My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Clay Walker

Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘Clay Walker’

Clay-WalkerJames Stroud, the mastermind behind Clint Black’s brilliant Killin’ Time, was the orchestrator behind Clay Walker’s self-titled debut album and the man behind his record deal with Giant Records. The proverbial thinking was that magic could strike twice, which it almost certainly did.

The uptempo “What’s It To You,” co-written by Curtis Wright and Robert Ellis Orrall, was chosen as the first single in July 1993. The song, which Wright had recorded a year earlier, shot to #1. The song is very, very good although I can’t help but feel it’s slightly unremarkable.

Walker followed with the brilliant self-penned “Live Until I Die,” a bright autobiographical tribute to his grandparents he wrote when he was seventeen. It also landed at #1 and set in motion Walker’s signature sound – twangy uptempos bursting with effervescence and optimism.

The fourth single, “Dreaming With My Eyes Wide Open,” would follow this trajectory and notch Walker his third chart topper. Written solely by the always-impeccable Tony Arata, it’s the perfect single that marries an infectious melody with an inspiring lyric about living in the moment that bursts with undeniable joy and never gets heavy handed. It’s no surprise the track was featured on the soundtrack to the movie The Thing Called Love.

Sandwiched between the gorgeous uptempo numbers is the self-penned ballad “Where Do I Fit In The Picture,” which stalled just outside the top ten. The track proves Walker has the goods to sufficiently emote a heart-wrenching lyric and the arrangement has a nice dose of steel.

Walker solely wrote two more tracks on the album. “Money Can’t Buy (The Love We Had)” is a wonderful steel-drenched uptempo number that’s a bit of filler, but still easy on the ears. Steel also dominates “Next Step In Love,” a ballad about furthering one’s commitment in a relationship. He co-wrote “The Silence Speaks For Itself,” an unexceptional sinister ballad, with Chris Waters and Tom Shapiro.

“How To Make A Man Lonesome” has nice steel and fiddle-laced production, but is neither here nor there. “White Palace” is an attempt to pander to the line dance craze and by any standard is awful, with a cringe-worthy rhyme scheme in the chorus. He redeems himself with “Things I Should’ve Said,” a worthy ballad that easily could’ve been a single. “I Don’t Know How Love Starts” is excellent and the strongest of this record’s album cuts.

Walker’s debut album is a mixed bag of brilliant 90s country excellence and songs that teeter on the verge of average to below average. Stroud is a capable producer who showcases Walker’s considerable talents wonderfully. Clay Walker is a worthy debut from an artist who would more than live up to his promise in the decade to come.

Grade: B

Spotlight Artist: Clay Walker

claywalker61Born in Vidor, Texas on August 19, 1969, Ernest Clayton Walker, Jr. was a mainstay on country radio throughout most of the 1990s. He began playing the guitar at age nine and by fifteen was entering talent competitions. He began playing in venues around Texas following his high school graduation. He was discovered by James Stroud while playing in a club in Beaumont in 1992 and signed to Giant Records, one of the many new labels launched in Nashville during country music’s unprecedented boom in popularity.

Walker’s debut release “What’s It to You” quickly shot to #1, as did his next release “Live Until I Die”. He was a consistent Top 10 hitmaker through most of the 1990s, producing such memorable hits as “If I Could Make a Living”, “This Woman and This Man”, “Rumor Has It”, and “Watch This”. His popularity began to wane a bit by the decade’s end, for a variety of reasons, including producer and label changes, changes in commercial tastes, and a 1998 multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Since 2005 he has been signed to Curb Records and like most artists signed to that label, new recordings have been released rather infrequently.

We will be looking back at the highlights of Clay’s career throughout the month of July.

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 7

It seems to me that I never did finish off this series, the last installment being posted on February 11, 2014 (and the installment before that appeared April 9,2013). Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked. This is an expanded and revised version of the February 11, 2014 article which was a rush job :

Shame On The Moon” – Bob Seger
Bob’s 1982 recording of a Rodney Crowell song charted on the country charts in early 1983, reaching #15 in the process. The song was a bigger hit on the pop charts, reaching #2 for four weeks.

Finally” – T. G. Sheppard
He worked for Elvis, sang background for Travis Wammack, and eventually emerged with a solo career worth noting, racking up 42 chart singles from 1974-1991. This 1982 single was one of fourteen #1 record racked up by Sheppard, eleven of them reaching #1 during the 1980s.

Doesn’t Anybody Get High On Love Anymore” – The Shoppe
The Shoppe was a Dallas based band that hung around for years after their 1968 formation. In the early 1980s they had eight chart records, but this was the only one to crack the top forty, reaching #33. They had a record deal with MTM Records in 1985, but that label vanished, taking the Shoppe with them.

Crying My Heart Out Over You” – Ricky Skaggs
Ricky Skaggs was one of the dominant artists of the first half of the 1980s with his bluegrass/country hybrid. Starting with 1981’s “You May See Me Walking” and ending with 1986’s “Love’s Gonna Get You Some Day“, Skaggs ran off sixteen consecutive top ten singles with ten of them reaching number one, This 1982 classic was the first chart topper. Eventually Ricky returned to straight bluegrass, but I like the hybrid recordings better. In my original article I spotlighted “Honey (Open That Door)“, a straight forward country Mel Tillis song recorded by Webb Pierce.

Don’t Stay If You Don’t Love Me” – Patsy Sledd
Stardom never really happened for Patsy, who was a good singer marooned early in her career on a bad label. She was part of the George Jones-Tammy Wynette show in the early 1970s. This song reached #79 in 1987.

“Nice To Be With You” – Slewfoot
This band replaced Alabama as the feature band at the Bowery Club in Myrtle Beach. This was their only chart single, a cover of Gallery’s #4 pop hit from 1972 that reached #85 in 1986.

King Lear” – Cal Smith
The last chart hit for the former Texas Troubadour. This song reached #75 in 1986.

“A Far Cry From You” – Connie Smith
After a six year recording hiatus, the greatest female country recording artist of all time returned with this one-shot single on the Epic label. It’s a great song but received no promotional push at all from the label landing at #71 in 1985. Unfortunately, this single has never appeared on an album.

“The Shuffle Song” – Margo Smith
Exactly as described – a shuffle song that reached #13 for Margo in early 1980. Margo had a brief run of top ten hits in the middle and late 1970s but the string was about over. In my prior article I featured “He Gives Me Diamonds, You Give Me Chills” but The Shuffle song is actually my favorite 80s hit from Margo. She lives in The Villages in Florida and still performs occasionally.

Cheatin’s A Two Way Street” – Sammi Smith
Her last top twenty song from 1981. Sammi only had three top ten hits but made many fine records. This was one of them.

Hasn’t It Been good Together” – Hank Snow and Kelly Foxton
The last chart record for the ‘Singing Ranger’. The record only got to #78 for the 65 year old Snow in 1980 but I couldn’t let pass the opportunity to acknowledge the great career of the most successful Canadian country artist. By any legitimate means of chart tracking, his 1950 hit “I’m Moving On” is still the number one country hit of all time. Hank had perfect diction and was a great guitar player.

Tear-Stained Letter” – Jo-El Sonnier
A late bloomer, this was the forty-two year old Jo-El’s second of two top ten records and my favorite. It reached #8 in 1988. There were brief periods in the past when Cajun music could break through for a hit or two. Eddy Raven was the most successful Cajun artist but most of his material was straight-ahead country.

Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” – J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt
George Jones charted this record twice, but it’s such a good song it was worth covering. This version went to #27 in 1982. J.D had a big pop hit in 1980 with “You’re Only Lonely” which reached #7.

Honey I Dare You” – Southern Pacific
Southern Pacific was a bunch of guys who previously played with other bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doobie Brothers and Pablo Cruise, making some real good country music in the process. This was one of their four top ten hits of the 1980s. “A Girl Like Emmylou” from 1986 only reached #17 but the song tells you where this band’s heart was located.

Lonely But Only For You” – Sissy Spacek
Loretta Lynn wanted to Spacek to portray her in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, and it turns out that Sissy can really can sing. This song reached #15 in 1983.

Standing Tall” – Billie Jo Spears
Billie Jo Spears, from Beaumont, Texas, was incredibly popular in England and Ireland, where “Blanket On The Ground” and “What I’ve Got In Mind” were top five pop hits in the mid 1970s and she had many more lesser successes. Many of her later albums were not released in the US but she had a substantial US career with thirty-four charted records, including two #1 hits. “Standing Tall” reached #15 in 1980.

Chain Gang” – Bobby Lee Springfield
More successful as a songwriter than as a performer, Springfield had two chart sings in 1987 with “Hank Drank” (#75) and “Chain Gang” (#66) which was NOT the Sam Cooke hit. Bobby Lee was both too country and too rockabilly for what was charting at the time. I really liked All Fired Up, the one album Epic released on him.

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Week ending 3/28/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

Roger Miller Getty GAB Archive 19701955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: King of the Road — Roger Miller (Smash)

1975: Before The Next Teardrop Falls — Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot)

1985: Seven Spanish Angels — Willie Nelson with Ray Charles (Columbia)

1995: This Woman And This Man — Clay Walker (Giant)

2005: That’s What I Love About Sunday — Craig Morgan (Broken Bow)

2015: Take Your Time — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Mean To Me — Brett Eldredge (Atlantic)

Week ending 3/21/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

16174412_1287061723731955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: Before The Next Teardrop Falls — Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot)

1985: Crazy For Your Love — Exile (Epic)

1995: This Woman And This Man — Clay Walker (Giant)

2005: Nothin’ To Lose — Josh Gracin (Lyric Street)

2015: Take Your Time — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Just Gettin’ Started — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Week ending 11/29/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

conniesmith1954 (Sales): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Once A Day — Connie Smith (RCA)

1974: Trouble In Paradise — Loretta Lynn (MCA)

1984: You Could’ve Heard A Heart Break — Johnny Lee (Warner Bros.)

1994: If I Could Make A Living — Clay Walker (Giant)

2004: Mr. Mom — Lonestar (BNA)

2014: Something In The Water — Carrie Underwood (Arista Nashville)

2014 (Airplay): Sunshine & Whiskey — Frankie Ballard (Warner Bros.)

Single Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘She Won’t Be Lonely Long’

Hits_and_Highways_AheadLee Roy Parnell wrapped his major label career in 1999 after Career Records folded back into Arista and released Hits and Highways Ahead, Parnell’s sole career retrospective. At just twelve tracks, it featured his biggest hits over the past nine years and unsurprisingly left off any offerings that didn’t ignite at radio.

To help promote the album, which like all of Parnell’s other works didn’t chart very high, the label released a single. “She Won’t Be Lonely Long,” written by Bob McDill, didn’t reverse Parnell’s commercial fortunes and became his final single to chart, peaking at #57.

Over the years I’ve found that many of the songs I really enjoy were written by McDill, who in turn is one of my favorite writers. His “Gone Country,” and Alan Jackson’s subsequent hit recording is one of my favorite singles of the 90s. It’s a masterpiece through and through. So I wasn’t surprised McDill also penned one of my favorite Parnell recordings, “On The Road.”

“She Won’t Be Lonely Long,” which isn’t to be confused with Clay Walker’s 2010 hit, sadly cannot be added to my list of favorite McDill songs. Lyrically, the song is ok, with the story of a woman coming out of a breakup lonely, but not for long.

My problem is the production, which retains Parnell’s signature electric guitar, but smothers the track in a Texas-styled arrangement far too Delbert McClinton for my tastes. This style of country isn’t in my sonic wheelhouse, so I have to really, really like it for songs in this vein to hit me just right. Also, nothing about this track is commercially country by 1999 standards either, so I’m amazed it charted at all.

Parnell had a great tenure on Arista and Career Records, with some excellent material to show for it. “She Won’t Be Lonely Long” is far from that standard, and a low note for which to end the commercial phase of his career.

Grade: C

Week ending 8/30/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

nitty_gritty_dirt_band_hire1954 (Sales): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Jukebox): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1964: I Guess I’m Crazy — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1974: Old Man From The Mountain — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1984: Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper’s Dream) — Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (Warner Bros.)

1994: Dreaming With My Eyes Wide Open — Clay Walker (Giant)

2004: Live Like You Were Dying — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2014: Burnin’ It Down — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

2014 (Airplay): Drunk On A Plane — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

Favorite Country Songs of the 1980s: Part 7

honey i dare youIt’s been a while since my last installment of this series. Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

Shame On The Moon” – Bob Seger
Bob’s 1982 recording of a Rodney Crowell song charted on the country charts in early 1983, reaching #15 in the process. The song was a bigger hit on the pop charts, reaching #2 for four weeks.

Doesn’t Anybody Get High On Love Anymore” – The Shoppe
The Shoppe was a Dallas based band that hung around for years after their 1968 formation. In the early 1980s they had eight chart records, but this was the only one to crack the top forty, reaching #33. They had a record deal with MTM Records in 1985, but that label vanished, taking the Shoppe with them.

Honey (Open That Door)” – Ricky Skaggs
The early 1980s belonged to Ricky Skaggs as he racked up eight #1 records before the end of 1984. Some of his records were bluegrass/country hybrids, others, like this cover of Mel Tillis-penned Webb Pierce record were more straightforward country. This record topped the charts in 1984 and had a very amusing video to accompany it.

A Far Cry From You” – Connie Smith
After disappearing from the charts for six years, Connie emerged with this excellent single in 1985. Epic didn’t give the record much of a promotional push so it only reached #71, but it was one of my ten favorite records for the year 1985.

He Gives Me Diamonds, You Give Me Chills”– Margo Smith
Margo Smith has a short run of chart success in the late 1970s but by the end of the decade her run was almost over. This 1980 record would stall at #52 and other than a pair of duets with Rex Allen Jr., she would not see the top forty again. Margo is still an active performer and lives in the Villages, FL. When she’s feeling well, she can still yodel with the best of them.

Cheatin’s A Two Way Street”– Sammi Smith
Sammi’s last top twenty record, reaching #16 in 1981. Sammi should have become a much bigger star than she did.

Tear-Stained Letter” – Jo-el Sonnier
This Cajun accordion player had two top ten records for RCA in 1988 before fading away. Cajun has never been mainstream so he didn’t figure to have too many hits (and he didn’t). This record reached #9 and the one before it “No More One More Time” reached 7. Nothing else reached the top twenty.

Hasn’t It Been Good Together” – Hank Snow and Kelly Foxton
Hank’s eighty-fifth chart hit and the very last singles chart appearance for ‘The Singing Ranger’. This song crept to #80 in 1980. Hank would only record one more time after the album from which this album was issued, a duet album with Willie Nelson a few years later. Read more of this post

Week ending 2/1/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

clay-walker-111954 (Sales): There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Bimbo — Jim Reeves (Abbott)

1964: Love’s Gonna Live Here — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1974: Jolene — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1984: The Sound of Goodbye — Crystal Gayle (Warner Bros.)

1994: Live Until I Die — Clay Walker (Giant)

2004: There Goes My Life — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2014: Drink A Beer — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2014 (Airplay): Sweet Annie — Zac Brown Band (Southern Ground/Atlantic)

Week ending 10/19/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

davis sisters1953 (Sales): I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

1953 (Jukebox): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

1963: Love’s Gonna Live Here — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1973: Ridin’ My Thumb To Mexico — Johnny Rodriguez (Mercury)

1983: Paradise Tonight — Charly McClain with Mickey Gilley (Epic)

1993: What’s It To You — Clay Walker (Giant)

2003: Real Good Man — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Hey Girl — Billy Currington (Mercury)

Album Review: Joey + Rory – ‘The Life Of A Song’

The husband and wife duo of Rory Feek and Joey Martin Feek first rose to national attention a mere two years ago when they became contestants on CMT’s Can You Duet. Following a third place finish, they landed a contract with Sugar Hill Records and released their first album in October 2008.

Prior to the competition, the two had never performed together. Joey was an aspiring singer who had briefly been signed to Sony, and Rory was an accomplished Nashville songwriter who had written hits for artists such as Clay Walker and Blake Shelton. Joining forces gave them synergy allowed them the opportunity to play off each others’ strengths.

The Life Of A Song was produced by Carl Jackson. Rory had a hand in writing seven of the album’s twelve tracks, five of which Joey also receives songwriting credit. The album was somewhat of a departure for the roots-oriented Sugar Hill, marking one of the label’s first attempts to market an artist to mainstream country radio. The Life Of A Song is not the typical bluegrass or alternative fare that music fans had come to expect from Sugar Hill; nor does it bear much resemblance to what usually gets played on country radio these days. The production is mostly quiet, acoustic and understated, avoiding obnoxious drum machines, soft-rock electric guitar riffs and bombastic arrangements. Nevertheless, the lead single “Cheater, Cheater” managed to get enough airplay to land at #30 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Its success is in no small part due to the exposure Joey + Rory gained from the Can You Duet competition. The record was also buoyed by the minor controversy that ensued due to its lyrics referring to a “no good, white trash ho”, possibly the first time that phrase had been uttered in a country song. Written by Joey and Rory along with Kristy Osmunson and Wynn Varble, it is the duo’s only Top 40 hit to date.

Based on their first single, it might be tempting to dismiss Joey + Rory as a semi-novelty act, but the rest of the album is, for the most part, comprised of more serious material that is well written and beautifully performed. The second single, the non-charting “Play The Song” takes a mild swipe at the restrictions placed on artists by radio and/or label executives who continually complain that a given song is

…too fast, it’s too slow
It’s too country, too rock and roll
It’s too happy, too sad, too short, or it’s way too long

….It’s too Garth, too George Strait
Too right down the center, too left of the plate
The hook’s too weak or the subject matter’s way too strong whatever ….

My favorite track on the album is “Sweet Emmylou”, written by Rory with Catherine Britt, who has since included it on her recent self-titled release. Beautifully sung by Joey, it is a song about finding solace in old, preferably sad, country records — something most country fans can relate to. Almost as enjoyable are the happier “Tonight Cowboy You’re Mine” and the poignant “To Say Goodbye”, the album’s third and final single which deals with the pain of losing a loved one. The first verse alludes to the surviving spouse of a 9/11 victim, while the second verse deals with the loss of a spouse to Alzheimer’s disease. Like its predecessor, “To Say Goodbye” failed to chart.

The Life Of A Song was one of the most enjoyable albums of 2008, which admittedly was a year of slim pickings for good country music. Its sole misstep was the duo’s cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”, which, while not great, is not sufficiently bad to detract from the overall enjoyment of the album.

Despite its modest success at radio, the album sold respectably, peaking at #10 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Though they continue to seek a breakthrough at radio, it is probably a long shot fora traditionally-oriented act on an indie label to have any kind of sustained mainstream success. As such, Joey + Rory are likely to remain a niche act, which is just fine for those of us who like them just as they are.

Grade: A-

The Life Of A Song is widely available. Digital copies are currently on sale for $5 at Amazon.

Single Review: Clay Walker – ‘Where Do I Go From You’

Clay Walker was one of those 90s sensations that exploded right out of the box, with 5 of his first 6 single releases shooting straight to the top.  Between 1991 and 1998, Walker released 17 singles to country radio, with all of them going into the top 40, and 12 landing inside the top 10.  But somewhere around the end of the decade, mergers and further consolidation between labels relocated Clay to Giant’s parent company, Warner Brothers.  After a few minor hits there, he made a short-lived switch to RCA in 2001, where another sprinkling of top 10 hits followed.  His third label deal came from Asylum’s Curb division.  The interesting aspect to Clay Walker’s chart success, to me, has been his many stops and starts over the past 7 or 8 years.  While most artists struggle to get back in the graces of radio programmers after a year or more hiatus, Walker has found himself staging mini-comebacks on at least 3 occasions, the most recent being last year’s top 5 ‘She Won’t Be Lonely Long’, his best showing on the singles chart in a decade.  But, recent history has shown Walker unable to follow up a career-reviving hit with another.

‘Where Do I Go From You’ attempts to recapture the tone of ‘She Won’t Be Lonely Long’.  It succeeds in being radio-friendly without sounding polished, something the best Clay Walker singles have always done.  A similar laid-back electric guitar groove compliment the driving mid-tempo beat, and Clay’s vocals succeed in clearly cutting through the production.

Where it falters in its unoriginal concept, and very underdeveloped plot.  We learn that the narrator’s love interest left him, got on a plane and skipped town.  Now our narrator is getting lost in his job by day and inhabiting the local beer joint by night, all in his efforts to dull the pain.  The chorus is, interestingly enough, the most abstract part of the lyrics, and the only area of the song where we get any insight into the relationship gone wrong: ‘Where do I go to get over the fact that you got on a plane and you ain’t coming back/I said what I said and you did what you had to do/Where does a man have to go to get over the truth?/Where do I go from you?’

What did he say?  It must have been substantial enough that he understands her reasons for leaving.  All we’re really left with in the end is his continuing plea for guidance from a woman who’s likely a thousand miles away.

Grade: C

Purchase ‘Where Do I Go From You’ digitally at amazon or iTunes.

Songwriters: Don Cook, Clint Daniels, Ryan Tyndell