My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dallas Frazier

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘She’s Not Really Cheatin’ (She’s Just Getting Even)’

1982 saw the release of She’s Not Really Cheatin’ (She’s Just Getting Even). Moe’s biggest hit in three years, the mid-paced title track is a pointed narrative about a wife who gets her revenge on a cheating husband by copying him. Written by Ron Shaffer, it peaked at #4. The album’s second single, ‘Only If There Is Another You’, which reached #12, is an earnestly sweet declaration of eternal fidelity.

The same writer (D Miller) contributed another pair of songs. ‘Our Love Could Burn Atlanta Down Again’ is a nice mid-tempo love song. ‘The All American Dream’, a co-write with the young Kent Blazy, is a sunny patriotic tune:

I drink Kentucky whiskey
I love California wine
My old car’s from Detroit
And suits my taste just fine
My boots were made in Texas
This song’s from Tennessee
I’m proud of my country
And what it’s done for me

You’re lookin’ at a believer in the all American dream
From a small farm in Texas to singin’ on TV
There ain’t a thing we can’t do
Nothing we can’t be
As long as we’re believers in the all American dream

Every single thing I own says made in USA
I don’t buy those products with names that I can’t say
We may be having hard times
But brother we’re still free
I’m glad I’m living in the land of opportunity

‘He’s Taking My Place At Your Place’ is a wistful lament for lost love, now that the ex he thought he could go back to isn’t interested any more. ‘Your Memory Is Showing All Over Me’ is a steel laced ballad about the shadow of the past preventing the protagonist from moving on.

The more contemporary ‘An Angel Like You’ is a mid tempo attempt to pick up a girl, slightly marred by intrusive backing vocals from the Jordanaires. The perky ‘Can I Pick You Up’ is a bit more effective.

My favorite track is the wonderful tribute to Moe’s traditional country roots, ‘Hank And Lefty Raised My Country Soul’, written by Dallas Frazier and Doodle Owens. This was a cover of a minor hit for Stoney Edwards in the early 70s. (Incidentally the song was later rewritten to pay tribute to George Jones and Merle Haggard; a pre-fame Alan Jackson recorded it.)

I also like the pacy ‘Jesus In A Nashville Jail’, in which a failed country singer finds God after “the bottle got the best and the blues got the rest of me”.

This is a very good album, but not one of Moe’s very best. It was released on a 2-4-1 CD with the excellent It’s A Cheating Situation, and the combination is well worth tracking down.

Grade: B+

Advertisements

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Here I Am Drunk Again’

Moe Bandy released his fifth album, Here I am Drunk Again, on Columbia Nashville in 1976. The album, produced by Ray Baker, had two charting singles, both of which peaked at #11. The title track, a classic country shuffle, peaked first.

Sanger D. Shafer solely wrote the album’s second single, “She Took More Than Her Share,” as well as two other songs on the record. His three solo contributions are brilliant, and range from the delightful Texas fiddle tune “She’s Got That Oklahoma Look” to the excellent (and stone cold) “The Bottle’s Holding Me.” His final contribution, the steel-drenched “What Happened To Our Love” was a co-write with Bandy.

Eddy Raven is responsible for “Please Take Her Home,” a cautionary tale from our protagonist to the lover of the woman he finds too tempting to resist. “The Man You Once Knew,” a tale regarding a guy falling on hard times, was from Dallas Frazier. J.R. Cochran contributed “If I Had Someone To Cheat On,” a reverse barroom anthem where the guy wishes he had someone’s memory to drink away, the excuse to actually be in the joint in the first place.

“Mind Your Own Business” is the Hank Williams classic. The production is a bit slicker than the rest of the album, and slightly cluttered in places, but Bandy executes it was ease. “Then You Can Let Me Go (Out of Your Mind)” is far more sparse, with steel guitar to accentuate the melody.

Here I Am Drunk Again is an incredible album from start to finish, a collection of ten perfectly chosen tunes and not a clunker in the bunch. I have a love/hate relationship with country music from this era, I find a lot of what we’ve spotlighted through the years to be dated and not my kind of country, but this I love. If you missed this album the first time around, or need to revisit it after all these years, I implore you to check it out. You most certainly won’t be disappointed.

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-

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘It Was Always So Easy (To Find An Unhappy Woman)’

The second of two albums Moe Bandy released in 1974 was It Was Always So Easy (To Find An Unhappy Woman). It was his second release for GRC and was produced by Ray Baker.

The album saw an uptick in commercial fortunes for Bandy. It was his first to peak inside the top ten, at #9, and give him a major hit at country radio. That hit, the title track, finds Bandy unsuccessfully scouring bars to find a lonesome gal to call his own. It peaked at #7.

The final single, “Don’t Anyone Make Love At Home Anymore,” was one of two compositions by Dallas Frazier. A mid-tempo ballad in which Bandy makes an inquiry regarding the dating habits of married men, it stalled at #13. Frazier’s other contribution, “I’m Gonna Listen To Me” is a wacky moment of self-reflection.

Eddy Raven was another notable name with two songwriting credits. He co-wrote “Somebody That Good,” about a man with keen observation skills, with Baker. “One Thing Leads To Another,” about a loveless relationship, found Raven writing solo.

“How Can I Get You Out of My Heart (When I Can’t Get You off My Mind)” is a bit self-explanatory. “Loving You Was All I Ever Needed” is as it sounds, a ballad about a man who didn’t know what he had until it was gone. The Western Swing influenced “Home Is San Antone,” written by Floyd Jenkins, is delightful, and the only truly uptempo songs on the album.

“I’m Looking For A New Way To Love You,” which Bandy co-wrote with Sanger D. “Whitey” Shafer, centers on a man out of options, trying to impress the woman he loves. Bandy is back in the barroom on “It’s Better Than Going Home Alone” and hating every second he’s there. The lyric, co-written by Truman Stearnes and Guy Coleman, is excellent but it’s Hargus “Pig” Robbins’ gorgeous piano licks that steal the show.

It Was Always So Easy (To Find An Unhappy Woman) was exquisitely produced by Baker, who’s production choices have helped the album age extremely well. The sound is fantastic, but I didn’t feel all the songs were sharply written and some were a bit weaker than I would’ve liked given the breadth of talent that wrote them. But this is still a very solid album I would highly recommend checking out.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘I Just Started Hatin’ Cheatin’ Songs Today’

Moe’s debut album in 1974, on the GMC label, based in Atlanta, was a moderate success in its time, but a classic today.

The title track, and Moe’s first hit single, peaking at #17, is a classic honky tonk lament, written by legendary writers A L “Doodle” Owens and Sanger D Shafer. The narrator is a country fan whose love for songs about the wild side of life hits a juddering halt when they turn out to be reflections of reality in his own life and his wife turns out to be cheating on him. Drinking his troubles away is no good when the jukebox is loaded with songs which are all too close to home. Loaded with steel guitar and honky tonk piano, it is a great song, with many lyrical nods to other classic songs.

The second single, which reached #24, was the same writers’ ‘Honky Tonk Amnesia’. Another solid honky tonker, with a bit of tongue in cheek in the lyrics, this one has the protagonist the one on the cheating side, fuelled by his heavy drinking:

She’d be hurt if she knew I was drinking
Cause one’s too much and twelve just ain’t enough
She knows how it messes up my thinking
How it makes me look for someone else to love

I get honky tonk amnesia
I forget where all my love belongs
I get honky tonk amnesia
And sometimes it lasts all night long

His poor unsuspecting wife, meanwhile, sits trustingly at home.

Sanger D Shafer composed ‘Cowboys And Playboys’, an amusing song from the point of view of a wealthy northerner who finds a new perspective on life when he moves to Texas and the girls are unimpressed by his Cadillac style. Shafer co-wrote ‘How Long Does It Take (To Be A Stranger)?’ with Dallas Frazier, a short steel laced ballad lamenting a breakup.

Frazier and Doodle Owens wrote ‘This Time I Won’t Cheat On Her Again’, with Moe rebuffing former illicit flame who might be in the market again. Owens teamed up with Dave Burgess for ‘Home Is Where The Hurt Is’, a great steel dominated ballad about a man delaying his return to an empty home:

My glass is empty
And so are my arms
The lights are down low
And so am I

I drink not to think
And I hate to go home
Home’s where the hurt is
My sweet love is gone

Owens also wrote a couple of tunes with Gene Vowell. In ‘How Far Do You Think We Would Go; he dances around the idea of breaking up another couple’s marriage:

Are you sure that loving me would be worth losing him?
Would his memory ever leave us alone?

‘Get All Your Love Together (And Come On Home)’ (co-written by the pair with Glenn Sutton) appeals to his estranged spouse to make a new start. ‘I Wouldn’t Cheat On Her If She Was Mine’ is another fine song, in which Moe wants to offer a new love to a women who has been hurt by the past. It was written by Bucky Jones, Joane Kelle and Paul Huffman.

‘Smoke Filled Bar’ (written by Ginger Boatwright) is a honky tonk wailer about missing a deceased wife

Some other bar
Another round and I’ll get drunk again
If the party girls sing about what might have been
Do angels miss the ones they love in heaven where you are
And I’m so lonely as I play my sad guitar

And tonight I’ll sing my songs again about you
And try to face another night without you
I’ve tried to find someone and learn to love once more
But then I stopped ’cause you knock at my memory’s door

The album is available on iTunes, and is an essential part of any traditional country fan’s music collection.

Grade: A

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: Robert Mizzell – ‘Mama’s Rocking Chair’

2011 was a good year for Louisiana Born Irish country singer Robert Mizzell. He was inducted into the Shreveport Walk of Stars, which recognizes achievement in the world of country music, and is the highest honor his home city could bestow upon him. He also released his eighth album, Mama’s Rocking Chair, a collection of thirteen songs, many of which were classic country covers.

Among the tracks are three George Jones songs from his years recording for Musicor. The earliest, “Things Have Gone to Pieces,” written by Leon Payne, was his first single for the label, peaking at #9. Mizzell gives an excellent reading of the ballad, which nicely stands up to Jones’ recording. The other two were culled from Jones’ 1970 album Will You Visit Me On Sunday. The title track, written by Dallas Frazier is about a prison inmate and the woman he loves on the outside. Charlie Walker’s “Rosie Bokay,” tells the story of a man falls for an enigmatic bartender. Both are also excellent and devoid of the intrusive touches on Jones’ versions.

The jaunty “Sick, Sober and Sorry” was a duet for Lefty Frizzell and Johnny Bond in 1951. Mizzell reprises it here, beautifully, as a duet with Martin Cleary. John Prine’s “Grandpa Was A Carpenter” is newer, first seeing release by him in 1973 and again in 1989 from The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 2. Mizzell once again turns in an equally wonderful performance. Also very good is his version of Rodney Crowell’s “Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight,” which came to prominence through recordings by Emmylou Harris and The Oak Ridge Boys.

The plight of Irish immigrants in the 1950s is covered on “Paddy,” an Irish folk ballad given a traditional arrangement. Also gut wrenching is “The Orphan Train,” a brutal ballad. The title track, a mid-tempo fiddle drenched ballad, is another excellent story song. “What We Don’t Have” and “Can You Hear Me Now” are pure honky-tonk.

Also featured on Mama’s Rocking Chair is Mizzell’s biggest hit to date at the time, the upbeat “I Ain’t Fallin’ for That” and “Cajun Dance,” a fiddle heavy ode to his Louisiana heritage written specifically for him by Peter McKeever. Of the two,“Cajun Dance,” which opens the album, is the stronger song, which recalls the line dance craze of the early 1990s.

Mama’s Rocking Chair, as a whole, does a great job of mixing both old and new cohesively. I thought it was a bit too clean and precise in execution, but it’s a fine album worth checking out. Individual tracks are available on YouTube and the album is also on Itunes.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Marty Stuart – ‘Way Out West’

Way Out West, the new album by Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives is one of the more eclectic albums I’ve encountered in recent years. I’m not sure who the target audience is, or even if there is a target audience.

There are those who would assert that the West has as much of a claim to the origins of country music as does Bristol, Nashville and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Certainly the cowboy heritage has made its way into the country persona, perhaps more so with the fashion than the music, but in any event Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and the Sons of The Pioneers are safely enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame, as is Bob Wills.

It is hard to know how to assess this collection of songs. There are vocal tracks and instrumental tracks, some tracks which are traditional sounding western ballads and at least two which seem almost psychedelic. The band flits between sounding like a good country band to having overtones of The Ventures, Duane Eddy, Don Rich, Grady Martin and more.

The album opens up with “Desert Prayer – Part 1” which sounds like some sort of chant with what sounds like sitar. This is followed up by “Mojave” an instrumental track that sounds like Nokie Edwards meets Duane Eddy.

The third track is “Lost On The Desert” is the story of an escaped robber who heads to the desert to reclaim the money he stole, tormented by the devil before he can find the money. I can mentally hear Marty Robbins singing this song, but I don’t think Marty Robbins ever recorded the song. Johnny Cash did, record the the Billy Mize-Dallas Frazier song, however, on his 1962 album The Sound of Johnny Cash.

A burnin’ hot su,n a cryin’ for water, black wings circle the sky
Stumblin’ and fallin’, somebody’s callin’, you’re lost on the desert to die
I had to give up and they took me to jail but I hid all the money I got
Way out on the desert where no one could get it and I left a mark at the spot
Then I got away and I ran for the desert the devil had taken control
I needed water but he said I’d make it near the money is a big waterhole
A burnin’ hot sun…

Just up ahead is where I left my mark or it may be to the left or the right
I’ve been runnin’ all day and they’ll catch up tomorrow, I’ve got to find it tonight
Then up jumped the devil and ran away laughin’, he drank all the waterholes dry
He moved my mark till I’m running in circles and lost on the desert to die
A burnin’ hot sun…
(Lost on the desert to die) lost on the desert to die (lost on the desert to die)

“Way Out West” is 5:42 long, and is a strange tale of the narrator having (or hallucinating) a number of experiences, while under the influence of pills. Somehow I mentally can hear Jefferson Airplane singing this song.

“El Fantasma Del Toro” sounds like Santo & Johnny are providing the music for this instrumental.

“Old Mexico” might be likened to “El Paso” in reverse, with the cowboy heading to Mexico where there isn’t a price on his head. There is some nice vocal trio work – this may be my favorite song on the album, and could have been a hit forty years ago, especially if Marty Robbins recorded it.

“Time Don’t Wait” is a good song, a little more rock than country, with a lyric that speaks the truth as we all know it.

“Quicksand” has a very martial sounding introduction before lapsing into a more standard rock sound.

“Air Mail Special” is the oldest song on the album, having been composed by Benny Goodman, James Mundy and Charlie Christian. For those not aware of the writers, Benny Goodman was probably the greatest jazz clarinetist ever and Charlie Christian was the first great electric guitar player. I assume that Mundy wrote the lyrics later since neither Goodman nor Christian were lyricists.

Left New York this morning early
Traveling south so wide and high
Sailing through the wide blue yonder
It’s that Airmail Special on the fly
Listen to the motors humming
She is streaking through the sky
Like a bird that’s flying homeward
It’s that Airmail Special on the fly
Over plains and high dark mountains
Over rivers deep and wide
Carrying mail to California
It’s that Airmail Special on the fly
Watch her circle for the landing
Hear her moan and cough and sigh
Now she’s coming down the runway
It’s that Airmail Special on the fly

Marty’s band is indeed superlative, and with “Torpedo” they are in their best Ventures mode. As far as I know the Ventures were strictly an instrumental group, and Torpedo is a fine instrumental.

“Please Don’t Say Goodbye” reminds me of something the Wagoneers might have recorded a couple of decades ago.

If you like the Flying Burrito Brothers “Whole Lotta Highway (With A Million Miles To Go)” definitely fits that vibe. Marty does a fine job. I must admit that it is nice to hear a new truck driving song again – the subgenre has nearly disappeared.

“Desert Prayer – Part 2” is just an interlude.

I really liked “Wait For The Morning” which features really nice vocal harmonies with a song that is a slow western-styled ballad, although not especially western in its subject matter. Lovely steel guitar work closes out the song.

“Way Out West” (Reprise) closes out the album – the reprise is largely instrumental and sounds like something from one of the spaghetti western soundtracks.

Unfortunately I do not have the booklet for the songs on this album, so mostly I don’t know who wrote which songs, or what additional musicians played on the album besides the Fabulous Superlatives. Mike Campbell, former guitarist for Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, produced and achieved a remarkable panoply of sounds. The Fabulous Superlatives are superlative, and Marty is in good voice throughout. I wouldn’t especially cite this album as being particularly thematic – it’s more a collection of songs loosely based on western themes.

B+

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Next To You’

next-to-youThe singles from Higher Ground were to prove to be Tammy’s final top 40 country hits as radio moved on to a new generation of singers. She turned to veteran Norro Wilson to produce her next album, 1989’s Next To You.

There were two singles from the album. The title track peaked just outside the top 50; it is a subdued, rather downbeat ballad about finding love again, with some rather pretty fiddle. The nostalgic midtempo ‘Thank The Cowboy For The Ride’ (about childhood playmates turning to lifelong love) did even less well, and may be a little too sweet for some despite a little humor.

‘The Note’ is a passionate ballad about heartbreak previously recorded by Gene Watson (and later covered by Daryle Singletary). It is a great song, but the production on Tammy’s version somewhat cloaks it with excessive backing vocals. ‘You Left Memories Layin’ (All Over The Place)’ is in much the same style as the wife left behind.

Even better known was ‘I’m So Afraid Of Losing You Again’, a Dallas Frazier/Doodle Owens song which was one of Charley Pride’s biggest hits. Tammy’s version is delightful, and the song itself is so perfectly constructed it cannot fail.

‘If You Let Him Drive You Crazy (He Will)’is an excellent song written by Curly Putnam, Don Cook, and Max D Barnes. The jaundiced lyric about the failings of men, as seen through the eyes of a mother giving advice to her daughter just embarking on life, tells volumes about her own married life:

The man always gets what he’s after
Then leaves you just over the hill
You oughta understand why it’s over
If you let him drive you crazy, he will

There isn’t a real resolution, just the suggestion that the daughter’s trust in her own boyfriend might be plagued by doubt. Rather more positively, ‘We Called it Everything But Quits’ is a good-humored reflection on surviving hard times and an enduring marriage.

‘I Almost Forgot’, written by Karen Staley, is a very nice song about an encounter with an ex briniging up painful memories. ‘Liar’s Roses’ is a delicate ballad written by Bill and Sharon Rice about a woman who is not fooled for an instant by her cheating husband:

The doorbell rings
It’s flowers for me
Roses again
It’s the third time this week
What kind of fool
Must he picture me to be
To be blinded by a dozen liar’s roses?

Guilt-stained words on beautiful cards
But not a single one that comes from the heart
He’s seein’ her again
‘Cause that’s when he starts
Sendin’ me these lovely liar’s roses

Oh, I’m sleepin’ in a bed of liar’s roses
While he dreams of somebody else
He lies to me and thinks that I don’t know it

‘When A Girl Becomes A Wife’ written by Tammy and husband George Richey is deliberately old fashioned in its lyric, but it feels odd even in the 1989 context, let alone 2016.

Tammy’s voice was showing signs of strain, but this is generally a solid album with the odd misstep.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘My Man’

my-manTammy’s second release of 1972 produced two chart topping singles – three, if you count ‘Good Lovin’ (Makes It Right)’, which was a #1 single the previous year, but was originally released to promote Tammy’s Greatest Hits Volume II rather than this album.

The title track, ‘My Man (Understands)’ is not one of my favorite Tammy Wynette songs, a mid tempo love song which is just not terribly interesting and is given a brassy production. The second song has held up much better over time. ‘Til I Get It Right’ is a beautiful ballad written by Red Lane and Larry Henley with an inspiring message about facing a disastrous love life with optimism.

‘Walk Softly On The Bridges’ is an excellent song written by the legendary Dallas Frazier and A L “Doodle” Owens. It was a hit single for Mel Street the following year, and has been covered a number of times, but Tammy’s subtly emotional version was the first and arguably the best, as she offers advice to a friend tempted to cheat:

Don’t be careless with your darling
If you love him, don’t let him down
If you’re faithful he won’t leave you
Lost and wasted the way I am

Walk softly on the bridges that you’re crossing
Don’t break his heart then cry cause it won’t mend
Be careful not to slam the door behind you
You may need to knock upon his door again

She covered a recent hit for her husband George Jones, ‘Loving You Could Never Be Better’, a nice love song which works well for Tammy who gives it a hushed sensual reading. Maybe they should have cut the song as a duet. Donna Fargo’s breakthrough hit ‘The Happiest Girl In The Whole USA’ has aged distinctly less well, although Tammy sings it with enthusiasm.

Tammy wrote the subdued ballad ‘Things I Love To Do’ with Earl Montgomery, about a happy housewife . She sings it beautifully, but the song does not go anywhere. She also co-wrote the brassier ‘Hold On (To The Love I Got)’, another piece of filler.

She is more assertive telling her man ‘You Can’t Hang On’ if he isn’t going to give her enough loving; or that if he cheats on her she’ll be ‘Gone With Another Man’.

‘The Bridge Of Love’ (written by Jae J Kay) has a folky nursery rhyme quality, and combines a progressive message about a multiracial America with a sense of impending failure, which is a bit of a departure for Tammy:

Watch the happy children go round and round
Some are black, some are brown
The bridge is strong but when things go wrong
It’s down, down, down

Hear the little children singin’ their song
Everything’s right and they belong
All the little children are gonna be sad
When the bridge falls down, no mom, no dad

When the bridge of love starts fallin’ down
Fallin’ down, fallin’ down
The bridge is strong but when things go wrong
It’s down, down, down

One hand a-reachin’ out to another
Makes a bridge of love – will you be my brother?…
Look at our country, what do you see
The bridge of all colors standing free
The bridge is strong but when hearts go wrong
It’s down, down, down

There may be a few too many upbeat filler tunes, but there is some excellent material as well, and this is worth seeking out. It is available on a 2-4-1 deal with Bedtime Stories.

Grade: B

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’

your-good-girls-gonna-go-badTammy’s first single, ‘Apartment #9’, written by Johnny Paycheck, had helped her to get her record deal with Epic Records in 1966, but it was only a modest success, peaking outside the top 40. Mainly due to Tammy’s later superstardom in subsequent years, the song has become a country classic. Laden with steel guitar, it is a doleful tune about a woman abandoned by her lover which is an excellent fit to Tammy’s voice.

Her real breakthrough came with the title track to her debut album in 1967, which reached #3 on the Billboard country chart. Written by her producer Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton, it is a tongue in cheek riposte to a husband’s partying ways, with the unspoken implication being that he might not care to see his wife behaving the way he does himself, and a little nod to the classic ‘Wild Side Of Life’:

I’m gonna be the swingin’est swinger you’ve ever had
If you like ’em painted up
Powdered up
Then you oughta be glad
‘Cause your good girl’s a-gonna go bad

I’ll even learn to like the taste of whiskey
In fact, you’ll hardly recognize your wife
I’ll buy some brand new clothes and dress up fancy
For my journey to the wilder side of life

As was usual in the 60s, much of the rest of the material comprises covers of current or recent hits for other artists. ‘Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind’) was the current hit for Loretta Lynn (just established as a star); it’s a great song but Tammy’s version is basically a carbon copy of Loretta’s. Hank Cochran’s ‘Don’t Touch Me’ had been a #1 hit for his wife Jeannie Seely, whose career song it would be, the previous year, and was awarded a Grammy in 1967. Tammy’s vocal is exquisite on this yearning song, but once more it is not very different from the original.

Tammy is able to bring a different slant with the covers of hits by male artists: she does a nice job with Jack Greene’s 1966 emotional hit ballad ‘There Goes My Everything’ (another classic, this time from the pen of Dallas Frazier). ‘Walk Through This World With Me’ was the current big hit for Tammy’s future husband George Jones. ‘Almost Persuaded’ was the Grammy-winning career song of David Houston, and as it was written by Sherrill and Sutton, is an unsurprising choice of cover for Tammy; her vocal is outstanding on this song.

Less familiar was ‘Send Me No Roses’, a gently melancholy tune about separation from a married lover:

The doorbell rings
You’re sending roses again
In my room old petals fall
But darling that’s not all
I read your card
Then a million tears begin

Though the love we once knew
Still lives inside of you
The one who holds you now
Won’t set you free
To see me you don’t dare
But roses say you care
Tell her goodbye
Then please return to me
But send me no roses
Please, no more roses

‘I’m Not Mine To Give’ is an excellent song about forbidden love, with Tammy’s conscience preventing anything more:

If I’d met you sooner things might not be the same
But life is one thing you just can’t relive
Please go on without me and find someone to love
It can’t be me cause I’m not mine to give

‘I Wound Easy (But I Heal Fast)’, written by Bonnie Owens, comes from the point of view of the betrayed wife, who knows her husband will stay with her in the end.

This was an excellent debut for Tammy, and one which deservedly set her on the path to superstardom.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Lorraine Jordan and Caroline Road – ‘Country Grass’

country-grass-2016If you like real country music, the kind that was played before 2005, with meaningful lyrics written by master craftsmen like Dallas Frazier, Cindy Walker, Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran, Merle Haggard and Tom T Hall, where do you go to hear it live?

Unless you live in Texas, your best choice is to visit a bluegrass festival. Today’s bluegrass acts are vitally concerned about finding good songs, regardless of the copyright dates. They are not concerned about the feeding and watering of mediocre songwriters simply because they are part of the pool of co-writers. A typical bluegrass group will include anywhere from 20% upwards of classic country songs in their repertoire.

Exhibit number one is the most recent album, Country Grass, by Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road. This album is a bit of an outlier, because all of the songs are classic country, but one listen to this album and you will plainly hear that the legacy of 60s-90s country music is in good hands.

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road are a veteran act, having performed at the bluegrass festivals for over fifteen years. Lorraine plays mandolin and handles most of the lead vocals. She is joined by Ben Greene (banjo), Josh Goforth (fiddle), Brad Hudson (dobro) and Jason Moore (upright bass).

In putting this album together of classic country songs, Lorraine assembled a fine cast of guest stars, obtaining the services of the original artist where possible.

The album opens up with the Kentucky Headhunters’ song “Runnin’ Water”, a track from the Kentucky Headhunters’ fourth album. Doug Phelps of the Kentucky Headhunters sings lead on this entertaining track with bandmate Richard Young contributing harmony vocals. This track is straight ahead bluegrass.

Eddy Raven had a #1 record in 1984 with “I Got Mexico” and he chips in with the lead vocals on a track that is more bluegrass flavored than actual bluegrass.

“Darned If I Don’t, Danged If I Do” was a Shenandoah song. Shenandoah’s lead sing Marty Raybon has spent much of the last decade on the bluegrass circuit performing bluegrass versions of Shenandoah hits with his band Full Circle. The song is done in overdrive, but Marty remains one of the premier vocalists.

John Conlee is a long-time Opry veteran who had a decade (1978-1987) long run of top ten hits, including his 1983 #1 hit “Common Man”, taken at about the same tempo as his 1983 hit. Brad Hudson takes a verse of the lead vocal.

country-grass-2015Crystal Gayle had a #1 Country / #18 Pop hit in 1978 with “Waiting For The Times To Get Better”. Crystal and Lorraine trade verses on this one, an elegant sounding song and arrangement.

Lee Greenwood had a #1 record with “Dixie Road” in 1985. Unfortunately, Lee’s voice has eroded over the years so having Troy Pope sing a verse is welcome.

Jim Ed Brown has a top twenty recording of “You Can Have Her” back in 1967. This was probably one of Jim Ed’s last recording before his recent death, but he was in very fine voice indeed. Tommy Long takes part of a verse and harmonizes on this jazzy ballad.

“Boogie Grass Band” was a big hit for Conway Twitty in 1978, the title explaining the feel of the song completely. Unfortunately, Conway has been gone for over twenty years so Lorraine simply got everyone involved in this project to take short vocal turns, preserving the original tempo.

Randy Travis was in no shape to perform so Tommy Long handles the vocals on “Digging Up Bones”. Meanwhile T. G. Sheppard is still with us, so he and Tommy Long handle the vocals on “Do You Want To Go To Heaven”. The instrumentation here is bluegrass, but the tempo remains that of the country ballad that T.G. took to #1 in 1980.

Jesse Keith Whitley is the son of Lorrie Morgan and the late great Keith Whitley. Jesse sounds quite similar to his father and acquits himself well on “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. Jeannette Williams contributes gorgeous harmony vocals to this track which is taken at the same tempo as Keith’s original.

It would be hard to conceive of a bigger country/pop hit than Joe South’s “Rose Garden”, taken to the top of the charts in 1970-1971 by Lynn Anderson. Not only did the song top the country and pop charts in the USA, it went top four or better in nine foreign countries. Lynn Anderson and Lorraine Jordan share the lead vocals on this song, which probably sounds the least similar to the original of all the tracks on this album. Lynn passed away last summer, so this is one of the last tracks (perhaps the last track) she ever recorded.

Lorraine’s band shines on the last track of the album “Last Date”. Although there were several sets of lyrics appended to Floyd Cramer’s piano classic, I don’t really like any of the lyrics I’ve heard, so I appreciate that this was left as an instrumental.

I picked up this disc about a month ago and it has been in heavy rotation in my CD player since them. I was inspired to write this when Jonathan Pappalardo posted a video of John Anderson singing with Lorraine and Carolina Road. John is not on the original (2015) version of the album, but his performance can be purchased on Lorraine’s website http://www.carolinaroadband.com/, and is on the new re-released version.

Even if you do not particularly care for bluegrass you might really like this album, chock full of solid country gold songs, fine vocals and exquisite musicianship. I give it an A-, docking it very slightly for the eroded voices of a few of the guests.

Album Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘Love And Music’

love and musicLove And Music was the tenth duet album by Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton. Released in July 1973, only one single was released from the album, a cover of a Carl Smith oldie from 1951, “If Teardrops Were Pennies”, a song which Carl took to #8, but Porter and Dolly took to #3. As always, Bob Ferguson is listed as the producer.

The album opens up with “If Teardrops Were Pennies”. I don’t happen to own a vinyl copy of this album, but I’ve seen it and if I recall correctly Carl Butler, who wrote this song, also wrote the liner notes to this album. The song is a mid-tempo romp that Porter & Dolly do very well indeed, although I also like Carl Smith’s version of the song and the recordings that Carl & Pearl Butler made of the song.

If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold
I’d have all the treasures my pockets would hold
I’d be oh so wealthy with treasures untold
If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold

An acre of diamonds I’d offer to you
A solid gold mansion, an airplane or two
This whole world would be yours to have and to hold
If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold

Next up is the first of four Porter Wagoner tunes on the album “Sounds of Night” a gentle ballad with a nice fiddle intro by Mack Magaha. The song describes the lonely sounds of night (whippoorwills, church bells) and how they translate to human emotions

I don’t know much about Howard Tuck, other than what I found in his obituary (http://www.mywebtimes.com/obituaries/howard-red-tuck/article_e67fea9d-9ee8-5b24-8d2c-e7e5cf4e0300.html ) but his song “Laugh The Years Away” is a good song that would have made a good single. The song is a humorous look at married life, happy even if not blessed with material wealth.

A corporation owns the factory I work in
Someone else owns the house we call our home
The bank owns the car we drive around
And we’ve got something we can call our own

We’ve got love happiness surrounds us
And we thank the Lord for every single day
And with love we’ll always have each other
And together we can laugh the years away

Next up is the first of four Dolly Parton tunes on this album “You”, a rather bland ballad of domestic bliss.

Porter’s “Wasting Love” also would have made a good single, an up-tempo song about a couple growing apart. While the lyrics are good, the strength of the song is the melody.

“Come To Me” is a slow, serious ballad, that essentially finds Porter and Dolly trading verses. The song is inspirational without being religious. The song had no potential as a single, but it is a nice song.

Porter co-wrote “Love Is Out Tonight” with Tom Pick. The song is a slow ballad with very vivid imagery.

As blue skies and daylight darken into night
Surrounding us with beauty as the stars make their light
They spell out our names all the stars up above
As they flicker and shine like letters of love

Then a warm breath of air whispers through the trees
As the leaves on their branches have blown to the breeze
Ripples of water seemed to echo the sound
Love’s out tonight there’s love all around

Small drops of dew act as nature’s perfume
Placing its fragrance on all that’s in blue
While I hold you so close your lips touching mine
With nature all around us watching our love entwine

Porter Wagoner penned “In The Presence of You”. The song features a nice piano intro to a slow ballad of a people who cannot find the right words to say to each other, although they love each other deeply.

In the presence of you I wonder
Why I can’t say the things that I want to
All the pretty words that I planned to say when I’m with you
I lose them in the presence of you

Your nearness makes my voice tremble
There’s a weakness that I feel through and through
Searching for words to describe how I love you
Don’t come easy in the presence of you

Dolly penned “I Get Lonesome By Myself”, another of Dolly’s lonesome little girl songs. In this song the narrator stumbles across the daughter he abandoned a few years back. Dolly’s part is spoken in a somewhat creepy effort at a six year old girl’s voice.

The album closes with the forth Dolly Parton composition “There Will Always Be Music”, a nice capstone to the album.

As the farmer works the fields he sings a song
The songbirds in the trees sing along
And the wind makes melodies as it whistles through the trees
Man’s burdens are made lighter with a song

There’ll always be music as long as there’s a story to be told
There’ll always be music cause music is the voice of the song
There’ll always be music

Dolly Parton has a well deserved reputation as a songwriter, but Porter was no slouch either, although neither Porter nor Dolly would rank up there with Cindy Walker, Dallas Frazier, Harlan Howard or Hank Cochran. On this album at least, Porter’s songs are stronger than Dolly’s.

This is a pretty decent album, although not necessarily one of their better albums. As Jonathan Pappalardo noted in his excellent review of The Right Combination/Burning The Midnight Oil, “[w]hile none of these songs have truly amounted to anything, they combine to make a fine collection on their own”.

My feelings exactly – B+

Album Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – ‘Two of a Kind’

Porter_Wagoner_&_Dolly_Parton_-_Two_Of_A_KindPorter and Dolly released their sixth albums of duets in February 1971. Strangely, no singles were released from Two of a Kind, but this in no way suggests that the material was in any way sub-par. As usual, most of the album’s songs are from the pen of Dolly, including three co-writes with Porter. The first of those co-writes is “The Pain of Loving You”, which features a horn arrangement similar to that of “Just Someone I Used To Know”. It should have been released as a single. The Osborne Brothers apparently did release it as a single — presumably around that same time, which may explain why Porter and Dolly’s version was relegated to album cut status. About a year later the track resurfaced as the B-side to the duo’s single “The Right Combination”. Similarly, the title track — another Wagoner/Parton composition — was the B side of “Better Move It On Home”, which was part of a hits compilation released later in 1971. The duo’s third composition is the catchy but lyrically light mid-tempo “There’ll Be Love” which serves as the album’s closing track.

The collection also includes three of Dolly’s solo compositions: the excellent “Is It Real?”, “The Flame”, and “The Fighting Kind”, which was another of those bickering husband and wife songs for which Porter and Dolly were well known. Although enjoyable, this one lacks the spunk of “I’ve Been Married Just as Long as You Have”, “Fight and Scratch” or “Better Move It On Home”.

One of the album’s best cuts — and one of only three in which Dolly did not have a hand in writing — is “Possum Holler”, a novelty tune penned by the great Dallas Frazier. It is a humorous reminiscence of a clandestine courtship that ends with a shotgun wedding. And although it’s not one of the album’s best songs, the most interesting one was penned by Dolly and Louis Owens. “Curse of the Wild Weed Flower” is a rare example of social commentary from Porter and Dolly. The anti-counterculture theme, speaking of the evils of marijuana, is certainly at odds with contemporary thinking and modern listeners would likely dismiss it as a quaint relic of a bygone era.

With no singles to support it, Two of a Kind didn’t chart quite as high as the duo’s earlier albums (reaching #13) but today it is only one of two of their original albums that is available for digital download in its original form. Bob Ferguson’s (or perhaps Porter’s) production is heavy on Nashville Sound choruses, but there are plenty of wonderful steel guitar licks throughout the album and that alone makes it worth listening to.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Shenandoah – ‘Good News Travels Fast’

61ZTbWBogJL._SS280Good News Travels Fast is the first new Shenandoah album in a decade and the first since Marty Raybon rejoined the band as lead singer. Billed as a Gospel album, it is more accurately described as a religious or Christian album. There are no traditional hymns or old Gospel favorites; the album is collection of eleven new, mostly solid tunes, a few of which have a traditional Gospel sound, a few more are more pop and rock flavored, but most are country-sounding (or what country used to sound like) songs with religious or inspirational themes, in the vein of “Sunday in the South” and “Mama Knows”.

The excellent bluegrass-tinged title track is the album’s first single. I’m not sure if it’s being marketed to country radio, where it is unlikely to garner much attention, but it may bet some airplay on Christian radio stations. The first verse, about a former hellraiser who finds salvation is reminiscent of Dallas Frazier’s classic “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor”, while the second and third verses deal with the birth and resurrection of Christ. “Didn’t It Rain” and “Sunday Morning Sermon” are in a traditional Gospel style. Both sound like something that might be sung at an old-style revival meeting and both are excellent.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the album’s two weakest tracks – “Hallelujah for the Cross” which is a little more contemporary Christian in style, and “If I’m Right”, which takes issue with those who look down on believers, is a little too rock-leaning for my tastes.

The remaining tracks sound like what we’ve come to expect from Shenandoah. “I Know He Knows” is a nice acoustic number about a father and son relationship, which also serves as a metaphor for the relationship between God and man. “Just Wait, Be Still” is another excellent acoustic tune. Marty Raybon wrote this one with Jerry Smalley and bandmate Mike McGuire. Raybon and McGuire also wrote, along with Mark Narmore, “A Cross Between a Sinner and a Saint”, the album’s opening track. The first verse deals with the protagonist’s struggles to walk the straight and narrow. Midway through the song, however it switches course and talks about the two criminals who were crucified alongside Christ. In this verse the “saint” is the criminal who repents and the “sinner” is the one who still does not believe, and Jesus is on the cross between a sinner and a saint. The analogy doesn’t quite work, however, because clearly among that trio, it is Jesus, not the repentant criminal, who is the saint. But that is probably nitpicking at what is an otherwise good song.

There aren’t any huge surprises here; Shenandoah fans are bound to enjoy this album unless they dislike religious themed music. I wasn’t in the best of moods when I started listening to it but found I was feeling better by the time it finished playing. In that respect, at least, the album accomplishes its goal.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Connie Smith – ‘Did We Have To Come This Far (To Say Goodbye)?’

Album Review: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’

friedgreentomatoes2000’s Fried Green Tomatoes has nothing to do with the 1991 film of the same title. It was Ricky Van Shelton’s ninth studio album — and his last, aside from a Christmas album released later that year. It was his only entirely self-produced album. It was released on the Audium label, which gave it the potential to reach a wider audience than 1998’s WalMart exclusive Making Plans. Unfortunately, it didn’t perform any better commercially than its predecessor.

Like his earlier albums, Fried Green Tomatoes is a combination of contemporary songs and covers of old country classics. On the newer material, Shelton seems to have made a conscious decision to update his sound just a little; many of the uptempo numbers such as “Call Me Crazy”, “I’m The One”, and “From The Fryin’ Pan” all have more of a rock edge to them. For the most part, he is able to perform these contemporary songs credibly, without sounding like he is out of his league. However, as always, it is on the more traditonal numbers that he truly excels. The Dallas Frazier-A.L. “Doodle” Owens tune “All I Have To Offer You Is Me” had been Charley Pride’s first #1 hit in 1969. Ricky’s version doesn’t match the original, but it is quite good and it’s a shame that it hadn’t appeared on one of his Columbia albums where more people might have heard it. It’s my favorite song on the album, followed closely by “Foolish Pride” written by Ernie Rowell and Mel Tillis. This song doesn’t appear to have been recorded before, but it certainly sounds like an older song with its rich melody and generous helpings of fiddle and steel.

Another beautiful traditional ballad, “You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Crazy)” is a forgotten gem whose first appearance seems to have been on a 1966 Jan Howard album. It was later covered by Alan Jackson. “Who’s Laughin’ Now”, written by Tom Littlefield, Rick Rowell and Mel Tillis Jr. also sounds like it may be an older song given a second lease on life.

“The Decision”, co-written by Ricky with Jerry Thompson, was the album’s sole single and its biggest misstep. With a more pop-oriented sound than typically heard from Ricky, it tells the story of an unwed 17-year-old expectant mother who is wrestling with whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. The saccharine arrangement and Ricky’s easy-going delivery are all wrong for a song about a life and death decision. I suppose Shelton and Thompson should be given credit for attempting to tackle such a serious and emotionally difficult topic, but it is done in a very superficial manner and seems like a missed opportunity. Incidentally, we are never told what the girl ultimately decides.

Aside from this one clunker, Fried Green Tomatoes is a solid album that allowed Ricky Van Shelton to wrap up his recording career on a high note. He released a Christmas album later in 2000. He continued to tour for a few more years before announcing his retirement from the music business in 2006. It’s a shame that he didn’t enjoy as much post-major label success as many of his contemporaries. His retirement was a loss for country music. We can only hope that he will one day decide to treat his fans to another album. Until then, pick up a cheap used copy of Fried Green Tomatoes if you haven’t already heard it.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Dallas Frazier – ‘There Goes My Everything’

Legendary songwriter Dallas Frazier performs one of his classic songs:

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Old Loves Never Die’

oldlovesAlthough his name is rarely mentioned as one of the leaders of the New Traditionalist movement, Gene Watson was among the relatively small number of artists that stayed true to country music’s roots while the rest of the genre was deeply entrenched in Urban Cowboy pop. 1981’s Old Loves Never Die was about as out of touch with the mainstream trends of the day as it could get, and was as tradtional as the music that Ricky Skaggs and George Strait — two artists usually named as the era’s holdouts against the trend toward pop — were making at the time.

Co-produced by Gene with Russ Reeder, Old Loves Never Die wasn’t a huge seller — it peaked at #57 on the albums chart — but it has the distinction of producing two of his best remembered hits, “Speak Softly (You’re Talking To My Heart)” and “Fourteen Carat Mind”, his only chart-topper. The latter, which was written by the great Dallas Frazier with Larry Lee, was released in October and reached #1 in January 1982. It spent 19 weeks on the chart altogether. “Speak Softly” wasn’t quite as big a hit, but it still charted at a respectable #9.

In keeping with the standard practice of the time, only two singles were released from the album. “Fourteen Carat Mind” and “Speak Softly” are hands down the album’s two best songs, but I also quite liked the title track, which could easily have been another hit single, and “Nothing About Her Reminds Me of You”, which is sort of in the same vein as Merle Haggard’s “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)” — the protagonist has moved on to a new relationship and though his new partner may not be the love of his life, at least she isn’t breaking his heart the way his ex did.

Although I enjoyed all ten of the album’s songs, the production is a bit dated on some of its ballads. The vocal choruses are more restrained here than on some of Watson’s earlier projectes, but the keyboard arrangements on “Till Melinda Comes Around”, “Lonely Me” and “The Sun Never Comes Up” betray the album’s age.

Unfortunately, Old Loves Never Die has never been released on compact disc or as a digital download. Used vinyl copies are available, but most modern music fans probably won’t hear this album in its entirety until one of the European reissue labels decide to dust it off and give it another chance in the marketplace. If and when that happens, it’s worth picking up a copy.

Grade: A –

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Love in the Hot Afternoon’

hotafternoonGene Watson’s major label debut appeared in 1975. Produced by Russ Reeder, it gave him his first taste of commercial success when two of its singles, the title track and “Where Love Begins” reached the Top 5. Preceding these two hits was “Bad Water” a remake of a song he had previously recorded during his days as an indie artist. The re-recording for Capitol reached the lowe rungs of the chart, peaking at #87. It’s one of my least favorite tracks on the album, in no small part due to the instrusive vocal chorus that was typical of the era. This is a problem that is pervasive throughout the album, although not nearly to the extent as “Bad Water”.

Despite the choruses, Love in the Hot Afternoon is alot more rootsy than most country music at the time. There is plenty of fiddle and steel throughout, although some of the tracks sound like they were produced by Billy Sherrill; “Through The Eyes of Love” is a ballad that sounds like something David Houston might have recorded and the decidedly more country-sounding “Harvest Time” has a melody that is at times similar to Tanya Tucker’s “Old Dan Tucker’s Daughter.” Meanwhile, the excellent “Where Love Begins” sounds like something out of Conway Twitty’s catalog.

The album’s highlight is the title track, a steamy waltz about an illicit love affair on a hot New Orleans afternoon. I also particularly enjoyed “This Just Ain’t No Good Day For Leaving”, a Dallas Frazier and Sanger D. Shafer composition that deserved to be a single, and “This Is My Year For Mexico”, a tune about a couple that has grown apart but has stayed together out of habit.

Nearly forty years after its release, these songs hold up well for the most part. The production is admittedly a bit dated, and I’d like to hear these songs stripped of the choruses, a la Naked Willie. However, every album is a product of its time and that is something that needs to be kept in mind when listening to vintage recordings.

Love in the Hot Afternoon is available on a 2-for-1 CD along with Paper Rosie, courtesy of the British label Hux. Both albums are worth picking up.

Grade: A