My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Doug Stone

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2015

so this is lifeIt’s been a solid year rather than an outstanding one, with a number of interesting albums released but few really exciting ones. But any of my top 10 is well worth hearing.

angels and alcohol10. Alan Jackson – ‘Angels And Alcohol

The veteran star is reliable as ever with his latest release. It may break no new ground, but it’s good country music, and that’s something we always need more of.
Highlights: ‘Angels and Alcohol’, ‘The One You’re Waiting On’, ‘You Can Always Come Home

pageant material9. Kacey Musgraves – ‘Pageant Material
Unlike many, I actually preferred this to Kacey’s lauded debut because I found the production choices more sympathetic to her voice.
Highlights: ‘Pageant Material’, ‘Biscuits’, ‘Late To The Party

cold beer conversation8. George Strait – ‘Cold Beer Conversation
He may have retired from touring, and have lost his golden touch with country radio – but like Alan Jackson, George Strait is still making fine music. A solid classy album.
Highlights: ‘Something Going Down’, ‘Everything I See’, ‘Even When I Can’t Feel It’.

brennen leigh sings lefty frizzell7. Brennen Leigh – ‘Sings Lefty Frizzell
Only just released, this lovely tribute to one of the cornerstones of country music made a late charge up my best of the year list. A true delight. Brennen also teamed up this year with bluegrass singer Brandon Rickman and singer/fiddler Jenee Fleenor in a trio project called Antique Persuasion, which released a delightful acoustic tribute to the Carter Family in August which almost made this list, and a recent Christmas EP.

Highlights: ‘I Love You A Thousand Ways’, ‘Mom And Dad’s Waltz’, ‘How Far Down Can I Go’, ‘You Gotta Be Putting Me On

throwback6. Kevin Moon – ‘Throwback
A fabulous traditional country album from an unknown singer with a great voice. It’s a wonderful reminder of what country music used to be, with guest turns from artists including John Anderson, Rhonda Vincent and Ken Mellons. If there had only been a few more original tunes of the same quality, this would have been even higher in my year-end list.

Highlights: ‘The Storms Of Life’ (with Daryle Singletary), ‘Tennessee Courage’ (with Kevin Denney, Wesley Dennis and Billy Droze), ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)’ (with Doug Stone).

pocket full of keys5. Dale Ann Bradley – ‘Pocket Full Of Keys
Dale Ann has a pure, beautiful voice, and is one of my favorite bluegrass vocalists. This gorgeous effort shows her at her very best.

Highlights: ‘I’m So Afraid Of Losing You Again’, ‘The Stranger’, ‘Pocket Full Of Keys’.

traveller4. Chris Stapleton – ‘Traveler
Chris Stapleton’s triple triumph at the recent CMA awards, and subsequent sales spike, was one of the most unexpected in country music history. Although he was formerly lead singer of the SteelDrivers, and has been a very successful songwriter for years, he had rather flown under the radar as far as mainstream acknowledgement went. His solo debut album is a very strong piece of work, showcasing his bluesy, soulful vocals. I don’t love every track – occasionally his more esoteric leanings to blues and rock wander too far from country music for me – but when he’s at his best, he is magnificent.

Highlights: ‘Whiskey And You’, ‘Nobody To Blame’, ‘Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore’.

the underdog3. Aaron Watson – ‘The Underdog
Texan Watson has been steadily plugging on for a decade or so, and his latest album is as good as anything he’s done, with a powerful depiction of Johnny Cash at his turning point and a reflection on the state of country music. Solid Texas country music which deserves a mainstream hearing.
Highlights: ‘The Prayer’, ‘Fence Post’, ‘Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song)’.

the blade2. Ashley Monroe – ‘The Blade
A fine album by one of the best artists currently on a major label – even if that label isn’t bothering to push her work at radio. The title track in particular is exquisite.
Highlights: ‘The Blade’, ‘If The Devil Don’t Want Me’, ‘Dixie’, ‘I’m Good At Leaving’.

so this is life1. Courtney Patton – ‘So This Is Life
A lovely mature piece of work from a fine singer-songwriter, loaded with gorgeous country waltzes. For my money this is the most consistently great album of the year.
Highlights: ‘Little Black Dress’, ‘Need For Wanting’, ‘Killing Time

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Album Review: Kevin Moon – ‘Throwback’

throwbackWhen reviewing the year’s releases for my end of year lists, I realised that I never reviewed this album properly. As the album’s title hints, Alabaman Kevin Moon is a thorough going traditionalist who could have been a big star if he had been around in the late 80s or early 90s – the era of most of the songs on this album. He has a fabulous country voice with rich tones and characterful inflections, and he stands up well against the stars who guest on this album.

He teamed up with Ken Mellons (who he sounds very like) to rework the latter’s ‘Honky Tonk Teachers’. It’s an appropriate choice with its loving tribute to the great country singers of the past, and this version is great.

Kevin pays tribute to the late Keith Whitley a number of times, starting with a nice version of ‘Til A Tear Becomes A Rose’, with Rhonda Vincent taking Lorrie Morgan’s duet part. This is one track where the original is better, but it is a beautiful song with a lovely melody. Whitley wrote ‘Hopelessly Yours’, recorded by John Conlee, George Jones, and Lee Greenwood/Suzy Bogguss. Moon’s cover is an emotional duet with young singer Mary Sarah. The heartbreaking ‘Tennessee Courage’ serves as tribute to both Whitley and to Vern Gosdin, and is performed with two artists who should have been stars, Wesley Dennis and Kevin Denney, and a younger singer I hadn’t previously come across but who bears further investigation, Billy Droze.

Another star not currently available to help out is Randy Travis, so Travis’s one-time protégé Daryle Singletary helps out on an excellent version of ‘The Storms Of Life’. Conway Twitty’s son Michael assists on the sentimental ‘That’s My Job’.

John Anderson guests on his early 90s comeback hit. ‘Straight Tequila Night’ – again, I prefer the original, but this is still good. Marty Raybon’s voice blends beautifully with Moon’s on a lovely version of Shenandoah’s ‘Moon Over Georgia’. Doug Stone still sounds good on a version of his ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)’. ‘You’ve Got To Stand For Something’ features Aaron Tippin, but is less forceful than the original.

A couple of new songs are included. ‘Low Key’ dreams about a much-needed beach vacation, mixing a steel guitar dominated arrangement with Spanish-influenced guitar, and is nicely done. The title track strings together quotes from a selection of great country classics and calls for some throwback country, “with some drinkin’, cheatin’ lyin’, leavin’”, and is quite clever.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album from a young man with a lot of talent. The lack of originality in making most of the material cover songs is ameliorated by making them duets with, in most cases the original stars.

Grade: A

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Old Home Town’

51sgfnyksXL._SS280When crossover artists begin to wane in popularity, they usually rely on their country fanbase to keep them afloat commercially. Glen Campbell’s 1982 disc Old Home Town seems to have been designed with that reality in mind; while it is by no means a “rootsy” album, it features more fiddle, banjo and harmonica than his earlier efforts, as well as prominent synthesizers and string section, as was typical of the mainstream country music of the early 80s.

Produced by Jerry Fuller, Old Home Town was the first of a trio of albums Campbell made for Atlantic Records, after his twenty-year relationship with Capitol ended. Five years earlier, he had scored his final #1 hit with “Southern Nights”. The follow-up single “Sunflower” had peaked at #4, but after that the Top 10 hits were much fewer and farther between. His Al DeLory-produced albums were mostly middle-of-the-road affairs meant for mainstream pop fans, but also enjoyed success on the country charts. Old Home Town was more tailor made for the country market, but it was clear that Glen hadn’t altogether abandoned his pop aspirations. The album’s most successful single was a remake of an old pop hit for from the 1960s. “I Love How You Love Me” was first a hit for the girl group The Paris Sisters in 1961 and again for Bobby Vinton 1n 1968. It seems like an odd choice for a single, even in an era of heavily watered-down country. It’s not a particularly exciting song and didn’t need to be remade again and should have been relegated to album filler. However, it did reach #17 on the country chart. It also marked Glen’s final appearance on the adult contemporary chart, where it peaked at #35.

“I Love How You Love Me” was sandwiched in between the bluesy title track, which peaked outside the country Top 40 at #44 and the Gospel-laced “On the Wings of My Victory”, which died at #85 (which would be a non-charting single today). It’s a very good song, but again an odd choice for a single. I would have picked the more uptempo “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me” or the funky “Hang On Baby (Ease My Mind)”, which would have been right in line with the country radio tastes of the day. Even the Jimmy Webb-penned “I Was Too Busy Loving You” would have been a better choice. It’s a little syrupy and sounds like the kind of song Doug Stone would have great success with about a decade later, but it is saved by Glen’s powerful vocal performance. Nothing can save the very dated-sounding “A Few Good Men”, however.

Producer Jerry Fuller wrote the ballad “A Woman’s Touch”, which is better than the version Tom Jones scored a Top 10 country hit with that same year. The album concludes with a very nice version of “Mull of Kintyre”, a Scottish-flavored waltz, complete with Glen plain the bagpipes. It was written by Paul McCartney and Denny Laine, and had been a hit for McCartney’s band Wings in 1977.

Overall, Old Home Town is a mixed bag; while not Glen’s very best work, it contains enough decent material to have had a shot at success. I believe it suffered from poor singles choices, and perhaps the fact that Atlantic wasn’t country label in those days and probably lacked the clout to score any big hits with country radio. While it is largely forgotten today, it is worth revisiting.

Grade: B

Album Review: Jade Jack – ‘Off The Record’

off the recordIt’s always exciting to discover a new artist, especially one who make the kind of music I like the best. I had just that experience when I came across Jade Jack on youtube, and this album fulfils that promise. She’s not yet quite as good as, say Amber Digby, as her voice, while sweet and listenable, still has the lightness of youth, but she is the same kind of artist. Her selection of material is great; and the production is pure traditional country with plenty of fiddle and steel. She grew up in a musical family, and started fiddle lessons at the age of four, beginning to perform in public soon afterwards.

That youtube song was a cover of Doug Stone’s classic ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box’), and a beautifully sung version is included on this album. In fact, she currently plays fiddle in Doug Stone’s band, and throws in a catchy Celtic-style instrumental to show off her skills.

There are two George Jones covers: a pretty, delicate version of ‘Once You’ve Had The Best’ and a strong take on ‘The Grand Tour’. ‘A Woman’s Man’ is a Leona Williams song lyrically along the lines of Loretta Lynn’s ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’, and Jade’s version is very enjoyable. Leona is reportedly one of Jade’s influences, and one can hear it in some of her phrasing, particularly on this song. The arrangement also recreates the original, particularly the steel playing.

A couple of other songs were co-written and previously recorded by the underrated Ken Mellons. The gorgeous sad ballad ‘I Can Bring Him Back’ was a single for Mellons in 1994 (as ‘I Can Bring her Back’), while he recorded the midtempo ‘Institute Of Honky Tonks’ (with a cameo from George Jones) on his 2004 album Sweet, more recently re-released under the title Just What I’m Wantin’ To do). I prefer the meatier male version on the latter song, but Jade’s version (with a few minor lyric changes to suit a female voice) is very good. ‘I Can Bring Him Back’ is beautifully done.

She clearly has a penchant for cheating songs, and there are some excellent ones here, which are the highlights of the album. The outstanding ‘I Can’t Help It If He Can’t Stop Loving Me’ is unrepentantly addressed to her lover’s new wife:

I’m not stealing him from you
Just doing what he wants me to
And I can’t help it if he can’t stop loving me
I can’t stop him if that’s where he wants to be
There must be something here he really needs

A great song, and perhaps Jade’s most impressive vocal performance.

In ‘I’m Dynamite’ she warns a potential adulterous lover not to let anything get started before they go too far and too many innocent parties get hurt in the fallout:

The flame of love is burning
Just begging to be used
I’m dynamite so please don’t light the fuse
You can’t undo the damage that I’ll do
And the first thing I’ll destroy will be you

Also great is ‘I Had A Husband’, in which the protagonist discovers a very unwelcome secret her man has been keeping:

I should’ve known better but I couldn’t see
The game he’d been playin’ with her and with me
Loving two women and livin’ two lives
Well, I had a husband
But he wasn’t mine

In ‘Go Away’ she addresses a husband who has betrayed her, wanting to take him back but aware turning him away will save her heartbreak in the long run.

‘No Reason To Quit’ declares drinking to forget beats sobering up and rejoining her circle of friends who are now shunning her, because “I’ve got no reason for living right”.

Finally, ‘Tijuana Grass’ is a rather unexpected song about the possible effects of legalising marijuana.

You can get this excellent album in either CD or download formats from Jade’s website. It is highly recommended.

Grade: A

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Uncharted Mind’

unchartedmind1990’s At Last was Gene Watson’s major label swan song but it was by no means the end of his recording career. After leaving the Warner Bros. roster, he continued to release music on a variety of independent labels, beginning with 1992’s In Other Words on the Broadland label. The following year’s Uncharted Mind was the first of four albums released on the Step One label.

Produced by Ray Pennington, Uncharted Mind finds Gene including some more contemporary-soundings songs with the usual traditional fare, with varying degrees of success. The opening track “Glass Hearts” is a pleasant number that was in the realm of what was considered mainstream at the time. Released by a younger artist on a bigger label, it might have been a hit. “Snake In The House”, however, doesn’t work quite as well. It is somewhat of a stylistic departure for Watson and sounds like something that might have been released a decade earlier during the Urban Cowboy era — ironically, a period in which Watson was one of the few holdouts still recording tradtional country. It is arguably the album’s biggest dud. The other contender for that dubious honor is “Simple Minded Heart”, a sickeningly sweet pop-country number that sounds like something Doug Stone turned down and has little to recommend it, despite being co-written by Mel Tillis. It is certainly one of his — and Watson’s — poorer efforts.

Fortunately the rest of the album is much better. Among the highlights is a majestic cover of the Marty Robbins classic “You Gave Me A Mountain”, whch Watson had previously recorded for 1975’s Paper Rosie. His vocal peformance on the 1993 re-recording is every bit as impressive as it had been almost two decades earlier, but I slightly prefer the production on the 1975 version. The meat and potatoes of the album, however, are the more traditional numbers, which were always Watson’s strong point. The toe-tapper “Back In Texas” is a particular favorite of mine, as is Sanger D. Shaffer’s “Cool Ole Fool”, a light-hearted number about someone who is arguably going through midlife crisis. Curt Ryle, Mel Tillis’ co-writer on “Simple Minded Heart” redeems himself with the more traditional and much better “Mirrors Don’t Lie”, on which Gene turns in another stellar vocal performance.

Independent releases weren’t always easy to find in record stores (remember those?) in 1993, so many fans may have missed out on Uncharted Mind when it was first released. If you are one of those people, pick up a cheap used copy. The album is a little more uneven than some of Watson’s earlier efforts, but it still has much to recommend it.

Grade: B+

Album Review – Doug Stone – ‘My Turn’

StonemyturnDoug Stone’s most recent album, My Turn, was issued on Lofton Creek Records in 2007. Produced by the singer himself, the album is comprised solely of original material (none of which he wrote), without any re-recordings of past singles.

With Stone no longer in the good graces of country radio, and My Turn receiving little publicity from the label, it’s unsurprising none of its three single charted. Lead single “Nice Problem” boasts a wonderfully traditional arrangement, and a strong vocal from Stone, but is too sentimental lyrically. The idea of “what a nice problem to have” is just too predicable to work on a truly emotional level. “She Always Gets What She Wants” is a fine uptempo number and good choice for the second single. The title pretty much gives away the song, but it works because Stone doesn’t come off corny. I really like the light production, too.

My favorite of the three singles is “Don’t Tell Mama” a tune I first came to know through The Grascals’ version, which features a duet vocal by George Jones. The song first appeared on Ty Herndon’s Living In The Moment from 1996 and then from Gary Allan’s 1999 Smoke Rings In The Dark. It’s a perfectly cut slice of pure country about a man pleading with a first responder in the wake of his car crash, just before he dies:

Don’t tell Mama I was drinkin’

Lord knows her soul would never rest

I can’t leave this world with Mama thinkin’

I met the Lord with whiskey on my breath

“We’re All About That” is a fairly cliché uptempo rocker laundry-list type song that showed the beginning of this now insufferable trend. Stone keeps up with the high-octane rock of “The Hard Way” but the whole thing fails him by being far too progressive for his far more traditional voice. with a reference to Hank Williams Jr within the first seconds, “That’s How We Roll” plays like a Gretchen Wilson cast-off, a song too demographically specific even for her.

“Dancin’ On Glass” is a smooth-pop love song that fails to be anything great thanks to rudimentary lyrics and bland production. “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” is another laundry-list song, this time in ballad form about rudely stereotypical characteristics of being female. The song is demeaning in nature, which doesn’t help its cause, although it boasts a somewhat listenable production.

Stone is at his best when steel guitar penetrates the production track, thus giving his natural twang some context on a song. “The Right Side of Lonesome” is just one such example of this, a moment where he’s allowed to shine. It’s not a revelatory song by any stretch, but it works because all the necessary pieces come together nicely. “To A Better Place” also fits the traditional criteria, although it just isn’t that great a song, and there’s an odd vocal mix on the chorus that doesn’t do Stone’s voice any justice. He’s far better on “You Were Never Mine To Loose,” a straightforward country song with ample fiddle. It could’ve been written a little stronger, but it works fine just like it is.

When I was listening to the three singles for this review, I was excited to be able to praise Stone for making a record that showcased what he does best instead of an uncharacteristic effort that bowed to mainstream pressure. My Turn is actually neither of those things. It falls somewhere in the middle, settling as a mixed bag of tricks, some that work, and a lot that don’t. But he’s in fine voice throughout, which is nice to see from a country singer past his commercial prime. I just wish he’d been gifted with better songs.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Doug Stone – ‘Addicted To A Dollar’

Album Review: Doug Stone – ‘In A Different Light’

in a different lightDoug’s tenth album was released in 2005 on independent label Lofton Creek. he co-produced the album with John Mills and label boss Mike Borchetta (father of Scott). The main drawback to being on an independent label turned out to be a shortage of good new songs. It also sounds as if it was produced on the cheap, with a rather compressed sound in places and the vocals have a tendency to sound staccato. A number of songs were tried as singles, but unsurprisingly none gained any traction.

On the positive side, my favourite track, ‘Let The Light Shine On You’ is lovely, a very sweet romantic ballad written by Randy Boudreaux and Blake Mevis paying tribute to a woman who has supported her husband for years, and this track is worth downloading. The wistful piano ballad ‘How Do I Get Off The Moon’ about coping with a breakup (another Boudreaux song, co-written with Kerry Kurt Phillips and Donny Keen) is also quite pretty and tenderly sung, but the shoddy engineering/audio issues spoil it sonically. On the same theme, ‘The Beginning Of The End’ is well-sung and not a bad song.

Unfortunately most of the new songs are boring and many are over-produced to boot. The heavily orchestrated ‘Everything’ is probably the best of the rest, being pleasant but rather bland, on the well-worn theme of satisfaction with one’s simple life. ‘Time’ is overproduced and not very interesting. ‘World Goes round also boring, but worse, it is overproduced and poppy, with an unnaturally staccato vocal, and generally really bad. ‘To Be A Man’ is boring and far too loud.

The paucity of good new material was countered by including a number of covers of non-country songs. An unexpectedly soulful cover of the standard ‘Georgia On My Mind’ is rather good, while ‘Only You (And You Alone)’ is okay. ‘Tell It Like It Is’ is a 60s hit for R&B artist Aaron Neville which was also a minor hit at that time for Archie Campbell and Lorene Mann, and a #2 country hit for Billy Joe Royal in 1989. Doug’s version is jazzy and sophisticated and quite good although not really country. Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ is also quite nicely done, although the effect is too staccato for my taste. ‘Millionaire’ is a sprightly tongue-in-cheek Dixieland jazz/ragtime number about trying to become a kept man, with saxophone which would be quite fun if not for the uncomfortable amount of vocal processing evident, with disconcerting shifts in volume.

Finally, he revisited a couple of his older successes. The title track makes pleasant listening but completely redundant, while ‘Why Didn’t I Think Of That’ feels rushed.

Overall this is rather a disappointment. Used copies are available fairly cheaply, but I couldn’t really recommend it to anyone but a Doug Stone superfan. I love Stone’s voice – but sadly not this record.

Grade: C-

Classic Rewind: Doug Stone – ‘Why Didn’t I Think Of That?’

Album Review: Doug Stone – ‘The Long Way’

Unknown2002’s The Long Way was Doug Stone’s first post-major label collection of mostly new material. Released in September by Audium Entertainment, the album was co-produced by Stone and Chet Hinesley, it consists of seven new songs and three newly recorded versions of Doug’s earlier hits for Sony. Though listenable, all of the re-recordings are inferior to the original versions.

As is often the case with albums that are released after an artist’s artistic peak, the material on The Long Way is inconsistent. It opens with the pretty ballad “Losing You”, which is a little too schmaltzy and AC-leaning for my taste, despite the inclusion of some nice steel guitar work. The mid-tempo title track is more contemporary than most of Doug’s work, but it is bland and forgettable. I like the Gary Burr and Cynthia Weil number “One Heartache At A Time” about an insensitive husband whose actions are slowly driving his wife away, much better. “POW 369”, written by Steven Dale Jones, though a bit sentimental, is the album’s best song. The album’s sole single, it tells about the remorse felt by the protagonist, upon learning that the motorist that just cut him off is an ex-prisoner of war. The single did not chart.

Doug wrote the bluesy and uptempo “Poor Man’s Boulevard” with co-producer Chet Hinesley. It’s a good but not great song that isn’t particularly suited to Doug’s voice or style. Another artist might have been able to better do it justice. The more country sounding uptempo “Bone Dry” is much better. Doug also co-wrote the ballad “Lying To Myself”, in which he can’t accept that the love of his life is gone. It’s more typical of his usual style, though he seems to be singing at the high end of his register and straining just a bit.

All in all, The Long Way is a pleasant but not particularly memorable listening experience. Cheap copies are readily available but it’s not an essential purchase except for diehard fans.

Grade: B-

Album Review – Doug Stone – ‘Make Up In Love’

DougmakeupIn the aftermath of his 1994 Greatest Hits, Volume One Doug Stone’s career began to slow as his neo-traditional style was out of favor with the changing tides in mainstream country music. Following Faith In Me, Faith In You he suffered both a heart attack and mild stroke that resulted in a three-year break from recording and touring. Stone finally resurfaced in the fall of 1999 with Make Up In Love, his first and only project on Atlantic Records.

Under the direction of Wally Wilson Make Up In Love was far poppier then Stone was known for, which isn’t surprising in the Shania Twain dominated climate of the era. The mid-tempo fiddle and drum led title track was the lead single, peaking at #19. It’s an above average song, not exceptional, yet not horrible (I love the strong use of fiddle). I remember the DJ on our local country station playing the song and commenting how great it was to have him back on the airwaves.

A cover of R.B. Greaves’ “Take A Letter Maria,” released next, stalled at #45. Stone does an adequate job on the track, which retains a contemporary country feel, but the horns only accentuate the cheese factor of the overall track. The similarly produced “Surprise,” a forgettable piece of fluff, was the third and final single, peaking at #64.

Written by Wilson, Tom Shapiro, and Sharon Vaughn, “Oh Moon” is a pleasant mid-tempo rocker that exists as nothing more then filler, just like “One Saturday,” written by Neil Thrasher and Ed Berghoff. Steel ballad “Not Me” is closer to Stone’s trademark sound, although the production is a bit vanilla.

From there Make Up In Love does get better. “Room Without A View” has a lovely dose of dobro weaved through the forlorn tale of a man looking to run away from his mistakes and “Deeper Than That” sounds like it could’ve been on one of Stone’s early albums, only with a far stronger chorus. “The Heart Holds On” is a duet with Lesley Satcher that’s just okay, her voice comes off like a less polished Faith Hill and the combination of the two makes for interesting results to say the least. Bobby Braddock wrote the album’s closing number “The Difference Between A Woman and A Man,” and it’s far and away the strongest track on the whole project thanks to Braddock’s keen talent and Wilson’s tasteful yet traditional projection.

While there’s no doubting how good it was to see Stone recording again, Make Up In Love is an effort aimed squarely at country radio and it shows. The songs are mostly forgettable with diluted arrangements that strip the album of anything remotely interesting. But this isn’t a terrible album, just a below average attempt from an artist who’s shown what he can do with far stronger material.

Grade: B- 

Classic Rewind: Doug Stone – ‘A Jukebox With A Country Song’

Album Review: Doug Stone – ‘Faith In Me, Faith In You’

faithinmeDoug Stone enjoyed a string of continuous Top 10 hits from 1990 through 1994 beginning with his debut single “I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)” and ending with “Little Houses”, a new single included on his Greatest Hits album released in the autumn of 1994. Shortly thereafter, Sony Music Entertainment transferred Doug from Epic Records to sister label Columbia, supposedly to allow Doug the opportunity to work with a new promotional team. The strategy did not have the intended effect, however. Faith In Me, Faith In You, his only album for Columbia, failed to produce any major hits and was his least successful album to date. The album’s commercial failure could be partially blamed on Stone’s health problems — he suffered a heart attack in December 1995 and a mild stroke in 1996, which severely curtailed his ability to promote the album. But it certainly did not help matters that the album’s material is less interesting than his previous work.

With Doug acting as co-producer along with James Stroud, Faith In Me, Faith In You has a more contemporary edge than Doug’s earlier and better work, but the music retains enough country elements to keep traditionalists satisfied. The title track, which served as the album’s first single, is a forgettable Trey Bruce and Dave Loggins composition, given a slight gospel feel by a choir singing in the background. It was Doug’s first single to peak outside the Top 10, landing at #13.

Ballads were always Doug’s strong point, but the best songs on this album are the uptempo ones. The ballad “Sometimes I Forget”, which was released as the second single is too saccharine and AC leaning for my taste. Radio wasn’t impressed, either, as it topped out at #41. The uptempo “Born In The Dark” , a slickly produced number reminiscent of Collin Raye’s “That’s My Story”, is much better. It’s the best of the album’s three singles and it became the collection’s biggest hit, peaking at #12. “Enough About Me (Let’s Talk About You)”, another uptempo tune, is also quite good and should have been released as a single. The midtempo “I Do All My Crying (On The Inside)”, the album’s most traditional song, is also quite good.

The remainder of the album, including three tunes that were either written or co-written by Doug, are not particularly memorable. Faith In Me, Faith In You while not a bad album by any means, is not up to par compared to Stone’s earlier albums for Epic. It was his first album to fail to achieve gold status, marking the beginning of his commercial decline. It was also his last album for Sony. It is not available digitally. It is not essential listening, but deeply discounted copies are readily available and it is certainly worth the modest cost.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Doug Stone – ‘In A Different Light’

Doug’s first chart topper:

Album Review: Doug Stone – ‘More Love’

more love1993 saw Doug move to a new producer, commercial powerhouse James Stroud. The result was a competent album, but one which largely failed to reach the heights of Stone’s best work.

The lead single, ‘I Never Knew Love’, written by Larry Boone and Will Robinson, just missed the top of the charts, but with a #2 peak it was the album’s biggest hit. A gentle piano ballad, it reflects on the experience of real love for the first time.

The up-tempo ‘Addicted To A Dollar’, bemoaning an 80 hour work week for low pay, is quite good, although this style isn’t Doug’s real strength as an artist. It was however a successful single, peaking at #4.

The last single, the title track, peaked another couple of spots lower. Exploring a man’s regrets over a lost love, it is melodic and sweetly sung but may seem a bit drippy to some. Along with the bland ‘Dream High’ it appeared on the soundtrack of the children’s film Gordy (about a runaway pet pig), in which Stone made his acting debut playing a country singer. The connection which was proudly advertised on the album cover, but the movie was not well received, so this probably didn’t help Doug’s career momentum.

The best track is the sad ballad ‘That’s A Lie’, written by Doug with Randy Boudreaux and Sam Hogin about a man denying his own broken heart, which is beautifully sung.

The plaintive ‘She Used To Love Me A Lot’, co-written by Doug with Dean Dillon, is rather charming, as the protagonist broods in bewilderment over the unexpected and sudden end of a relationship. The tune is pretty and there is some lovely fiddle. I also liked ‘Small Steps’, written by Gary Burr and Henry Edwards, a tastefully understated ballad about working on getting over a relationship.

My least favorite tracks were the teenage memory of a girlfriend dressed in ‘Little Sister’s Blue Jeans’ (which is catchy but tacky) and the boring ‘Wishbone’ which sounds as though it was included to cater to the linedance craze which was one of the worst aspects of 90s country music. The mid-tempo ‘Love, You Took Me By Surprise’ is forgettable filler.

Overall, this isn’t a bad record, and one with some good tracks alongside the weaker ones. It isn’t available digitally, but if you can get a cheap used copy it’s worth picking up.

Grade: B-

Album Review – Doug Stone – ‘From The Heart’

DougfromheartDoug Stone was riding high with the success of his platinum selling sophomore album when he began feeling dizziness, arm & chest pain, and feelings of disorientation while on tour. He canceled his appearance at the 1992 ACM Awards and underwent Quintuple Bypass Surgery. Stone changed his eating and exercise habits in order to quickly resume his tour schedule.

His third album, the aptly titled From The Heart, was released that August with Doug Johnson producing once again. Upon its release critics had a field day with the irony of the album’s title in the wake of his medical issues.

Lead single “Warning Labels” was released in June. The uptempo shuffle, written by Kim Williams and Oscar Turman, casts Stone as a broken man in a barroom observing that “they ought to put warning labels on those sad country songs” coming from the jukebox. It’s an excellent and memorable lyric, but the production comes off forceful (and dated 21 years later), a little too in-your-face, and drowns out Stone’s vocal at times. The single was his seventh top-five hit in two years and peaked at #4.

Gary Burr and Victoria Shaw wrote “Too Busy Being In Love,” which topped the charts in early 1993. Like most of Stone’s trademark ballads, “Too Busy Being In Love” plays like a cheesy Lifetime movie, down to the slick piano-laced production. That being said, Stone’s tender vocal coupled with the production is still a winning combination to my ears, no matter how cheesy and horrid this sounds today.

“Made for Loving You” broke Stone’s streak of top five singles when it peaked at #6 (his second song to do so) in mid-1993. Previously recorded by both Clinton Gregory and Dan Seals, and written by Sonny Throckmorton and Curly Putman, the track is very similar in style to “Too Busy Being In Love,” though not nearly as polished, or hook-laden.

Stone returned to #1 with the album’s finale single, Paul Harrison and Bob McDill’s “Why Didn’t I Think of That.” A regretful uptempo honky-tonker, in which a man plays his last relationship out in his head after she’s moved on, is the album’s best single because it gets everything right – vocal, lyric, and production. It is also Stone’s most played (and remembered) recurrent single and the only one from this record that’s aged gracefully. It’s one of my favorite things Stone has ever done.

“Leave The Radio” exemplifies one of country music’s worst trends from the era, the clichéd breakup song with a woman packing her suitcase, leaving her man, etc. This variation has him begging her to leave him the radio. It’s nothing more then a horrid piece of embarrassing filler. “Left, Leaving, Going, or Gone” boasts a better execution, but is still as tired as “Leave The Radio” thematically. “She’s Got A Future In The Movies” (another Burr and Shaw co-write) is one of those novelty songs you hear once and like, but it grows grating on repeated listenings.  Meanwhile, “Working End of a Hoe,” an ode to farming cotton fields, has a nicely restrained production that works well. The chugging beat, laced with harmonica, works nicely with Stone’s twangy vocal.

Thankfully the remaining ballads are of a much higher quality. Stone co-wrote neo-traditional weeper “This Empty House” and brings palpable pain to his vocal performance. This would’ve been a home run if the steel had been more pronounced and heavier while Stone’s vocal is a bit too quiet.

The most outstanding and easily the strongest of the album cuts is Bucky Jones, Red Lane, and Royce Porter’s “Ain’t Your Memory Got No Pride At All.” The neo-traditional production is fabulous and Stone delivers one of the project’s strongest vocals. This should’ve been the single in place of “Made for Loving You,” and I bet it would’ve done really well.

There’s nothing wrong with an album that ties itself this closely to mainstream trends per se, but you wouldn’t know that from listening to From The Heart. Stone and Johnson highlight the worst of commercial country, forgoing any attempts to create a project with a long shelf life. Considering his contemporaries released everything from Hearts In Armor (Trisha Yearwood), I Still Believe In You (Vince Gill), The Chase (Garth Brooks), and A Lot About Livin’ (and A Little ‘Bout Love) (Alan Jackson) that same year, this is as mailed in as efforts get.

Grade: B- 

Classic Rewind: Doug Stone – ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)’

Album Review: Doug Stone -‘I Thought It Was You’

i thought it was youDoug Stone’s debut album was a hard act to follow, and his second album (released in August 1991) was not quite as good as his debut but it was still a fine collection of songs, dominated by the ballads at which he excelled as a vocalist.

The title track was the lead single, and peaked at #4. A subtle ballad about a man struggling to cope with a breakup, written by Tim Mensy and Gary Harrison, it is beautifully interpreted by Doug.

‘A Jukebox With A Country Song’, Doug’s second #1 hit (written by Gene Nelson and Ronnie Samoset), picks up the tempo and adds an ironic touch. A couple have their first big bust up, and the husband plans to take refuge in his favorite old “rundown one-room tavern”, only to find that since his marriage it has had a makeover and is now a high class restaurant – definitely not what he had in mind. After expressing his outrage, he gets asked to leave.

He belts out the big ballad ‘Come In Out Of The Pain, in which he wastes no time offering his devotion to a newly-single woman he’s had feelings for; it is possibly a little overblown but I can’t help liking it:

I’m happy that you’re sad
I know that sounds so wrong
But darling you must know
The pain’s gone on too long

Come in out of the pain
Let me dry your tears
He’s been gone for days
And I’ve loved you for years
Lay down in my arms
There ain’t no shame
So don’t just stand there, girl
Come in out of the pain

This was the third and last single from the record, and it reached #3.

Doug got a rare co-writing credit for ‘The Feeling Never Goes Away’ with the help of Kim Williams and Phyllis Bennett, a pleasant but bland love song. Williams also wrote two additional songs for the album. The fast-paced ‘The Right To Remain Silent’ (written with Angie Thompson) is an entertaining tale of a man getting caught out by his wife after a night’s carousing. The police questioning theme is neatly carried through the song, with the outraged wife declaring, as she packs her bags,

You have the right to remain silent
Your alibis don’t cut no ice with me
You have the right to remain silent
When you know you’re as guilty as can be
What you say can and will be held against you
A lawyer is the only thing you need
You have the right to remain silent
And I have the right to leave

Right at the end he yelps out an amusingly pathetic little, “But darlin’, I was only havin’ a good time”.

Williams’ final contribution (with Michael Harrell), ‘Remember The Ride’ is a story song in which an older man compares his love life to his experiences as a rodeo rider. The simile may not be very flattering, but the soothing melody is very pretty and the impassioned vocal sells the song.

‘(For Every Inch I’ve Laughed) I’ve Cried A Mile’ is a cover of a Harlan Howard/Tompall Glaser penned song which was a minor hit for the great Canadian country singer Hank Snow in the 1960s. Doug’s version of this sad ballad about losing a loved one is extremely good; the lyric is downbeat but the soaring vocal is lovely. Also good is his warm reading of Freddy Weller’s nostalgic ‘They Don’t Make Years Like They Used To’, about a couple maturing into middle age together.

‘If It Was Up To Me’ is an outstanding heartbreak ballad which is beautifully sung and one of my favorite tracks. The twangy mid-tempo ‘Burning Down The Town’ is an excellent Joe Diffie co-write about a wronged woman turning the tables on her ex and heading out on the town leaving him alone at home.

Although not quite as strong as Doug’s debut this is still an excellent album which showcases the artist’s beautiful voice.

Grade: A

Album Review: Doug Stone – ‘Doug Stone’

dougstoneReleased towards the end of the New Traditionalist movement, Doug Stone’s eponymous debut is his best and most traditional album. The Epic album was produced by Doug Johnson and featured top-notch songs and an impressive roster of musicians including Mark O’Connor, Mac McAnally, and Paul Franklin. The album’s first single was the superb country weeper “I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)”, an indulgent tale of self-pity written by Johnny MacRae and Steve Clark. Songs like this are the reason many people dislike country music, but they are also the reason so many of us love it so passionately. Stone knocked it out of the park on his first try; although he released many songs after this that I thoroughly enjoyed, nothing ever matched this masterpiece. It peaked at #4 but deserved to go to #1, and I’ve often thought it might have become a top charter if it had been held back and released after Stone had built up some name recognition, instead of being the first out of the box. But chart position aside, it’s a great record.

The rest of the album is almost as good. Doug’s follow-up single “Fourteen Minutes Old” is another break-up song despite its uptempo arrangement. Written by Dennis Knutson and A.L. “Doodle” Owens, it topped out at #6. The Harlan Howard tune “These Lips Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye”, another favorite of mine, fared slightly better by reaching #5. Stone finally reached #1 with the album’s fourth and final single, “In A Different Light”, which was written by the great Bob McDill along with Dickey Lee and Bucky Jones. It is the album’s least traditional song, but its biggest hit, perhaps foreshadowing country music’s imminent shift back to a more pop-oriented sound. It also allowed Stone to showcase his skills as a balladeer and it cast the template for many of his future hits.

I’ve often second-guessed record label choices for singles, but in the case of this album I think that Epic got it right. The album’s remaining songs are good, but not as strong as the ones sent to radio. “Turn This Thing Around” is not quite as good as Keith Whitley’s version from the year before. “High Weeds and Rust”, my least favorite song here, was later covered by its songwriter David Lee Murphy. Producer Doug Johnson’s “We Always Agree On Love” isn’t quite as strong as the rest of the album, but I really liked Randy Boudreux’s “My Hat’s Off To Him” and “It’s A Good Thing I Don’t Love You Anymore” by Bobby P. Barker and Keith Palmer.

I was still in college when this album was released and it certainly does not seem like nearly a quarter of a century has passed since then. In listening to the album again, though, it’s age is sometimes betrayed by the electronic keyboard arrangements, which were considered cutting-edge at the time but seem quite dated today. Thankfully, producer Doug Johnson avoided being too heavy-handed with them, and they are not as intrusive as the keyboard arrangements on other records of the era. It is however, the album’s sole flaw, albeit a minor complaint overall. Albums this good were not uncommon in the early 90s, and thus were sometimes easy to take for granted. This one is especially worth dusting off and listening to again, particularly for those fans who have become disillusioned with the current state of mainstream country. Inexpensive copies of Doug Stone are easy to find.

Grade: A

Spotlight Artist: Doug Stone

Doug StoneDoug Stone was born Douglas Jackson Brooks in Marietta, Georgia, on 19 June 1956, and he grew up in Newnan, Georgia (also home town for Alan Jackson). His mother, a singer, taught him to play guitar as a child, and as a child performer he once opened for Loretta Lynn. A high school dropout, through his teens and 20s he worked as a mechanic while playing clubs in Georgia, and he was over 30 by the time he signed a deal with Epic Records in 1989. It was at this point that in order to avoid comparison with another new artist, Garth Brooks, Doug adopted the stage name Stone. Producer Doug Johnson was instrumental in Stone getting that deal, and he went on to work with him on his best recordings.

It had taken years to get to that stage, but now his success was immediate. His debut single, the modern classic ‘I’d Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)’ reached the top 5 on the Billboard country chart and won the singer a Grammy nomination. It propelled his debut album to platinum certification, and a string of hit singles followed. His soaring honey-tinged voice was particularly effective on big ballads, but he was able to root them in the neotraditional style of the early 90s.

Major heart surgery in 1992, a heart attack in 1995, a stroke in 1996 and other serious health issues contributed to his career not progressing quite as strongly as it might have done, but he still enjoyed a number of hits on Epic and sister label Columbia in the early to mid 90s. After his career slowed down, he recorded for Atlantic and then several independent labels.

It is a few years since he was last in the recording studio, but he is still actively touring. Like many country stars, he has also tried some acting, most prominently starring in Disney’s family friendly Gordy in 1995.

His personal life was at times as troubled as his physical health, with a documented problem with alcohol, several failed marriages and difficult relationships with his children. However, the best of his music stands as some of the best of the 1990s. Over the course of this month, we will examine his career to date.