My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dolly Parton

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘Kern River’

KernrivermerlehaggardMerle Haggard released Kern River on Epic Records in 1985. The album was produced by Grady Martin and marked his third LP for the label.

The only single from the album is the self-penned title track, which peaked at #10. The song, although highly repetitive, is a brilliant piece of songwriting. The story entails a man’s grief over the drowning of his true love in the river where they first met. Emmylou Harris had the good sense to reprise the tune twenty-eight years later on All I Intended To Be. Her haunting version is incredible and benefits from an added depth Haggard only hinted at.

Besides the classic title track, Kern River is also known for its slew of covers and other Haggard goodies. He adds a distinctive horn element to “Old Flames Can’t Hold A Candle To You,” a chart topper for Dolly Parton five years earlier. He remains faithful to Parton’s version despite the added sonic texture. His version of Eddie Rabbitt’s “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” is far superior to the original and far more country. “Big Butter and Egg Man” is a pleasant version of the Jazz standard complete with some rather excellent piano frills throughout.

Those other goodies include tracks that previously appeared on other Haggard projects. “Natural High” makes its second appearance on a Haggard album in two years. This is the single version, that hit #1, with Janie Fricke on harmonies. “I Wonder Where I’ll Find You At Tonight” first surfaced in 1972, with classic production from the era. This version is an updated mid-tempo honky-tonker that proves both recordings are equally excellent. The mournful ballad “There’s Somebody Else On Your Mind” is the third and final track on Kern River Haggard had a hand in writing.

“There, I’ve said It Again” benefits from rather charming fiddle but not much else production-wise. “Ridin’ High” and “There Won’t Be Another Now” are typical-of-their-era ballads that are good, but nothing too memorable. “Old Watermill” is an excellent up-tempo number that perfectly bookends the album.

Listening to Kern River I can clearly hear the vocal similarities between Haggard and Clint Black, who would explode on the charts just five years later. It’s a very good album with some excellent material that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s overloaded with a few too many ballads, but that’s only a slight criticism. I highly recommend seeking out a copy.

Grade: A

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘Southern Family’

southern familyMixed artist compilations can often be hit and miss. This concept album based on life in the American South, produced by Dave Cobb, is no exception. The concept itself hangs together a little vaguely, and the artists come from country and Americana with a side of (white) soul and rock. However, if it is intended to represent the South as a whole, it is rather lacking in the ethnic diversity of participants.

Jason Isbell is normally more Americana than country, but ‘God Is A Working Man’ is definitely a country song, and an excellent one to boot. The lyric pays tribute to a working class family with lots of colourful details about a Pentecostal preacher and his son. The melody and rustic vibe remind me of ‘Grandpa Was A Carpenter’, as recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and John Prine on Will the Circle Be Unbroken Part II. I like it better than any of Isbell’s past recordings.

Brent Cobb is producer Dave’s cousin (actually, first cousin twice removed). His track, ‘Down Home’, is quite pleasant without being very memorable. I also quite enjoyed Holly Williams’ ‘Settle Down’, about starting a new family.

I tend to prefer Miranda Lambert when she isn’t rocking it up, so I enjoyed her song, ‘Sweet By And By’ – not the gospel classic but a reflective depiction of rural life and family philosophy which sounds as though it was written for the prompt of the album concept. The old fashioned folky lyric and vocal are charming, although a more stripped down arrangement would have been even better.

‘Learning’, by Miranda’s new boyfriend, Anderson East, an Americana/R&B artist based in Nashville, is not my style of music, but is pretty good of its kind. Shooter Jennings’ ‘Can You Come Over’ is in similar vein, but more listenable. Rich Robinson of the rock band the Black Crowes offers a loud and boring number.

John Paul White’s former duo the Civil Wars were much admired by many critics, but they were never quite my thing, and I’m afraid I strongly disliked White’s whispery tune here, ‘Simple Song’.

Not all the songs here are new. Zac Brown (who appears to have lost the plot on his last album) is back on form here with a nice cover of Skip Ewing’s ‘Grandma’s Garden’. Lee Ann Womack adds a sweet harmony. Jamey Johnson wrote the tender ‘Mama’s Table’ for the Oak Ridge Boys a few years ago, and revives it here himself. The song remembers childhood happiness. Brandy Clark has recorded the affecting ‘I Cried’, about a family funeral, before, but it fits neatly in the theme for this collection, and she sings it beautifully.

Morgane Stapleton, wife of Chris, once had her own record deal, although nothing was ever released. She has a very pretty voice in the vein of Lee Ann Womack or Dolly Parton, so I was disappointed that her contribution (backed by Chris) was not really to my taste. It is a dramatically slowed down blues/rock take on the oldie ‘You Are My Sunshine’ which sounds suicidally depressed.

This is a bit too varied for me as a whole, but there are several worthwhile tracks.

Grade: B

Week ending 3/12/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

Country singer Josh Turner is shown in Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 9, 2007. At a time when much of Nashville seems to be retreading classic rock and pop, Turner has found success with sticking to traditional country music. While he's not the only country singer with a traditional sound, he's one of the few selling millions of records. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Country singer Josh Turner is shown in Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 9, 2007. At a time when much of Nashville seems to be retreading classic rock and pop, Turner has found success with sticking to traditional country music. While he’s not the only country singer with a traditional sound, he’s one of the few selling millions of records. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

1956 (Sales): Why Baby Why — Red Sovine & Webb Pierce (Decca)

1956 (Jukebox): I Forgot to Remember to Forget — Elvis Presley (Sun)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Why Baby Why — Red Sovine & Webb Pierce (Decca)

1966: Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line — Buck Owens & The Buckaroos (Capitol)

1976: Good Hearted Woman — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (RCA)

1986: Think About Love — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1996: I’ll Try — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2006: Your Man — Josh Turner (MCA)

2016: Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

2016 (Airplay): Break On Me — Keith Urban (Capitol)

Week ending 3/5/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

3bc2f57b-fddc-d074-4ed0-c17d293ef3781956 (Sales): I Forgot to Remember to Forget/Mystery Train — Elvis Presley (Sun)

1956 (Jukebox): I Forgot to Remember to Forget — Elvis Presley (Sun)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Why Baby Why — Red Sovine & Webb Pierce (Decca)

1966: Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line — Buck Owens & The Buckaroos (Capitol)

1976: Good Hearted Woman — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (RCA)

1986: You Can Dream of Me — Steve Wariner (MCA)

1996: Wild Angels — Martina McBride (RCA)

2006: When I Get Where I’m Going — Brad Paisley with Dolly Parton (Arista)

2016: Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

2016 (Airplay): Dibs — Kelsea Ballerini (Black River)

Classic Rewind: Dolly Parton – ‘Dumb Blonde’

Dolly Parton is celebrating her 70th birthday today. We wish her many happy returns and to mark the occasion, are taking a look back a performance of one of early hits. This clip is from an episode of The Bobby Lord Show, which aired on January 31, 1967. Happy birthday, Dolly!

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr. & Lois Johnson – ‘Removing the Shadow’

R-4659119-1371346861-1435.jpegRemoving the Shadow sounds like it ought to be Hank Jr.’s declaration of independence from his father’s legacy, but instead it is a song about forgetting an old love and moving on to a new relationship. It’s also the title track of Hank Jr.’s 1970 duets album with Lois Johnson.

Lois Johnson was minor country artist who was active from 1969 to 1984. Her singles for MGM all peaked outside the Top 40, if they charted at all, and the label never released an album of her solo work. After moving on to 20th Century Records, she scored one Top 10 hit in 1975 with “Loving You Will Never Grow Old”. The mere fact that she was Hank Jr.’s labelmate is the most likely the reason she was paired up with him. Whether MGM was looking for a duet partner for Hank or just seeking to increase Johnson’s exposure is unclear. She had a pleasant voice but it was not very distinctive. As as a team, the two lacked the chemistry of the more successful duos of the era: Conway and Loretta, Porter and Dolly, George and Tammy. Hank Jr. needed to be teamed someone with the vocal prowess of a Melba Montgomery or a Connie Smith, but in those days labels limited their choices to someone who was already signed to their roster.

Like many albums of the era, Removing the Shadow relies a lot on cover material. Lois and Hank tackle Johnny and June’s “If I Were a Carpenter”, “Why Don’t You Love Me” (the obligatory Hank Sr. cover), and “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)”, a 1960 pop hit for The Everly Brothers, which has been recorded many times, including versions by Connie Smith in 1976, Steve Wariner in 1978, and Emmylou Harris in 1983. My favorite version is a 1986 album cut by The Sweethearts of the Rodeo with Vince Gill. No one has ever scored a Top 10 hit on the country charts with this song, but Hank and Lois came the closest, taking it to #12. The song is a particular favorite of mine and it’s easily the best cut on this album.

“Removing the Shadow”, which is also quite good, preceded “So Sad” as a single, peaking at #23. I also enjoyed the Cajun-flavored “Party People” and the upbeat honky-tonker “Settin’ the Woods on Fire”. This is an album that has a lot of appeal to traditionalists; it contains very little of the countrypolitan trappings of the era and has plenty of pedal steel. This probably limited its commercial appeal, though it sold well enough that the duo released a follow-up album in 1972. Removing the Shadow peaked at #21 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, but it has never been released on CD. While a digital version could possibly appear in the future, I think it is unlikely, which is somewhat unfortunate. It’s not essential listening but the material is top notch. If you’re a fan of classic country and can find a used vinyl copy somewhere, it’s worth seeking out.

As an aside, Lois Johnson’s last album was released in 1984. She died in Nashville in July 2014 at age 72.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Dolly Parton – ‘Mama Say A Special Prayer For Me’

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Christmas Time’

rhonda vincent christmas timeRhonda Vincent’s music is always worth hearing, so I was keen to hear her new Christmas album. The tasteful acoustic arrangements are bluegrass at its most mellow, with nothing really up-tempo or challenging. The musicians all play impeccably, with Stuart Duncan’s fiddle in particular shining, supplemented on a few tracks by additional strings. Rhonda’s lovely voice is crystal clear and expressive throughout.

Rhonda wrote four brand new songs. The opening ‘Dreaming Of Christmas’ sets the mood nicely with an upbeat depiction of a family celebration. The pleasant ‘Christmas Time At Home’ is on a similar theme. The melancholy title track is a melodic ballad about missing a loved one no longer there to share the joys of Christmas. The ultra-perky ‘Milk And Cookies’ is as up-tempo as the album gets, and rests right on that fine line between fun and annoying, falling over the latter edge at the end when she pops in a product placement for her long time sponsor Martha White.

The most memorable track is a bright and irresistible version of ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’, featuring a starry lineup comprising the Oak Ridge Boys, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, an instantly recognisable Bill Anderson whispering the “nine ladies dancing” line, an equally recognisable Dolly Parton, Ronnie Milsap (not recognisable), Gene Watson, Larry Gatlin, a sweet trio of Jeannie Seely, Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis (on “three French hens”), and child singer Emi Sunshine. This is not usually one of my favorite Christmas songs, but the effervescent mood is absolutely charming.

The other well known secular tune included is ‘Jingle Bells’, which rattles along genially with some super fiddle.

A number of well worn carols fill out the remainder of the tracklist, starting with a reflective reading of ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’. A straightforward reading of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is also nice, with a string quartet accompaniment. ‘Away In A Manger’, ‘Silent Night’ and ‘O Little Town Of Bethlehem’ are all beautifully done, but do we really need another version of any of them? Rhonda obviously had difficulty narrowing down her selection of material, because she closes up with a medley of a further seven carols apparently strung together at random, accompanied by solo piano. Standing out among these is an intense vocal on ‘O Holy Night’ and the choice of ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’. Maybe she should have hived this medley off into a completely separate EP.

So this is a lovely sounding bluegrass/acoustic country album, but not necessarily an essential purchase if you’ve already got a lot of Christmas music in your collection.

Grade: B

Christmas Rewind: Dolly Parton – ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’

Classic Rewind: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – ‘If Teardrops Were Pennies’

Album Review: Don Henley – ‘Cass County’

cass countyI was more than prepared to dislike this album. I haven’t liked Henley’s previous solo endeavors, nor the efforts of his band mates such as Glenn Frey, and I never liked Henley’s band the Eagles. Nevertheless, the song titles on the album intrigued me so I agreed to review the album.

Over the years many outsiders have attempted to enter the country music genre in an effort to revitalize flagging careers. There have been some outsiders who proved to have bona fide country credential, most notably Carl Perkins, Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chris Hillman and Vince Gill.

Most, however are imposters peddling a brand of faux country (Jessica Simpson and Bret Michaels come to mind. Imagine my surprise, when I listened to this album and found that I enjoyed it as much as the new George Strait and Clint Black albums. While I wouldn’t describe this as 100% country, I would call it 100% very good!

Yes, Henley has brought in a bunch of country superstars to assist him in this endeavor, but they really were not needed, not that I don’t appreciated the talents of Miranda Lambert , Merle Haggard, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill and Allison Krauss.

Cass County opens up with Tift Merritt’s “Bramble Rose,” with Miranda Lambert and Mick Jagger joining Henley. While I don’t think Jagger adds anything positive to the mix, neither does he destroy it.

Next up is a Henley composition “Cost of Living”. Henley collaborates with the legendary Merle Haggard, a somber ballad about the price of living and the challenges of growing older. I really don’t know much about Henley but Haggard surely knows these lessons as well as anyone, and maybe more so.

“Take A Picture Of This” is an odd song about a couple looking back on the past. The twist on the song is that that by the song’s end the man realizes that he doesn’t really know his wife anymore and decides to leave her.

“Waiting Tables” tells the tale of a young girl who grew up in a timber town, got married too young and wound ended up a single mother at 23 years old. Now she’s stuck waiting tables and hoping for a new love that will be more than a one night stand. This song is a nice example of songwriting craftsmanship.

The least country song on the album follows, the rockin’ blues number titled “No, Thank You” follows. The song advises the importance of viewing everything with a skeptical eye.

The pedal steel guitar dominates “Praying For Rain”, a song about drought stricken farmers hoping the rains will come soon. The stark realism of the song hits home.

“Words Can Break Your Heart” is slower and emotional. I regard the feel of the song as album filler, but if you listen closely to the lyrics, it is clearly more than that.

I haven’t anything from this album on the radio but it is my understanding that the first single from the album was “That Old Flame”. The song features Martina McBride in the role of an old flame wishing to make new acquaintance of a love from long ago. He wonders about her motives.

The album contains twelve songs with the deluxe edition containing sixteen songs and while I won’t comment on all of the remaining songs, I will comment on two songs that proved Henley’s bona fide credentials within the genre:

The Louvin Brothers were never massive sellers or hit makers but their influence ran both deep and wide. Dolly Parton joins Don on the Louvin’s “When I Stop Dreaming”. If this recording doesn’t stir your soul, just head for the morgue – you’re already dead and just hadn’t bothered to fall down.

The other song that Henley recorded that really interested me was the lovely “She Sang Hymns Out of Tune”. I think it is my favorite song on the album. Anyone who can dig out “She Sang Hymns Out of Tune” has more than a passing familiarity with country music. I have the song on a late 60s Dillards album but I am not sure who else may have sung it, although I have heard the song performed at bluegrass festivals. I think this song is only on the deluxe edition of the album; if that’s the case spend the extra money – it’s worth it!

I give this album an A and hope Don Henley hangs around the genre a little longer.

Classic Rewind: Dolly Parton – ‘I Wish I Felt This Way At Home’

Week ending 8/29/15: # singles this week in country music history

do-not-reuse-glen-campbell-1970-bb35-billboard-650-21955 (Sales): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Yes, Mr. Peters — Roy Drusky & Priscilla Mitchell (Mercury)

1975: Rhinestone Cowboy — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1985: Real Love — Dolly Parton with Kenny Rogers (RCA)

1995: You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: House Party — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Loving You Easy — Zac Brown Band (Southern Ground/BLMG/Republic)

Song Review: Don Henley featuring Dolly Parton – ‘When I Stop Dreaming’

Don-Henley-Dolly-Parton-Kevork-Djansezian-Rick-DiamondFew people expressed surprise when Don Henley announced plans to release a country album; he has dabbled in the genre before, collaborating on projects with Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire. And though The Eagles were not country band, there is no denying that they greatly influenced the genre. Add to that the fact that country music has long been a dumping ground for pop and rock acts past their commercial primes, and the decision to record an album in Nashville seemed to be a logical one.

Cass County is slated to be released next month. A few tracks have been made available for download via iTunes: the non-(country) charting “Take a Picture of This” and a duet with Martina McBride called “That Old Flame”. Neither can be described as hardcore country; they are middle-of-the-road AC-type songs with just enough country elements to keep the natives happy — about what one would expect from a side-project by a rock artist.

What is a surprise, however,is the third track to be pre-released from the album: a remake of the 1955 classic “When I Stop Dreaming”. That a rock act would cover The Louvin Brothers at all is in itself amazing, and is a gesture of respect for the genre on the part of Henley. One wonders how many of today’s “country” acts even know who Ira and Charlie were. I certainly can’t imagine the likes of Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean doing something this. Nor do I particularly want to. But I digress.

Dolly Parton is Don’s duet partner. Both Henley and Parton are pushing 70 — ancient in this youth-obsessed business, but they sound great and as they show the current generation of young artists (who are probably not paying a bit of attention) how it’s done. The steel guitar and the harmonies are beautiful — even if Dolly can’t sing quite as high as she did when she provided the harmony vocals to Emmylou Harris’ definitive 1977 version of the song. This will probably never be released as a single — and radio wouldn’t play it if it were, but it deserves to be heard and is worth downloading. Or you can listen to it here. This isn’t the best version of the song I’ve ever heard, but it’s easily one of the best recordings I’ve heard out of Nashville this year. Now if we could only get someone to write new songs this good.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Dolly Parton – ‘The Bridge’

Reissues wish list: part 3 – RCA and Columbia

carl smithWhen speaking of the big four labels we need to define terms
Columbia refers to records originally issued on Columbia, Epic, Harmony or Okeh labels. Okeh was used for so-called minority interest recordings. Columbia also owned Vocalion for a while. RCA refers to recordings on the RCA Victor and RCA Camden labels.

RCA

In addition to folks such as Chet Atkins, Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, Eddy Arnold, Connie Smith and Charley Pride, RCA had a fine group of second tier artists including Kenny Price, Porter Wagoner, Jim Ed Brown, Stu Phillips, Nat Stuckey, Jimmy Dean, Norma Jean, Skeeter Davis, Dottie West, Bobby Bare, The Browns and Jerry Reed.

Bear Family has released multiple boxed sets on several RCA artists including Connie Smith, Don Gibson, Waylon Jennings and Hank Snow who have multiple boxed sets (essentially everything Hank Snow recorded while on RCA – forty plus years worth of recordings is available on Bear). Enough Waylon has been released that what remains doesn’t justify a wish list.

What is really needed is for someone to issue decent sets on Kenny Price, Jim Ed Brown (without his sisters or Helen Cornelius), Norma Jean, Dottsy, Liz Anderson and Earl Thomas Conley. There is virtually nothing on any of these artists. Jimmy Dean recorded for RCA for about six years but nothing is available from his RCA years which saw some really fine recordings, including the best version of “A Thing Called Love“.

I would have said the same thing about Charley Pride but recent years have seen various Charley Pride sets become available, so we can take him off our wish list.

COLUMBIA RECORDS

When you think of Columbia Records, names such as Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Carl Smith, Stonewall Jackson, Flatt & Scruggs and Marty Robbins spring immediately to mind, but the well is deep and that doesn’t even count sister label Epic which boasted names like David Houston, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Jody Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Bob Luman.

By and large foreign and domestic reissues abound for most of the bigger names, but even here there are some major shortfalls.

Carl Smith recorded for Columbia through the early 1970s and while his 1950s output has been thoroughly mined, his sixties output has barely been touched and his seventies output (“Mama Bear”, “Don’t Say Goodbye”) completely neglected. Smith’s recordings increasingly veered toward western swing as the sixties wore on, but he recorded a fine bluegrass album, and a tribute to fellow East Tennessean Roy Acuff. His outstanding Twenty Years of Hits (1952-1972) recast twenty of his classic tunes as western swing. A good three CD set seems in order.

I could make a good case for electing David Houston to the Country Music Hall of Fame. From 1966 he had thirteen #1 hits and a bunch more top ten and top twenty recordings. “Almost Persuaded” was his biggest hit but there were bunches of good songs scattered across his many albums. A good two CD set is a must, and I could easily justify a three CD set.

While Sony Legacy issued a decent Johnny Paycheck single disc hits collection, it is long on the later stages of his career and short on the earliest years. Paycheck released over thirty singles for Epic from 1972–1982 and it’s about time someone collected them on a good two (or preferably three) disc collection along with some key album cuts.

Moe Bandy achieved his greatest commercial success while recording for Columbia. Between chart singles and album cuts Moe warrants at least a decent two CD set, and please leave the ‘Moe & Joe’ nonsense out of the mix.

Columbia has a lot of artists that would justify a single or double disc hits collection: David Wills, Al Dexter, Ted Daffan, David Rodgers, Connie Smith, Carl & Pearl Butler, Tommy Cash, David Frizzell, Bob Luman, Jody Miller, Barbara Fairchild, Barbara Mandrell, Charlie Walker and Sammi Smith.

Album Review: Dale Ann Bradley – ‘Pocket Full Of Keys’

pocket full of keysDale Ann Bradley’s exquisite, crystalline voice has led to her winning the IBMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year title no less than five times. She may not be as well known among country fans as Alison Krauss or Rhonda Vincent, but she certainly deserves to be. For the first time she has produced her own album, and the result is the best record she has ever made. She draws largely on her deprived childhood in a rural part of Kentucky lacking safe electricity and running water

Although it sounds as if it might be an ancient Appalachian folk tune, ‘The Stranger’ is a song Dolly Parton wrote for Kenny Rogers. It tells the tragic tale of an abandoned pregnant woman whose lover returns far too late, only to be rejected by the grown child. Dale Ann sings it beautifully.

The delicate and metaphorical title track (a self-penned number) is about discovering one’s true self and strength in adversity. Jim Lauderdale comes on board as duet partner on ‘Hard Lesson Road’, which looks back at the experiences one learns painfully from, with some lovely fiddle

‘Rachel, Pack Your Sunday Clothes’ is a somber message urging an absent child to be reconciled while her father is still alive. The emotive story song ‘Soldiers, Lovers And Dreamers’ is about idealistic young love derailed by harsh reality.

‘Sweet Hour Of Prayer’ is a heavenly ballad, while ‘I’ll Live On Somewhere’ is a bluegrass gospel quartetled by Dale Ann.

The traditional ‘Sweetheart Of The Pines’ is classic high lonesome at its best, while there is a lovely version of the country classic ‘I’m So Afraid Of Losing You Again’, which is a highlight. ‘Til I Hear it From You’ is a cover of a 90s rock song; Dale Ann’s exquisite voice remakes the song in her own image, but it is still one of my less favourite tracks.

The pacier material is a bit less memorable and showcases Dale Ann’s extraordinarily beautiful voice less well, but songs like ‘Ain’t It Funny’, a philosophical acceptance of the end of a love affair, and ‘Talking To The Moon’ are still solid fare.

This is an outstanding bluegrass album which should have equal appeal to fans of acoustic country.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Dolly Parton – ‘Chas’

Album Review: Merle Haggard and Mac Wiseman – ‘Timeless’

timelessIt would never have occurred to me that Merle Haggard and Mac Wiseman would team up on an album, but I am sure glad that they did, and that the album is widely available through Cracker Barrel. Produced by Ronnie Reno, son of bluegrass legend Don Reno, the album finds Merle and Mac playing a bluegrass set with a band comprised of with Rob Ickes (dobro), Carl Jackson (guitar), Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Andy Leftwich (fiddle/mandolin), Ben Isaacs (acoustic bass), and special guests Vince Gill (tenor vocals), Marty Stuart (mandolin/guitar), Sonya Isaacs (high harmony) and Becky Isaacs (tenor harmony).

Mac Wiseman has long been known as the “voice with a heart” , but perhaps he should also be known as “the voice with staying power” as the ninety year old Wiseman shows that he has lost little over the years. In contrast, the seventy-eight year older Haggard has lost more of his vocal prowess over the years. Even so, he still sings well.

Although Haggard is by far the bigger star of the two, the disc is truly a collaborative effort with more than half of the repertoire being songs associated with Wiseman, although one could argue that the entire program is Wiseman since Mac sings anything and everything in the broad spectrum of country music. Merle & Mac sing together on six of the album’s thirteen tracks, Vince Gill is on two tracks as a vocalist, one with Merle and one with Mac. Merle has three solo vocals and Mac has two solo tracks.

The disc opens up with “If Teardrops Were Pennies”, a Carl Butler composition that was a big Carl Smith hit from 1951 ( the duo of Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton covered it in the early 1970s). The song has been in Mac’s repertoire forever. Merle and Mac swap verses on this one. The song is taken at mid tempo.

Similarly, the Tommy Collins composition “High On A Hilltop” has been in Merle’s repertoire forever. This track features Vince Gill on harmony vocal. I’ve never heard the song done as bluegrass before, but good songs normally are adaptable to any treatment, and so it proves here.

It would be unthinkable to do this album without featuring the three songs most intimately associated with Mac Wiseman. The first of these songs, Mac’s “I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home” has Merle and Mac swapping verses. The song has become a bluegrass standard.

The same can’t be said for another Wiseman composition, “I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight”, but it’s a good song on which Merle and Mac swap verses.

“Learning To Live With Myself” is a Merle Haggard composition that wasn’t ever a single, but is a thoughtful song that Merle sings as a solo. The harmony work by Sonya Isaacs and Becky Isaacs is very nice.

“Jimmy Brown The Newsboy” is the second of the three Wiseman signature songs on the album. I think every bluegrass band in the world has this song in their repertoire, as well they should. Mac sings the verses, Merle does the introduction and harmonizes on the chorus, This is a great track, possibly my favorite on the album. Ronnie Reno adds tenor vocals.

If there is one song people instantly associate with Merle Haggard, it has to be “Mama Tried”. Merle solos the vocal on this track. I love Rob Ickes’ dobro work on this track. This is the only track on the project of a song that was a hit single for Merle. Ronnie Reno, a former member of Haggard’s Strangers, plays guitar on this track.

“Sunny Side of Life”, also known as “Keep On The Sunny Side” is an old Carter Family song that has been sung by country, folk and bluegrass singers for the last 70+ years. Mac and Merle swap verses on this one with producer Ronnie Reno adding tenor vocals.

John Duffey, a founding member of both the Country Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene, wrote “Bringing Mary Home” while a member of the Country Gentlemen. The song was one the Country Gentlemen’s signature songs, tackled here as a solo by Mac Wiseman. Mac has been singing the song forever and inhabits the verses of the song as only he can.

Vince Gill assists Mac on the third of Mac’s signature songs, Mac’s composition “Tis Sweet To Be Remembered”. I first heard the song with Mac singing it on the WWVA Big Jamboree radio show sometime during the mid-1960s. I loved the song then and now, and although it is impossible to pick a favorite Mac Wiseman song among the thousands of great songs he has sung, if I had to do it, it would be this song.

Both Merle Haggard and Mac Wiseman are devout Christians and the album closes out with three religious songs.

“Two Old Christian Soldiers” is a Merle Haggard composition that Merle and Mac swap verses on this one. Taken at mid-tempo, their battle is against the devil and time, “working off their debt to the Lord.”

The last two songs are a pair of solo efforts, “Lord Don’t Give Up On Me”, a Haggard song sung solo by Merle and “Hold Fast To The Right”, a Wiseman copyright which Mac solos and Ronnie Reno plays guitar.

These ‘two old Christian soldiers’ have had many hit records and successful albums, and it would have been too easy to record an album that romps through their greatest hits. Instead, what we have here is a thoughtful, organic program that forms a cohesive album. I can’t pick out one standout track since the album has so many great tracks. Suffice it to say, this disc has been playing in my car for the last three weeks.

Track Listing:
1. If Teardrops Were Pennies (Merle/Mac)
2. High On A Hilltop (Merle/Vince)
3. I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home (Mac/Merle)
4. I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight (Merle/Mac)
5. Learning To Live With Myself (Merle)
6. Jimmy Brown The Newsboy (Mac/Merle)
7. Mama Tried (Merle)
8. Sunny Side of Life (Mac/Merle)
9. Bringing Mary Home (Mac)
10. Tis Sweet To Be Remembered (Mac/Vince)
11. Old Christian Soldiers (Merle/Mac)
12. Lord Don’t Give Up On Me (Merle)
13. Hold Fast to the Right (Mac)

Classic Rewind: Dolly Parton – ‘My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy’/Bill Monroe – ‘My Soul Has Been Called Above’

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