My Kind of Country

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Tag Archives: Collin Raye

Album Review: The Forester Sisters – ‘Talkin’ ‘Bout Men’

Talkin’ ‘Bout Men was the Forester Sisters’ eighth studio album for Warner Brothers, although it should be noted that this includes a Christmas album an a religious album. Released in March 1991, Talking About Men momentarily broke the downward slope of the previous four albums, reaching #16 on the charts. Four singles were released from the album, with only the sassy title track receiving much traction at radio, reaching #8 each reaching the top ten but none getting any higher than #7.

The album opens with “A Step In The Right Direction” a spritely mid-tempo number written by Rick Bowles, Robert Byrne and Tom Wopat (yes – that Tom Wopat). This track would have made a good follow up to “Men”. The song had previously been released as a single by Judy Taylor about a decade earlier, but that version barely cracked the charts:

Everybody knows that love’s like a swingin’ door
Comes and goes and we’ve all been there before
But you can’t get none till you’re back out on the floor

Well, that’s a step in the step in the right direction
Everybody knows that practice makes perfection
So, come on, let’s make a step in the right direction

“Too Much Fun” was the second single released and the actual follow up to the title track. It tanked only reaching #64. Written by Robert Byrne and Al Shulman, this is not the same song that Daryle Singletary took to #4 a few years later. This song is also a good-time mid-tempo ballad about a woman enjoying being free of a relationship. I would have expected it to do better as a single, but when as Jerry Reed put it, ‘when you’re hot, you’re hot and when you’re not, you’re not’.

Rick Bowles and Barbara Wyrick teamed up to write “That Makes One of Us”, the third single released from the album. The single did not chart. The song has acoustic instrumentation with a dobro introduction, and is a slow ballad about a relationship that is ending because only one is trying to keep it going. The song sounds like something the McCarter Sisters or The Judds (in their earlier days) might have recorded:

You’ve made up your mind
We don’t want the same thing
And that we won’t change things
Wishing there were ways
And there’s no use staying together
Nothing lasts forever
That’s what you say

And that makes one of us not in love
And that makes one of us who can’t give up
If you can walk away from the life we’ve made
Then that makes one of us

I still believe we’ve got something worth saving
I keep hoping and praying for another chance
You’ve held my heart and your gonna break it
Cause you wanna make it
A part of your past

Byrne and Shulman teamed up to write “Men”, the first single released from the album and the laast top ten single for the group, reaching #8. The song succeeded despite not truly fitting in with the ‘New Traditionalist’ movement that had taken over the genre. “Men” is a smart song that likely would have charted higher had it been released a few years earlier:

They buy you dinner, open your door
Other then that, what are they good for?
Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men
They all want a girl just like the girl
That married dear old dad, they make me so mad

Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men
Well, you can’t beat ’em up ’cause they’re bigger then you
You can’t live with ’em and you just can’t shoot ’em
Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men

They love their toys, they make their noise
Nothing but a bunch of overgrown boys
Men! I’m talking ’bout men
If you give ’em what they want, they never fall in love
Don’t give ’em nothin’, they can’t get enough

Men! I’m talking ’bout men
Well, you can’t beat ’em up ’cause they’re bigger then you
You can’t live with ’em and you just can’t shoot ’em
Men! I’m talkin’ ’bout men

“Sombody Else’s Moon”is a nice ballad written by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Kent Robbins. This is not the same song that would be a top five hit for Collin Raye in 1993.

“It’s Getting Around” was written by Sandy Ramos and Bob Regan is an mid-tempo song with dobro leading the way for the acoustic accompaniment. It is a nice track that might have made a decent song. What’s getting around, of course, is goodbye.

Next up is “You Take Me For Granted”, a classic written by Leona Williams while she was married to Merle Haggard. It’s a great song that Haggard took to #1, and that Leona recorded several times over the years. The Forester Sisters have a nice take on the song, but it is not a knock on them to say that they are neither a nuanced as Haggard, nor as soulful as Leona Williams:

My legs and my feet
Have walked ’till they can’t hardly move from tryin’ to please you
And my back is sore
From bendin’ over backwards to just lay the world at your door.
I’ve tried so hard to keep a smile on a sad face while deep down
It’s breakin’ my heart
And as sure as the sun shines I’ll be a lifetime
Not knowin’ if I’ve done my part

‘Cause you take me for granted And it’s breakin’ my heart
As sure as the sunshines I’ll be a lifetime
Not knowin’ if I’ve done my part.

“The Blues Don’t Stand A Chance” is a slow ballad written by Gary Burr and Jack Sundred. The song is about a strong relationship that endures despite separation.

Tim Nichols and Jimmy Stewart combined to write “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled”, the third single released from the album. The song did not chart, and I’m not sure the reggae beat helped matters with country audiences. The lyric could be described as folk-gospel. I like the song but would have not chosen it for single release.

“What About Tonight” closes out the album. Written by John Jarrard and J.D. Martin, the song is a slow ballad that I regard as album filler. The highlight of the song is some nice steel guitar work by Bruce Bouton.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Men would prove to be the last big hurrah for the Forester Sisters. The title track would not only be the last top ten single but would also be the last single to crack the top fifty. Noteworthy musicians on the album include Bruce Bouton on steel and dobro, Rob Hajacos on fiddle, and Guy Higginbotham on saxophone.

I liked the album but it was definitely going against the prevailing trends at the time of its release. My favorite song on the album is “Step In The Right Direction” followed by “Men”. I would give the album a B+.

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘Water & Bridges’

In 2006 Kenny Rogers once again found himself signed to a major label — an interesting turn of events for an almost 70-year-old artist. Water & Bridges was released by Capitol and produced by Dann Huff, who is not my favorite producer but I was pleasantly surprised by the fruits of their labors. Like most Kenny Rogers albums, this is a pop-country collection, but unlike a lot of his earlier work, there are no blatant pop songs. Everything is targeted for the mainstream country audience, such as it was a little over a decade ago. The production is polished, but not tastefully restrained.

The title track, which opens the album is a somber ballad written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, about life’s regrets and the need to accept them and move on. It was too serious for consideration as a single, but a very good song nonetheless. It had previously been recorded by Collin Rate a few years earlier. “Someone Is Me” is a bit of social commentary written by Josh Kear and Joe Doyle, which urges people to take action to correct the things that are wrong with this world instead of waiting for someone else to do it. “Someone Somewhere Tonight” is a little too slickly produced for my taste, but Sarah Buxton harmonizes well with Kenny. This song would later be recorded by Pam Tillis and Kellie Pickler, who took it to #49 on the Billboard country singles chart.

The album’s best song is its lead single “I Can’t Unlove You” which took Kenny to the Top 20 one last time. Peaking at #17, this break-up ballad would have been a monster hit if it had come along during Rogers’ commercial heyday. “The Last Ten Years (Superman)” was the next single. True to its title, it refers to a number of events that were in the news during the previous decade (1996-2006), making reference to events such as the Oklahoma City bombing, the Y2K hysteria, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as well as name-checking several celebrities that passed away during that time, from Minnie Pearl, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash to Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and actor Christopher Reeve. It’s a very good song, but as a stripped-down, serious ballad focusing on mostly unhappy events, it didn’t perform particularly well at radio, topping out at #56. “Calling Me”, a mid tempo number featuring a Gospel-like piano and duet vocal by Don Henley fared slightly better, peaking at #53. It’s a little more pop-leaning than the rest of the album but it deserved more attention than it received. It marks Kenny Rogers’ last appearance (to date) on the Billboard country singles chart.

Kenny’s voice shows some signs of wear and tear at times, but for the most part he is in good vocal form and I enjoyed this album a lot more than I expected to. It might have benefited from a little more uptempo material, but overall this is a solid effort. It’s available for streaming and worth checking out.

Grade: B

Album Review: Robert Mizzell – ‘Redneck Man’

Released in 2010, Robert Mizzell’s seventh album Redneck Man contains 15 songs, the majority of them covers, but some of them relatively obscure songs. Mizzell has a strong baritone voice which does justice to the material, and he is effectively backed by an excellent band performing mostly traditional country arrangements.

Although not a songwriter himself, the one original song on the album draws directly on Mizzell’s own life story. ‘Mama Courtney’, specially written for him by Irish songwriter Henry McMahon, is a moving tribute to the loving foster parents who helped to raise him in Louisiana when his birth mother “lost her way in life”.

Us kids are all now grown up and gone our separate ways
I look back on my childhood of many happy days
And when I go back to Shreveport I place flowers on her grave
And I thank Mama Courtney for all those kids that she saved

There are many children in this world that suffered hurt and shame
I thank all the Mama Courtneys that took away their pain
God works in mysterious ways
I believe this is true
Though she had no children of her own she fostered 32…

God rest you Mama Courtney
I’ll always love you

This is a genuinely moving song, and was understandably a success for the artist on Irish country radio.

Another single for him was a duet with US country star Collin Raye on ‘Murder On Music Row’. The two singers swap lines rather than harmonising except on the odd chorus line, but they contrast well, and both sing with feeling. Perhaps as a nod to Raye, Mizzell covers ‘I’m Gonna Love You’, a fluffy novelty song written by Robert Elis Orrall, which Raye cut on his children’s album Counting Sheep. It isn’t a very good song, and adds nothing to the album.

Much better is an entertaining cover of ‘Ol’ Frank’, a tongue in cheek story song about a young trophy bride who cashes in after “he died with a smile on his face”, which George Jones recorded in the 80s. Another late Jones cut, the up-tempo ‘Ain’t Love A Lot Like That’, is pleasant but definitely filler (plus it’s far too cavalier about missing pets).

Another excellent track is ‘More Behind The Picture Than The Wall’, a traditional country ballad written by Bill Anderson, Buddy Cannon and Don Miller, about a father remembering happy times past after the death of his soldier son in action. Mizzell’s vocals do the poignant nostalgia of the song (previously recrded by bluegrass band Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver) justice.

Too soon our little family was scattered to the winds
You fell out of love with me and wouldn’t fall back in
I was sleeping by myself the night I got that call
Yeah, there’s more behind this picture than the wall

Casey died a hero, that’s what the chaplain said
We couldn’t find sweet Lorrie, I doubt she knows it yet
You and I still tortured by the memories we recall
But there’s more behind this picture than the wall

Four happy loving faces, back then we had it all

Also very good is Mizzell’s version of ‘Someone To Hold Me When I Cry’, a great Wayland Holyfield/Bob McDill song which was a hit for last month’s Spotlight Artist, Janie Fricke and has also been recorded by Don Williams and Loretta Lynn.

He adds a soulful tinge to Jamey Johnson’s ‘She’s All Lady’, a married singer’s polite but firm rebuff to a potential groupie.

Thanks for coming out to see me
I hope you liked the show
Yeah, that’s right, I settled down about six months ago
No, she ain’t here tonight, she stayed at home
Yeah, it sure does get lonely out here on the road

By looking in your eyes, I can tell what’s on your mind
Yeah, I’d love to drive you home and’ hold your body close to mine
You’re everything a man could dream of, baby
Cause you’re all woman
But she’s all lady

I met her at a Baptist church in Tennessee
She was looking for someone
I was prayin’ it was me
No, she never thought she’d fall in love with a guitar man
Oh, it took some gettin’ used to
She does the best she can
No, she don’t like to stay at home alone
No, I don’t need your number
She’s probably waitin’ by the phone…

No, it ain’t you, Lord knows you’re a sight
Yeah, I probably could
But I could never make believe it’s right
I’d rather be alone, and I know that sounds crazy
‘Cause you’re all woman
But she’s all lady
You’re all woman, but she’s my lady

The album’s title comes from a briskly delivered version of Alan Jackson’s early single ‘Blue Blooded Woman’, which opens the album. Loaded with fiddle, this is a strong cut. Darryl Worley’s minor hit ‘Tennessee River Run’ is bright and pleasant. ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’ is a bit more well worn; Mizzell’s warm vocal sells it convincingly, but gets a little overblown towards the end.

Also on the less successful side, John Denver’s ‘Love Is Everywhere’ is forgettable, while ‘Two Ways To Fall’ once recorded by Garth Brooks sideman Ty England is quite a good song but suffers from dubious production choices with the first couple of lines horribly muffled and echoey.

Mizzell was already a reasonably well established star on the Irish country scene by this point, and in 2009 he acted as mentor to Lisa McHugh, another of the artists we are spotlighting this month, on a TV talent show. She guests here on a duet of the Randy Travis hit ‘I Told You So’; this is quite nicely sung but feels inessential. The same goes for ‘I Swear’; Mizzell sings with emotion but the arrangement feels a bit dated.

Overall I was very pleasantly surprised by this album. Mizzell has a strong voice and interprets the songs well; it’s just a shame that there was not more original material available.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Randy Rogers Band – ‘Nothing Shines Like Neon’

41c2t4yC8TL._SS280After a decade on the dark side chasing mainstream success, The Randy Rogers Band has returned to its indie roots with Nothing Shines Like Neon, their first album in nearly three years. In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I’m not familiar with the band’s back catalog, although I did thoroughly enjoy Randy Rogers’ side project with Wade Bowen (Hold My Beer, Vol. 1), which was reviewed by Occasional Hope last year. Though not as traditional as Hold My Beer, Neon is reportedly more rootsy than any of the Band’s four releases for Mercury and MCA, which ought to please fans who had been complaining that the band had lost its edge during its tenure in Nashville.

One of the problems with music that falls under the Americana/alt-country Red Dirt umbrella is that much of it really isn’t country and much of it is a wasteland of non-commercial material sung by those with vocals that are too rough to have any kind of mass appeal. There is always some wheat among the chaff, though it can often be difficult to separate the two. The effort is worth it, though, when an album like this one comes along. Produced by Buddy Cannon, it’s more polished than I expected. The most surprising thing about it is that 10 or 15 years ago it would have been solidly within the realm of the mainstream, though it would definitely be out of place on today’s radio next to the Sam Hunts and Jason Aldeans.

Randy Rogers co-wrote seven of the album’s tracks, two of them with producer Cannon, but the album’s best cuts are the ones contributed by outside songwriters, starting with the opening track, the fiddle-led “San Antone” written by Keith Gattis. I particularly enjoyed “Things I Need to Quit”, which follows the tried-and-true theme of comparing an ex-lover to bad habits that need to be broken, in the vein of Patty Loveless’ “A Thousand Times a Day”. The mid-tempo “Old Moon New”, a Rogers co-write with Lee Thomas Miller and Wendell Mobley, sounds like something Collin Raye might have released early in his career.

The album’s best track is “Look Out Yonder”, which features beautiful harmonies by Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski. Jamey Johnson joins the band on “Actin’ Crazy”, a number about the morning after a night of tying one on, and fellow Texan Jerry Jeff Walker joins in on “Takin’ It As It Comes”, a party number that probably works better live in concert than it does on record.

The album’s weaker moments come when the band tries to be too middle-of-the-road; “Rain and the Radio”, “Neon Blues” and “Tequila Eyes” (a Cannon and Rogers collaboration with Dean Dillon) all fall into this trap. It was a little surprising to find songs like these on a Texas indie release. Perhaps the band hasn’t fully freed itself of Nashville’s shackles. Nevertheless, Nothing Shines Like Neon is a solid effort that refugees from bro-country and radio’s other atrocities are sure to enjoy.

Grade: A-

Christmas Rewind: Collin Raye – ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’

Week ending 2/21/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

tgsheppard02-280x3361955 (Sales): Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

1955 (Jukebox): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

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

1975: Devil In The Bottle – T.G. Sheppard (Melodyland)

1985: Make My Life With You — The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)

1995: My Kind Of Girl — Collin Raye (Epic)

2005: Bless The Broken Road — Rascal Flatts (Lyric Street)

2015: Take Your Time — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): I See You — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

Spotlight Artist: Lee Roy Parnell

lee-roy-parnell_2011_13049617483975.pngHe made a name for himself with vocal stylings similar in tone to Ronnie Dunn. But it was the brief mainstream acceptance of his bluesy Texas country sound that cements the legacy of Lee Roy Parnell.

Parnell was born December 21, 1956 in Abilene, Texas but raised on his family’s ranch in Stephenville. His father toured as part of teenage Bob Willis’ traveling medicine shows. Parnell would have his first public performance on Wills’ radio show at six-years-old, and play both drums and guitar in a local band as a young adult. He joined the Austin music scene in 1974, while he was also a member of Kinky Freedman’s Texas Jewboys.

Parnell would work the Austin music scene for more than a decade, playing clubs, sharpening his skills on the slide guitar, and holding down a radio show. He relocated to Nashville in 1987 where he scored a publishing deal, regular gig at the Bluebird Café, and a record contract with Arista Nashville within a two-year span.

His eponymous album came in 1990, along with three singles that failed to crack the top 40. A fourth single, “The Rock,” that led his sophomore set Love Without Mercy, did slightly better peaking at #50. His breakthrough would finally come when upbeat rocker “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am” peaked at #2 in 1992. His string of hits continued for the next four years, where he would peak at #2 twice more (with “Tender Moment” in 1993 and “A Little Bit of You” in 1995) and see four more singles hit the top 10.

In addition to his own hit singles, Parnell would come to be known for notable contributions as both a songwriter and musician. He wrote Pirates of the Mississippi’s 1992 top 40 hit “Too Much” as well as Collin Raye’s 1993 top 10 “That’s My Story.”

In 1994, Parnell played slide guitar and appeared in the music video for Mary Chapin Carpenter’s sole chart-topper “Shut Up And Kiss Me.” That same year he formed Jedd Zeppelin, a supergroup consisting of himself, Steve Wariner, and Diamond Rio. They collaborated on a cover of “Working Man Blues” for the multi-artist Mama’s Hungry Eyes tribute album to Merle Haggard.

He scored his final top 15 hit “Givin’ Water to a Drowning Man” in 1996, while recording for Arista imprint Career Records. A nomination for the Best Country Instrumental Grammy came in 1997, and his final Arista album, a greatest hits collection entitled Hits & Highways Ahead was released in 1999.

Two more albums would follow after the turn of the century – Tell The Truth on the Vanguard label in 2001 and Back To The Well on Universal South in 2006. Neither would produce any hit singles. He was also credited for contributing slide guitar to David Lee Murphy’s low charting single “Inspiration” in 2004.

While Parnell has since retired from the music industry, his legacy of hits live on thanks to the fans who remember his contributions to the country music landscape more than twenty years ago. Please enjoy our retrospective as we revisit his discography for the month of September.

Album Review: Marty Raybon & Full Circle – ‘This, That & The Other’

this that and the otherMarty followed up the excellent When The Sand Runs Out with a gospel record, What I Came Here To Do, and then 2009 saw the release of This, That & The Other, a generous 14-track collection which he recorded with his live band, Full Circle. While it is predominantly bluegrass, it draws also from his country and Christian influences. It was self-released, and initially only available at a high price from Marty’s website, which meant it got limited attention at the time. Marty didn’t write any of the songs, and a number of them are familiar, but the arrangements and vocals give them an individuality which is worth hearing.

He opens the set with a nice bluegrass cover of Joe Diffie’s exuberant ‘Leavin’ On The Next thing Smokin’’. At the other end of the album is a similar arrangement on ‘Any Ol’ Stretch Of Blacktop’, which was an early Collin Raye album track. Shenandoah also did a version as a bonus track on their first Greatest Hits collection, but it was never a single.

The much-recorded Dickey Lee/Allen Reynolds song ‘Everybody’s Reaching (Out For Someone)’ is prettily done with a sincerely delivered vocal, and it works well in a bluegrass context.

Perhaps the most unexpected cover is the rapid-paced and tongue-in-cheek Bobby Braddock-penned George Jones hit ‘Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad As Hurting You)’. While Marty doesn’t sound as on-the-edge as Jones, who recorded it in his days of alcohol abuse, his performance is still very entertaining. The light but bright ‘Ain’t Love A Lot Like That’ was also previously cut by Jones.

His love of bluegrass gospel wasn’t forgotten here. ‘I Cast My Bread Upon The Water’ is a pleasant mid-paced song, but more memorable is the impressive acappella performance of ‘Didn’t It Rain, Rain, Children’.

On a more sober note, the downbeat ballad ‘Going Through Hell (To Get There)’ was written by Curly Putman, Dale Dodson and Billy Ryan. It is the thoughtful reflection of a man realising he is on the wrong path in life, beautifully sung and played, with some stately fiddle leading in:

I’m tired and weary
Got a heavy load
But I’ll find my way
With each prayer I pray
This road will lead
On a brighter day

Cause I’ve been lost out here
On this road to nowhere
I went through Hell to get there

On a similar theme, but handled more dramatically, ‘The Devil’s Ol’ Workshop’ is a great story song about succumbing to temptation and ending up with disaster, written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell. Red Lane’s ‘Blackjack County Chain’ (recorded in the past by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, and also by bluegrass legend Del McCoury) offers another dark story song, about a man trapped into a chain gang by a dirty sheriff, and taking a bloody revenge.

‘The Immigrant Song’ (written by Billy Lawson) is a feelgood story song about a first generation American who marries a Cherokee girl and becomes the narrator’s great-great-grandfather, it has a Celtic feel reflecting its protagonist’s Scottish roots. On a picky note: Ellis Island, mentioned in the opening lines, only opened in 1892, which seems a bit late for the other clues in the song, but the song really works emotionally.

Marty goes Cajun with the lively ‘Luzianna Man’; the lyrics are predictable but the arrangement infectious. The up-tempo ‘Timber (Stand Back And Watch It Fall)’ is pleasant with a nice arrangement and great vocals but not very memorable. ‘You Get Me’ is a contemporary country love song written by Wendell Mobley and Neil Thrasher; it isn’t a great song, but Marty’s intensely soulful vocal lifts it to a higher plane.

This may be Marty Raybon’s most overlooked album, but it is very good indeed, with a lot of variety, and excellent vocals throughout. I recommend it to all fans of the singer’s voice.

He has since gone on to release a number of fine albums, and is currently signed to Rural Rhythm Records.

Grade: A

Album Review: Collin Raye – ‘Still On the Line: The Songs Of Glen Campbell’

still-on-the-line

Collin Raye has been a fan of Glen Campbell since he was a child, and is now proud to call himself a friend. This tribute album is conceived to acknowledge both their friendship and Campbell’s influence on Raye, with Raye saying last year that he wanted to make it while his mentor, sow suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, is still able to appreciate it. The tracklist encompasses Campbell’s biggest hits, and Raye treats them respectfully. The production is tasteful and very much in the vein of the originals, while Raye’s voice is as good as it was in his own heyday and well-suited to the songs, particularly the ballads.

http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-615/1557460/collin-raye-to-release-glen-campbell-tribute-album-new-book

‘Wichita Lineman’ allows Raye’s voice to soar and is quite good with an emotionally invested vocal and heavily strung arrangement similar to the original. You can download this track free from Collin’s website http://www.collinraye.com ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ is also beautifully sung.

I enjoyed Raye’s take on ‘The Hand That Rocks The Cradle’, the tribute to mothers which Campbell recorded with Steve Wariner towards the end of his hitmaking career. I also enjoyed Raye’s covers of ‘Galveston’ and ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, the latter featuring Billy Dean. ‘Country Boy’ is pretty good, too.

The mid-tempo ‘Gentle On My Mind’ is pleasant but unmemorable, despite a cameo from Ricky Skaggs. Movie theme ‘True Grit’ is rather an odd choice, and while it is prettily sung is also rather dull. ‘Southern Nights’ sounds phoned in and the very pop arrangement has dated badly, making this the only track I actively disliked.

‘Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife’ is okay and quite suits Raye although it is one of the poppier tracks. The sunny ‘Try A Little Kindness’ is delivered with enthusiasm, while the gloomy ‘Where’s The Playground, Susie’ is rather effective.

This is a nicely produced, smoothly sung tribute, with little to dislike about it, and much to like, but it is not groundbreaking in any way. In many ways, that’s the point; this is a loving tribute for a friend and hero.

Grade: B

Album Review: Doug Stone – ‘Faith In Me, Faith In You’

faithinmeDoug Stone enjoyed a string of continuous Top 10 hits from 1990 through 1994 beginning with his debut single “I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)” and ending with “Little Houses”, a new single included on his Greatest Hits album released in the autumn of 1994. Shortly thereafter, Sony Music Entertainment transferred Doug from Epic Records to sister label Columbia, supposedly to allow Doug the opportunity to work with a new promotional team. The strategy did not have the intended effect, however. Faith In Me, Faith In You, his only album for Columbia, failed to produce any major hits and was his least successful album to date. The album’s commercial failure could be partially blamed on Stone’s health problems — he suffered a heart attack in December 1995 and a mild stroke in 1996, which severely curtailed his ability to promote the album. But it certainly did not help matters that the album’s material is less interesting than his previous work.

With Doug acting as co-producer along with James Stroud, Faith In Me, Faith In You has a more contemporary edge than Doug’s earlier and better work, but the music retains enough country elements to keep traditionalists satisfied. The title track, which served as the album’s first single, is a forgettable Trey Bruce and Dave Loggins composition, given a slight gospel feel by a choir singing in the background. It was Doug’s first single to peak outside the Top 10, landing at #13.

Ballads were always Doug’s strong point, but the best songs on this album are the uptempo ones. The ballad “Sometimes I Forget”, which was released as the second single is too saccharine and AC leaning for my taste. Radio wasn’t impressed, either, as it topped out at #41. The uptempo “Born In The Dark” , a slickly produced number reminiscent of Collin Raye’s “That’s My Story”, is much better. It’s the best of the album’s three singles and it became the collection’s biggest hit, peaking at #12. “Enough About Me (Let’s Talk About You)”, another uptempo tune, is also quite good and should have been released as a single. The midtempo “I Do All My Crying (On The Inside)”, the album’s most traditional song, is also quite good.

The remainder of the album, including three tunes that were either written or co-written by Doug, are not particularly memorable. Faith In Me, Faith In You while not a bad album by any means, is not up to par compared to Stone’s earlier albums for Epic. It was his first album to fail to achieve gold status, marking the beginning of his commercial decline. It was also his last album for Sony. It is not available digitally. It is not essential listening, but deeply discounted copies are readily available and it is certainly worth the modest cost.

Grade: B

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.

Album Review: Collin Raye – ‘His Love Remains’

hisloveremainsReligious albums, like Christmas albums, are often eschewed because they all tend to rely on largely the same set of songs. Collin Raye managed to avoid falling into this trap with 2011’s His Love Remains, a tastefully produced collection of traditional hymns and contemporary Christian songs that are largely a reflection of his Roman Catholic upbringing.

The opening track, the 18th century hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is the first of two duets with newcomer Andrea Thomas. Collin holds his own nicely with his much younger duet partner on this number, but his voice sounds strained on their second collaboration, the contemporary “How Beautiful”. His voice also sound a bit worn on the on the Eucharistic prayer, “O Lord, I Am Not Worthy”, a duet with Nashville-based Christian artist Marie Bellet. The rest of the album, however, finds him in good vocal form.

I’ve always been a huge fan of traditional Southern Gospel. While there are no Southern Gospel songs per se in this collection, my two favorite hymns “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace” are both represented. I’ve never heard a bad version of “How Great Thou Art”, though no one’s version can match The Statler Brothers’ definitive 1975 version. “Amazing Grace” is a bit lifeless in the beginning, but the production slowly builds with each verse to great effect. The third verse is one I’d never heard before:

Did Jesus bear his cross alone
And let the rest go free?
No, there’s a cross for all of us
And there’s one for you and me.

Not having been raised in the Southern Protestant tradition, I’ve rarely come across religious albums by country artists that contained songs I’d actually heard in church. By and large I haven’t had a problem with that, since I find most Catholic hymns to be rather boring. Raye, however, has included a handful of songs that are among my favorites, including “Here I Am, Lord”, “I Am The Bread Of Life”, and “Were You There?”, a spiritual of African-American origin that became popular in Catholic circles beginning in the 1970s. Also included is one of the Church of Rome’s most traditional and revered songs, “Ave Maria”, which has English language lyrics I’d never heard before, along with the traditional Latin. On “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” Raye avoids the temptation to use bombastic production and instead gives the hymn a simple but effective piano arrangement.

Among the more contemporary fare are two remakes from Collin’s major label days, “I Get What I Need”, and “Love Remains”, and the brand new “Undefeated”, all of which are worthwhile and enjoyable. I am somewhat less enthralled with the choir-led “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” which seems a bit out of place with the rest of the album.

Said to have been inspired by the loss of Collin’s young granddaughter, who died from a rare neurological disorder, His Love Remains will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who enjoy religious music and are looking for something a bit different from the usual fare will find it quite enjoyable.

Grade: A

Album Review: Collin Raye -‘Never Going Back’

never going backIn 2006 Collin released a Europe-only release to coincide with a tour; the US didn’t miss anything because Fearless is frankly pretty awful. Three years later, he teamed up with Saguaro Road, a Time Life imprint, and produced his most recent secular effort to date. Never Going Back is better than Fearless, but overall proved to be another disappointment with a few bright spots.

The screamed out rock of the title track, written by Collin with the album’s producer Michael A Curtis, is an over-produced, too-loud error of judgment, entirely unsuited to Collin’s strength as an artist. At five minutes, it is also far too long.

There are a couple of outright pop covers, neither successful. Pop classic ‘Without You’, performed as a duet with Christian music artist Susan Ashton has nicely understated verses but gets completely overblown on the chorus, both vocally and instrumentally. Collin’s version of ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ is just boring karaoke which seems pointless.

Collin’s voice is a bit strained at times on the over-produced mid-tempo ‘Mid Life Chrysler’, a barbed portrait of a middle aged man trying to hold on to his youth with the aid of hair dye and a hot car while jettisoning a longstanding marriage. It is the most interesting of four songs written by Neil Thrasher, this one with Wendell Mobley and Tony Martin. Thrasher and Mobley’s ‘You Get Me’ and ‘Take Care of You’ (written by Thrasher and Mobley with Aimee Mayo) are bland pop-leaning love songs. The sugary piano ballad ‘I Love You This Much’, written by Thrasher with Austin Cunningham, is not the Jimmy Wayne hit but uses the same “open arms” imagery and shift to Jesus in the last verse, to significantly less effect.

Things improve with Curtis’s beautiful ‘The Cross’, a touching story song about a widow celebrating her love at a roadside cross she visits to remember him, I presume at the site of his death:

I don’t come to mourn his dying
But to celebrate his life
Death can never stop love
Between a husband and a wife
There’s something about coming here
When I’m feeling lost
When I need to find my peace of mind
I just come to the cross

‘The Only Jesus’, written by Raye with Curtis, is also pretty good, with its inspiring story of behaving in a Christlike manner towards a drunk, because

I might be the only Jesus he will ever see

Oh, and who am I to judge him?
Don’t know what he’s been through
If I read the Bible right there’s only something God can do
If I can help him out of darkness
Let him see the light in me
I might be the only Jesus he will ever see

The heartfelt ‘She’s With Me’ was written by Collin about other people’s reactions to his disabled granddaughter.

‘Where It Leads’ is quite catchy Southern rock with bouncy piano, which works much better than most of Raye’s forays into rockier material, because there is both an actual melody and a lyric that tells a story. The soothingly melodic ‘Don’t Tell Me You’re Not In Love’ (also recorded by George Strait on The Road Less Travelled) is prettily done and one of the few tracks I thoroughly enjoyed, although I prefer Strait’s cut.

While not Collin’s best work, the good tracks are worth hearing. This is definitely a case of selective downloading.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Collin Raye – ‘The Only Jesus’

Album Review: Collin Raye – ‘Twenty Years And Change’

twenty years and changeAfter exiting Epic, Collin Raye signed to independent label Aspirion, and four years after the release of his last Epic album, he went back into the studio. Unfortunately, the result was his most pop-AC styled records to date, and also his worst.

The album opens with the bland moral advice of ‘I Know That’s Right’, written by Bob DiPiero, Rivers Rutherford and Tom Shapiro. It was released as a single but failed to chart, as did the up-tempo ‘Hurricane Jane’, which is frankly pretty bad.

Band member and co-producer Gene Lesage (whose tragic death was reported a couple of weeks ago) contributed several songs, the best of which is the melodic piano ballad ‘We’ll Be Alright’, which has a sweet, sincere delivery. ‘Heart’ is quite pleasant, while ‘Forgotten’ sounds nice enough but is a little dull.

Collin himself wrote a couple of songs. The drippy ballad ‘All I Can Do Is Love You’ is a co-write with pop/AC singer-songwriter Melissa Manchester; the title track, written by Collin on his own, is a story song with a melody reminiscent of a Beatles song.

Rory Feek’s Civil War story song ‘Josephine’ is dramatic, but perhaps a little over-emoted; Feek’s own more understated recent version ends up being much more effective and memorable.

There is one absolutely outstanding and unmistakably country track, ‘You’re Not Drinking Enough’. In this gem, the protagonist offers cynical advice to a lovelorn friend:

You keep telling yourself you can take it
You keep telling yourself that you’re tough
But you still want to hold her
So you must not be drinking enough

You’re not drinking enough
To wash away old memories
And there ain’t enough whiskey in Texas
To keep you from begging
“Please, please, please”

She passed on your passion
She stepped on your pride
It turns out you ain’t quite so tough
Cause you still want to hold her
You must not be drinking enough

It is a cover of a song originally recorded in 1984 by the Eagles’ Don Henley and a minor hit for Earl Thomas Conley in 1989 under the title ‘You Must Not Be Drinking Enough’; surprisingly it broke Conley’s hot streak of chart toppers but it is a great song which deserved better success. Colin’s version is very good, and by far the best track on this otherwise disappointing effort.

There are some better-known covers, including two pop hits for artists with country careers. The Bellamy Brothers’ ‘Let Your Love Flow’ works quite well but is even less country than the original, Conway Twitty’s pop hit ‘It’s Only Make Believe’ is a bit overwrought. AC ballad ‘The Search Is Over’ has nothing to do with country music (it is a cover of a hit for 80s rock band Survivor), but is one of the better tracks, thanks to a smooth vocal.

Although it is available cheaply, this is really not a worthwhile purchase. Download ‘Youre Not Drinking Enough’, and leave it at that.

Grade: D+

Classic Rewin: Collin Raye – ‘Little Rock’

Album Review: Collin Raye – ‘Tracks’

tracksCollin Raye was one of country music’s hottest male singers during the 1990s but by the end of the decade his career had begun to lose momentum. Though 1998’s The Walls Came Down managed to produce three Top 10 singles, it sold only about half the number of copies of his previous albums, and was his first album not to earn platinum certification. In an effort to remain commercially viable, he changed musical directions and released Tracks, an album that is as uninspired as its title. Dann Huff was his new co-producer — which is never a good sign — and the album that resulted found Collin moving even further away from his country roots and further into R&B and mainstream pop.

The opening track, “She’s All That” is a retread of 1994’s “My Kind of Girl” and could just as easily been titled “Been There, Done That”. Radio programmers were unimpressed; when the track was released as the album’s third single, it topped out at #43. The second track “I Want To Be There” is a tedious R&B flavored number and the third track “Completely”, while slightly more country-sounding, is equally tiresome.

“Couldn’t Last A Moment” isn’t one of my favorite Collin Raye songs, but it’s one of the better songs in this collection. The spoken intro reminds me of one of Conway Twitty’s early 80s efforts. Released as a single in advance of the album, “Couldn’t Last A Moment” brought Raye into the Top 10 one final time, landing at #3. The uptempo and more country-sounding “A Long Way To Go” is a breath of fresh air and is by far the album’s best track.

Two of the album’s tracks — “Harder Cards” and “Water and Bridges” were co-produced by Paul Worley, and both were later covered by Kenny Rogers. “Harder Cards” is told from the point of view of a policeman who is dealing with the dregs of humanity, while “Water and Bridges” is the story of an unplanned pregnancy that ends with an abortion and the regret that lingers long afterward.

Aside from “The Gift”, which was a previously unreleased track on Collin’s 1997 hits compilation, none of his previous albums contained any duets. “Loving This Way”, a duet with soap star Bobbie Eakes, is a mainstream pop ballad. It’s a bit overproduced and not very country, but it’s not a bad song. It was more suited to adult contemporary radio, though it did not make the AC charts at all. It stalled at #50 on the country charts.

The album’s closing number “She’s Gonna Fly” is about an Alzheimer’s patient whose caregiver questions the Almighty’s motives. It’s meant to be inspirational but the it’s too saccharine for my taste.

Tracks did little to change Collin Raye’s declining commercial fortunes. It failed to earn gold status and marked the beginning of the end of his dominance on the singles charts. It is one of his poorer efforts and arguably his worst album. It is not essential listening but used copies are available very cheaply, so those who want to hear it can do so affordably.

Grade: C

Classic Rewind: Collin Raye – ‘I Get What I Need’

Classic Rewind: Collin Raye – ‘In This Life’

Album Review – Collin Raye – ‘I Think About You’

Rayethink1995 was a good year for Collin Raye. Coming off the success of Extremes, he released I Think About You in late August. Like its three predecessors, it received a platinum certification and retained John Hobbs as producer (Ed Seay and Paul Worley co-produced).

I Think About You was instrumental in shaping my country music identity as it was one of the first country projects I was exposed to as a kid, and remains my third favorite country album to this day (behind Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come On, Come On and Dixie Chicks Home). The hits from this project have a special quality I’ve never been able to duplicate with any other artists’ work.

Mark Alan Springer and Shane Smith co-wrote the #2 peaking lead single, “One Boy, One Girl,” a fantastically touching ballad centered around the full-circle love affair between a couple. The ending of the story is a bit predicable, but Raye gives the type of touching performance only he could bring to a ballad, and both Dan Digmore and Paul Franklin drench the number in gorgeous pedal steel.

Even better is “Not That Different,” Karen Taylor-Good and Joie Scott’s song about indifference that climbed to #3. I love how the song builds, starting out as a simple piano ballad and building to its drum-infused conclusion with the bridge. The lyric, both simple and brilliant, is fine testament to the powers of fate, and probably my favorite on the whole album:

She could hardly argue

With his pure and simple logic

But logic never could convince a heart

She had always dreamed of loving someone more exotic

And he just didn’t seem to fit the part

So she searched for greener pastures

But never could forget

What he whispered when she left

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