My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dave Kirby

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Bandy The Rodeo Clown’

Moe Bandy’s third (and final) album on GRC was Bandy The Rodeo Clown. Released in 1975, the album was the least successful of Moe’s three GRC albums, reaching only #27 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, but the title track (and only single from the album) proved to be Moe’s biggest hit to-date, reaching #7 in the USA and #4 in Canada. The album was a hard-core country fan’s fantasy with such stalwart musicians as Charlie McCoy, Bobby Thompson, Bob Moore, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Leo Jackson, Jimmy Capps, Johnny Gimble, Kenny Malone, Weldon Myrick and Dave Kirby present to ‘keep it country’.

I’m sure that many thought that Moe penned the title track, which was the first track on the album; however, the song actually came for the golden pens of Lefty Frizzell and Whitey Shfer. The story of a rodeo rider toppled by lost love, and winding up a rodeo clown, Moe is entirely believable as he sings the song.

Who was once a bull hooking son of a gun
Now who keeps a pint hid out behind chute number one
Who was riding high till a pretty girl rode him to the ground
Any kid knows where to find me
I’m Bandy The Rodeo Clown

Next up is “Somewhere There’s A Woman”, penned by Rex Gosdin and Les Reed. This song is a standard jog-long ballad that Moe handles well. This is followed by “Give Me Liberty (Or Give Me All Your Love)”, a ballad about a guy who is losing his girlfriend to her old lover.

“Nobody’s Waiting For Me” is a sad slow ballad about a down and outer, what used to be known as a weeper. This song was written by Whitey Shafer – it’s a good song and in the hands of George Jones, it might have been hit single material – but otherwise it is just an album track.

Side one closes with “I Stop And Get Up (To Go Out Of My Mind)”, a mid-tempo ballad with some nice harmonica by Charlie McCoy and fiddle by Johnny Gimble.

Side two opens up with an old warhorse in Don Gibson’s “Oh, Lonesome Me”. I’ve heard better versions, but Moe does an acceptable job with the song. Eddy Raven, who has been enjoying renaissance in bluegrass, penned “I Sure Don’t Need That Memory Tonight”. It’s a decent ballad but nothing more. Better is another Raven tune “Fais Do-Do”, a Cajun-flavored tune that I would liked better had it been taken at a slightly faster tempo. At a faster tempo this song would have made a good single. Yet another Raven song follows in ”Goodbye On Your Mind”, another mid-tempo ballad.

The album closes with “Signs Of A Woman Gone” by Rex Gosdin and Les Reed. The song is slightly up-tempo and while I find the presence of the Jordanaires in the introduction slightly distracting, Bobby Thompson’s fine banjo redeems the song as does Weldon Myrick’s fine steel guitar.

This is a solid country album, well sung by Moe with a solid country band. The problem with the album is two-fold: not enough tempo variation, and generally solid but unexciting songs. I do not mind listening to this album, but only the title track was worthy of single release. The first two GRT albums were better but I would still give this album a solid ‘B’.

After this album, Moe would be signed by Columbia, which purchased Moe’s back GRC catalogue. While Moe would not go on to have enormous success as an album seller, he would crank out a steady stream of successful singles for the next thirteen years.

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Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘Daytime Friends’

Released in July 1977, Daytime Friends was Kenny’s third album as a solo act, and his second album to go platinum. For the most part, this starts out as a solid country album with such stalwarts as Billy Sanford, Dave Kirby, Jerry Shook, Jimmy Capps, Jim Colvard, Johnny Christopher, Larry Keith and Reggie Young on guitar; Pete Drake on pedal steel guitar; Bob Moore, Joe Osborn and Tommy Allsup on bass; and Pig Robbins on piano to help keep things country for the first half of the album. The album would reach #2 on Billboard’s Country Album chart and crack the top forty on the all genres album chart. I suspect that Kenny’s actual position on the all genres chart would have been much better had Sound Scan been around.

I remember Kenny from his days with the First Edition (they even had a television show) and while Kenny’s first few country singles had a strong country feel, I always felt that he would drift into being a lounge, pop or pop-country balladeer. Unfortunately, I was correct and his output became less country as he went along. After 1979’s “You Decorated My Life”, it would be a long time before I really cared about any of Kenny’s recordings.

The opening track was the title track, written by Ben “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” Peters, and the first single released on the album, giving Kenny his second #1 country single. This song is a modern take on an ancient theme:

And he’ll tell her he’s working late again
But she knows too well there’s something going on
She’s been neglected, and she needs a friend
So her trembling fingers dial the telephone

Lord, it hurts her doing this again
He’s the best friend that her husband ever knew
When she’s lonely, he’s more than just a friend
He’s the one she longs to give her body to

Daytime friends and nighttime lovers
Hoping no one else discovers
Where they go, what they do, in their secret hideaway
Daytime friends and nighttime lovers
They don’t want to hurt the others
So they love in the nighttime
And shake hands in the light of day

Next up was a rather lame take on the Glenn Frey-Don Henley composition. I’ve heard many better versions, including Johnny Rodriguez’s #5 country single from earlier in 1977. I’ve always thought of this as a song about desolation and was disappointed that Kenny’s producers gave this a cocktail lounge arrangement. Kenny sings the song well, and with a little more muscular arrangement I would have really liked this song

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses,
Come down from your fences- open the gates.
It may be rainin, but there’s a rainbow above you.
You’d better let somebody love you,
LET SOMEBODY LOVE YOU.
You’d better let somebody love you,
before it’s too late.

Kenny O’Dell is probably best remembered as the composer of the Charlie Rich smash “Behind Closed Doors”, but “Rock and Roll Man” is a respectable effort as well. A mid-tempo ballad with some pop trappings, Kenny handles the vocals well.

“Lying Again” was written by respected Nashville producer/songwriters Chips Moman and Larry Butler. Kenny does a nice job with this song about cheating, misgivings and regrets.

“I’ll Just Write My Music and Sing My Songs” fits within the context of the album, but is nothing more than a passable album track.

“My World Begins and Ends With You” would be a #4 hit in 1979 for Dave & Sugar [Dave Rowland, Sue Powell, Vickie Baker]. Kenny handles this love song well but I actually prefer the Dave & Sugar version.

My world was no more than a dream
And waitin’ on a dream can sure get lonely
Your love just fell right into place
And filled and empty space to overflowing, overflowing

My world begins with havin’ a friend when I’m feeling blue
My world would end if ever I heard you say we were through
Just don’t know what I’d do
‘Cause my world begins and ends with you

Kenny wrote “Sweet Music Man”, the second single released from the album. Rather surprisingly, the single stalled out at #9 on the US country charts, while reaching #1 on the Canadian country and adult contemporary charts:

But nobody sings a love song quite like you do
and nobody else could make me sing along
and nobody else could make me feel
that things are right when I know they’re wrong
( that things are right when you’re wrong with the song )
nobody sings a love song quite like you.

Larry Keith’s “Am I Too Late” points the pop/schlock direction Kenny’s music would take. The song is drenched in strings and has a very cocktail lounge feel to it. In fact the last four songs all lean a pop direction (“We Don’t Make Love Anymore”, “Ghost of Another Man” and “Let Me Sing For You”), although “Let Me Sing For You”, written by Casey Kelly and Julie Dodier has an interesting lyric and rather gentle folk-pop arrangement:

One bright, sunny day I set on my way to look for a place on this Earth.
My life was a song just 3 minutes long. And, that’s about all it was worth.
I wandered around. Unlost and unfound, unnoticed and misunderstood.
Each thing that I tried just lessened my pride. Guess I didn’t do very good.
Then I saw you lookin’ just like I felt. So, I walked up to you and I said.

Let me sing for you.
It’s not much to ask after all I’ve been through.
Let me sing for you.
At least there’s still one thing I know that I know how to do.

I found you alone, no love of your own. I gave you a shiny new toy.
I made you feel good as best as I could. And, I was your rainy-day boy.
I held you so near. But, you held this fear. And, felt like you’d been there before.
The spell that was cast was too good to last. Soon the toy wasn’t new any more.
So, I asked for some time. And, you gave me a watch.
If it’s that late already again….

Let me sing for you.
It’s not much to ask after all we’ve been through.
Let me sing for you.
At least there’s still one thing I know that I know how to do.

It is tough for me to evaluate this album. I liked, in varying degrees, the first seven songs, but by the time I got to “Am I Too Late” I was getting bored with the album. The tempos tend to be rather similar throughout, and the last songs on the album tend to be more pop, less country and, other than the last song, less interesting. I would give this album a B, but it is a very uneven B as far as I am concerned.

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Charley Pride’s 10th Album’

Released in June 1970, Charley Pride’s 10th Album was actually his ninth album of new material as his actual ninth album was the hits collection The Best of Charley Pride.

Only one single was released from the album, Dave Kirby’s “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone”, but there were three or four other songs that were worthy of single release. The album reached #1 on Billboard’s Country Albums charts (also #1 in Canada), and went to #30 on the all-genre’s charts, becoming Charley’s fourth consecutive and sixth total gold albums. I strongly suspect that had Sound Scan been around, this album would have tracked higher.

The album opens up with “Able Bodied Man”, the Bill Rice – Jerry Foster composition about an itinerant laborer who moves from job to job, all the while working hard to keep his marriage working. It’s a truly great song and one I would have liked to see released as a single

If I had more education now I’d have made a better life for me and you
But just simple manual labor is the only kind of work that I can do
The bus is loadin’ for Missouri so I guess I’d better go
I’ll call you just as soon as I can
I’ll be sending you a ticket cause I think I’ll get a job
If they’re looking for an able bodied man
And remember I’m your able bodied man

Next up is Bill Rice’s “Through The Years”, a nice slow country ballad about a relationship that has grown stronger through the years. The song had no potential as a single, but makes a nice complement to the album.

“Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone” would be Charley’s best remembered song had “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” never come along. The song reached #1 for two weeks and was his biggest pop hit up that time. The song became an immediate favorite of country cover bands everywhere. Doug Sahm recorded the song twice (once with the Texas Tornados) and Larry Cunningham & The Mighty Avons had success with the song in the UK and Ireland. There was even a rough Swedish translation of the lyrics that became a hit in Sweden.

Rain drippin’ off the brim of my hat,
It sure looks cold today.
Here I am a-walkin’ down 66,
Wish she hadn’t done me this way.

Sleepin’ under a table in a roadside park,
A man could wake up dead;
But it sure seemed warmer than it did
Sleepin’ in my king-size bed.

[Chorus]
Is anybody goin’ to San Antone or Phoenix, Arizona?
Any place is all right as long as I can forget I’ve ever known her.

The nest three songs are basic slow country ballads: Jerry Foster’s “The Thought of Losing You”, Jack Clement’s “I Think I’ll Take A Walk”, and the Hugh X Lewis composition “Things Are Looking Up”. All three are nice songs with vivid imagery, but none would be considered as singles material.

Charley picks up the tempo a little with Bill Foster’s “Special”, a train song of wanderlust. There was a time when a song such as thius one would have been a viable single, but by 1970, that time was probably was past.

The only thing I really own is what you see me wearing on my back
The only friends I’ve ever known are the kind you meet along a railroad track
The kind you bum tobacco from and view the world through a boxcar door
A friend who talks and makes you laugh has nothing much but gives you half

And maybe you don’t see him anymore
Special I hear your lonesome whistle whine
It’s calling me
Special keep moving me on down the line

Alex Zanetis, who wrote several of Jim Reeves’ big hits, wrote a “Poor Boy Like Me”. Thematically it was too similar to several of his earlier singles for Charley to have released the song as a single. Ditto for the Allen Reynolds-Dickie composition “(There’s) Nobody Home To Go Home To”. I would have thought that someone would have taken a chance on one of these songs, both excellent album tracks.

I have no idea why RCA chose not to release “This Is My Year For Mexico” as a single. The song screams hit single. Crystal Gayle recorded the song in 1975 and reached #13 on Record World, 16 on Cashbox and 21 on Billboard, but her career had not reached high gear yet (it was her second biggest hit at that point in her career). Released later in Crystal’s career it would have been a huge record, as it would have been for Charley had it been released as a single. As it was, the song received considerable airplay, although Billboard did not track album tracks at the time. Bluegrass superstar Dale Ann Bradley has the song on an upcoming album and several other bluegrass acts have recorded the song.

I no longer notice if you’re wearing perfume
I quit smoking, girl, you never even knew
And the road is full of young and restless people
And their full of the energy to move

[Chorus]
Its a habit for us to stay together
We sit and watch the nightly shadows grow
Every day last year I left for California
This is my year for Mexico

At the time I purchased the album (July 1970) I noted the album had only ten tracks and had a playing time of around 27 minutes, a bit of a short-change. On the other hand I would rather have 27 minutes of music that ranges from very good to excellent than 35 minutes of drivel. There is not a song on this album I dislike – a solid A.

Album Review: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil’

porter.wagoner.and.dolly.parton.burning.the.midnight.oilPorter Wagoner and Dolly Parton released their seventh duets album on RCA Records in January 1972. The ten-track collection, entitled The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil, was helmed by their longtime producer Bob Ferguson.

The album produced two top-twenty singles, both penned by Wagoner. “The Right Combination” is a somewhat cheesy ballad in which the pair boasts about enduring love. The record is wonderful, and Parton’s fiery vocal is fantastic, but the arrangement is spastic. Ferguson switches between lush strings typical of the Nashville Sound and the more appealing mixture of fiddle and steel so fast his intentions are difficult to pinpoint.

The only other single, “Burning The Midnight Oil, has an appealing honky-tonk groove and wonderful pedal steel that helps the mid-tempo ballad chug along quite nicely. The background singers are a dated add-on but not distracting enough to divert attention from the song’s positive qualities.

Beyond the minor radio hits, The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil is notable for the inclusion of “Her and the Car and the Mobile Home,” written by Dave Kirby and Don Stock. The novelty tune, in which a philandering husband is left abandoned and homeless, is an excellent comedy bit the pair sells brilliantly. The song grows tired on repeated listenings, which likely kept it as an album cut, but it does have very considerable charms nonetheless.

The album also contains three Parton originals. The confrontative “I’ve Been This Way Too Long” is a delightful steel drenched number about old habits and unwavering routines. A bitter truth stands at the forefront of “In Each Love Some Pain Must Fall,” a pensive ballad about how fighting doesn’t mean the end of relationships. The arrangement is oddly cheery, and the parallels to their split are eerie, but the song itself is fantastic. Their love has truly died on “Somewhere Along The Way,” a mournful ballad with the arrangement to match.

Wagoner’s additional writing contributions include two more songs. “More Than Words Can Tell” is a ballad indicative of the generations in which love prevails and vows meant divorce wasn’t an option. The song finds Wagoner and Parton old and grey, enjoying their blissful golden years. The song is a perfect counterpart to “In Each Love Some Pain Must Fall.” His other song, “The Fog Has Lifted” isn’t the most lyrically strong cut on the album, but it has significant deeper meaning knowing the couple’s complicated history and reconciliation as a musical pair.

The remaining tracks were outside cuts. Eddie Sovine composed “On and On,” another of the records tracks devoted to steadfast love. “Through Thick and Thin,” by Bill Owens, might be the album’s strongest cut and is surely one of my favorites from the project. The fiddle heavy tune is an excellent examination of marriage and the tides that bind couples for life.

Though not necessarily billed as such, The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil is a concept album exploring relationships through long-term love. As I’ve noted, these tracks examine marriage in a beautiful and honest manner without seeming sugary or overstated. The reflection on older love in “More Than Words Can Tell” is as heartwarmingly relatable as the stubborn couple at the center of “I’ve Been This Way Too Long.” The best of these, without question, is “In Each Love Some Pain Must Fall,” a sentiment as significant today as when Parton wrote it more than forty-four years ago.

I’ll admit that given my age (I’m 28) I haven’t explored the great duet partners in country music history beyond the singles that have become classics. Which means that, unlike my colleagues, I’m hearing this music for the first time with completely fresh ears. While that wasn’t an advantage with many of the other 1960s/1970s artists we’ve covered, it works in my favor here. The Right Combination • Burning the Midnight Oil is spectacular, with Parton (who I’ve also never spent significant time with) in stellar form. While none of these songs have truly amounted to anything, they combine to make a fine collection on their own.

Grade: A+

The best re-issues of 2014

pathway of my lifeAs is always the case, most of the best reissues of American Country Music come from Europe. There are several reasons for this:

1 – Until recently, European copyrights on recordings were only good for 50 years. This changed recently to 70 years, but the change was not retroactive. I am not sure what the cut-off point is for application of the 70 year copyright as I’ve seen varying reports, but it appears that recordings already out of copyright protection will remain in the public domain, but recordings released after 1962 will have the longer copyrights applicable (at least in the UK).

2- The European customer for country music is more traditionally oriented than American audiences. This holds true for many forms of music including rockabilly, rock & roll, rhythm & blues, pop standards, you name it. European audiences, unlike their American counterparts, have not discarded the past.

3- American Record labels simply don’t care – I’d elaborate, but there’s no point to it.

It should be noted that some of these albums may have been issued before 2012 but became generally available during 2014 through various markets.

We’ll start off with two box sets from the gold standard of reissue labels, Bear Family:

1. HANK THOMPSON – THE PATHWAY OF MY LIFE (1966-1984)
Released in late 2013, but not generally available until this year, this Bear Family extravaganza grabs Hank’s recordings made for Warner Brothers, Dot , ABC, Churchill and MCA/Dot in a Deluxe 8 CD set with a booklet compiled with the assistance of Hank himself.

Hank Thompson’s biggest hits were recorded during his years with Capitol, but he still had a large number of hits after that. More importantly, he still was making great recordings. Although there are other artists I prefer to Hank Thompson, I regard Hank Thompson and Doc Watson as the two most consistent country artists of all time – neither of them ever made a bad recording. Hank’s four biggest hits of the post-Capitol era were “On Tap, In The Can or In The Bottle” (#8) , “Smoky The Bar” (#5), “The Older The Violin the Sweeter The Music “ (#8) and “Who Left The Door To Heaven Open” (10). They are all here along with six more top twenty hits and a bunch of other chart records.

If you wonder how significant Hank Thompson was just ask George Strait. Ol’ George made one of his few guest appearances (and probably his first such appearance) with Hank Thompson on a mid 1980s recording of “A Six Pack To Go”.

just between you and me2. PORTER WAGONER & DOLLY PARTON – JUST BETWEEN YOU AND ME – 1967-1976
Porter & Dolly were roughly contemporaries of the teams Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty and George Jones & Tammy Wynette. I have always regarded Porter & Dolly as the best male-female duet pairing ever. Their hits were not quite as big as those of the other two duets, but consider this: Loretta, Conway, George and Tammy were all top-tier stars. At the time these recordings were made, Porter Wagoner was a journeyman country singer who had a major label contract, an over-the-top personality and a syndicated television show to cover the fact that his big hits were fairly few, although he had experienced a bit of a revival in 1964-1969. Meanwhile Dolly Parton was an up and comer with no major hit records until 1970.

What made the pairing so special was the chemistry they had between them. George & Tammy may have been married for a while, but that spark that made the most trivial of songs special for Porter & Dolly was missing (I always regarded George’s best duet partner as Melba Montgomery, and although they did not especially get along, I felt Tammy’s best duets were with David Houston)

Conway & Loretta had more chemistry than George & Tammy but were never as involved in being a duet as Porter & Dolly as both had ‘big star’ careers to maintain.

Porter and Dolly recorded a lot of songs, and they are all here: sad songs (“Jeanie’s Afraid of The Dark“, “Just Someone I Used To Know”), happy songs (“Lost Forever In Your Kiss”), totally ridiculous songs (“Her and The Car and The Mobile Home Were Gone”, “Run That By Me One More Time”) and a plethora of simply good country songs from songwriters as diverse as Jack Clement, Dave Kirby, Tom Paxton and dozens of others. Six CDs worth of the best harmonies ever recorded with lavish book and the superb sound engineering for which Bear Family is famous.

Next some American labels get into the act …

ronnie milsap -the rca albums collection3. RONNIE MILSAP – THE RCA ALBUMS COLLECTION
Charley Pride was one of early supporters and many subsequent singers have cited Ronnie Milsap as a primary influence, including Vince Gill and Hunter Hayes. Since Milsap is a musical chameleon who can cover the gamut from Cajun to R&B to stone cold country and classic pop, it figures that he would have influenced a wide range of artists. Ronnie rang up a staggering number of hits including 40 #1 records in his long career. This set , consisting of 21 CDs covering his RCA output is overkill, but for a performer as gifted as Ronnie Milsap perhaps the overkill can be justified.

4. ZAC BROWN BAND – GREATEST HITS SO FAR …
They may look like something from Duck Dynasty but these fellows have a lot of talent. Moreover, this is an honest hits collection – no previously unissued tracks, jut fourteen hit singles starting with their first #1 from 2008 in “Chicken Fried” and finishing with “Sweet Annie” from 2013. If you haven’t purchased any of their albums yet, this is a ‘must-have’ (and if you haven’t purchased any of their albums yet, shame on you).

back to the Europeans …

the louvin brothers - complete recorded works5. THE LOUVIN BROTHERS – COMPLETE RECORDED WORKS 1952-1962
This is one of those European sets consisting of six CDs (143 songs) encompassing the Louvins’ output on Capitol Records – generally available for $20.00 or less. I don’t know much about the label (Enlightenment), and their product comes with fairly bare bones packaging but it is the music that matters, and few acts ever mattered as much as Ira & Charlie Louvin. The digital sound is quite decent. The set encompasses twelve of the Louvins’ albums, several of which are primarily religious material. The set isn’t quite complete as there were a few singles which did not make it to an album until much later including “When I Stop Dreaming” and “Must You Throw Dirt In My Face”.

6. GEORGE JONES SINGS HANK AND BOB
Hank Williams and Bob Wills were two of the country greats and George Jones paid tribute to them in three albums recorded in the late 1950s – early 1960s. Collected here on the Not Now label are the Mercury album George Jones Salutes Hank Williams and the United Artist albums George Jones Sings Bob Wills and My Favorites of Hank Williams. Supposedly, George wasn’t much of a Bob Wills fan, but you couldn’t prove it by me. If George felt he didn’t have much feel for western swing he must be judging by an impossibly high standard as this is great stuff. Every album should be like this: great music sung by a master singer.

My biggest complaint about this set is the sequencing – two CDs each with 12 Hank songs followed by six of Bob’s songs.

7. JOHNNY CASH – THE SUN SINGLES COLLECTION
This collection, also on the Not Now label, is comprised of two CDs containing 38 songs. This is material that has been endlessly available over the last 50+ years and now it is available again. Available for under $20, if you don’t have this material already, this is a good value – the sound is good and the songs contained herein are beyond essential. This is where it all started for the man in black. IMHO, there is no such thing as too much Johnny Cash. There have been better collections of the Sun recordings, but this one is available now, and at a nice price.

8. CARL PERKINS – THE ROCKABILLY YEARS
This collection, on the One Day label, is comprised of two CDs containing 40 songs. As with the Cash collection above, this is material that has been endlessly available over the last 50+ years and now it is available again. No complaints about the material, the performances or the sound quality. Available for under $20, if you don’t have this material already, this is a must – just don’t step on my blue suede shoes in your haste to buy this set.

eddy arnold -the complete chart singles9. EDDY ARNOLD – THE COMPLETE CHART SINGLES (1945-1962)
In terms of the number of weeks his singles stayed at #1 (143 weeks according to Billboard) Eddy Arnold is the all-time country music leader, 33 weeks ahead of Webb Pierce and miles ahead of George Strait, Dolly Parton or anyone else. This three CD set collects 77 of Eddy’s chart hits through 1962 which means that it pulls up just short of Eddy’s mid 1960s revival that started with “What’s He Doing In My World” and “Make The World Go Away”. No matter – the 1940s material was better than anything Eddy contrived to record during the 1960s and the 1950s recordings, while not always the biggest hits , were usually fairly interesting as Eddy experimented with his sound and expanded his repertoire to include folk and pop material. I would consider the first to CDs to be absolutely essential and the third CD as very good. The folks at Acrobat released this fine collection and included a fine booklet to go with the set.

10. JOHNNY HORTON – NORTH TO ALASKA AND OTHER GREAT HITS (The Early Albums)
Johnny Horton (1925-1960) was one of Johnny Cash’s best friends (and fishing buddy) and had a brief period of time in which his material dominated the country charts and made serious inroads onto the pop charts. This set collects his earlier (and largely unsuccessful) recordings for Dot and his initial recordings for Columbia. Don’t let the ‘early albums’ description fool you – since Horton was killed in a car crash in 1960, there are no later albums except label creations.

The set contains two CDs and 60 songs including all of the Columbia hits including “The Battle of 1814” and “North To Alaska” – good stuff. This is on the Jasmine label – apparently briefly available in 2012 and now available again in the USA

I didn’t review any of the Gusto/Starday/King/ Cindy Lou recordings this time around but check out the Gusto website. Gusto has the habit a repackaging earlier albums into nice box sets – for instance a few years ago they combined three Mel Street albums into a 58 song boxed set. Another label to check on is Heart of Texas Records which has reissued old Capitol and Step One sets on artists such as Tony Booth and Curtis Potter.

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Between This Time And The Next Time’

between this time and the next timeIn 1981 Gene moved from Capitol to MCA, but his debut album for the new label was broadly similar to his earlier work. Gene co-produced with Russ Reeder.

There is a honey-sweet vocal on the title track, a tenderly seductive and quite unrepentant cheating song, involving two lovers whose weekly meetings seem too far apart:

Let’s take what this moment has to offer
Let’s fill every need we feel inside
Reach out and turn the lights down low
Then reach me every way you know
Let’s make sure before we leave that we’re both satisfied

It’s a beautiful performance and was a top 20 single. The song was written by Canadian country singer Ray Griff, who also recorded it.

The second and last single ‘Maybe I Should Have Been Listening’ is a wonderful regretful fiddle-led ballad as a man is haunted by memories of his ex, lamenting

Here you are back on my mind where you stay quite a lot
Bringing back all the old memories I thought I’d forgot
I just keep finding you with me and I don’t know why

Now I know leaving means one goes and one stays behind
I can’t escape from you no matter how hard I try
Maybe I should have been listening when you said goodbye

This one didn’t quite make it into the top 20. Both singles are excellent songs and recordings, and deserved to do much better.

The sardonic mid-tempo ‘I’m Telling Me A Lie’ finds another protagonist struggling with his memories of an ex in the aftermath of a breakup, when drinking away the pain by day won’t let him sleep at night.

The wistful New York-set ‘Come Back Home’, written by Joe Allen and Dave Kirby, is beautifully sung but with a slightly intrusive string arrangement. Once again, Gene plays the part of the one left behind, as he pleads with her to return. ‘Down Here On My Knees’ is another lovely, delicately sung ballad, with Gene begging his discontented wife not to leave. The steel-laced ‘Even At Its Worst It’s Still The Best’ has another up-and-down relationship, but one that is still just about hanging together.

Written by Tom T. Hall, ‘Three’ is the story of a newly wed couple entering on parenthood only to meet with tragedy. The anxious father’s chain smoking as she endures a labor neither she nor the baby survives has perhaps dated a little, but the story’s emotion is timeless and heartwrenching, as the narrator is left “a lonely One who wanted to be Three’. Last month we mentioned several times that Tom T Hall was a better writer than singer, and this is the perfect combination of song and singer with Gene adding further levels of emotion through his vocal.

‘The Look In Baby’s Eyes’ is a sultry ballad with a slightly dated Nashville Sound production but a great vocal.

As usual with Gene, the ballads dominate (not a bad thing since he is so good at them). There are only a couple of more up-tempo numbers.

‘We Got A Bad Thing Goin’’ is about a hookup between Gene’s bad guy who ‘ain’t never had a job’ and plans on robbing the local bank and a wealthy woman. Written by Wayne Carson and Don Tankersley, it’s a bit out of character with Gene’s usual romantic ballads, and the backing vocals are dated, but it is quite entertaining.

The Wynn Stewart song ‘I’m Gonna Kill You’ raises the tempo with its murderous threat to a wife with “cheating bedroom eyes”, who he intends to “bury … in a box about half your size”. I love almost everything Gene Watson sings, but here he sounds a little too cheerful, where someone like Johnny Paycheck would have made it genuinely threatening.

This is a great album. Sadly, it has never been released digitally or on CD, but if you have access to other formats, it’s well worth getting hold of. Hopefully it will get a re-release as several of Watson’s other albums have done.

Grade: A

Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘Influence, Vol. 1: The Man I Am’

randyA disappointing 25th anniversary album and the slightly underwhelming single “Tonight I’m Playing Possum”, as well as a general fatigue regarding the endless array of cover albums released in recent years left me feeling indifferent about Randy Travis’ new release Influence, Vol. 1: The Man I Am. In last July’s review of “Tonight I’m Playing Possum”, the only original song on the album, last July, we discussed at length Travis’ diminished vocal abilities, which further lowered my expectations for the full album.

Though the bar was admittedly set low, I was pleasantly surprised when the album was finally released last week. Though most of the songs are not that vocally challenging, I was quite pleased to hear Randy sounding better, for the most part, than he has on most of his recent recordings. Randy mostly avoids some of the obvious standards that have appeared on countless other tribute albums and dusts off some under-appreciated gems. Due to the death of George Jones earlier this year, I expected a number of the Possum’s tunes to be featured. Surprisingly, there is only one, “Why Baby Why”, which leads into “Tonight I’m Playing Possum” which closes the album. Instead, Travis digs deeply into the catalog of Merle Haggard for inspiration. Five of the album’s twelve cover tunes are some of the Hag’s lesser-known numbers, while the remaining songs are remakes of hits by Ernest Tubb, Waylon Jennings, and Lefty Frizzell. In addition, Randy reaches outside the genre for a few numbers: Louis Armstrong’s 1926 jazz hit “Butter and Egg Man” which is given a Western swing arrangement, and “Pennies From Heaven”, a pop standard first introduced by Bing Crosby in 1936. Both of these tunes are creative stretches for Travis, and both are extremely well done, with the Armstrong tune arguably being the best track on the album. Also included is “Trouble In Mind”, a blues standard dating back to 1924, which was later covered by both Haggard and Jones. It is one of the few tracks on the album were Randy’s vocal difficulties are apparent.

Ernest Tubb’s “Thanks a Lot” is given a by-the-numbers faithful-to-the-original treatment, while Travis’ interpretation of Waylon’s “You Asked Me To” is a little short on outlaw attitude. His take on Lefty Frizzell’s “Saginaw, Michigan”, however, is outstanding, though I could have done without the 1960s-style background singers. Randy has always named Lefty as one of his big influences and I would like to hear him sing more from the Frizzell catalog.

It is the Haggard tunes, however, that are the meat and potatoes of this album. If there are any criticisms of Influence, it is that it is a little Haggard-heavy. On the other hand, it’s nice to see Merle finally get his due; every male country singer to emerge during the past twenty years has claimed to have idolized George Jones, while the equally important Haggard usually went unmentioned.

The album opens with “Someday We’ll Look Back”, which Merle took to #2 in 1971. “What Have You Got Planned Tonight Diana” was originally released as the B-side to 1976’s “Cherokee Maiden”. Its lyrics are the deathbed reminiscences of an Alaskan homesteader as he prepares to join his departed wife. It is a beautiful number and is my favorite of the Haggard tunes included here. “Ever-Changing Woman”, written by Dave Kirby and Curly Putman is an obscure album cut mined from 1980’s Back to the Barrooms. It’s surprising that no one ever had a big hit with this song. “My Mary”, which is also quite well done, is from 1983’s Pancho and Lefty. “I’m Always On A Mountain When I Fall” is the the best-known of the Haggard songs included here and like the others, it is a pleasure to listen to.

I’m trying not to read too much into the inclusion of the words “Volume 1” in the album’s title, since I can think of numerous examples where a “Volume 1” was never followed up with any sequels. I do hope that a second set is planned, though that will depend on how quickly Randy recovers from his recent health problems. In the meantime, there is more than enough here to keep his fans happy.

Grade: A

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘Back To The Barrooms’

Released in October 1980, the last mainstream album Haggard recorded for MCA (a gospel release was his swan song for the label) was a concept album of sorts, on the classic country themes of broken hearts and honky tonks, with drinking and casual barroomhook-ups frequently serving as some kind of consolation for lost love. The traditional themes and basic country structures of the songs are counterpointed with a sometimes adventuruous production courteous of Jimmy Bowen, with extensive but tasteful use of brass giving a faint Dixieland jazz feel. Three quarters of the songs were written by Haggard, and, as a group, they form Haggard’s strongest collection in some years.

The downbeat melancholy of ‘Misery And Gin’ was originally recorded for the soundtrack of now-forgotten Clint Eastwood vehicle Bronco Billy (which had also produced Haggard’s first #1 hit of the 80s, his jovial duet with Eastwood, ‘Bar Room Buddies’, which was presumably not thought worthy of repeating here). ‘Misery And Gin’ is a great song, written by Snuff Garrett and John Durrill, shows the pain hiding behind the outward joviality of a barroom crowd, the protagonist hooking up with a fellow loser in love with only themselves to blame for their single status. Garrett produced the track, sweetening the downbeat mood with strings, as Haggard bemoans,

Here I am again mixing misery and gin
Sitting with all my friends and talking to myself
I look like I’m havin’ a good time, but any fool can tell
That this honky tonk heaven really makes you feel like hell

It peaked at #3. The defeated honky tonker ‘I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink’, another classic number, with tinkling bar room piano cementing the mood, took him back to the top of the charts.

It was followed to radio by top 10 hit ‘Leonard’, a fond tribute to Tommy Collins, a Bakersfield singer-songwriter whose real name was Leonard Sipes, and who had been an early friend and inspiration to Haggard. The song, possibly my personal favorite on the album, traces the ups and downs of his friend’s career, as country star, songwriter, preacher, singer on the comeback trail, and hopeless alcoholic:

He laid it all aside to follow Jesus
For years he chose to let his music go
But preaching wasn’t really meant for Leonard
But how in the hell was Leonard supposed to know?

Well, life began to twist its way around him
And I wondered how he carried such a load
He came back again to try his luck in music
And lost his wife and family on the road.

After that he seemed to fall down even deeper
And I saw what booze and pills could really do
And I wondered if I’d ever see him sober
But I forgot about a friend that Leonard knew

Well, Leonard gave me lots of inspiration
He helped teach me how to write a country song
And he even brought around a bag of groceries
Back before “Muskogee” came along

The acutely observed story song of ‘Make Up And Faded Blue Jeans’ finds the struggling singer-songwriter protagonist half-reluctantly hooking up with an equally desperate older woman. It was not a single, but is a well-remembered song which has been covered by, among others, Daryle Singletary.

Title track ‘Back To The Bar Rooms Again’, yet another classic on an album packed with them, was written by Haggard with Dave Kirby. It draws once more on the honky tonk atmosphere and downbeat mood, with a cuckolded husband returning to drinking, although this time whiskey is the “best friend” of choice.

In ‘I Don’t Want To Sober Up Tonight’, he refuses to pretend everything’s okay in a troubled marriage/life. His own marriage, to Leona Williams, was beginning to crack at the seams, but they co-wrote the cheerful ‘Can’t Break The Habit’ celebrating a love which sounds a little more like co-dependency. That fracturing relationship may also have prompted Haggard’s choice to cover Hank Williams Jr’s rather final ‘I Don’t Have Any More Love Songs’.

Dave Kirby (who was, ironically enough, to marry Leona Williams in 1983 after her marriage to Haggard finally collapsed) co-wrote the mellow and melodic ‘Ever Changing Woman’ with Curly Putman. Iain Sutherland’s ‘Easy Come, Easy Go; has a similar vibe, but is more forgettable.

The wistfully melancholic ‘Our Paths My Never Cross’ about missed opportunities for potential true love has a lovely tune and a jazzy feel thanks to the brass in the mix.

The album is easy to find on CD at reasonable prices, and is well worth tracking down. The production has dated a bit, but the songs haven’t, and this is recommended listening.

Grade: A

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘My Love Affair With Trains’ and ‘The Roots Of My Raising’

After over a decade on Capitol, 1976 saw Haggard calling a halt to his association with the label. He was still at his peak, and that year he was to release three albums, two of which are avilable on one CD reissue. One of these was his first thematic concept album (as opposed to his tributes to two of the musical heroes who had inspired him), My Love Affair With Trains. Haggard wanted to document his lifelong love of trains at a time when this important element of American history was being swept away, and to pay tribute to the men who had worked and lived on the railroads.

It opens with an acoustic snippet from ‘Mama Tried’ with its reference to his childhood dreams of trains, leading into the first of a series of spoken reminiscences and comments over a selection of genuine train and whistle sounds, which are interspersed with the songs. Proceedings open with the Dolly Parton-penned title track, a cheerful mid-tempo number with solid train rhythms which belies the generally elegiac mood. The subdued and melancholy ‘Union Station’, written by Ronnie Reno (the bluegrass singer and musician who was then a member of the Strangers) about a station threatened with demolition, exemplifies the overall tone.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the obvious personal resonance of the subject matter, only one song is a Haggard original. That self-penned song is the firmly autobiographical ‘No More Trains To Ride’, a catchy mid-tempo song, with somewhat wistful lyrics as Merle reflects on his father’s railroad career and the hoboes in a vanished world. Red Lane’s ‘The Coming And Going Of The Trains’ narrates the story of the railways over history by dipping into the lives of those affected. There is the arrival of the railroads, displacing the Native Americans, providing a lifeline for drought stricken farmers in Texas, giving hope to prisoners measuring time by counting off trains, and finally the regret of an engineer about to be pensioned off. Mark Yeary’s ‘I Won’t Give Up My Train’ is a first person story song about a railroad engineer who can’t bring himself to leave the travelling life even when it conflicts with his family responsibilities. Read more of this post

Album Review: Leona Williams – ‘Grass Roots’

Leona Williams was never a star, despite a five-year marriage to Merle Haggard, but I’ve always liked her honeyed voice, and she is still sounding good despite advancing years. After a few years associated with the estimable Heart Of Texas Records, Leona is now going it alone and has released this album on her own Loveshine Records. It was recorded mainly in her home state of Missouri with, I believe, local musicians, who do a fine job, led by producer and multi-instrumentalist Bruce Hoffman, with post-production and the addition of some of the star guests’ contributions in Nashville. It bears what is not the most imaginative title for a bluegrass-influenced album by a country artist, but the music inside is well worth it.

Leona, a talented songwriter perhaps best known for writing ‘You Take Me For Granted’ for Haggard, wrote almost all the material (much of it solo), and it is all pretty good, although not all of it is new. She wrote the mid-tempo lost-love plaint ‘Midnight Blue’ with Terry Gibbs, which opens the set to promising effect.

Three songs (all excellent) are co-writes with Leona’s late husband Dave Kirby. The pensive ‘My Heart Has Finally Said Goodbye’ is an excellent traditional country song, as the protagonist finds equilibrium after losing in love. The optimistic ‘The Good Times Are Ready To Come’, sung as a duet with bluegrass veteran Mac Wiseman, is also great, with a very Depression era feel, about a Kentucky couple looking forward to spending the proceeds of mining wages, with a new road and coal prices up:

We’ll buy some new shoes for the babies
We’ll catch us some new fish to fry
It’s been a long time since us ladies have had enough money to cry
It’ll be hallelujah in Wallins, Kentucky
After the work is all done
It won’t be long till we’re rollin’ in groceries
And the good times are ready to come

The pretty-sounding ‘When I Dream’ was written by the couple with daughter Cathy Lee Coyne (who provides close sweet harmonies throughout). It is another fine song about a woman clinging to a long-past relationship, if only in her dreams.

The affecting ‘Come To See Me Sometimes’ is addressed to a loved one who has died – perhaps Kirby, who died a year or two ago. With its intensely emotional, almost-breaking vocal, this is the highlight of the record. Another favourite of mine is ‘Mama, I’ve Got To Go To Memphis’, which Haggard recorded in 1978 with altered lyrics to suit the gender switch. This version, surely the original intention, is a lovely old-fashioned story of a young woman desperate to track down her ex and “drown some memories”, and leaving her baby, “little Brady” behind with her own mother. It works beautifully as a bluegrass number, and is beautifully constructed and sung, with the narrator’s desperation palpable.

One of Leona’s older songs, the melodic ‘Taste Of Life’, which she previously recorded back in the 80s, feels like the theme tune for the project, said to be inspired by Leona’s childhood memories and her earliest musical roots. Here, she fondly recalls childhood memories of growing up poor but loved, including a reference to listening to Bill Monroe’s music on the radio. It closes with a segue into ‘In The Sweet Bye And Bye’. Cheryl and Sharon White add beautiful harmonies.

Vince Gill duets delightfully with Leona on the up-tempo ‘The Legend’, a cheerful tribute to Monroe (“the greatest name of all” in bluegrass). Monroe’s classic ‘Molly And Tenbrooks’ (actually an adaptation of a 19th century folk song about the fatal showdown between two racehorses, based on a real race) gets a lively workout with cameos from 70s country star Barbara Fairchild, Pam Tillis, and Rhonda Vincent, and the less-well known Melody Hart, a Branson-based singer and fiddle player.

The surprisingly catchy ‘Do Wah Ditty’ has a silly title but is rather engaging, with a midtempo sing along tune featuring Rodney and Beverly Dillard with a husband and wife casting aspersions at one another entertainingly in the verses – she spends too much money on credit, with bright fiddle and Beverly’s claw hammer banjo contributing to the good humor of it all.

‘The Lights Of Aberdeen’ is a song of thanks to Leona’s fans in Scotland, and appreciation for the countryside there, which is clearly heartfelt but is the least effective track overall.  The record closes with the traditional ‘Take This Hammer’, an insistent gospel number.

This is a lovely record. It seems to be available only from Leona’s official website, but is worth finding.

Grade: A

Album Review: Amber Digby and Justin Trevino – ‘Keeping Up Appearances’

Only a few months after the release of her last solo album, Amber Digby is back with a collection of duets with her longterm producer Justin Trevino, a recording artist in his own right with a vibrato-laden tenor reminiscent of the country music of the 1960s. Their voices blend together very well, bearing comparison with the classic duos of the past, and the result is a delightful record which sounds as though it could have been made 40 years ago yet has a timeless feel. The production (credited jointly to Amber and Justin) is exemplary, with the musicians including Amber’s husband Randy Lindley on various guitars and stepfather Dickie Overbey on steel.

As has become customary for an Amber Digby record, everything here is a cover (mostly from the 1960s or early 1970s), but the pair have mixed in some obscure cuts in with the better known songs, and the quality of the 14 songs selected is uniformly high. The subject matter is exclusively relationships: love songs, cheating songs, and tales of marital unhappiness.

My favorite track on the album is the pair’s version of ‘Lead Me On’, a smash hit in 1971 for Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn. This has a couple on the verge of an illicit relationship and wanting some encouragement. The vocals are particularly outstanding here from both Justin and Amber.

The fiddle-led ‘Which One is To Blame’ is another delightful cheating song mixing regret and desire, with Amber and Justin swapping lines through the song, as they share the anguish of forbidden love:

Amber: Somehow I can’t blame myself
Although I guess I should
Justin: And I can’t put the blame on you
I wouldn’t if I could
Amber: We’ve made ourselves the gossip of the town
Justin: The things we’ve done can only bring us shame
Together: We’ve let our passion drag our honor down
I wonder which one of us is to blame

There is less penitence in the defiant passion of ‘After The Fire Is Gone’, where the couple blame their infidelity on a moribund marriage. This is a great song which has been recorded so many times I sighed inwardly when I initially saw it on the track listing, but this is a very fine version which is well worth hearing.

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Album Review: Shane Worley – ‘Mister Purified Country’

Mister Purified CountryIt’s easy to get discouraged by the state of today’s country radio and the majority of major-label releases. But there are still artists out there making real country music, even if most of them are on independent labels and can be hard to track down sometimes. One singer I’ve been interested in for a while is Shane Worley, a Tennesseean with a rich baritone voice with strong echoes of Merle Haggard in his vocal stylings. He has in fact recorded a tribute album to Merle, Feeling Haggard, as well as a handful of albums of good original material over the past ten years or so.

Shane is exactly the kind of singer who would be regarded as too country for today’s country radio, but he has found a sympathetic home on the indie Country Discovery records, with label head and producer Mike Headrick responsible for all his recorded output. The production is solidly country, with the producer himself (a former Music Row session musician) playing steel, dobro, harmonica and bass, and providing several songs, starting with the opening track, ‘Two Beers Ago’, which he wrote with Ruthie Steele and D Hagan, with the late Vern Gosdin in mind. Shane isn’t quite Vern Gosdin, but he is a very good singer in his own right, and he dedicates his performance of this song, and the album as a whole, to Vern, who was one of his main influences. The song is an ironic yet agonized look at a man who gets a birthday call from his ex, takes to the bottle and finds it doesn’t help at all:

“I’ve been through hell
But I stopped missing you
Two beers ago.”

Also very good is Headrick’s ‘The Right To Be Wrong’, a classic-sounding (with the late, legendary, Don Helms guesting on steel) appeal for another chance by a man who has driven away his wife by his drinking:

“You have a right to be set free
If you can’t stay here with me
After all the pain I’ve caused you for so long
You have the right to make a stand
And to take off your wedding band…

Don’t make this one mistake
That will add to our heartache
Though it’s true you have the right to be wrong.”

Headrick’s other offerings are the enjoyable, if slightly unfocussed lyrically, ‘Sweet Revenge’, inspired by the old saying “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned”, and the cheerful love song ‘Out Of The Blue’, which has one memorable line (“I knew there had to be more to life than wishing I was dead”), but is the least distinguished cut on the album.

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Album Review: John Anderson – ‘John Anderson 2’

1981_john_anderson_2countryAs the title suggests, John Anderson 2, was the singer’s second studio album for Warner Brothers, released in 1981. Produced by Norro Wilson, it picked up where the previous year’s debut album left off, calling on some of Nashville’s premier songwriters and musicians, and stood in stark contrast to the typical Urban Cowboy fare of the day. Among the legendary musicians contributing to the album were Harold Bradley (Owen’s brother), Jerry Reed, and Fred Carter, Jr. (Deana’s father) on guitar, Pete Drake on steel guitar, and Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano.

The opening track, “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be A Diamond Someday)”, an instant classic composed by Billy Joe Shaver, was the first single released from the album. It brought Anderson to the Top 5 for the first time, peaking at #4.

It was followed up by “Chicken Truck”, composed by Anderson, Ervan James Parker, and Monroe Fields. This is a light-hearted tune about a motorist who is stuck on the highway behind a truck transporting chickens, which it is unable to pass. It’s my least favorite song on the entire album; the lyrics are foolish, and it has some rock overtones, which make it seem out of place with the rest of the album. It is also an indication of things that were to come in the relatively near future; it’s somewhat similar to 1983’s “Swingin'”, the biggest — and worst, from an artistic standpoint — hit of Anderson’s career. The production on “Chicken Truck” isn’t as obnoxious as the tune it foreshadows, but it wears thin after repeated listenings. Radio programmers apparently agreed; even though it reached #8, this song had a short shelf-life. I don’t ever remember hearing it on the radio, which suggests that it didn’t have any staying power as a recurrent once its chart run was finished.

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