My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dave Turnbull

Album Review: Mo Pitney – ‘Behind This Guitar’

behind-this-guitar23 year old Mo Pitney from Illinois is chasing on the heels of William Michael Morgan as the latest neotraditional country singer to make a mainstream bid for success. (In a bizarre coincidence, they share a name – Mo is short for Morgan). Mo’s singles haven’t achieved the same level of success as that of his contemporary, but he has been building up some grassroots support as he issues his debut album, produced by veteran Tony Brown. Mo is a talented songwriter as well as a fine singer, and cowrote most of the songs here.

I was pleasantly surprised by the lead single ‘Country’ over 18 months ago, and still enjoy its relaxed feel. The second single ‘Boy And A Girl Thing’ is also very pleasant sounding, augmented by harmonies from Lee Ann Womack; as Razor X noted in his review, it has strong echoes of late George Strait to it. Sadly, neither single (both Pitney co-writes) reached the top 40 on the Billboard country chart. Both follow fairly well travelled ground lyrically, and although unambitious, Mo’s vocals and the gentle country arrangements make them worth hearing. Current single ‘Everywhere’ has a fuller, more contemporary sound, but isn’t terribly interesting, even though it is a cowrite with the great Dean Dillon.

Dillon also co-wrote ‘Take The Chance’, which has a very pretty melody and arrangement, and grows on repeated listens.

One of the album’s highlights is the deeply affecting ‘Just A Dog’ (written with Jimmy Melton And Dave Turnbull). It is the story of a stray dog who becomes the protagonist’s best friend. Another favorite is ‘I Met Merle Haggard Today’. Unlike some Haggard tributes, this one makes a (successful) effort to sound like the man himself, with the song structured like some of Haggard’s conversational style numbers, and Mo’s vocal echoing Hag’s stylings. It relates a real life meeting with Mo’s hero in 2013.

The excellent ‘Cleanup On Aisle Five’ (written by Mo with Wil Nance) has a nicely detailed story of a chance encounter with an ex in the supermarket leading to a man’s emotional breakdown:

If I wasn’t standing in that store I might have laid right on that floor and cried

‘Come Do A Little Life’ is a nice mid-tempo everyday love song (written with Nance and Byron Hill); ‘When I’m With You’, written with David Lee Murphy, is along the same lines. ‘Love Her Like I Lost Her’ is a strong song about realising the fragility of life and importance of love, which Mo wrote with bluegrass songwriter Dennis Duff.

Mo has a very strong religious faith, and includes the understated contemporary Christian ‘Give Me Jesus, set to a very stripped down acoustic arrangement. This (written by Fernando Ortega) is one of only two songs Mo did not help to write. The other, oddly enough, is the title track, which was written by Casey Beathard, Don Sampson and Phil O’Donnell, despite sounding as if it must be autobiographical. It’s a charming folky song about being a musician:

Behind this guitar is just a boy who had a dream in his heart
Behind this guitar is just a guy who can’t believe he got this far

Well, I’ve always said that I’ve been blessed
Why me is anybody’s guess
Well, I don’t know
But I’m well aware the man upstairs could have answered any other’s prayers
And let mine go
But thanks to Him, my family, friends, and those that got me where I am
(You know who you are)
And with that in mind the truth is I’m not the only one
Behind this guitar

This is a very promising debut, perhaps a little more traditional and less commercial than that of William Michael Morgan. I do hope that both young men do well in their careers.

Grade: A-

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Album Review: Bradley Walker – ‘Call Me Old Fashioned’

call-me-old-fashionedTen years ago I was blown away by the debut album by Bradley Walker, a country traditionalist/bluegrass singer with a great baritone voice. Sadly, it didn’t lead to the success it deserved, and it has taken a decade for him to release a follow-up. He has appeared on the Joey + Rory TV show and was a favorite of the late Joey Feek, who asked for him to sing at her funeral. His honoring of that request led to his signing a new record deal with gospel label Gaither Music Group. This album (produced by Rory Feek) is mainly religious in nature, but it is also very definitely traditional country.

The Feek connection is underlined with the recording of ‘In The Time That You Gave Me’, which is a moving duet with Joey about making the most of life, written by Shawn Camp and Dennis Morgan. Heartfelt vocals from both Joey and Bradley make this very powerful. ‘Sing Me To Heaven’ (by Camp and Buddy Cannon) anticipates the eternal life to come.

A stunning version of the Kristofferson-penned classic ‘Why Me’ opens the album. Walker’s voice has the gravitas to carry it off. Equally good a song is Erin Enderlin and Irene Kelley’s ‘His Memory Walks On Water’, an uncompromisingly honest story song about a man whose drunken abuse of his family means that when he finally crashes his car, his neighbours all judge he “died ten years too late”.

But his absence means that his daughter can reimagine him as a lost hero:

She’ll only see the best in him now looking back
So she can finally have a father who’s gentle, kind and good
She’ll let his memory walk on water since he never could

This is an extraordinary song which Bradley does full justice to.

‘Don’t Give Up On Me’ is a confessional Rory Feek ballad about an imperfect man dealing with hard times and feeling he has let down his wife. Musically it has more of Christian Contemporary feel than the pure country of the remainder of the album, but the sensitive lyric, fine vocal and tasteful arrangement all sell it.

‘Sinners Only’ points out that salvation is not just for the righteous, as a priest with a past is torn between the bottle and his calling:

He knows God’s gonna love him whatever he decides
Sinners only
Bring your drunkards and your fighters and no-one-seems-to-like-hers
Bring your drifters and your liars and your thieves
In other words, anyone who breathes

A form of muscular dystrophy means that Bradley uses a wheelchair, and he refers to this with a complete lack of self-pity in ‘I Feel Sorry For Them’, which he wrote with Rory Feek and Tim Johnson about what he has to be grateful for. The lilting ‘I Count My Blessings’ is less personally specific, but also about being happy with what one has. ‘The Toolbox’ offers some homespun philosophy from a note left by the protagonist’s dad in the toolbox he leaves behind. Very nice harmonies augment a soothing melody and comforting lyric.

The title track, written by Jerry Salley and Dave Turnbull, lauds traditional values of honesty, hard work, and patriotism. ‘Pray For God’ is on the verge of being too sweet, with its small child’s innocent suggestion at a church prayer meeting. ‘The Right Hand Of Fellowship’, written by Larry Cordle and Leslie Satcher, is a bright and catchy description of a church with bluegrass/southern gospel harmonies. The stripped down ‘With His Arms Wide Open’ is a beautiful meditation on Jesus.

The one track that doesn’t quite work for me is the closing ‘Beulah Land’, a slightly shaky live recording with the Isaacs on backing vocals.

Everything else, though, is stellar. Excellent songs, a great singer, and tasteful production make this a must-have as long as you don’t dislike religious material.

Grade: A

A DVD featuring these songs in concert, filmed at Joey + Rory’s barn, is also being made available.
call-me-old-fashioned-dvd

Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘That’s Why’

thats whyReleased in October 2008, That’s Why continued Craig Morgan’s recent run of success, reaching #8 on Billboard’s country albums chart. Released on BNA, Craig’s first and only album for the label, That’s Why would see four singles released with varying success.

Morgan co-produced the album with Phil O’Donnell and together they wrote the lead-off single (and first track on the album), “Love Remembers”, which became Morgan’s sixth top ten hit in November 2008. The song is a ballad but with somewhat noisy guitars but with the requisite steel and fiddle to qualify this as a country song. Morgan gives a strong but somewhat overwrought reading to the song.

You can forget what love was wearing
When it walked out your front door
Where you fell down to your knees
And you can forget the kind of suitcase
That was packed out on the sidewalk
While you cried there beggin’ please
But love remembers

You can lie and tell yourself
You’re over it and someone else will take love’s place
And this is for the best
You can lie in that bed
In a stranger’s arms reachin’ for comfort
Close your eyes and still get no rest

Cause love remembers
The smell of a summer day
Lying in a hammock over fresh cut grass
And the promise of forever
Yeah love remembers
The sound of the pouring rain
Beatin’ down on the top of a car
On the side of the road
Where it couldn’t wait
Yeah love remembers

Craig Morgan would have a hand in writing six of the tracks on this album, five of them in conjunction with Phil O’ Donnell.

The next song up is “Bonfire”, a very noisy up-tempo with rock guitar accompaniment. The song describes a summer party around a bonfire. The first verse is about the partiers and the second verse tells of an incident in which a police officer arrives to break up the gathering, but decides instead to participate. This was the third single from the album and reached #4. Morgan wrote the song with Kevin Denney, Tom Botkin and Mike Rogers.

At this point I should mention that this album went through several different releases. “Bonfire” was NOT on the first release of the album, replaced by “Summer Sundown”. Listeners who picked up the album upon its initial release will also notice that the songs are sequenced somewhat differently than I am describing. Cracker Barrel Restaurants released a version of the album with three bonus tracks including “Summer Sundown” and the previously unreleased “You” and “Evel Knievel”.

Kerry Kurt Phillips, Chris DuBois wrote the stoic “This Ain’t Nothing”, in which a newspaper reporter interviews an old man about a tornado that destroyed his house. The old man tells of the real losses in his life – his father, his brother, a good friend and his left hand during a battle in Vietnam, and his wife of fifty years – and explains that losing the house is nothing because unlike the other losses in his life, the house can be replaced. This song was released as the fourth single in 2010 and reached #13 country airplay / #83 pop. I think it is the best song on the album. I should note that this song was not on the CD release of the album, which featured a much juvenile song in “Every Red Light”.

“And last year, I watched my lovin’ wife
` Of fifty years waste away and die
And I held her hand ’til her heart of gold stopped pumpin’
So, this ain’t nothin'”

He said, “I learned at an early age
There’s things that matter, and there’s things that don’t
So if you’re waitin’ here for me to cry
I hate to disappoint you boy, but I won’t”

Then he reached down in the rubble and picked up a photograph
Wiped the dirt off of it with the hand that he still had
He put it to his lips and he said, “Man she was somethin’
But, this ain’t nothin'”

Dave Turnbull joins Morgan & O’Donnell as co-writers of the title track “That’s Why” an uplifting mid-tempo ballad that should have been released as a single.

My alarm goes off early,
Can’t afford to be late.
If I don’t get a move on then I won’t get paid.
So I throw back those covers and get my butt out of bed.
It’s still dark when im leavin’ so I let my lady sleep.
I know her and them babies are countin on me
To put food on the table and keep this roof over our head.

Prior to this album, most of Craig’s hits had been up-tempo numbers (such as “Redneck Yacht Club” and “I Got You”) but most of this album is taken at slower tempos. The last track on my copy of album is the gospel-tinged “Ordinary Angels”, complete with a choir. It is a very nice song, one that could easily be true to life for military veteran Craig Morgan.

It could be a waitress at coffee shop you never saw before
A soldier that’s just coming home from fighting in the war
We all got a little superman ready to take a fly
And save a life, oh save a life
Take a look around and you’ll see ordinary angels

It could be someone walking down the street
A stranger on a bus
A little kid on his way to school or any one of us
We all got a little superman ready to take a fly
And save a life, oh save a life
Take a look around and you’ll see ordinary angels

Unfortunately everything else on the album strikes me as filler, although someone at the label thought that track five, “God Must Really Love Me”, would make a good second single. It reached #26 breaking Craig’s string of seven consecutive top twelve hits.

“Sticks”, for example, reminds me of Craig’s 2007 top ten hit “International Harvester”, but it is not as good. The rest is just nondescript filler, neither terrible nor terribly interesting.

That’s Why is a decent album, particularly in the reissued versions. Still, this would be the last Craig Morgan album I would purchase, since it seemed that the promise of the first album was being wasted with pop-country production slathered upon it. I feel that Craig would make a really good traditional country artist. As a modern pop-country artist, Craig Morgan is just another good artist. Perhaps when he has given up on chart success, an album worthy of his debut album will emerge.

C+

Below is the track listing of the version of the album I reviewed:

01. Love Remembers – writers: Craig Morgan, Phil O’Donnell
02. Bonfire – writers; Morgan, Kevin Denney, Mike Rogers, Tom Botkin
03. This Ain’t Nothin’ – writers; Kerry Kurt Phillips, Chris DuBois
04. That’s Why – writers: Morgan, O’Donnell, David Turnbull
05. God Must Really Love Me: -writers Jim Collins, Troy Verges
06. Lookin’ Back with You – writers: James, Morgan, O’Donnell
07. Sticks – writers: Galen Griffin, Gary Hannan, Morgan, O’Donnell
08. It Took a Woman – writers: Jimmy Melton, Turnbull
09. Planet Her – writers: Kirby, Morgan, O’Donnell
10. Ordinary Angels – writers: Angelo Petraglia, S. Olsen, R. Supa

Single Review: Craig Campbell – ‘Outskirts of Heaven’

craig_campbell_performance_2013Spiritual songs have been a staple of country music from the genre’s very beginnings, although one would hardly know it from listening to the radio over the past decade or so. In his latest effort “Outskirts of Heaven”, which he co-wrote with Dave Turnbull, Craig Campbell dusts off the tried and true theme of life in the hereafter, with one small twist: Heaven is a shining city where the streets are paved with gold. So where would any self-respecting country boy prefer to be? On the outskirts, of course, in the wide open, rural spaces where the pace is just a little more laid back. It’s not exactly how I’ve ever thought about Paradise, but somehow it seems to make perfect sense.

In addition to the spiritual theme, Campbell and Turnbull have also managed to create a well-crafted song that extolls the virtues of rural life without getting in the listener’s face. There are references to buck knives, rifles and fishing but thankfully there are no beer, trucks or tailgating in cornfields. By declaring his preference for an afterlife on a farm instead of right smack in the middle of God’s Eternal City, Campbell manages to pay homage to the country lifestyle in a substantive manner, unlike the countless superficial redneck pride anthems that have polluted the radio airwaves in recent years.

The lyrics are simple yet meaningful, the production is restrained and tasteful, with plenty of harmony and steel guitar. The electric guitar near the end is a little at odds with the otherwise traditional arrangement, but it’s nothing I can’t live with. Campbell’s vocal reminds of me of the early Trace Adkins back when Trace still knew how to pick decent songs. This song would have been a surefire hit in the 90s, and maybe now that the bro-country movement is showing signs of waning, radio will be receptive to something a little more traditional.

Despite getting off to a promising start, Craig Campbell’s career has not caught on the way it should — partly because the current climate is a tough one for traditional artists and partly because he lacked the promotional backing of a strong record label. His former label Bigger Picture Music Group folded in 2014. “Outskirts of Heaven” is Campbell’s second release under a new deal with Red Bow Records. Now that Chris Stapleton has opened the door for traditionalists just a crack, it remains to be seen if Craig Campbell (or anyone else) can finally knock it off its hinges.

Grade: A

Album Review: Blake Shelton – ‘Pure BS’

purebsBlake Shelton’s unfortunately-titled fourth album finds him pushing the envelope just a bit, exploring new sounds and expanding his production team. Brent Rowan and Paul Worley joined Bobby Braddock, who had produced Blake’s previous three releases. Like his earlier albums, Pure BS achieved gold-level sales, but also continued his inconsistent pattern with country radio, missing the Top 10 on two of the album’s three singles.

The album opens with the somewhat overproduced “This Can’t Be Good”, which Blake co-wrote with Timothy DeArmitt. The track gets off to a good start, with a strong and energetic vocal performance, but the electric guitars become more and more intrusive as the song continues, and eventually overwhelm it. It is followed by the lead single “Don’t Make Me”, which sound radio-friendyl enough but surprisingly topped out at #12. The second single, “The More I Drink”, written by David Lee Murphy, Chris DuBois, and Dave Turnbull likewise underperformed on the singles chart, peaking at a disappointing #19. Perhaps alarmed by radio’s tepid response (or perhaps it was just typical major-label greed), Warner Bros. released a deluxe version of the album with three new tracks in early 2008. One of the new tracks was “Home”, a cover of the Michael Buble pop hit. The strategy worked, wince Blake’s version, which features backing vocals from his then girlfriend Miranda Lambert, became his fourth #1 country hit. Though I’m not usually a fan of pop songs remade for the country market, I do quite like this performance.

My favorite song on the album is “I Don’t Care”, written by Dean Dillon and Casey Breathard. It borrows a theme from the Victorian-era tune “After The Ball”, in which the narrator catches his sweetheart with another man, who later turns out to be her brother. “I Don’t Care” has a happier ending, however, as the misunderstanding is resolved more quickly and the couple presumably lives happily ever after.

Even before the Deluxe Edition release and the success of “Home”, Shelton appears to have had some crossover ambitions with this album, which contains more pop-leaning material than his earlier releases. It works in some cases better than others; his performance on “What I Wouldn’t Give” is a bit over the top and the entire track is a little too AC-leaning for my liking, but the more restrained “Back There Again” works pretty well. While much of the material showcases Blake the ballad singer, the uptempo “The Last Country Song”, which laments the demise of a popular roadhouse to suburban sprawl, is one of the album’s highlights. The closing track to the original album, it features cameo appearances by John Anderson and George Jones.

Pure BS is one of the stronger entries in the Shelton discography, allowing him to branch out a bit creatively, but before his song selection choices became too spotty. The album is still easy to find, but expect to pay close to full price, unless you’re looking to buy the original non-deluxe version.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Trace Adkins – ‘X’

By 2008 I had lost a lot of faith in Trace Adkins as an artist. But then he released the mistitled X (it is the Roman number 10, and was supposedly to mark this as his 10th release – but they only reached that number if you count greatest hits compilations).

The first single, the gospel-inflected ‘Muddy Water’ presents a troubled sinner seeking renewal in baptism. It’s a bit more heavily produced than necessary, but largely enjoyable although it peaked just outside the top 20. There is room for some sheer frivolity when a jaundiced Trace, just divorced, decides next time he might as well ‘Marry For Money’, in a humorous song written by Dave Turnbull and Jimmy Melton. This did a little better on the charts, reaching #14, the same peak as the rather more serious ‘All I Ask For Anymore’. ‘All I Ask For Anymore’ (written by Casey Beathard and Tim James) is a mature reflection on the changing desires that come with growing up, from shallow youthful selfishness to a grown man’s concerns for his wife and children. Trace delivers perhaps the finest pure vocal performance of his career supported by a swelling string arrangement. The similarly themed ‘Happy To Be Here’ (written by Jason Matthews, Jim McCormick and Mike Mobley) is a bit too heavily produced but not bad.

Two of the songs are outright modern classics. ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’ was not a single, but gained some attention when Trace sang it live at the ACM award show. A superb song by Rob Crosby and Doug Johnson, this explores the sacrifice of soldiers who have died, mostly in vain, starting with a Confederate soldier falling outside Nashville in the Civil War, and taking us through Omaha Beach on D-Day, Vietnam and Afghanistan:

Say a prayer for peace
For every fallen son
Set my spirit free
Let me lay down my gun
Sweet mother Mary, I’m so tired
But I can’t come home
Til the last shot’s fired

Trace’s vocal is perfectly understated and conveys the sense of defeat which imbues the song’s longing for an end to conflict. The West Point choir joins the chorus at the end, embodying the unresting souls of their predecessors, but they sound perhaps just a little too rehearsed and polite for the part they are playing.

If anything, the bleak look at alcoholism and denial penned by Larry Cordle and Amanda Martin, ‘Sometimes A Man Takes A Drink’, is even better as it remorselessly catalogs a man’s battle with alcohol, with the alcohol winning:

Sometimes a man takes a drink
So he can just throw his head back and laugh
At the things he can’t change
Like the bills he can’t pay
And all of those ghosts from the past
It’s the crutch he leans on
When things have gone wrong
Life didn’t turn out like he planned
Sometimes a man takes a drink
Oh but sometimes a drink takes the man

This is a masterpiece, with a superb vocal from Trace (who has had his own issues with drinking in the past).

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Single Review: Brad Paisley – ‘Anything Like Me’

In his comedy routine Bill Cosby used to refer to the Mother’s Curse: “I hope that when you get married you have children that act the same way that you act.” Brad Paisley explores that theme in his latest single, “Anything Like Me.” The narrator of the song is an expectant father who envisions the future — and his own past — upon learning that his unborn child will be a son. He reminisces about his own formative years, about climbing trees and playing football, as well as getting grounded for skipping class and his first broken heart, and speculates that “it’s say to say that, I’m gonna get my payback, if he’s anything like me.”

Produced by Frank Rogers and written with Dave Turnbull and Chris DuBois, “Anything Like Me” finds Paisley traveling in familiar territory. The song is strikingly similar to “Letter To Me”, which also dealt with an adult protagonist reflecting on his youth, but lacks the 2007 hit’s emotional punch. Comparisons between the two songs are inevitable, and that can only work to “Anything Like Me’s” detriment because a recycled theme is never as effective the second time around. It is not a bad song by any means; it is well written and the production is tasteful and understated. However, I can’t help but think that it is a focus group-driven product calculated to appeal to a key demographic of country radio listener, as well as a blatant and artistically lazy effort to tap into the success of an earlier record. Maybe I’ve spent too much time listening to Jamey Johnson’s new album this week, but I’d rather hear Paisley do something with a little more of an edge to it.

Grade: C+

Listen to “Anything Like Me” here.