My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Clint Black

Week ending 6/20/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

linda-ronstadt1955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

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

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young — Faron Young (Capitol)

1965: Ribbon of Darkness — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1975: When Will I Be Loved — Linda Ronstadt (Capitol)

1985: Country Boy — Ricky Skaggs (Epic)

1995: Summer’s Comin’ — Clint Black (RCA)

2005: Making Memories Of Us — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Sippin’ on Fire — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

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Week ending 6/13/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

images-31955 (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: What’s He Doing In My World — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1975: Window Up Above — Mickey Gilley (Playboy)

1985: Natural High — Merle Haggard (Epic)

1995: Summer’s Comin’ — Clint Black (RCA)

2005: Making Memories Of Us — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Smoke — A Thousand Heroes (Republic Nashville)

Week ending 6/6/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

johndenver1955 (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: What’s He Doing In My World — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1975: Thank God I’m A Country Boy — John Denver (RCA)

1985: Don’t Call Him A Cowboy — Conway Twitty (Warner Bros.)

1995: Summer’s Comin’ — Clint Black (RCA)

2005: Making Memories Of Us — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Don’t It — Billy Currington (Mercury)

A look back at 1989: Part 2 – Buck Owens

Buck Owens with Dwight YoakamThe year 1989 saw the debuts and/or emergence of a fine crop of new artists that would continue the neo-traditionalist movement that flickered in the early 1980s with the arrival of Ricky Skaggs and started building up steam in 1986 when Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam arrived. Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt were the biggest names to emerge in 1989, but there were others as well.

This is not to say that the old guard didn’t produce some excellent records that year, even if they were having difficulty getting playing time. Among these was the Baron of Bakersfield, Buck Owens .
Unlike George Jones, whose 1989 album was but one of a dozen or more albums to follow, Buck Owens 1989 effort ACT NATURALLY, was the penultimate effort by the #1 country artist of the 1960s. Although Buck’s recording career essentially ended at the end of the 1970, there was a three album coda to his career.

Late in the decade, Dwight Yoakam dredged Buck out of retirement to perform a duet on “Streets of Bakerfield”. Following the success of that recording, Capitol inked Buck to a new deal which was to see three albums released. The three albums were 1988’s HOT DOG, this album, and 1991’s KICKIN’ IN. None of the albums sold especially well, but this album featured a return to the top thirty singles chart in “Act Naturally”.

In 1963, “Act Naturally” was the first number one record of Buck’s career spending four weeks atop the country charts. Not only did the song jumpstart Buck’s career, but Buck’s recording caught the attention of the Beatles, who had Ringo Starr record the song. In the USA, Capitol released the song as the B side of “Yesterday”.

Apparently Buck and the various members of the Beatles (especially Ringo) had established rapport over the years, so the two of them got together to record the song as a duet and shoot a video.

The rest of the album was comprised of remakes of some of Buck’s older classics, some songs Buck had written since retiring at the end of the 1970s and one cover. One of the highlights on the album was a duet with Emmylou Harris on “Crying Time”. Although Buck had not released the song as a single, Ray Charles more than made up for the omission with his recording.

In addition to the aforementioned “Crying Time ” and “Act Naturally” Buck reprised his older classics “Gonna Have Love” (#76 in 1989) , and “Take Me Back Again” . Newer Owens tunes were “Tijuana Lady”, “Out Chasing Rainbows”, “Rock Hard Love”, “I Was There” and “Brooklyn Bridge”. Since none of these newer songs were released as singles, not many had the opportunity to hear them. I think “Tijuana Lady”, “Brooklyn Bridge” or “Rock Hard Love” would have made decent singles. My favorite of the newer songs is “Out There Chasing Rainbows” which other than the rhythm section, comes closest to the 1960s sound (meaning it would never have made it as a single)

I’m always out there chasing rainbows always going for the gold
Searching for you in far off places yes I’m always out there chasing rainbows

` Your memory makes me think of rainbows of summer days and daffodils
Of tender times and sweet surrender I loved you then and always will
I’m always out there…

The one cover song was of the old Wynn Stewart classic “Playboy”, it was a great song in Wynn’s hands and Buck does the song justice.

Other than latter day Buckaroos Jim Shaw (keyboards) and Doyle Curtsinger (bass), the musicians on this album are Nashville session men. This means that the album does not sound like one of the classic Buck Owens & The Buckaroos albums of the 1960s, but it doesn’t really sound like the typical late 1980s production either as no strings or synthesizers appear plus some real old school musicians such as Ralph Mooney (steel) and Rob Hajacos (fiddle) appear on some of the tracks.

A look back at 1989: Part 1 – George Jones

one woman manThe year 1989 saw the debuts and/or emergence of a fine crop of new artists that would continue the neo-traditionalist movement that flickered in the early 1980s with the arrival of Ricky Skaggs and started building up steam in 1986 when Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam arrived. Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt were the biggest names to emerge in 1989, but there were others as well.

This is not to say that the old guard didn’t produce some excellent records that year, even if they were having difficulty getting playing time. I will look at three of the old guard whose records particularly appealed to me in 1989 starting with the acknowledged master of the genre, the one and only “King George” – Jones, that is.

GEORGE JONES – ONE WOMAN MAN (1989)

The decade of the 1980s was a good one for George Jones as he finally got himself clean and remained in good voice; however, Father Time waits for no one and as the 1990s approached George’s chart success was beginning to wane.

By 1989 when ONE WOMAN MAN was issued, George was 58 years old and beginning to struggle for airplay as he was crowded out by the vaunted “Class of 89”.

George Jones albums during the 1980s tended to follow the formula of three or four singles (some of which were covers of old country classics) plus some other songs – often some more covers of old country classics – and some top grade new material. Even though the hot young songwriters weren’t necessarily pitching their good stuff at him, he was still finding enough good material to make some great albums.

My favorite George Jones album of the 1980s was ONE WOMAN MAN. More so than any of his earlier albums in the decade, this album relied on older material.

“One Woman Man”, the first single off the album would prove to be George’s last top twenty single as a solo artist, peaking at #5, this after a run of five consecutive singles that had missed the top twenty. The song, written by Johnny Horton and Tillman Franks had reached #7 for Horton in 1956. I liked Horton’s version but there is a decided difference between a pretty good singer like Horton and a great singer like George Jones.

Track 2 on the album was a Louvin Brothers classic, “My Baby’s Gone. You really can’t beat the Louvins at their own material (although this song was written by Hazel Houser), but George does quite well with the song. The Louvins had that brotherly harmony going for them but the vocal harmony singers here are put to good use and the steel and fiddle are used effectively. My one criticism of the song is that it is taken at a slightly too fast tempo.

Track 3 is the old Hank Cochran classic “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me”, recorded previously by, among others, Ray Price, Ronnie Milsap, Jack Greene. The Greene version remains my favorite version, but Jones never did wrong by a good song.

Track 4 is “Burning Bridges” another old-timer, but this one originally by rock/pop star Jack Scott. Jack Scott’s version was excellent, as was that of Ray Price, but George takes a back seat to no one in being able to wring the pathos and emotion out of a song.

Track 5 is a novelty song, originally titled “Yabba-Dabba-Do” but changed to “The King Is Gone (and So Are You)” in order to avoid threatened copyright litigation (which the songwriter & publisher would likely have won, but at great expense). In the song, a man whose girl has left him, laments the fact by pulling the head of Elvis off a Jim Beam decanter, pouring it into a Flintstones jelly bean jar and drinking up, imagining conversations with Elvis Presley and Fred Flintstone in the process. He eventually comes to the realization that his girl was never coming back. The song wasn’t a big hit but in the hands of almost anyone else, it would have been a total flop – it seems that only George Jones and Hank Thompson could get away with recording novelties (some of them really ludicrous) and scoring hits with them. This was the second single off the album and it reached #31 on the charts. The track features some nice dobro or slide guitar.

George gets back to serious songs on Track 6 with “Radio Lover”. Thematically this song is very similar to Porter Wagoner’s “Cold Hard Facts of Life”, except that the protagonist is a radio disk jockey rather than a truck driver and the song has a less ominous set up than Porter’s classic. Our hero pre-tapes his show so he can spend his first wedding anniversary with his wife, walks in on her with her lover in bed with her and he dispatches with both of them – meanwhile his radio show is playing on her radio. This was the fourth single and it topped out at #62. Here in Central Florida the song seemed to get the radio airplay one would expect of a top ten single.

I know I heard someone else perform Track 7, “A Place In The Country” before George Jones wrap his vocal cords around it. This song is about a man who worked in the city for thirty years but whose dream was to retire to the country.

Track 8 was a Patsy Cline song, “Just Out of Reach”. It was not released as a single but was taken as the title track for Patsy’s third Decca album and became well known in the years following her death. While I prefer Patsy’s version, George has nothing for which to apologize here.

The album closes with some original material in “Writing On The Wall” (track 9) and “Pretty Little Lady from Beaumont, Texas” (track 10). In the hands of most other performers, these songs would be filler, but in the hands of George Jones they are decent songs . They also point out why George was turning to so much older material – he simply wasn’t being pitched the best new material.

“Writing On The Wall” was the third single taken from the album and it reached #31. The year before the song had reached #96 for Kenny Carr.

For his next album, 1990’s YOU OUGHTA HERE WITH ME, George reversed course and obtained a batch of new songs. None of them would become hits (and the two singles released from the album would not chart at all) but one of the songs, “Ol’ Red” would reach #14 for Blake Shelton in 2002.

YOU OUGHTA BE WITH ME marked the end of the line for George Jones with Epic. From here Jones would go to MCA for a few albums and then to MCA and various other labels, eventually settling into elder statesman status. George’s solo albums from here would be spottier affairs, but there would be a number of special projects involving guest artists that would keep his face in front of the public.

Still, his penultimate album for Epic was a fine effort well worth digging out to play, and I do, periodically. It would be in my top ten albums for 1989.

Album Review – Miranda Lambert – ‘Platinum’

MirandaLambertPlatinumMidway through Miranda Lambert’s new album Platinum comes a jarring exception to the rule as daring as the twin fiddles that opened Lee Ann Womack’s There’s More Where That Came From nine years ago. The one-two punch of a Tom T and Dixie Hall composition coupled with a glorious arrangement by The Time Jumpers has yielding “All That’s Left,” a rare nugget of traditional western swing with Lambert channeling high lonesome Patty Loveless. Besides producing one of the years’ standout recorded moments, “All That’s Left” is a crucial nod to our genre’s heritage, and the fulfillment of the promise Lambert showed while competing on Nashville Star.

Suffice it to say, there’s nothing else on Platinum that equals the brilliance of “All That’s Left,” since Lambert never turns that traditional or naturally twangy again. Instead she opts for a fifteen-slot smorgasbord, mixing country, pop, and rock in an effort to appeal to anyone who may find his or her way to the new music. In lesser hands the record would be an uneven mess, but Lambert is such an expert at crafting albums she can easily pair western swing and arena rock and have it all fit together as smaller parts of a cohesive whole.

The main theme threading through Platinum is one of getting older, whether for purposes of nostalgia, or literally aging. She continues the nostalgia trip she began with fantastic lead single “Automatic” on “Another Sunday In The South” as she recruits Jessi Alexander and fellow Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe to reminisce about the good ‘ol days of 90s country music, among southern signifiers like lazy afternoons and times spent on the front porch. The only worthwhile name check song in recent memory, “Another Sunday” cleverly weaves Restless Heart, Trace Adkins, Pam Tillis, Clint Black, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and song namesake Shenandoah through the lyrics without pandering or sounding cutesy. I only wish she had referenced Diamond Rio and had producer Frank Liddell pepper the track with more of a 90s throwback production, which would’ve fit slightly better than the soft rockish vibe the track was given.

Lambert actually does recapture the Patty Loveless-like twang on “Old Shit,” Brent Cobb and Neil Mason’s love letter to the appealing nature of antiques. The framing technique of using the grandfather and granddaughter relationship coupled with the organic harmonica laced organic arrangement is charming, and while I usually don’t advocate for swearing in country songs, it actually works in this case and seems more appropriate than any of the cleaner words they could’ve used instead.

The aging side of getting older, which Lambert and company began tackling with “Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty” on Annie Up last year, is far more prevalent a force on Platinum. As has become customary for Lambert, she wrote thumping rocker “Bathroom Sink” solo. The lyric is scathing, detailing scary self-loathing that builds in intensity along with the electric guitars. Lambert’s phrasing is annoying, though; punctuating the rimes so much they begin to sound rudimentary. While true, “Gravity’s a Bitch,” which Lambert co-wrote with Scotty Wray, just doesn’t feel necessary to me. I think being outside the track’s demographic target aids in my assessment, but I do enjoy the decidedly country meets bluesy arrangement.

When the press release for the album said the title track was ‘Taylor Swift pop’ I was admittedly worried, no matter how many times I got down with the dubstep of “I Knew You Were Trouble” or the bubblegum of “22.” Since Max Martin isn’t anywhere near this album, “Platinum” is more “Red” than anything else, and the infamous ‘what doesn’t kill you only makes you blonder’ lyric is catchy as hell. Similarly themed and produced “Girls” is just as good, and like “Gravity’s a Bitch,” it’ll appeal quite nicely to the fairer sex.

The rest of Platinum truly defines the smorgasbord aspects of the album, with some conventional and extremely experimental tracks. Lambert co-wrote “Hard Staying Sober” with Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird and it ranks among her finest moments, with the decidedly country production and fabulously honest lyric about a woman who’s no good when her man isn’t present. “Holding On To You,” the closet Lambert comes to crooning a love song, is sonically reminiscent of Vince Gill’s 90s sound but with touches that makes it all her own. While good it’s a little too bland, as is “Babies Making Babies,” which boats a strong opening verse but eventually comes off less clever than it should’ve and not surprising enough for me.

Ever since Revolution, production on Lambert’s albums has to be taken with a grain of salt, which is unfortunately still the case here. I’m betting, more than anything since Brandy Clark and Lambert co-wrote it together with Heather Little, that “Too Rings Shy” has a strong lyric underneath the unlistenable production that found Lambert asking her production team to go out and lyrically record circus noises. It’s a shame they couldn’t make this work, since they pulled it off with Randy Scruggs reading the Oklahoma Farm Report in the background of “Easy Living” on Four The Record. There’s just no excuse why the track had to be mixed this intrusively.

Polarizing more than anything else is Lambert’s cover of Audra Mae’s “Little Red Wagon,” which I only understood after listening to Mae’s original version. Given that it’s a duet with Little Big Town, I know most everyone expected more from “Smokin’ and Drinkin,’ and I understand why (the approach isn’t traditional), but I really like the lyric and production, making the overall vibe work really well for me. The same is true about “Something Bad,” which isn’t a great song, but works because of the beat, and interplay between Lambert and Carrie Underwood. The two, even on a marginalized number like this one by Chris DeStefano, Brett James, and Priscilla Renea, sound extremely good together.

Nicolle Galyon and Jimmy Robbins teamed up with Hemby to write the album’s most important track, a love letter Lambert sings to Priscilla Presley. While the concept is questionable on paper, the results are a revelation and give Lambert a chance to directly address what she’s been going through since her husband’s career skyrocketed on The Voice. At a time when most artists of Lambert’s caliber are shying away from singing what they’re going through, Lambert is attacking her rise in celebrity head on with a clever lyric, interesting beat, and an all around engaging execution that makes “Priscilla” this album’s “Mama’s Broken Heart.”

Even without the added punch of co-writes with her fellow Nashville Star contestant Travis Howard or the inclusion of a bunch of artistic covers from the pens of Gillan Welch, Allison Moorer, Carline Carter, and others – Platinum ranks high in Lambert’s catalog. She’s gotten more introspective as she’s aged but instead of coasting on past success or suppressing her voice in favor of fitting in or pleasing people, she remains as sharp as ever tackling topics her closest contemporaries wouldn’t even touch. I didn’t care for this project on first listen, but now that I completely understand where she’s coming from, I’m fully on board. All that’s left is my desire she go even more country in her sound, but Platinum wouldn’t be a Miranda Lambert record without the added touch of Rock & Roll.

Grade: A

Week ending 5/10/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

keithurban1954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Understand Your Man — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1974: Things Aren’t Funny Anymore — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1984: I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes — The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)

1994: A Good Run of Bad Luck — Clint Black (RCA)

2004: You’ll Think of Me — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2014: Play It Again — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2014 (Airplay): Bottoms Up — Brantley Gilbert (Valory)

Christmas Rewind: Clint Black – ‘Milk And Cookies’

Spotlight Artist: Lorrie Morgan

lorrie-morgan-07During Monday night’s broadcast of An Intimate Evening with Eddy Stubbs featuring Vince Gill and Paul Franklin, Gill said:

“Our very earliest memories of why we love country music so deeply is because of when it hit us.” 

I’ll never forget hearing Lorrie Morgan sing “What Part of No” when I was five and being hooked. I was a fan of the Eagles before then, but Morgan’s 1993 #1 hit was my first exposure to country music and began a reverence for 1990s country that still holds strong today. From Morgan I discovered Alan Jackson, Collin Raye, and George Strait. Needless to say, the music seeped into my soul and became an integral part of who I am.

But Morgan was the artist who started it all. She was born, ironically, Loretta Lynn Morgan June 27, 1959 about a year before that other Loretta Lynn charted with “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl.” She was born in Nashville to country singer George Morgan, who’d taken his sole #1, and signature song, “Candy Kisses” to the top ten years earlier. I remember hearing Morgan say the similarities between their names were pure coincidence.

Morgan made her Grand Ole Opry debut at age 13 singing “Paper Roses,” and her father passed away in 1975. She subsequently took over his band, only to leave two years later and join Little Roy Wiggins. Morgan then held a receptionist and songwriting job at Acuff-Rose Music before joining Ralph Emery’s morning television show as a featured vocalist.

Her music career began in 1978 when she charted a single with minor success. A similarly received and electronically dubbed duet with her dad followed, as did opening slots on tours featuring the likes of Jack Greene and Jeannie Seely. Morgan was also a regular singer on Nashville Now, part of the Opryland USA Bluegrass Show, and a touring duet partner of George Jones. She scored another minor hit in 1984, the same year she became the youngest person to ever join the Grand Ole Opry.

Morgan was already divorced from George Jones’ former bass player when she met and married up and coming country singer Keith Whitley in 1986. The couple had a son, her second child, a year later. Whitley was notoriously known for his drinking and Morgan was said to have handcuffed them together with a bathrobe tie while they slept, in order to keep him from getting up to drink. She hit the big time when, now under the care of RCA Nashville, her single “Trainwreck of Emotion” went top 20 in 1988. The follow-ups were more successful – “Dear Me” hit #9 and “Out of Your Shoes” went to #2.

She was in the middle of an international tour and on her way to Alaska when she received the call that Whitley had died May 9, 1989. Morgan rushed back to Nashville. Two days later, May 11, her debut record Leave The Light On was released. That week Morgan gave an emotional performance of her hit “Dear Me” on the Grand Ole Opry, and famously accepted his CMA Single of the Year Award for “I’m No Stranger To The Rain” that fall.

Morgan reached another milestone when her single “Five Minutes” became her first #1 in 1990. That same year she charted with “Till A Tear Becomes A Rose,” a duet with Whitley. They’d win the CMA Vocal Event of the Year Award for their record that same year. She also married a one-time truck driver for Clint Black, and released Something In Red in 1991. The title track, a top 15 hit, would become her signature song.

Her third album Watch Me dropped in 1992, featuring her second #1 “What Part of No.” She divorced her third husband the following year and took up with Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Troy Aikman. Watch Me became Morgan’s third consecutive platinum album, making her the first female artist to reach that feat.

Morgan was now a hit with the fans, as displayed in her win for Female Vocalist of the Year at the 1994 TNN/Music City News Awards (a win she’d repeat several times), the fan voted award show that’s since morphed into the CMT Video Music Awards. Her fourth album War Paint, released that May, saw three singles tank on the charts. A Greatest Hits album and her final #1, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” followed a year later. She was also romantically involved with US Senator and Actor Fred Thompson.

A fourth marriage, to country singer Jon Randall, took place in 1996. A duet between the pair, “By My Side,” went top 20 and led Morgan’s Greater Need album, which also included the top 5 “Good As I Was To You.” Morgan embarked on a headlining tour with Pam Tillis and Carlene Carter that summer. Her final big hits came from Shakin’ Things Up in 1997 – “Go Away” went top 5, while “One Of These Nights Tonight” peaked top 15. She released her autobiography, Forever Yours, Faithfully that fall.

Her hits may’ve dwindled, but the spotlight was shining bright. A duet with Sammy Kershaw (1999’s “Maybe Not Tonight”) led to the pair’s wedding in the fall of 2001. They released a duets album and Morgan said she’d never get divorced again. Their tumultuous six-year marriage (Morgan’s fifth) was a mess – they constantly fought, he allegedly tried to kill her, and broke up only to make up numerous times. She released an independent album, Show Me How in 2004.

The past decade has been the tamest of Morgan’s career. She filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in 2008, and married her sixth husband beachside in 2010, the same year she was set to perform on Broadway in Pure Country, a part that never came to fruition. She’s currently touring as one half of the duo Grits and Glamour with Tillis. The pair released their long-awaited duets project Dos Divas late last month.

Hope you enjoy our (drama free) look back at Lorrie Morgan’s career throughout the month.

Classic Rewind: Clint Black and Skip Ewing – ‘Something That We Do’

This was a #2 hit for Clint in 1999:

Album Review: Aaron Tippin – ‘Lookin’ Back At Myself’

tippinLike his labelmate Clint Black, Aaron Tippin had a hand in writing most of the songs he recorded, and also like Black, after a few albums it became apparent that he was starting to run out of good ideas. Even a new producer, Steve Gibson couldn’t keep Lookin’ Back At Myself, Tippin’s fifth release for RCA, from sounding like a rehash of his earlier work. The lead single “I Got It Honest” is another ode to the blue collar work ethic, while the title track revisits the theme of standing by one’s convictions no matter what the consequences and “Lovin’ Me Into An Early Grave” sounds way too much like “There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With The Radio” to be truly enjoyable.

The familiar themes were beginning to wear thin at radio; “I Got It Honest” failed to reach the Top 10, peaking at #15. The album’s second single “She Feels Like A Brand New Man Tonight” is a less traditional number that at least attempts to venture into new territory. However, it is one of Tippin’s poorer efforts and it only reached #39. The fact that RCA didn’t release any further singles may have been a sign that Tippin was beginning to lose the support of his label. That is a shame, because even though the rest of the album is a mixed bag, it contains a handful of decent songs that might have been better choices for singles. “She’s Got A Way (Of Makin’ Me Forget)” is a fiddle-led traditional number in the vein that Aaron Tippin was born to sing. The same goes for “Standin’ On The Promises”. “Lookin’ Back At Myself” is likewise a very enjoyable song, despite being a bit unoriginal. “Bayou Baby” is a bit fluffy, but might have had a successful chart run as a summmertime release.

On the other hand, “Country Boy’s Tool Box” is an unmitigated disaster that was presumably inspired by the then-popular line dancing craze. The beat is annoying, the lyrics are shallow and it is lacking in melody. Unfortunately the song made another appearance on Tippin’s subsequent album. “Mission From Hank” is a forgettable number, notable only for being the only song on the album that Tippin didn’t co-write.

Overall, Lookin’ Back At Myself is a good, but slightly uneven effort. The album cuts are better than the tracks that were released as singles. RCA seems to have been marketing Tippin as salt-of-the-earth, hardworking and God-fearing and the single choices definitely reflect that but by this time, it was beginning to become a cliche. It’s too bad they didn’t try harder to market some of Aaron’s other singles; if they had he might have enjoyed a few more years in the spotlight. Despite its missteps, the album is certainly good enough to justify the small expenditure required to pick up a cheap copy.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Clint Black ft Steve Wariner – ‘Nothin’ But the Taillights’

EP Review: Clint Black – ‘The Long Cool EP’

longcoolepBy the mid-2000s, the pressures of parenthood and running his own label had taken their toll on Clint’s recording career and songwriting, and his own musical output decreased considerably. In 2008 he issued his most recent collection of new music, The Long Cool EP, which was a digital-only release.

Included in the three-song collection was “The Strong One”, Clint’s single from the previous year. It was only the second single of his career that he did not have a hand in writing (the other one was his 1993 cover of The Eagles’ “Desperado”). A heartfelt tribute to his better half, the so-called “weaker sex”, “The Strong One” was penned by Bill Luther, Don Poythress and Chuck Jones. Less traditional than Clint’s early work, the recording embraces a softer sound that was more aligned with the preferences of contemporary country radio. Without the strong promotional support of a major label, “The Strong One” underperformed on the charts, peaking at #37. It is, however, one of the higher-charting singles from his stint with Equity, second only to 2004’s “Spend My Time” which reached #16.

Clint moved even further away from his country roots with the next single, from which the EP’s title is derived. “Long Cool Woman” has been a pop hit for The Hollies in 1972. I’ll admit to being completely ignorant of the original version, but I liked Clint’s take on the song a lot. Though it wasn’t the traditional country he was known for, it wasn’t as big an artistic stretch as one might think at first, and he sounded more refreshed and energized than he had in quite some time. It died at #58 and is the last single that Clint has released to date.

The EP’s remaining track is “You Still Get To Me”, a duet with Lisa Hartman-Black, which attempts to recreate the success the pair had originally enjoyed with “When I Say I Do” nearly a decade earlier. It is not a bad song, but it is not particularly memorable.

After purchasing The Long Cool EP from Amazon, I found out that the iTunes version contained a bonus track, a cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin'”, which I’ve never heard.

The Long Cool EP was released in March 2008 and was intended to bridge the gap until Clint’s next album, which was slated for release later that year. Unfortunately, Equity Music Group’s financial difficulties delayed the release of the album, and in December the struggling label closed its doors, unable to withstand the loss of its one truly successful act, Little Big Town. None of the tracks from the EP is commercially available at the moment, to the best of my knowledge, but perhaps one day they will resurface on a compilation album.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Clint Black – ‘Drinkin’ Songs & Other Logic’

drinkin songs and other logicClint’s second album for Equity was to be his last full length album to date. It was a return to form, and to more traditional sounds. However, it was not very successful commercially, with none of the singles charting within the top 40. Clint produced, and as usual, he wrote every song, mostly with confrere Hayden Nicholas, and his band provided the backings.

Steve Wariner co-wrote and guests on electric guitar on the title track, which is definitely a standout, with a bright up-tempo mod belying the sadness as Clint advises a diet of classic country music washed down with whiskey as a cure for a broken heart. There are liberal references to both singers and songs to pick up on, and I really enjoyed this track:

It’s a good life here in the nightlife, bathin’ in the neon glow
The bartender, me and the kings of country playin’ everything we know
The Red Headed Stranger’s smoking, he burned a hole in his guitar
And I’m drowning in a whiskey river, Lord, that’s running right through this bar

Clint himself sounds thoroughly energized and committed here, and sets the tone for an album full of drinking songs.

‘A Big One’ is another gem in the same vein, with a catchy barroom singalong vibe, which Clint wrote with Tim Nichols. He cheerfully points the finger of blame for his drinking at his ex:
I only need one good reason to keep on drinkin’

(You can guess what, or who, that is.)

He also takes refuge in the bottle in the sad but less memorable ballad ‘Thinkin’ Of You’. Western swing ballad ‘I Don’t Wanna Tell You’ has the protagonist stopping off for a beer while putting off that conversation about leaving, while the steel-laced ‘Longnecks & Rednecks’ is an upbeat paean to honky tonks and beer drunk from the bottle.

The very traditional shuffle ‘Heartaches’ compares physical ailments with emotional ones, with Clint begging the doctor for an intravenous injection of “something strong” to help with the pain in his heart .

‘Too Much Rock’ complains a little too obliquely about the state of country music:

I’m gonna put down this hoe and pick up my guitar
Plant some seeds down on Music Row
But it seems like this old town is a lot like on the farm
I keep plantin’, nothin’ ever seems to grow

His heart is in the right place, but the song doesn’t feel focussed.

The minor-keyed Western number ‘Code Of The West’ looks back with a wistful nostalgia to the black and white morality of old cowboy movies, which is earnest but cliche’d. The cowboy theme is more successful in the valedictory ‘Go It Alone’, a subtle farewell to an old friend.

The pessimistic ‘Rainbow In The Rain’ is also good:

There’s no such thing as old forgotten memories
No such thing as only one to blame
And I’m not one who’ll never see the forest for the trees
But I can’t find a rainbow in the rain

‘Back Home In Heaven’ is a touching song about coping with bereavement, inspired by the death of cowriter Hayden Nicholas’s mother. Little Big Town contribute (not very prominent) backing vocals, and it had a special resonance for them too, as it was Kimberly Schlapman’s first recording session after the tragically early death of her first husband. The soothing, pretty melody and sweetly inspirational lyrics work well together, and this is one of my favorites on the album.

The only real mis-step is the silly ‘Undercover Cowboy’, about a sleazy would-be lothario preying on women in bars.

Clint Black’s music can be hit and miss, and having not enjoyed the album prior to this one, I passed on it when it originally came out. Catching up for this review has been a pleasant surprise. Overall, while not in Killin’ Time territory, this is a very good album which stands among Clint’s better efforts. The limited promotion due to being on Clint’s own, now defunct, label, means it may have slipped through the cracks for many, but it’s definitely worth tracking down.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Clint Black ft Skip Ewing – ‘Something That We Do’

Album Review – Clint Black – ‘Spend My Time’

220px-Clint_Black,_Spend_My_TimeThe early 2000s brought a sea of change in Clint Black’s career. After the massive success of “When I Said I Do,” Black took three years away from the business to raise his daughter, who was born in 2001. His contract with RCA Nashville also expired during this time and left Black the opportunity to form his own label, Equity (the label that put Little Big Town on the map with The Road To Here in 2005.)

His first full-length project for the label, Spend My Time was released in 2004 and marked Black’s first album of all-new material since Nothin’ But The Tailights in 1997. He again produced the project solo, keeping with the tradition he set with his all acoustic set in 1999.

While Spend My Time was a comeback of sorts for Black, the changing tide of country music left very little room for the album on radio playlists and as a result, the singles faired poorly. He just missed the top 15 with the title track, a lovely ballad he penned solo. It’s a fantastic song about the passage of time, and while it could’ve been very cliché, he keeps it sincere with his honest vocal and neo-traditional arrangement.

He wrote #51 peaking second single “The Boogie Man” with noted songwriter Will Jennings. Black wrote the track for his young daughter and it exudes a pleasing playfulness that he nicely brings out in his vocal. The production, however, is a bit uncharacteristically thick and rockish for Black, but he keeps it in check with ear catching bluesy piano throughout. Final single “My Imagination,” a nice string heavy ballad, peaked at #42.

Like the majority of Black’s musical catalog Spend My Time is a solid effort. It’s clear he’s played with his winning formula a bit, taking out overly traditional arrangements and adding in a dash of poppier sounds that give the project a contemporary flare that keeps it modern without sounding dated. He also manages to sound completely himself, and avoids the pitfalls of changing too much too quickly.

The ballads are the record’s best tracks, toned down to offer nice clarity. “Whatever Happened” has a nice acoustic guitar laden melody while “Just Like You and Me” raises above Black’s somewhat shouty vocal thanks to ample steel. Those same elements also elevate “Someone Else’s Tears” and “A Lover’s Clown” sounds like something Black would’ve put on any of his mid-90s work.

I do have an issue with him vocally, however. He tends to over sing almost all the songs here, like his vocal was turned up to eleven while the backing music doesn’t match that intensity. He would’ve succeeded even further if he had just a bit more subtlety in his voice. That being said, his vocal gymnastics are well matched on the ample uptempo material, the places on Spend My Time where the album ranges in quality.

Black’s upbeat ‘sweet spot’ if you will are on tracks like “State of Mind” and “The Shoes Your Wearnin,’” where the drums and guitars don’t interfere with the song, but allow Black to roll along with a nice energy. Unfortunately, none of those such moments are found here. The reggae influenced “We All Fall Down,” 80s rock inspired “She’s Leavin,’” and choir heavy “A Mind To” are nothing more than noise, too loud in every respect to be enjoyed for the interesting lyric they probably are.

“Haywire” works beautifully because it leaves space for Black to deliver bluesy riffs reminiscent of “Put Yourself In My Shoes” that are firmly in his wheelhouse. It may not be to my personal taste, but it’s one of the standout tracks. “Everything I Need” is also very good, if a bit too loud. I’m not a huge fan of guitar rockers (like Brad and Keith are known for) but he makes this one work.

Overall, Spend My Time isn’t a bad album at all and marked a worthy return for Black. He still in fine voice and keeps the material up to his usual standard even if none of these songs (apart from the title track) are memorable in any significant way. He just needs to tone everything down a few notches and find a bit more tenderness, and he may’ve come closer to hitting a home run. As it stands Spend My Time is good effort that could’ve been a lot stronger. But I appreciate that he’s clearly putting in effort.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind – Clint Black – ‘Tuckered Out’

From the 1993 CMA Awards, which Black co-hosted with Vince Gill:

Album Review: Clint Black – ‘D’lectrified’

clintblackClint Black’s swan song for RCA was the first album he produced by himself and arguably his most ambitious. As the title suggests, D’lectrified was recorded entirely with acoustic instruments, but rest assured, it is no quiet, stripped-down unplugged affair. By implementing a variety of instruments not usually used in country music — such as the clarinet, various saxophones and percussion, as well as a string section — he achieves a rich, full sound which causes the listener to sometimes forget that no electric instruments were used.

The album is also a departure from Clint’s usual practice of writing or co-writing every song. There is a great deal of cover material here and his choices are quite eclectic — from The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Bob Away My Blues” which opens the album, to Leon Russell’s “Dixie Lullaby” (done as a duet with Bruce Hornsby) and the novelty tune “Ode To the Galaxy”, which is quite likely the first time a major country music star covered Monty Python. A slightly re-worked version of “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” appears as a tribute to Waylon Jennings, whose name is substituted for Hank’s in the title and lyrics. None of these tunes are in the vein of what fans had come to expect from Black, but all of them were quite well done.

The rest of the album is more conventional. Clint’s wife Lisa Hartman Black joined him on the sentimental and AC-leaning “When I Said I Do”, which was the album’s first single. I remember cringing upon learning that Clint’s wife would be his duet partner. I was unaware that she had released four unsuccessful pop albums between 1976 and 1987. Though she was no Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton, she was a better vocalist than I’d expected. Radio loved the record, and it quickly rose to #1. It was Lisa’s first chart-topper and Clint’s last. It also reached #31 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album’s second single was “Been There”, on which Clint is joined by his co-writer Steve Wariner. Released in January 2000, it reached #5, becoming the last Top 10 hit of Clint’s career.

The album’s best track by far is “Love She Can’t Live Without”, a Black co-write with Skip Ewing. It should have been a monster hit, but it stalled at #30. I suspect that with Clint’s contract with RCA about to expire, the label did little to promote the record. The album’s weakest cut is “Harmony”, a duet with co-writer Kenny Loggins. A sappy and syrupy affair that plods along for nearly five and a half minutes, it is the album’s sole dud and quite possibly the worst thing Black ever recorded.

The remainder of D’lectrified consists primarily of re-worked versions of some of Clint’s earlier hits, such as “Burn One Down” and “No Time To Kill”. Both were done in a bluesy, jam-session style, which ironically are quite loud for acoustic recordings and Clint seems to be struggling at times to be heard over the arrangements. Neither holds its own against its original hit version; however, an acoustic guitar-led instrumental version of “Something That We Do”, which appears as a hidden track at the end of the album is quite nice.

Unlike all of Clint’s previous albums, D’lectrified failed to attain platinum status, though it did earn gold certification (his last studio album to do so). After the album was released, Black left RCA to found his own label, Equity Music Group, which was meant to introduce a new business model to the music industry by allowing artists to keep a greater share of the profits they generated. The experiment did not succeed, and neither did any of Clint’s recordings for the fledgling label. D’lectrified, his last truly successful album, was an adventurous project and is worth seeking out.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind – Clint Black & Martina McBride – ‘Still Holdin’ On’

From the 1997 CMA Awards:

Classic Rewind – Clint Black – ‘Like The Rain’