My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Delbert McClinton

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘Ain’t It The Truth’

 

Released in February 1998, Ain’t It The Truth was Daryle’s third, and most successful album release, reaching #18 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, his only album to crack the top forty. This seems strange in that Daryle’s days of producing hit singles were over. There were three singles released from this album, only one of which cracked the top thirty country singles.

Despite the lack of singles success, this is a really fine country album with a cast of stalwart country musicians plying their trade on the album, headed by the following:

Larry Byrom – acoustic guitar, electric guitar

Joe Chemay – bass guitar

Larry Franklin – fiddle

Paul Franklin – dobro, steel guitar

Sonny Garrish – steel guitar

Steve Gibson – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin

John Hobbs – keyboards, synthesizer

Dann Huff – bass guitar, electric guitar

The album opens up with “The Note” a fine song that had been recorded by the likes of Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette and Doug Supernaw before Daryle got around to releasing the song as a singleDaryle’s version reached #28 on the Country chart but also reached #90 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

The note was short, but lord so strong
It simply said I can’t go on
And live a lie with someone I don’t love
She couldn’t tell me face to face

Oh, but how my world was changed
By the hand that held the pen
That wrote the words that broke the heart
Of the one the only one that really loves her

My tears fell down like falling rain
But they can’t wash away the pain
How will I go to sleep without her in my arms
She never meant to break my heart

Oh,but how my world was torn apart
By the, hand that held the (f) pen
That wrote the words that broke the heart
Of the one the only one that really loves her

This is followed up by “Love or the Lack Of” by Mary Ann Kennedy and Rich Wayland, a mid-tempo ballad of what life really is about.

Jeff Crossan’s “That’s Where You’re Wrong” is a nice ballad, sung well by Daryle, and serves this album well by keeping the tempos on the album mixed. I don’t think the song had real potential as a single but it was released as the second single on the album, just cracking the top fifty.

 You said, what you had to say, would come as a surprise

You were right, honey, you were right

You told me, nothing I could do was gonna change your mind

I knew then, you’d be right again

But, when you said we were through, I knew that wasn’t true

 

[Chorus]

That’s where you’re wrong, that’s where you’re wrong

Deep down inside love lingers on, it won’t let go, it’s still too strong

That’s where you’re wrong

Daryle was never timid about tackling classic country ballads, and in Jerry Reed’s “A Thing Called Love” he has picked a good one. The song was originally released as a single by Jimmy Dean back in 1968 (still my favorite version of the song), taken to #1 (Record World) in 1972 by Johnny Cash, and covered by countless artists as an album track. Daryle gives this mid-tempo ballad a straight-ahead country treatment that does credit to the song.

Dwayne Blackwell’s rather tongue-in-cheek “I’d Live For You” would have made an excellent single:

 I won’t climb the highest mountain I won’t swim the deep blue sea

I won’t brave a raging river I’m no hero on TV

Well there are other ways to prove my love if you’re not too choosy

I’d swim the deep blue swimming pool climb the highest barroom stool

Brave the raging waters of a hot tub or Jacuzzi

 

Honey I’d live for you that’d be a lot more fun

Work and give to you vacations in the sun

No I wouldn’t die for love like the poets say they’d do

I love you so much honey I’d live for you

“A Miracle In The Making” finds Daryle as a duet partner with Kerry Singletary (now Kerry Harvick), his then- wife. Kerry’s not a bad singer, her voice somewhat reminiscent of Dolly Parton and I think this recording would have made a decent single

So I’m told it happens every day

Common as a wedding in the month of May

It’s something my heart won’t soon forget

There was nothing ordinary in that moment we met

 

We may not have seen the sea parted

We may not have tasted water turned to wine

And it may not appear all that earth shaking

Oh but I believe we could be a miracle in the making

Delbert McClinton’s “My Baby’s Lovin’ “ was the third and final single released from the album, reaching #44. Mc Clinton is a fine song-writer wih a bit of a bluesy touch to his ballads. This song is taken at a medium fast tempo and I’m surprised that it did not chart better.

The album closes with two songs on which Daryle has co-writing credit. “The Real Deal” is a good up-tempo song about the state of the narrator’s love (‘it’s the real deal’), whereas the title track is a ballad that pays homage to past country classics. I love the song, it definitely tells it like it is for Singletary and it would have made a great single. The track received some airplay here in Central Florida.

Born in this country red white and blue

From church pews to bar stools it’s always been true

From up in the mountains way back in the pines

From Crazy to Sweet Dreams to Yesterday’s Wine

 

All of my heroes from Lefty to Jones

Some are still with us and some have gone home

Oh precious are the memories of the music they made

Forever living not held by the grave

 

Forever and Always Chiseled in Stone

Like honky tonk prophets their words linger on

If you don’t believe me if you need some proof

Ask any old jukebox hey ain’t it the truth

 

Honest and simple never ashamed

Lord help us Jesus never to change

One day I’ll see Lefty when my work is through

He’ll say son you were country oh ain’t it the truth

 

Forever and Always Chiseled in Stone…

Ask any old jukebox hey ain’t it the truth      

 

I really like this album, and I play it with some regularity – I actually had been listening to the album the week before Daryl’s death. I’d call it a solid “A”

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Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘These Days’

41xt6655asl-_ac_us300_ql65_Released in August 1980, These Days was Crystal Gayle’s  second of three albums recorded for Columbia. Although very successful on Billboard’s Country Albums chart reaching #6 and being certified gold s also definitely NOT a country album. It is also my least favorite of her albums, although there are many redeeming moments. The album seems to run between 80’s lounge and classic pop standards.

The album opens up with “Too Many Lovers”, a #1 record written by Mark True, Ted Lindsay, Sam Hogin. This song is moderately up-tempo with a rock guitar break.  This is followed by “If You Ever Change Your Mind”, a nice ballad written by Parker McGee and Bob Gundry. The instrumentation is basically jazz piano with orchestration. This too reached #1.

“Ain’t No Love In the Heart of The City” is typical cocktail lounge pop. Crystal sings it well but the song itself leaves me cold. Written by Michael Price and Daniel Walsh, the song leans toward modern R&B, as does the next song “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)”, which I find disappointing as Will Jennings and Joe Sample have decent track records as country songsmiths. With a different arrangement, I might like “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)”, but the background vocals on the “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)” probably belong on a Patti Labelle record rather than anything recorded by Crystal Gayle, and the Kenny G style sax leaves me completely cold.

Allen Reynolds and Bob McDill usually crafted good songs, and “Help Yourselves to Each Other” is no exception. A slow ballad with flute and string accompaniment, I could see this song being released as a single to Adult Contemporary radio. Don Williams recorded the song as an album track but I think Crystal’s version is better, even exquisite.

What a time to turn your back on someone
What a day to be without a friend
What a shame when no-one seems to bother
Who will offer shelter to candles in the wind

And it follows we are only helpless children
Ever changing like sunlight through the trees
It’s a long road we must cling to one another
Help yourselves to each other, that’s the way it’s meant to be

The great Delbert McClinton wrote “Take It Easy’ which proved to be a minor hit for Crystal Gayle, reaching #17. Crystal handles it well but her version pales to the McClinton original, and I suspect grittier female country vocalists such as Gus Hardin, Lacy J Dalton, Gail Davies, Wilma Lee Cooper or Jean Shepard  could have done the song better (not that Wilma Lee or Jean could ever have been persuaded to record this song) .

“I Just Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” is another song by Sample and Jennings, this time a mid-tempo blues number , with a traditional jazz accompaniment including clarinet.

“You’ve Almost Got Me Believin'”, by Barbara Wyrick,  sounds like cocktail lounge pop. I really didn’t like this song at all, particularly after the Kenny G-styled sax kicks in. Crystal’s vocal is nice but the song is unworthy.

“Lover Man” is a pop standard classic by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill. American listeners may recall Weill as the composer of “Mack The Knife”, but he penned many fine songs, including this one. While the song is often associated with Ella Fitzgerald, Crystal acquits herself well . The arrangement can be best describe as a very bluesy piece of piano jazz.

I don’t know why but I’m feeling so sad
I long to try something I never had
Never had no kissing
Oh, what I’ve been missing
Lover man, oh, where can you be

The night is cold and I’m so alone
I’d give my soul just to call you my own
Got a moon above me
But no one to love me
Lover man, oh, where can you be

The album reaches back to 1934 for its closing number “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, from the pen of Tin Pan Alley writer Harry M. Woods. Harry wrote a number of pop standard classics including “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover”,  “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain”, “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye”, and “Try a Little Tenderness”.  The song is performed as an up-tempo traditional jazz number with honky-tonk piano similar to what Joanne Castle, Big Tiny Little or Joe “Fingers” Carr might have played, and a very nice clarinet solo.

Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do
Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do to you

You’re in love
Your heart’s fluttering
All day long
You only stutter
Cause your poor tone
Just will not utter the words
I love you

For me this is a mixed bag. I do like pop standards and traditional jazz balladry, but I don’t care for cocktail lounge jazz. There are some very nice song on this album and some songs about which I am utterly indifferent. There is nothing remotely country on this album. I think the first two and last two songs on this album, and “Help Yourselves to Each Other” are the best songs  on the album.

Grade: B

Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘Scarecrow’

scarecrow2001’s Scarecrow was the last full-length studio album that Garth released before his long sabbatical from music, and like most of his albums, it is an eclectic collection encompassing a variety of styles, although there seems to have been more of an effort to appeal to country fans than on past projects.

The lead single, “When You Come Back To Me Again” was originally included on the soundtrack to the film Frequency. Written by Garth and Jenny Yates, it is an AC-leaning ballad, and despite the overwrought string arrangement, it’s one of Garth’s better non-country efforts. It was apparently a little too-AC for country radio. It peaked at #21, becoming one of a very few number of Garth Brooks singles to miss the Top 20.

Before the album was released, Capitol dug back into its archives and went back to Garth’s 1990 collection No Fences, and released “Wild Horses”, with a newly recorded vocal track, as his next single. Then it was back to Scarecrow for the catchy and sparsely produced “Wrapped Up In You”, which became the album’s biggest hit, peaking at #5. It was the only single from Scarecrow to reach the Top 10. It was followed by a shouty duet with future wife Trisha Yearwood, the Delbert McClinton-Gary Nicholson tune “Squeeze Me In”, which reached #16. Garth makes his best attempt at a Delbert McClinton impersonation, but sounds out of his element here. Trisha sounds slightly more at home. “Thicker Than Blood”, a nice midtempo number again penned by Garth and Jenny Yates, deserved more attention than it received. It peaked at #18.

Like much of Garth’s work, Scarecrow is a mixed bag. It’s a very incohesive album as Garth attempts to appeal to every niche of his vast fanbase, and in doing so often comes across as insincere. There is the exaggerated twang on the more country numbers like “Beer Run”, a novelty duet with George Jones that wears thin after the first listen, the complete lack of a twang on the overblown power ballads like “Mr. Midnight” and “The Storm” and the awkward attempt to be a bluesman on “Squeeze Me In”. It all leaves the listener wondering just who the real Garth Brooks really is and what kind of music would he really have made had he not been so obssessed with breaking sales records.

That being said, Scarecrow has more than its fair share of enjoyable moments. “Pushing Up Daisies” is a nice cover of a Kevin Welch tune from 1995 and should have been released as a single. “Don’t Cross The River” is a countrified version of a song originally recorded in 1972 by the pop group America. The arrangement features a lot of banjo, dobro and fiddle and it works surprisingly well, and “Rodeo or Mexico” is a very enjoyable number written by Garth with Paul Kennerley and Bryan Kennedy.

Scarecrow is probably one of Garth’s more forgettable albums but on average the plusses outweigh the minuses. Garth fans will like it and even more casual listeners will find plenty to enjoy.

Grade: B

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Tell The Truth’

tellthetruth2001’s Tell The Truth was Lee Roy Parnell’s first post-major label release, the one that obstensibly “freed” him to record whatever he wanted without regard to commercial concerns. It is no surprise that the album isn’t particularly country; even in his hit-making days Parnell was no traditionalist. Tell The Truth is a combination of delta blues, blues rock, boogie, and blue-eyed soul but has only the loosest connection to country music. Lee Roy co-wrote nine of the album’s ten tracks and produced the project along with John Kunz. He was joined by a number of guest artists, none of whom are connected to mainstream country, but all of whom are highly respected in their own genres.

Albums like this are always difficult to review. The credits of Tell The Truth contain the names of some of music’s most respected musicians and songwriters, but this type of music is really not my cup of tea and I found listening to it to be quite a chore. Overly long songs always annoy me, even when they are songs that I like. Many of the tracks on Tell The Truth clock in at more than five, six or even seven minutes. The album produced one single, “South By Southwest”, performed as a duet with Delbert McClinton, who seems to have been an inspiration for the entire project. The single failed to chart, not suprisingly since it doesn’t fit in comfortably with any major radio format.

Although I didn’t care for much of Tell The Truth, it does contain some songs that I did enjoy. In general, the ballads and the quieter numbers were the ones I enjoyed more: “Breaking Down Slow”, on which Parnell was joined by blues singer Bonnie Bramlett was nice, as were the title track (a co-write with Tony Arata), and the Gretchen Peters-penned “Love’s Been Rough On Me”. I also enjoyed the rollicking gospel number “Brand New Feeling”, performed with the Mississippi Mass Choir.

Although Tell The Truth doesn’t really coincide with my personal taste, the talent of Lee Roy Parnell, the supporting musicians and the songwriters is not in question. Parnell is in good voice and the songs are all well produced and well performed, if you like this sort of thing. It’s worth seeking out if you’re looking for a change of pace record, but fans like me who would just prefer to keep it country will probably want to pass on this one.

Grade: C

Single Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘She Won’t Be Lonely Long’

Hits_and_Highways_AheadLee Roy Parnell wrapped his major label career in 1999 after Career Records folded back into Arista and released Hits and Highways Ahead, Parnell’s sole career retrospective. At just twelve tracks, it featured his biggest hits over the past nine years and unsurprisingly left off any offerings that didn’t ignite at radio.

To help promote the album, which like all of Parnell’s other works didn’t chart very high, the label released a single. “She Won’t Be Lonely Long,” written by Bob McDill, didn’t reverse Parnell’s commercial fortunes and became his final single to chart, peaking at #57.

Over the years I’ve found that many of the songs I really enjoy were written by McDill, who in turn is one of my favorite writers. His “Gone Country,” and Alan Jackson’s subsequent hit recording is one of my favorite singles of the 90s. It’s a masterpiece through and through. So I wasn’t surprised McDill also penned one of my favorite Parnell recordings, “On The Road.”

“She Won’t Be Lonely Long,” which isn’t to be confused with Clay Walker’s 2010 hit, sadly cannot be added to my list of favorite McDill songs. Lyrically, the song is ok, with the story of a woman coming out of a breakup lonely, but not for long.

My problem is the production, which retains Parnell’s signature electric guitar, but smothers the track in a Texas-styled arrangement far too Delbert McClinton for my tastes. This style of country isn’t in my sonic wheelhouse, so I have to really, really like it for songs in this vein to hit me just right. Also, nothing about this track is commercially country by 1999 standards either, so I’m amazed it charted at all.

Parnell had a great tenure on Arista and Career Records, with some excellent material to show for it. “She Won’t Be Lonely Long” is far from that standard, and a low note for which to end the commercial phase of his career.

Grade: C

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘We All Get Lucky Sometimes’

we all get lucky sometimesLee Roy Parnell’s fourth album saw him repeating the pattern of the records which had seen him enjoy commercial success. There was one backroom change, though: a sideways move from Arista proper to the subsidiary imprint Career Records.

The lead single ‘A Little Bit Of You’ is a mid-tempo love song with a radio-friendly tune, written by hitmakers Trey Bruce and Craig Wiseman. It just missed the top spot on the charts, peaking at #2. ‘When A Woman Loves A Man peaked ten spots lower, at #12, but I think it’s a better song. A classy soulful ballad, it features Trisha Yearwood’s backing vocals, although they’re quite low in the mix.

‘Heart’s Desire’ was another big hit, reaching #3. It’s an excellent example of one of Parnell’s slower numbers, rhythmic and blusey but not overwhelmingly so, with a mellow feel. ‘Givin’ Water To A Drownin’ Man’ proved to be Parnell’s last top 20 hit. It’s another strong track in Parnell’s wheelhouse, although the Merle Haggard namedrop seems rather random. The title track also got some airplay but didn’t make the top 40. It’s a mid-to-up-tempo chugger, stronger on groove than substance, but enjoyable enough.

‘Saved By The Grace Of Your Love’ is a gentle ballad written by Parnell with Mike Reid, which is very pretty. ‘I Had To Let It Go’ is a pretty good story song involving losing a loved one and giving up booze.

The Delbert McClinton/Gary Nicholson song ‘Squeeze Me In’ is best known to country fans from Trisha Yearwood’s version. Parnell’s take is okay (and there’s some great piano), but I like Trisha’s better.

‘Knock Yourself Out’ has a blues groove which is quite catchy with call-and-response vocals and is quite enjoyable without being very memorable. It would have worked well live. ‘If The House Is Rockin’ is a straightforward slice of rock ‘n roll with exuberant honky tonk piano.

The album closes out with an instrumental; featuring accordion great Flaco Jiminez. Not my thing, but impressive playing.

Overall, a solid album which should appeal to anyone who likes the singles.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Lee Roy Parnell – ‘Love Without Mercy’

220px-LoveWithoutMercyTo record his sophomore album Lee Parnell stuck with producer Barry Beckett although Scott Hendricks, who most recently has been producing Blake Shelton’s post-Bobby Braddock work, joined him. Love Without Mercy would be Parnell’s breakthrough release containing three top ten singles despite peaking at #66 on Billboard’s country albums chart.

Lead single “The Rock,” where Parnell sounds like a slightly less powerful Ronnie Dunn, failed to ignite (peaking at #50) despite no obvious shortcomings. The contemporary ballad was perfectly inline with commercial trends in 1992 and I quite like the lush tenderness Parnell brings to the proceedings.

He finally scored his breakthrough hit with “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am,” an excellent rocker written by Al Carmichael and Gary Griffin. The #2 peaking song succeeds on Parnell’s rough vocal and slide guitar that doesn’t overwhelm the track at all. The infectious melody was all over the radio when I was a kid and I love it as much today as I did then.

Arista’s next single choice was the title track, a Don Pfrimmer and Mike Reid ballad originally recorded by Oak Ridge Boys in 1987. Reid, who topped the charts with “Walk On Faith” two years prior, released his own version the same year as Parnell. The bluesy ballad, which peaked at #8 for Parnell, is an excellent song perfectly suited for Parnell’s voice. Oak Ridge Boys version is great, too, but somewhat dated.

The album’s final single, the infectiously upbeat “Tender Moment” matched “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am,” peaking at #2 in Mid-1993. It’s another fantastically commercial moment for Parnell, succeeding on the brilliant melody, and among my favorite of his singles.

The rest of Love Without Mercy skews towards uptempo rocks including the Parnell co-wrote “Road Scholar,” a semi-autobiographical tale about a man who got his education in honky-tonks, that features Delbert McClinton. The bluesy Texas Rock isn’t my favorite, but the predictable lyric does give the track some needed substance.

“Night After Night” finds Parnell as a man consumed by the memory of his ex and the whole thing is as predictable as it is muscular. “Roller Coaster” is slightly better although I wish it retained even more country elements beyond the audible steel guitar. “Ain’t No Short Way Home” is a pre-curser to the ‘Bro-Country’ of today with its mentioning of trucks and women, and while it’s light years better in quality than today’s dreck, its still too generic for me.

“Back In My Arms Again” retains more of the country elements Parnell brought to the singles, and is an improvement over the other album cuts as a result. “Done Deal” is the best non-single and follows the formula of “The Rock” and the title track.

Love Without Mercy is a typical boom years country album that focuses on some outstanding singles while populating the album with a fair share of filler. Nothing here is horrible, but the magic of “What Kind of Fool” and “Tender Moment” isn’t repeated beyond those two cuts. But the album as a whole is still listenable and worth seeking out.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Clay McClinton – ‘Bitin’ At the Bit’

bitin at the bitLegendary blues rocker Delbert McClinton has had a number of connections with country music, particularly as a songwriter but also duetting with Tanya Tucker and touring with Willie Nelson.  His son Clay, based in Texas, recruited country songwriter and producer Gary Nicholson to produce his latest solo album, and while it is an eclectic album, it draws strongly on his country influences, with Tex-Mex, blues and jazz thrown in the mix.

Clay isn’t as distinctive a vocalist as his father, but his rough-edged voice works well on his material.  It has a naturally melancholy tinge which is at its most effective on the wearied waltz ‘A Woman That Can’t Be Explained’, which has a slightly ragged 70s outlaw country feel which is very attractive.  One of a number of Nicholson/McClinton collaborations, this is my favorite track.  The protagonist is as puzzled by his sweetheart’s many contradictions when they split as when they first get together.

The pair’s laid-back ‘Wildflowers’ admires free-spirited women in a more straightforward way.

The cheerful honky tonker ‘Beer Joint’ (co-written with dad Delbert, and featuring backing vocvals from 60s rocker Bruce Channel) is another favourite, in which the protagonist turns down an expenses-paid exotic trip in favour of a party at his local bar.

The rueful ‘Hydrated’ faces a hangover with witty resolve and the hair of the dog:

Everything I read says you need at least 8 glasses a day

So put a little more ice in your drink and you might get enough that way

I ain’t no nutritionist but let’s make one thing clear

There’s a whole lot of corn in alcohol and there’s a whole lot of water in beer

Drink plenty when you exercise

Drink plenty out in the sun

I get my electrolytes mixing Gatorade and rum

It was written by Clay and Nicholson with Tom Hambridge, as was the very different ‘Sound Of A Small Town’, a gently understated and beautifully detailed portrait of life in a rural community.  ‘Bound For Glory’ is a fine tribute to American folk pioneer Woody Guthrie.

‘Stories We Can Tell’ is a co-write with dad Delbert, and has the bluesy groove typical of the latter’s work.  A sultry cover of 60s pop hit ‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)’ is in similar vein.  Bluesy mid-tempo love song ‘Nobody Knows My Baby’ is a bit dull.

Delbert helps out vocally on a sturdy version of his classic song ‘Victim Of Life’s Circumstances’.  a number of other covers are also included.  The country classic ‘Poison Love’ (a hit for Johnnie & Jack in 1951) gets an enjoyable Tex-Mex makeover with joyful fiddle and accordion work, which works really well.  ‘What A Little Love Can Do’, written by producer Nicholson with Stephen Bruton for the Crazy Heart soundtrack, is quite good

I was very pleasantly surprised by this album, particularly the quality of the songwriting.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Pam Tillis – ‘It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis

it's all relativeLeaving Arista might have marked the end of Pam’s commercial heyday, but it led to a taking stock and artistic resurgence which began with a reflection on her roots. As a youngster Pam Tillis had wanted to separate herself from her father’s legacy, hence her brief unsuccessful foray into pop music. But as a mature adult her respect for her father’s remarkable legacy as both artist and songwriter led to her recording an entire tribute album to him in 2002, when he turned 70. The depth of his catalog is revealed by the fact that not only did Mel write every song on this album, half of them on his own, but Pam had to leave many more on the shelf. Some were hits for Mel, others were songs he wrote for others. This album was Pam’s last hurrah on a major-related label, on Sony imprint Lucky Dog.

I love the outrage of ‘Unmitigated Gall’ (a top 10 for Faron Young in 1966), where Pam tells an ex in no uncertain terms just how she feels about his nerve coming back around now. This is definitely one of my favourite tracks. Catchy and confidently performed by Pam, it was a canny choice for the album’s lead single and just a few years earlier could easily have been a hit single all over again. By 2002, however, the tide had begun to turn in earnest, and it was far too country for country radio, failing to chart.

This attitude rises to new heights with the snarling declaration of hatred and ‘Mental Revenge’ (a top 20 for Mel himself in 1976 but better known for renditions by Waylon Jennings and Linda Ronstadt). Pam’s version is sultry and bluesy, and all her own.

Another highlight is the understated yet deeply emotional take on ‘Detroit City’, which brings out the melancholy of the song’s depiction of homesickness and failure with a barely concealed desperation underlying the vocal.

The charming ‘A Violet And A Rose’ is beautifully realised by Pam, with the help of very pretty trilling harmonies from Dolly Parton and a delicate acoustic arrangement. The original was Mel’s first chart single in 1958, and the much-recorded tune also gave its co-writer Little Jimmy Dickens his first top 10 hit in eight years in 1962.

‘Not Like It Was with You’ is an excellent lesser-known traditional country number about the after-effects of a breakup, which I enjoyed greatly. ‘Goodbye Wheeling’ is another fine relatively obscure song (a top 20 for Mel) which really suits Pam’s voice better than Mel’s. Delbert McClinton guests on harmonica.

‘Heart Over Mind’ (‘#3 for Mel and #5 for Ray Price) is transformed from a traditional shuffle to a sophisticated ballad. It is beautifully sung, with Emmylou Harris on harmony, and works well on its own merits, but the melody is barely recognisable slowed down so drastically.

Four tracks were co-produced by Asleep At The Wheel’s Ray Benson. He duets with Pam on an entertaining ‘Honey (Don’t Open That Door)’ (best known as a chart-topper for Ricky Skaggs); Trisha Yearwood and Rhonda Vincent sing close harmonies. The regretful western swing ballad ‘Burning Memories’ (a top 10 in 1977) is another delight with a delicately judged vocal and very retro arrangement, mixing traditional steel and fiddle with Nashville Sound backing vocals. The jazzy ballad ‘So Wrong’ is very much in the sophisticated later style of Patsy Cline, for whom Mel wrote it with Danny Dill and Carl Perkins, complete with a cameo by the Jordanaires. While it’s not my personal favourite sub-genre of country music, Pam sounds really good on this. It was the second attempt at a single to promote the album. Honky tonk classic ‘I Ain’t Never’ was one of the biggest hits for co-writer Webb Pierce, and is the only one of Mel’s own chart toppers to be included. Pam’s version is bouncy and entertaining but comes across as a little shallow emotionally, although I enjoyed the arrangement and instrumental work.

There are only a couple of duds. The singalong ‘Come On And Sing’ is a weak song featuring a children’s chorus, but it was a nice touch to include Mel on one track. I was bored by the very jazz ‘Emotions’. It had been a hit for pop and country artist Brenda Lee as a teenager, and has nothing to do with country music, although it does show the range of Mel Tillis’s talent.

Pam produced the bulk of the set alone, with help from Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson on a a handful of tracks. The result is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Pam’s most traditional album, and a worthy tribute to a truly great singer-songwriter whose contribution to country music has sometimes been overlooked. Yet while it is always respectful, Pam puts her own stamp on many of the songs, not completely reinventing them, but definitely interpreting them in her own way. It is a highly recommended purchase; luckily used copies can be found very cheaply.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘My Honky Tonk History’

honkytonkhistoryThe creative renaissance that Travis Tritt enjoyed with the release of Down The Road I Go was unfortunately short-lived; 2002’s Strong Enough was a commercial and critical disappointment and 2004’s My Honky Tonk History, while slightly better than its predecessor, was likewise a mixed bag.

Based on the album’s title, some fans might have been expecting a back-to-basics collection of traditional weepers; if so, those fans were likely quite disappointed, since the album often is anything but traditional. Ironically, the Luke Bryan and Patrick Jason Matthews title track is one of the most rock-leaning tracks Tritt ever released. The track’s production is rather heavy-handed, and this is also the case with the second track “Too Far To Turn Around”. Two tracks into the album I was bracing myself for a tedious listening experience; “The Girl’s Gone Wild” is more mainstream contemporary country but the lyrics are cliched and the whole song sounds like a retread of the Garth Brooks Hit “Ain’t Comin’ Home Til The Sun Comes Up”; a song of which I was never overly fond. The tune seems to have been carefully tailored to the prevailing tastes at country radio, but radio’s response was lukewarm and the tune topped out at #28.

Fortunately things take a turn for the better starting with the fourth track “What Say You”, a duet with John Mellencamp. It’s not a traditional number by any means; it is more in the vein of something that Bob Dylan or The Byrds might have recorded. I’ve never been a fan of Mellencamp’s music but somehow the tune manages to work. It marks Mellencamp’s first –and to my knowledge, only — entry into the country Top 40. The record just missed the Top 20, peaking at #21.

Following “What Say You” is the excellent “Circus Leaving Town”, a traditional steel-guitar drenched number which is by far the album’s best track. “Monkey Around”, a bluesy number written by Delbert McClinton, Benmont Tench, and Gary Nicholson provides a nice change of pace, and Tritt sounds as though he is thoroughly enjoying himself with this tune. “I See Me” is a more mainstream effort, a ballad about a father observing his young son. Earlier in Tritt’s career, this would likely have been a big hit but by this time radio had cooled toward him considerably and the record stalled at #32.

By the last third of the album, the quality begins to taper off again, as the songs become more rock-oriented with offerings like “When Good Ol’ Boys Go Bad”, the anti-commercialism anthem “It’s All About The Money” and the don’t-get-above-your-raisin’ themed “When In Rome”, which closes the album. The two exceptions are the beautiful ballad “We’ve Had It All”, a Tritt co-write with Marty Stuart and “Small Doses” written by Jerry Salley and Chris Stapleton who would later enjoy a stint as lead vocalist for The SteelDrivers. “Small Doses” is the one tune here that sounds as though it belongs on an album titled My Honky Tonk History.

Though it failed to spawn any major hits or earn gold or platinum certification, My Honky Tonk History did reach #7 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. His declining popularity with radio and creative differences with Columbia led to Travis’ departure from the label in 2005. With the major label phase of his career now over, he went on to experience even greater difficulties with the independent Category 5, with whom he signed in 2006. Uneven in quality though it is, My Honky Tonk History does contain a few very good tracks and for those alone it is worth picking up a cheap copy.

Grade: B

Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Wild Angels’

wild angelsMartina McBride is one of the most technically gifted vocalists in country music, and her style was ideally suited to the 90s with its mix of contemporary shine and more traditional elements (although the latter tended to reduce over time), good songs, and great vocals. Her third album, 1995’s Wild Angels, would seal her star status. Martina took a co-production credit this time alongside Paul Worley and Ed Seay, who had helmed her earlier work. Her vocals are superb throughout this album, and almost every song sounds as though it could have been a successful single. Bookending the set by opening with a baby’s cry and ending with studio chatter, however, is pretentious, self-indulgent and pointless.

The lead single, the charmingly hopeful ‘Safe In The Arms Of Love’, dreams about the prospects of true love some time in the future. A pretty arrangement with an almost Celtic feel and airy backing vocals from co-writers Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose (the third writer was Pat Bunch) contrast nicely with Martina’s powerful lead vocal. It was a cover of a song which was originally recorded by Baillie & The Boys and had been a Canadian country hit for Michelle Wright, but Martina’s version is my favorite. Peaking at #4 on Billboard, it was her second biggest hit to date.

The sunny title track was the second single, and while the efficiently glossy surface of this well-written contemporary country song (written by Matraca Berg, Gary Harrison and Harry Stinson) somehow sounds a little soulless to me, it was very radio-friendly and became Martina’s first #1 hit.

Surprisingly, the last couple of singles failed to repeat this success, even though they are siginifiantly better songs. ‘Phones Are Ringing All Over Town’ is a dramatic ballad (written by Marc Beeson, Kim Vassy and David McKechnie) about a complacent cheating husband’s discovery that he has crossed one line too many and the marriage is over with “nothing to be said”. It was only just a top 30 hit despite the excellence of both song and vocal.

‘Swingin’ Doors’ only just crept into the top 40, but deserved much better. Written by Chapin Hartford, Bobby Boyd and Jim Foster, it is a ballsy, sardonic response to a man the protagonist realizes has been stringing her along with empty promises. The doors to her heart are about to be closed to him. Banked harmonies help to sell the song’s defiance.

The final single (and my favourite), ‘Cry On The Shoulder Of The Road’ peaked at 26. It is in fact one of my favorite Martina McBride recordings ever. It was written by Matraca Berg and Tim Krekel, and portrays a woman whose marriage has reached such a desperate state she just leaves with no destination in mind:

Rollin’ out of Bakersfield
My own private hell on wheels
But this time I’m gone for good…

It makes me feel a little low
Steel guitar on the radio
when its kind of scary teh way these truckers fly
So this is how leaving feels
Drinking coffee and making deals
With the One above to get me through the night

Cause there ain’t no telling what I’ll find
But I might as well move on down the line
There ain’t no comfort to be found in your zip code
I’d rather break down on the highway
With no one to share my load
Cry on the shoulder of the road

Levon Helm’s harmony lends a California country-rock feel to the chorus, while Martina’s full blooded vocal makes her sound vulnerable but determined to make her way, and a tasteful arrangement with steel guitar.

The contemporary sounding mid-tempo ‘A Great Disguise’ has Martina hiding her heartbreak behind “smoke and ice”, with a big emotional chorus. ‘Beyond The Blue’ is quite a pretty song about looking forward to getting past the sorrow of a breakup, and both are quite good.

‘All The Things We’ve Never Done’ (written by Craig Bickhardt and Jeff Pennig) is a gentle love song comparing possible missed opportunities in life with a supportive love. The similarly themed ‘You’ve Been Driving All The Time’ was overtly dedicated to Martina’s husband, whose support had been so instrumental in building her career; it is a sweet if slightly sentimental love song which affirms,

It takes a real man to take a back seat to a woman.

Another love song from the Bunch/Rose/Kennedy writing team, ‘Born To Give My Love To You’ is quite pretty with a string arrangement and multitrack harmonies from Rose and Martina herself.

An energetic cover of ‘Two More Bottles Of Wine’, the Delbert McClinton song best known by Emmylou Harris, is pretty good with a rocking vocal, some fabulous honky tonk piano from John Hobbs, and proves Martina wasn’t just a great balladeer.

This album exemplifies pop-country at its best – good, sometimes great songs, great vocals, and a production which while glossy, is not pretending to be a rock band. The overall mood is of female self-confidence and survival. Even the breakup songs focus on the woman moving on, and this positive image of being a strong woman may have been key to Martina’s success at a time when women in country music were doing better as a group than ever before.

Grade: A

Album Review: Vince Gill – ‘When Love Finds You’

Vince Gill’s seventh studio album hit shelves nearly two years after his landmark I Still Believe In You. Once again co-produced with Tony Brown, When Love Finds You continued to build on Gill’s newfound superstar status, selling 4 million copies and spawning 6 hit singles, it also built on the singer’s knack for striking the perfect balance between his pop-tinged and traditional country sound.

Meant to recapture the mega success of “I Still Believe In You”, the adult contemporary-leaning ballad “Whenever You Come Around” was showcased as the lead single, and found its way to #2 on the country singles chart in the Summer of 1994. The title track – a #3 hit – follows much of the same electric guitar and synthesizer love song format. The former features Trisha Yearwood singing harmony.

The best showcases for Gill’s fast-fingers guitar playing comes from the album’s pair up-tempo singles. Proving that a lusty ode to womankind can be done right, “What The Cowgirls Do”, written by Vince with Reed Nielsen, rocks hard with a healthy dose of piano and guitar, and the charm of the lyrics – “they love to go all night, and treat you right” – fall just short of chauvinism. Even better is the contemporary country sounds of “You Better Think Twice”, which finds the singer urging a would-be notch on his buddy’s belt to rethink her feelings. Layers of piano and hard-hitting bass playing by Michael Rhodes make it a good time top-tapper. Both songs hit #2 on the country chart.

As good as those up-tempos are, two other singles steal the spotlight on When Love Finds You. The stone country weeper “Which Bridge To Cross (Which Bridge To Burn)”, co-written with the legendary Bill Anderson, tells of a man in love with two women and at a loss over which one to choose. Here, a tinkling honky-tonk piano and a crying fiddle frame Gill’s high lonesome delivery of a stellar lyric. Best remembered today is the perennial “Go Rest High On That Mountain”, featuring Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs on harmony. Gill began writing the eulogic ballad after the death of Keith Whitley in 1989 but didn’t finish it until 4 years later following the death of his brother.

There are really no songs here in need of skipping. On the roadhouse-flavored “South Side of Dixie”, co-written with Delbert McClinton, Gill again kicks up his heels and showcases his guitar skills. “If There’s Anything I Can Do” hits just the right groove of pop-country perfection as does “Maybe Tonight”, which Gill co-wrote with his then-wife Janis. Coincidentally, another of the album’s tracks was written with Amy Grant, who would become Vince’s second wife. “If I Had My Way” is a more spiritual and humanitarian love song than a foreshadowing of a romantic relationship, and features a stripped down production.

When Love Finds You found an artist in his commercial prime, and delivering the goods to as many people as he ever would. Vince Gill does not disappoint the masses with this release, be they neo-traditionalist or converted rock and roll fan.

Grade: A-

Buy it at amazon.

Album Review: Vince Gill – ‘I Still Believe In You’

Released in 1992, this album transformed Vince from star to superstar, with four of the five singles hitting #1 on Billboard, and excellent sales figures and a string of awards for the album itself. It showcases Vince Gill at his very best, with lovely soaring vocals, supported by tasteful and subtle production overseen by Tony Brown. Vince wrote or co-wrote every song, and the quality is exceptionally high. Backing singers include Alison Krauss and Dawn Sears.

The title track was Vince’s very first #1 hit. It won Vince and co-writer John Barlow Jarvis Song of the Year awards from both the ACM and CMA. Reportedly written for Vince’s then-wife Janis about their sometimes troubled relationship, the message is one of the power of true love to surmount such difficulties, and even though the couple were eventually to divorce, the song’s message stands up in its own right.

The mid-tempo follow-up, ‘Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away’ is an appeal to a wife in a marriage which is beginning to fray at the seams, which Vince wrote with his keyboard player Pete Wasner. It is pleasant enough and quietly catchy, but pales in comparison to most of the other material. The fact that it still made it to #1 is an indication that Vince’s career was in overdrive.

Surprisingly, although it was still a big hit, the next single did not do quite as well, although I think it is abetter song. The gently mournful ballad ‘No Future In The Past’, co-written with Carl Jackson, forms a sequel of sorts to ‘When I Call Your Name’, where the protagonist accepts there is no point dwelling on his memories of the good times. Peaking at a still-respectable #3 it was the album’s poorest chart performer, possibly due to competition for airplay from ‘The Heart Won’t Lie’, his duet with Reba.

It was a change of pace and back to the top of the charts with the next single, the lively and amusing ‘One More Last Chance’, written with Gary Nicholson. Vince begs his woman for mercy after one too many nights out with the boys. Delbert McClinton guests on harmonica, and the video (but not the song) featured a cameo from George Jones, whose own life probably inspired the lines:

Well, she might’ve took my car keys
But she forgot about my old John Deere

There was enough juice left in the album for a fifth single, and yet another #1 with the lyrically bleak but beautiful sounding ‘Trying To Get Over You’ (written with Gary Nicholson), where he confesses that “it’ll take dying” to help him get over the woman who has broken his heart.

My favorite track is another gorgeous ballad, the absolutely beautiful ‘Love Never Broke Anyone’s Heart’, written with Jim Weatherly. This finds Vince offering wise words of consolation to a woman who has suffered a broken heart:

It’s not love that causes the pain
Whenever a heart has been shattered
It’s the losing of love that’s to blame

Love never broke anyone’s heart
It never left anyone scarred
It’s not really love
If it tears you apart
Love never broke anyone’s heart

Andrea Zonn’s solemn fiddle and John Hughey’s sympathetic steel add to the mood set by the perfectly judged vocal and lovely melody.

‘Under These Conditions’ is an agonized almost-cheating song, with two potential lovers held back from a good relationship from the fact that both are already married with children. It is another excellent song and performance, written by Vince with Max D Barnes. ‘Say Hello’ (another co-write with Pete Wasner) is a traditional shuffle on another heartbreak theme, with prominent harmonies.

Romantic ballad ‘Nothing Like A Woman’, written with Reed Nielsen, has a mellow, more AC feel than the bulk of the material and I don’t care for it as much, but it is very well done. I preferred the uptempo appeal to a woman being led astray by a persuasive liar’s ‘Pretty Words’, written with Don Schlitz.

The best selling album of Vince’s career, it has been certified quintuple platinum and was deservedly the CMA Album of the Year in 1993, and also helped him with his run of CMA Male Vocalist titles (1991-1995) and his wins as Entertainer of the Year in 1993 and 1994. It is excellent from start to finish, and warmly recommended. Used copies are available incredibly cheaply, making this a bargain not to be turned down.

Grade: A+

Country Heritage: Con Hunley

In an article which appeared on the9513.com in March of 2010, titled Forgotten Artists: Ten from the ’80s, Pt. 1, I had the following to say about Con Hunley:

“I have no idea why Con Hunley didn’t become a big star. He had an excellent voice and the look that 1980s record labels were seeking. Perhaps his voice was too distinctive, as it was smoky with strong blues flavoring. At any rate, he charted 25 times (11 Top 20 hits) from 1977-86, with his biggest national hit being “What’s New With You,” which reached #11 in 1981. I doubt that anyone remembers him for that song, however, as other songs such as “Week-End Friend” (#13), “I’ve Been Waiting For You All My Life” (#14), “You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart (#14), “Since I Fell For You” (#20) and “Oh Girl” (#12) were all huge regional hits, reaching Top 5 status in many markets.”

That doesn’t seem like enough to say about this superlative vocalist so here goes:

Conrad Logan “Con” Hunley (born April 9, 1945) was born in Union County, Tennessee, an area which also produced such country legends as Roy Acuff and Carl Smith. Con was born into a musical family and at age nine his parents bought him a used “Stella” guitar for Christmas. Con soon taught himself to play Chet Atkins thumb-style guitar; however, his biggest early influence was to be found among R&B artists, particularly Ray Charles.

Con’s first professional job came in 1964, courtesy of the Eagles Lodge in downtown Knoxville. In 1965 Con joined the United States Air Force in 1965. After basic training, Con was sent to a tech school at Chanute AFB in Illinois where he was taught aircraft hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Con learned so well that he was made an instructor. While there, he played area bars and clubs with a local band. Later Con was transferred to Castle AFB near Atwater, CA, where he found a job playing piano at the Empire Lounge in Atwater.

After his tour of duty was finished Hunley returned to Knoxville and began performing weekly at a local nightclub owned by Sam Kirkpatrick, who formed the independent label Prairie Dust Records to showcase Hunley’s talents. After some minor success on the country music charts with three 1977 singles charting in the lower regions outside the top fifty, Hunley caught the attention of Warner Brothers Records (WB), who signed him in 1978.

Hunley’s first WB single, a cover of Jimmy C. Newman’s  “Cry Cry Darling”, cracked the top forty, reaching #34. From this point forward, Con Hunley had eleven straight singles that reached the Billboard Top Twenty, although none reached the top ten.  This singles were all on the border between Country and R&B (this during a time when R&B was actually music). “Weekend Friend” started the parade, reaching #13 in October 1978. This was followed by a cover of the Leon Payne classic “You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart”  which reached #14 . This was followed “I’ve Been Waiting For You All Of My Life” which also reached #14 (although according to Cashbox the record reached #10 and was Con’s biggest hit – this squares with my recollections of the record and its airplay in Central Florida). Paul Anka would have a pop hit with the record two years later in 1981.

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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

Album Review: Leslie Satcher – ‘Gypsy Boots’

Leslie Satcher is one of my favourite current songwriters, and she is also a fine singer with a velvety tone who can tackle both understated ballads and full-on attack songs with attitude. When she first came to Nashville from Texas, she did so with the aim of becoming a recording artist, before discovering her talent writing, and she has released two previous albums – the excellent Love Letters in 2001 and Creation in 2005. After a long delay, she has returned to the studio to record some of her more recent compositions, and it has proved to be worth the wait.

A couple of the songs are familiar. The title track has been recorded by Terri Clark, who co-wrote it with Leslie and Jon Randall. It’s not a favorite of mine, but Leslie’s version is funky and assertive with a strong rhythm and backing vocals effectively quoting the Motown classic ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, which give it real impact. The unapologetic ‘Tough’ was written for Kellie Pickler and is her most recent top 30 single; the original is okay but has struggled on the charts somewhat, and Leslie’s voice has more force behind it.

The mid-tempo ‘Where I Am’ (written with Michael P Heeney) is on a similar theme to ‘Gypsy Boots’ about a restless spirit with no particular destination in mind (and “only Jesus knows where I am”). It is, however, a much better song, which could easily be a hit if recorded by a major label artist.

The gently sung and pretty sounding ‘Reasons To Hang On’ (written with Stephanie Chapman) has Leslie affirming the joys of life, possibly to someone struggling to find reasons to live:

What more do you want?
You wanna hear the voice of God?
He’d just tell you to hang on
If he could get you on the phone
Oh what’s it gonna take for you to find your faith,
To wake up before they’re gone,
Your reasons to hang on?

The unusual and charming mid-tempo ‘Sing Like Loretta Lynn’ is written with Jim Lauderdale and tells of an angel’s night time visit to a similarly despondent woman, making her forget her broken heart with a vision of the music-filled streets of Heaven. There are also a couple of good but more conventional religious songs, ‘In The Shadow Of Your Wings’ and the very pretty ballad ‘Rock Of Your Love’ (written with Al Anderson and Vince Gill, and previously recorded by Vince on his These Days set in 2006).

The enjoyable and energetic ‘And The Well Run Dry’ is a story song co-written with Jim Beavers, sung with aggressive attack. It tells the story of a moonshining woman who finds religion, something which kills the party mood in the technically dry town:

She sold beer to the just gettin’ started
Shine to the too-far-gone
Whiskey to the broken hearted and the ones just holdin’ on…

Y’all, she had the whole town out there getting high
Til she got Jesus
And the well run dry

The effervescent ‘Somethin’ ‘Bout Your Lovin’’ written with Al Anderson and Delbert McClinton has a fun rockabilly feel with lots of Jerry Lee Lewis styled piano. ‘Delta Wedding’ is a slower sultry Southern blues which offers an atmospheric and closely observed picture of a shotgun wedding on a hot summer day in Mississippi, with a melting cake and a bride whose fancy hairdo “even Jesus wouldn’t mess with”:

And she’s just about covered up what they’ve just about covered up
All for a nail biting bundle of joy

The melancholic ‘Lonely Doesn’t Know How To Leave’ (also written with Anderson) has a soothing vocal as the protagonist stays up all night dwelling on her sadness.

Leslie’s voice is shown off by the completely acappella solo delivery (and occasionally spoken) of the closing story song about her father’s journey to visit relatives, ‘Georgia Trip ‘56’, which is a tour de force. There are also impressive harmonised acappella opening to ‘If I Had Wings’, a delicate ballad with a lovely tune, and ‘Where That Train Was Going’, a gripping story song written with Jon Randall, which has a bluesy feel.

This record is a joy from start to finish, although the overall feel is a bit bluesier and less traditional than one might expect from her songs written for others.

Grade: A

It is widely available digitally. Hard copy CDs can be obtained from Leslie’s website or from CDBaby, where you can also hear brief clips of the songs:

http://www.lesliesatcher.com/
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/lesliesatcher2

Amazon also sells the CD version, but at a higher price.

Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town’

Emmylou’s fourth album was released in January 1978 on Warner Brothers, which had taken over her contract from the subsidiary Reprise. A personal favorite of mine, it contains a number of her classic recordings. The lineup marks the replacement of Rodney Crowell in the Hot Band by Ricky Skaggs, with both men playing on the record. The arrangements and musicians are, as usual, impeccable. There was a change of emphasis with the selection of material, with no classic revivals this time (although a number of the tracks have become classics in their own right since), but a concentration on new songs.  The quality of material is as high as Emmylou’s fans had come to expect. Emmylou was now married to producer Brian Ahern, and their personal and professional partnership showed them in perfect tune. Ironically, given her newlywed status, the overarching theme is one of leaving, whether that means a lover or spouse, a parent, or life itself.

One of the classics born on this record was the first single. ‘To Daddy’ was written by Dolly Parton, who generously relinquished the opportunity to sing the song to her friend, not recording it herself for many years. Emmylou’s subtle version was a big hit, reaching #3. The devastating lyric tells the story of a downtrodden wife and mother who suffers silently for years with her neglectful and uncaring husband, and then leaves with as little fuss as she made during the marriage:

She never meant to come back home
If she did, she never did say so to Daddy

Told from the viewpoint of one of the children, Emmylou delivers one of her purest vocals, allowing the lyrics to speak for themselves. This is still one of my favorite Emmylou Harris recordings. It was followed on the charts by the #1 hit ‘Two More Bottles Of Wine’, an up-tempo rocking-blues Delbert McClinton song which offers a defiant response to loneliness and a lover’s departure:

It’s alright cause it’s midnight and I got two more bottles of wine

Another song now widely (and rightly) regarded as a classic, the poetic ‘Easy From Now On’, written by Guy Clark’s wife Susanna and a young Carlene Carter (billed by her first married name of Routh), peaked at #12. Emmylou sounds a little sad as she plans to drink the night away following the end of a relationship. The lyrics provide the album’s title, and Susanna Clark also painted the picture used for the cover art.

Rodney Crowell, about to leave the Hot Band to launch his own solo career, contributed a couple of songs as a parting gift. There are Cajun touches to the story song ‘Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight , which was later a hit for the Oak Ridge Boys. Rick Danko of The Band sings harmony and his bandmate Garth Hudson plays sax and accordion. The driving ‘I Ain’t Living Long Like This’ is a hard-boiled country rocker addressed to a low-life individual headed for life in jail, and Rodney’s own version was to be the title track of his debut album later the same year, also on Warner Brothers.

Willie Nelson sings a prominent harmony on the folky ‘One Paper Kid’, a downbeat story about another of life’s failures, set to an attractive tune and a very simple acoustic backing consisting of Mickey Raphael’s harmonica and Emmylou herself on guitar. The pair had toured together, and their voices blend beautifully on another highlight.

The tribute to the ‘Green Rolling Hills’ of West Virginia, written by folk singer Utah Phillips, is sung as a duet with Emmylou’s longtime harmony singer Fayssoux Starling, which sounds just lovely. Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell’s replacement in the Hot Band, plays fiddle and viola on this track, foreshadowing the changes his influence was to bring in Emmylou’s music.

Singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester contributed two songs, the beautiful and perhaps metaphorical ballad ‘My Songbird’ and the swooping and allusive ‘Defying Gravity’, with Nicolette Larson on harmony. The album closes with the slowed down bluesy rockabilly of ‘Burn That Candle’, which is the only track I don’t much like, with some very odd emphases in the pronunciation.

The 2004 CD reissue included two previously unreleased live cuts from the early 80s with a Cajun flavor – Guy Clark’s ‘New Cut Road’ and ‘Lacassine Special’ (sung in French). They are well performed, but feel a little out of place here.

Grade: A

Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘When Fallen Angels Fly’

fallenangelsHot on the heels of the success of 1993’s Only What I Feel,  Patty Loveless and Emory Gordy Jr.  headed back to the studio to record her sophomore album for Epic Records.    A lot was riding on this follow-up album; Patty’s album sales had been inconsistent throughout her career up to that point and she needed to prove that she could deliver the commercial goods on a regular basis.

I’ll admit to being slightly concerned when “I Try To Think About Elvis” was released to radio in July 1994 as the advance single to When Fallen Angels Fly. A semi-novelty tune, it was a departure for Patty and it was one of her least traditional singles to date. Loveless herself expressed some reservations when the song was initially pitched to her, but she agreed to record it after songwriter Gary Burr changed some of the lyrics to be more female-oriented; substituting high heels and hairdos for boxing and football. Though slightly hokey, it is a fun and infectious song that I grew to like more and more as it climbed the charts. It eventually peaked at #3. It occurred to me as I listened to it again recently, that it is an early example of the much-maligned “list song” which has become increasingly popular in mainstream country music in recent years. However, “Elvis” manages to get through its list of items in a much more clever manner than most contemporary list songs.

Though I got over my initial aversion to the lead single, it was still a relief when the album finally hit stores in August, and proved to have plenty of the traditional-type songs for which Loveless had become famous, in addition to some more contemporary numbers. After the silliness of “Elvis”, Loveless turned serious for her next single “Here I Am”. Led by an acoustic guitar and some subtle pedal steel, Loveless sings the image-rich lyrics beautifully, showing both restraint and power, where appropriate. Today’s female artists would be well advised to study this record and take note of how Loveless handles the soaring bridge, with power and emotion, but never oversinging:

Honey, I got over you passing me over a long time ago,
And my pride was stronger when I was younger
Now I’d rather have you to know,
That here I am …

“Here I Am” earned both critical acclaim and commercial success, reaching #4 on the charts. It is one of two songs on the album written by Tony Arata. His other contribution is the opening track, the inspirational “A Handful of Dust” which Loveless recently revisited for her Mountain Soul II project.

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Album Review: George Strait – ‘Twang’

twangThe title of George Strait’s 26th studio album for MCA suggests that it is a collection of hardcore honky-tonkers, so listeners may be a bit surprised to discover that Twang is one of the more eclectic offerings in his catalog, ranging from honky-tonk and Cajun to polished ballads and a Mexican folk song sung entirely in Spanish. With longtime co-producer Tony Brown once again on board, Strait attempts to step out of the box just a bit, with varying degrees of success. Strait seems to be walking a tightrope, making just enough concessions to fit in with radio’s demands, without sacrificing artistic integrity or alienating longtime fans.

The lead single, “Living For The Night”, which is currently rising up the charts, is noteworthy because it marks the first time iin his major-label career that Strait has had a hand in co-writing one of his singles. In fact, it marks the first time he’s recorded one of his own compositions since 1982’s “I Can’t See Texas From Here”, which appeared on his second album Strait From The Heart. The song was co-written with Srait’s son Bubba, and Dean Dillon, who has written countless George Strait hits over the past 28 years. The song is somewhat less traditional and a little more slickly produced than what we normally expect from Strait. It is not my favorite song on the album and probably would not have been my choice as the single to launch the album, but it has performed well on the charts. It is currently at #7 in Billboard and rising.

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Album Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Complicated’

TanyaTuckerComplicatedRainy walks, a midnight talk, dance me on your feet
Hold me close, don’t let go, all I’ll ever need
Is a single rose, a kiss hello, that smile upon your face
The tender way, you say my name takes my breath away
Little things

The first single released from Tanya Tucker’s 1997 album, Complicated, was the romantic ‘Little Things’ which finds the singer appreciating all the small things her man does for her like walking with her in the rain and making her laugh.  It climbed to the #9 position on the country charts and is Tucker’s last appearance in the top 10 to date.  A second single and my favorite from the album was ‘Ridin’ Out the Heartache’. The tune is another of the countless ‘leaving in a car’ songs that dotted the country charts a decade ago.  This catchy tune about driving south in a ’66 Chevrolet stalled at #45 and no subsequent singles were released.  Despite being one the top 10-played artists on country radio in 1996, the next would prove to be Tanya’s last successful year with radio.

It’s worth mentioning that Tanya sued Capitol Records in 1998 for $300,000.  The suit – which reportedly began when Capitol refused to finance a music video for the second single – centered on the label’s lack of promotion for the album and accused the label of focusing all its efforts on another artist.  The suit never named the other artist, but Garth Brooks had just the year before orchestrated a takeover at the label, ousting long-time chief Scott Hendricks for Pat Quigley, said to be hand-picked by Brooks.  Tucker also asked to be let out of her contract with Capitol.

In Tanya’s defense, she did turn in a quality album to the label, plenty worth promoting.  Just after the first two tracks, which are the two singles, comes the melancholy ‘It Hurts Like Love’.  This is followed by the swinging ‘I Don’t Believe That’s How You Feel’, written by Harlan Howard and Kostas, it’s a forgive-me number done up in Cajun style.  ‘By The Way’ makes use of the double-entendre.  The verses begin each statement with ‘by the way’ using the phrase as a opening to each observation.  Then in the chorus, it’s used to tell how the singer assures her man she knows he loves her ‘by the way you smile’.

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