My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dewayne Blackwell

Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘The Lost Sessions’

lost sessionsIn 2005 Garth came briefly out of retirement with the release of a lavish box set exclusive to Walmart, which included one disc called The Lost Sessions, a collection of offcuts from previous records with a handful of new songs. This was subsequently given a separate release with added tracks.

Opener and lead single ‘Good Ride Cowboy’ is a tribute to rodeo rider and cowboy singer Chris Ledoux, who was so famously namechecked in Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)’ at the start of Garth’s career, and who had died earlier that year. He launched the song on an unsuspecting world live in Times Square, New York, during the CMA awards show, and that gave the single enough impetus to send it racing up the charts. An eventual peak of #3 made it Garth’s biggest hit since 1998. Garth did not actually write the song himself; the writers include later hitmaker Jerrod Niemann. He and Steve Wariner are among the chorus of backing vocalists on the rowdy tune.

It was followed by a duet with Trisha Yearwood, to whom he was now married. ‘Love Will Always Win’, which had been recorded in 1999. It is a pleasant enough but rather bland song, and only reached #23. The third and last single, the fiddle-led ‘That Girl Is A Cowboy’, was a new Garth co-write with Niemann and Richie Brown, two of the writers of ‘Good Ride Cowboy’. It’s quite a nice song, and the arrangement makes it one of Garth’s most traditional country records.

‘Under The Table’, another Garth song (written with Randy Taylor) may date back to the recording sessions for his self-titled debut. It is an excellent song in traditional vein, a pained ballad about trying to drink away a memory. A breezy cover of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s ‘Fishin’ In The Dark’ is also very enjoyable.

Five songs have copyright dates of 1996-7, three of them Garth co-writes, and I suspect they are rejects from the Sevens recording sessions. ‘Allison Miranda’ (a Garth co-write) is a pleasantly understated story song about picking up a hitchhiker and falling in love. The heavily strung and very short (less than two minutes) ‘American Dream’, which he wrote with Jenny Yates, is a gentle ballad about growing up in America, which feels like an unfinished first draft, consisting of only two short verses disguised by an orchestra. ‘Meet Me In Love’ is a loungy jazz style number.

My favourite of these tracks is DeWayne Blackwell’s ‘Please Operator (Could You Trace This Call)’, a solidly country and entertaining drinking song about a man who’s consumed so much to forget his troubles that he has no idea where he is.

I also very much like Bruce Robison’s catchy ‘She Don’t Care About Me’, one of three songs Garth subsequently passed on to his former sideman Ty England for the latter’s 2000 Garth-produced Highways and Dancehalls album. The pleasant Tex-Mex ‘My Baby No Esta Qui No More’ is also enjoyable, but ‘I’d Rather Have Nothing’ is a bit cluttered and just okay.

Alison Krauss harmonises on the chorus of ‘For A Minute There’, a gently melancholic tune about a remembered romance which dates from 1999, and which Garth wrote with Kent Blazy. The western swing ‘Cowgirl’s Saddle’ is an attempt at quirky humor from 2001; I enjoy Garth doing this style and it sounds great musically; but the lyric (another of his co-writes) is a bit off-color. Dating from 2002, Steve Wariner and Marcus Hummon’s ‘You Can’t Help Who You Love’ is a self-justifying cheating song which is quite good, but over-produced. The brand new ‘I’ll Be The Wind’ is plain dull.

The set closes with a delicate reading of the 1950s anti-war folk song ‘Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream’.

This is a very varied, if not terribly cohesive album, with elements of most of the styles Garth has pursued over the years. It certainly wasn’t worth buying the original boxed set for, but is a better bet as a standalone especially now that used copies are available relatively cheaply.

Grade: B

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Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘No Fences’

image1989 was a watershed year for country music when an unusually high number of artists enjoyed their commercial breakthroughs. Garth Brooks initially emerged as a member of the Class of 1989 and although from the beginning he was a solid performer, few would have guessed that he would soon emerge as the biggest star in music, regardless of genre. He began to break away from the pack with “The Dance”, which was the final single released from his debut album. By the time his 1990 sophomore disc No Fences was released, it was obvious that he was on his way to superstardom.

“Friends In Low Places”, written by DeWayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee, was the album’s first single. It took only eight weeks to reach #1, where it remained for four weeks. The delightfully rowdy drinking song went on to become Garth’s best known recording. It won the 1990 Single of the Year award from both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music. It may have been the album’s biggest hit, but it is not my favorite, perhaps partially due to the fact that it was overplayed by radio.

On several of its tracks, No Fences marked a subtle shift towards a softer, more middle-of-the-road sound, as opposed to Garth’s very traditional debut album. The album’s second single, the ballad “Unanswered Prayers” included a string arrangement which, though subtle and tastefully restrained, marked the beginning of a shift away from the ultra-traditional sound that had dominated country music during the last half of the 1980s. “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House”, on the other hand, was very traditional. The more contemporary and controversial “The Thunder Rolls” was the album’s final single. Written by Garth and Pat Alger, it tells the tale of a worried wife waiting during a thunder storm for her cheating husband to come home. It was originally recorded by Tanya Tucker but her version went unreleased until it was included on her 1994 boxed set. Garth’s version omits the final verse, in which the wife takes a gun and plans to kill her philandering spouse, leaving many who only knew Garth’s version to wonder what the controversy was about. Indeed, there really was no controversy at first, until the accompanying video with its graphic scenes of domestic violence, was released. It was the first but certainly not the last controversy of Garth’s career. TNN refused to play the video unless a disclaimer was included. CMT, which had initially played the clip, also pulled it. It nevertheless was awarded the Video of the Year Award by the CMA in 1991.

All of the aforementioned singles were #1 hits. A fifth single was eventually released more than a decade later, when “Wild Horses”, with a re-recorded vocal track was inexplicably sent to radio in between singles from Garth’s then-current Scarecrow album. It only reached #7 and isn’t one of Garth’s best remembered hits today, but it has always been one of my favorites.

Notable among the album cuts is “Victim of the Game”, a Garth co-write with Mark D. Sanders. Garth’s future wife Trisha Yearwood covered the song a year later on her debut album. The album’s most unusual track is Garth’s cover of the 1959 Fleetwoods hit “Mr. Blue”, which had been written by “Friends In Low Places” co-writer DeWayne Blackwell. The twang added to appeal to country fans is overdone and this track has to be considered a misstep on an otherwise very solid album.

While I don’t like No Fences as much as Garth’s first album, it sold more than 17 million copies and established him as an international superstar well beyond the usual confines of country music and for that reason alone it was a landmark album and a game changer. Garth’s rising tide lifted the boat of many other country stars and for a while country music, at least in North America, was outselling every other genre of music. Unfortunately, it set the bar high and none of Garth’s subsequent albums were ever able to match it. Most country fans, if they don’t already own a copy, have probably at least heard the album, but those who somehow managed to miss it won’t have any trouble tracking down a copy.

Grade: A

Album Review: Sammy Kershaw – ‘Don’t Go Near The Water’

1991 was the height of the neotraditional movement, and the period saw a host of exciting new artists rooted in traditional country music breaking through. It was the ideal time for Sammy Kershaw, with his astonishingly George Jones soundalike voice, to make his debut. Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson produced his first album for Mercury, and did a fine job showcasing the artist’s voice.

His debut single ‘Cadillac Style’ was an immediate success, reaching #3. It sunnily celebrates the power of true love to overcome the limitations of poverty. The sultry title track (penned by Chapin Hartford and Jim Foster) relates the passions of first love somewhere in the South. Imbued with Southern atmosphere, the record peaked just outside the top 10.

The record’s finest song, ‘Yard Sale’ was Sammy’s third straight top 20 hit, and his finest single to date. Written by Dewayne Blackwell and Larry Bastian, it depicts in precise detail the sad aftermath of a failed marriage, with the couple’s goods being sold off cheap to all comers, leading to Sammy’s sardonic comment,

Ain’t it funny how a broken home can bring the prices down?

This excellent song would have been perfect for George Jones himself at his peak. While Kershaw isn’t quite the superlative interpreter Jones is, he still delivers the song very well.

The final single, ‘Anywhere But Here’, was Sammy’s second top 10. A vibrant up-tempo treatment belies the protagonist’s broken heart and desire just to get away from the scene of his broken heart.

Bob McDill’s regretful ‘Real Old Fashioned Broken Heart’ has a lovely fiddle/steel laden arrangement. The protagonist finds his sophisticated modern worldview collapses when his heart gets broken, and he reverts to an older style of dealing with heartbreak:

I play Hank Williams on the jukebox
Order up old whiskey at the bar
And through my tears I light another Lucky
I’ve got a real old fashioned broken heart

This is another gem, as is ‘Kickin’ In’, a heartbreak ballad written by Keith Stegall and Roger Murrah, with a pretty melody and fiddle underlining the sad mood.

Underlining the comparisons to George, Sammy picked an obscure George Jones song to record. ‘What Am I Worth’ has the protagonist plaintively questioning his value regardless of other achievements in life, because his loved one is rejecting him. A vivacious up-tempo mood belies the downbeat lyric.

My favorite track is the hardcore cheating song with a twist – both parties in the marriage are running around behind the other’s back, ‘Every Third Monday’. It was written by Larry Cordle, Larry Shell and Billy Henderson. Also with a twist, the ballad ‘I Buy Her Roses’ initially sounds like a sweet love song, but there is a sting in the tale. The protagonist’s loved one has actually left him, and he is buying the flowers he always forgot to do when they were together. A sincerely delivered vocal sells the song effectively.

Closing out the set, ‘Harbor For A Lonely Heart’ is a pleasant but not particularly memorable ballad written by Kostas and Jenny Yates.

While Kershaw’s vocal similarity to George Jones meant he perhaps lacked a degree of individuality, there are far worse singers to emulate. This was a pretty solid album with some very fine moments, and a promising debut. It sold well at the time, and was certified platinum. Used copies can now be found very cheaply, and it’s a worthwhile addition to any collection.

Grade: A-