My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Darryl Worley

In Remembrance 30 years later: Keith Whitley — ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’

It’s hard to believe, but 30 years ago today, Keith Whitley passed away from alcohol poisoning at age 33.

Garth Brooks Trisha Yearwood, Mark Chesnutt, Larry Cordle, Caleb Daugherty, Kevin Denney, Tom Buller, Wesley Dennis, Joe Diffie, Corey Farlow, Carl Jackson, Cory and Dustin Keefe, Tracy Lawrence, Mark Wills, Darryl Worley, and Jesse Keith Whitley and Whitley’s widow, Lorrie Morgan will perform in his honor at a special concert event in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s CMA Theatre this evening in Nashville. The event has been organized by Whitley and Morgan. An exhibit dedicated to him has also just opened at the CMHoF. More on the event HERE.

We pause to remember him with his signature song:

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Album Review: Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis – ‘Come See Me and Come Lonely’

Come See Me and Come Lonely, Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis’ second collaborative album, is strictly a covers record with their version of twelve classic country songs ranging from the familiar to the slightly obscure. I didn’t even have an inkling this record was in the works, so count me among the pleased, and surprised when news broke about the impending release this past summer.

The album was produced by Richard Landis, who has handled the majority of Morgan’s production duties for more than 25 years. While he maintains the essence of each song, he updates the arraignments just enough to give the album a contemporary flair that allows the album to feel modern and not note-for-note recreations of the classic recordings from which these compositions are most known.

His choices result in a very good album that unfortunately begins with K.T. Oslin’s romantic ballad “Do Ya” sung as a duel-lead duet. The results are ridiculous but Tillis does bring vigor to an otherwise lifeless song. I had no idea what to expect from another seemingly random choice, Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs.” They handled the song with ease, as though it was born from a Nashville honky-tonk.

Skeeter Davis’ version of “The End of the World” has always been too schmaltzy and slightly comedic for my twenty-first-century ears. Morgan and Tillis’ interpretation is gorgeous and brings the underlying heartbreak in the lyrics to the forefront. “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” is similarly excellent and a brilliant nod to Tillis’ sound and style from the early 1990s.

The title track is brilliant and actually improves upon the version Dottie West released in 1978. I like their rendition of “Walk Right Back” and love how the emulate the Everly Brothers with their close-knit harmonies.

Morgan all but knocks Sammi Smith’s “Saunders Ferry Lane” out of the park, but I’ll always wonder how it would’ve sounded without so much age on her voice. “Rose In Paradise” is a southern gothic beauty, anchored masterfully by Tillis. My favorite track on the album is “Summer Wine,” presented as a duet with Darryl Worley and an almost unrecognizable Joe Diffie.

Tackling anything written and sung by Roy Orbison is a feat and Morgan and Tillis fall short on “It’s Over,” which just isn’t to my tastes at all. An acoustic take on “Blanket On The Ground” would’ve allowed Morgan and Tillis’ harmonies to shine, whereas the version they gave us drowns them out with obtrusive clutter.

Come See Me and Come Lonely isn’t a perfect album but there are some stunning performances throughout. Morgan and Tillis are on top of their artistic game even if the arrangements are too loud on occasion. I highly recommend checking this one out.

Grade: A- 

Album Review: Robert Mizzell – ‘Redneck Man’

Released in 2010, Robert Mizzell’s seventh album Redneck Man contains 15 songs, the majority of them covers, but some of them relatively obscure songs. Mizzell has a strong baritone voice which does justice to the material, and he is effectively backed by an excellent band performing mostly traditional country arrangements.

Although not a songwriter himself, the one original song on the album draws directly on Mizzell’s own life story. ‘Mama Courtney’, specially written for him by Irish songwriter Henry McMahon, is a moving tribute to the loving foster parents who helped to raise him in Louisiana when his birth mother “lost her way in life”.

Us kids are all now grown up and gone our separate ways
I look back on my childhood of many happy days
And when I go back to Shreveport I place flowers on her grave
And I thank Mama Courtney for all those kids that she saved

There are many children in this world that suffered hurt and shame
I thank all the Mama Courtneys that took away their pain
God works in mysterious ways
I believe this is true
Though she had no children of her own she fostered 32…

God rest you Mama Courtney
I’ll always love you

This is a genuinely moving song, and was understandably a success for the artist on Irish country radio.

Another single for him was a duet with US country star Collin Raye on ‘Murder On Music Row’. The two singers swap lines rather than harmonising except on the odd chorus line, but they contrast well, and both sing with feeling. Perhaps as a nod to Raye, Mizzell covers ‘I’m Gonna Love You’, a fluffy novelty song written by Robert Elis Orrall, which Raye cut on his children’s album Counting Sheep. It isn’t a very good song, and adds nothing to the album.

Much better is an entertaining cover of ‘Ol’ Frank’, a tongue in cheek story song about a young trophy bride who cashes in after “he died with a smile on his face”, which George Jones recorded in the 80s. Another late Jones cut, the up-tempo ‘Ain’t Love A Lot Like That’, is pleasant but definitely filler (plus it’s far too cavalier about missing pets).

Another excellent track is ‘More Behind The Picture Than The Wall’, a traditional country ballad written by Bill Anderson, Buddy Cannon and Don Miller, about a father remembering happy times past after the death of his soldier son in action. Mizzell’s vocals do the poignant nostalgia of the song (previously recrded by bluegrass band Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver) justice.

Too soon our little family was scattered to the winds
You fell out of love with me and wouldn’t fall back in
I was sleeping by myself the night I got that call
Yeah, there’s more behind this picture than the wall

Casey died a hero, that’s what the chaplain said
We couldn’t find sweet Lorrie, I doubt she knows it yet
You and I still tortured by the memories we recall
But there’s more behind this picture than the wall

Four happy loving faces, back then we had it all

Also very good is Mizzell’s version of ‘Someone To Hold Me When I Cry’, a great Wayland Holyfield/Bob McDill song which was a hit for last month’s Spotlight Artist, Janie Fricke and has also been recorded by Don Williams and Loretta Lynn.

He adds a soulful tinge to Jamey Johnson’s ‘She’s All Lady’, a married singer’s polite but firm rebuff to a potential groupie.

Thanks for coming out to see me
I hope you liked the show
Yeah, that’s right, I settled down about six months ago
No, she ain’t here tonight, she stayed at home
Yeah, it sure does get lonely out here on the road

By looking in your eyes, I can tell what’s on your mind
Yeah, I’d love to drive you home and’ hold your body close to mine
You’re everything a man could dream of, baby
Cause you’re all woman
But she’s all lady

I met her at a Baptist church in Tennessee
She was looking for someone
I was prayin’ it was me
No, she never thought she’d fall in love with a guitar man
Oh, it took some gettin’ used to
She does the best she can
No, she don’t like to stay at home alone
No, I don’t need your number
She’s probably waitin’ by the phone…

No, it ain’t you, Lord knows you’re a sight
Yeah, I probably could
But I could never make believe it’s right
I’d rather be alone, and I know that sounds crazy
‘Cause you’re all woman
But she’s all lady
You’re all woman, but she’s my lady

The album’s title comes from a briskly delivered version of Alan Jackson’s early single ‘Blue Blooded Woman’, which opens the album. Loaded with fiddle, this is a strong cut. Darryl Worley’s minor hit ‘Tennessee River Run’ is bright and pleasant. ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’ is a bit more well worn; Mizzell’s warm vocal sells it convincingly, but gets a little overblown towards the end.

Also on the less successful side, John Denver’s ‘Love Is Everywhere’ is forgettable, while ‘Two Ways To Fall’ once recorded by Garth Brooks sideman Ty England is quite a good song but suffers from dubious production choices with the first couple of lines horribly muffled and echoey.

Mizzell was already a reasonably well established star on the Irish country scene by this point, and in 2009 he acted as mentor to Lisa McHugh, another of the artists we are spotlighting this month, on a TV talent show. She guests here on a duet of the Randy Travis hit ‘I Told You So’; this is quite nicely sung but feels inessential. The same goes for ‘I Swear’; Mizzell sings with emotion but the arrangement feels a bit dated.

Overall I was very pleasantly surprised by this album. Mizzell has a strong voice and interprets the songs well; it’s just a shame that there was not more original material available.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘Say No More’

Clay_Walker_-_Say_No_MoreGiant Records folded in November 2001, just two weeks after Clay Walker released Say No More, his sixth album for the label. Warner Bros. Nashville took over the promotional duties for the album almost immediately. It was also his second consecutive release not to have James Stroud at the helm.

Two singles were issued from the album. The title track, a progressive yet emotionally charged ballad, peaked at #33. “If You Ever Feel Like Lovin’ Me Again, a very strong mid-tempo fiddle drenched ballad, faired better and peaked at #27. Walker has stated it’s his favorite song on the album.

The three cuts that Walker had a hand in co-writing on Say No More rank among his finest moments on record, period. “She’s Easy To Hold” is a traditional stunner, “Texas Swing” is incredible Western Swing, and “So Much More” soars with emotional passion. Walker’s voice, distinctive to each track, is incredible and properly showcases his brilliance as a vocalist.

“Real,” a pop country power ballad co-written by Lonestar’s Richie McDonald, sounds like a reject from their Lonely Grill album. Walker elevates it with his passion and commitment to the lyric, which is strong in its own right. “Could I Ask You Not To Dance” is a presumptuous turn off bathed in an early-2000s contemporary arrangement. “You Deliver Me” is a soaring ballad, with just enough signifiers to qualify it as country.

“I Love It” gets away with being lyrically light pop country because the groove is just so darn infectious and fun. “Rough Around The Edges” is a Darryl Worley co-write with one-time Nashville Star contestant Lance Miller and Kim Williams. The song is a subdued country-rocker that plays like a sequel to “If I Could Make A Living.” It’s odd that the production isn’t pushed to the max, which makes the proceedings feel demo-ish. But this is the approach I wished these types of songs took in today’s climate.

The final cut, which actually comes smack dab in the middle of the album, is Walker’s take on the Richie Valens classic “La Bamba” from 1958. He worked hard on learning the Spanish required to sing the song because he wanted to authentically pull it off in hopes he wouldn’t get panned for it. For once, he actually succeeded.

Say No More continues Walker’s tradition of giving us albums that are a mixed bag of styles. But he incredibly got more right than wrong this time around. I could only find one true dud amongst the selections and he kept from succumbing to the ‘soccer mom’ trend that was big at the time.

If you’re wise you would’ve done this already, but my recommendation when approaching Say No More is to download “She’s Easy To Hold” and “Texas Swing,” as soon as possible. They’re essential listening from an artist who has crafted many essential songs. Go ahead and buy the rest of the album, too, but those are the two songs you have to add to your collection.

Grade: A-

Week ending 1/31/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

1955 (Sales): Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

1955 (Jukebox): Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Let Me Go, Lover — Hank Snow (RCA)

1965: You’re The Only World I Know — Sonny James (Capitol)

milsap-21975: (I’d Be) A Legend In My Time — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1985:(There’s A) Fire In The Night — Alabama (RCA)

1995: Gone Country — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2005: Awful, Beautiful Life — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks)

2015: Something In The Water — Carrie Underwood (19/Arista)

2015 (Airplay): Til It’s Gone — Kenny Chesney (Blue Chair/Columbia)

Week ending 1/24/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

1955 (Sales): Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

reba1955 (Jukebox – tie): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Loose Talk — Carl Smith (Columbia)

1965: You’re The Only World I Know — Sonny James (Capitol)

1975: Kentucky Gambler — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1985: How Blue — Reba McEntire (MCA)

1995: Not A Moment Too Soon — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2005: Awful, Beautiful Life — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks)

2015: Something In The Water — Carrie Underwood (19/Arista)

2015 (Airplay): Perfect Storm — Brad Paisley (Arista)

Classic Rewind: Darryl Worley – ‘Good Day To Run’

Week ending 5/18/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

royclark1953 (Sales): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Jukebox): No Help Wanted — The Carlisles (Mercury)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Your Cheatin’ Heart — Hank Williams (MGM)

1963: Still — Bill Anderson (Decca)

1973: Come Live With Me — Roy Clark (Dot)

1983: Whatever Happened To Old-Fashioned Love — B.J. Thomas (Columbia)

1993: I Love The Way You Love Me — John Michael Montgomery (Atlantic)

2003: Have You Forgotten? — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): Get Your Shine On — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

Week ending 5/11/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

Shelly West1953 (Sales -Tie):
Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)
Mexican Joe — Jim Reeves (Abbott)

1953 (Jukebox): No Help Wanted — The Carlisles (Mercury)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): No Help Wanted — The Carlisles (Mercury)

1963: Still — Bill Anderson (Decca)

1973: Behind Closed Doors — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1983: Jose Cuervo — Shelly West (Viva/Warner Bros.)

1993: Alibis — Tracy Lawrence (Atlantic)

2003: Have You Forgotten? — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): If I Didn’t Have You — Thompson Square (Stoney Creek)

Week ending 5/4/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

Hawkshaw-Hawkins1953 (Sales): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Jukebox):Your Cheatin’ Heart — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Your Cheatin’ Heart — Hank Williams (MGM)

1963: Lonesome 7-7203 — Hawkshaw Hawkins (King)

1973: Behind Closed Doors — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1983: You’re The First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving — Reba McEntire (Mercury)

1993: Alibis — Tracy Lawrence (Atlantic)

2003: Have You Forgotten? — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): Downtown — Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

Week ending 5/4/13: #1 albums this week in country music history

elvis presley - aloha from hawaii1968: Eddy Arnold – The Everlovin’ World of Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1973: Elvis Presley – Aloha from Hawaii: Via Satellite (RCA)

1978: Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson – Waylon & Willie (RCA Victor)

1983: Alabama – The Closer You Get (RCA)

1988: George Strait – If You Aint Lovin’, You Ain’t Livin’ (MCA)

1993: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1998: Shania Twain – Come On Over (Mercury)

2003: Darryl Worley – Have You Forgotten? (Dreamworks)

2008: Lady Antebellum – Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

2013: Blake Shelton – Based on a True Story (Warner Brothers)

Week ending 4/27/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

kershaw1953 (Sales): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Jukebox): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1963: Still — Bill Anderson (Decca)

1973: Superman — Donna Fargo (Dot)

1983: American Made — The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)

1993: She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful — Sammy Kershaw (Mercury)

2003: Have You Forgotten? — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): Downtown — Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

Week ending 4/20/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

Alabama-band-rca021953 (Sales): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Jukebox): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1963: Still — Bill Anderson (Decca)

1973: A Shoulder To Cry On — Charley Pride (RCA)

1983: Dixieland Delight — Alabama (RCA)

1993: The Heart Won’t Lie — Reba McEntire & Vince Gill (MCA)

2003: Have You Forgotten? — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): I Drive Your Truck — Lee Brice (Curb)

Week ending 4/13/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

Darius-Rucker1953 (Sales): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Jukebox): Your Cheatin’ Heart — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1963: Still — Bill Anderson (Decca)

1973: Super Kind of Woman — Freddie Hart & The Heartbeats (Capitol)

1983: We’ve Got Tonight — Kenny Rogers & Sheena Easton (Liberty)

1993: The Heart Won’t Lie — Reba McEntire & Vince Gill (MCA)

2003: Have You Forgotten? — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks)

2013: Wagon Wheel — Darius Rucker (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Somebody’s Heartbreak — Hunter Hayes (Atlantic)

Week ending 4/6/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

lynn_anderson21953 (Sales): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Jukebox): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1963: Don’t Let Me Cross Me Over — Carl Butler & Pearl (Columbia)

1973: Keep Me In Mind — Lynn Anderson (Columbia)

1983: When I’m Away From You — The Bellamy Brothers (Elektra/Curb)

1993: When My Ship Comes In — Clint Black (RCA)

2003: Have You Forgotten? — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks)

2013: Sure Be Cool If You Did — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

2013 (Airplay): Sure Be Cool If You Did — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Week ending 9/22/12: #1 singles this week in country music history

1952: It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels — Kitty Wells (Decca)

1962: Devil Woman — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1972: When The Snow Is On The Roses — Sonny James (Columbia)

1982: She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft) — Jerry Reed (RCA)

1992: Love’s Got A Hold On You — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2002: I Miss My Friend — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks Nashville)

2012: Pontoon — Little Big Town (Capitol)

Week ending 8/4/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

1967: Jack Greene – All The Time (Decca)

1972: Charley Pride – The Best of Charley Pride, Vol. 2 (RCA)

1977: Waylon Jennings – Ol’ Waylon (RCA)

1982: Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Columbia)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1997: Tim McGraw – Everywhere (Curb)

2002: Darryl Worley – I Miss My Friend (Dreamworks)

2007: Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2012: Zac Brown Band – Uncaged (Atlantic)

Album Review: The Grascals & Friends – ‘Country Classics With A Bluegrass Spin’

The Grascals are one of the most talented current bluegrass lineups, and their four albums to date have been gaining them increasing amounts of attention. The band’s singers are not among my favorite bluegrass vocalists, but their instrumental prowess is exceptional. They have already worked extensively with discerning country artists like Dierks Bentley and Dolly Parton. This side project, recorded exclusively for Cracker Barrel, consists, as the title promises, of the Grascals’ selection of classic mainstream country songs given a light bluegrass flavor, with a number of guest stars helping out on vocals. Fiddler Jeremy Abshire and banjoist Kristin Scott Benson stand out most for me, but all the musicianship is flawless, with not a note sounding out of place or misjudged – the perfect combination of virtuosity and taste.

Most of the songs are duets with the guest vocalist generally opening and one of the Grascals’ lead singers taking over halfway through. Guests range from some of the more traditionally rooted of today’s stars to veteran acts on their own classics.

Brad Paisley is entertaining on a committed version of the Buck Owens classic ‘Tiger By The Tail’ which opens the set brightly and is one of my favorite tracks. I also really enjoyed Dierks Bentley guesting on ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, although I would have preferred him to sing lead throughout rather than sharing the role, which seems to make the lyric less convincing by not being a single man’s story. The least successful cameo comes from Joe Nichols, whose music I usually like, but who sounds rather limp on ‘Mr Bojangles’ (not one of my personal favorite songs anyway, which may color my appreciation of this version).

Darryl Worley appears on the second verse of a fast-paced and playful ‘White Lightning’ which sounds as though the band had great fun recording it, and it is equally enjoyable to listen to. Country and bluegrass get some added Cajun spice with a lively take on ‘Louisiana Saturday Night’ (a Bob McDill song about down-home partying on the bayou and was a hit for Mel McDaniel in 1981), which is perfectly fine without any star guest. However, a Hank Jr medley of ‘Born To Boogie’ and All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin’ Over Tonight’ could have done with a guest to add some passion, as the treatment is just far too mild – neither boogieing nor rowdy in even the slightest degree. The instrumental backing is as attention-grabbing as ever, though.

Singer-songwriter Tom T Hall has been working in bluegrass for some years, and here he sings his ‘The Year That Clayton Delaney Died’. His voice has audibly aged, but it works well in the context of this warmly reminiscent tribute to a childhood influence, and the cut is absolutely charming. Charlie Daniels sounds even more grizzled on ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’, but the band sound a little too polite vocally backing him up, although the playing definitely has the requisite fire. The Oak Ridge Boys contribute vocals on their Rodney Crowell-penned hit ‘Leavin’ Louisiana In the Broad Daylight’ (one of the more unexpected song choices), and while this works well in its new incarnation, it isn’t one of my favorite tracks.

Dolly Parton harmonizes beautifully on her own (and Porter Wagoner’s) ‘Pain Of Lovin’ You’, which works perfectly as a bluegrass song. Dolly also guests on the single which has been released to publicize the project, ‘I Am Strong’, the only original song included (apart from a nice rhythmic instrumental, ‘Cracker Barrel Swing’). Written by the Grascals’ Jamie Johnson with his wife Susanne Mumpower-Johnson and Jenee Fleenor (currently Terri Clark’s fiddle player), it has a very pretty melody, and heartfelt lyric, sung with great soulfulness and emotion. I have to admit that if I were diagnosed with a serious or fatal illness, my own first impulse would not be to talk about how strong I felt, and I don’t think I would even want to be, so the song’s message doesn’t quite speak to me personally. Having said that, it is an attitude which does help many people, and it appealed to the Grascals enough that they recorded the song twice here, once with Dolly, then reprised at the end of the album with an all-star cast including most of their other guests, Terri Clark, Randy Owen and (bizarrely) action star Steven Seagal. (It would, incidentally, have been nice to have had a full duet with Terri on the record, as the choice of guests is rather male-dominated.) I actually found this version with everyone swapping lines more effective and moving than the earlier version, with more of a sense of universality.

Both versions are emotive in the right way, with a real sense of hope. Both end with a few lines delivered by a three-year-old patient at St Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, which inspired the song’s composition. Fittingly, a share of the profits of the album go to the hospital.

Grade: A-

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Cold Hard Truth’

By the late 1990s, country radio had decidedly cooled toward George Jones, just as it had done with most of his contemporaries. During that decade, Jones had made the transition from hit-maker to country music’s elder statesman. Although the radio hits had tapered off, he still managed to generate respectable sales, with two of his 90s discs earning gold certification. However, the sales weren’t considered good enough for him to keep his record deal, and in 1999 he parted ways with MCA Nashville after an eight-year stint with the label. It looked as though his major label career was over when he was suddenly given a reprieve — albeit a temporary one — when he was signed to the Nashville division of Asylum Records. The label assured him that he could have complete creative control and asked only that he record the album that he would have made twenty years earlier if he had been sober.

Jones teamed up with producer Keith Stegall, best known for his work with Alan Jackson, and his old pals Vince Gill and Patty Loveless who supplied harmony vocals to the project. The album that resulted was Cold Hard Truth, which was released in June 1999. It was hailed by the label as George’s return to hardcore country, which may have been overstating things a bit, since Jones had never abandoned his traditional sound. Still, the album was a change in direction in a sense, as its material was more substantive and serious, with none of the semi-novelty tunes or beat-driven “Young Country” style songs that had been characteristic of his work with MCA.

By this time, Jones had 158 charted singles — more than any other artist in any genre in history — under his belt. He kicked off the Asylum era of his career with “Choices”, a song about living with consequences of one’s actions which Billy Yates and Mike Curtis seem to have written with George in mind. In a just world, “Choices” would have returned George to the top of the charts, much as “Buy Me A Rose” would do for Kenny Rogers a few years later. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but “Choices” did reach a respectable #30, higher than any of his MCA singles except for “High-Tech Redneck”. Interest in the song was undoubtedly fueled by the controversy that ensued when Jones refused to perform it on the CMA’s award show because that organization refused to allot him enough time to sing it in its entirety. However, the song holds its ground on its own merits, and is one of the finest performances of Jones’ career. One can imagine another singer tackling “Choices” but not with the credibility that Jones brings.

Jamie O’Hara’s “The Cold Hard Truth” was chosen as the follow-up single. It is another fine performance, somewhat similar in theme to “Choices”, but it is not quite as good a song. It stalled at #45. For the next single — his last on a major label — Jones released the more light-hearted and somewhat fluffy “Sinners & Saints”, written by Vip Vipperman, J.B. Rudd, and Darryl Worley. It peaked at #55.

Many artists have difficulty obtaining first-rate material once their hit-making days are over, but that definitely was not the case here. There are some true gems from some of Nashville’s finest songwriters among the album cuts, including “Day After Forever” from the pen of Max D. Barnes, “Ain’t Love A Lot Like That” written by Mark Collie and Dean Miller, “This Wanting You” by Bruce Burch, Bruce Bouton, and T. Graham Brown, and Emory Gordy Jr.’s and Jim Rushing’s haunting “When The Last Curtain Falls”.

The Asylum era appeared to be off to a strong start for the new millenium, but regrettably we will never know what direction they would have taken with subsequent projects. The label’s Nashville office was shut down in 2000 by its parent company Time Warner. George apparently turned down an offer to join the Warner Bros. Nashville roster, opting instead to become a partner with former Asylum president Evelyn Shriver in the newly formed Bandit Records, which has released all of his music from 2001 to the present day.

Cold Hard Truth
is somewhat of a creative renaissance for Jones, more consistent in quality than any other album he’d released in the preceding decade. Although at age 68 his voice was beginning to show signs of wear and tear, he proved that he was still worthy of the title of country music’s greatest living singer. The album was meant to be a commercial comeback for George, and indeed it was a both a critical and commercial success, earning gold certification. However, it will be best remembered as the capstone to his major label career and it is hard to imagine how he could have ended his tenure with the majors on a higher note.

Grade: A

Cold Hard Truth
is still readily available in both CD and digital form from sources 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.

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