My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dire Straits

Album Review: Highway 101 – ‘Highway 101 2’

highway 101 2The title of Highway 101’s sophomore album is not, as you might think, the number 2. Rather, it is the symbol for squared. Pretentious title aside, the material isn’t quite as consistently strong as on their debut album, but it is still a very rewarding record, and helped to maintain them as one of the top country groups of the late 80s.

The exuberant lead single, ‘(Do You Love Me) Just Say Yes’, was the band’s third #1 hit. It was written by Bob DiPiero, John Scott Sherrill and Dennis Robbins.

It was followed by my favourite track on the album, the sweetly sung, regretful ballad ‘All The Reasons Why’, which reached #5. Written by Paulette Carlson with Beth Nielsen Chapman, its guilty protagonist has just broken up with her unfortunate spouse, who can’t understand why:

You’ve asked what you’ve done wrong,
And if there’s someone new
What has changed my heart
And what else can you do
Oh darlin’ can’t you see
It’s not so cut and dried
And who knows where love goes
And all the reasons why

She wants to stay friends, but it’s hard to see that happening.

There was a change of pace for the third single, the urgent ‘Setting Me Up. This was a cover of an album cut by the British rock band Dire Straits, written by that band’s Mark Knopfler. Apparently he was unaware that his publisher had some country demos recorded of his songs, resulting in this and other cuts, but he did have some country influences – in 1989-90 his main project was a country-rock-blues band called the Notting Hillbillies, which also featured steel guitar legend Paul Franklin, and he later made an album and toured with Emmylou Harris. This song isn’t particularly country in its rhythmic structure, but was another to 10 hit, and allowed more of a band feel than usual, with some superb playing by the guys and a share of the vocals.

The last single, another top 10 tune, was the excellent ‘Honky Tonk Heart’, written by Jim Photoglo and Russell Smith. It is a rather upbeat breakup song in which the protagonist has grown up since meeting her ex in a bar, and now wants more to life:

The night life isn’t my life anymore
What matters most to me is a home and family
But you can’t find that behind those swingin’ doors…

I won’t play second fiddle to the beat of your honky tonk heart
Go on back to the bar where I found you
Go on back to your so-called second home
You’ll feel better with your good-time friends around you
And I’ll be here but I won’t be alone

Photoglo also co-wrote (with Wendy Waldman and Josh Leo) the solid mid-tempo ‘Road To Your Heart’.

‘Somewhere Between Gone And Goodbye’ is an excellent song written by Matraca Berg and Ronnie Samoset’, given a sparse production and great harmonies. An anxious woman lies awake wondering when her man is coming home:

How many nights must I lay me down and wonder
Will I wake up tomorrow without you by my side?
I’m feeling worn and thin as the sheets that I lay under
Lying somewhere between gone and goodbye

Late night headlights out in the driveway
Drivin’ me crazy again
No need to sneak in
I wasn’t really sleepin’
No need to tell me
I know where you’ve been

It feels like the prequel to ‘Honky Tonk Heart’, and would have made another good single.

A vibrant and authentic sounding cover of Buck Owens’ ‘There Goes My Heart’ reminds us of the band’s California roots. ‘Feed This Fire’ is an earnest love song written by Hugh Prestwood about the need to work at keeping the romance going; it was subsequently a hit single for Anne Murray. Paulette fights temptation she knows has no good ending in ‘Desperate Road’.

Finally, Beth Nielsen Chapman’s ‘Long Way Down’ is a strong story song about a young woman musician who has fought her way to stardom from tough beginnings, but can’t rest on her laurels.

While the album lacks the classics of their debut, this is a very strong follow up with no weak songs.

Grade: A

Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Come On Come On’

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s fourth album could also be titled Greatest Hits 1992 – 94. Selling an impressive four-million copies, the disc also contains an unprecedented 7 hit singles, all of which charted in the top 20, with 4 of them going top 5.  At the time of the album’s release, and subsequently, Carpenter was riding a wave of success that found her a critical and awards show darling, while also firmly in the good graces of country radio.  It’s not often an artist can ably straddle the fence between commercial and critical success, but with her witty brand of folk-country, infused with just enough zest to sell it to the masses, Mary Chapin Carpenter did just that for the first half of her career.  Her commercial zenith was reached with Come On Come On, and some would say her artistic peak is also seen on this album.

To lead off, Columbia Records sent the plucky novelty tune ‘I Feel Lucky’ to radio. Mary Chapin Carpenter penned the song with the legendary Don Schlitz and it went to #3 on the singles chart, partly aided by a funny, offbeat music video.  Its recurrent status on CMT is one of the first things that made me notice Mary Chapin Carpenter.  Still intent on courting the country audience, the disc’s second single is the elegant country duet with traditional crooner Joe Diffie.  Two would-be lovers contemplate what they’ll mean to each other as the pair deliver the ballad softly amid a sparse piano-driven arrangement.  Peaking at #15, it’s one of the best songs on the album, but one of the lesser successful singles.

A cover of Lucinda Williams’ ‘Passionate Kisses’ followed at radio.  The track from the singer-songwriter’s self-titled 1988 album comes to life with Carpenter and John Jenning’s production.  The guitars rock and the drums roll to give the song its signature melody while the singer asks for all the things she wants in life, along with ‘passionate kisses from you’ to go with them.  Carpenter’s recording earned Williams a Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1994 and rose to #4 on the country singles chart.

Also co-written with Don Schlitz, ‘The Hard Way’, more than any other song in her catalog, is the best example of the Mary Chapin Carpenter sound.  The guitars are turned up a littler louder than most mixes, the lyrics are brilliant, and the vocals are crisp, confident, and clear.  The song itself is a sort of plea for affection from your significant other, but it’s more a collection of nuggets of wisdom, woven into rhyming verses.  ‘Show the world a little light when you show it your heart/We’ve got two lives, one we’re given and the other one we make’.  Another hit, this stopped just outside the top 10 at #11.

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Album Review: John Anderson – ‘Seminole Wind’

johnanderson-seminole-windAfter a couple faltered albums on the Warner Brothers label, where John Anderson scored his biggest successes in the 1980s with hits like ‘Swingin’ and ‘Black Sheep’, the singer moved to MCA.  He recorded two albums under the guise of label-head Jimmy Bowen. (Read Occasional Hope’s review of his first MCA release here.)  In 1991, he signed with BNA Records, working with producer James Stroud.  His first release for the label would turn out to be his most prolific in terms of sales, radio success, and artistry.  Seminole Wind would spawn 4 top 10 singles and go on to be certified double platinum for sales of over 2 million.  It remains John Anderson’s best-selling album to date.

The album opens with the chugging ‘Who Got Our Love’, which served as the lead single.  Though the song stalled at a disappointing #67 on the singles chart, Seminole Wind was just getting started putting John Anderson back on top of the country charts.  The second single was the now-barroom classic, ‘Straight Tequila Night’, a song about a woman whose memories all come back when she drinks tequila.  Luckily, on this night, she’s ‘only sipping white wine’ and the narrator thinks he might have a chance of winning her heart.  The tune shot to the top in March of 1992 and signalled that John Anderson was back in a big way.  Featuring twin fiddles and a chorus that you just have to sing along to, it’s still a very popular recurrent on country radio today.

Following the mega success of ‘Tequila’, BNA released ‘When It Comes To You’ as the next single.  The bluesy tune has a swampy Louisiana feel and Anderson wraps his warm vocals around the lyric like a wisteria vine in a perfect marriage of lyric and interpretation.  It would go on to the #3 perch of the chart.   The song’s writer, Mark Knopfler, had originally recorded it with his band Dire Straits for their On Every Street album.

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