My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dottie Rambo

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘My Gospel Roots’

Gene Watson has released a gospel album previously (Jesus Is All I Need, in 1997, repackaged under various titles since), but his new release in that vein is his best in a religious vein. Still a stunningly good singer belying his seven decades, he has selected some excellent songs, and avoided too much well worn material. The arrangements are as traditional country as one would expect from one of Gene’s secular records, and Dirk Johnson, who has been producing his music for some years, is in charge again this time.

The best song is the high lonesome ‘Fit For A King’, a story song about a homeless preacher, which was written by Jim Rushing and Carl Jackson, and previously recorded by a number of artists, most famously Garth Brooks. Gene’s version of this modern classic is tenderly observed and ornamented by beautiful harmonies from co-writer Jackson and the bluegrass singer Val Storey. Wonderful.

The promotional single, ‘Old Roman Soldier’ gives a voice to one of the soldiers present at the Crucifixion. A somber story with an inspirational twist, it is beautifully delivered by Gene, assisted again by Jackson and Storey. Another highlight is an exquisite reading of the emotional plea ‘Help Me’, which is repeated from Gene’s last album.

Some of the songs are old favorites which Gene remembers singing at church as a boy. The Southern Gospel hymn ‘Where No One Stands Alone’ is sung with careful sincerity. The beautiful ‘In The Garden’, another hymn from early 20th century America, gets a fuller more orchestrated arrangement.

The traditional ‘Swing Wide Them Golden Gates’ picks up the pace and is very catchy with some lively piano backing. Gospel standard ‘Satisfied’ is taken at a brisk pace. ‘Clinging To A Saving Hand’, another classic country gospel tune, is very nicely done.

‘Praying’ was originally written by Hazel Houser for the Louvin Brothers, and also recorded by Gene’s peer Vern Gosdin in the 80s. It is a sweet song about a sinner who is the subject of his poor mother’s prayers. ‘Til The Last leaf Shall Fall’ is an obscure Sonny James song which is pretty good.

‘Call Me Gone’ is a passionate ballad about longing for Heaven, which is a cover of a song by the Southern Gospel group The Hinsons. It features another outstanding vocal from Gene. The Isaacs provide harmonies on the Dottie Rambo-penned ballad ‘Build My Mansion (Next Door To Jesus)’, which is very pretty. ‘He Ain’t Gone For Good’, a new song co-written by producer Johnson, is a solid song about the Resurrection.

This album is thoroughly recommended to anyone who likes religious music.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘Sheltered In the Arms Of God’

Album Review: Alison Krauss and the Cox Family – ‘I Know Who Holds Tomorrow’

i know who holds tomorrowThe Cox Family from Louisiana comprises father Willard, son Sidney, and daughters Evelyn, Lynn and Suzanne. Alison Krauss was a fan of Sidney Cox’s songwriting, and had recorded several of his songs on her first few Rounder albums. She also admired the beautiful voices and harmonies of his sisters, and the family band’s debut album on Rounder Records in 1993 (Everybody’s Reaching Out For Someone) was Alison’s first venture into producing other artists. It was an excellent record and is well worth tracking down in its own right.

The following year Alison collaborated with the family for a gospel album (perhaps surprisingly, it remain Alison’s only full album of religious material, although she has recorded many individual songs. Stylistically it is acoustic country with bluegrass instruments subtly augmented by drums, piano and steel guitar, all tastefully played and arranged.

The vocals are mainly split between the high soprano voices of Alison and Suzanne Cox; the latter’s exquisite voice is a delight (and very similar tonally to Alison’s), and the example seems to have brought out the best in Alison too.

Suzanne sings lead on my two favourite tracks – the enchantingly beautiful title track, a simple declaration of faith; and the equally beautiful ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus’. The hymn ‘Will There Be Any Stars’ is also lovely, and she takes another lead on the rhythmic ‘Walk Over God’s Heaven’, strongly backed by the other girls’ harmonies.

Evelyn’s fine voice is lower than the high sopranos of Suzanne and Alison, and is featured on two songs. Her solo on ‘Where No One Stands Alone’ has a slow, stately pace, while she swaps lead vocals with Alison on ‘Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven’, a sprightly old Loretta Lynn song with lovely harmonies from the other girls and a sarcastic tag line (“nobody wants to die”).

My favourite of Alison’s lead vocals is the angelically lovely ‘In The Palm Of Your Hand’, written by Union Station’s Ron Block, which is perfect for her and the most archetypal Krauss recording. The ethereal ‘Jewels’ is pretty, but the determined ‘Never Will Give Up’ is less interesting.

The mellow, sweet voice of Lynn Cox takes the lead on Dottie Rambo’s understated and soothing ‘Remind Me, Dear Lord’. Sidney takes over for the album’s most surprising song choice, a cover of pop star Paul Simon’s ‘Loves Me Like A Rock’ which fits in surprisingly well. Dad Willard’s gravelly baritone takes over on ‘Far Side Bank Of Jordan’, a wearied song about anticipating death and ultimate reunion with a loved one.

The album won a well-deserved Grammy. It is one of my favourite religious albums, and I would recommend it to any fan of Alison Krauss- she is part of an ensemble here, but the Cox women have heavenly voices to match hers, and the album as a whole is as close to perfect as I can imagine.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Ricky Skaggs and the Whites – ‘Follow The Leader’

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘Good Thing Going’

While 2006’s All American Bluegrass Girl wasn’t quite up to par with her previous work, Rhonda Vincent recovered nicely with her next project. Released in January 2008, Good Thing Going is a more eclectic set of songs than we’d heard to date from Rhonda, with elements of traditional folk, Western swing and contemporary country offered up alongside the standard bluegrass. The project was co-produced by Rhonda along with her brother Darrin. Her road band The Rage is also featured on the album, which reached #1 on the Top Bluegrass Albums chart and produced two non-charting singles.

The opening track “I’m Leavin'” is one of five tracks on the album written by Rhonda and is reminiscent of some of the lesser known songs in Dolly Parton’s catalog, such as “If You Need Me” and “I’m Gone”. It was released as a single but did not chart despite the excellent vocal performance by Rhonda and fiddle-playing by Stuart Duncan. The next track, the Western swing flavored “The World’s Biggest Fool”, is a far cry from bluegrass but Rhonda pulls it off with gusto. The wedding ballad “I Give All My Love To You” is exquisitely performed and produced but it is one of the least “grassy” songs here, despite the duet vocal from fellow bluegrass star Russell Moore of the band IIIrd Tyme Out. No complaints here, but hardcore bluegrass fans may have been expecting something different. Those traditionalists should be pleased, however, with the title track, which features more traditional instrumentation and high-lonesome vocals.

The most traditional bluegrass song in the collection is a spirited cover version of Jimmy Martin’s fast paced “Hit Parade of Love”, which is possibly my favorite song on the album, though “Scorn of a Lover” is also in contention for best track. The latter features a bluegrass arrangement but the lyrics owe more to traditional country and it sounds like something that Patty Loveless would have nailed on one of her nineties albums. Dottie Rambo’s “Just One of a Kind” is also a nicely done number that should please bluegrass traditionalists.

Rhonda’s albums usually contain at least one religious song. “I Will See You Again” fills that slot this time around. It’s definitely not bluegrass, but it’s a very touching story about an elderly woman who is about to bury her husband but who has faith that she will see him again soon.

Given its close relationship to bluegrass and country, it’s perhaps logical that Rhonda would choose to include some music of Celtic origin on her albums. Ironically, however, the traditional Irish air “The Water Is Wide” is stripped of most of its Celtic elements, and thus, the tune is this album’s biggest stretch. Featuring a guest vocal from Keith Urban, the song is very pretty but is also somewhat bland. I’ve always liked this song and was looking forward to hearing Rhonda’s take on it, but disappointingly, it comes across as an attempt to appeal to a wider audience, a la Alison Krauss. I highly doubt that was the intent, but the track is one of Rhonda’s rare missteps. The album closes with the self-penned “Bluegrass Saturday Night”, which describes the hectic lifestyle of a road musician.

Though not quite as strong as Back Home Again and the excellent The Storm Still Rages, Good Thing Going is nonetheless an enjoyable collection and that is worthy of inclusion in any country or bluegrass fan’s collection.

Grade: A-