My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dennis Knutson

Album Review: Doug Stone – ‘Doug Stone’

dougstoneReleased towards the end of the New Traditionalist movement, Doug Stone’s eponymous debut is his best and most traditional album. The Epic album was produced by Doug Johnson and featured top-notch songs and an impressive roster of musicians including Mark O’Connor, Mac McAnally, and Paul Franklin. The album’s first single was the superb country weeper “I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)”, an indulgent tale of self-pity written by Johnny MacRae and Steve Clark. Songs like this are the reason many people dislike country music, but they are also the reason so many of us love it so passionately. Stone knocked it out of the park on his first try; although he released many songs after this that I thoroughly enjoyed, nothing ever matched this masterpiece. It peaked at #4 but deserved to go to #1, and I’ve often thought it might have become a top charter if it had been held back and released after Stone had built up some name recognition, instead of being the first out of the box. But chart position aside, it’s a great record.

The rest of the album is almost as good. Doug’s follow-up single “Fourteen Minutes Old” is another break-up song despite its uptempo arrangement. Written by Dennis Knutson and A.L. “Doodle” Owens, it topped out at #6. The Harlan Howard tune “These Lips Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye”, another favorite of mine, fared slightly better by reaching #5. Stone finally reached #1 with the album’s fourth and final single, “In A Different Light”, which was written by the great Bob McDill along with Dickey Lee and Bucky Jones. It is the album’s least traditional song, but its biggest hit, perhaps foreshadowing country music’s imminent shift back to a more pop-oriented sound. It also allowed Stone to showcase his skills as a balladeer and it cast the template for many of his future hits.

I’ve often second-guessed record label choices for singles, but in the case of this album I think that Epic got it right. The album’s remaining songs are good, but not as strong as the ones sent to radio. “Turn This Thing Around” is not quite as good as Keith Whitley’s version from the year before. “High Weeds and Rust”, my least favorite song here, was later covered by its songwriter David Lee Murphy. Producer Doug Johnson’s “We Always Agree On Love” isn’t quite as strong as the rest of the album, but I really liked Randy Boudreux’s “My Hat’s Off To Him” and “It’s A Good Thing I Don’t Love You Anymore” by Bobby P. Barker and Keith Palmer.

I was still in college when this album was released and it certainly does not seem like nearly a quarter of a century has passed since then. In listening to the album again, though, it’s age is sometimes betrayed by the electronic keyboard arrangements, which were considered cutting-edge at the time but seem quite dated today. Thankfully, producer Doug Johnson avoided being too heavy-handed with them, and they are not as intrusive as the keyboard arrangements on other records of the era. It is however, the album’s sole flaw, albeit a minor complaint overall. Albums this good were not uncommon in the early 90s, and thus were sometimes easy to take for granted. This one is especially worth dusting off and listening to again, particularly for those fans who have become disillusioned with the current state of mainstream country. Inexpensive copies of Doug Stone are easy to find.

Grade: A

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Wine Colored Roses’

Released in 1986, The Possum’s 18th solo outing for Epic is another stellar entry in his extensive catalog that generated a pair of top 10 hits and earned him the third gold album of his career. The title track, written by Dennis Knutson and A.L. “Doodle” Owens, tells the unlikely story of an alcoholic who sends a bouquet of wine colored roses to his ex, as a not too subtle way of letting her know that he still hasn’t cleaned up his act. In real life, however, Jones had begun to get his life on track, and the album’s next single, “The Right Left Hand”, also written by Knutson and Owens, is likely a tribute to his wife Nancy, whom he credits as the one who helped him reform his ways. A third single, the beautiful “I Turn To You”, from the pens of Max D. Barnes and Curly Putnam, fared less well at radio, peaking at #26.

Billy Sherrill’s production is firmly in the new traditionalist style, likely a result of the massive success that both Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis had experienced at country radio that year. Jones sounds more relaxed and content than he had on previous albums. “Don’t Leave Without Taking Your Silver” is sort of “A Good Year For The Roses” revisited, though the newer song lacks the intensity of the 1970 classic. This time around George doesn’t make any attempts to stop his wife from leaving, blaming her for the silver in his hair. The light-hearted “The Very Best Of Me” provides a well-timed change of pace as George reveals to his wife what he plans to leave to whom, when his time comes to meet his maker:

Give my dry lips to Jack Daniels
Give the jukebox both my ears,
Plant one foot in Texas, one in Tennessee.
Send my backside to my ex-wife,
Tell her, seal it with a kiss,
Girl, I’m leaving you the very best of me.

My favorite song on the album is “Hopelessly Yours”, a beautiful ballad written by Don Cook, Curly Putnam, and Keith Whitley, that became a hit for Lee Greenwood and Suzy Bogguss a few years later. A close second is a track contributed by Max D. Barnes and the great Harlan Howard. “Ol’ Frank” tells the story of a May-December romance:

She was just seventeen but she was all woman
When Ol’ Frank slipped the ring on her hand
My God, he was wealthy, owned half the county
But he’d never see sixty again.

After ten years of heaven and long nights of love
His ol’ heart couldn’t keep up the pace.
But friends you can bet that he had no regrets,
Ol’ Frank ran one hell of a race.

She cried all the way to the chapel,
Like she really cared for Ol’ Frank
She cried all the way to the grave where he lay,
But she smiled all the way to the bank.

Slightly disappointing is “You Never Looked That Good When You Were Mine”, on which Jones is joined by pop singer Patti Page. The song itself is good and both Jones and Page are in good vocal form, but together they lack the chemistry that made George’s duets with Melba Montgomery and Tammy Wynette so memorable. Weaker still is “If Only Your Eyes Could Lie”, which would have been better suited for Jimmy Buffett than George Jones.

The album closes on a poignant note with “These Old Eyes Have Seen It All” in which an old man reminisces about seeing Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley onstage, as well as recounting memories of his service in World War II, the moon landing in 1969, and his fifty year marriage to his now-deceased wife.

Though Wine Colored Roses didn’t produce any classic hits of the caliber of “The Grand Tour” or “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, it is still a solid collection of songs that hold up well nearly a quarter century after its release, and it is well worth adding to your collection.

Grade: A-

It is currently out of print in CD form; used copies are available, but they are a little more expensive than usual. It is also available digitally from Amazon and iTunes.

Album Review: Vern Gosdin – Late & Great: The Voice

When the great Vern Gosdin died earlier this year, I wasn’t expecting any posthumous material to emerge. Obviously, I was mistaken, as this CD on obscure indie label Sims Records has been released. The material is of somewhat murky origin; there is no mention of it on the official Vern Gosdin website, the liner notes are minimal, and there is no date given for the sessions. Label owner Russell Sims and Frank Green are credited as producers. The lineup of musicians is almost identical to that on Vern’s 1997 release 24 Karat Heartache, the only differences being the drummer and the fact that this album has no backing vocalists, with Ron Oates, producer of that album, credited here for arrangements. Combined with the fact that Vern is in great vocal form here, and the overall similarity of this set, I am inclined to suspect these recordings date from approximately 1996-1997, although they do not appear to be from the same sessions as a different recording studio is named. How they came into the hands of Sims Records is unclear.

A possible clinching factor in determining the date is that one song, ‘Where Do We Take It From Here’, appears on both albums. It is an excellent song about a once-happy relationship coming to a close, which is certainly worth hearing again, and it is given a superb vocal performance. According to the credits on 24 Karat Heartache, it was co-written by Vern with Dennis Knutson and A. L. “Doodle” Owens, although here Vern alone is credited. The liner notes credit a further five songs on the album to Vern’s solo authorship, but the above evidence (and the fact that most of Vern’s songwriting involved collaboration) leads me to supect this is likely to be inaccurate.

One of the best of the songs credited to him is the sad ‘After Losing You’, which is classic Vern Gosdin, as he emotes:

Sometimes I want to drink until I drown
Sometimes I wish that I was not around
There ain’t no way to win if I can’t lose
These memories of things we used to do
Sometimes I hold your picture til it hurts
And wonder if my life is what love’s worth
Sometimes I wonder what I’m gonna do
With me, after losing you

This song is so good I’m surprised it has never previously surfaced.

‘Two Broken Hearts’ is also pretty good, with tasteful semi-Caribbean tinges, as the protagonist takes solace in the arms of another loser in love:

“I guess it takes a fool to know a fool …

‘Cause two broken hearts are better than one
It’s better than falling apart all alone
Maybe between the two of us
We’ll find a way to carry on
‘Cause two broken hearts are better than one”

This track has a couple of slightly disconcerting shifts in volume, which sound rather as if two vocal tracks have been spliced together electronically. This is also detectable on one of four songs written by one Jollie Hollie, ‘Not Back To Where I’ve Been’, a fine song in which the protagonist refuses to take back an erring ex, set to a beautiful tune:

Thanks but no thanks
I’ll not hurt this way again
I said yes to you each time before
But this time I’m saying no
To whatever it is you have to give
You can just pack up and go
Just save that line you’ve used each time
‘Cause it won’t work again
I don’t know where I’m going
But it’s not back to where I’ve been

In ‘The Ride’ (also written by Hollie), which opens the album, the protagonist is quite happy to settle for something less than true love. It has an arresting opening (“Loving me is something you don’t”) and good verses, but a repetitive chorus, making it the least good of the Hollie compositions here, despite a bright vocal from Vern. Much better is the classic-sounding ‘Lips Speak Up’ with its rather quirky admonition to the inarticulate protagonist’s own lips for not voicing his heartache. The best of the Hollie songs here is the closing track, ‘To Feel What I Once Felt’, a sad ballad which is perfect for Vern, as the protagnist just can’t help himself:

“The thrill is to touch you, but your feeling can sure kill a man
To feel what I once felt would be well worth dying again
Like a wino to his bottle I return to your hurt more and more …

To need you like I need you is the greatest of all my sins
To feel what I once felt would be well worth dying again”

I know Hollie wrote a couple of album tracks in the 1970s for Gene Watson (the beautiful ‘I’d Settle For Just Crossing Her Mind’ on Paper Rosie) and Conway Twitty (‘You Love The Best Out Of Me’ on This Time), but I know nothing else about her (I assume her to be female based on the name, plus something about her writing).

Of the lesser material, ‘Thank Your Mama’ is a warmly delivered love song from a trucker to his wife, wrapped up in a message of thanks to her mother for bringing her up so well. ‘The Biggest Little Arms’ was one of the previously unreleased tracks on last year’s box set 40 Years Of The Voice, and is a pleasant mid-tempo love song. The least successful track is ‘Yard Sale’, chronicling a couple’s sale of all their possessions (possibly thanks to bankruptcy, although the lyric isn’t entirely clear), which scans a little awkwardly and sounds too cheerful for the downbeat subject matter.

Whatever the origins of this album, it’s certainly worthwhile for Vern Gosdin fans. He was in great voice, and the material is all good, if not quite up to the standards of ‘Chiseled In Stone’, ‘Set ‘Em Up Joe’ or ‘Alone’.

Grade: B+