My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dixie Chicks

Classic Rewind: Dixie Chicks – ‘There’s Your Trouble’

Album Review: Dixie Chicks – ‘Thank Heavens For Dale Evans’

The first incarnation of the Dixie Chicks comprised multi-instrumentalist sisters Emily and Martie Erwin, and sweet-voiced singers Laura Lynch and Robin Lee Macy. Their debut album was self-produced and self-released. The rawest of their work, it combines cowboy themes and bluegrass music, with quite a delicate feel.

The album opens with a cover of the joyful ‘The Cowboy Lives Forever’ which had previously been recorded by The Whites. Another delightful cover is of ‘I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart’.

Robin Lee Macy, Martie Erwin and Lisa Brandenburg wrote the title track, a charming tribute to the classic movie cowgirl and rejoicing in life as a musician. The Erwin sisters’ playing on the track is dazzling.

It is one of three songs co-written by Macy. ‘Thunderheads’ (also written with Lisa Brandenburg) is a poetic evocation of a dry Texas summer from the point of view of a farmer’s wife:

Supper’s on the table and there’s promise in the sky
And you’re out there on your ginger mare
You’re not praying so I do
Not so much a prayer for rain
As a desperate prayer for you

Thunderheads blow across the mesa
Like a heartless lover’s lie
Thunderheads across the mountains
As another dream goes by
They go like clouds from heaven
But the devil has to have his way
Thunderheads’ll bring you to your knees
And make you pray for a rainy day

I know you can’t admit it
That you’ve lost and nature’s won
That thunderheads will blow away
Across the dying sun
So don’t try to tell me darlin’
How your heart’s lost to the land
I don’t need your explanations
I just want to hold your hand

‘Storm Out On The Sea’, written by Macy with Mary Neal Northcutt, is equally poetic about a relationship in trouble.

‘West Texas Wind’ is a lovely song written by Jon Ims set to a beautiful melody. ‘Long Roads’ has a pretty tune. The very short ‘Who Will Be The Next One’ is a pretty folky song set to an upbeat tune. ‘This Heart Of Mine’ and ‘Green River’ are also attractive songs.

A couple of well played instrumentals are thrown in.

The album foreshadows their later eclecticism with an interesting arrangement of the soul classic ‘Bring It On Home To Me’. It is almost accappella with a faint percussive and finger-clicking backing to provide rhythm. ‘Rider’ is a traditional blues song given a bluegrass reworking.

This is a very listenable album with much to please lovers of acoustic music.

Grade: A-

Spotlight Artist: Dixie Chicks

It is hard to believe but 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the Dixie Chicks. Originally comprised of Laura Lynch, Robin Lynn Macy and sisters Martie Erwin and Emily Erwin, the Chicks (named after a Little Feat song) started off as a more roots-oriented band than is currently the case (similarly Fleetwood Mac started off as a blues-rock band and devolved into a pop act after personnel changes).

The group initially came together in 1989 when Martie Erwin and Robin Lynn Macy both performed at the Walnut Valley Music Festival, a long-running bluegrass event in Winfield, Kansas. From there the group coalesced with western singer Laura Lynch and Emily Erwin joining the group. The group played bluegrass festivals and busked for tips around the Dallas area. The group adopted the name Dixie Chicks from the song “Dixie Chicken” by the much-revered band Little Feat.

The group created enough of a stir to land a recording contract with the independent label Crystal Clear Sound and issued their debut disc Thank Heavens For Dale Evans in December of 1990. The album, named for legendary western actress Dale Evans, was essentially a straight-ahead bluegrass album, with western themes to some of the numbers. The album sold reasonably well for an independent label album and was available wherever the Texas-based Sound Warehouse chain had locations.

In an attempt to expand their commercial viability the group gravitated to a more commercially viable sound with their second album Little Ol’ Cowgirl released in 1992. While retaining basic bluegrass instrumentation, the album tended more toward ‘Newgrass’ than traditional bluegrass with covers of recent pop-country hits such as “Pat The Point of Rescue” and “Two of A Kind”. At this point, Robin Lynn Macy left the group, preferring to remain with her more roots-oriented bluegrass sounds.

The third album Shouldn’t A Told You That, released in 1993, found the group drifting further toward pop country. The album is competently performed but without Robin Lynn Macy, the group lacked an outstanding lead vocalist.

The group continued performing but without a record deal, although during the period after Macy’s departure the group considered its options. Steel guitar virtuoso Lloyd Maines (who had played on the first two albums) introduced the remaining Chicks to a demo recording from his daughter, Natalie.

Maines thought his daughter would be a good match to replace the departed Macy, and the Erwin sisters agreed, adding Natalie and discarding Laura Lynch (there are varying stories on how friendly a move this was) and changed the style and focus of the group’s sound. Eventually, the new sound of the Chicks came to the attention of Sony Music Entertainment.

The rest is history as the trio found an unprecedented level of success which sustained until an unwise (and unnecessary) public relations error led to a decade of near-exile.

We won’t get into that, but will concentrate on their music for that, after all, should be the focus for our April Spotlight artists

Week ending 3/23/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: Don’t Take Your Guns To Town — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1969: Only The Lonely — Sonny James (Capitol)

1979: I Just Fall in Love Again — Anne Murray (Capitol)

1989: New Fool At an Old Game — Reba McEntire (MCA)

1999: You Were Mine — Dixie Chicks (Monument) 

2009: Sweet Thing — Keith Urban (Capitol Nashville)

2019: Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

Week ending 3/16/19: #1 singles this week in country music history

1959: Don’t Take Your Guns To Town — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1969: Only The Lonely — Sonny James (Capitol)

1979: Golden Tears — Dave & Sugar (RCA Records)

1989: From a Jack to a King — Ricky Van Shelton (Columbia Nashville)

1999: You Were Mine — Dixie Chicks (Monument) 

2009: Sweet Thing — Keith Urban (Capitol Nashville)

2019: Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

2019 (Airplay): Beautiful Crazy — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

Spotlight Artist: John Michael Montgomery

Thank you for sticking with us these past few months, as we’ve done our best to bring you fresh content each week. The content will be more regular this month since our Spotlight Artist series is back.

Although it seems we’ve covered just about every major country singer on the planet, at least as it relates to country music from 1980-present, there’s always someone who has escaped our clutches, flying just under the radar. This month it’s John Michael Montgomery, the Kentuckian who made his mark during the boom years with romantic ballads that remain wedding staples more than 25 years since they first climbed the charts.

Montgomery was born, January 20, 1965, in Danville, Kentucky to musician parents. His father was a regional country singer and his mother played drums in his band. He learned to play guitar from his dad, who had him performing on stage by age 5. By the time he was in his teens, Montgomery was performing regularly in the local area, forming a band with his dad and brother while still in high school.

After graduation, he was a regular on the local honky-tonk circuit, where he was discovered. Montgomery signed his record deal with Atlantic Records in 1991 and released his debut album Life’s A Dance in October 1992. His songs were a commercial success out of the gate, with the title track peaking at #4 and “I Love The Way You Love Me” hitting #1.

The success of the ac-leaning romantic ballad, which was co-written by Victoria Shaw and Chuck Cannon, became the blueprint for his career. When it was time to pick a lead single for his sophomore album in late 1993, Atlantic went with “I Swear,” which became a wedding staple upon release. The song would go on to top the country charts for four consecutive weeks in early 1994. Montgomery took home Single of the Year honors from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association, while the ACM awarded the song’s writers, Gary Baker and Frank J. Meyers, their Song of the Year trophy.

The success of “I Swear” cannot be overstated. In 1995, Pop/R&B group All-4-One covered the song, where it topped the Billboard Hot 100 and hit #1 in nine other countries worldwide. As for Montgomery, the song’s parent album, Kickin’ It Up, hit #1 and sold 4 million copies.

Although he stalled at #4 with the excellent follow-up single “Rope The Moon,” Montgomery didn’t lose any momentum in the wake of “I Swear.” Four consecutive #1s followed “Rope The Moon” including another romantic ballad, “I Can Love You Like That,” which also went mainstream with a cover version by All-4-One. His other big hit during this period was the charming “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident),” a decidedly uptempo love song that still endears today. His eponymous third album, which featured those hits, also went multi-platinum.

Montgomery’s career had shifted by 1996 when he went decidedly more country on his fourth album, What I Do The Best. Lead single “Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Us” stalled at #15, breaking his winning streak. The album is anchored by the #2 hits “Friends” and “How Was I To Know” and the #6 “I Miss You A Little.”

By the late 1990s, Montgomery’s albums were no longer essential blockbusters, but he remained a presence on radio, despite the pop invasion by Faith Hill, Shania Twain, LeAnn Rimes and Dixie Chicks. A Greatest Hits album would bring the top 5 ballad “Angel In My Eyes” and he would enjoy more radio success with “Cover You in Kisses,” “Hold On To Me” and “Home To You.”

By 2000 his brother Eddie was enjoying success with Montgomery Gentry, scoring big radio hits with “Hillbilly Shoes,” “Lonely and Gone,” and “She Couldn’t Change Me.” Brooks & Dunn were coming off of the commercial failure Tight Rope, which allowed the duo to send shockwaves through the industry when the CMA crowned them Duo of the Year, breaking Brooks & Dunn’s eight-year winning streak.

Montgomery was still on the charts himself in 2000, enjoying his seventh and final #1 to date, “The Little Girl,” Harley Allen’s controversial and polarizing tale of a child who witnesses the murder-suicide of her parents. He would have one final #2, the military-themed “Letters From Home” in 2004. Montgomery released his most recent album, Time Flies, in 2008.

Please enjoy our coverage throughout the month.

Classic Rewind: Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Gwen Sebastian — ‘Cowboy Take Me Away’

The trio takes on the Dixie Chicks classic, which turns 20 this year:

Week ending 12/1/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: City Lights — Ray Price (Columbia)

1968: Stand By Your Man — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1978: I Just Want to Love You — Eddie Rabbitt (Elektra)

1988: I Know How He Feels — Reba McEntire (MCA)

1998: Wide Open Spaces — Dixie Chicks (Monument)

2008: Love Story — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2018: Speechless — Dan + Shay (Warner Nashville)

2018 (Airplay): Best Shot — Jimmie Allen (Stoney Creek)

Week ending 11/24/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: City Lights — Ray Price (Columbia)

1968: Stand By Your Man — Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1978: Sweet Desire/Old Fashioned Love — The Kendalls (Ovation)

1988: I’ll Leave This World Loving You — Ricky Van Shelton (Columbia)

1998: Wide Open Spaces — Dixie Chicks (Monument)

2008: Love Story — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2018: Lose It — Kane Brown (RCA Nashville)

2018 (Airplay): Best Shot — Jimmie Allen (Stoney Creek)

Week ending 11/17/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: City Lights — Ray Price (Columbia)

1968: I Walk Alone — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1978: Sleeping Single In A Double Bed — Barbara Mandrell (ABC)

1988: I’ll Leave This World Loving You — Ricky Van Shelton (Columbia)

1998: Wide Open Spaces — Dixie Chicks (Monument)

2008: Just A Dream — Carrie Underwood (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): She Got The Best of Me — Luke Combs (Columbia Nashville)

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale – ‘Planet Of Love’

Jim Lauderdale was already a successful songwriter when he secured his first album deal with Reprise Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. His debut album in 1991 was produced by Rodney Crowell and John Leventhal, and Lauderdale wrote every song, mostly with Leventhal.

The label tried three singles, none of which saw any chart action. ‘Maybe’, co-written by Lauderdale and Leventhal with Crowell, may not have been the best choice to launch Lauderdale as a solo artist. It is a decent mid-tempo song with an optimistic message about taking a chance in love, but it is not very interesting musically.

‘I Wasn’t Fooling Around’ is much more on the mark, and it is a shame it didn’t get airplay. A great traditional country shuffle, it was picked up by George Strait a couple of years later. The third single, ‘Wake Up Screaming’, is a minor keyed country rock number later recorded by Gary Allan on his debut album, but I don’t’ particularly like it.

Other artists also saw potential hits from this album’s set list. My favorite is ‘The King Of Broken Hearts’, later covered by George Strait, and still later by Lee Ann Womack. This is a loving tribute to George Jones and Gram Parsons, ornamented by tasteful steel guitar from Glen D. Hardin. Emmylou Harris adds harmonies. ‘Where The Sidewalk Ends’ was another Strait pick, and was also recorded by Jann Browne. It’s a very good song about a breakup, but I prefer both the covers to Lauderdale’s own version.

The jazzy and sophisticated title track was covered by Mandy Barnett and the pre-Natalie Maines incarnation of the Dixie Chicks. The soulful ‘What You Don’t Know’ was later recorded by Jon Randall.

‘Heaven’s Flame’ is a midpaced warning against a femme fatale. ‘Bless Her Heart’ is a low-key love song and is rather sweet, with gospel style backing vocals. The valedictory ‘My Last Request’ is slow and sad, with Rodney Crowell adding a prominent harmony.

Lauderdale’s main problem as an artist was that his vocals were not strong enough. He may also have been a bit too eclectic. However, he is a great songwriter, and this album has a lot to offer, especially if you have more adventurous tastes.

Grade: B

September Spotlight Artist: Jim Lauderdale

Our September Spotlight features one of the true Renaissance persons of roots music, Jim Lauderdale. Born in 1957, Lauderdale has a thorough-going knowledge of country, bluegrass, roots-rock, folk and jazz and incorporates elements of all of these into his songwriting and performances. He has performed in theatre, as a member of various bands, and as a solo performer. He has an affable personality and a decent, but not necessarily terrific, singing voice that could, under different circumstances, led him to become a major recording star in the fields of bluegrass or traditional country music. As it is, Jim has had difficulty in receiving airplay for his own recordings and never made much of an impact on radio with his only charted single, “Stay Out of My Arms” reaching #86 on Billboard’s country chart in 1988. If heard at all on the radio, it is most likely to be on bluegrass programs (usually on NPR) or on Bluegrass Junction on Sirius-XM as his duet recordings with Ralph Stanley are quite popular with the bluegrass crowd.

As a songwriter, he has been far more successful with his songs being recorded by many artists across a variety of genres including George Strait, Gary Allan, Elvis Costello, George Jones, Buddy Miller, Blake Shelton, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, and Patty Loveless. I don’t know how many of his songs George Strait recorded, but it is a bunch.

Although not a household name with modern county radio audiences, Jim Lauderdale has been quite busy, co-hosting Music City Roots, the annual Americana Music Awards Show (since 2002) and appearing on various other television shows. He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead), Dr. Ralph Stanley, Nick Lowe and Roland White.

Between television and touring, he stays quite busy. We have selected an interesting array of albums to review, so please join us in saluting our September Spotlight Artist – Jim Lauderdale.

Week ending 8/18/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958:  Guess Things Happen That Way / Come In Stranger — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Heaven Says Hello — Sonny James (Capitol)

1978: Talking In Your Sleep — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1988: Bluest Eyes In Texas — Restless Heart (RCA)

1998: There’s Your Trouble — Dixie Chicks (Monument)

2008: All I Want To Do — Sugarland (Mercury Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: Mercy — Brett Young (Big Machine)

Week ending 8/11/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958:  Guess Things Happen That Way / Come In Stranger — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Folsom Prison Blues — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1978: You Don’t Love Me Anymore — Eddy Rabbitt (Elektra)

1988: Don’t Close Your Eyes — Keith Whitley (RCA)

1998: There’s Your Trouble — Dixie Chicks (Monument)

2008: Good Time — Alan Jackson (Arista Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018: Mercy — Brett Young (Big Machine)

 

EP Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Re-Imagined’

While the craze of mainstream country stars collaborating with mainstream pop acts has garnered major attention, and rightfully so, another trend has been making waves but leaving far too little a wake. In August 2016, Suzy Bogguss released Aces Redux, a complete re-recording of her classic album in the lush acoustic style she favored in recent years. Dixie Chicks completely overhauled the arrangements on their songs for their MMXVI tour and companion concert album. Mary Chapin Carpenter reexamined parts of her back catalog on Sometimes Just The Sky this past March. Rodney Crowell has Acoustic Classics coming out the middle of next month.

Artists re-recording their hits have been going on since the beginning of recorded music. A recent cause for this is a little-known fact that when artists switch record labels, they don’t get to take the masters and rights to their discography with them. In other words, the artists entire back catalog is the sole property of their former home, especially if it was a major label.

Those re-recorded songs are typically sung as facsimiles of the original hit recording with the hopes a gullible music buying public won’t be able to tell the difference. Very often it’s those re-recordings that make their way onto digital platforms, especially if the artist’s original music hasn’t been licensed by their record label for release in that format.

What’s going on here is entirely different and completely by choice. These albums aren’t merely gimmicky cash grabs but thoughtful reexaminations of songs, and in this case of Rodney Crowell different songs entirely. For his new album, he completely re-wrote “Shame On The Moon.” He felt his original composition, which was a massive hit for Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band in 1982, wasn’t composed with the depth and complexity he would bring to the song today.

In the case of LeAnn Rimes and her new five-track EP Re-Imagined, she reworked these songs for her Remnants tour last year and decided to commit them to record. Although I’ve been somewhat of a rabid fan of her music since the very beginning, I haven’t been paying too much attention to her lately. This release broke the short drought, which I’m also sure it was intended to do.  

She opens the collection with “How Do I Live.” Her original version, from 1997, is still one of the cleanest and most masterful pop records I’ve ever heard. She transforms Diane Warren’s lyric into a piano ballad, which might work for some people, but it didn’t work for me. I really don’t care for Rimes in this style, which always comes off heavy, slow and prodding.

I had actually forgotten what the original version of “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” sounded like, the one featured on the Coyote Ugly soundtrack in 2000. Listening to it again, it’s clearly influenced by Britney Spears’ debut from a year earlier. I’m more familiar with the dance remix, which worked on an international scale as I’m sure Curb intended at the time. This new version, taken live from a concert, has more in common with the remix but features actually instrumentation.

Rimes’ original version of “Blue,” from 1996, is arguably still the greatest record she’s ever made. She gave it new life, in collaboration with The Time Jumpers, on Lady & Gentlemen in 2011. For this version, also taken live from a concert, she goes full-on jazz but doesn’t sacrifice the trademark yodel or the song’s traditional country roots.

The revelation, as far as her hit records are concerned, is “One Way Ticket (Because I Can).” Rimes gives the song a gorgeously soft acoustic arrangement stripping the song of any smoke and mirrors. It’s truly impressive what she does with the song, alone, without backup singers to give her a lift. Rimes still has it more than 22 years later.

The final track is one of the two songs from Spitfire that elude to the cheating scandal that soured her reputation with the public and ended her first marriage. “Borrowed” was originally produced by Rimes’ long-time collaborator Darrell Brown, who also oversaw this EP. The track was already in this style so nothing about the arrangement really changed.

However, this version is a duet with Stevie Nicks. Rimes and Nicks harmonize throughout the song, which is a mistake given the lyrical content. I’m also a huge fan of Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, so I’m saying this with love, but Nicks’ voice isn’t what it used to be but either is Don Henley’s. The age on Nicks’ rasp, which is far too low now, is just unappealing.

The majority of this EP feels utterly unnecessary and in place of new music, not really worth much of anyone’s time. Rimes’ voice has changed, too, which she claimed in a 2013 lawsuit was the result of botched dental work. She still has incredible range, which I noted when I reviewed “How To Kiss A Boy” in November 2016, but the clarity is gone.

I still recommend checking it out, especially if you’re a fan of Rimes’ work, to hear this new addition to her musical legacy.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Brothers Osborne – ‘Port Saint Joe’

In recent years, Brothers Osborne has eclipsed Florida Georgia Line to win Vocal Duo of the Year honors from both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music. Video has also surfaced of their gritty reinterpretation of “Goodbye Earl” and they’ve honored Don Williams with “Tulsa Time” on numerous occasions since his passing last year.

Now they’re back with their second album, Port Saint Joe, which like their debut, was produced by Jay Joyce. There’s no mistaking the sound of this album. It’s unapologetically southern rock, with very little by way of the country music we’ve come to recognize through the years. They say the album actually developed organically from their live shows.

Our first taste of this new music came in January when the blistering 6:24 “Shoot Me Straight” was serviced to country radio. The lyric finds a guy in a bar asking the woman attempting to pick him up not to go easy on him. I hate the arrangement, but the lyric isn’t half bad.

One of the album’s major storylines finds our protagonist in the light of a clear blue morning, reflecting back on the night before. On the wonderful mandolin-drenched waltz “Tequila Again,” he’s messed up from the titular spirit, not another person as the song seems to suggest:

We’ll lose our minds, we’ll dance all night

Pick up right where we left off

Raise hell with the boys

Make all kinds of noise

Singing at the top of our lungs

Yeah once again I’ll wake up on time

With the headache turned up to 10

Asking myself why the hell

I fell in love with tequila again

“Drunk Like Hank” has him using legendary bad-boys of classic country to describe a wild night:

And I’m hazin’ out of line

Found a buzz and a hundred-proof chug and I lost my mind

Ain’t got a drop left in the tank

Not a nickel left in the bank

Yeah, we partied like The Possum and we drank like Hank

He’s on the mend, nursing a broken heart the only way he knows how on the excellent and bluesy “Weed, Whiskey and Willie:”

I’ve got bottles and bongs stacked to the ceilin’

I get stoned for survival, it helps with the healin’

And when it all goes to hell the only thing I believe in

Is weed, whiskey, and Willie

“A Little Bit Trouble” is a sonically adventurous tale about a man the heartbreaker with which he’s about to spend the night. “A Couple Wrongs Makin’ It Alright” continues in the progressive vein, while “Slow Your Roll” pushes the envelope even further.

The album is back on track with “I Don’t Remember You (Before Me),” a sweet love song about forgetting who you were in a past life. Also very enjoyable is “Pushing Up Daises (Love Alive),” a mature relationship song:

We’ll go on ’til were pushin’ up daisies

We’ll grow old and wild and I’ll still be callin’ you baby

We’ll never get enough, we’ll be livin’ it up right down to the day we die

Naw, we ain’t gettin’ out of this love alive

Like most songs that close an album, “While You Still Can” offers a refreshing change of pace on a reflective ballad about living without regret. The lyric doesn’t break any new ground, but this is still one of the strongest tracks on the album.

I’m glad I took this deep dive into Port Saint Joe. At first glance, I wasn’t a fan of this album at all. Jay Joyce’s arrangements aren’t my cup of tea in the least. But there are some truly excellent songs on here worth checking out. In spots, this album really does deliver the goods.

Grade: B

Album Review: Kim Richey – ‘Kim Richey’

Kim Richey released her self-titled debut album this week in 1995 on Mercury Records. I remember this music well, from her association with Mary Chapin Carpenter. I even saw her open for Trisha Yearwood during an intimate ‘in the round’ performance during Trisha’s “Real Live Woman” tour in 2000.

To my ears, the song I most know her for is her debut single and biggest hit “Just My Luck,” which hit #47. The song is an excellent up-tempo number about a woman who is fine on her own until she falls in love:

I was livin’ the good life

None of that silly love stuff

Then I went and fell for you

Ain’t that just my luck?

“Just My Luck” feels like a Yearwood song through and through. Her second single, “Those Words We Said” subsequently appeared on Thinkin’ About You that very same year. The mid-tempo ballad, about a woman leaving home after an argument, is fabulous. It performed slightly worse for Richey, stalling at #59. Third single “From Where I Stand,” which peaked at #66, continues in the same vibe and is very good.

Another familiar tune, “You’ll Never Know” was the second single off of Mindy McCready’s sophomore album, If I Don’t Stay The Night in 1998. It’s always been one of my favorite singles from McCready and I didn’t realize until today that Richey had co-written it.

“Just Like The Moon” is equally excellent, with an engaging melody. “Let The Sun Fall Down” is a sparse ballad that nicely showcases Richey’s effective voice. “Sweet Mysteries” is a sweet ballad about a woman wondering why a man fell in love with her in the first place. “Can’t Find the Words” continues in the same vein, but finds a woman unable to properly tell her man she loves him. Richey is calling her man’s bluff on “That’s A Lie,” a very good song about confrontation.

“Echoes of Love” is an ear-catching rocker and a nice change of pace. “Here I Go Again” and “That’s Exactly What I Mean” are mid-tempo and fall in the same sonic makeup of “That’s My Luck.” Both are very strong and well executed. “Good,” which continues in that same vein, is a fine way to close out the album.

Richie reminds me a lot, at least on this record, as a country music answer to the pop females who dominated the Lilith Fair Circuit. In researching Richey for this review, I found out her song “Desire” was actually recorded by Dixie Chicks on Shouldn’t A Told You That in 1993.

Kim Richey is a great album that introduced a fine songwriter into the country music elite. I highly recommend seeking this one out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Tyler England – ‘Highways & Dance Halls’

Ty England released his third album in the fall of 2000. The record, his first and only on Capitol Nashville, was produced by Garth Brooks. The album spawned three singles, none of which even made a dent on the charts. Highways & Dance Halls found England recording as Tyler England for the first time.

The mid-paced “Too Many Highways” and similarly mid-tempo “I’d Rather Have Nothing” both failed to chart. They were sandwiched between “I Drove Her to Dallas,” which bottomed out at #53. The middle single, the only true ballad of the group, was the best of the bunch.

The album includes a pair of songs written by Bruce Robison. “She Don’t Care About Me” has an engaging melody and nice traditional production. The other one is “Traveling Soldier,” which of course was made famous by Dixie Chicks three or so years later. England’s version is very good, but I didn’t care for the intrusive background singer on the chorus.

Three of the album’s songs would also appear on Brooks’ own The Lost Sessions in 2005. “My Baby No Está Aquí No More” has wonderful production but a hideous rhyme scheme. The other two were the aforementioned “She Don’t Care About Me” and “I’d Rather Have Nothing.”

“Collect From Wichita” is a pleasant and “I Knew I Loved You” is engaging. “Blame It On Mexico” is a cover of the George Strait song from 1981. England closes out the album by reprising “Should’ve Asked Her Faster” in collaboration with Steve Wariner.

Highways & Dance Halls is a very good album with a strong sense of song and wonderfully traditional production from Brooks. The weak link here is England, who lacks the personality vocally to elevate these songs and create worthy moments. He’s a wonderful singer, which he more than proved on his RCA releases, but everything here is too clean, neat and precise.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Good Old Days’

If popular culture is to be believed, it seems the 1990s is the hottest decade right now. Most of the ‘new’ television shows are reboots of classics from the era, including Full House and Will & Grace, with the originals casts reprising their roles. In popular music, if you were a major player 20-25 years ago, then its suddenly fashionable to return with new music and slews of concert dates.

In country music, this trend extends to the return of Faith Hill and Shania Twain with their first new music in more than a decade while Garth Brooks is wrapping up his massive three-year tour this month in Nashville. Even Dixie Chicks came home to the United States with their first tour in ten years. What’s old is new again or rather the music that defined my childhood is suddenly hip again.

It would be a stretch to place Tracy Lawrence at the same level since he was never a global superstar or wheeled much influence on an international stage. But he was one of the most consistent and traditional artists in his day, with a catalog that more than stands up to anything released by the artists who may have eclipsed him in status.

To celebrate this resurgence, Lawrence has released Good Ole Days, which recognizes what he refers to as a ‘hunger for the music from my era.’ The album pairs him with modern day country artists singing his hits. The whole concept does seem like a gimmick, a cash grab for the gullible fan unaware they are likely only lining the pockets of the executive who dreamt up this project. But really it’s a chance to finally hear country’s current class sing real well-written songs for the first time in their careers. I jumped at the chance to review this album simply so I could hear how these artists sound when forced to interrupt the actual country music. I’ve always had a theory that there is talent there if these artists had the proper vehicle to show it off.

This is the proper vehicle because instead of the artists making these songs their own, with their typical non-country producers and such, they have to stick within the confines of the original arrangements, including the steel, fiddle, and twang. Without the ability to hide, every weakness would be on the table.

Luke Bryan tackles Lawrence’s 1991 debut “Sticks and Stones” and handles it well. I wasn’t impressed with Jason Aldean’s take on “Just Can’t Break It to My Heart,” his voice was a bit too dirty, but the energy was good.

I remember reading in Quotable Country, on the dearly-departed Country California, Justin Moore says if he had a say he would make an album in the vein of I See It Now. He goes back a bit further here with “Alibis” and knocks it out of the park. Moore is a great country singer and it’s a shame he has to reside in this current climate.

Dustin Lynch sounds exactly like a young Lawrence on “Texas Tornado,” which is kind of scary. His performance isn’t excellent, but it’s damn close. I was surprised Miranda Lambert, who has been known to belt this out in concert, wasn’t singing it but that could’ve been label politics.

Probably the newest artist featured here is Luke Combs, who just hit number one with “When It Rains It Pours.” There’s no mistaking he’s a country singer and he easily pulls this off. The same is true for Chris Young, but he sounds like he’s just going through the paces on “If The Good Die Young.” If he had just let go the results could’ve been incredible.

The legend of Tim McGraw is he moved to Nashville on May 9, 1989, and has always said he’s more of a storyteller while Keith Whitley is a singer. I agree wholeheartedly, but his performance of “Time Marches On” is bland. In contrast, Easton Corbin shines on “Paint Me A Birmingham.”

Kellie Pickler’s talent is wasted on “Stars Over Texas,” which finds her regulated to singing the chorus. As the sole female voice on the whole album, you would’ve thought she’d be allowed more of a presence. I didn’t care for her vocal either, which makes her sound like a little girl.

There are two new songs in the mix. Brad Arnold, the lead singer of Alternative Rock band Three Doors Down (think ‘Here Without You’) joins Lawrence on the title track, which is being billed as his “country music debut.” The song, which also features Big & Rich, is a faux-rock disaster. The military-themed fiddle drenched ballad “Finally Home,” which features Craig Morgan, is better but not really for my tastes.

Good Ole Days is a great concept with lousy execution. These tracks are collaborations between the singer and Tracy Lawrence which doesn’t work on any level. Get rid of Lawrence entirely and turn this into the proper tribute album it’s screaming to be. His nasally twang is insufferable and pointlessly distracting. The lack of female artists in the mix is also troubling, as you don’t need just men to sing these songs.

Grade: B-

“Every Little Thing” and Carly Pearce’s fabricated fairy tale

The deeper I lean into the marketing of mainstream country music, The more I’m seeing the blatant manipulation. It’s no secret that Keith Hill’s comment that women are the tomatoes on the salad was offensive and misogynistic, but it was also, unfortunately, spot on. Women, unless they are members of a group, duo or collaboration also featuring men, have been shut out of even marginal airplay. Miranda Lambert is justifiably pissed at her diminishing returns, even as her music veers more and more towards Americana.

Media outlets that cover mainstream country have been celebrating the success of Carly Pearce’s “Every Little Thing” with Rolling Stone Country saying she “defied the odds with risky song” in a recent headline. I’ll admit, it’s against the norm, in this current climate, to release a ballad and have it succeed. The slower a song is the less likely it will fall under what is deemed “radio friendly.” That logic is nothing new.

But what’s baffling is the suppression of the truth. Carly Pearce is succeeding on her own merit about as much as Thomas Rhett. This grand success story? It’s all courtesy of iHeart Media and their “On The Verge” program. “On The Verge” exists to help struggling artists succeed and pretty much guarantees them a #1 hit. It’s the only reason former American Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina scored a chart topper with “The Road Less Traveled” seven years after her debut album bombed into oblivion. There’s absolutely no fairy tale here, no reason to cheer or even get excited. These feats are political manipulations swept under the rug disguised as major success stories.

We’re at a crisis point right now with female artists. Not only are none getting airplay, there really aren’t any in the mainstream sector for radio to embrace. Brandy Clark and Sunny Sweeney would never get airplay for the latest music, in any era, since they’re 40 years or older. Ashton Shepherd didn’t connect, with her heavy twang, so MCA dropped her. Ashely Monroe was told, on her last radio tour, that “On To Something Good,” was dead on arrival. Kacey Musgraves has done next to nothing to endear herself to the mainstream audience beyond wearing crazy outfits and adorning her sets with neon cacti. She will join Harry Styles on tour next year. Will Maren Morris connect? Possibly, as she’s already building a following. But I would think she’d have to prove herself as more than the “80s Mercedes” singer. “I Could Use A Love Song” has done that for me, but it’s only a step in the right direction for her to take as she contemplates her follow-up to Hero.

About the only person, we can count on is Carrie Underwood, who is currently in between albums. Time will tell if her newly minted deal with Capitol Nashville, the label that refused to sign her as a pre-teen back in 1996, will yield further success. I can’t imagine her being blackballed but I never thought Dixie Chicks would fall from grace like that either. In this market, anything is possible.

Is there a solution or silver lining in all of this? I honestly have no idea. I never imagined mainstream country music would ever be in this bad a shape in my life. It took until I got to college to see why Luke Bryan has been able to succeed like he has. He’s tapped into an audience previously ignored by country music, those who love to socialize and party and be high on life. He’s like the male Taylor Swift in that sense. He’s found his audience and he’s running with it all the way to the bank.

This era is the building block for whatever comes next. Has anyone else noticed the glaring oddity of Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Backroad?” The song has succeeded without a music video, parent album or physical release of any kind. I can’t remember any other massive song that lacked even one of those three elements. These are uncharted waters and they’re reaping big rewards.

Maybe you know where we’re going from here. I know I probably shouldn’t care, and I have spent the majority of this year focused on independent releases, but I do. I can’t help it. It’s in my nature as female artists have always been my favorite, the ones I listen to most frequently. I guess Angaleena Presley and her fellow Pistol Annies said it best:

Dreams don’t come true

They’ll make a mess out of you

They’ll hang around the darkest corners of your mind

They’ll beat your heart black and blue

Don’t let anyone tell you they do

Dreams don’t come true

 

I hate to put a damper

On the fairy tale you pictured

I shoulda known all along that

Glass slippers give you blisters