My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Connie Harrington

Occasional Hope’s top 10 singles of 2015

law 2015Country radio may be going from bad to worse with the arrival of the likes of the obviously non-country Sam Hunt, but there have been some superb singles released this year, particularly from female artists. A few of them have even made an impact on radio, proving there is still hope. Among the singles that just missed the cut for my top 10 were the charming first two singles from Kacey Musgraves’ second Mercury album – ‘Biscuits’ and ‘Dime Store Cowgirl’; Sunny Sweeney’s dead-marriage duet with Will Hoge, ‘My Bed’; and Chris Young’s sexy ‘I’m Comin’ Over’.

10. Jon Pardi – ‘Head Over Boots’
Sunny and catchy – this is country rock done exactly right. It’s currently working its way into the top 40.

9. Chris Stapleton‘Nobody To Blame’

Singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton’s unexpected triple victory at this year’s CMA Awards was the pleasantest surprise I’ve had at an awards ceremony in years. Showing why he deserved it, his November single release is an excellent song imbued with his bluesy soulful brand of country music.

burning house8. Cam – Burning House
I hear Camaron Ochs as more folky pop rather than a country singer at heart, but I’ve really liked her two 2015 singles, the upbeat ‘My Mistake’ (about embarking on a one night stand with no regrets), and the gentle melancholy of ‘Burning House’. The haunting melody makes this my favourite of the two, and for a change radio agrees with me, as this has proved to be her breakthrough, with the track at #11 on the country radio chart as of early November. Her debut album is due this month.

shut up and fish7. Maddie & Tae – ‘Shut Up And Fish’
An irresistibly catchy tune from the effervescent duo, which uses its comic trappings to dress up a serious message about sexual harassment.

6. Jason James‘I’ve Been Drinkin’ More’
Perhaps the most obscure of my top 10 singles is this solid barroom shuffle, which sounds like a forgotten county classic:

I’ve been drinkin’ more
Since you’ve been lovin’ me less

5. Jana Kramer – ‘I Got the Boy’
Disappointingly the album it heralded turned out to be otherwise terrible, but I still like Jana Kramer’s mature reflection on the passing of teenage romance, written by Connie Harrington, Tim Nichols and former child TV star Jamie Lynn Spears. Her vocal ability may not stand up to the other women who made my top 10 this year, but on this song at least, she has an appealing warmth. It was another genuine hit, and is still rising.

4. Trisha Yearwood‘I Remember You’
The second single from Trisha Yearwood’s 2014 mixture of hits and fine new songs, Prize Fighter, is an impeccable song, written by Canadians Kelly Archer, Ben Caver and Brad Rempel. My review said it was “as close to perfect as it gets”, and it is an exemplary example of understated subtlety in both the vocal and the production.

jamey johnson3. Jamey Johnson‘Alabama Pines’
Jamey Johnson has not been very forthcoming with new music even now that he has launched his own label. But he did share this single with us earlier this year, even initially allowing it to be downloaded free. A beautiful, steel laced melody, it looks back on his southern childhood and the dreams of a life in music who took him away.

the blade2. Ashley Monroe – ‘The Blade
For most of this year, the title track of Ashley’s latest album has been the song I’ve returned to over and over again. When I reviewed that set I called this a truly outstanding song, and my feelings have not changed. Written by Marc Beeson, Jamie Floyd and Allen Shamblin, produced by Vince Gill and Justin Niebank, and sung by the delicately vulnerable Ashley Monroe, this is a beautiful depiction of the pain of love which lasts longer on one side than the other:

That’s the risk you run when you love
When you love and you give it all you’ve got to give
Knowing all along there’s a chance
There’s a chance you’ll reach and they won’t
You’ll bleed and they don’t
For you, it’s over; for me, it’s not
I kept tryin’ and you just stopped
Now I know how you can sound so brave
Cause you caught it by the handle, baby
And I caught it by the blade

It wasn’t a hit of course – it was far too good for country radio: too country, too subtle, and too female.

1. Lee Ann Womack‘Chances Are’
I thought Ashley Monroe’s single was going to make #1 on my list until I heard late in October that Lee Ann Womack had issued the best song on her critically acclaimed 2014 album The Way I’m Livin’ as its third single. A world-wearied and desperately lonely soul still has hope for love and happiness:

Chances are I took the wrong turn
Every time I had a turn to take
And I guess I broke my own heart
Every chance I had a heart to break
And it seems I spent my whole life
Wishin’ on the same unlucky star
As I watch you ‘cross the barroom, I wonder
What my chances are

Well, I know you’ve been around
And you’ve seen what you needed to see
And at night when you’re dreamin’
You’re probably not dreamin’ ‘bout me
Oh, it’s safe to say I’ve stumbled
But I’ve managed to make it through this far
As I take one step and then another
I wonder what my chances are

I have watched the world go by
Hand in hand and wondered why
I’m still so alone
Could I lay down my foolish pride
Maybe finally find my heart a home

The band has started playing
A simple song I used to know
I take your hand and walk you out
Dance to the rhythm way down low
Every heart has got a story
Mine just has a few scars
But they could heal if you would hold me and tell me
What my chances are
Well, they could heal if you would hold me and tell me
What my chances are

I first heard this excellent song sung by its writer Hayes Carll a few years ago, but LAW’s version of this excellent Hayes Carll song is quite exquisitely beautiful: beautifully sung and interpreted like a masterclass in country music, and tastefully produced with lovely steel guitar dominating the mix. Her unexpected but well deserved nomination as the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year probably won’t gain her airplay for this stunning record, but it’s unmissable.

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Single Review: Jana Kramer – ‘I Got The Boy’

i got the boyI was thoroughly underwhelmed by actress Jana Kramer’s first foray into country music. But her latest single is much more like it.

While she isn’t the greatest of vocalists, she is perfectly adequate on this understated song, which she delivers convincingly with a throaty almost bluesy quality which reminds me a little of Julie Roberts or the early work of Faith Hill. The emotion of the song rings true. The tasteful production (thanks to Scott Hendricks) is as understated as the song is simply yet perfectly constructed (with the exception of slightly awkward scansion in the first verse).

On the surface about memories and a past relationship, this is really all about the experience of growing up. The protagonist reflects on a long-past, perhaps long-forgotten teenage romance when she sees the man he has grown into. There are no regrets or sense of loss for what has passed, as she compares the affectionate memories she has with the other woman’s present day experiences.

I got the first kiss
She’ll get the last
She’s got the future and I got the past
I got the class ring
She’s got the diamond and a wedding band
I got the boy
She got the man

It may be stretching the songwriters’ intentions a bit far to lay too much stress on this aspect, but it is interesting as part of the possible backlash against bro-country with its extended male adolescence, to see the comparison here between the young man as a teenage boy in a baseball cap, as so often sported by today’s male country stars well into their 30s (including Jana’s former fiance the dreadful Brantley Gilbert), and driving the ubiquitous pickup truck. The man in this song has laid these things aside as he grows up and commits to marriage. Can this be a complete coincidence?

The song was written by established songwriters Connie Harrington and Tim Nichols with Jamie Lynn Spears, another aspiring artist with an acting background. I really like both song and performance, and would be thrilled to see it do well. Of course it has several strikes against it as far as country radio is concerned – it’s sung by a woman, and one who is talking as an adult; it’s not loud or a party anthem, but the kind of song about real life which used to be at the heart of the genre; and it’s good. I hope it can beat those odds.

Listen to it here.

Grade: A

Album Review: Terri Clark – ‘Some Songs’

some songsI’ve always regarded Terri Clark as one of those performers whose material frequently fell short of her potential as a peformer. In her defense, radio only seemed to want up-tempo “attitude” type songs from her — something she admittedly did quite well from the very early days of her career. But her attempts to release more substantive material were not well received, and commercial concerns being what they are, she stuck with what worked for her. When she went the indie route five years ago, theoretically freeing her from major-label constraints, I thought we’d finally get a chance to hear the real Terri Clark, singing the types of songs that she really wanted to do, but most of her efforts since then have been disappointing.

Some Songs, her latest effort that was released earlier this month, sounds as though she hasn’t totally abandoned the idea of scoring radio hits, and the title track is currently at #20 on the Canadian charts. The album is a collection of mid-tempo songs, half of which were co-written by Terri. There are no fiddles and barely any steel guitar to be heard, although the banjo, the current “keep it country” instrument of choice, is used liberally throughout the album. The album is more soft rock than country, no doubt due to the influence of producer Michael Knox. To be fair, everything on Some Songs is far better than the garbage Knox regularly churns out with Jason Aldean, but if that isn’t being damned by faint praise, I don’t know what is.

The album is a collection of decent – with a few very good – songs that never quite becomes more than a sum of its parts. The production, though it could have been much worse, relies too much on electric and slide guitars, and tries too hard to be middle-of-the-road. It is Terri’s voice, which sounds as lovely as ever, that keeps the songs firmly rooted in country music. But by far, the album’s biggest flaw is its lack of variety; nearly all of the songs are mid-tempo or somewhere between mid- and up-tempo. It could have benefited tremendously from the inclusion of a couple of more ballads, which would have provided a much-needed change of pace.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t some good songs here, the best being “I Cheated On You”. Though the title sounds like it might be a tearful confession from an errant spouse, it is in fact, an up-tempo number written by Brent Anderson, Brandy Clark and Forrest Whitehead, which finds an unrepentant Clark gleefully informing her two-timing husband that she has just gotten even with him – the type of “attitude” song at which Terri still excels. The nostalgic “Bad Car”, another Brandy Clark co-write with Jason Saenz, is also quite good, and “Better With My Boots On”, which Terri wrote with Connie Harrington and Deric Ruttan, sounds like something she might have recorded back in her major label days. The rest of the songs are neither great nor terrible, buty they tend to bleed together, the type of songs that tend to play in the background and you don’t really remember them afterwards. Some Songs is by no means a bad album, but Clark can and has done better. I keep hoping that she has at least one more great album left in her but this one isn’t it.

Grade: B-

Album Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Lady & Gentlemen’

When LeAnn Rimes made her impressive debut aged just 13, she did so with a vintage song originally written for Patsy Cline. Her career subsequently veered popwards, with LeAnn often not seeming to be certain of her own musical identity. Most recently she has been producing solid pop-country, but her chart career has been overshadowed by a tangled personal life. So I was intrigued to hear that she might be returning to country classics – at least, until I heard the first single. I hated LeAnn’s manically speeded up and overwrought version of John Anderson’s hit ‘Swingin’, and was left gloomy about the album’s likely direction, despite Vince Gill being named as the producer. (He is in fact joined in that task on the bulk of the record by Justin Niebank, Darrell Brown (LeAnn’s regular co-writer) and John Hobbs, with Gill, Brown and Leann responsible for the arrangements). Happily, the end result is much better than I feared it might be, with the awful, misconceived assault on ‘Swingin’ the only track I really dislike.

There are a couple of other tracks which don’t quite work for me: a horn-accompanied and passionately sung ‘16 Tons’ sounds great if you don’t listen to the words, but is completely unconvincing as a working man’s anthem. Her reworking of producer Vince’s great ‘When I Call Your Name’ as a jazz-soul song wanders too far from the original melody and emotion for me, but is very accomplished in its way and will appeal to some.

Freddy Fender’s Tex-Mex ‘Wasted Days And Wasted Nights’ in contrast has a lovely retro, slightly loungy feel, with lovely phrasing and a small section sung in Spanish. I also enjoyed a new, mature version of her own first hit ‘Blue’, featuring Vince Gill’s side band the Time Jumpers. I enjoyed LeAnn’s enthusiastic take on Waylon’s ‘The Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line’, given a gender rewrite as ‘The Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line’. The Waylon/Willie hit ‘A Good Hearted Woman’ is speeded up a bit too much, but still quite enjoyable, expressed in the first person. John Conlee’s ‘Rose Colored Glasses’ is well sung but lacks the intensity of emotion of the original, although the production is more tasteful.

There are three outstanding tracks. While she cannot quite match George Jones on the hallowed ground of ‘He Stopped Loving her Today’, she gives a beautifully understated reading which works extremely well, with Vince adding harmony on the chorus. This is the one which best reveals LeAnn’s growth as an interpreter. A measured, emotional version of Haggard’s depiction of being trapped in an unhappy marriage where ‘I Can’t Be Myself’ is superb. LeAnn’s seductive and emotional plea to ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’ is almost as good.

Haggard’s ‘The Bottle Let Me Down’ (one of three afterthoughts produced by LeAnn with Darrell Brown) was a good addition to the tracklist. On first hearing I thought it paled in comparison to both the original and Emmylou Harris’s defiant cover, but over repeated listens, I have grown to appreciate the sense of defeat and regret in LeAnn’s version.

The other two are brand new songs, which have both been tried, and failed, as radio singles. They are out of place here, sounding much more contemporary, and they contradict the original conceit of the album, the idea that these were all “men’s songs” given a new interpretation by LeAnn. The aggressive Miranda Lambert style gender war of ‘Crazy Women’, written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Jessie Jo Dillon suffers from a cluttered modern production and rather limited melody, while the gentler but still contemporary ‘Give’, written by Jimmy Yeary and Connie Harrington has a well meaning message and is pleasant sounding but a little dull.

Interestingly, this is one of very few modern albums to get a vinyl release alongside CD and digital availability. Sales so far are reportedly low, which is a shame, because this is LeAnn’s best work for some time, and for me it fulfils for the first time the potential she had as a phenomenal teenager. Her vocals are great, and her sometimes muddy diction has also improved.

Grade: A-

Single Review: Terri Clark – ‘Girls Lie Too’

One of Terri’s biggest hit singles never appeared on a studio album, but was one of the new tracks included to persuade fans to purchase a Greatest Hits compilation in 2004. It can now also be downloaded individually. It was her second #1, but sadly her last really big hit single.

Answer songs have a long tradition in country music, but have fallen out of favor in the past 20 years. But at least thematically, this hit single was definitely an answer song to Tracy Byrd’s hilarious 2003 hit ‘The Truth About Men’ (written by Paul Overstreet, Rory Lee Feek and Tim Johnson), which revealed some of the white lies employed to keep gender relations on an even keel within a romantic relationship.

Written by Connie Harrington, Kelley Lovelace and Tim Nichols, this sardonic response putting the feminine point of view is a bit heavy-handed in comparison, and has a less interesting tune and rather loud production. Where the original didn’t take itself altogether seriously, but combined a self-deprecating sense of fun with a grain of truth which most men and women would recognise, this song feels as though it is trying a little too hard to prove a point. Terri’s energetic and committed vocal helps to sell the song, perhaps better than anyone else could have done, but despite being one of her biggest radio successes, it is not one of her best moments on record.

Byrd’s record recruited Blake Shelton, Andy Griggs and Montgomery Gentry to help out, and perhaps Terri’s song would have worked better with a similar playful chorus of female stars.

Grade: B

But the song at amazon.

Album Review: Terri Clark – ‘Pain To Kill’

Released in 2003, after the relatively disappointing commercial performance of Fearless, Pain To Kill marked a change in producer for Terri, with the recruitment of Byron Gallimore, perhaps the leading commercial country producer of the day. It looks as though the label was hedging its bets with regards to the direction of the album, with Gallimore working on half the album, and old standby Keith Stegall being brought back in for the remainder of the material. Byron Gallimore applied a fairly sophisticated pop-country sound to mainly outside songs, and successfully balances Terri’s voice with a radio-friendly sheen.

Keith Stegall, meanwhile, tackled the bulk of Terri’s own songs, with a sound more in keeping with her past work. Gallimore’s tracks front load the set listing (and provided all three of the singles), with most of the Stegall tracks relegated to the second half of the set. Throughout the album, Terri’s vocals sound great and very committed to the material, and there is an overarching theme of relationship troubles and moving on which helps give a cohesive feel to the set as a whole.

The contemporary sounding lead single, ‘I Just Wanna Be Mad’, written by Kelley Lovelace and Lee Thomas Miller, made a good start with radio, peaking at #2 in 2002. It is my favorite of the single choices from this album with its convincing and mature lyric about a couple married for seven years (when “some days it feels like 21”) and squabbling over the little things, while affirming the underlying strength of their relationship:

I think I’m right
I think you’re wrong
I’ll probably give in before long
Please don’t make me smile
I just wanna be mad for a while

The woman-on-the-verge-of-leaving whose story is conveyed in ‘Three Mississippi is less successful. While well sung, it’s a rather pop-leaning song written by Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges and Angelo, whose rather uninteresting tune and overdone production drains the emotion from the lyric. It was closer to a flop, only just making the top 30. The life-affirming ‘I Wanna Do It All’ is better, if not very memorable. It took Terri back to the upper reaches of the charts, peaking at #3.

The title track is a radio-friendly mid-tempo number written by Tom Shapiro and Steve Bogard, with a cheery approach to partying away the troubles of life. The very contemporary Matraca Berg/Randy Scruggs song ‘Working Girl’ (comparing an ordinary working woman’s life to glossy media images) was previously recorded by Loretta Lynn. It suits Terri better than it did Loretta, but is still one of my least favorite Terri Clark recordings.

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