My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Don Williams

Breaking News: RIP Troy Gentry (1967-2017)

It’s a sad day for country music. In addition to the passing of Don Williams, Troy Gentry, who was half of the duo Montgomery Gentry, was killed today in a helicopter accident. You can read about it here.

Montgomery Gentry made their chart debut in 1999 and were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2009.

Advertisements

BREAKING NEWS: Don Williams Dead at 78

Read the story here

Classic Rewind: Mo Pitney covers Don Williams’ ‘I’m Just A Country Boy’

Album Review: Robert Mizzell – ‘Redneck Man’

Released in 2010, Robert Mizzell’s seventh album Redneck Man contains 15 songs, the majority of them covers, but some of them relatively obscure songs. Mizzell has a strong baritone voice which does justice to the material, and he is effectively backed by an excellent band performing mostly traditional country arrangements.

Although not a songwriter himself, the one original song on the album draws directly on Mizzell’s own life story. ‘Mama Courtney’, specially written for him by Irish songwriter Henry McMahon, is a moving tribute to the loving foster parents who helped to raise him in Louisiana when his birth mother “lost her way in life”.

Us kids are all now grown up and gone our separate ways
I look back on my childhood of many happy days
And when I go back to Shreveport I place flowers on her grave
And I thank Mama Courtney for all those kids that she saved

There are many children in this world that suffered hurt and shame
I thank all the Mama Courtneys that took away their pain
God works in mysterious ways
I believe this is true
Though she had no children of her own she fostered 32…

God rest you Mama Courtney
I’ll always love you

This is a genuinely moving song, and was understandably a success for the artist on Irish country radio.

Another single for him was a duet with US country star Collin Raye on ‘Murder On Music Row’. The two singers swap lines rather than harmonising except on the odd chorus line, but they contrast well, and both sing with feeling. Perhaps as a nod to Raye, Mizzell covers ‘I’m Gonna Love You’, a fluffy novelty song written by Robert Elis Orrall, which Raye cut on his children’s album Counting Sheep. It isn’t a very good song, and adds nothing to the album.

Much better is an entertaining cover of ‘Ol’ Frank’, a tongue in cheek story song about a young trophy bride who cashes in after “he died with a smile on his face”, which George Jones recorded in the 80s. Another late Jones cut, the up-tempo ‘Ain’t Love A Lot Like That’, is pleasant but definitely filler (plus it’s far too cavalier about missing pets).

Another excellent track is ‘More Behind The Picture Than The Wall’, a traditional country ballad written by Bill Anderson, Buddy Cannon and Don Miller, about a father remembering happy times past after the death of his soldier son in action. Mizzell’s vocals do the poignant nostalgia of the song (previously recrded by bluegrass band Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver) justice.

Too soon our little family was scattered to the winds
You fell out of love with me and wouldn’t fall back in
I was sleeping by myself the night I got that call
Yeah, there’s more behind this picture than the wall

Casey died a hero, that’s what the chaplain said
We couldn’t find sweet Lorrie, I doubt she knows it yet
You and I still tortured by the memories we recall
But there’s more behind this picture than the wall

Four happy loving faces, back then we had it all

Also very good is Mizzell’s version of ‘Someone To Hold Me When I Cry’, a great Wayland Holyfield/Bob McDill song which was a hit for last month’s Spotlight Artist, Janie Fricke and has also been recorded by Don Williams and Loretta Lynn.

He adds a soulful tinge to Jamey Johnson’s ‘She’s All Lady’, a married singer’s polite but firm rebuff to a potential groupie.

Thanks for coming out to see me
I hope you liked the show
Yeah, that’s right, I settled down about six months ago
No, she ain’t here tonight, she stayed at home
Yeah, it sure does get lonely out here on the road

By looking in your eyes, I can tell what’s on your mind
Yeah, I’d love to drive you home and’ hold your body close to mine
You’re everything a man could dream of, baby
Cause you’re all woman
But she’s all lady

I met her at a Baptist church in Tennessee
She was looking for someone
I was prayin’ it was me
No, she never thought she’d fall in love with a guitar man
Oh, it took some gettin’ used to
She does the best she can
No, she don’t like to stay at home alone
No, I don’t need your number
She’s probably waitin’ by the phone…

No, it ain’t you, Lord knows you’re a sight
Yeah, I probably could
But I could never make believe it’s right
I’d rather be alone, and I know that sounds crazy
‘Cause you’re all woman
But she’s all lady
You’re all woman, but she’s my lady

The album’s title comes from a briskly delivered version of Alan Jackson’s early single ‘Blue Blooded Woman’, which opens the album. Loaded with fiddle, this is a strong cut. Darryl Worley’s minor hit ‘Tennessee River Run’ is bright and pleasant. ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’ is a bit more well worn; Mizzell’s warm vocal sells it convincingly, but gets a little overblown towards the end.

Also on the less successful side, John Denver’s ‘Love Is Everywhere’ is forgettable, while ‘Two Ways To Fall’ once recorded by Garth Brooks sideman Ty England is quite a good song but suffers from dubious production choices with the first couple of lines horribly muffled and echoey.

Mizzell was already a reasonably well established star on the Irish country scene by this point, and in 2009 he acted as mentor to Lisa McHugh, another of the artists we are spotlighting this month, on a TV talent show. She guests here on a duet of the Randy Travis hit ‘I Told You So’; this is quite nicely sung but feels inessential. The same goes for ‘I Swear’; Mizzell sings with emotion but the arrangement feels a bit dated.

Overall I was very pleasantly surprised by this album. Mizzell has a strong voice and interprets the songs well; it’s just a shame that there was not more original material available.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Saddle The Wind’

The rise of the New Traditionalists in the late 1980s meant that the sooth pop-country which had served Janie well earlier in the decade was sounding dated. Janie was also now over 40, as younger artists came forward, and radio abandoned her, with no really successful singles from her 1987 album After Midnight. She took on the challenge with gusto, adapting to a much more traditional country style for 1988’s Saddle The Wind, with the help of producer Steve Buckingham. She was still, incidentally, using the new spelling of Frickie, which she had adopted for Black And White.

There were three singles to promote this album. Unfortunately, none did very well, but they are all excellent songs, beautifully sung and unmistakeably real country. ‘Where Does Love Go (When It’s Gone)’ is a brisk Peter Rowan song with a bright upbeat feel despite a lyric pondering the reasons for a breakup.

‘I’ll Walk Before I’ll Crawl’ is a lovely mid-paced ballad (written by Gidget Baird and Linda Buell) gives a cheating husband an ultimatum. The third and last single, ‘Heart’, was written by the ultra-successful writing team of Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet. It is an excellent song about a woman desperately tempted to cheat on her husband.

On a somewhat similar theme, Hank Cochran’s classic ‘Don’t Touch Me (If You Don’t Love Me)’ explores the draw of sexual desire knowing the loved one cannot offer what the protagonist needs:

Your hand is like a torch each time you touch me
That look in your eye pulls me apart
So don’t open the door to heaven if I can’t come in
No, don’t touch me if you don’t love me, sweetheart

Your kiss is like a drink when I am thirsty
Oh and I’m thirsty for you with all my heart
But don’t love me, then act as though we’ve never kissed
Oh, don’t touch me if you don’t love me, sweetheart

Janie’s intense vocal is superlative on this song.

Several other classic covers are also included. Willie Nelson’s ballad The Healing Hands Of Time’ is another true classic song given an exquisite vocal, with some tasteful steel and piano. The album opens with a sprightly version of the Western Swing ‘Sugar Moon’ which is delightful, and Janie also revives the up-tempo ‘Crazy Dreams’, one of Patsy Cline’s lesser known early recordings.

‘I’m Not That Good At Goodbye’, a much recorded song written by Bob McDill and Don Williams, has another excellent vocal from Janie. ‘If I Were Only Her Tonight’, written by McDill with Bucky Jones and Dickey Lee, is another fine song about unrequited love and the pull of an old flame.

There is a Marty Robbins Mexican flavor to the title track, with Spanish guitar accompanying a story song written by the album’s producer Buckingham, about a star-crossed border romance with a bandido.

Janie had a truly lovely voice, but at her commercial peak she was too often buried under poppy production. In this album she finally married her voice to great production and songs, making this by far her best work. I would recommend it to anyone.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Love Lies’

I always regarded Janie Fricke as primarily a singles artist, and the market apparently agreed as Love Lies, Janie’s eighth album (ninth album if you include the Greatest Hits album released in October 1982) was the first of her albums to reach the top ten of Billboards Country Albums chart, punching in at #10. This would prove to be rarefied air for Janie as only one more album, Black and White, in 1986, would reach the top ten.

Released in late 1983 and produced by Bob Montgomery, Love Lies was the second album he produced for Janie. Love Lies would see three singles released, “Tell Me A Lie” (#1), “Let’s Stop Talking About It” (#1) and “If The Fall Don’t Get You” (#8). “If The Fall Don’t Get You” was the first single to not go top four after eight consecutive such successes.

In the past I had described Janie’s earlier singles as ‘lovey-dovey drivel’ but perhaps I was a bit harsh. Today I would describe her previous singles as ‘confections’. I would not describe any of the singles on this album using such terms. These are more mature songs.

The album opens with “If The Fall Don’t Get You”, a biting commentary on love, co-written by Van Stephenson, who later was a member of BlackHawk.

So you say you’re thinking of falling in love
Going way out on a limb
And it seems like push is coming to shove
Just look at the shape that I’m in

I have paid the price for love
And it ain’t cheap
Better take a long hard look
Before you leap

If the fall don’t get you, baby
And your fading heart is beating still
If the fall don’t get you
Baby, the heartache will

Next up is “Have I Got A Heart For You”, a mid-tempo song which sells the virtues of a heart on the rebound. Written by Keith Stegall, the song is a decent album track.

I would also describe track three “How Do You Fall Out of Love”, a slow ballad of heartbreak as a decent album track. The Nashville String Machine is a little obtrusive but Janie’s voice cuts through the clutter.

“Love Lies” was an early single for Mel McDaniel, reaching #33 in 1979. It would be a few more years before Mel’s career caught fire, but I though his performance of the song was excellent. For whatever reason, the song never made it to one of Mel’s albums, so I am glad that Janie covered the song; however, she should have released it as a single.

Side one of the original vinyl album closed with “Tell Me A Lie”, a song carried over from the previous album It Ain’t Easy. Columbia during the 1970s and 1980s had this annoying habit of pulling songs from an existing album, releasing it as a single, then adding it to the next album. Since albums during this period only had ten songs, this meant that if you purchased both albums, you would get only nineteen different songs at rough two and a half minutes per song. This cover of a Lynn Anderson album track (and later a top 20 pop hit for Sami Jo) reached #1 for Janie.

Tell me a lie
Say I look familiar
Even though I know
That you don’t even know my name

Tell me a lie
Say you just got into town
Even though I’ve seen you here before
Just hangin’ around

Umm, tell me a lie, say you’re not a married man
Cause you don’t know I saw you slip off your wedding band

Side two of the vinyl album opens up with “Let’s Stop Talking About It”, an up-tempo that reached #1. The song was written by the dynamic trio of Rory Bourke, Rafe Van Hoy & Deborah Allen, who collectively authored many hit singles. You can give your own interpretation to what the lyrics mean:

We’ve had a lot of conversations
We’ve analyzed our situation
There’s only so much that words can say
After awhile they just get in the way

So let’s stop talking about it
And start getting down to love
Let’s stop talking about it
We’ve already said enough

This is followed the Troy Seal-Mike Reid collaboration “Lonely People”, a quiet ballad that makes for a decent album track.

Written by Dennis Linde and Alan Rush, “Walkin’ A Broken Heart” would be released as a single by Don Williams in 1985, reaching #2. Janie does a really nice job with the song and I think the song could have been a big hit for her. I slightly prefer Don’s version but it’s a thin margin of preference.

Walkin’ down this midnight street
Just the sound of two lonely feet
Walkin’ a broken heart
Walkin’ a broken heart

Empty city, not a soul in sight
And a misty rain falls on a perfect night
To walk a broken heart
To walk a broken heart

And I know that you’re thinkin’
This couldn’t happen to you
But you’re a fool for believing
Dreams don’t fly away, cause they do.

Another slow ballad follows in “I’ve Had All The Love I Can Stand”. Janie sings it well, but the song to me is a bit overwrought and not of much interest. The Nashville String Machine is prominent in the arrangement.

The album closes with “Where’s The Fire”, a nice upbeat melody camouflaging a song of angst as the narrator asks her love why he’s in such a hurry to leave.

For me this album is a bit of a mixed bag. Janie is in good voice throughout, and I appreciated the more mature lyrics but I’d like to hear more fiddle and steel. That said, this album is quite worthwhile.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘Singer Of Songs’

After nearly a decade as a background singer, and singer of television jingles, Janie Fricke finally emerged with her first ever album, released in May 1978. At the time Janie was six months past her 30th birthday, a rather late start for becoming a solo singer. This is not to say that Janie was an unknown quantity in Nashville, as she had sung background for many of Nashville’s elite such as Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap, Lynn Anderson and Conway Twitty.

Ultimately, it was her work on several of Johnny Duncan’s hits “Jo and the Cowboy,” “Thinkin’ of a Rendezvous,” “It Couldn’t Have Been Any Better,” and “Stranger” that brought her talents to the forefront. Whereas she had not been given label credit on the earlier hits, Janie was given equal billing with Duncan on his recording of “Come a Little Bit Closer”.

While Singer of Songs is a bit generic and doesn’t give Janie much chance to show off her vocal prowess, it was a decent initial effort and did produce three decent singles.

The album opens with “I Loved You All The Way”, a bland easy listening ballad with full Nashville Sound treatment. This is followed by “We Could Have Been The Closest Of Friends”, another bland ballad, albeit with a bit more muscular vocal by Fricke.

This is followed by “You Changed My Life in A Moment”, a song I can envision the Carpenters singing – in other words yet another string-laden ballad.

The nights the sky was filled with clouds
My worried mind was filled with fears
I couldn’t count all the lonely hours
Spent with memories and tears

I never thought I would see the day
When I could throw all my sorrow away
But then you came and you showed me the way
You have made all those times disappear

You changed my life in a moment
And I’ll never be the same again
You changed my life in a moment
And it’s hard for me to understand
With a touch of your hand
In a moment of time
All my sorrow is gone

The fourth track “No One’s Ever Gonna Love You”, while not very country, at least has some grit to it and finds Janie giving a forceful R&B vocal that gives a hint as to the power behind her voice.

Track five (aka the last track on the A side of the vinyl release) is “I Believe In You” a nice easy listening ballad that is not the same song as the Don Williams hit.

Track six was the first track on Side Two of the vinyl album, Janie’s cover of Hank Locklin’s huge hit “Please Help Me I’m Falling”. Janie takes the song at a slower tempo than the original but acquits herself well. This is the first song on the album that I would actually describe as Country music, and it is the only track to feature steel guitar. This was the third single from the album and reached #12 – the Canadian country charts had it reach #4.

The first single, “What Are You Doing Tonight” reached #21 and got to #14 on the Canadian country charts. This is a nice pop county song written by Bob McDill.

Maybe I’m saying too much
After all, I just met you
But I’ve got to say just what I feel
I hope it won’t upset you

I think you’re the one I’ve been dreaming of
With a little time we might fall in love

So what’re you doing tonight
What’re you doing tonight
The wind is warm and the stars are bright
What’re you doing tonight

“Week-End Friend” was released by Con Hunley as a single reaching #13. Both Janie and Con gave this song a soulful R&B treatment which effectively showcased the song. This is the only track on the album to feature trumpet and sax.

Friday night don’t come soon enough
When I’ve been waitin’ all week for love
6:05 the train will arrive
He’ll be coming in

I’ve got a week-end friend
I’ve got a week-end friend

He’ll have that special look upon his face
And if it ain’t rainin’ we’ll go to my place
And when we close the door the feeling will pour
All over us again

I’ve got a week-end friend
I’ve got a week-end friend

Track nine is “Baby It’s You” was the second single, reaching #21 (and #19 in Canada). It’s a mid-tempo ballad, again with more of an R&B feel than country. This is not the same song that the Shirells, the Carpenters and Jody Miller took onto the charts.

The album closes with another Bob McDill song, “I Think I’m Falling In Love”. On this track Janie’s vocals give strong evidence as to what her vocals would sound like on future albums.

This is a very tentative album for a singer is struggling to find her voice and her muse. In my opinion tracks 6-10 are much stronger that tracks 1-5 in that the producers took more chances with the arrangements and material and smothered her less with string arrangements. I would give this album a C+ based on the strength of tracks 6-10.

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Sweet Country’

Charley Pride released his seventeenth album, Sweet Country, via RCA Victor in 1973. It was helmed, as per usual, by Jack Clement.

The album spawned two singles, both of which topped the charts. The honest, “A Shoulder To Cry On,” a ballad about a man taking advantage of a friend’s emotional support, was lovingly written by Merle Haggard (he recorded his own version, on It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad) a year earlier). “Don’t Fight the Feelings of Love,” written by John Schweers, is an excellent country shuffle.

No less than three of the album’s ten tracks were penned by Ben Peters, who had given Pride his career hit (“Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’”) just two years earlier. “The Happiest Song on the Jukebox,” a bright traditional tune, is both a study in familiarity and contrast. This is Pride’s signature style, yet the lyric contradicts everything we’ve come to know about jukebox songs. Trading sad songs for happy ones isn’t something you hear every day. Peters also contributed “Just To Be Loved By You,” a pleasant string-laced ballad and “Tennessee Girl,” a mid-tempo ode to the woman and lifestyle left behind in hopes of greener pastures that never materialized.

Don Williams is responsible for “The Shelter of Your Eyes,” which he recorded the following year on his Volume One album. Pride does a surprisingly decent job with the dobro accented ballad, especially since he and Williams don’t have similar styles at all (in all fairness, no one captures the mellow conversational tone Williams brought to his music).

“I’m Learning to Love Her,” written by Johnny Duncan, is as honest and forthright a love song as I’ve ever heard. The protagonist is talking with his old love about his new flame, admitting that he’s simply “learning to love her in time.” George Strait knows “You Can’t Make A Heart Love Somebody,” but with a little patience, Duncan and Pride believe it’s possible to come around.

“Along the Mississippi,” an ode to happy memories along the titular river, is an engaging and ear-catching mid-tempo number. “Love Unending” is a sonically adventurous love song, with a man making promises to the woman he hopes will confess her love to him. “Pass Me By” is a piano and steel drenched ballad in which a guy wants something more, but if the woman can’t give it to him, he hopes she’ll just leave him alone.

Of the three albums I reviewed this month, Sweet Country shows the most progression in Pride’s development as an artist. The Nashville Sound era trappings are gone, due to the changing tides in mainstream country, and the music itself is less cheesy. This is the style of Pride’s music I prefer and thus Sweet Country is indeed excellent.

Grade: A

Album Review: Lonesome River Band – ‘Mayhayley’s House’

The Lonesome River Band are a veteran band on paper, but have seen many changes of personnel over the years. As one expects from this band, the instrumental playing is brilliant but tasteful, with banjo star Sammy Shelor anchoring the sound. Both the current lead singers are outstanding too – the smoky characterful baritone of Brandon Rickman (one of my favorite singers across country and bluegrass) almost matched by the strong, if less distincive, tenor of Jesse Smathers.

A number of well known country songs get a bluegrass treatment . Crystal Gayle’s early hit ‘Wrong Road Again’ is delightful. The Don Williams hit ‘Old Coyote Town’ is given an absolutely beautiful reading by Brandon Rickman. Western Swing classic ‘Ida Red’ becomes a pacy bluegrass romp. A less well known cover, ‘Hickory Hollow Times & County News’ was on Charley Pride’s 2011 album Choices. Rickman’s warm vocals suit the song’s sweet nostalgia.

‘As The Crow Flies’, a plaintive Billy Yates/Melba Montgomery love song which Yates has recorded, has another lovely vocal from Rickman. The lyric refers to both the title bird and to blackbirds, both of which make a more ominous appearance in ‘Blackbirds And Crows’, an excellent murder ballad about a possesive husband and restless wife he just can’t bear to let go:

Blackbird sat on a fence line
Crow flew through the sky
I whispered low into Eva’s ear
Eva you’re gonna die

She’s a half a mile out, a quarter across
Beneath those wheatfield rows
And no one knows who put her there
But the blackbirds and the crows

Folks come by and we sit around
And I tell them how she’s gone
I tell them how she packed her bags
And wrecked our happy home
Lord I tell them she’s down in Atlanta
Doin’ cocaine and God only knows
But Eva’s not gone
She’s here with me
Right here where she’ll always be
With the blackbirds and the crows

It was written by Don Humphries.

The atmospheric title track, an Adam Wright song based on a true story, is about a rural Georgia psychic from the mid 20th century, to whom the album as a whole is dedicated.

‘Diggin’’ is a pretty good mid-tempo song about struggling to make ends meet that manages to sound bright despite the despairing lyric. The similarly upbeat ‘As Lonesome As I Am’, written by Matt Lindsey and Shawn Camp, is a more overtly optimistic song about expecting things can only get better. ‘I Think I’m Gonna Be Alright’ sees the protagonist coping well enough with a breakup.

Some fantastic fiddle (from Mike Hartgrove) leads the fast paced ‘Lonesome Bone’. ‘It Feels Real Good Goin’ Down’, written by Gary Nicholson and Shawn Camp, is a vibrant drinking-away-the-pain song. Thw album closes with a frenetic arrangement of the bluegrass standard ‘Fly Around y Pretty Little Miss’.

This is an excellent album which should appeal to country fans with an interest in bluegrass.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Currents’

Before we get underway with our Johnny Paycheck spotlight, we have some unfinished business concerning last month’s spotlight artist Don Williams.  Through an oversight, this review was not published on Monday, May 29th as originally intended, so we are bringing it to you now — a little late but worth the wait.

The year 1992 was an interesting year in country music as the ‘New Traditionalist’ movement reached its zenith following the first flowering in 1986 (Randy Travis, Travis Tritt,  Dwight Yoakam) and the vaunted class of 1989 led by Alan Jackson, Clint Black and Garth Brooks. By 1992 so-called hat acts proliferated and even when the music was not strictly traditionalist, fiddle and steel guitar were prominently featured in the music.

In 1987 Hank Williams Jr.  and a cadre of younger artists presaged the 1992 music scene with the video “Young Country”, but with one exception: while the listeners may have been listening to both the new acts and the older acts in concert (and through their cassette and CD collections), radio had completely discarded Haggard and Jones and almost discarded the 48 year old Hank Williams Jr.

Currents, which was released in April 1992, was the third (and final) Don Williams album to be released on the RCA label.  Don had enjoyed three top ten hits off the previous album True Love, but those would prove to be the last top forty chart hits of Don’s career.  Make no mistake about it, Currents, like every album Don released before it (or even after it, for that matter) is a very good album. The problem with the album was the ‘Young Country’ movement was in full swing and the fifty-three year old Williams looked like ‘Old Country’ even if his music was not exactly of the Ernest Tubb/Hank Sr. old school vintage. In fact with his rapidly graying beard, Don looked even a bit older than his age. Radio simply quit playing him.

The album opens up with a Hugh Prestwood song, “Only Water (Shining In The Air)”, mid-tempo ballad with a little different sound than previous efforts:

Not that long ago, I was on the run
People telling me I should be someone
And the things I’d learnt were forgotten in my haste
Till I reached the end of the rainbow I had chased
It was only water shining in thin air
I put out my hand and there was nothing there
After all the promise, after all the prayer
It was only water shining in the air
Now I’ve got a wife and she sees me through
And I’ve got a friend I can talk straight to
And I’ve got some dreams just a bit more down to earth
And I don’t forget what a rainbow’s really worth

“Too Much Love” has a sing-a-long quality to it and, again, a little more of a contemporary sound to it. Written by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, the song has rather bouncy lyrics of not much substance. The song was released as the second single; it deserved a better fate than dying at #72.

Too much coffee, too much tea, too much sugar isn’t good for me.
Too much money and too much fame, too much liqueur drives a man insane.
But too much love, too much love, there’s no such thing as too much love.
Too much fighting and misery, there’s too much trouble in this world for me.
There’s too much of this and too much of that and too much of anything will make you fat.
But too much love, too much love, there’s no such thing as too much love.

I really liked “That Song About The Water”, in fact it is my favorite song on the album. I think it would have made a good single but I doubt radio would have played it either. Penned by Charles John Quarto and Steve Gillette, the song is a slow ballad that sounds like a typical late 60s – early 70s production with steel guitar and (to a lesser degree) harmonica very prominent in the arrangement. I can hear this as a track on a Charley Pride album from that period.

I have seen the paddle wheelers
Rolling south on a summers day
I’ve seen the lovers at the guardrails
With stars in their lemonade
And I’ve heard the hobos gather
Heard their banjos brace the blade
Heard them sing about the river
Called it the lazy mans parade
Sing me that song about the river
Green going away
You know I always did feel like a drifter
At this time of day

Alex Harvey wrote “Catfish Bates” the third single from the album and the first Don Williams single not to chart after fifty-three consecutive solo chart singles. This mid-tempo ballad also features mid-70s country production. If released as a single 15-18 years earlier, I think it would have been a substantial hit. Of course, I may be prejudiced since fried catfish is my favorite form of seafood:

They call me Catfish Bates
‘Cause I can catch a catfish anytime I want to
Even when the moon man tells me they won’t bite
They call me Catfish Bates
‘Cause I know where that big ole flathead’s a hidin’.
I’m a gonna take him home with me tonight
I am the king of the Loosahatchie
My home is on the river
And them catfish they all know me by my sigh

I keep my nose on the westwind
My eye on the water
And my mind on my business all the time

Don turns to Dobie Gray for the next two songs. Gray was essentially an R&B singer who had two huge pop hits, “The In Crowd” (1965) and “Drift Away” (1972). Country fans may remember “Drift Away from Narvel Felts top ten record in 1973.

“So Far, So Good” is a slow ballad about a breakup that the narrator thinks is about to happen, but which hasn’t happened yet. “In The Family” features a Caribbean rhythm verging on reggae. It’s different but it works

 

Well I was raised up by the golden rule
In an old house with a patched up roof
We had a hard home but it pulled us close
We were family
Oh that summer, when the crops all died
Was the first time I saw Daddy cry
An’ I heard Momma say what goes on here stays
In the family

[Chorus]

Well our clothes weren’t new, that old car was used
We held our own
Whoa you just can’t buy, that sense of pride
We grew up on, In the family

I was stunned that “Standing Knee Deep In A River (Dying of Thirst)”, written by the crack team of Bob McDill and Dickey Lee, was not released as a Don Williams single. Instead Kathy Mattea took it to the top twenty in 1993. I like Kathy Mattea but Don’s version is better.

Friends I could count on I could count on one hand with a left over finger or two.
I took them for granted, let them all slip away, now where they are I wish I knew.
They roll by just like water & I guess we never learn,
Go through life parched and empty standing knee deep in a river, dying of thirst.

Pat Alger contributed “Lone Star State of Mind” a song which barely cracked the top forty for Nanci Griffith in 1987. Charles John  Quarto and Steve Gillette contributed “The Old Trail”, a jog-along ballad that isn’t as cowboy as the title suggests. Both songs are good album tracks.

The album closes up with “It’s Who You Love” a top twenty hit for writer Kieran Kane back in 1982. This song was released as the first single from the album. It died at # 73, the first indication that Don’s career as a chart singles act was through. I really like Don’s version – he is a more distinctive vocalist than Kieran Kane – but the song did not do great things in 1982, either.

Lying here beside her I’ve come to understand
If you want to be happy you can
It don’t take living like a king, it doesn’t cost you anything
All it takes is a woman and a man
Because its who you love and who loves you
It’s not where you are if she’s there too
It’s not who you know or what you do
It’s who you love and who loves you
This modern world we live in is a sad state of affairs
Everybody wants what isn’t theirs
While the race for money and success in search of happiness
We turn out the light and go upstairs

Kathy Mattea contributes backing vocals on “The Old Trail”, Dobie Gray does likewise on the two songs he wrote. Kieran Kane plays mandolin and Russ Pahl plays steel guitar. Something called the Bhundu Boys plays on “In The Family” providing guitars, handclaps and cowbells.

I doubt that there was a great conspiracy on radio to not play Don Williams records in 1992 (but I could be convinced otherwise). This is a fine album, with subtle and appropriate instrumentation and featuring a bunch of good songs. This album fits comfortably in the B+ to A- range where most of Don’s albums reside.

No further chart singles would occur for Don Williams, although his subsequent albums would occasionally reach the lower reaches of the Country Albums charts.

I guess Jerry Reed Hubbard was correct when he said “When You’re Hot You’re Hot, When You’re Not,You’re Not”.

 

Spotlight Artist: Johnny Paycheck

Our June Spotlight Artist is perhaps the most interesting artist we’ve featured in terms of personality and the ability to reinvent himself.

Born Donald Eugene Lytle, and later known as Donnie Young, Johnny Paycheck, John Austin Paycheck, Johnny PayCheck and perhaps a few other names that have slipped by me, Paycheck (5/31/1938 – 2/19/2003) was possessed of enormous talent as a vocalist and songwriter, but not as much talent at keeping himself in check. As a result, he continually found himself in hot water.

Johnny Paycheck was born in the small rural town of Greenfield, Ohio. Greenfield, located about 70 miles to the northeast of Cincinnati and 60 miles south of Columbus, is a typical Midwest small town, the sort of place Hal Ketchum sang about in his song “Small Town Saturday Night”, It’s the kind of town people either remain in forever or can’t wait to leave. For a restless spirit like Paycheck, leaving was first and foremost in his thoughts.

He hit the road in 1953 with his clothing and his guitar, serving a not too successful hitch in the US Navy and eventually winding up in Nashville where he obtained work as a sideman in the bands of several prominent Nashville stars such as Ray Price, Faron Young, Porter Wagoner and George Jones.  He also appeared as a harmony vocalist on numerous recordings.

Paycheck cut a couple of country and rockabilly sides for Decca and Mercury in the late ´50s under the moniker Donnie Young. Interestingly enough, Paycheck/Young´s first single, “On This Mountain Top” was billed as a duet with another restless soul – Roger Miller (although Miller functions basically as a background singer). The single gave Johnny his first chart success as the single reached #31 on Cashbox´s country chart. While this was a promising start, it would prove to be a false start.

Our story will begin with the classic recordings that Johnny recorded for Aubrey Mayhew’s Little Darlin’ label (1966–1969) and carry us through his recordings with Epic Records. The Little Darlin’recordings will reveal some of the archest hard-core honky-tonk recordings ever made, recordings (mostly featuring Lloyd Green on steel guitar) with a taste for bizarre, sometimes humorous and/or violent songs that tempered their serious nature with upbeat instrumentation.

The Epic years will reveal two more sides of Johnny. The early Epic years (1971–1975), sometimes called the “Mr. Love Maker” years after an early 1970s hit, will find Johnny cast as a romantic balladeer complete with the ubiquitous “country cocktails” trappings of producer Billy Sherrill. The later Epic years (1976–1982) will find Johnny reinvented as an “outlaw” with songs such as “(Stay Away From) The Cocaine Train”, “Colorado Kool-Aid” and “Take This Job and Shove It”.

Throughout this entire period, Johnny Paycheck remained an outstanding and distinctive vocalist, fearless in his choice of material and basically unique in his approach to his music.

In writing about Don Williams last month I wrote: ”So kick back and enjoy our overview of May Spotlight artist Don Williams”. There is nothing laidback about our June spotlight artist, it’s hold onto your hats – here comes Hurricane Johnny.

Johnny’s only child recently set up this useful website.

Classic Rewind: Don Williams – ‘True Love’

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘I Turn The Page’

After leaving RCA, Don released a pair of albums on independent label American Harvest Records. He then moved to Giant, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, and released this album for them in 1998. It was produced by label president Doug Johnson, a longterm fan who had taken the decision to sign the artist after being enthralled by his performance at the Nashville Songwriters Association International Banquet. While the sad reality was that Don was too old at 59 for country radio to be prepared to pay any attention, the album was well received by critics.

There was one, non-charting single, the sweet, upbeat story song ‘Cracker Jack Diamond’, written by Ronny Scaife and Neil Thrasher abut a true love which develops from a meeting at the age of 14. Recorded by, say George Strait, this would have been a surefire hit. At the other end of life, ‘Harry And Joe’ is a sympathetic portrait of two old men who are both widowed just after moving to Florida to retire, and become best friends.

David Hanner’s ‘Pancho’ is about impending mortality, but with characters inspired by the 1950s children’s TV western ‘The Cisco Kid’. Hanner and his partner in the Corbin/Hanner Band, Bob Corbin, wrote ‘How Did You Do It’, addressed to an ex who is coping better with the breakup than the protagonist.

Don revived Tony Arata’s ‘A Handful Of Dust’, which will be familiar to Patty Loveless fans. Don’s version is much lower key and less forceful, with a nice folky feel. The two versions are different enough that they don’t really compete with one another, but it certainly suits Don.

He co-wrote one song with Gary Burr and Doug Johnson, ‘I Sing For Joy’, a touching tribute to Joy, his wife of almost 40 years. A very pretty melody and tasteful string arrangement provide the right setting for the autobiographical lyrics and sincere vocals. The song provides the album title.

On a similar theme, Johnson’s song ‘Her Perfect Memory’ is a sweet and lightly amusing tribute to a wife of many years:

I remember how we struggled
When we first started out
She recalls we had it all
Not what we did without
I think back on those hard times
She remembers only love
Who am I to say that’s not
Exactly how it was?

That’s how she remembers it
She was the lucky one
Just take a look at both of us
And you tell me who won
If she thinks I hung the stars
If that’s what she believes
Then who am I to tamper with
Her perfect memory….

If I made all her dreams come true
As far as she can see
Who am I to tamper with
Her perfect memory?

He also wrote ‘Ride On’, an interesting song about childhood innocence challenged by parental failures:

Some people just lose control,
Some people hit overload
Some people act like some people
They never thought they’d be
So why can’t we all see
The only antidote
The only way to cope
The only true hope is love

Gary Burr and Don Schlitz wrote ‘From Now On’, a thoughtful ballad about baggage and finding love late in life. ‘Take It Easy On Yourself’, written by Bill La Bounty and Steve O’Brien, is my favorite track. A laid back tune combining a love song with advice about not making life too stressful, with a soothing melody and tasteful strings, it is rather lovely.

A cover of Scottish folk-pop-rock duo Gallagher & Lyle’s ‘Elise Elise’ Is okay in its way but not really classic Don Williams. Kevin Welch’s ‘Something ‘Bout You’ is more successful, catchy and charming.

This is definitely a mature album, and a very good one.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Don Williams – ‘If Hollywood Don’t Need You’

Classic Rewind: Don Williams – ‘Lord I Hope This Day Is Good’

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘One Good Well’

Don Williams released his first album on RCA Records, One Good Well, in April 1989. The album, produced as per usual by Garth Fundis, prolonged his career with a series of very successful radio offerings.

The title track, a mid-tempo love song composed by Mike Reid and Kent Robbins, was issued as the lead single. It was followed by Bob McDill’s “I’ve Been Loved By The Best,” a gently rolling ballad about a love for the ages. Both songs, of superior quality, peaked at #4.

The third single, “Just As Long as I Have You,” which covered similar ground both thematically and sonically, also peaked at #4. The song, written by Dave Loggins and J.D. Martin, had originally peaked at #72 when Loggins released his own version with Gus Hardin in 1985.

The fourth and final single, “Maybe That’s What It Takes,” was slightly slower and a bit more lush than its predecessors. It stalled at #22 despite a well-written lyric by Beth Nielsen Chapman.

“Learn To Let It Go” is a jaunty pace changer, written by Reid with Rory Bourke. The arrangement, accented with dobro and fiddle, feels so tailor made to Keith Whitley I had to double check he wasn’t one of the track’s co-writers. Williams, unsurprisingly, wears the style well.

He goes uptempo again on “Why Get Up,” co-written by Bill Carter and Ruth Ellsworth. The track, complete with honky-tonk piano and an ear-catching lyric, is reminiscent of “It Must Be Love.”

Williams himself contributed “Cryin’ Eyes,” a gorgeous ballad concerning the reasons couples drift apart. Another of his solely-written numbers, “We’re All The Way” is more optimistic, tackling the well-worn theme of commitment. “Broken Heartland,” by Gene Nelson, keeps the pace slow on a ballad about feeling deflated when love doesn’t work out.

McDill and Bucky Jones are responsible for the album’s final song, “Flowers Won’t Grow (In Gardens Of Stone).” The somber ballad is an excellent steel drenched number, one of the album’s best.

One Good Well is, like all of Williams’ albums, a masterful recording. There isn’t a flaw I can find among these ten songs. I don’t think I’ve encountered another artist who is truly this timeless. You can listen to a Williams recording of any era and feel like it was just recorded today. He is easily one of the most remarkable country singers I have ever heard.

But if I was going to nitpick, I would call out One Good Well for not being memorable enough to stand out. While every song is indeed excellent, there’s nothing truly transcendent among these ten tracks. It’s a slight criticism, which I won’t hold against him, that is worth noting. Only Williams could get away with not taking any chances.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Don Williams – ‘Listen To The Radio’

Album Review: Varous Artists: ‘Gentle Giants: The Songs Of Don Williams’

Don Williams had a very successful career in Country Music and is pretty much beloved throughout the English-speaking world. Don would have a long run of chart singles (46 as a solo artist) that would run from 1973 to 1992, and he would continue to release albums of new music through 2014.

With such a long discography, the task is twofold: (1) find artists whose styles are sympathetic to the honoree’s style without being mere imitations, and (2) find some interesting catalog songs rather than simply covering the biggest hits. Moreover, tribute albums tend to be a mixed bag with some of them being very good, and others merely star vehicles for current stars rather than genuine tributes. Gentle Giants is a genuine tribute to Don.

This project succeeds in both respects. The artists cover a broad range of styles and while the songs are mostly big hits, a few lesser known songs are covered as well.

The album opens up with the Pistol Annies’ version of “Tulsa Time” a song written by Danny Flowers, one of Don’s band members. The arrangement of this 1979 #1 record for Don is considerably funkier than Don’s arrangement.

“I Believe In You” was written by Roger Cook and Sam Hogin, hitting #1 in 1980. This was probably Don’s biggest international hit, even reaching #4 on New Zealand’s pop charts. Brandy Clark does a decent job of the song, although it probably should have been tackled by a more grizzled artist than young Brandy.

“We’ve Got A Good Fire Going” was not one of Don’s bigger hits, only reaching #3 in 1986. Written by master songsmith David Loggins, the song seems perfectly suited for a vocal trio such as Lady Antebellum. The arrangement is very gentle with a light string accompaniment.

There’s a storm rollin’ over the hill
And the willow trees are blowin’
I’m standin’ here starin’ out the window
Safe and warm
I feel her put her arms around me
And it’s a good feelin’ that I’m knowin’
Oh, I’ve got a good woman and we’ve got a good fire goin’

“Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” comes from the pen of Wayland Holyfield. The song reached #1 in 1977, Dierks Bentley gives the song an acoustic, nearly bluegrass arrangement. I love the song and I love Dierks’ performance of the song.

While there are no complete misfires on the album, “Amanda” seems ill suited for the duo of Chris Stapleton and Morgane Stapleton. I really like Chris but his voice is just wrong for this song. His version is acceptable but both Don and ol’ Waylon did far better versions of the song.

Similarly Alison Krauss makes the mistake of slowing the tempo in “Till The Rivers All Run Dry”. Since all of Don’s songs are taken at slow to medium slow tempos, reducing the tempo on any of Don’s songs is a mistake. Alison provides a gorgeous vocal, but the song just seems to drag. Don co-wrote this song with Wayland Holyfield, his fourth #1 from back in 1976.

I regard John Prine as a talented songwriter but a poor vocalist with his vocal efforts ranging from mediocre to terrible. Somehow “Love Is On A Roll” works. It was a good idea to pair him with Roger Cook, especially since Prine and Cook were the writers on the song. Don took this song to #1 in 1983.

Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You”, as sung by Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, was a bit of a disappointment, mostly because Amanda Shires is no Emmylou Harris as a harmony singer. I think the song originally was an Emmylou Harris single featuring Don Williams since it was released on Warner Brothers, which was Emmylou’s label. The song only reached #3 but I thought it was an outstanding effort by Don and Emmylou.

“Maggie’s Dream” missed the top ten when released in 1984 but by then Don was staring to lose momentum as a singles artist. Also the album from which the song came, Cafe Carolina, was Don’s least successful album in a decade. Written by David Loggins and Lisa Silver, Trisha Yearwood does a masterful job with the song. I think it has one of the more interesting lyrics that Don ever tackled:

Maggie’s up each morning at four am
By five at the counter at the diner
Her trucker friends out on the road will soon be stopping in
As the lights go on at Cafe Carolina

Maggie’s been a waitress here most all her life
Thirty years of coffee cups and sore feet
The mountains around Ashevill,e she’s never seen the other side
Closer now to fifty than to forty

Maggie’s never had a love
She said she’s never had enough time
To let a man into her life
Aw but Maggie has a dream
She’s had since she was seventeen
To find a husband and be a wife

I am not that familiar with Keb Mo’ but he nailed “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good”, adding a very sincere vocal to an arrangement that is nearly a clone of Don’s original. The song was written by Dave Hanner, best known for his role in the Corbin/Hanner Band. The song reached #1 in 1981.

“Good Ole Boys Like Me”, written by Bob McDill is probably my favorite Don Williams song and Garth Brooks version tells me that Garth definitely grew up on and was inspired by Don’s songs. Billboard had this song dying at #2 but Cashbox and Record World both had it reaching #1.

All said, this is a pretty nice album. Don Williams was a pretty laid back artist and I wish someone had selected some of the more up-tempo songs (admittedly, there were not that many from which to choose). Other than Leon Redbone and Bobby Bare, no one was as good at laid-back as Don Williams.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Don Williams: ‘Traces’

Traces was the second of a pair of albums that Don recorded for Capitol during the mid-to-late 1980s.   He co-produced the set with Garth Fundis.  Never one to follow trends, Don began his solo career singing songs with simple, stripped down production in an era when countrypolitan, with its lush string sections and vocal choruses, ruled the day.   By the mid-80s Randy Travis had brought country music back to its roots, with most other mainstream artists following suit.    Don Williams chose this time, however, to release an album that delved a little further into the pop realm.  The difference in sound is sometimes subtle, as is the case on “I Wouldn’t Be a Man”, the sultry lead single that reached a #9 peak.   At other times, it is more pronounced; a prime example is his cover of “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore”.   Originally an R&B hit for Ben E. King in 1968, it was introduced to country audiences by Dottie West and Don Gibson in 1970. In 1990, Billy Joe Royal would take it to #2 on the country charts.  While it works well for a genre-straddling artist like Royal, it is a bit of a stretch for the usually traditional Don Williams. Even more of a stretch is the trainwreck that is “Running  Out of Reasons to Run”, a filler song written by Jim Rushing and Martin Gerald Derstine with a jarring horn section.   It was better suited for Sawyer Brown, who recorded their own version a year later, but it is not a good vehicle for Williams.   “Looking Back”, a 1950s-style pop song is better.

Fortunately there are also plenty of country songs on the album.  The detour into pop occurs about halfway through and is preceded by three solid country numbers and followed by three more.   One of the best is “Another Place, Another Time”, a Bob McDill-Paul  Harrison tune that was released as the album’s second single, peaking at #5.   It was followed by the excellent upbeat “Desperately”, written by Kevin Welch and Jamie O’Hara, which reached #7.  The poignant (and extremely well-written) piano and string ballad “Old Coyote Town”, about a small town that has fallen on hard economic times, was the fourth and final single, which also reached #5.   One minor quibble:  I would have made this the closing track instead of giving that designation to the pleasant but pedestrian “You Love Me Through It All”.   A rather sedate rendition of “Come From the Heart”, preceding Kathy Mattea’s hit version by two years, is a pleasant surprise.

With the benefit of hindsight, one could possibly point to Traces as the beginning of Don’s chart decline; it was his first album since 1974’s Volume Two not to produce at least one #1 hit, although the four singles all performed respectably.  According to Wikipedia, the album did not chart, which I find hard to believe considering that it produced four Top 10 hits.  It is a solid album that I enjoyed but due to a few missteps, I have to rank it a little lower than his earlier work.  It is available on a 2-for-1 CD along New Moves, Don’s other album for Capitol.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Don Williams – ‘I Believe In You’