My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Darrell Scott

Album Review: Bobby Bare – ‘Things Change’

After not issuing any albums of new material for over twenty years (1985-2005), Bobby Bare has now issued his third album in the last dozen years. Things Change has a sound more in line with the modern sounds of country music, while offering the sort of story songs that made country music from the period 1940 – 2005 stand apart from most other forms of popular music.

Things Change finds Bobby Bare the songwriter being spotlighted more than was normally the case in the past. Bare has always been a good songwriter, but his focus has always been to find the best songs and focus attention on the writers of those songs. For this album Bare has co-writer credits on five of the songs and was entirely responsible for two other songs.

No doubt radio won’t play this album so there won’t be any hit singles, even though this is an album full of great songs. That said, the album opens up with a song that was an enormous success in Norway in 2012, winning the third Regional Semi-Final stage of Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix 2012 and just missing being selected as Norway’s entrant (out of 800+ entrants) in the Eurovision Song Contest. The version that was so successful in Europe was a duet with Norwegian singer Petter Øien. It is a firm indicator of Bobby’s sustained vocal excellence and popularity in Europe that the Norwegians selected Bare’s song even though it was sung entirely in English. Bobby is a long-time favorite of Norwegian audiences, having toured there frequently since 1964.

The version on the album is not the version that stormed Europe but a recent studio recording. Bare is now 82 years old and brings a mature perspective to the song that perhaps cannot be as effectively told by younger performers:

Cowboy hats will blow off in the wind
Women rule the world, not the men
And things change but then
You turn around and they change again

Things change, don’t blink your eye
‘Cause if you do, they’ll pass you by
About the time you think you’ve locked it in
Things change, then change again

That winter bummed you out, just wait for spring
In the middle of a drought just wait for rain
If you think your life’s run out and you can’t win
There’s no doubt things gonna change again

Things change, don’t blink your eye
‘Cause if you do, they’ll pass you by
About the time you think you’ve locked it in
Things change, then change again

Son, that’s just life, that’s the world we’re living in
That’s the way it’s gonna be ’cause that’s the way it’s always been

Next up is “The End”, a wistful mid-tempo ballad about a love that came unwound.

Bobby teamed up with legendary songwriters Rafe Van Hoy and Billy Burnette to write “Aint No Sure Thing”. As Bobby notes the “the only sure thing is there ain’t no sure things”. This is a mid-tempo semi-rocker.

Bobby co-wrote “The Trouble With Angels” with Robert Deitch. This is a mid-tempo ballad that laments that the trouble with angels is “they never stay, they all fly away“.

Up to this point Bobby had a hand in writing all the songs; however, as noted before, Bobby has a strong appreciation for talented songwriters and he turns to Mary Gauthier for the next two songs.

“I Drink” is a slow ballad that has played itself out many times in many places. Gauthier has described the song as semi-autobiographical:

He’d get home at 5:30
Fix his drink, sit down in his chair
Pick a fight with mama
Complain about us kids getting in his hair

At night he’d sit ‘lone and smoke
I’d see his frown behind his lighter’s flame
Now that same frown’s in my mirror
I got my daddy’s blood inside my veins

Fish swim, birds fly
Daddies yell, mamas cry
Old men sit and think
I drink

“Mercy Now” is a very sad song albeit somewhat uplifting and perhaps even spiritual. It certainly speaks accurately to the human condition:

My father could use a little mercy now
The fruits of his labor fall and rot slowly on the ground
His work is almost over, it won’t be long, he won’t be around
I love my father, he could use some mercy now

My brother could use a little mercy now
He’s a stranger to freedom, he’s shackled to his fear and his doubt
The pain that he lives in it’s almost more than living will allow
I love my brother, he could use some mercy now

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit it’s going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now

I really was not familiar with Mary Gauthier, but after listening these songs, I’ve made myself a mental note to check out more of her music.

Guy Clark was one of the great songwriters and he teamed with Bobby to write “Trophy Girl”. Apparently this was the last song that Clark wrote. The morale of the story is “trophy girls don’t hang around forever.”

The next two songs “Where Did It Go” and “You Got The Light” were both solo efforts by Bobby, the former a slow ballad and the latter a mid-tempo blues rocker. Both are good songs.

The album closes with one of Bare’s signature songs, the ubiquitous “Detroit City”. Written by Mel Tillis and Danny Dill and twice a hit in 1963, the song perhaps catches the despair of homesickness as well as any song ever written. Bobby is joined by Chris Stapleton on this new recording of his classic hit. The major difference between this track and his 1963 version is a more pronounced rhythm track.

I wanna go home, I wanna go home
Oh, how I wanna go home.

Last night I went to sleep in Detroit City
And I dreamed about those cottonfields and home
I dreamed about my mother dear, old papa, sister and brother
I dreamed about that girl who’s been waiting for so long
I wanna go home, I wanna go home, oh, how I wanna go home.

Homefolks think I’m big in Detroit City
From the letters that I write they think I’m fine
But by day I make the cars, by night I make the bars
If only they could read between the lines.

Bobby Bare remains what he has always been, a relaxed but expressive singer, with a wry sense of humor and the ability to make you believe the stories he tells. The voice is a little weathered but fits perfectly with the material. Bare was never about pretense and putting the songs across is all that he really cares about – and as always, he succeeds magnificently.

This album is a solid “A” if ever I heard one.

Credits

01 Things Change (Bobby Bare/Jeff Hyde/ Roger Springer)
02 The End (Bobby Bare / John Pennell)
03 Ain’t No Sure Thing (Bobby Bare/ Rafe Van Hoy / Billy Burnette)
04 The Trouble With Angels (Bobby Bare / Robert Deitch)
05 I Drink (Mary Gauthier / Crit Harmon)
06 Mercy Now (Mary Gauthier)
07 Trophy Girl (Bobby Bare / Guy Clark)
08 Where Did It Go (Bobby Bare)
09 You Got The Light (Bobby Bare)
10 Detroit City (Danny Dill / Mel Tillis) – w/ Chris Stapleton

Produced by Max T Barnes & Jimmy Ritchey
Executive Producer: Shannon Bare
Acoustic Guitars: B James Lowrey, Darrell Scott, Max T Barnes
Drums: Eddie Bayer Jr., Shannon Forrest, Gary Kubal
Electric Guitar: Brent Mason, Max T Barnes
Bass: Jimmie Johnson, David Smith , Glenn Worf
Keys: Tim Atwood, Gary Prim, Mike Rojas, Max T Barnes
Background Vocals: Harry Stinson, Stevie Ray Anderson, Robin Barnes,
Wes Hightower, Coleen Gallagher, Bobby Bare Jr., Max T Barnes,
Danny Sheerin

Official video

2012 Performance Video

Interview, etc

Advertisements

Album Review: Hayes Carll – ‘Lovers And Leavers’

lovers and leaversTexan singer-songwriter Hayes Carll’s new album sees him taking a more personal turn as he reflects on his experiences of fatherhood and divorce, and finding new love .

‘Drive’ (written with Jim Lauderdale) opens the album, painting the picture of a man without roots or a destination in mind:

Burning up your life
Oh, it’s some place else to go
Just drive, drive, drive
Round and round
A Colorado town
Like a mustang in the mountains
You’re too wild to settle down
Sing your song
Throw your hammer in the air
Burning both ends of that candle
And pretend that you don’t care

The bluesy ‘Sake Of The Song’, whose title and vocal delivery both draw comparison with the Townes Van Zandt classic, is a co-write with Darrell Scott. It is about the musician’s true motivation: not stardom but the song itself.

If you’re nobody’s business
Or you’re front page news
Folk, rock, country or Delta blues,
Tell your truth however you choose
And do it all for the sake of the song

Yeah, hitchhike, and bus ride, and rental car
Living rooms, coffee house, and rundown bars
Ten thousand people or alone under the stars
It’s all for the sake of the song

There’s the man who wrote “Your Cheatin’ Heart”
Now he’s lying through his tooth
And he plays it on a stolen harp,
That’s soaked in a hundred proof…

And there’s the young man on the marquee
He’s the son of someone well known
And his father bought the two of us
So he could strike out on his own…

And there’s the mystic,
And there’s the legend
And there’s the best that’s ever been
And there’s the voice of a generation
Who won’t pass this way again
And there’s record deals and trained seals
And puppets on a string
And they’re all just trying to figure out
What makes the caged bird sing

My favourite song is the country lament about a failed relationship, ‘Good While It Lasted’, which Carll wrote with Will Hoge:

I smoked my last cigarette
I drank my last drop
Quit doing all the things
I swore I’d never stop
I changed my direction
Sang a different tune
Gave up all those childish ways
That made me old too soon
Things were going good there for a while
I tried to straighten out the crooked road that I was on


We both said forever
Forever till the end
Forever’s something different
To a lover and a friend
We thought we had it all there for a while
Just like that perfect moment
Before the darkness turned to dawn
It was good while it lasted
But it didn’t last too long

‘You Leave Alone’ is a melancholic but sympathetic story song or portrait in song, of a dreamer who “never went nowhere”.

The dissolute-sounding ‘My Friends’ pays tribute to the support of old friends, and has some interesting lines, but musically it’s a bit of a mess and he sounds as if he recorded it drunk. It is the closest thing here to the more raucous sound he has produced in the past, and on this showing it’s a good thing he appears to have moved away from it.

‘The Love That We Need’ was written with the artist’s new love interest, Allison Moorer, and fellow Texan Jack Ingram, and offers rather a bleak look at a passionless relationship. ‘Love Don’t Let Me Down’, the song from which the album’s title is drawn, displays the protagonist’s vulnerability but offers a gleam of hope for happiness. The pleasant mid-tempo ‘Love Is So Easy’ is a slightly quirky love song.

‘The Magic Kid’ is a tender description of Carll’s young son, a talented conjuror, and of the courage of innocence. The delicate ‘Jealous Moon’ ends the album on a poetic note.

This album marks a maturing of Carll as an artist, and I was very impressed. While he’s not the greatest of vocalists, he gets his songs across adequately, and the song quality is what matters here.

Grade: A

Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘Sevens’

sevensGarth’s 7th studio album was released in November 1997. Garth’s marketing acumen went a little over the top on the “sevens” theme, with a deliberate 14 tracks, and a special edition of the first 777,777 copies released. It’s a wonder he missed out on releasing it on 7 July. But luckily there was real substance behind all the marketing flash.

The first single, AC ballad ‘In Another’s Eyes’ was a duet with Trisha Yearwood about a secret adulterous affair/unrequited relationship (allegedly inspired by a line in Shakespeare). It may have had special meaning for the pair, both then married to other people and publicly denying any special interest in one another. It also appeared as the token new song on Trisha’s then current compilation Songbook. The single peaked at #2, but while Trisha is a great singer, the song is a bit overblown for my taste.

The breezy drinking song ‘Long Neck Bottle’, a likeable Steve Wariner song which features Steve on guitar. It’s a shame it wasn’t a full duet, as the song is made for that, but Garth chose to double track his own voice instead. (The pair did record a duet together at about this time, ‘Burnin’ The Roadhouse Down’, which appeared on one of Steve’s albums and was a hit single in 1998.) It was Garth’s first #1 since ‘The Beaches Of Cheyenne’ couple of years earlier.

The excellent ‘She’s Gonna Make It’ just missed that peak, topping out at #2. A sensitive look at the aftermath of a painful breakup, concluding

The crazy thing about it
She’d take him back
But the fool in him that walked out
Is the fool that just won’t act

She’s gonna make it
But he never will

Garth wrote this with Kent Blazy and Kim Williams, and there is some pretty fiddle courtesy of Rob Hajacos.

There was only one more single during the album’s main run, the rowdy ‘Two Pina Coladas’, about drowning one’s sorrows with a good time, complete with barroom-style chorus. It’s not exactly a classic, but it’s quite enjoyable with a good-humored singalong feel.

Radio then received ‘To Make You Feel My Love’ (from a movie soundtrack) before returning to Sevens with the pleasant but forgettable AC love song ‘You Move Me’.

A few years later, in 2000, with no new country product to promote and after the flop performance of the ill-conceived Chris Gaines project, the label tried one more single from Sevens. ‘Do What You Gotta Do’ is a cover of a New Grass Revival song which reached #13 for Garth. New Grass Revival’s Sam Bush and John Cowan guest on harmony vocals, while Bush, Bela Fleck and Pat Flynn play their signature instruments of mandolin, banjo and acoustic guitar. The end result is rockier than the original, and lacks its charm, but I applaud Garth’s choice of tribute.

My favourite track is the high lonesome gospel of ‘Fit For A King’, a beautiful song about a homeless street preacher. The harmony singers include Carl Jackson, who wrote it with Jim Rushing.

The passionate ‘I Don’t Have To Wonder’ is a sadder and more subtle (but less immediate) take on the ex marrying another, richer, man than ‘Friends In Low Places’. It was written by Shawn Camp and Taylor Dunn, and is another highlight.

‘Belleau Wood’ tells the story of the unofficial Christmas truce which is said to have occurred on the first Christmas Day of the First World War in 1914. It is genuinely touching, although the tag about seeking heaven on earth feels out of place and anachronistic. ‘A Friend To Me’ is quite a pretty tribute to a close friend which Garth wrote with Victoria Shaw, but the string section is unnecessary.

The charming and self-deprecating ‘When There’s No One Around’ was written by Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott. It’s not typical Garth, and perhaps all the better for it.

‘How You Ever Gonna Know’ (written by Garth with Kent Blazy) is an unexciting midpaced song on his favorite theme of taking chances to live life to the full. Well-meaning but cliche’d, it is basically forgettable filler. ‘Cowboy Cadillac’ is regrettably not the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band song of that title but a pleasantly bouncy and solidly country if somewhat forgettable tune about a favourite vehicle. ‘Take The Keys To My Heart’ has more of a rock influence, and is a bit boring. Cutting these songs would have made it a stronger album.

The album was massively successful, and is one of Garth’s best selling records, with 19 million sales worldwide to date. It’s also surprisingly good, and surprisingly country, although some tracks are disposable.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Beth Nielsen Chapman – ‘UnCovered’

UnCoveredBeth Nielsen Chapman was one of the finest songwriters in Nashville in the 1990s, getting a lot of high-profile cuts (and hits), particularly among female artists. More of a genreless singer-songwriter than a purely country one, she enjoyed several hits herself on Adult Contemporary radio in the 90s. Her writing style nonetheless fitted in well with the diversity of 1990s country radio, with her songs running the gamut from sensitive ballads to commercial pop-country. Here she revisits a number of her songs recorded by country artists, focussing on those she never recorded herself.

My favourite song here is the excellent ‘Five Minutes’, a one-last-chance ultimatum delivered by a wife about to leave. Back in the late 80s this was recorded separately by Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan, becoming a big hit for the latter, and in a nice touch, both women help out on backing vocals on Beth’s version. Her lead vocals are great and the intimate arrangement works perfectly.

I also really enjoyed her version of ‘Nothin’’ I Can Do About It Now’ (Willie Nelson’s last chart-topper). Beth’s version of the Tanya Tucker hit ‘Strong Enough To Bend’ is also attractively done, mixing vulnerability and strength.

She recruits occasional tour partners Gretchen Peters, Suzy Bogguss and Matraca Berg to provide call-and-response backing vocals on ‘Almost Home’ , which she wrote with and for Mary Chapin Carpenter. The sunnily positive mid-tempo ‘Here We Are’ was a #2 country hit for Alabama in 1991. I hadn’t realised Beth wrote this one with Vince Gill, but so it appears. Vince makes an appearance to sing the high harmony on this version. Beth wrote the moody ‘Sweet Love Shine’ with the late Waylon Jennings, and it was originally recorded as a duet between Jennings and Andy Griggs. Jessi Colter and Duane Eddy guest on Beth’s cover.

The pretty good piano led mid-tempo ‘Simple Things’ was an AC hit for pianist Jim Brickman with country artist Rebecca Lynn Howard on vocals, and it could have easily been covered in a mainstream country version. The sensitive Maybe That’s All It Takes’ (a late minor hit for Don Williams) is tastefully performed in an AC style with Darrell Scott on harmony. ‘Pray’ is a beautifully sung contemporary Christian song with an ethereal Celtic arrangement and backing vocals from co-writer Muriel Anderson and Amy Grant.

But while Chapman is a fine songwriter, she has some less stellar copyrights to her credit. I always hated Faith Hill’s monster hit version of ‘This Kiss’, and I don’t care for this one much more. The bluesy ‘Meet Me Halfway’ (written for Bonnie Raitt) is a bit bland. She wrote ‘One In A Million’ for the ill-fated Mindy McCready, and it too is poppy and lacking in depth.

I always enjoy hearing songwriters reveal their own take on songs they have written for other artists, and while this is not particularly country, the arrangements are generally tasteful while Chapman’s rich, warm vocals work well on most of the songs included.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Suzy Bogguss – ‘Nobody Love, Nobody Gets Hurt’

nobody love nobody gets hurtSuzy’s swansong for Capitol was released in 1998. She produced the record with her husband, and unfortunately it was a bit of a damp squib commercially, with no real hits.

She and husband Doug Crider wrote the mid-tempo AC ‘Somebody To Love’, her last top 40 single, with Matraca Berg. It opens with an arresting picture of a woman weeping in her kitchen all dolled up after a disastrous date, but the remainder of the lyric is bland and the melody is rather limited.

The title track performed less well, peaking in the 60s. Written by singer-songwriter Bobbie Cryner, it is a memorable and slightly quirky story about a dyslexic and emotionally damaged bank robber which is a little heavy handed in pressing home its point, but a stripped down arrangement and sensitive vocal sell it.

The final single, the Kim Richey/Tia Sillers-penned ‘From Where I Stand’ was another flop. Although (like ‘Somebody To Love’) it has quite a commercial late 90s sound reminiscent of Trisha Yearwood’s more AC material, it’s not very interesting.

The insistently bluesy pop-country ‘Just Enough Rope’ sounds like an attempt to compete with the likes of Shania Twain. It is a departure from Suzy’s strengths as an artist but is quite catchy, although someone like Yearwood would probably have been more suited to it. It is one of only two tracks to feature fiddle.

A more traditional country fiddle leads into Julie Miller’s ‘Take Me Back’. This is the most traditional country track on the record (with the only steel guitar to make an appearance as well as the fiddle) and a real highlight; an excellent song with a close harmony from Garth Brooks on the chorus.

‘When I Run’ is a nice Skip Ewing ballad with a pretty tune and insightful lyric about someone finding love scary. Suzy’s subtle vocal is beautiful, and makes this commitmentphobe sympathetic and convincing, when she says,

It’s not you
It’s not fun
I know tryin’ to hide is crazy
Walking out won’t save me
My demons only chase me when I run

Kathy Mattea sings backing vocals but is so low in the mix she is inaudible.

The delicate ballad ‘Moonlight And Roses’, written by Cheryl Wheeler, is an understated gem about not missing an opportunuity to find love, with another excellent, subtle vocal. Alison Krauss plays viola.

Tony Arata’s ‘I Wish Hearts Would Break’ is a moving tribute to a dying mineworker whose spirit has been broken by the death of his beloved wife, which again Suzy sings beautifully, supported by Darrell Scott’s backing vocals. Childhood memories are fondly recalled in the gently folky ‘Family Tree’, written by Doug Crider and Matt Rollings.

Suzy and Doug’s ‘I Surrender’ is a pleasant love song, with Patty Loveless providing a gentle harmony. I preferred the closing ‘Train Of Thought’, written by Cathy Majeski, Sunny Russ and Stephony Smith, an attractively laid back number with backing vocals from Trisha Yearwood and Alison Krauss.

Overall while this is not one of Suzy’s best albums, it is a pleasant listening experience, but the attempts at maintaining commercial viability are the least successful tracks. It marked the end of her time on a major label, but is worth picking up if you like Suzy’s music.

Grade: B-

Album Review – Suzy Bogguss – ‘Give Me Some Wheels’

220px-SuzyBoggussGiveMeSomeWheelsWith all artists there comes a point in time when their music isn’t in step with current commercial trends and therefore banished from country radio. Following a string of successful projects, that fate met Suzy Bogguss. After teaming up with Chet Atkins for the artistically strong but commercially disappointing Simpatico, she took a year off to start a family. In that time, her unique styling was pushed out in favor of more pop leaning acts like Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and Martina McBride. Bogguss changed producers to Trey Bruce and Scott Hendricks for Give Me Some Wheels, released in summer 1996, but that didn’t reverse her sharp commercial decline.

The production on Give Me Some Wheels was far poppier and more decidedly upbeat than anything Bogguss had released to date, and the change in tempo added immensely to the listening experience. The #60 peaking title track, which reteamed Bogguss with her “Hey Cinderella” co-writers Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison, is an excellent uptempo number not too different from “Believe Me (Baby I Lied)” or “Wild Angles” and nice change of pace for Bogguss. Marcus Hummond and Darrell Scott’s “No Way Out” (also covered by Julie Roberts on her 2004 debut) stalled at #53 despite a wonderful uptempo arrangement and confident vocal from Bogguss. Final single “She Said, I Heard,” a Bogguss co-write with Don Schlitz, is another excellent mid-tempo rockin’ number that nicely recalls of that era Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Bogguss keeps the same pace on Tom Shapiro and George Teren’s “Traveling Light,” which I really, really like although the production leans a bit too generic. She steps far out of her musical comfort zone on Trey Bruce and Craig Wiseman’s “Fall,” framing her energetic vocal behind a decidedly popish drum track. The results are pure filler but Bogguss overcomes the track’s lightness with a charisma that’s hard not to be drawn into.

I thoroughly appreciate Bogguss’ efforts in changing up the proceedings on Give Me Some Wheels and not riding on the quiet angelic ballads that won her so much industry attention a few years earlier. Sure it was a calculated attempt at keeping up with current trends but it worked because Bogguss can pull of these kinds of songs very well.

She didn’t abandon her love of ballads completely, however. Bogguss and her husband Doug Crider co-wrote “Far and Away,” possibly the strongest song that wasn’t on her heyday albums, and if it had been a single back then would’ve likely topped the charts. Her conviction is incredible and I love the riffs of steel guitar heard throughout. “Feelin’ Bout You” is another home run as it beautifully blends the simplicity of a ballad with just enough tempo to keep it interesting. I also love “Let’s Get Real,” which is an example of country/rock done right. It leads as a country ballad complete with fiddle and steel but brings in some crashing drums on the chorus to give it oomph. Bogguss doesn’t sound as committed vocally on this track as I would’ve liked, but it’s very good nonetheless. “Live To Love Another Day” is a further example of Bogguss’ ballad sweet spot and a wonderful addition to the album. “Saying Goodbye To A Friend” is quiet and subtle, but it works thanks to Bogguss’ direct poignancy.

It may seem kind of odd to hear Bogguss positioned as a pop/country singer and not the eloquent balladeer we all came to know (and love) on her early to mid 90s recordings. But she pulls it off just like I knew she could. The issue with her early work was the albums got bogged down in a sea of sameness, a factor Bruce and Hendricks nicely rectified on Give Me Some Wheels. I hadn’t heard the album prior to writing this review, but it’s a very pleasant surprise in all accounts and might just be my favorite of all her recordings. If only every singer (I’m looking at you current Hendricks devotee Blake Shelton) could make trend pandering music sound this good.

Grade: A

Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘Down The Road I Go’

travistritt1998’s commercially disappointing No More Looking Over My Shoulder was the first album of Travis Tritt’s career that did not earn gold or platinum certification. It also marked the end of his tenure at Warner Bros. Records. At the turn of the millennium he signed with Columbia and released Down The Road I Go, which brought about a change in his commercial fortunes, at least temporarily.

Travis had a hand in writing seven of the album’s eleven tracks, and once again served as the project’s co-producer with Billy Joe Walker, Jr. The first single release for his new label was the gorgeous ballad “Best of Intentions”, which returned him to the Top 10 for the first time in four years. It was also his first #1 since 1994’s “Foolish Pride” and was his fifth and last chart-topper. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most of Tritt’s ballads but if pressed, I would probably choose “Best of Intentions” as my favorite.

Now back in country radio’s good graces, Tritt followed up the success of “Best of Intentions” with the Darrell Scott-penned “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” an optimistic and upbeat number that had previously been recorded by Jon Randall. It just missed the top of the chart, leveling off at #2, as did the soulful “Love Of A Woman”. “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” tells the story of a man who finds himself on the wrong side of the law when a woman he picks up at a gas station robs a convenience store. Comparing themselves to the famous 1930s outlaw duo, the two go on the lam and are eventually apprehended by the police. The fun tune peaked at #8 and was the last Top Ten hit of Tritt’s career.

Down The Road I Go is one of Tritt’s more consistent and enjoyable albums in no small part due to the lack of Southern Rock tunes that permeated most of his earlier work. The album cuts are all well written and within the realm of what was considered mainstream country in the early 2000s. I particularly like the harmonies on “I Wish I Was Wrong” and the two tunes that Tritt penned with Charlie Daniels – “If The Fall Don’t Get You” and the closing track “Southbound Train”, which has just a hint of Southern Rock. I also quite like “Never Get Away From Me (For Waylon and Jessi)”, which sounds very much like something Waylon Jennings might have released a quarter century earlier.

Down The Road I Go
is one of the very few Travis Tritt albums that I still play all the way through. Although he released two more albums for Columbia, it marks his last hurrah as a hitmaker. It’s worth picking up even if you are just a casual fan as all of his major hits for Columbia can be found here.

Grade: A

Album Review: Kathy Mattea – ‘Coal’

Kathleen Alice (Kathy) Mattea was born June 21, 1959, in South Charleston, West Virginia, the daughter of a coal miner and steeped in the lore and culture of the coal mines. While some think of her as a country singer and others regard her as folk, bluegrass or neo-Celtic, I prefer to think of Kathy Mattea as a quintessentially American singer and just leave it at that.

While Kathy had an extended run of top-twenty chart success running from 1986 to early 1993, Kathy’s records became increasingly more interesting once the focus on chart success subsided and she focused more on music she found interesting. With Coal, Kathy reached her career apogee, at least as far as artistic success is concerned.

Coal has always been a subject of great interest, whether to folklorists, economists or politicians. Coal is one of America’s greatest natural resources and the source of heated debate on how to mine it, how to utilize it and indeed whether or not to mine and utilize it all. While I have always been either an urban or suburban dweller, my grandfather, Otto Jetzork, was a coal miner who died at the young age of forty-three from “black lung” disease, so at a young age I started reading about coal miners and coal miners.

Ms. Mattea selected an excellent group of songs for her album and an excellent group of pickers including Marty Stuart (mandolin, acoustic guitar), Stuart Duncan (fiddle, banjo) and Byron House (acoustic bass).

The lead-off track is “The L&N Don’t Stop Here In Anymore”, a Jean Ritchie composition that some may remember as the title track of a New Coon Creek Girls album from 1994. Quite a few artists have recorded the song including Johnny Cash. Kathy does an excellent job with the song which, with slightly modified lyrics, could apply to the fate of many company towns, whatever the industry

I was born and raised at the mouth of Hazard Hollow
The coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
But now they stand in a rusty row all empty
Because the L & N don’t stop here anymore

This is followed by another Jean Ritchie song, “Blue Diamond Mines”. I think I heard the Johnson Mountain Boys do this song on the radio but I wasn’t very familiar with the song; since I find Jean Ritchie’s voice rather annoying I’ve tended to avoid her recordings. Given the quality of these two songs, I may reconsider and seek out some of her recordings. Kathy, as always, is excellent. This track features vocal harmony by another Kentucky girl, Patty Loveless:

You old black gold you’ve taken my lung
Your dust has darkened my home
And now I am old and you’ve turned your back
Where else can an old miner go

Read more of this post

Album Review: Kathy Mattea – ‘Right Out Of Nowhere’

By the middle of the 2000s, it was clear Kathy’s time in the limelight was over. One last album for MCA (The Innocent Years) failed to score any hit singles, and she moved to independent label Narada, where she was able to concentrate on artistry with little thought for commercial viability.  The second of her albums for this label came out in 2005.  This is not a very country sounding record, but it bears the hallmarks of evident thought and attention throughout, and is clearly a serious artistic endeavour.

‘Live It’, the solo single failed to chart.  Not one of Harley Allen’s better songs, it’s a cluttered and unoriginal exhortation to live life to the full and concentrate on love.  ‘Hurt Some’ is a jazzy AC ballad with a gospel feel (particularly in the vocals).  The rather obvious lyrics attempt to be insightful, advising a woman to expect a range of emotional ups and downs, written by Tia Sillers and Mark D Sanders.

‘Only Heaven Knows’ is quite a pretty ballad about acceptance of one’s lot, which is much better.  ‘Give It Away’ is an artfully constructed, melodic and beautifully sung song written by Kathy with husband Jon Vezner and Bob Halligan.  The three-story structure narrates encounters with individuals (a veteran star backstage, a woman in a doctor’s waiting room, and finally the protagonist saving herself from breaking off a love affair in a fit of pique following an argument), giving the sage advice that with music and love,

The only way to keep is to give it away

The best of the more philosophical songs here is Darrell Scott’s ‘Love’s Not Through With Me Yet’, given a plaintive Celtic sound and with Suzy Bogguss on harmony.

The title track is an okay but unexciting story song about a woman moving on, with an attractive melody.  The breakup song ‘Loving You, Letting You Go’ is lyrically forgettable but the wheezy harmonica gives it some sonic character.

The best song is ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’, a subtly cutting piano ballad written by Skip Ewing and Angela Kaset, which sounds tailor-made for Trisha Yearwood, although Kathy does a fine job.  It narrates a meeting with the woman the protagonist’s ex left her for, finding he has moved on again:

I thought the only thing wrong with her was you

Cause you don’t find joy within
You’re always wanting out
That’s not what love is all about
You’ll never find happiness
Til you let your heart invest
Baby you don’t know how
I hope you’re happy now

This is an excellent song which is well worth downloading even if nothing else here appeals.

Kathy extended her artistic range with a couple of unexpected rock covers.  The Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ is performed confidently, and is the biggest departure from preconceived ideas of what a Kathy Mattea record sounds like.  It’s not to my taste, but is interestingly done with inventive acoustic production, and Kathy deserves credit for trying something so different.  Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Down On The Corner’ is an enjoyable singalong.  ‘Wade In The Water’, meanwhile, is a traditional gospel song which is played around with a little too much.

This record was an interesting experiment.  Not everything works, but a period in the commercial doldrums is the obvious time to try branching out. Used copies can be found very cheaply

Grade: B-

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Let It Go’

Like most of Tim McGraw’s albums, 2007’s Let It Go is a combination of the good, the bad, and the mediocre on which Byron Gallimore and Darran Smith returned to share co-production duties. The lead single was the annoyingly fluffy “Last Dollar (Fly Away)” which was written by Big & Rich’s Big Kenny. It’s a mediocre song with a sing-songy chorus that grows tiresome with repeated listenings. The final chorus on which McGraw is joined by his three young daughters only adds to the irritation factor. Nevertheless, it reached the top spot on the charts, becoming McGraw’s first #1 hit since 2004’s “Back When”.

Much more to my liking is the album’s second cut, “I’m Workin'”, written by Darrell Scott and Lori McKenna. It’s a gritty number that in years past would have been a big hit on country radio. From the opening line, “Damn, I hope no one dies on this night shift tonight”, the listener is immediately pulled into the story. The narrator’s profession is never revealed. My first thought was that he was a policeman, but he could just as easily be a paramedic or even an ER doctor. Another song that should have been a single is the album’s best track “Whiskey and You”, a pure country number written by Lee Thomas Miller and then-Steeldrivers member Chris Stapleton. Likely deemed too traditional for country radio, “Whiskey and You” was left to languish in obscurity as an album cut, passed over in favor of schlock like the title track, a boring AC-leaning duet with Faith Hill, and a cover of an Eddie Rabbitt song — one of the songs in the late singer/songwriter’s catalog least worthy of a remake.

Faith Hill makes one of her two guest appearances on “I Need You”, a rather lackluster number written by David Lee and Tony Lane, that reached #8. It’s not nearly as good as “Shotgun Rider”, which is not a true duet but features a prominent harmony vocal from Hill. Written by Anthony Smith, Jeffrey Steele and Sherrie Austin, it’s the best McGraw/Hill song I’ve ever heard. It’s too bad Tim and Faith haven’t done more songs in this vein.

“Suspicions” was a #1 hit for Eddie Rabbitt in 1979, an era when a lot of barely-country sounding songs were big hits. It’s one of my least favorite Rabbitt songs. Tim’s version is very faithful to the original, but it only reached #12, making it one of the very few McGraw singles not to make the Top 10, in spite of Tim’s popularity and country radio’s increasing willingness to play non-country material. The follow-up single was the much more traditional “Kristofferson”, a tribute to one of country music’s greatest songwriters, written by Anthony Smith and Reed Nielsen. It fared even worse on the charts than “Suspicions”, stalling at #16. Tim bounced back, however, with the generic and overproduced title track, which climbed to #2.

The very best of the album’s seven singles was not included on the album when it was initially released. “If You’re Reading This”, on which Tim shares a rare songwriting credit with Brad and Brett Warren, was performed on the 2007 Academy of Country Music Awards telecast. It tells the heartbreaking story of a fallen soldier, in his own words, in a letter to his wife, to be sent to her in the event of his death. It was one of the best performances of Tim’s career and was so well received that the song entered the Billboard charts from unsolicited airplay of the audio from the telecast. This prompted Curb to release the live recording as a single, between “I Need You” and “Suspicions” and to include it on subsequent pressings of the album. “If You’re Reading This” peaked at #3; I was surprised that it didn’t go all the way to #1.

Mid-2008 was about the time when Curb Records began playing games to prolong Tim’s contract. Instead of releasing a new album, they opted to release a seventh single, “Nothin’ To Die For”, a preachy and overproduced “don’t drink and drive” number that reads like a public service announcement that somehow climbed to #5 on the charts.

The rest of the album is mostly generic filler, with the exception of “Between The River and Me”, which tells the story of a son’s revenge against an abusive father. It’s a southern Gothic number in the traditon of “Ode To Billy Joe”, “Fancy” and “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia”, but unlike those classics, “Between The River and Me” is ruined by over-the-top production that renders it almost unlistenable. To call it bombastic would be an understatement.

Though it has its share of duds, Let It Go is one of the stronger album’s in Tim’s discography and has enough good songs on it to make it worth recommending. It is easy to find at reasonable prices.

Grade: B

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Live Like You Were Dying’

2004 saw the release of Tim’s eighth studio album, Live Like You Were Dying.  It proved to be something of a return to form after the disappointing Dancehall Doctors album, thanks to much better material, although Tim kept that production team of himself, band leader Darran Smith and Byron Gallimore, with the Dancehall Doctors again providing backing.  The album’s making was overshadowed by the death of Tim’s father Tug at the beginning of the year, and it can be no coincidence that much of the material here is about contemplating loss and death and the sum of one’s life.  Although Tim did not contribute to any of the songwriting, the overall feel is of a very personal selection of material.

The title track served as the lead single, and it was exceptionally successful, hitting #1 and selling a million copies.  Written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, it tells the story of a 40something man who is spurred by a potentially terminal diagnosis to experience various things on his “bucket list” before it is too late.  The underlying Hallmark card message about living life to the full was obviously inspiring to many listeners, and touchingly it’s about being a good friend and husband as well as just having fun and engaging in dangerous sports (not something most people would actually be able to do if suffering a fatal illness).  The nostalgic but even more cliche’d ‘Back When’ was, surprisingly, the album’s second straight chart topper, although it is the album’s least imaginative song, and one that makes Tim sound like an old man grumbling about changing times and new uses of words.  It’s also rather disconcerting to hear the far-from-traditional McGraw complaining about “pop in my country”.

The much better ‘Drugs Or Jesus’ then faltered just inside the top 15.  It’s an interesting song about being trapped in a small town, where religion and illegal highs offer the only escape:

In my hometown

You’re either lost or found

It was probably too bleak and challenging an approach to be embraced by country radio, too often inclined to the comfortably self congratulatory when examining rural or small-town life.  The protagonist in this case has been fleeing from God, but seems to accept Him at the end.

The sour post-divorce tale of ‘Do You Want Fries With That?’ took him back to the top 5.  It’s an entertaining if slightly cartoonish tale (written by Casey Beathard and Kerry Kurt Philips) of a man financially ruined by the breakup of his marriage and reduced to a second job serving fast food, who encounters and rails against the man who has taken his place in the family home:

Your ketchup’s in the bag
And her check is in the mail
I hope your chicken’s raw inside
And I hope your bun is stale
I’m supposed to tell you
“Please come back!”
But how ‘bout this instead?
I hope you both choke on a pickle
Man, that would tickle me to death

The final single, the reflective ‘My Old Friend’, about an old friend who has died, is quite good, but would have been more appealing given a stripped down production.  It peaked at #6.

Read more of this post

Album Review: Brad Paisley – ‘Time Well Wasted’

Following a successful tour with Terri Clark and Reba McEntire in 2005, Brad Paisley released his fourth album, Time Well Wasted, which in addition to producing three more #1 hit singles, was named Album of the Year by both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music in 2006. It follows the same winning formula of combining traditional country music and comedy that made Mud On The Tires a commercial success. It also features some marquis name guest artists such as Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Bill Anderson and Little Jimmy Dickens. Like its predecessors, Time Well Wasted was produced by Fred Rogers, with Chris DuBois acting as executive producer.

The advance single was Brad’s own composition “Alcohol”. Once a staple at country radio, drinking songs have more or less fallen victim to the political correctness movement, and there was indeed a backlash against this party anthem for what critics claimed glamorized alcohol abuse. Most people, however, just viewed the song for what it was: a tongue-in-cheek party tune. The minor controversy did little to impede the record’s success on the charts. It reached #4 and also earned gold certification for digital sales exceeding 500,000 downloads.

Brad’s 2003 marriage to Kimberly Williams has been the apparent inspiration for a number of his songs that revolve around the theme of domestic bliss. There a few such offerings here, both humorous — “The World” — and serious — “Waitin’ On A Woman”, “She’s Everything”, and “Rainin’ You”. Both “The World” and “She’s Everything” reached #1, as did a re-recorded version of “Waitin’ On A Woman” when it was eventually released as part of Brad’s next two albums 5th Gear and the mostly instrumental Play. Brad’s vocal limitations are apparent on the album cut “Rainin’ You”, and to a lesser extent on “She’s Everything”, one of Paisley’s least traditional sounding singles to date. It was, however, the most successful single from the album, earning platinum certification for more than one million digital sales.

Even the happiest relationships have their rough patches, as we see in the tracks “I’ll Take You Back”, which is sort of an opposite-sex point of view version of Sara Evans’ “Cheatin'”, and the cleverly written “Flowers” in which Brad is an erring husband or boyfriend trying to make amends by repeatedly sending his wife or girlfriend roses, which are immediately trashed upon receipt, prompting the question:

” … How many flowers have to die
Before you give this love another try?
I’ve asked you to forgive me at least nine dozen times,
Tell me, how many flowers have to die?”

Paisley is joined by labelmate Alan Jackson for a rendition of Guy Clark and Darrell Scott’s “Out In The Parking Lot”, which finds the protagonists avoiding a cover charge at a club by drinking “Old Crow Whiskey and hot 7-Up” in their truck. The lyrics are a bit lightweight, but it’s a fun song and the two sound good together.

Dolly Parton joins Brad for the masterpiece “When I Get Where I’m Goin'”, the highlight of the album. The spiritually-themed song was released as the album’s second single. Perhaps they were seeking redemption following the release of “Alcohol”, but whatever the reason, the result was the finest single release of Brad’s career. It’s often labeled a duet, but technically it is not; Parton serves strictly in a secondary role proving harmony vocals, but because it was a credited performance, she gained some bragging rights when the record hit #1 in March 2006, making her the oldest female performer (at age 60) to ever top the Billboard country singles chart. Like its predecessor “Alcohol”, “When I Get Where I’m Going” earned gold certification.

The final musical track on the album is the title track, on which Brad once again sings about another one his passions — fishing. This is followed by the comedy sketch “Cornography” featuring Dolly Parton and The Kung Pao Buckeroos (Bill Anderson, George Jones, and Little Jimmy Dickens), in a follow-up to a similar sketch from Mud On The Tires. The sketch is followed by a number of hidden outtake tracks. These routines are mildly amusing but they do tend to wear thin with repeated listenings. Luckily they are placed at the end of the album where they can be easily skipped.

Brad is credited as a writer or co-writer on nine of the album’s fifteen music tracks. The wise decision to include some submissions from outside songwriters, makes Time Well Wasted a stronger collection than some of Brad’s other albums. It reached #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and sold in excess of two million copies. It remains my favorite album in the Paisley catalog.

Grade: A


Time Well Wasted
is readily available from online merchants such as Amazon and iTunes.

Decade in Review: Occasional Hope’s Top 50 Singles

Inevitably, anyone’s list of their favorite singles of the decade is going to be more mainstream-oriented than one of the best albums over the same period, just because independent artists are less likely to get their singles played on radio, and they tend to release fewer. My list doesn’t consist solely of hits, but a good proportion did get the success they deserved.

50. I Still Miss Someone – Martina McBride featuring Dolly Parton.
Martina recruited Dolly Parton to sing harmonies on her cover of this Johnny Cash classic on her Timeless album in 2006. It didn’t appeal to country radio, but it is a lovely recording.

49. How Do You Like Me Now?! – Toby Keith
The only song where Toby Keith managed to exercise his giant ego yet seem appealing at the same time. This #1 hit from 2000 is meanspirited but somehow irresistible. The video’s a bit heavy-handed, though.

48. I Hope You Dance – Lee Ann Womack
The enormous crossover success of Lee Ann’s signature song in 2000 set her on the wrong path musically for a while, but that doesn’t detract from the song itself, a lovely touching offering to LeeAnn’s daughter, featuring additional vocals from the Sons of the Desert.

47. You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This – Toby Keith
Toby is a very hit-and-miss artist for me, but he makes his second apearance in this list with my favorite of his singles, the tender realization on the dancefloor that a friend might be turning into a romantic interest. It was another #1 hit, this time in 2001. It has another terribly conceived video, though.

46. The Truth About Men – Tracy Byrd
Tracy Byrd recruited Blake Shelton, Andy Griggs and Montgomery Gentry to sing on this comic song about gender differences. Of course it’s not universally true – but it’s quite true enough to be funny. The single was a #13 hit in 2003, and is one of the few singles of recent years to inspire an answer song – Terri Clark’s ‘Girls Lie Too’, which was an even bigger hit the following year but has worn less well.

45. I Wish – Jo Dee Messina
Jo Dee Messina’s glossy pop-country was very accomplished but not always to my taste. But I did love this relatively subdued ballad which appeared only on her Greatest Hits album in 2003, and reached #15 on Billboard, with its neat twist as the protagonist bravely wishes her ex best, before admitting, “I wish you still loved me”.

44. Does My Ring Burn Your Finger – Lee Ann Womack
This biting reproach to a cheating spouse, written by Buddy and Julie Miller, was the best moment on Lee Ann’s bigselling I Hope You Dance. It was the least successful single from it, however, only reaching #23 in 2001.

43. Long Black Train – Josh Turner
Josh is one of the few traditionally oriented artists currently on a major label, although he has often recorded material which is not quite worthy of his resonant deep voice. His debut single was a heavily allusive religious song about sin which, although it only got to #13 in 2003, really established him as a star.

42. One More Day – Diamond Rio
A #1 hit from 2001 about bereavement and longing for more time with the loved one who has been lost, this touching song has heartfelt vocals and lovely harmonies from one of the best groups in country music over the past 20 years.

41. Another Try – Josh Turner and Trisha Yearwood
A classy ballad about hoping for better luck in love from two of the best mainstream singers around, this reached #15 in 2008, but should have been a #1.

40. I Still Sing This Way – Daryle Singletary
In 2002 Daryle had a single out called ‘That’s Why I Sing This Way’ (written by Max D Barnes) declaring himself a real country singer (“Mama whupped me with a George Jones record, that’s why I sing this way”). Five years later Daryle himself co-wrote this sequel, which I like even more, as he looks wryly at the music industry’s demands for glitz and glamor. He tells his manager he’s fine with a change of image – but he can’t change the way he sings.

Read more of this post