My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dan Penn

Album Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – ‘Just The Two of Us’

R-6803309-1426956528-3477.jpegThe album opens up with “Closer By The Hour”, a song about a relationship moving towards its inevitable consummation. The song is a jog-along ballad written by Al Gore (not the same Al Gore as either of the two Tennessee hack politicos of yesteryear).

Next up is an outstanding version of Tom T. Hall’s “I Washed My Face In The Morning Dew”, This song was Tom T’s first charted single as a singer, reaching #30 in 1967. I think Porter & Dolly missed a bet in not releasing this as a single.

“Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark” is one of those morbid dead child ballads that Dolly excelled in writing. The song was the B-side of “We’ll Get Ahead Someday” but was sufficiently popular that it charted separately at #51 in late 1968 (Record World had it reach #31).

Her two little feet would come running into
Our bedroom almost every night
Her soft little face would be wet from her tears
And her little heart pounding with fright
She’d hold out her arms, then she’d climb in beside us
In her small voice, we’d hear her remark
“Mommie and Daddy, can I sleep here with you
‘Cause Jeannie’s afraid of the dark”

Jerry Chesnut’s “Holding On To Nothin’”was the second Porter & Dolly single released, and the first single from this album. Released in April 1968, the single spent 16 weeks on the charts reaching a peak of #17. The song is a mid-tempo ballad about what happens when the flame burns out.

Oh, why do we keep holding on with nothin’ left to hold on to

Let’s be honest with each other that’s at least that we can do

I feel guilty when they envy me and you

We’re holding on with nothin’ left to hold on to

Curly Putman’s “Slip Away Today” is a bit more introspective than many of the pair’s songs, sort of in the vein of Carl & Pearl Butler’s “Don’t Let Me Cross Over”. It is a good song but not one with any real potential as a single.

“The Dark End of the Street” by Dan Penn and Chips Moman, is a song about slipping around and trying to keep it secret by stealing away at the dark end of the street.

At the time this album was released Jerry Chesnut was one of Nashville’s leading songsmiths. The next tow songs “Just The Two of Us” and “Afraid To Love Again” are both nice ballads well suited to Porter and Dolly’s vocal harmonies.

Mack Magaha, the fiddler in Porter’s Wagonmasters and before that in Don Reno & Red Smiley’s Tennessee Cutups , isn’t normally thought of as a songwriter, but he did some song writing with both Reno & Smiley and Porter & Dolly recording his songs. Mack’s “We’ll Get Ahead Someday” is a humorous up-tempo song that was the lead single from the album reaching #5.

The paper says there’s a sale downtown I gotta have some money today

Well there’s things at home that’s never been used you bought last bargain day

Well you go out one Saturday night just spend too much money on wine

Well I work hard all week long and I gotta have a little fun sometimes

We’ll get ahead someday…

If the sun comes up and my wife cuts down we’ll get ahead someday

Even in 1967, Merle Haggard’s songs were in great demand, and Porter and Dolly latched onto a good one in “Somewhere Between”, one of many Haggard compositions that the Hag never got around to releasing as a single (many years later Suzy Bogguss released it as a single). It works well as a duet for Porter and Dolly.

Somewhere between your heart and mine

There’s a window, I can’t see through
 T
here’s a wall so high, it reaches the sky

Somewhere between me and you

I love you so much, I can’t let you go

And sometimes I believe you love me

But somewhere between your heart and mine

There’s a door without any key


The album closes with a pair of Dolly Parton compositions in “The Party” and “I Can”. “The Party” is another one of those morbid ballads that Dolly seemed to crank out so easily. The highlight of the song is Porter’s narration:

The party started out wild and it grew wilder as the night wore on

With drinking laughing teling dirty jokes nobody thinkin’ of home

Then the stranger feeling came over me and it chilled me to the bones

And I told my wife that we’d better leave the party

Cause I felt that we were needed at home

As we rode along I got to thinking of how the kids that mornin’

Had asked if we would take them to church the next day

And how I’d put ’em off like I’d so often done

By sayin’ we’d probably get home too late

Then my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of sirens

As they cut through the still night air
 Then we turned down our street that’s when we saw the fire

The rest was like a nightmare 

We took their little bodies to church the next day

Though we’d left the party early we still got home too late

“I Can” has the feel of folk music. Both of these two Dolly Parton compositions are good album tracks.

Porter and Dolly would record stronger albums as far as song quality is concerned, but of more importance than that was that this early in the game, they had their vocal style down pat. The production on the album sounds like Porter’s solo albums, but that’s a good thing.

Tracks
01. “Closer by the Hour” Al Gore 2:15
02. “I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew” Tom T. Hall 2:45
03. “Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark” Dolly Parton 2:44
04. “Holding On to Nothin'” Jerry Chesnut 2:26
05. “Slip Away Today” Curly Putman 2:37
06. “The Dark End of the Street” Dan Penn, Chips Moman 2:15
07. “Just the Two of Us” Jerry Chesnut 2:36
08. “Afraid to Love Again” Jerry Chesnut, Theresa Beaty 1:53
09. “We’ll Get Ahead Someday” Mack Magaha 1:55
10. “Somewhere Between” Merle Haggard 2:13
11. “The Party” Dolly Parton 2:54
12. “I Can” Dolly Parton 2:06

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Lee Roy Parnell’

Lee Roy Parnell’s debut album on Arista Records in 1990 was very different from the neotraditional style which was then at its peak, although not really unique (T Graham Brown was making quite similar music at the time, and doing well). The album was produced by Barry Beckett, a Nashville session man and producer whose roots lay in Muscle Shoals soul, and the combination of producer and artist was a good fit.

Lee Roy’s rise coincided with the fall from favour with country radio of T Graham Brown, who had similar influences and musical stylings. Perhaps there was only room for one, and the newer guy would win out soon, but at the time of this release, Brown was still at his peak.

Lee Roy’s first single, ‘Crocodile Tears, crept into the top 60. It’s a pretty good mid-tempo tune which he wrote himself, in which the protagonist rebuffs his wife’s insincere protestations of love, and at another time might have done better on country radio.

Only marginally more successful, the second single. ‘Oughta Be A Law’ is a chugging mid-tempo country-blues-rock number written by Gary Nicholson with Dan Penn, with a prominent brass section. It is quite catchy, but not very country, and I can see why it didn’t catch on.

Final single ‘Family Tree’ was even less of a success, which is a shame because it is my favourite of the singles. It is a cheerful uptempo song about a family’s prodigal son, who:
Went out on a limb and fell off the family tree.

I quite like ‘Fifty Fifty Love’, a solid tune written by Parnell and Nicholson, with a rhythmic groove which moves along nicely, although the horns are out in force again.

‘Mexican Money’ is an entertaining song about a blue-collar Texan planning to abandon the US, where he can’t make ends meet, to live with his Mexican sweetheart.

The solemn ballad ‘Where Is My Baby Tonight’, written by Troy Seals and Graham Lyle, slows the pace, as does the bluesy love song ‘Down Deep’. ‘Let’s Pretend’ is a soul ballad. ‘You’re Taking Too Long’ picks up the tempo again, but isn’t very interesting. The closing ‘Red Hot’ is old fashioned rock n’ roll.

Overall, this album is well done in its way, but it has quite a loose connection to country music and isn’t really my cup of tea with far too much brass rather than steel guitar. Fans of Lee Roy Parnell may be interested in exploring his earliest recorded work, but it probably isn’t the place to start.

Grade: B

Album Review: The Flying Burrito Brothers – ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’

gildedpalaceThe Flying Burrito Brothers were formed in 1968 by former Byrds members Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman. Pianist and bassist Chris Ethridge and steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow were also a part of the original line-up. The band released its first album, The Gilded Palace of Sin, on A&M Records the following year. In the forty-five years since the album’s release, country music has been defined and re-defined, and paired with almost every other genre of popular music. As such, it may be a little difficult for modern listeners to truly appreciate how revolutionary and cutting-edge The Flying Burrito Brothers’ fusion of country, rock, folk, R&B and psychadelic rock was at the time. Although it was a commercial failure at the time, the album was hugely influential on country music. Bearing testament to this is the fact that many listeners, though they may be unfamiliar with the band, will likely be familiar with many of the album’s songs.

Hillman and Parsons had a hand in writing the majority of the album’s eleven songs, with the exception of two R&B covers, “Do Right Woman”, a 1976 hit for Aretha Franklin and “Dark Side of the Street”, which was a hit for James Carr the same year. Both songs were written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn. Hillman and Parsons wrote most of the remaining songs together.

Many country fans will be familiar with the album’s best track “Sin City”, which was later covered by Dwight Yoakam and K.D. Lang, and “Wheels” and “Juanita”, which were both covered by Parsons’ protege Emmylou Harris. I wasn’t previously famiilar with a pair of unimaginatively titled songs — “Hot Burrito #1” and “Hot Burrito #2”, respectively — that were written by Parsons with Chris Etheridge. I quite liked the soulful “#1”, but didn’t much care for the R&B and gospel-tinged “#2”, finding the funky fuzzbox effect to be excessive and distracting.

In keeping with the times, there is a pair of topical tunes — “My Uncle”, which tells the story of young man who is planning to head to Canada upon receiving his draft card — and “Hippie Boy”, which deals with the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The latter is a plodding and overly long spoken-word number that I could have done without.

It is hard not to like anything that contains as much pedal steel guitar as this album does, but the rock and psychadelic elements make the production seem a bit dated and I can’t help preferring the cover versions which are more familiar to me. Parsons and Hillman’s vocals are good; their harmonies at times are reminiscent of The Everly Brothers. However, the album is mixed in such a way — again in keeping with the times — that the vocals are nearly drowned out by the instrumentation, something else I found a bit distracting.

The Gilded Palace of Sin is considered important, but to call it a landmark album might be overstating things just a bit. It is primarily interesting because of the future artists — Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, and Steve Earle, to name a few — that it influenced. For that reason alone, it is worth a listen.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘Always On My Mind’

alwaysVoices like Willie Nelson’s are an often-cited reason why many people don’t like country music, so in many respects Willie was an unlikely pop star. Nevertheless, with albums like Stardust, he proved that he could not only handle non-country material, but that he could also appeal to worldwide audiences much broader than the typical country music fan base. 1982’s Always On My Mind is one of his most AC-leaning albums. Like Stardust, it reached outside the country genre for material, though the selections this time around were more contemporary.

The title track had first been introduced to country audiences by Brenda Lee a decade earlier. Her version peaked outside the country Top 40. A cover version by Elvis Presley the same year reached 16 on the AC charts, but the song remained relatively unknown despite being recorded by numerous other artists, until Willie’s version came along. His recording of the song became the biggest hit of his career; it topped the Billboard country singles chart in May 1982 and was the magazine’s #1 country single of the year. It also reached #5 on the all-genre Hot 100 chart and earned three Grammy Awards — one for Willie for Best Male Country Vocal Performance as well as Best Country Song and Song of the Year for its writers Mark James, Johnny Christopher and Wayne Carson Thompson. It was also widely honored by the Country Music Association, winning Single of the Year in 1982 and Song of the Year in both 1982 and 1983. Willie also took home the 1982 Album of the Year trophy.

It’s exceedingly difficult to follow up a career record, but Willie’s next two singles, while not matching the success of “Always On My Mind”, turned in respectable chart performances. His cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” reached #2 on the country charts and #11 on the AC charts and just cracked the Top 40 on the Hot 100. “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning”, a song that I did not initially like but now consider a favorite, also reached #2 on the country chart but did not enjoy any crossover success.

Aside from some harmonica and Willie’s trademark guitar, there is no country instrumentation on this album. The fiddle and steel guitar are absent, and the saxophone is used instead on tracks like “Let It Be Me” and “Old Fords and a Natural Stone”, and most of the non-single album cuts come from outside of country music. The opening track “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, written by the album’s producer Chips Moman and Dan Penn, had been an R&B hit for Aretha Franklin in 1967. The song had been covered for the country market previously, by Barbara Mandrell whose version went to #17 in 1971, and surprisingly, it was also recorded by Kitty Wells at some point. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, on which Willie is joined by Waylon Jennings, is a remake of a 1967 psychadelic rock hit by the British group Procul Harum. Willie also does a very nice version of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

Always On My Mind was clearly designed with one eye on the pop market, but it avoids the excesses and overproduction that was typical of most recordings of the era that had crossover aspirations. Sufficient concessions were also made to keep country fans happy. Among the more country-sounding material are two songs penned by Willie: “Permanently Lonely” and “The Party’s Over”, a remake of his own earlier recording, which like some of the other remakes on this album, dates back to 1967. It’s my favorite track on the album.

Legacy Recordings reissued Always On My Mind in 2008, with two new tracks: “The Man Who Owes Everyone” and “I’m A Memory”, both of which are enjoyable, though they would have fit in better on one of his more country-sounding albums.

Selling more than 4 million copies in the United States and another 2 million in Canada, Always On My Mind is second only to Stardust in terms of commercial success. It’s always been a favorite of mine, primarily for nostalgic reasons, but due to its reliance on pop, R&B and rock material, it’s not an especially important album in terms of country music, aside from the three singles, which are widely available on numerous compilations. That being said, it is an enjoyable record, country or not, and a cheap used copy is well worth picking up.

Grade: A