My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Connie Smith

Classic Rewind: Connie Smith – ‘How Great Thou Art’

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Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘Last Man Standing’

While Willie Nelson isn’t the last of the great country music stars of the 1950s and 1960s (Roy Clark, Jan Howard, Stonewall Jackson, Connie Smith, Charley Pride and Bill Anderson are still around), the title still seems appropriate as Willie is one of the few still active, albeit less active than previously.

Last Man Standing is the 2018 release for Willie, containing original songs co-written by Willie with the album’s producer Buddy Cannon. Most of these songs were penned shortly after the release of last year’s Nelson release God’s Problem Child.

The album opens up with the title track, a song which poses the dilemma faced by the aging – we want to keep living but there are times when it seems that all of our friends are disappearing. This is a great song that country radio won’t play but which can be heard on Sirius XM and other sources.

I don’t wanna be the last man standing

Or wait a minute maybe I do

If you don’t mind I’ll start a new line

And decide after thinking it through

Go on in front if you’re in such a hurry

Like heaven ain’t waiting for you

I don’t wanna be the last man standing

On second thought maybe I do

 

It’s getting hard to watch my pals check out

Cuts like a wore out knife

One thing I learned about running the road

Is forever don’t apply to life

Waylon and Ray and Merle and old Harlan

Lived just as fast as me

I still got a lotta good friends left

And I wonder who the next will be

The next track is “Don’t Tell Noah”, a funky number somewhat difficult to characterize, but which reminds somewhat of the sort of lyrics that Mose Allison penned. This is not a religiously themed song.

I suppose all of us have been plagued with “Bad Breath” at one time or another, but as Willie notes “bad breath is better than no breath at all”. This song features the harmonica playing of Mickey Raphael. This song is about more of the problems associated with aging.

“Me and You” reflects the state of affairs that I think everyone experiences at one time or another. For most of us, after all it really comes down to one trusted companion.

Turn the sound down on my TV

I just can’t listen anymore

It’s like I’m in some foreign country

That I’ve never seen before

 

So come now here to think about it

What in the hell are we goin to do?

after all is said and all is done

It’s just me and you

 

It’s just me and you

And we are definitely outnumbered

There’s more of them than us

Just when you think you made a new friend

They throw you under the bus

So it’s just me and you

It’s just me and you

Willie slows down the tempo for the contemplative “Something You Get Through”. This song deals with the emotional effects of loss. Mike Johnson plays some lovely steel guitar on this track.

“Ready To Roar” kicks up the tempo for this western-swing flavored track. We’ve all been there – “It’s Friday and we’re ready to roar”.

“Heaven Is Closed” is Willie’s take on reasons to keep living after his girl has left him. It’s an odd perspective but rather appropriate anyway.

Heaven is closed and hell’s overcrowded

So I think I’ll just stay where I am

So many people, well it sure is lonely

But who even gives a damn?

I hear someone callin’, “Come in from the craziness”

But there ain’t nobody around

Heaven is closed and hell’s overcrowded

So I think I’ll just stay where I am

 

Heaven left for California on a midnight plane

Hell stayed behind so I wouldn’t be lonely

For reasons that’s hard to explain

Could it be hell is heaven and that heaven is hell

And each one are both the same thing?

Well I hope heaven finds what she’s lookin’ for

And that hell treats us both just the same

“I Ain’t Got No Nothin’ “ is a rollicking mid-tempo honky-tonk ballad that might as easily been played by Fats Domino, Bob Wills, or Amos Milburn with only slight changes of instrumentation.

  I got a dog, I got a cat

An I-phone and a hip-hop hat

But I ain’t got nothin’ ’cause you ain’t here with me

 

I got house, I got a barn

A big truck and a red Jaguar

But I ain’t got nothin’ ’cause you ain’t here with me

Willie remains in this mid-tempo honky-tonk mode with “She Made My Life” then shifts gears with “I’ll Try To Do Better Next Time”, a somewhat religiously themed slow song about trying to keep to the God’s path.

“Very Far To Crawl” closes out the album, a song about the end of a relationship and the desperation of someone looking to rekindle it. The instrumentation is very bluesy and I can see this song being picked up by blues performers, should they chance to hear the song.

 I knew that you had hurt me bad

The brokest heart I ever had

And I’m still right where you let me fall

So I don’t have very far to crawl

 

You kicked me right in the heart, babe

I shouldn’t even be here at all

Tryin’ hard to get back to you

I don’t have very far to crawl

In recent years Willie would release three or four albums per year and while those days are probably gone, what we have here is an excellent album, which found Willie (mostly) good voice, accompanied by a group of musicians who truly understand what Willie is all about

I would give the album as described above an A- ; however, the version of the album I have was purchased at the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain and contains three bonus cuts that add value to the album:

The Front Row – another Nelson & Cannon collaboration that I love

Who’ll Buy My Memories – a piano and acoustic guitar remake of an older Nelson tune

Summer of Roses / December Day – also piano and acoustic guitar, originally Willie’s RCA years

Album Review: Dawn Sears – ‘Dawn Sears’

With a secure livelihood as Vince Gill’s backing singer, and husband Kenny playing fiddle for Vince, Dawn recorded a self-released album in 2002. This is a pure country album, full of great songs superlatively sung. Listening to it makes one regret that Dawn had not enjoyed mainstream success.

A few country classics are included, There is a super version of honky tonk classic ‘A-11’. Connie Smith duets on an vibrant and assertive version of the Mel Tillis kissoff tune ‘Unmitigated Gall’. Amore obscure revival is ‘My Ears Should Burn (When Fools Are Talked About)’, a minor hit in the 60s for Claude Gray and written by Roger Miller. It is a great country shuffle about regretting cheating on an ex. A more recent cover is the wonderful gospel-tinged ‘Fit For A King’, written by Carl Jackson and Jim Rushing in high lonesome bluegrass style and recorded by several artists including Garth Brooks. Dawn’s stunning version is one of the finest readings and my favorite track here.

As far as I know all the other material was new. ‘No Place To Fall’ is a regretful ballad about a young widow scared for the future alone with her baby. The steel-dominated ‘The Lonely In Me’ is another beautiful song filled with sadness over a troubled relationship as the wife decides to leave her cheating husband.

‘Love In The Making’ is a pretty love song with a soothing melody. ‘Right Here In Heaven’ is a sophisticated loungy ballad about a happy marriage, beautifully sung. ‘Don’t Take Your Hands Of My Heart’, another love song, sounds like a Marty Robbins western ballad.

‘Barbeque On My Birthday’ is a lighthearted western swing which offers a nice change of pace.

In ‘Talk To Me’, Dawn appeals to a husband who is not interested any more. The closing track, ‘Sweet Memories’ is another outstanding ballad with some gorgeous steel courtesy of John Hughey.

This is an excellent album which I would strongly recommend to traditional country fans who appreciate great vocals.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Live in Branson MO, USA ‘

Back in 1993, Delta Music issued four albums in their Live in Branson MO, USA series. While I think the intent was to go farther, only albums on Johnny Paycheck, Faron Young, Connie Smith and Moe Bandy were ever released.

Live albums are always a bit of a gamble; some of them are quite good, others are a waste of material. Moe Bandy Live in Branson MO, USA is a pretty decent album; moreover, at the time it was issued it was the only live recording available of Moe as a solo artist (I believe that is still the case).

Moe is accompanied by the following musicians on this recording from June 26, 1992. The album was recorded at the Moe Bandy Americana Theatre, so which of these musicians were members, if any, of these were members of Moe’s road band, I cannot say:

Phil Coontz – leader & steel guitar
John Clark – fiddle, accordion, steel & acoustic guitar, mandolin
Scooter Hill – acoustic guitar, harmonica, keyboards & harmony vocals
John Parmenter – accordion, fiddle & harmony vocals
Kris Spencer – harmony vocals
Ed Synan – piano, synthesizer & harmony vocals
Shawn Tull – guitar & harmony vocals
Tony Walter – bass & harmony vocals
Terri Williams – vocals

Whatever the case, these musicians do a nice job of presenting Moe in a country context.

The album opens with “Another Day, Another Dollar”, the Wynn Stewart classic which is used to give the band a chance to show off. Moe sings the first verse and the chorus.

Next up is Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon” which hit #21 for Moe in 1982. The song was long familiar to audiences through the Ian & Sylvia, Judy Collins and Chris LeDoux recordings (plus it was an album track on countless albums by other artists). Suzy Bogguss would have a slightly bigger hit with the song a few years later.

“Hey Joe” was written by Boudleaux Bryant and was initially a hit for Carl Smith, the father of Carlene Carter and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Carl took the song to #1 for eight weeks in 1953, the first of many #1 records written by Boudleaux Bryant. Moe &Joe (Stampley) reached the top ten with the song in 1981. This version is an up-tempo straight ahead version that I like better than the Moe & Joe duet.

“It’s A Cheating Situation” written by Curly Putman and Sonny Throckmorton, was one of Moe’s two #1 singles (Record World & Canada RPM). Terri Williams fills the Janie Fricke role here – she’s not as accomplished a singer as Fricke but acquits herself quite well.

“Rodeo Romeo” a typical Bandy song that reached #10 in 1981, is up next, followed by the first of two Moe Bandy compositions in “Many Mansions”, about a down and out homeless person’s faith in what is to follow:

Hope is a thing with feathers that perches on the soul
Said the homeless young man standing there strong against the cold
I reached into my pocket, said a penny for your poetry
But when I handed him a dollar bill he was shaking his head at me
And he said these words to me

In my Father’s house are many mansions
Though tonight some make their beds along the streets
Where I’ve seen lives still by winters bitter chill
In my Father’s house there’s a mansion for me

“The Horse You Can’t Ride” is an interesting song composed by Blake Mevis. Moe had this song on one of his albums, so it has not been widely heard but I think it is a compelling song. I think maybe Garth Brooks should hunt down this song and record it.

His boots were all beat up from the dust and the weather.
His face and hands were tanned like sun dried leather.
He rolled a Bull Durham reefer, as he thumbed my diesel down.
He said he had just blew Dallas on the first wind out of town.

He must have read my face, I didn’t think it was showing.
Anyway that old cow poke had a way of knowing.
He said judging from the way your broken up inside.
My guess would be that you just found that horse that you can’t ride.

We all find that horse that we can’t ride.
He kicks you in the heart and leaves you laying in your pride.
But every cowboy worth his salt knows its worth a little hide.
To fall and get back up on that horse that he can’t ride.

He said son now I have done an awful lot of living.
It’s too late for me to ever be forgiven.
The devil holds the mortgage on my saddle and my soul.
‘Cause I left heaven crying on a ranch in El Paso.

We split a pint or two by the time we got to Austin.
He told me how he loved it and then he told me how he lost it.
When nothing meets nowhere with nowhere.
I stopped and let him down.

He said son now this is where you are headed,
If you don’t turn this rig around..
We all find that horse that we can’t ride.
He kicks you in the heart and leaves you laying in your pride.
But every cowboy worth his salt knows it’s worth a little hide.
To fall and get back up on that horse that he can’t ride

This is followed by “Hank Williams You Wrote My Life”, a quintessential Moe Bandy song if ever there was one.

Moe Bandy didn’t seem to write a lot of songs but the ones he did right were quite good. “My Wish For You” is about a father’s wishes for his child’s well-being.

The album closes with three of Moe’s later, less hard-core country hits, plus an early hit. The later hits are “You Haven’t Heard The Last of Me” (#11 – 1987), “Till I’m Too Old To Grow Young” (#6 – 1987) and Moe’s last top ten hit “Americana” (#8 – 1988). Because Moe did not have an orchestra, these recordings have a more solidly country sound than the post-Columbia albums from which these songs were taken. Sandwiched in between these numbers is an early GRC hit, written by Lefty Frizzell, “Bandy The Rodeo Clown.”

The only real criticism I have of this album is that on a few songs, I would have preferred that Moe’s voice be a little more front and center in the mix. A few of the tracks, most notably “My Wish For You” have a quasi-acoustic setting.

This is a really fine and enjoyable album that shows off the range of Moe’s talents, and is the only exemplar of Moe’s live show of which I am aware.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Hank Williams You Wrote My Life’

In 1976 Moe’s contract was transferred to Columbia, but there were no immediate changes to his mursic, which remained uncompromisingly traditional honky-tonk, with prominent fiddle and steel, softened only by the Jordanaires’ backing vocals.

His first release on the new label, the title track of his new album, was his biggest hit to date, peaking at #2. Written by Paul Craft, the song is a wonderful tribute to the music of the great Hank Williams, with some of Hank’s song titles serving as the soundtrack to the protagonist’s own disastrous love life –

You wrote ‘My Cheating Heart’ about
A gal like my first ex-wife

The second single was less successful, only just creeping into the top 30, but is actually a very good Sanger D Shafer song in which the self-deluding protagonist has been stood up in ‘The Biggest Airport In The World’ (which at the time was Dallas-Fort Worth) by a fiancée he met only a week earlier – in a bar of course.

A couple of other Shafer songs also made the cut. ‘I’m The Honky Tonk On Loser’s Avenue’ anthropomorphises the barroom location of so many country songs and real life heartbreaks. ‘The Lady’s Got Pride’ is a strong song about the cheating protagonist’s unhappy stand-by-her-man wife.

‘You’ve Got A Lovin’ Comin’’, written by Roger Bowling, is a sincerely delivered love song to just such a long suffering wife from a man who has decided to change his ways.

In Bobby Bond’s ‘Hello Mary’ the protagonist calls home from the bar claiming he is engrossed in a ‘business deal’ (while actually gambling with friends). This is exactly the kind of tongue-in-cheek song Moe would later do with Joe Stampley, and it is very entertaining.

The up-tempo ‘Ring Around Rosie’s Finger’ was co-written by Connie Smith, and is about a player who has decided to settle down with his true love. ‘The Hard Times’, written by Edward Penney, Tom Benjamin and Hugh Moffatt, is a ballad about a couple dealing with financial difficulties but sustained by their love. ‘I Think I’ve Got A Love On For You’, written by Dallas Frazier and Larry Lee, is a pleasant but filler love song.

‘I’m Not As Strong As I Used To Be’ is about a heartbreak which has got only worse with time, and is another fine song.

Overall, this is a good and solidly country album. It has not been re-released digitally as such, but the tracks are all available on iTunes in rather poor quality.

Grade: A-

February Spotlight Artist: Moe Bandy

Marion “Moe” Bandy was born in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1944, and moved to San Antonio, Texas, at the age of six. His grandfather had known and worked with country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers on the Mississippi railways, while both Moe’s parents were musical, and his father had a part time country band. As a teenager, Moe’s main interest was rodeo riding, until he was 18 and had endured one broken bone too many, when he turned seriously to music. His brother Mike continued to ride competitively.

He had a day job in a sheet metal factory (working for his dad) while playing small local venues with his band, and getting some work on local TV. However, he did not make a real breakthrough until 1973, when Ray Baker, a music publisher and aspiring record producer, who had been impressed by demo recordings, encouraged him to move to Nashville. Moe’s musical partnership with Baker kickstarted both their careers, as Baker would go on to work with Connie Smith, Merle Haggard and a young George Strait.

Moe issued an independent single, ‘I Just Started Hating Cheating Songs Today’ on the Footprint label, and songs about drinking and cheating became something of a signature theme for him. His contract was then picked up by a slightly larger independent label, GRC, who released three albums and a number of hit singles. Country legend Lefty Frizzell was another to be impressed by the singer, and write a song especially for him (‘Bandy The Rodeo Clown’).

This success gave Moe a springboard to greater things, and he signed to Columbia Records in 1976. He enjoyed a string of hit singles, although perhaps surprisingly only one went all the way to #1. From 1979 he also had a side project as a largely comic duo with labelmate Joe Stampley. He also had individual duet hits with Janie Fricke and the underrated Becky Hobbs.
In the 1980s Moe’s hardcore traditional style relaxed a little. Declining sales saw Columbia drop him in 1985 after nine years on the label, and a shortlived deal with MCA saw him chart again but failed to revive his career significantly. A couple of albums on Curb were the end of his commercial streak, but he was one of the artists to see the appeal of his own permanent show at Branson, Missouri.

In recent years he has been touring with Gene Watson, and he has just released an autobiography, Lucky Me. https://moebandybook.com/
We hope you enjoy our coverage of Moe Bandy’s music this month.

Classic Rewind: Connie Smith – ‘Clinging To A Saving Hand’

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Hello Darlin’

Note: I never owned this album on vinyl so I am working off a CD released on MCA Special Products in 1991, The songs are the same as on the initial vinyl release but the sequence of the songs is different on the CD.

Issued in June 1970, Hello Darlin’ was the ninth solo studio album released by Conway Twitty on Decca. The album was Conway’s first #1 country album and was eventually certified “Gold”. It also reached #65 on Billboard’s all genres chart, the highest that any of Conway’s country albums would reach, although reporting of country albums on the all-genres chart was very suspect and country albums were frequently under-reported by record shop personnel.

The CD opens with the Felice & Boudreaux Bryant classic “Rocky Top”. At the time, “Rocky Top” was a fairly new song that had not been covered to death. The Osborne Brothers had a hit with the song in 1968 and the combination of Doug Dillard, Gene Clark and Donna Washburn had a really nice version of the song on a Dillard & Clark album from that same year. Conway’s version has a banjo on it with what is otherwise an up-tempo Nashville production. Needless to say, Conway sings the song very well although he changes the words very slightly to accommodate his own phrasing.

Next up is “I’ll Get Over Losing You” a song written by Conway, a somewhat generic ballad about lost love. As always Conway sings it well, making for pleasant listening.

Conway also penned “Up Comes The Bottle” a mid-tempo song about the effects of alcohol. It’s a good song, well sung by Conway

Up comes the bottle and down goes the man

I can’t help him but I can understand

When up comes the bottle

And down, down, down, goes the man.

 

You may find him anywhere there’s heartache and despair

With loneliness so heavy you can feel it in the air

And the only thing that matters is the drink in his hand

Then up comes the bottle

And down, down, down, goes the man.

Bill Anderson wrote “You and Your Sweet Love”, which charted for Connie Smith in 1969, While I prefer Connie’s version, it would have made a good Conway Twitty single, one of many such songs stranded as album tracks on the early Conway Twitty albums. I seem to recall that Connie Smith wrote the liner notes for the vinyl album’s back cover.

The self-penned “Hello Darlin’” is the song for which Conway is best remembered, although “It’s Only Make Believe” was a huge pop hit in 1958 and by far his biggest seller. “Hello Darlin’“ reached #1 and stayed there for four weeks. The song is about a man who runs into an old flame, reigniting old feelings in the process. This was the only single released from the album.

 Hello darlin’

Nice to see you

It’s been a long time

You’re just as lovely

As you used to be

 

How’s your new love

Are you happy?

Hope you’re doin’ fine

Just to know means so much to me

 

What’s that darlin’

How am I doin’?

I’m doin’ alright

Except I can’t sleep

I cry all night ’til dawn

 

What I’m tryin’ to say is

I love you and I miss you

And I’m so sorry

That I did you wrong

Conway would revisit the theme with his next single “Fifteen Years Ago”. I saw Conway in concert several times before this song was released and several times after. From 1971 onward, this was his opening number and “It’s Only Make Believe” his closing number, perfect bookends for a great show.

“Rose” (not to be mistaken for the maudlin Amanda McBroom composition “The Rose” that Bette Midler would record later and Conway would cover) was written by L.E. White, a staff writer for Conway’s publishing company. This song is a ballad about a brother whose sister has strayed off-track in life.

“Reuben James” was a top thirty pop hit for Kenny Rogers and The First Edition (it went top ten in Canada, New Zealand and Australia) that was covered by a large number of American country artists. This is a nice mid-tempo track.

Bill Anderson also wrote “I Never Once Stopped Loving You”, which reached #5 for Connie Smith in 1970, Again, I prefer Connie’s version, but Conway does a nice job with this ballad

It is difficult to find a country album of the late 1960s-early 1970s that does not contain a Dallas Frazier composition. This album features “Will You Visit Me On Sundays” which was a top twenty single for Charlie Louvin in 1968, and the title track of a 1970 George Jones album. I can’t say that Conway’s version is better than Charlie Louvin or George Jones (the lyric seems perfect for Charlie’s weathered voice) but this would have made a good Conway Twitty single.

 Just outside these prison bars

The hanging tree is waitin’

At sunrise I’ll meet darkness

And death will say hello

Darling, touch your lips to mine

And tell me you love me

Promise me again before you go

 

Will you visit me on Sundays?

Will you bring me pretty flowers?

Will your big blue eyes be misty?

Will you brush away a tear?

Fred Rose write the classic “Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain”, a song that both Hank Williams and Rof Acuff had recorded. Since Willie Nelson had yet to record this song (Willie’s version would be released in 1975), this was not a cover of somebody else’s hit single, but simply case of Conway going “deep catalog” in finding a song that he liked. Conway’s version is not the sparse recording that Willie released but a normal Owen Bradley production applied to a classic Fred Rose composition from the 1940s.

The album closes with “I’m So Used To Loving You”, the fourth of Conway’s own compositions on the album. This is a good song that somebody somewhere should have released as a single.

I’m so used to loving you sweetheart

You’re on my mind each minute we’re apart

And I love you more each day that we go through

You’re my life and I’ll live it loving you

 

I’m so used to loving you it seems

I can’t stand the thought of losing you not even in my dream

Hold me close and tell me what I’d do without you

I couldn’t take it, I’m so used to loving you

Conway Twitty was a good and prolific songwriter who would use his own compositions on his albums, but, unlike some singer-songwriters, only if they were good songs. Through this album, the highest number of Conway Twitty and/or Mickey Jaco compositions on an album was four. There would be one future album in which he wrote eight of the ten songs (there must be a story behind this since it is a complete outlier) and several on which he wrote one or none of the songs

None of the Conway Twitty compositions that I’ve ever heard were duds, and many of them fell in the very good-to-great category

This album is a solid A with solid country production throughout

Album Review: Conway Twitty Sings

Conway Twitty’s first country album was released by Decca in 1966. It shared its title with his first rock-and-roll album that had come out seven years earlier. Unlike other rock-and-roll artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, none of Conway’s rock records had crossed over to the country charts. Although he had grown up listening to country and professed that it was his first musical love, he was initially viewed by many in the country music community with skepticism and suspicion. Later in his career he would introduce influences from pop and R&B into his music, but at this early stage he and producer Owen Bradley bent over backwards to establish his country credibility. This is a hardcore, steel guitar drenched country album from start to finish, that largely eschews the Nashville Sound trappings that were prevalent in the 60s. The vocal choruses are kept to a minimum. Stylistically, the album reminds me of the music that Connie Smith and Charley Pride were making at the time over at RCA.

Conway Twitty Sings contains Conway’s first charted country hit, “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, written by Liz Anderson. A mid tempo number with a rich melody and plenty of pedal steel, this would probably have been a bigger hit had it been released a few years later. It charted at a modest #18, but that was enough to give Conway a toehold on the country market. There were no further singles released from the album and it would be another two years and five more singles before Conway reached the Top 20 again (with 1968’s “The Image of Me”, which would peak at #5).

The rest of the album follows the standard 1960s practice of covering other artists’ recent hits. The Gordon Lightfoot-penned “Ribbon of Darkness” had been a #1 hit a year earlier for Marty Robbins — and would be a hit again in 1969 for Connie Smith. Twitty’s version is too reminiscent of the original Robbins recording; even some of Conway’s enunciations sound like he was channeling Marty. I was a little disappointed in this one; nor did I care for his take on the Johnny Horton (and 20 years later, Dwight Yoakam) hit “Honky Tonk Man”. One would think that this rockabilly number — the only one of its kind on the album — would be tailor-made for Conway Twitty, but this version just doesn’t work.

The rest of the album, however, is stellar and his versions of these songs are all at least equal to the original artists’ renditions — from the Curly Putman-penned Porter Wagoner hit “Green, Green Grass of Home” and Bill Anderson’s “Tip of My Fingers” to “Truck Driven’ Man” which had been a hit for Terry Fell in 1954. A young Buck Owens had sung harmony on the Fell recording and Buck later went on to record “Together Forever”, which Conway also covers on this album.

My favorite track is the country weeper “I’ll Have Another Cup of Coffee (Then I’ll Go)”, in which the protagonist is trying to prolong a visit with his soon to be ex-wife and children. I wasn’t previously familiar with the one but it was a Top 5 hit for Claude Gray in 1961.

Conway Twitty Sings is not one Twitty’s best remembered works, nor is it essential listening. It provides only a glimpse of what Conway would go on to become, but the material is exceptionally strong and it’s always interesting to look back at a legend at the very beginning of his or her career. It is available on a 2-for-1 CD along with his next Decca LP Look Into My Teardrops. These sound like needle-drop recordings; the original masters may have been destroyed in the infamous Universal fire, but the sound quality, while not stellar, is quite adequate.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Connie Smith and Dawn Sears – ‘Apartment # 9’

Album Review: Joy Lynn White – ‘Wild Love’

51rfk9fctwlReleased in August 1994, Joy Lynn White’s second album for Columbia basically tanked, not charting at all. Moreover, only one of the two singles released charted at all with the title track reaching #73. To this very day, I remain mystified as to why this album was not her breakthrough to commercial success.

The album opens with “Tonight The Heartache’s On Me”, a song the Dixie Chicks would take to #6 Country/ #46 Pop in 1999.  Composed by Mary Francis, Johnny MacRae and Bob Morrison, I think Joy Lynn gives the song its definitive reading.

Next up is “Bad Loser”, a Bill Lloyd – Pam Tillis tough girl composition that I don’t think Pam ever recorded. Joy Lynn definitely nails the performance. The sing was released as the second single and failed to chart. Although I like the song, I don’t think I would have picked it as a single.

You’re bringing out a side of me I never knew was there
I took pride in cut’n dried goodbyes I never wasted a tear
Living in an easy come easy go world
Look what you’ve done to this girl

I’m a bad loser when love’s worth fightin’ for
I’m a bad loser don’t wanna ever see you walkin’ out my door
This love of ours took me by surprise it wasn’t part of my plans
Hey ain’t it easy sittin’ on the fence and ain’t it hard to make a stand
You took me farther than i’ve ever been
And baby now i’m playing to win

“Too Gone to Care”, written by John Scott Sherrill, is a tender ballad that demonstrates that Joy Lynn can handle more subtle, less rambunctious lyrics as well as she can handle the tougher songs

You see that big old yellow cab is always just a call away
And you can catch a Greyhound just about anytime of day
And all along the harbor ships are slipping out of town
Way out on the runway that’s where the rubber leaves the ground
She keeps thinking that it’s too hard to fake it
When it isn’t there

He’s gonna tell her he’ll be too late to make it
But she’ll be too gone to care
They got trains down at the station you know they run all night
They got tail lights on the highway that just keep fading out of sight   

 

The next song asks the eternal question “Why Can’t I Stop Loving You”. This is another John Scott Sherrill song ballad, but this song has very traditional country instrumentation (the prior song was a little MOR), but in any event, Ms White again nails the song:

I’ve put away all the pictures
All the old love letters too
There’s nothin’ left here to remind me
Why can’t I stop loving you?
Got back into circulation
Till I found somebody new
But there was always something missing
Why can’t I stop lovin’ you

“Whiskey, Lies and Tears” is the only song on this album that Joy Lynn had a hand in writing. The song is an up-tempo honky-tonker of the kind that Highway 101 sometimes did, and which has disappeared from country radio these days. Joy Lynn strikes me as a better vocalist than either Paulette Carlson or Nikki Nelson.  I wonder if Highway 101 ever considered Joy Lynn for the role. This song would have been my pick for the second single off the album.

The last time I said next time is the last time
And the last time came stumbling in last night
So now it’s time to say goodbye forever
To the whiskey your lies and my tears
Well I’ve almost gone insane…
All the whiskey your lies and my tears

“Wild Love” has bit of a heavy backbeat – I would describe it as more rock than country but it is well sung and melodically solid.   Then again, Dennis Linde always produced solid songs.

Pat McLaughlin wrote “Burning Memories”. This song is not to be mistaken with the Ray Price classic of bygone years, but it is sung well. I would describe the song as a sad country ballad.

“On And On And On” was written by “Whispering Bill” Anderson, one of country music’s great songsmiths. Joy Lynn gives a convincing and timeless interpretation to the song:

And this loneliness goes on and on and on
All the things come to an end
Yes that means we’ll never love again
The end of our love the end of my dreams
The end of almost everything it seems
Except these heartaches these teardrops
And this loneliness goes on and on and on

I’ve heard Bill Anderson sing the song, and Connie Smith recorded the song on her 1967 album Connie Smith Sings Bill Anderson. Connie’s version has the full ‘Nashville Sound’ trappings applied to it. Although Smith is the better vocalist, most modern listeners would probably prefer Joy Lynn White’s version.

The penultimate song is Jim Rushing’s “You Were Right From Your Side”. The song has interesting lyrics and Joy Lynn does a good job with it:

Starin’ out an airport window on a morning hard as stone
Watchin’ a big Delta Bird taxi through the dawn
A lonely chill sweeps over me as that smokin’ liner climbs
You were right from your side I was left from mine
Now you’re gone you’re flying high above the clouds
And I must walk my tears through this faceless crowd
And in the goodbye atmosphere I can hear a thousand times
You were right from your side I was left from mine

The album closes with “I Am Just a Rebel” written by the redoubtable trio of Bob DiPiero, Dennis Robbins and John Scott Sherrill. The trio wrote the song while they were in the band Billy Hill in the late 1980s. Confederate Railroad recorded the song later, but I prefer Joy Lynn’s version to any of the other versions

Being a hillbilly don’t get me down
I like it like that in fact you know it makes me proud
Yeah I’m American made by my ma and pa
Southern born by the grace of God
And I’m bound to be a rebel till they put me in the ground
I am just a rebel can’t you see
Don’t go looking for trouble it just finds me
When I’m a walking down the street people stop and stare
I know they’re talking about me they say there goes that rebel there

Wild Love  enabled Joy Lynn White to show all sides of her personality from tender to tough , from rocker to honky-tonker. With a crack band featuring Paul Worley and Richard Bennett (guitars); Dennis Linde (acoustic & electric guitar, clavinet); Dan Dugmore (electric & steel guitar); Tommy Spurlock (steel guitar); Dennis Robbins (slide guitar); Mike Henderson (guitar); Hank Singer, Blaine Sprouse (fiddles); and  featuring  Harry Stinson, Pat McLaughlin, Cindy Richardson, Hal Ketchum, Nanci Griffith, Suzi Ragsdale (background vocals), Wild Love should have propelled Joy Lynn White to the top.

It didn’t propel her career, but I still love the album and would grade it as a solid A, very close to an A+

Album Review: Jeannie Seely – ‘Written In Song’

61wcxdrzxl-_ss500Grand Ole Opry star Jeannie Seely, best known for her 1966 hit “Don’t Touch Me”, enjoyed only moderate success as a recording artist, but many do not realize that she is also an accomplished songwriter. Written In Song, her latest collection, was released last month. It consists of 14 tracks, all of which were written or co-written by Seely. Twelve of the songs were previously recorded by other artists, while two were newly written for this project. None of them, however, had ever been recorded by Jeannie herself, until now.

In the 1960s, Monument Records had marketed Seely as “Miss Country Soul”, which was likely in part an acknowledgement that her initial success had occurred outside the realm of country music. “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is”, the oldest song on this album had been a 1964 R&B hit for Irma Thomas. The other 13 selections are strictly country. At age 76, Seely’s voice is a little rough around the ages at times, but not enough to detract from my enjoyment of the album.

I have to admit that I wasn’t previously familiar with any of the songs on this album. “Leavin’ and Sayin’ Goodbye” was a Top 10 hit for Faron Young in 1971 and had also been recorded by The Time Jumpers. Kenny and Tessa Sears, widower and daughter of the late Dawn Sears, join Jeannie on this track, which is one of the album’s standouts. Aside from that, none of the others seem to have been major hits that are well remembered today. I suspect that most of them were album cuts that were never released as singles. Nevertheless, they are all worthy of another listen. My favorite tracks are “Senses”, a co-write with Glen Campbell that features local harmonies by Marty Stuart and Connie Smith, “Sometimes I Do”, which had been recorded by Ernest Tubb, and “Enough to Lie”, which had been recorded by Ray Price. On a number that had been recorded by her old duet partner Jack Greene, Seely promises “You don’t need me, but you will.”

The album’s two new numbers allow Jeannie’s sense of humor to shine through. “Who Needs You” casts her in the role of a jilted lover, who is comforting herself with alcohol and shopping — standard operating procedure for a country song. Then comes the song’s final verse which discloses that she’s been enjoying a little marijuana as well. It’s hardly a shocking revelation in this day in age — and as Seely points out in her spoken disclaimer before starting the final verse, it’s legal now in many states — but it sure wasn’t what I was expecting to hear on this album. The closing number is “We’re Still Hanging In There, Ain’t We Jessi”, which name drops the names of many famous women of country music — from Audrey Williams and Jan Howard to Tammy Wynette and Jessi Colter — who survived difficult relationships with some of country music’s famous men. Her own failed marriage to Hank Cochran is also referenced, all in an upbeat, tongue-in-cheek manner. Jan Howard and Jessi Colter both lend their voices to the track.

Written In Song is a surprisingly fresh-sounding album. It’s mostly traditional country, with plenty of fiddle and some fine steel guitar work, but it manages to avoid sounding retro despite the fact that many of the songs are fifty or more years old. I’m sure that many listeners, like me, will be hearing these songs for the first time. If it is something you don’t want to spend money on, it is available on streaming services such as Amazon Unlimited and is worth checking out.

Grade: B+

Best reissues of 2016

As always most of the best reissues come from labels outside the USA. In those cities that still have adequate recorded music stores (sadly a rare commodity these days) , it can be a real thrill finding a label you’ve not encountered before reissuing something you’ve spent decades seeking. It can be worthwhile to seek out the foreign affiliates of American labels for recordings that Capitol hasn’t reissued might be available on the UK or European EMI labels.

The fine folks at Jasmine Records (UK) can always be counted on for fine reissues:

SHUTTERS AND BOARD: THE CHALLENGER SINGLES 1957-1962 – Jerry Wallace
Jerry Wallace wasn’t really a country artist during this period, but he was a definite fellow traveler and a very popular artist and very fine singer. This thirty-two track collection includes all his early hits (except 1964’s “In The Misty Moonlight”) , such as million (and near million) sellers such as “How The Time Flies”, “Primrose Lane”, “There She Goes” and “Shutters And Boards”. From about 1965 forward his focus become more country and he would have two #1 county singles in the 1970s

THE NASHVILLE SOUND OF SUCCESS (1958-1962) – Various Artists
I will just list the tracks for this fine two disc set. This is a good primer on a very important era in country music

Disc 1 1958-1959
1 THE STORY OF MY LIFE – Marty Robbins
2 GREAT BALLS OF FIRE – Jerry Lee Lewis
3 BALLAD OF A TEENAGE QUEEN – Johnny Cash
4 OH LONESOME ME – Don Gibson
5 JUST MARRIED – Marty Robbins
6 ALL I HAVE TO DO IS DREAM – The Everly Brothers
7 GUESS THINGS HAPPEN THAT WAY – Johnny Cash
8 ALONE WITH YOU – Faron Young
9 BLUE BLUE DAY – Don Gibson
10 BIRD DOG – The Everly Brothers
11 CITY LIGHTS – Ray Price
12 BILLY BAYOU – Jim Reeves
13 DON’T TAKE YOUR GUNS TO TOWN – Johnny Cash
14 WHEN IT’S SPRINGTIME IN ALASKA (It’s Forty Below) – Johnny Horton
15 WHITE LIGHTNING – George Jones
16 THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS – Johnny Horton
17 WATERLOO – Stonewall Jackson
18 THE THREE BELLS – The Browns
19 COUNTRY GIRL – Faron Young
20 THE SAME OLD ME – Ray Price
21 EL PASO – Marty Robbins

Disc 2 1960-1962
1 HE’LL HAVE TO GO – Jim Reeves
2 PLEASE HELP ME, I’M FALLING – Hank Locklin
3 ALABAM – Cowboy Copas
4 WINGS OF A DOVE – Ferlin Husky
5 NORTH TO ALASKA – Johnny Horton
6 DON’T WORRY – Marty Robbins
7 HELLO WALLS – Faron Young
8 HEARTBREAK U.S.A – Kitty Wells
9 I FALL TO PIECES – Patsy Cline
10 TENDER YEARS – George Jones
11 WALK ON BY – Leroy Van Dyke
12 BIG BAD JOHN – Jimmy Dean
13 MISERY LOVES COMPANY – Porter Wagoner
14 THAT’S MY PA – Sheb Wooley
15 SHE’S GOT YOU – Patsy Cline
16 CHARLIE’S SHOES – Billy Walker
17 SHE THINKS I STILL CARE – George Jones
18 WOLVERTON MOUNTAIN – Claude King
19 DEVIL WOMAN – Marty Robbins
20 MAMA SANG A SONG – Bill Anderson
21 I’VE BEEN EVERYWHERE – Hank Snow
22 DON’T LET ME CROSS OVER – Carl Butler and Pearl
23 RUBY ANN – Marty Robbins
24 THE BALLAD OF JED CLAMPETT – Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys

Another UK label, Hux Records, continues to issue delightful product:

HERE’S FARON YOUNG/ OCCASIONAL WIFE – Faron Young
After mucking about with more pop-oriented material for a number of years, these two fine Mercury albums (from 1968 and 1970) find Faron making his way back to a more traditional country sound. It must have worked for the singles from these albums (“’She Went A Little Bit Farther”, “I Just Came To Get My Baby”, “Occasional Wife” and “If I Ever Fall In Love (With A Honky Tonk Girl)” all returned Faron to the top ten, a place he had largely missed in the few years prior.

THE BEST OF TOMMY OVERSTREET – Tommy Overstreet (released late 2015)
Tommy Overstreet had a fine run of country singles in the early 1970s, most of which are included in this albums twenty-six tracks, along with about eight album tracks. While Tommy never had a #1 Billboard Country song, four of his song (“Gwen-Congratulations”, “I Don’t Know You Any More”, “Ann, Don’t Go Running” and “Heaven Is My Woman’s Love”) made it to #1 on Cashbox and/or Record World. Tommy’s early seventies records sounded very different from most of what was playing on the radio at the time.

Hux only releases a few new items per year, but in recent years they have reissued albums by Johnny Rodriguez, Connie Smith, Reba McEntire, Ray Price and others.

http://huxrecords.com/news.htm

Humphead Records releases quit a few ‘needle drop’ collections which our friend Ken Johnson has kvetched. The bad news is that for some artists this is necessary since so many masters were destroyed in a warehouse fire some years ago. The good news is that Humphead has gotten much better at doing this and all of my recent acquisitions from them have been quite good, if not always perfect.

TRUCK DRIVIN’ SON OF A GUN – Dave Dudley
This two disc fifty-track collection is a Dave Dudley fan’s dream. Not only does this album give you all of the truck driving hits (caveat: “Six Days On The Road” and “Cowboy Boots” are the excellent Mercury remakes) but also key album tracks and hit singles that were not about truck driving. Only about half of these tracks have been available previously

BARROOMS & BEDROOMS : THE CAPITOL & MCA YEARS – Gene Watson
This two disc, fifty-track set covers Gene’s years with Capitol (1975-1980) and MCA 1980-1985. Most of the tracks have been available digitally over the years, but the MCA tracks have been missing in recent years. The collection is approximately 70% Capitol and 30% MCA. These are needle drop but the soiund ranges from very good to excellent. There are a few tracks from the MCA years that have not previously been available in a digital format, but most of the material will be familiar to Gene Watson fans. Of course, if you buy this collection and are not already a Gene Watson fan, you will become one very quickly. I would have preferred more tracks from the MCA years since most of the Capitol tracks have been readily available, but the price is right and the music is timeless.

The folks at Bear Family issued quite a few sets this year; however, very little of it was country and none of it essential. There is an upcoming set to be issued in 2017 that will cover the complete Starday and Mercury recordings of a very young George Jones. I’m sure it will be a terrific set so be on the lookout for it. We will discuss it next year.

Although not essential FERLIN HUSKY WITH GUESTS SIMON CRUM AND TERRY PRESTON is a nice single disc entry in Bear Family’s Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight series. Simon Crum, of course, was Ferlin’s comedic alter-ego, and Terry Preston was a stage name Ferlin used early in his career. The set contains thirty-two tracks of country bop, proto-rockabilly and comedy that should prove enjoyable to everyone, along with Bear’s usual impeccable digital re-mastering and an informative seventy-two page booklet.

I don’t know that the music available from Cracker Barrel can always be described as reissues since some of it has never been commercially available before.

During the last twelve months we reviewed WAYLON JENNINGS – THE LOST NASHVILLE SESSIONS

Our friend Ken Johnson helps keep the folks at Varese Vintage on the straight and narrow for their country releases

THAT WAS YESTERDAY – Donna Fargo
This sixteen track collection gathers up Donna’s singles with Warner Brothers as well as two interesting album tracks. Donna was with Warner Brothers from 1976 to 1980 and this set is a welcome addition to the catalogue.

FOR THE GOOD TIMES – Glen Campbell
This sixteen track collections covers the 1980s when Glen was still charting but no longer having huge hits. These tracks mostly were on Atlantic but there are a few religion tracks and a song from a movie soundtrack from other sources. For me the highlights are the two previously unreleased tracks “Please Come To Boston” (a hit for Dave Loggins) and the title track (a hit for Ray Price).

SILK PURSE – Linda Ronstadt
This is a straight reissue of Linda’s second Capitol album, a fairly country album that features her first major hit “Long Long Time” plus her takes on “Lovesick Blues”, “Mental Revenge” and “Life’s Railway To Heaven”

On the domestic front Sony Legacy issued a few worthy sets:

THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION – Roy Orbison
This twenty-six track set covers Roy’s work on several labels including a couple of Traveling Wilbury tracks. All of these songs have been (and remain) available elsewhere, but this is a nice starter set.

THE HIGHWAYMEN LIVE: AMERICAN OUTLAWS
This is a three disc set of live recordings featuring the Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. To be honest, I prefer the studio recordings, but this is a worthwhile set

Meanwhile Real Gone Music has become a real player in the classic country market:

LYNN ANDERSON: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION
This two disc set provides a nice overview of one of the leading ladies of country music during the mid-1960s through the mid- 1970s, covering her work for the Chart and Columbia labels. Although not quite as comprehensive on the Chart years as the out-of-print single disc on Renaissance, this is likely to be the best coverage of those years that you are likely to see anytime soon on disc. Forty tracks (15 Chart, 25 Columbia) with excellent sound, all the hits and some interesting near-hits.

PORTER WAGONER: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION
There is a lot of Porter Wagoner material available, although much of it is either remakes or gospel songs from the Gusto family of labels. For a comprehensive look at Porter’s career it has been necessary to purchase one of the pricey (albeit excellent) Bear Family collections.

This two disc set has forty tracks, twenty seven of Porter’s biggest hits and thirteen key album cuts and shows the evolution and growth of Porter as an artist. While there is some overlap with the Jasmine set released last year (The First Ten Years: 1952-1962) about 60% of this set covers from 1963 onward, making it a fine complement to the Jasmine collection. This is straight Porter – no duets.

DIAMOND RIO: THE DEFINITIVE HITS COLLECTION
I’m not a real big Diamond Rio fan, but I have quite a few of their albums. If someone is interested in sampling Diamond Rio’s run of hits during the 1990s, this would be my recommendation. Fabulous digital re-mastering with all the major Arista hits such as “Meet in the Middle,” “How Your Love Makes Me Feel,” “One More Day,” “Beautiful Mess,” and “I Believe,” plus favorites as “Love a Little Stronger,” “Walkin’ Away,” “You’re Gone,” and one of my favorites “Bubba Hyde”.

EACH ROAD I TAKE: THE 1970 LEE HAZELWOOD & CHET ATKINS SESSIONS – Eddy Arnold
This is one of the more interesting collections put out by Real Gone Music.

The first half of the disc is the album Love and Guitars, the last album produced for Eddy by Chet Atkins. Missing is the usual Nashville Sound production, replaced by an acoustic setting featuring Nashville super pickers guitarists including Jerry Reed, Harold Bradley, Ray Edenton, and Chet himself, playing on an array of contemporary county and pop material.

The second half features the album Standing Alone, produced (in Hollywood) by Lee Hazelwood and featuring Eddy’s take on modern Adult Contemporary writers such as John Stewart, Steve Young, Ben Peters, and Mac Davis.

The album closes with four singles heretofore not collected on a domestic CD. On this album Eddy is cast neither as the Tennessee Plowboy nor the Nashville Sound titan. If you’ve not heard this material before, you might not believe your ears !

TAKE THIS JOB AND SHOVE IT: THE DEFINITIVE JOHNNY PAYCHECK
MICKEY GILLEY: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION

These albums were reviewed earlier. Needless to say, both are is highly recommended

Real Gone Music does not specialize in country music – they just do a good job of it. If you are a fan of jazz, folk, rock or even classical, Real Gone Music has something right up your alley

There is a UK based label that also calls itself Real Gone Music but in order to avoid confusion I will refer to this label as RGM-MCPS. This label specializes (mostly) in four disc sets that compile some older albums, sometimes with miscellaneous singles. The sound quality has ranged from fair to very good depending upon the source material, and the packaging is very minimal – no booklet, basically the names of the albums and very little more. Usually these can be obtained from Amazon or other on-line vendors. These are bargain priced and can fill holes in your collection

SIX CLASSIC ALBUMS PLUS BONUS SINGLES – Kitty Wells
This collection collects six fifties and early singles albums plus some singles. Much Kitty Wells music is available but if you want to collect a bunch of it cheaply, this is the way to go

The British Charly label doesn’t specialize in country records but they have a fabulous catalogue of rockabilly, including some very fine collections of recordings of the legendary Memphis label Sun. For legal reasons they cannot market much of their product in the USA but their product can be found on various on-line vendors. Their reissue of Townes Van Zandt albums is excellent.

I suppose I should again say a few words about the Gusto family of labels. It appears that Gusto is in the process of redesigning their website but plenty of their product can be found from other on-line vendors
As I mentioned last year, with the exception of the numerous gospel recordings made by Porter Wagoner during the last decade of his life, there is little new or original material on the Gusto Family of labels. Essentially, everything Gusto does is a reissue, but they are forever recombining older recordings into new combinations.
Gusto has accumulated the catalogs of King, Starday, Dixie, Federal, Musicor, Step One, Little Darlin’ and various other small independent labels and made available the music of artists that are otherwise largely unavailable. Generally speaking, older material on Gusto’s labels is more likely to be original recordings. This is especially true of bluegrass recordings with artists such as Frank “Hylo” Brown, The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, Stringbean and Curley Fox being almost exclusive to Gusto.

After 1970, Gusto’s labels tended to be old age homes for over-the-hill country and R&B artists, and the recordings often were remakes of the artists’ hits of earlier days or a mixture of remakes of hits plus covers of other artists hits. These recordings range from inspired to tired and the value of the CDs can be excellent, from the fabulous boxed sets of Reno & Smiley, Mel Street and The Stanley Brothers, to wastes of plastic and oxides with numerous short eight and ten song collections.

To be fair, some of these eight and ten song collections can be worth having, if they represent the only recordings you can find by a particular artist you favor. Just looking at the letter “A” you can find the following: Roy Acuff, Bill Anderson, Lynn Anderson, Eddy Arnold, Leon Ashley, Ernie Ashworth, Chet Atkins and Gene Autry. If you have a favorite first or second tier country artist of the 1960s or 1970s, there is a good chance that Gusto has an album (or at least some tracks) on that artist.

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Take Me To Your World/I Don’t Wanna Play House’

take-me-to-your-worldReleased in January 1968, Take Me To Your World/ I Don’t Wanna Play House, was Tammy’s second solo album and represented another step forward in Tammy Wynette’s career, rising to #3 on the Country Albums chart. Not only that, but the two singles released from the album both rose to #1 giving Tammy her first two solo #1 records and her third overall #1 (her duet of “My Elusive Dreams” with David Houston reached #1 in 1967).

For me, the apogee of female country singers was reached in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While female singers may have achieved better chart penetration later, qualitative the major label crop of female singers was abundant and excellent with the likes of Connie Smith, Wilma Burgess, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Jean Shepard, Dottie West, Skeeter Davis, Lynn Anderson, Liz Anderson, Norma Jean, Rose Maddox, Jeanie Seely, Jeannie C Riley, Barbara Mandrell and Wanda Jackson being among the competition. There also were a host of second-tier artists on the major labels and many female artists on minor and independent labels. Within a few years the likes of Tanya Tucker and Barbara Fairchild would appear on the scene. The ghost of Patsy Cline was also on the scene.

While Tammy Wynette did not have the sheer vocal power of a Jean Shepard or Loretta Lynn, she did have the advantage of a record producer who was perfectly able to overcome Tammy’s vocal limitations and devise accompaniments to perfectly frame the essential teardrop in Tammy’s voice, and to write (when necessary) to showcase the voice and the production.

(As an aside, when I refer to the term “Nashville Sound”, I am referring to recordings where steel guitars and fiddles are accompanied (or sometimes replaced) by symphonic arrangements and choral accompaniments. The chief architects of this style were Chet Atkins at RCA, Owen Bradley at Decca, and Billy Sherrill at Epic. In Sherrill’s hands the arrangements were sometimes referred to as ‘country cocktails’. The style was very effective in covering up a singer’s lack of range, particularly in the higher registers.)

The album opens with “I Don’t Wanna Play House” a Billy Sherrill-Glen Sutton composition that won the 1968 Grammy for Best Female Country Performance. In the song, the narrator, a woman whose husband has left her, hears her daughter tell a neighbor boy that she doesn’t want to play house and the reason why she doesn’t want to play. This is a very compelling song:

Today I sat alone at the window
And I watched our little girl outside at play
With the little boy next door like so many times before
But something didn’t seem quite right today

So I went outside to see what they were doing
And then the teardrops made my eyes grow dim
‘Cause I heard him name a game and I hung my head in shame
When I heard our little girl say to him.

I don’t want to play house; I know it can’t be fun
I’ve watched mommy and daddy
And if that’s the way it’s done
I don’t want to play house; It makes my mommy cry
‘Cause when she played house
My daddy said good-bye.

Next up is “Jackson Ain’t A Very Big Town”, a minor hit for Norma Jean in 1967. Tammy does as nice job with the song.

“Broadminded” comes from the pen of Leona Williams and Jimmy Payne. At some point Leona would become one of Merle Haggard’s wives and would have some success on the country charts, although never as much as her talent would have warranted. The Leona Williams version of the songs is far superior to Tammy’s rendition, but if you’ve not heard Leona’s version you will likely like Tammy’s recording. At this point in her career Tammy really hadn’t become quite assertive enough to give this sassy up-tempo song the proper reading.

Broadminded, narrow minded man
Every night I catch you sleepin’ with a smile on your face
And a-callin’ names that I don’t even know
If it ain’t Carmel, Pat and Gracie
Aand drinkin’ down at Stacey’s
It’s making plans to see a girly show

Broadminded, I just don’t understand
A broadminded, narrow minded man

“Cry” was a big 1950s hit for male pop singer Johnnie Ray. Tammy gives it a straight ahead reading, but the song works better in the hands of someone with a bigger voice – both Lynn Anderson (#3 in 1972) and Crystal Gayle (#1 in 1986) would have big hits with the song in the upcoming years.

“The Phone Call”, written by Norris “Norro” Wilson, is just album filler, a phone call between a daughter and her mother, telling her mother her tale of woe about a man who mistreated her.

“Take Me To Your World”, a Glen Sutton-Billy Sherrill collaboration, is given the full Nashville Sound treatment by Sherrill. The song is an outstanding effort and showcases Tammy vocals perfectly.

If you can find it in your heart to just forgive
I’ll come back and live the way you’ve wanted me to live
All I want is just to be your girl
Please come and get me, and take me to your world

Take me to your world, away from bar rooms filled with smoke
Where I won’t have to serve a drink, or hear a dirty joke
All I want is just to be your girl

“(Or) Is It Love” was written by Buddy Ray. It too, is given the full Nashville Sound treatment, turning a piece of filler into a worthwhile effort. Harry Mills’ “Fuzzy Wuzzy Ego” is a song about a woman essentially talking her man off the ledge and into returning home. The production on this song is very country, including use of a dobro.

With one elbow on the bar you’re drinking double
Tryin’ hard to drown up my memories
And you’re tellin’ all your buddies all your troubles
Layin’ the blame smack upon me.

If you set that bottle down and while I listen
You lose your pain inside that hurts you so
Neither one of us is all to blame baby
It’s your foggy woggy, wishy washy, fuzzy wuzzy ego.

My vinyl album contains “It’s My Way” a song credited to Wayne Walker and Webb Pierce. It is a good song, but it does not appear on my digital version of the album.

Glen Sutton’s “Good” would have made a good single, a tale of a woman torn between good and bad, who simply cannot keep herself in line. The production is subdued Nashville Sound.

Now I’m back here in a barroom,
A waitress again.
The good world I’ve lived in,
Just came to an end.

For temptation comes easy
To a woman like me.
And regardless of my chances,
I know that I’ll never be.

Good like I used to be;
I guess it’s just not in me.
With all my heart how I wish I proved
I’ve been good like he wanted me.

“Ode To Billy Joe” is a cover of the Bobbie Gentry hit from a few years earlier. Tammy gives the song a satisfactory rendition, but she does not have the soulful Gothic feel of Gentry’s original.

“Soaking Wet” is the bonus track on my digital copy of the album, a straight ahead country treatment devoid of Nashville Sound trappings. I have no other information concerning this song.

At this point in Tammy’s career she and Billy Sherrill were still looking for that magic formula that would turn Tammy into a full-fledged star. Consequently this album features songs with the full Nashville Sound treatment, some songs with scaled back Nashville Sound treatments and a few straight ahead country arrangements.

While Tammy and Billy were still experimenting here, the very next album would answer all the questions and set the trajectory for subsequent albums.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Asleep at the Wheel – ‘Asleep at the Wheel’ (1974)

r-6847990-1427926933-1911-jpeg1974’s Asleep at the Wheel was the band’s second release and the first for Epic Records. It was also the first of a pair of eponymous albums; another album titled Asleep at the Wheel would be released about a decade later by MCA.

Produced by Norro Wilson, the album was almost completely out of step with mainstream country, and as such it did not sell particularly well. It did, however, produce the band’s first chart single, “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie”, which peaked at #69. But because it did not follow the the commercial trends of the day, it does not sound as dated as many of the albums released in that era. In fact, it is every bit as enjoyable today as it was over 40 year ago.

It is an eclectic collection of Western swing, straight country and 1940s-style jump blues. Two singles were released: “Don’t Ask Me Why (I’m Going to Texas)” written by Ray Benson, Leroy Preston and Kevin Farrell, and the aforementioned “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” which had been a big R&B hit in 1946 for Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five. Despite the inclusion of some fiddle, steel and honky-tonk piano, “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” doesn’t sound very country at all but it is very well done. “Don’t Ask Me Why” is more Bob Wills-style Western swing and is also quite well done.

“You and Me Instead”, another Kevin Farrell composition, is a more contemporary number with a 70s-style string section. It’s a different style than we typically expect from Asleep at the Wheel and I wonder why no one though to release this one as a single. I wouldn’t rank it among my favorites on the album but it seems like it would have had some mainstream appeal in 1974.

“Jumpin’ at the Woodside” is a Count Basie tune that still sounds like mainstream 1940s big band music, despite some excellent fiddle from the great Johnny Gimble, who played on seven of the album’s eleven tracks, including “Don’t Ask Me Why”.

If pressed to pick a favorite, I would probably choose “Last Letter”, which is sung beautifully by band member Chris O’Connell, who at times sounds a bit like Connie Smith. The song itself was written by Rex Griffin, who had a hit with it in 1937. It is a story told by a jilted spouse as she writes a suicide note to the spouse who abandoned her. Griffin wrote the song based on his own real-life experience. O’Connell takes the spotlight again on one other track, “Our Names Aren’t Mentioned (Together Anymore)”, which is performed as a duet with its writer Leroy Preston. Cindy Walker’s “Miss Molly” is another highlight.

Leroy Preston is not as good a vocalist as Ray Benson, but he sings lead adequately on four tracks, the best of which is “I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Someday”.

Asleep at the Wheel is an outstanding album from start to finish: the material is impeccable, and the musicians are excellent. The instrumental solos are as enjoyable as the vocals. I couldn’t find a single weak moment to criticize. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in Western swing — or swing music in general.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Woman of the World/To Make a Man’

516eAlwAOmLAs the 1960s drew to a close, Loretta released her final solo LP of the decade. Woman of the World/To Make a Man was comprised of the two hit singles that composed its title as well as songs penned by Loretta, the Wilburn Brothers and their songwriting staff, and of course, the usual covers of recent hits for other artists.

The album is also the beginning of a slight shift in Loretta’s musical style, away from the honky-tonk she’d sung for most of the decade, towards an ever so slightly more sophisticated but still very country sound. “Woman of the World (Leave My World Alone)”, which became her third #1 hit in April 1969, finds her in the familiar territory of confronting a romantic rival, albeit in a much less combative manner than we saw in “You Ain’t Woman Enough” or “Fist City”. The Loretta-penned “To Make a Man (Feel Like a Man)” is an upbeat number dispensing advice to the sisterhood on how to be a good wife. It’s very different from her usual fare up to that point, and the message is more in the vein of what we were used to hearing from Tammy Wynette. It reached #3, but it’s not one of her better remembered hits today.

“The Only Time I Hurt” is another Loretta original that I very much enjoyed, but “Big Sister, Little Sister”, which she co-wrote with Frances Heighton, can only be classified as a misstep. It is a maudlin number, weighed down by dated-sounding Nashville Sound choruses, which casts Loretta as the victim: an older sister who was raised to indulge her younger sibling’s wishes, and carries the habit into adulthood, going as far as to surrender her fiancé to sister.

I enjoyed most of the album’s remakes. “Johnny One Time”, which had been an adult contemporary hit for Brenda Lee and a minor country hit for Willie Nelson the year before, is a bit of a stretch for Loretta but she carries it off credibly. “If You Were Mine To Lose” had been the B-side to a Conway Twitty single. It was also recorded by Waylon Jennings, Carl Smith, and Connie Smith. Apparently no one ever had a hit with it, but it’s a very good song that suits Loretta nicely. She also does a very nice cover of Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again”. Her version of “Stand By Your Man” is not bad, but the production is much more scaled back than the treatment Billy Sherrill gave Tammy Wynette’s version. This is one case where less is not more, and to be fair, no one has or ever will sing that song the way Tammy did.

Woman of the World/To Make a Man allowed Loretta to not only wrap up the 1960s on a high note, it also set the stage for the next and most successful decade of her career. She was still about a year away from releasing her signature tune “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, which would be followed by such hits as “One’s On The Way”, “Rated X” and “Love Is The Foundation”. In 1972 she would become the Country Music Association’s first female Entertainer of the Year, and in 1980 she would be named Artist of the Decade for the 1970s by the Academy of Country Music. Woman of the World/To Make a Man was her segueway from honky-tonk singer to American icon, and it is well worth a listen.

Grade: A

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Blue Kentucky Girl’

51i+XrdZe0L._SS280By 1965, with three consecutive Top 5 hits under her belt, Loretta Lynn was on a hot streak and well on her way towards becoming country music’s next big female star. “Blue Kentucky Girl”, which was written by Johnny Mullins, who had also penned her breakthrough hit “Success”, didn’t fare quite as well on the charts but still finished at a very respectable #7. It’s one of my favorites of Loretta’s early recordings and is interesting today for a couple of reasons, aside from just being a very good song: the use of the banjo was quite unusual for the era, when the lush Nashville Sound was at its peak. It’s also notable because we are still seeing Loretta in the role of the downtrodden woman, who is pining for her man who has been lured away — at least temporarily — by the bright lights of the city. She would continue in this vein for just a little while longer, but soon the public would get to see a more assertive side of Loretta, beginning with 1966’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and continuing on with “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” and the following year’s “Fist City”.

She asserts herself just a little bit on “Night Girl”, a co-write with Teddy Wilburn, which is one of the album’s four Loretta-penned songs. This one casts her as girl from the wrong side of the tracks who has fallen for rich man, but not enough to sacrifice her pride. She knows he’s ashamed to be seen with her publicly and tells him on no uncertain terms that she’s not willing to partake in a clandestine relationship with him. The pair also wrote “Love’s Been Here and Gone”, a filler song about a dying relationship. Her solo composition “Farther to Go” is similarly unmemorable, although it contains some nice Hank Williams-ish steel guitar licks. The uptempo “Two Steps Forward”, another Loretta original, is quite good. This one finds her trying to work up the nerve — and not quite succeeding — in walking away from a bad relationship.

Like most country albums of the era, Blue Kentucky Girl relies heavily on remakes of other artists’ hits. Though some have been critical of this practice, it is important to remember why it was done. First and foremost, most major stars were releasing at least three albums a year. It would have been difficult to come up enough good original material to fill out that many albums. Covers had the advantage of being already familiar to record buyers, as well as the studio musicians, which meant that they had to spend little or no time learning the songs, which made them relatively inexpensive to record. Loretta does a beautiful job on Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” and Hank Locklin’s “Send Me The Pillow You Dream On”, both of which showcase her voice nicely. Harlan Howard’s “I Won’t Forget You” had been a monster hit for Jim Reeves the previous year, and shows that Loretta was more than capable of handling more polished material. She does an adequate job on George Jones’ “The Race Is On”, but doesn’t really leave her stamp on the song.

Barbara Mandrell once said in an interview that early in her career before she had enough of her own hits to fill out a show, she was advised only to perform hits sung by men, because audiences were bound to make too many comparisons of a woman singing another female artist’s song. Loretta’s cover of “Then and Only Then” illustrates this point nicely. Written by Bill Anderson, it was Connie Smith’s Top 5 follow-up to “Once a Day”. It’s not that Loretta’s version isn’t good – it is and if I’d never heard Connie Smith’s version it might actually be my favorite song on the album. But there is no escaping the fact that it doesn’t really sound much like a Loretta Lynn song and that it still sounds very much like a Connie Smith song, no matter who is singing it.

That being said, I’m not as opposed to covering other artists’ hits as many people are. I consider Blue Kentucky Girl to be Loretta’s strongest album up to that point and I highly recommend it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Songs From My Heart’

Loretta_Lynn-Songs_from_My_HeartLoretta Lynn’s third solo album, Songs From My Heart, was released on Decca Records in 1965. The twelve track record was produced by Owen Bradley.

“Happy Birthday (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year)” was the only single released. Lynn was pitched the song while performing in Canada, where she promptly put it on hold. The track was an instant success and peaked at #3.

She had a hand in composing two of the album’s tracks. “When Lonely Hits Your Heart” is a mid-tempo ballad with light, yet attractive, percussion. “It Just Looks That Way” is much the same but with some delightful riffs of steel guitar weaved throughout. “You Made Me What I Am” has solid piano and a strong lyric written by her husband Oliver Doolittle.

Songs From My Heart is also notable for cover versions of popular hits and tracks penned by notable songwriters. Lynn is foolish for tackling “Once a Day” after Connie Smith laid down the definitive version, but she copes with the track and vocal comparisons as best she can. She gives Don Gibson’s “Oh, Lonesome Me” a female spin, which works beautifully. “I Don’t Believe I’ll Fall in Love Today” is an excellent mid-tempo Harlan Howard number while “Half A Mind” showcases Roger Miller at his most straight-laced.

“You’re The Only Good Thing” is a nice steel drenched ballad while “Boy Like You” is a gorgeous honky-tonker. “When Dreams Go Out of Style” and “Wound You Can’t Erase” are more of the same – maudlin but nicely executed ballads.

Songs From My Heart is a very solid album that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. Each track is wonderful, but there aren’t enough rocklin honky tonkers or tracks that feel distinctive. As it stands this is just a very fine album, at least to me.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr and Lois Johnson – ‘Give Me Some Lovin”

1399982Hank Williams, JR followed Removing The Shadow with another duets record with Lois Johnson. Released in 1972, Send Me Some Lovin’ was Hank’s twentieth release for MGM Records.

The ten-track album was dominated by Hank’s versions of cover tunes. The title track was originally sung by the likes of Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Otis Redding. The pair transforms the ballad into a solid honky-tonker complete with ample steel guitar and appealing drum work.

“Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” becomes charmingly playful in their hands, with the pair trading verses, as Hank turns cautionary as the song becomes about her father. The arrangement is faithful to the song, but strong nonetheless.

I first came to know “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” when Neil McCoy had a version I adored twenty years ago. I soon came to learn the song’s origins date back to Eddy Arnold. Hank and Lois sing beautifully, but the production is horrendous. I hate the early 1970s sheen on the track, which might’ve been hip at the time, but horribly dates the proceedings today.

Johnny Paycheck had the original version of “Someone To Give My Love To” before it was covered by the likes of Connie Smith and Tracy Byrd. Hank and Lois had their shot with the song, too, and their version is a lovely and tender ballad that I quite like.

“Why Should We Try Anymore” was originally made famous by Hank Sr. Hank and Lois turn in a stunning reading complete with delightful steel and a delicious ache in their voices. The pair also recorded “You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave)” to similar results.

The album as a whole is a delightful affair even if it falls victim to the trappings of early 1970s music. The pair, whom I’d never heard sing together before, are wonderful together. Like a lot of music from this time, Send Me Some Lovin’ isn’t of my era so I’m not terribly familiar with the majority of songs. I really liked what I heard, though, even if I couldn’t really connect with it.

Grade: B

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr. & Lois Johnson – ‘Removing the Shadow’

R-4659119-1371346861-1435.jpegRemoving the Shadow sounds like it ought to be Hank Jr.’s declaration of independence from his father’s legacy, but instead it is a song about forgetting an old love and moving on to a new relationship. It’s also the title track of Hank Jr.’s 1970 duets album with Lois Johnson.

Lois Johnson was minor country artist who was active from 1969 to 1984. Her singles for MGM all peaked outside the Top 40, if they charted at all, and the label never released an album of her solo work. After moving on to 20th Century Records, she scored one Top 10 hit in 1975 with “Loving You Will Never Grow Old”. The mere fact that she was Hank Jr.’s labelmate is the most likely the reason she was paired up with him. Whether MGM was looking for a duet partner for Hank or just seeking to increase Johnson’s exposure is unclear. She had a pleasant voice but it was not very distinctive. As as a team, the two lacked the chemistry of the more successful duos of the era: Conway and Loretta, Porter and Dolly, George and Tammy. Hank Jr. needed to be teamed someone with the vocal prowess of a Melba Montgomery or a Connie Smith, but in those days labels limited their choices to someone who was already signed to their roster.

Like many albums of the era, Removing the Shadow relies a lot on cover material. Lois and Hank tackle Johnny and June’s “If I Were a Carpenter”, “Why Don’t You Love Me” (the obligatory Hank Sr. cover), and “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)”, a 1960 pop hit for The Everly Brothers, which has been recorded many times, including versions by Connie Smith in 1976, Steve Wariner in 1978, and Emmylou Harris in 1983. My favorite version is a 1986 album cut by The Sweethearts of the Rodeo with Vince Gill. No one has ever scored a Top 10 hit on the country charts with this song, but Hank and Lois came the closest, taking it to #12. The song is a particular favorite of mine and it’s easily the best cut on this album.

“Removing the Shadow”, which is also quite good, preceded “So Sad” as a single, peaking at #23. I also enjoyed the Cajun-flavored “Party People” and the upbeat honky-tonker “Settin’ the Woods on Fire”. This is an album that has a lot of appeal to traditionalists; it contains very little of the countrypolitan trappings of the era and has plenty of pedal steel. This probably limited its commercial appeal, though it sold well enough that the duo released a follow-up album in 1972. Removing the Shadow peaked at #21 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, but it has never been released on CD. While a digital version could possibly appear in the future, I think it is unlikely, which is somewhat unfortunate. It’s not essential listening but the material is top notch. If you’re a fan of classic country and can find a used vinyl copy somewhere, it’s worth seeking out.

As an aside, Lois Johnson’s last album was released in 1984. She died in Nashville in July 2014 at age 72.

Grade: B+