ran during the early 1990s and was based entirely on the music of Louis Jordan.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC?
Louis Jordan only charted three times on the country charts with “Ration Blues” and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” both reaching #1.

Louis Jordan had considerable influence on latter day western swing bands, although even pioneering western swing artists such as Bob Wills borrowed some of his material. You can clearly hear the influence of Louis Jordan in the recordings of Asleep At The Wheel, whose debut single “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” was a cover of Jordan’s biggest R&B hit. They’ve recorded other Jordan songs such as “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” in their albums and continue to perform them in their live shows. Other more jazz-oriented country bands also carry his songs in their repertoire. Jordan wrote much of his own material, but songs credited to Fleecie Moore (one of his wives) are also Louis Jordan compositions.

Louis Jordan died long before the digital age, but much of his recorded output is available. There is a fansite dedicated to keeping his memory alive.

Country Heritage: Kenny Price (1931-1987)

kenny priceFans of the long running television show Hee Haw may remember Kenny Price. He played various roles in Hee Haw’s skits, including the over-protective father of a pretty teenage daughter (whose suitor, Billy Bob, did not meet his approval), a backwater sheriff and a country bumpkin lounging on the lawn in front of the general store. He also appeared in two of the regular musical spots, the “Gloom, Despair and Agony” snippets and the glorious Hee Haw Gospel Quartet segment wherein Kenny, Grandpa Jones, Buck Owens and Roy Clark would lend their talents to old-time gospel favorites. Many viewers considered the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet to be their favorite portion of the show. He also appeared as Kenny Honey, the father on the spin-off Hee Haw Honeys and hosted a travel show on TNN called Wish You Were Here with his wife Donna.

Unfortunately, few today remember Kenny Price as a country music recording star for Boone and RCA records. A solid journeyman performer, known as ‘The Round Mound of Sound’, he charted 34 singles during his 15 year chart run, but never had a number one record or a sustained run of top ten records.

Standing six-feet tall and weighing well over 300 pounds, Kenneth James Price is remembered by fellow performers and fans alike as one of the nicest individuals to ever sing a country song. Born near Florence in Boone County, Kentucky, he was raised on a ranch and learned to play the guitar when he was only five. Initially at least, Price aspired to be a farmer but eventually he changed the focus of his endeavors. He got his start in 1945 playing on WZIP-Cincinnati and over the next few years, played a few dates in the Kentucky-Ohio border area. Uncle Sam called in 1952 and Price spent the next two years in the military. While stationed in Korea, he auditioned for a USO show. By the time he was discharged in 1954 Price had decided on music as a career and studied briefly at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. From there he appeared on Midwestern Hayride at WLW-Cincinnati and by 1957 was appearing on Hometown, a Cincinnati television show hosted by Buddy Ross. Meanwhile, in 1955, he issued two singles on the “X” label (an RCA subsidiary) called “Cold Hearted Love” and “Worryin’”. Neither single charted.

Nearly nine years passed before Price again landed a recording contract, this time with Boone Records, out of Boone, NC. After four non-charting singles he finally hit it big with his third single, “Walking on the New Grass”, which cracked the Top 10 in 1966–as did his next single “Happy Tracks”. While none of his following Boone singles charted in the top ten nationally (“Southern Bound” came close), they did well enough in regional markets to land him a recording contract with RCA. Moreover, RCA thought highly enough of him that they purchased the masters for his two albums on Boone and reissued them as his first two RCA albums.

The first RCA hit was achieved in 1969 when “Northeast Arkansas Mississippi County Bootlegger” reached #17. This was followed by two more top ten hits in “Biloxi” (#10 in 1970) and “The Sheriff of Boone County” which reached #8 at the end of 1970 and appeared briefly on the pop charts (the song was inspired by a series of amusing Dodge automobile commercials). After that, Top 10 success eluded Price, although he did have a few more minor hits. His tenure with RCA ended in late 1975, but he kept busy when Hee Haw beckoned in 1976. He remained a member of the cast until his death in 1987.

I never had the pleasure of seeing Kenny perform live, but I’ve met several musicians who worked with him and all of them had fond memories of him. Read more of this post

Album Review – Sammy Kershaw – ‘Politics, Religion, and Her’

When Sammy Kershaw convened in the studio to follow up Feelin’ Good Train he stuck with his trusty production team of Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson. In addition to his secular work, they’d teamed up for a holiday release, Christmas Time’s A-Comin’ (the title track being my favorite version of that fabulous song) in the winter of 1994, and Greatest Hits, Chapter 1 in 1995.  As a result, when Politics, Religion and Her was released in May 1996, it stuck true to the formula Kershaw had honed since his debut five years earlier.

Lead single “Meant To Be,” an uptempo ode to finding love in unexpected places, was the most successful at radio peaking at #5. He followed with the novelty song “Vidalia” which reached a #10 peak that summer. Both are very good although “Vidalia,” a song I remember distinctly from watching the video on CMT as a kid, isn’t the greatest lyric in Kershaw’s catalog.

Radio didn’t respond as kindly to the album’s title track and it only managed to squeak into the top the top 30. Thanks to a killer lyric by Bryon Hill and Tony Martin plus underpinnings of mournful steel, it’s my favorite of the four singles. Deflecting pain has rarely sounded so good as it does here:

Let’s talk about baseball

Talk a little small talk

There’s gotta be a good joke

That you’ve heard

Let’s talk about NASCARs

Old Hollywood movie stars

Let’s talk about anything

Anything in this world

But politics, religion and her

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Favorite country songs of the 1970s: Part 3

The 1970s were not my favorite decade for country music but it was the decade in which I did my largest amount of listening to country radio, having the good fortune to have such country giants as WSUN AM- 620 in St. Petersburg, FL, WHOO AM-1090 in Orlando and WCMS AM-1050 in Norfolk, VA for my listening pleasure, plus I could tune in WSM AM – 650 in Nashville at night. I did a lot of shift-work during this decade so my radio was on constantly.

    

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1970s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records

Silver Wings” – Jim & Jon Hager (1970)

Since Hag issued the song as a B side (“Workin’ Man Blues” was the A side), this version is the only charting version of Hag’s classic. The Hager Twins do a nice job with the song, although it only reached #59 on the charts . Fans of Hee Haw will remember this duo well.

I Can’t Be Myself” – Merle Haggard (1970)

My all-time favorite Merle Haggard recording, this song went to #1 on Cashbox. Frankly, picking an all-time favorite Hag song is a hopeless proposition as he is the most consistently great artist of all time. Hag wrote about fifty #1 songs, the most of any songwriter. The flip side of this record “Sidewalks of Chicago” also received a lot of airplay and likely would be in my top ten favorite Haggard recordings.   Read more of this post

25 Greatest Live Country Albums

All readers of this website are fans of recorded music. I would assume that most also enjoy seeing and hearing music performed live. After all, there is electricity which permeates a live performance, the interaction of performer and audience coupled with the ambiance of the venue. Tempos are usually faster, there is banter between the performer and the band and/or audience, and often songs are performed that never are recorded by the artist.

That said, it can be very difficult to capture that electricity and the landscape is littered with poor live recordings, victims of either poor recording technology, poor venue acoustics or sub-par backing bands (I had a cassette copy – probably a bootleg – of a live Chuck Berry performance in France where he was backed by what was essentially a polka band, complete with tuba and accordion). Below is my  listing of the greatest live country albums.  My list is solid country, without too many fellow travelers such as Americana or alt-country artists. I may admire John Prine and Townes Van Zandt as songwriters but I cannot stand to listen to either of them sing. The less said about the Eagles and Gram Parsons, the better.  In putting my list together, I’ve limited any given artist to one album, although I may comment on other live albums issued by the artist.

Yes, I know that bluegrass and western swing are underrepresented in my list as are modern era artists, although if I expanded to a top forty list, I’d have albums by Alabama, Tracy Lawrence, Tom T. Hall, Brad Paisley, The Osborne Brothers, Glen Campbell, Bob Wills, Hank Thompson, Rhonda Vincent and Hank Williams to include. Moreover, over time there have been improvements in recording technology and the sound of live recordings has improved, so sonically, some of the albums I’ve left off will sound better than some I’ve included.

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Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Luxury Liner’

1977’s Luxury Liner is the third offering in Emmylou Harris’ discography, excluding 1970’s Gliding Bird. Like its two predecessors, it is an eclectic mix of country and rock-and-roll, relying a little more heavily on cover material than her earlier albums had done. Produced by Brian Ahern and backed by her superb Hot Band, Emmylou pays tribute to everyone from Chuck Berry and her late mentor Gram Parsons to The Carter Family, The Louvin Brothers, and Kitty Wells. Though it failed to produce any Top 5 hits, Luxury Liner reached #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and is Emmylou’s best-selling solo effort.

Rodney Crowell, Albert Lee, Glen D. Hardin, Emory Gordy Jr. and Ricky Skaggs all make appearances as members of The Hot Band, while Herb Pedersen, Nicolette Larson, Fayssoux Starling, and Dolly Parton lend their voices to the project. The first single was a cover of Chuck Berry’s 1964 hit “You Never Can Tell (C’est La Vie”), which is given a Cajun flavor by Ricky Skaggs on fiddle. It reached #6 on the Billboard country singles chart. For the second single, Emmylou did an about-face and released the very traditional “Making Believe”, a remake of Kitty Wells’ 1955 hit. Emmylou’s version reached #8.

Although only two singles were released, Luxury Liner contains some very well known album cuts. “Hello Stranger”, on which Nicolette Larson chimes in, had been a hit for The Carter Family in the 1930s. Though clearly not in the vein of what country radio was playing in the 1970s, I was surprised to learn that the track had never been released as a single, primarily because of its inclusion on Emmylou’s 1978 compilation album Profile. Also in the traditional vein are Susanna Clark’s “I’ll Be Your Rose of San Antone” and a remake of the Louvin Brothers’ 1955 recording “When I Stop Dreaming,” on which Dolly Parton provides a beautiful harmony vocal. My personal favorite among this set, “When I Stop Dreaming” sowed the seeds for the Trio project which would appear a decade later.

On the more contemporary side are the title track and “She”, both written by Harris’ mentor Gram Parsons (the latter co-written with Chris Etheridge), a pair of Rodney Crowell tunes (“You’re Supposed To Be Feeling Good” and “Tulsa Queen”, which he co-wrote with Emmylou), and a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty”, a tale of two aging Mexican bandits, which would go on to become a #1 smash for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in 1983.

Warner Bros. remastered and re-released Luxury Liner in 2004, along with two bonus tracks: “Me and Willie” and the excellent “Night Flyer” which was written by Johhny Mullins. Mullins is best known as the writer of “Blue Kentucky Girl” which had been a hit for both Emmylou and Loretta Lynn.

Eclectic albums are hard to pull off; it’s difficult to perform a wide variety of musical styles well. It’s even more difficult to put together such a collection without losing cohesion or alienating fans who prefer one style over another. But Emmylou and the Hot Band move seamlessly from rock to old-time country and everything in between, and even though I consider the two Crowell-penned tunes to be the weakest on the album, there really isn’t a bad song to be found here.

Grade: A

Luxury Liner is available from Amazon and iTunes and is well worth seeking out.

Album Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘TNT’

TNTfrontIn her 1997 autobiography Nickel Dreams , Tanya Tucker referred to TNT as her first million-selling album and the one that nearly killed her career. In 1977, in need of professional management, she was referred to a Los Angeles firm called Far Out Management, who had managed a number of pop and rock acts and had expressed an interest in helping a country act cross over. They managed to convince the 19-year-old Tucker that they could make her a platinum-selling act, unlike the “hicks” back in Nashville. TNT was the first project that resulted from this collaboration.

Released in 1978, the album created waves partly because it was a rock album. To their credit, neither Far Out nor MCA made any pretense about this being a country album. The sole exception was the closing track “Texas (When I Die)”, one of the most solidly country songs that Tucker has ever recorded, and the only single from the album to crack the Top 10 on the country charts.

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