My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dave Loggins

Album Review: Holly Dunn – ‘Cornerstone’

cornerstoneHolly’s second album for MTM, released in 1987, built on the success of ‘Daddy’s Hands’ and a hit duet with Michael Martin Murphey (the charming ‘A Face In The Crowd’), and saw her cementing her status as a rising star for the fledgeling label.  Her high soprano voice is well suited to the songs selected.

The mid-tempo ‘Love Someone Like Me’, which Holly wrote with Radney Foster, was the lead single, and it only just missed the top spot on the country chart.  It had previously been recorded bluegrass style by the group New Grass Revival; Holly’s version is a little more on the pop-country side and the production has dated a bit, but it isn’t bad, thanks mainly to her vocal.

Better is ‘Only When I Love’, a post-breakup number in which the protagonist is mostly okay – until she falls for someone else.  It was one of a brace of songs written by Holly with her most frequent writing partners, Tom Shapiro and her brother Chris Waters, and reached #4.

Holly and Chris wrote the third and last single ‘Strangers Again, a rueful ballad about the pain of a breakup, in which they are left

not even friends.

Wistful fiddle backs up Holly’s emotional vocal, making this by far my favorite of the singles.

The Dunn/Waters/Shapiro team also wrote one of my favorite tracks, ‘Why Wyoming’, in which a cowboy’s jilted sweetheart bemoans the competition of the wide open spaces:

He’s the only cowboy that I’ve got

And you’ve got all you need

He could never love a woman

Like he loves being free

Tell me, why, Wyoming

Do you take him from me?

 

The beautiful ballad ‘Fewer Threads Than These’ (also recorded by Dan Seals) is another highlight, with Holly supported by a sympathetic harmony vocal.

Jim Croce’s ‘Lover’s Cross’ is a pretty sounding but angsty ballad about breaking away from a difficult relationship:

It seems that you wanted a martyr

Just a regular girl wouldn’t do

But I can’t hang upon no lover’s cross for you

The small town lifestyle is often idealised in country songs, and the big city seen as a poor alternative.  Holly offers a more jaundiced view with her vibrant reading of ‘Small Towns (Are Smaller For Girls)’.  This winsome depiction of the limitations of small town life for a restless teenager was written by Mark D Sanders, Alice Randall and Verlon Thompson.  The protagonist feels stifled and restricted by a life where:

Everybody that she knew knew every move she made

So she stood behind the backstop playing sweet 16

While the boys were stealing bases and pitching for their dreams

She knows that there’s gotta be more

Small towns are smaller for girls

She learned to dance around desire

And act like the nice girls act

So the boys found out about love with the girls across the tracks

While their souls burned holes through the heat of the southern night

She was reading about New York City with her daddy’s flashlight

Holly hedges her bets a little though, with her fond tribute to a ‘Little Frame House’, with the Whites singing harmony vocals.  The title track is an idealistic eulogy to the central importance of love, written by Dave Loggins and Don Schlitz.

The production on the up-tempo ‘Wrap Me Up’ (a Radney Foster co-write) sounds a bit tinny now, and this is the only track I really don’t like.

This is not easy to find at a reasonable price these days (partly because it was on a label which lasted only a few years), but it is a fine album which is well worth checking out if you can find it.

Grade: A

Album Review: Doug Stone – ‘Faith In Me, Faith In You’

faithinmeDoug Stone enjoyed a string of continuous Top 10 hits from 1990 through 1994 beginning with his debut single “I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)” and ending with “Little Houses”, a new single included on his Greatest Hits album released in the autumn of 1994. Shortly thereafter, Sony Music Entertainment transferred Doug from Epic Records to sister label Columbia, supposedly to allow Doug the opportunity to work with a new promotional team. The strategy did not have the intended effect, however. Faith In Me, Faith In You, his only album for Columbia, failed to produce any major hits and was his least successful album to date. The album’s commercial failure could be partially blamed on Stone’s health problems — he suffered a heart attack in December 1995 and a mild stroke in 1996, which severely curtailed his ability to promote the album. But it certainly did not help matters that the album’s material is less interesting than his previous work.

With Doug acting as co-producer along with James Stroud, Faith In Me, Faith In You has a more contemporary edge than Doug’s earlier and better work, but the music retains enough country elements to keep traditionalists satisfied. The title track, which served as the album’s first single, is a forgettable Trey Bruce and Dave Loggins composition, given a slight gospel feel by a choir singing in the background. It was Doug’s first single to peak outside the Top 10, landing at #13.

Ballads were always Doug’s strong point, but the best songs on this album are the uptempo ones. The ballad “Sometimes I Forget”, which was released as the second single is too saccharine and AC leaning for my taste. Radio wasn’t impressed, either, as it topped out at #41. The uptempo “Born In The Dark” , a slickly produced number reminiscent of Collin Raye’s “That’s My Story”, is much better. It’s the best of the album’s three singles and it became the collection’s biggest hit, peaking at #12. “Enough About Me (Let’s Talk About You)”, another uptempo tune, is also quite good and should have been released as a single. The midtempo “I Do All My Crying (On The Inside)”, the album’s most traditional song, is also quite good.

The remainder of the album, including three tunes that were either written or co-written by Doug, are not particularly memorable. Faith In Me, Faith In You while not a bad album by any means, is not up to par compared to Stone’s earlier albums for Epic. It was his first album to fail to achieve gold status, marking the beginning of his commercial decline. It was also his last album for Sony. It is not available digitally. It is not essential listening, but deeply discounted copies are readily available and it is certainly worth the modest cost.

Grade: B

Country Heritage Redux: Gus Hardin

One of the more interesting singers of the 1980s was a female singer who went by the name Gus Hardin. While never a big star, she had one of the more distinctive female voices and enjoyed at least a modicum of recording success. Her voice was hard to describe, although some listeners said it reminded them of Bonnie Tyler, while others described it as ‘whisky-soaked.’ Perhaps a more accurate description would be that it was the sort of blues/rock/country/gospel sound sometimes referred to as the ‘Tulsa Sound’ that later, appropriately enough, spawned Garth Brooks – appropriate in that Garth’s sister, Betsy Smittle, sang background vocals for Hardin.

I had the pleasure of seeing her perform only one time, at the Five Seasons Center (now U.S. Cellular Center) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in early 1984, a few weeks after the University of Miami’s stunning victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for their first National Championship. Because the show was a package put on by a local radio station, none of the acts were able to put on a full set (Jim Glaser was also on the bill). I regret that I never had an opportunity to see her again.

Biographical information on Gus Hardin is fairly sketchy, although she is known to have been at least part Cherokee. She was born Carolyn Ann Blankenship on April 9, 1945 in Tulsa, Oklahoma and grew up in the Tulsa area, where she picked up the nickname “Gus” as a teen. After high school, she attended Tulsa University. Although she initially planned on being a teacher of the deaf, marriage, music and a pregnancy derailed that plan.

Hardin seemed to have a tumultuous personal life having been married at least six times, thrice by the time she was 23. Marriage number three was to keyboard player Steve Hardin who had previously played in Jody Miller’s band and later played for Glen Campbell. After their divorce, she retained the last name as her professional name.

She signed a recording contract with RCA during the early 1980s. Her first RCA single, “After The Last Good-Bye”, was a Top 10 country hit in 1983, and several other singles from her albums reached the top 40 over the next few years. None of her solo efforts ever again reached the level of her first single. Although she was named ‘Top New Country Artist’ by Billboard magazine in 1983, it did not lead to great commercial success as her voice was ill-suited for the synthesizer-driven sound of the early to mid 1980s country music. A 1984 duet with fellow RCA recording artist Earl Thomas Conley, “All Tangled Up In Love” reached #8, but other than that, none of her subsequent records even reached the Top 25.

Gus Hardin won the “Best New Female Vocalist” award from the Academy of Country Music in 1984. It should be noted that the Academy of Country Music was much more oriented to west coast based artists during that period.

In all, Hardin charted 10 singles, the last occurring in early 1986 when “What We Gonna Do” peaked at #73. Although she charted over a four year period, all of her recordings for RCA were recorded within a span of less than two years. She released three albums on the RCA label for a total of 25 songs. After her chart career ended, she continued to perform regularly.

Gus Hardin died in a car crash on Highway 20 east of Claremore, Oklahoma on the way home from singing at a Sunset Grill in Tulsa, on February 17, 1996. She was survived by a daughter, Toni.

Year Title Single Peak
1983 “After the Last Goodbye” #10
1983 “If I Didn’t Love You” #26
1983 “Loving You Hurts” #32
1984 “Fallen Angel (Flying High Tonight)” #41
1984 “I Pass” #43
1984 “How Are You Spending My Nights” #52
1985 “All Tangled Up in Love” (w/ Earl T Conley) #8
1985 “My Mind Is On You” #79
1985 “Just as Long as I Have You”(w/ Dave Loggins) #72
1986 “What We Gonna Do” #73

Discography

CD

CD Baby has one CD of Gus Hardin’s material available titled I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can. I am not sure as to the source of the material – it includes a few of her chart hits but the song timings suggest that they are remakes. Still, it’s all that currently is available. CD Baby lets you preview some of the songs and Gus appears to have been in good voice when they were recorded. Their recommendation sidebar says you’ll like her if you are a fan of Janis Joplin or Heart – I don’t like either Joplin or Heart but think a closer analogy would be Lacy J Dalton.

Vinyl

Gus issued three albums on RCA:
Gus Hardin (1983) – a six track mini-LP
Fallen Angel (1984)
Wall Of Tears (1984) – although this album has only eight tracks, this is what RCA was passing off as a full album in those days. During the vinyl era, RCA was always the industry leader in giving you less for your money.

There were some earlier albums on smaller labels. I know of three titles Almost Live, Jukebox Saturday Night and Solid Gold Country, although I’ve never seen (nor heard) any of them.

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 2

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wreaked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.


“Walk On By“– Donna Fargo
A nice cover of the 1961 Leroy Van Dyke hit, by the time this record was released Donna had already pulled back on her career due to being stricken with Multiple Sclerosis in 1979. Released in March 1980, the song reached #43. Donna is still alive and you can find out more about her at her website www.donnafargo.com


“Crying Over You” – Rosie Flores

Rosie’s never had much chart success but this self-proclaimed ‘Rockabilly Filly’ is a popular concert draw and a dynamic live performer. This song was her career chart highwater reaching #51 in 1987.

“Just In Case ” 
The Forester Sisters
Katie, Kim, June and Christie had a five year run of top ten hits from 1985 through 1989 with fourteen straight top ten records, including this song, their second of five number one records . Released in 1985, this topped the charts in early 1986.

“Crazy Over You”– Foster & Lloyd
Songwriters Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd joined forces as a duo in 1987. This was their first and biggest chart record reaching #4 in the summer of 1987.

“Always Have, Always Will” – Janie Frickie (or Janie Fricke)

This 1986 #1 was her ninth (and last) #1 record. This bluesy number was an excellent record coming after a long string of successful but insubstantial fluff. A former session singer, Janie’s career hit high gear during the 1980s, a decade which saw her tally 26 chart records with 17 top ten records and eight #1s.

“Beer Joint Fever” – Allen Frizzell

A younger brother of both Lefty and David Frizzell, Allen today writes and sings predominantly Christian music, although he will perform a Lefty Frizzell tribute (omitting Lefty’s rowdier songs). This song charted in 1981 – the follow up was titled “She’s Livin’ It Up (and I’m Drinkin’ ‘Em Down)”, neither of them songs Allen would dream of performing today.

“I’m Gonna Hire A Wino To Decorate Our Home” – David Frizzell
The early 1980s were David Frizzell’s commercial peak, both as a solo artist and as part of a duet with Shelly West. This unforgettable 1982 novelty was David’s sole #1 record, although my personal David Frizzell favorites were the follow up “Lost My Baby Blues” and his 1999 recording of “Murder On Music Row”.

“You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma” – David Frizzell & Shelly West

A huge record, this song came from the Clint Eastwood film Any Which Way You Can and topped the charts in early 1981

“Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer To You)” – Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers

After a dominant streak from 1975 in which seven songs reached #1 on one or more of the major charts, Larry and his brothers hit a rough patch in which their singles charted, but few reached the top ten. Finally in late 1983 this song reached #1, and kicked off a brief resurgence fueled by a large infusion of western swing. The two records that followed this record (“Denver” and “The Lady Takes The Cowboy Every Time”) would have made Bob Wills proud.

“You and I” – Crystal Gayle & Eddie Rabbitt

Crytal Gayle had a run of thirty-four top ten records that ran from 1974 to 1987. I’m not that big a Crystal Gayle fan but I really liked her 1982 duet with Eddie Rabbitt which reached #1 country / #7 pop.

“Somebody’s Knocking” – Terri Gibbs

Released in 1980, this song peaked at #8 (#13 pop / #3 AC) in early 1989. Blind since birth, Terri really wasn’t a country singer and soon headed to gospel music . This was her biggest hit, one of four top twenty records.

“Sweet Sensuous Sensations” – Don Gibson
Not a big hit, this was Don’s next-to-last chart record, reaching a peak of #42 in April 1980. Don’s chart career ran from 1956-1981. His influence as a songwriter is still felt today.

“Oklahoma Borderline” – Vince Gill
It took Vince a while for his solo career to take off after leaving Pure Prairie League. This song reached #9 in early 1986 and was his second top ten recording. The really big hits would start in 1990 with “When I Call Your Name”.

“A Headache Tomorrow (Or A Heartache Tonight)” – Mickey Gilley
Mickey Gilley was a second cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart as his piano playing amply demonstrates. This song reached #1 in 1981. Mickey’s long string of hits consisted of some original material (such as this song and “Doo-Wah Days”) and some covers of pop hits such as his next record “You Don’t Know Me” (a cover of a Ray Charles hit covering an Eddy Arnold hit) and prior hits “True Love Ways” and “Stand By Me”.

“White Freight Liner Blues” – Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Jimmie Dale Gilmore looks like a renegade hippie from the sixties and sounds like one of my honky-tonk specialist from the fifties. He’s never had much chart success (this song reached # 72 in 1988) but his albums are terrific and his vocals solid country through and through. Probably the most underrated performer of my generation.

“If I Could Only Dance With You” – Jim Glaser

A part of the famous trio Tompall and The Glaser Brothers, Jim’s voice was midway in range between brothers Chuck and Tompall with significant overlap on both ends.  Also, Jim was part of the vocal trio on Marty Robbin’s classic hit “El Paso” and wrote the pop hit “Woman, Woman” (#4 pop hit for Gary Puckett and The Union Gap).  Jim released a number of chart records under his own name form 1968-1977, but his real success began after Tompall & The Glaser Brothers split up (again) in 1982 and Jim signed with Noble Vision Records. After the first three records for Noble Vision went top thirty, this 1984 single reached #10. The follow up “You’re Getting To Me Again” went to #1 but then Noble Vision started having financial problems. Jim would subsequently sign with MCA in 1985 but the momentum had been lost (not to mention that by then Jim was already 47 years old).

“Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” – Tompall & The Glaser Brothers

Tompall and The Glaser Brothers were one of the most impressive live singing groups to ever take the stage. Unfortunately, their stage show did not translate into recording success. The group was together from 1959 until about 1974, recording many fine records but only one top ten hit in “Rings” which reached Record World’s #1 slot in 1971. The group briefly reunited in 1980 and had their career record with this Kris Kristofferson song which reached #2 Billboard / #1 Cashbox in 1980.

“Today My World Slipped Away” – Vern Gosdin

Recorded for the small AMI label, this gem reached #10 in early 1983, just as AMI was going down the toilet. It’s hard for me to pick out just one favorite Vern Gosdin song, but this one would be in my top three. From here Vern would go to another small label Compleat where he would have his biggest hit in 1987’s “I Can Tell By The Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight”).

“Diamonds In The Dust”- Mark Gray

Mark Gray and Vince Gill were the two young male singers most highly touted to make it big in the early 1980s. Both were associated with bands that had some success (Mark was a member of Exile for a few years, Vince a member of Pure Prairie League). Then Nashville took a traditionalist turn leaving Gray, not as versatile a performer as Vince Gill, stranded. Still, Gray almost made it. This song was Gray’s third top ten record, reaching #9 in late 1984. The follow up “Sometimes When We Touch”, a nice duet with Tammy Wynette reached #6. Then came the Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, et al floodwaters of 1986.

“When A Man Loves A Woman” – Jack Grayson

Nice 1981 cover of a #1 pop hit for Percy Sledge in 1966. This song peaked at #18 in early 1982. This was Grayson’s only top twenty recording out of thirteen charted records.

“The Jukebox Never Plays Home Sweet Home” – Jack Greene
This 1983 single barely cracked the top 100 for Jack but it was a pretty good recording that probably would have been a big hit had Jack recorded it a dozen years earlier. This was Jack’s thirty-third chart record. He would have three more before fading off the charts for good. His 1966 single was #1 for seven weeks in 1966-1967 and was the CMA Single of The Year in 1967. Jack also took home the Male Vocalist honors for 1967. Jack is now 82 years old and still performs, but mostly on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

“I.O.U.”– Lee Greenwood

This single reached #6 in 1983, his fourth consecutive top ten single, and still my favorite Lee Greenwood song. Lee was the first artist to record “Wind Beneath My Wings” and had it planned as the second single from the I.O.U album. Gary Morris dashed into the studio and got his version recorded and released before “I.O.U.” finished its chart run. Lee’ version was better (and better than the pop version that came out in 1989).

“Lone Star State of Mind” – Nanci Griffith

Nanci is a fine songwriter/poet having written many fine songs. As a singer, she’s not much. This song reached #36 in 1987, her biggest chart hit of the 1980s. She did a nice recording of “Love At The Five & Dime”, but even that song was better in a cover version, as recorded by Kathy Mattea.

“Still The Same” – Bonnie Guitar

Nine years after her last chart entry and twenty years after her last top forty recording , country music’s ‘Renaissance Woman’ snuck onto the charts in 1989 with a nice version of a Bob Dylan song.

“Trains Make Me Lonesome”– Marty Haggard
Marty’s career almost ended before it started when he picked up a hitch hiker who shot him and left him for dead. A long recovery followed with an extended period of recovery. This song reached #57 in 1988 for the soon to be defunct MTM label. Written by Paul Overstreet and Thom Schuyler, this song was recorded by a number of artists including George Strait on his 1992 album Holding My Own. Marty’s version is better and would have been a big hit had it been released in 1958 rather than 1988.

“A Better Love Next Time – Merle Haggard

This was Merle’s 100th chart single reaching #4 in 1989. What else is there to say?

“Song of The South” – Tom T. Hall & Earl Scruggs

Tom T. Hall’s days as a hit maker were largely over by 1982 and Earl Scruggs never was a hit maker – he was of far greater importance than that. These two music masters combined for a wonderful album titled The Storyteller and The Banjo Man in 1982 from which emerged this single. Alabama would have a big hit with this song a few years later but the Alabama version lacks the personality and charm of this rendition.

“She Says” – George Hamilton V

The only chart record for the son of George Hamilton IV, this tune reached #75 in early 1988.

“There’s Still A Lot of Love In San Antone” – Connie Hanson with Darrell McCall

A cover of Darrell’s 1974 hit, this version peaked at # 64 in early 1983.

“After The Last Goodbye ” – Gus Hardin

This 1983 recording was the only solo top ten for the smoky voiced Ms. Hardin. A longtime favorite in Tulsa, Gus broke through with a major label contract (RCA) and charted eight solo singles and two duets. Released in 1984, her duet with Earl Thomas Conley “All Tangled Up In Love” peaked at #8 in early 1985. Her 1985 duet with David Loggins “Just As Long As I Have You” reached #72.

“I’m Moving On ” – Emmylou Harris
Emmylou had 26 top ten recordings between 1975 and 1988. This 1983 live cover of Hank Snow’s 1950 hit (in fact, the biggest chart hit in the history of country music) reached #5. During the 1980s, most of Emmylou’s best recordings were duets – “That Loving You Feelin’ Again” (with Roy Orbison) and “If I Needed You” (with Don Williams) come readily to mind, but there were more.

“Sure Thing” – Freddie Hart

After a hugely successful first half of the 1970s, Freddie hits got progressively smaller. By 1979 Freddie had been dropped by Capitol and signed by Sunbird, the same label that launched Earl Thomas Conley. The label failed to re-launch Freddie’s career but did provide a few good recordings, including this song, which reached #15 in 1980 and would prove to be Freddie’s last top twenty hit.

“Key Largo” – Bertie Higgins

Just when it seemed that the ‘Gulf & Western’ subgenre had been strip mined of hits by Jimmy Buffett, along comes this nostalgic hit which became a #8 pop hit in 1982 (topped out at #50 on the country chart).

“Whiskey, If You Were A Woman” – Highway 101

Highway 101 exploded onto the country music scene in January 1987 running off a string of ten consecutive top tens through early 1990. This one is my personal favorite with Paulette Carlson’s voice seemingly tailor made for the song, which reached #2 in 1987. Typical story – Carlson left the band in late 1990 seeking solo stardom and the band never recovered its momentum (plus Carlson did not succeed as a solo act). I was torn between this song and one of the group’s #1 hits “Somewhere Tonight”.

“Jones On The Jukebox” – Becky Hobbs
The inability of the Hobbs to break through at radio has always bugged me. Other than a duet with Moe Bandy (“Let’s Get Over Them Together” – #10 in 1983), Ms Hobbs was unable to break the top thirty. The closest she got was this song, which peaked at #31 in 1988.

“Texas Ida Red” – David Houston
David’s 60th (and next to last) chart record, this recording peaked at #69 on the small Excelsior label in 1981. This was a pretty good western swing record. Houston would have one more chart record in 1989. His 1966 hit “Almost Persuaded” was (according to Billboard) the biggest chart record of the last fifty years, spending nine weeks at #1.

“All American Redneck” – Randy Howard
#84 in 1983 – what more need I say.

“Til You And Your Lover Are Lovers Again” – Engelbert Humperdinck

Engelbert is one of the truly great vocalists of my generation. His greatest decade was the 1960s when he made international huge pop hits out of country classics such as “Release Me”, “There Goes My Everything” and “Am I That Easy To Forget” as well as covering other country songs on his albums. This song peaked at #39 in 1983.

“Oh Girl” – Con Hunley

This cover of a Chi-Lites hit from 1972 reached #12 in 1982 and featured the Oak Ridge Boys on backing vocals. Con’s voice was too smoky and too distinctive to have achieved much success during the early 1980s but this was a fine recording, even if not very country. Con’s biggest hit came the year before when “What’s New With You” peaked at #11.

“Talk To Me Loneliness” – Cindy Hurt

This song reached #35 in 1982. Her biggest hit was “Don’t Come Knocking” which topped out at #28 earlier in the year. Cindy charted seven records between 1981 and 1983, then disappeared.

Razor X’s Top Ten Singles of 2011

It seems like every year it gets more and more difficult to find new single releases that I actually like. There were a few — but only a few — gems this year. Here are some of my favorites:

10. Northern Girl — Terri Clark. Clark’s homage to her homeland, co-written with former Sugarland member Kristen Hall, is her first single that I’ve truly liked in quite some time. Sadly, it failed to gain any traction on either side of the border.

9. Drink Myself Single — Sunny Sweeney. Currently at #36 on the charts, the third offering from Sunny’s Concrete collection has already out-performed its predecessor and hopefully will become her second Top 10 hit. It reminds me of the type of song radio regularly played back in the 90s during the line-dancing craze.

8. Home — Dierks Bentley. Finally, a song about love of country that manages to avoid jingoism and combativeness. It was written in response to the shooting incident that critically injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six other people in January of this year.

7. Cumberland Rose — Sylvia. The former 80s star returned in January with her first single release in 24 years. Often unfairly dismissed as a minor talent, Sylvia delivers a lovely vocal performance on this folk ballad written by Craig Bickhardt and Jeff Pennig. I couldn’t find anyplace online to listen to it in its entirety, but it’s well worth the 99 cents to download it from iTunes or Amazon.

6. Tomorrow — Chris Young. The latest in a long tradition of country songs about clinging to one more night before finally ending a relationship that’s run out of steam. Chris Young is one of Nashville’s finest young talents and is destined for great things if he can keep finding material as good as this.

5. In God’s Time — Randy Houser. This introspective number provides a much better showcase for Houser’s vocal ability than his more popular Southern rock-tinged work. It’s the best thing he’s released so far.

4. Here For A Good Time — George Strait. After a couple of rocky years, George Strait finally got his mojo back with this fun number that he wrote with Dean Dillon and his son Bubba Strait.

3. Look It Up — Ashton Shepherd. This blistering confrontation of two-timing spouse deserved more airplay than it got. It may not have been a tremendous commercial success, but I’ll bet Loretta Lynn is proud.

2. Colder Weather — Zac Brown Band. Reminiscent of Dave Loggins’ classic “Please Come To Boston”, the Zac Brown Band continues to push the boundaries of country music without diluting it beyond recognition.

1. Cost of Livin’ — Ronnie Dunn. This tale of a down-on-his-luck veteran is a sad testament to the current economic difficulties in much of the world and a plight to which too many people can relate. Beautifully written and performed, it’s by far the best thing played on country radio this year. It failed to garner any Grammy nominations, but hopefully it will get some recognition by the CMA and ACM next time around.

Album Review: Vince Gill – ‘Turn Me Loose’ and ‘The Things That Matter’

In the early and mid-80s RCA Records used the “mini album” or an EP consisting usually of six tracks, to introduce new acts. The mini album was usually followed by a full-length LP once the artist had his or her breakthrough hit. Vince Gill appears to be one of the rare instances in which an artist released two consecutive mini albums. Due to their brevity, both will be discussed in a single article. Both were eventually released as budget CDs in the mid-90s. I believe, but am not positive, that both albums originally consisted of six tracks; however the CD reissues consist of eight tracks each.

Turn Me Loose was Vince’s major label solo debut, released in 1984. It was produced by Emory Gordy, Jr. and contains six of Vince’s original compositions. The lead single; however, was not written by Vince; it was a cover of Delbert McClinton’s “Victim of Life’s Circumstances”. The upbeat number allowed Gill to demonstrate his considerable skills as a guitarist and seems like the perfect vehicle for introducing a new artist to radio listeners; however, it stalled at #40. The follow-up single, “Oh Carolina”, a beautiful ballad enhanced by Emmylou Harris’ exquisite harmony vocals, fared a little better, reaching #38, while the title track, one of Gill’s original compositions, reached #39. Both “Oh Carolina” and “Turn Me Loose” suffer from production (synthesizers and drum machines, respectively) that sounds somewhat dated today, a flaw that is easily forgiven because the vocal performance on “Oh Carolina” is so great, and because the title track, though lyrically light, is one of those tunes on which you just can’t help tapping your toes and singing along.

“Waitin’ For Your Love” is the album’s sole throwaway track. The upbeat “Don’t Say That You Love Me” which Vince wrote with Emory Gordy, Jr., is quite enjoyable, and the album’s three remaining tracks are all outstanding. On “Half a Chance”, “Til The Best Comes Along”, and “Livin’ The Way I Do” all showcase Vince’s more traditional side, with “Til The Best Comes Along” being the best of the three.

All in all, Turn Me Loose was a solid debut effort from a promising new artist. Despite its disappointing commercial performance, it impressed enough Academy of Country Music voters to allow Vince to take home the Best New Male Vocalist trophy in 1984.

The Things That Matter, released in 1985, hasn’t aged quite as well. Though once again produced by Emory Gordy, Jr., the album leans more towards adult-contemporary, which has always been a perilous path for Vince, as his middle-of-the-road material tends to be quite bland. Gill and Gordy appear to have made a conscious effort to move towards a more pop-oriented sound. Unfortunately, what seemed contemporary and cutting edge at the time sounds pretty out of date today. The album’s first three tracks, “She Don’t Know”, “With You” and “Savannah (Don’t You Ever Think Of Me)” — all written by Vince are all rather lackluster. Ditto for the Dave Loggins-written “Ain’t It Always That Way”.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some gems to be found on the disc. “Colder Than Winter” is arguably the finest vocal performance of his career. “If It Weren’t For Him”, a beautiful duet written and performed with Rosanne Cash, was Vince’s first bonafide hit, peaking at #10, and “Oklahoma Borderline”, which Vince wrote with Guy Clark and Rodney Crowell, reached #9. Vince’s career finally seemed to be taking off, but the third single “With You” stalled at #33. He would reach the Top 10 only one more time during his tenure with RCA, with 1987’s “Cinderella”, but would not have any consistent commercial success until he signed with MCA near the decade’s end.

Why Vince didn’t enjoy more success during his RCA years remains somewhat of a mystery. It may simply have been a matter of not yet finding the right song, or he may have been the victim of record label politics. He was signed to RCA by Tony Brown, who departed the label before any of Vince’s music was released. It’s worth noting that Vince’s career took off big time once he teamed up with Brown again, after leaving RCA. His output during the RCA years was somewhat uneven, but much of it is still worth seeking out. Both Turn Me Loose and The Things That Matter are available on CD (though the latter is not worth the $26 price tag on Amazon). The Things That Matter is also available as a digital download. Additionally, most of the tracks from both albums are available on The Essential Vince Gill, which is a good overview of the RCA years.

Grades:

Turn Me Loose: A –
The Things That Matter: B

Random playlist 4

In the months that I’ve been compiling these lists of my current listening habits, I’ve noticed that a core group of acts have remained in my ears, though the material I’ve chosen from them has been different.  I’ve been neglectful to the new music in my collection this summer so you won’t find any reflections on new releases this time. Still, yet another season goes by and I’m left with another set of recent heavy-rotation tracks in my music library, and I’d like to share them with you.

Alan Jackson – “There Goes” … This comes from one of Jackson’s best albums yet, 1997’s Everything I Love. Hard as it may be for another artist to top the title track from that set, Jackson did it just two releases later with “There Goes” – and has since hit a new high-water mark countless times.  The barroom-inspired easy sway of the melody here draws the listener in much the same way the narrator sings about the woman who’s hooked him.  A rolling steel guitar accompaniment and crying fiddles keep with the melancholy nature of the song, even when the lyrics – “I’m still pretendin’ I don’t need you/I won’t let you know you’re killin’ me” – make you smile.  This is genuine country music pathos at its finest.

Reba McEntire – “Please Come To Boston” … Like her earlier hit with the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown”, Reba does a gender-reversal, and of course a narrative reversal in the process, when she tackles Dave Loggins’ 1974 #1 pop hit.  Singing from the other side of the wanderlust, the singer here plays the role of the sensible hometown girl with invitations aplenty from a rambling man, who summons her from Boston, Denver, and finally L.A. Each time she says no. But it’s in flipping pronouns on the song’s powerhouse bridge that McEntire changes things around, and becomes a pining-for-him protagonist when she reveals “Of all the dreams he’s lost or found and all that I ain’t got/He still needs to lean to, somebody he can sing to“.  She continues to turn down his calls to join him, but the tenderness of her tough love opens up the possibility for a happy ending – something the Loggins version never had.  Joan Baez and other females had done all this before, but none came close to Reba’s believability.

Rosanne and Johnny Cash – “That’s How I Got To Memphis” … Maybe it was the allure of Memphis over Boston or L.A. that changes the story, as the singer here elects to follow her love interest to destinations far away.  But she didn’t come here by his side. In this oft-recorded Tom T. Hall narrative, she’s followed the only trail she knows. Returning to the life her love interest knew before her knew her, she’s sure she’ll find him and be able to tell him all the things she wanted to say all along, and of course rescue him from his troubles.  Not just the engaging story told, it’s the elder Cash’s commanding vocal on the final verse and a walking bass line melody that keep this track repeating on my players.

Wynonna Judd- “No On Else On Earth” … Even the most brazen of us have a weakness. After all, the Texas Ranger himself finally succumbed to Alex Cahill. Rocks, fences, and keeping your senses are futile defenses sometimes. Wynonna Judd’s third single as a solo artist quickly introduced her with a signature sound that was all her own and an attitude never heard on those old Judds records.  Even 19 years later, no other tune in the singer’s catalog recalls what her fans would come to know Wynonna for in later years: rocking guitars, cool-as-ice lyrics, and her falsetto-into-growling vocals.

Jo Dee Messina – “Heads Carolina, Tails California” … Like Wynonna, Jo Dee Messina captured her musical essence with an early single. This – Messina’s first out of the chute and a #2 hit in 1996 – caught the lightning of the singer’s effervescent and spunky personality in a bottle, and combined it with an irresistibly reckless spirit.  The in-your-face mix of instruments that makes up the production here went out with the new millennium, which is a shame since this sounds as fresh today as 15 years ago. As was intended, it still leaves me feeling ready to pack a bag and hit the road.

Fleetwood Mac – “Dreams” … “Thunder only happens when it’s raining …”  Saying that line out loud 34 years after the rock supergroup hit the top of the Hot 100 with this Stevie Nicks-penned track, the words fall flat on the tongue in the most sanctimonious way. And certainly the production, heavy with synthetic bass lines and distorting harmonies, has lost a lot of its original sheen, leaving the song a dusty chestnut in the annals of classic rock.  But it’s in Nicks’ bemused performance and the all-inclusive theme that makes it worth repeating. No matter if you’re the one who says “you want your freedom” or the one giving it, after listening, you’ll never again call it quits without listening carefully “to the sound of your loneliness“.

Single Review: Zac Brown Band – ‘Colder Weather’

In many ways, the Zac Brown Band reminds me of the sort of act that could frequently be heard on Top 40 AM radio stations in the 1970s when artists such as Mac Davis, Ronnie Milsap, Anne Murray, and Crystal Gayle were fixtures at the top of both the country and pop charts. Though the boys from Georgia are more firmly rooted in country music than their 1970s counterparts, it’s not difficult to imagine them achieving the same kind of crossover success with many of their records. Their current release, “Colder Weather” is prime example. Reminiscent of Dave Loggins’ 1974 hit “Please Come To Boston,” it tells the tale of a man with wanderlust, who in the song’s first verse, is heading back out on the road, leaving behind the woman who loves him. As he bids her farewell, she says to him:

“… you’re a rambling man
And you ain’t ever gonna change,
You got a gypsy’s soul to blame
And you were born for leavin’.”

By the second verse, however, the song moves in a different direction. Unlike Loggins’ song where the main character keeps moving from place to place, “Colder Weather’s” protagonist pulls into a truck stop diner and starts having second thoughts about having left his lover behind. He returns to her but it isn’t long before the urge to roam overtakes him again. By the end of the song there isn’t any resolution; the listener is left with the impression that the character is perpetually conflicted about whether to stay or to go, and that the relationship never really moves forward.

I’ve frequently been critical of artists who stray too far from their country roots in pursuit of pop stardom, but “Colder Weather” is a good example of a well-crafted country-pop record. It opens with a gentle piano solo, with some subtle fiddle and steel entering into the mix during the second verse. The production soars just a bit before the bridge, with some percussion and electric guitars, which though prominent, are not ostentatious and overwhelming, in stark contrast to most contemporary country recordings. It’s not a traditional record, but Keith Stegall’s restrained production and the band’s harmonies help to create a fresh sound that should stand out amongst the slickness and blandness of almost everything else on the radio.

“Colder Weather” was written by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, Levi Lowrey, and Coy Bowles. It can be heard here.

Grade: B+

1989 Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Sweet Sixteen’

Sweet SixteenAfter making a surprise 180° turnaround with 1988’s pop-oriented Reba, the singer alienated many traditional country fans, and Sweet Sixteen was an attempt to recapture them. Now, Sweet Sixteen is in no way a traditional album the way The Last One To Know was a traditional album, but it’s still considerably more country than Reba. With some fiddle and steel (and, inexplicably, a lot of sax), Reba set out to reel in some old fans, while keeping the new ones she gained with Reba. The question is: did she succeed in making an album that appeals to all groups?

The set opens with the lead single, a cover of  The Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown”, in which Reba assumes the part of a third woman, who desperately wants the male in the song, but he’s too busy being “Cathy’s Clown”. Surprisingly it works, and in this writer’s opinion, the song has never sounded better. Apparently, the general public thought so too, as this became a smash #1 hit. The second track, “‘Til Love Comes Again”, a top 5 hit, offers a more traditional arrangement, which works in Reba’s favor. It has sadly become one of Reba’s more obscure hits, and is unfortunately not a song that today’s radio audience is familiar with.

“It Always Rains On Saturday” is a song Reba penned with the writers of “Whoever’s In New England” (Kendal Franchesci and Quentin Powers), and it pleases me to say that it’s completely on par with the classic that it inevitably will be compared with. Reba is listed as a co-writer on 3 of the album’s tracks.  The narrator is a single mother who feels very lonely when her son goes off with his father on weekends.

On Monday the sun really shined
On Tuesday the weather was fine
Wednesday and Thursday went by
By Friday the clouds filled the sky

Instead, she uses the weather as a metaphor for what’s going on inside her mind, which is a very interesting ploy that really works.

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