My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Don Helms

Introducing: The Malpass Brothers

And the winner of the 2018 CMA Entertainer of the Year is ….. The Malpass Brothers!

Well not really, but if the CMA had a shred of integrity left, the Malpass Brothers would have at least been nominated.  This is not a knock against this year’s winner Keith Urban, who is an excellent rock guitarist (with very little country in his playing) and a passable (but very overrated) vocalist with a decent sense of humor, but having seen both perform, Urban is miles (or kilometers) behind in the ability to entertain.

So who are the Malpass Brothers? According to their website:

As young boys, Christopher and Taylor Malpass soaked up the music of their granddad’s phonograph records. Christopher earned his first talent show trophy at age 7, and Taylor was playing mandolin by the time he was 10. Today, they promote the work and music of classic country artists they treasure while creating new music and making their own mark in the lineage of a rich American cultural heritage.

With sincerity, honesty and an utter ease on stage that belies their years, their smooth vocal blend and skillful musicianship layer infectiously into the deep respect they pay to legends who have paved the way. Add the funny, off-the-cuff quips between the two 20-something siblings, and the engaging concert becomes a magnetic time-traveling journey to when a calmer rhythm reigned supreme.

The Malpass Brothers toured with the late Don Helms, former steel guitarist for Hank Williams, have opened for music legend Merle Haggard on multiple tours and appeared on stages from the Shetland Islands to Ryman Auditorium to Merlefest. Gifted musicians and songwriters, the brothers have shared billing with artists including Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Doyle Lawson, Rhonda Vincent, Marty Stuart, Doc Watson and more. The title cut video from their “Memory That Bad” album hit CMT Pure Country’s Top Ten.

The above quote gives but a small hint as to what the Malpass Brothers are all about. Although there are other young country traditionalists who are true to the traditions of real country music, most of them are faithful to the traditions of the country music of the 1970s and the new traditionalists movement that kicked off in 1986 and held sway for about 12-15 years. North Carolina natives Chris and Taylor Malpass are torch carriers for the sounds of the country music of the 1950s through 1975 with occasional rockabilly overtones, and a lot of humor in their performances. Chris normally sings lead and Taylor typically plays electric lead and mandolin

After spending about seven years opening for Merle Haggard, the Malpass Brothers started working the bluegrass festivals along with other more normal venues. Although there is nothing at all bluegrass about their music, there is an interesting dynamic at work in the world of bluegrass which is that while there is a schism (of sorts) between the traditionalist “true grass” advocates and more modernist “newgrass” fans, both groups love the music of traditional country artists such as George Jones, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn and the Louvin Brothers and it rare to find a group in either the truegrass or newgrass camps that does not include the music of the pre-1975 period in their repertoire.

From what I’ve written above, you may think that the Malpass Brothers are nothing more than a covers band, but in fact, their repertoire is a mixture of covers and originals written by the brothers. In fact, their most recent album Live At The Paramount Theatre (taken from a PBS Documentary), features six original tunes along with three Merle Haggard songs, Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got The Money I Got The Time”, Ernst Tubb’s “Walking The Floor Over You” and the Jimmie Rodgers classic from the 1930s (later covered by Crystal Gayle) “Miss The Mississippi and You”.

This album also includes a live performance of their CMT hit “Memory That Bad” which was written by Chris and Taylor Malpass.

For more information check their website: https://themalpassbrothers.com/

Meanwhile, I’ve stacked three of their CDs in my changer and will be listening to some real country music. I will see them again in February 2019

Below are some YouTube clips:

“Hoping That You’re Hoping:”

“Luther Played The Boogie:”

“Half A Mind:”

 

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Fist City’

fist cityThe lead single of Loretta’s 1968 album Fist City, ‘What Kind Of Girl (Do You Think I Am)?’, a plaintive tune written by Loretta with Teddy Wilburn, was a top 5 single in 1967. It’s a nice song, but not one which is remembered today – perhaps because its subject matter now seems old fashioned, with the demure protagonist reproving her sweetheart for wanting to anticipate their wedding vows:

You want me to prove my love for you
I’m surprised that’s the way you’re askin’ me to
You’ve known me so long I can’t understand
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

What kind of a girl do you want for a wife?
Do you want a girl who knows that much about life?
Well, if that’s what you want
Take me out of your plan
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

What kind of a girl would do the things
You’re askin’ me to, without wedding rings
Is it what you must do to prove you’re a man?
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

It was also soon overshadowed by the title track, which became the record’s second single, and is one of Loretta’s classic self-penned hits. Positively aggressive in its takedown of a real life romantic rival who apparently had eyes for Loretta’s husband Doolittle, it typifies the sassy attitude and self-confidence which Loretta had previously exhibited on ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)’:

You’ve been makin’ your brags around town that you’ve been a lovin’ my man
But the man I love when he picks up trash, he puts it in a garbage can
And that’s what you look like to me and what I see’s a pity
You’d better close your face and stay out of my way
If you don’t wanta go to Fist City

If you don’t wanna go to Fist City you’d better detour round my town
Cause I’ll grab you by the hair of the head and I’ll lift you off of the ground
I’m not a sayin’ my baby’s a saint cause he ain’t
And that he won’t cat around with a kitty
I’m here to tell you gal to lay off of my man if you don’t wanna go to Fist City

Come on and tell me what you told my friends if you think you’re brave enough
And I’ll show you what a real woman is since you think you’re hot stuff
You’ll bite off more than you can chew if you get too cute or witty
You better move your feet if you don’t wanna eat a meal that’s called Fist City

Loretta’s vocal has an almost playful quality to it which belies the violence, and makes the song highly enjoyable.

‘I’m Shootin’ For Tomorrow’, another Lynn composition, is a vivacious mid-tempo number about writing off an old relationship:

Well I used to think you was the only man
But I’ve found out you’re not
So I’m a shootin’ for tomorrow
‘Cause today’s already shot
I used to keep the home fires burnin’
But I let ’em all go out

No song on this album is longer than three minutes; this one is under two minutes, as is ‘You Didn’t Like My Lovin’, written by Loretta with Teddy Wilburn and Joe “Red” Hayes. This one’s protagonist has happily moved on to someone new and sends her ex away with a flea in his ear. Loretta also covers Hayes’ country gospel classic a Satisfied Mind.

‘Somebody’s Back In Town’ was a hit for the Wilburn Brothers in 1959, although for some reason iTunes credits Loretta as their co-writer (I believe it was really Don Helms). This is an excellent song I know from Chris Hillman’s 1980s cover, and Loretta does the pained ballad justice with an emotional reading.

The best-known cover, Tammy Wynette’s recent #1 hit ‘I Don’t Wanna Play House’, is also sung very believably; if Loretta had got the song first I am sure she could have ahd a hit with it herself. Tammy and Norma Jean both had contemporary cuts of ‘Jackson Ain’t A Very Big Town’, a ballad about a newly wed in a small town where the dating pool is small and rumours fly.

Loretta’s brother Jay Lee Webb contributed ‘You Never Were Mine’, a nice resigned ballad about a breakup.

‘I’ve Got Texas In My Heart’ is a Western style tune which doesn’t really suit Loretta, and ‘How Long Will It Takes’ is s filler with dated backing vocals.

Overall, though, this is an excellent album from Loretta at her peak.

Grade: A

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Hymns’

51xEM2vs-xL._SS280I find it difficult to evaluate albums of religious music, for the usual criteria really don’t apply. To start with, not all country music fans/listeners are necessarily Christian or even theistic, although a majority of country music listeners (and an even larger majority of bluegrass fans) are Christian. There simply will be a percentage of fans for who this music will be of no interest whatsoever.

Moreover, the concept of whether or not a song would make a good single for the artist is a really mundane consideration. I don’t that Loretta had any great expectations about commercial success when she recorded this album. Country artists of this era simply recorded religious music because their fans expected it of them and because they felt an inner need to record the songs of praise and salvation. The fact that some of these albums charted was a bonus, and this album reached #10 on the country charts.

This was Loretta’s first Gospel album of her career, although it would not be her last. The album was a mixture of a dozen Gospel and Inspirational music songs that had enjoyed sustained popularity over the years and few newer songs written by Lynn or other Nashville writers.

Hymns catches Loretta Lynn at the absolute peak of her vocal prowess. Her clear bell-like voice was ideally suited for these songs and the ‘Nashville Sound’ trappings do not detract from the songs. My copy of this album is on a cassette, so the song order as I have it may differ from the vinyl or CD versions of the album.

The album opens with a Loretta Lynn composition “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven”, a good song that Alison Krauss & the Cox Family covered nearly thirty years later. This is followed by a Mosie Lister song that has become a Gospel standard “Where No One Stands Alone” and the traditional “When They Ring Those Golden Bells”.
“Peace In The Valley” has been one of my favorite songs since I heard Red Foley sing it on network television back around 1959 or 1960. Loretta does a fine job with the song, although I would still recommend Red Foley’s version as the ultimate recording of the song.

Other tracks:

“If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again” (John Whitfield Vaughan)
“The Third Man” (Don Helms, Teddy Wilburn)
“How Great Thou Art” (Stuart Hine)
“Old Camp Meeting Time” (traditional)
“When I Hear My Children Pray” (Les Waldrop)
“In The Sweet Bye and Bye” (J.P. Webster, Sanfod Bennett)
“When I Learned To Pray” (Loretta Lynn)
“I’d Rather Have Jesus” (Traditional)

As you can tell by the song selections, Loretta breaks no new ground with this album. By Loretta Lynn standards Hymns is a rather sedate album, although well performed. It is nice to hear “How Great Thou Art” performed without it becoming an exercise in how long the final notes can be held without the singer collapsing from asphyxiation.

I am not going to give a letter grade to this album. If you are a believer and a fan of country music you should enjoy this album. If you are a non believer, you might not like this album, but then again, a non-believer Loretta Lynn fan might find this a worthwhile acquisition anyway.

Loretta Lynn would go on to record a number of other religious albums. These subsequent albums would be more rambunctious and exhibit more of Loretta’s personality. I would recommend listeners check out Who Says God Is Dead?

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride covers ‘Your Cheating Heart’

The steel player is Don Helms from the Drifting Cowboys.

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams’

In his lifetime Hank Williams was keen to be recognised as a songwriter and grateful for pop covers f his work. in the years since his tragic and self-induced death, his songs have been covered from artists across the This album presents a dozen songs based on lyrics or scraps of lyrics left by Hank Williams, which have been completed by contemporary artists. It is an interesting project if a controversial one, and I would have liked it to be clearer what each participant contributed to the creative process. The tunes are all newly composed; the lyrics apparently range from completed lyrics which need only the music to be added (‘The Love That Faded’, the original manuscript lyric for which is the only one to be reproduced in the liner notes) to just a couple of lines serving as springboard for a modern songwriter’s inspiration. Each artist also uses his or her usual producer and their own selection of studio musicians.

The results range from the excellent to the dire, with some in between. The artists include both country singers-songwriters and those from other genres with a longstanding appreciation for country music and Hank Williams in particular, with Bob Dylan the first to be approached. Perhaps unsurprisingly those artists with a deeper grounding in country music have produced results more in keeping with the original, and more to my personal taste.

The best track is Alan Jackson’s ‘You’ve Been Lonesome Too’, which opens the set and manages to sound genuinely inspired by Hank, helped along by Keith Stegall’s sensitively authentic production, the excellent recreation of the Drifting Cowboys by the likes of Stuart Duncan and Paul Franklin and Alan’s straightforward reading. It really doesn’t feel like pastiche, but a genuine unknown Hank Williams song, and one which stands up in its own right as an excellent song.

Vice Gill and Rodney Crowell collaborated on ‘I Hope You Shed A Million Tears’, and perform the song together. The Drifting Cowboys’ Don Helms provides added authenticity by guesting on steel on what must have been one of his last recording sessions (he died in 2008). Gill’s sweet vocal is interspersed with Crowell’s narration – the latter sounds more authentically Hank, but Gill sounds lovely and the final result is a fine song in its own right. I loved Crowell’s line, “I loved you like there’s no tomorrow, then found out that there’s not“. Merle Haggard tackles Hank’s religious side, giving a simple retelling of ‘The Sermon On The Mount’ an attractive melody.

Patty Loveless and husband Emory Gordy Jr carried out the writing duties on, and Patty sings the up-tempo ‘You’re Through Fooling Me’, which is highly enjoyable and sounds convincingly like a hillbilly song from the late 1940s if not necessarily a Hank Williams song. It would have fitted in well on either of her last two albums.

These four songs are the ones for country fans to download if going the digital route, and are all well worth adding to your digital library.

Hank’s grand daughter Holly Williams gives the family’s seal of approval to the project, and is repsosible for another highlight, although like a number of the artists included, her melody, while perfectly attractive, does not sound quite like a Hank Williams song. She delivers a smoothly sultry vocal on ‘Blue Is My Heart’, which is a very strong song in its own right, supported by her father on (uncredited) harmony. Norah Jones’s song, ‘How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart’ has a jazz-based tune and a stripped down production set to the acoustic guitars of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, who also add tasteful harmonies. It is pleasant listening but ultimately lightweight, without the emotional intensity the lyrics demand. Lucinda Williams’s effort, ‘I’m So Happy I Found You’, has the opposite problem – a positive love song which sounds more like a dirge.

I was bored by Sheryl Crow’s ‘Angel Mine’ on first listen, but the multi-tracked vocals give it a folky feel which works quite well. Levon Helm’s distinctive vocal on ‘You’ll Never Again Be Mine’ (co-written with Helm’s producer Larry Campbell) has a nice old-time feel, backed up nicely by the backing vocals of Amy Helm and Teresa Williams, but is not the most interesting song.

The songs completed and sung by Bob Dylan (‘The Love That Faded’) and Jack White (‘You Know That I Know’) suffer from both gentlemen’s limited (to put it kindly) vocal ability, although they are both good songs. I would have really enjoyed ‘You Know That I Know’, an accusatory cheating song, if only a more competent singer had been allowed to front the performance, as White is awful. Dylan is not much better, but the sensitive production of his track is some recompense. His son Jakob is an unimpressive and bland vocalist and the melody of his song, ‘Oh Mama, Come Home’, lacks the urgency of the lyric.

Multi-artist tributes or concept albums always tend to be hit and miss, and this is no exception. There are enough tracks which work for this to be worth hearing.

Grade: B

Album Review: Shane Worley – ‘Mister Purified Country’

Mister Purified CountryIt’s easy to get discouraged by the state of today’s country radio and the majority of major-label releases. But there are still artists out there making real country music, even if most of them are on independent labels and can be hard to track down sometimes. One singer I’ve been interested in for a while is Shane Worley, a Tennesseean with a rich baritone voice with strong echoes of Merle Haggard in his vocal stylings. He has in fact recorded a tribute album to Merle, Feeling Haggard, as well as a handful of albums of good original material over the past ten years or so.

Shane is exactly the kind of singer who would be regarded as too country for today’s country radio, but he has found a sympathetic home on the indie Country Discovery records, with label head and producer Mike Headrick responsible for all his recorded output. The production is solidly country, with the producer himself (a former Music Row session musician) playing steel, dobro, harmonica and bass, and providing several songs, starting with the opening track, ‘Two Beers Ago’, which he wrote with Ruthie Steele and D Hagan, with the late Vern Gosdin in mind. Shane isn’t quite Vern Gosdin, but he is a very good singer in his own right, and he dedicates his performance of this song, and the album as a whole, to Vern, who was one of his main influences. The song is an ironic yet agonized look at a man who gets a birthday call from his ex, takes to the bottle and finds it doesn’t help at all:

“I’ve been through hell
But I stopped missing you
Two beers ago.”

Also very good is Headrick’s ‘The Right To Be Wrong’, a classic-sounding (with the late, legendary, Don Helms guesting on steel) appeal for another chance by a man who has driven away his wife by his drinking:

“You have a right to be set free
If you can’t stay here with me
After all the pain I’ve caused you for so long
You have the right to make a stand
And to take off your wedding band…

Don’t make this one mistake
That will add to our heartache
Though it’s true you have the right to be wrong.”

Headrick’s other offerings are the enjoyable, if slightly unfocussed lyrically, ‘Sweet Revenge’, inspired by the old saying “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned”, and the cheerful love song ‘Out Of The Blue’, which has one memorable line (“I knew there had to be more to life than wishing I was dead”), but is the least distinguished cut on the album.

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