My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dr Hook

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Crazy In Love’

One of the reasons for Conway Twitty’s longevity as an artist was his knack for adapting to new musical trends. In the 1980s, as country music entered the Urban Cowboy era and adopted a slicker, more pop-oriented sound, Conway did likewise, and maintained his position at the top of the charts. His new sound was particularly evident on the Warner/Elektra recordings. Interestingly, though, he did not follow country music’s trend back toward a more traditional sound in the latter half of the decade. For whatever reason, it seemed to work. His albums from this era only sold modestly but he continued to have radio hits, although somewhat less consistently, and remained relevant to the genre.

Crazy In Love was Conway’s first full-length album of the 1990s. He produced it with his wife Dee Henry and MCA label chief Jimmy Bowen. Like his other recent efforts, there is nary a fiddle nor a steel guitar to be found, although the album itself encompasses a variety of styles from pop and R&B to more traditional country fare. The title track and lead single was perhaps his most pop-leaning single ever. It had originally been included on a Joe Cocker album in 1984 and Kim Carnes took it to #13 on the AC charts in 1988. Kenny Rogers had a competing version from his 1990 Love Is Strange album, which reached #9 on the AC charts. Conway’s version reached #2 on the country charts, a position where many of his singles had landed since he’d rejoined MCA in 1987. Written by Randy McCormick and Even Stevens, there is nothing even remotely country about this song, but it is very good nonetheless. The upbeat “I Couldn’t See You Leavin'”, written by Rory Michael Bourke and Ronny Scaife reached #3, making it the last bonafide hit single of Conway’s career. None of his subsequent efforts would chart in the Top 20. There was one last single released from Crazy In Love, though — the traditional-leaning “One Bridge I Didn’t Burn”, which peaked at a disappointing #57, despite being the best song on the album. It is, however, a track that is crying out for the fiddle-and-steel treatment. The album cut “What’s Another Goodbye”, written by Kent Robbins is another very good track that would have benefited from more traditional instrumentation.

I wasn’t as enamored by Conway’s cover of the 1978 Dr. Hook hit “When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman” (another Even Stevens composition) or the slightly overblown power ballad “Just the Thought of Losing You”, written by Michael Bolton and Jonathan Cain. Both are well executed but with so many good country songs available in Nashville at the time (unlike today), one wonders why these two were chosen. The upbeat closing track “Hearts Breakin’ All Over Town” is not bad but is only truly noteworthy because of its co-writer Pam Tillis who was about to enjoy her own commercial breakthrough.

Conway Twitty’s long career saw him embracing a number of different musical styles and as such it is inevitable that everything he did will be to everyone’s taste. While I wouldn’t rate Crazy In Love as highly as his early 70s albums, it is a solid effort for its era. I don’t think I’ve ever truly hated anything Conway Twitty did — aside from his unfortunate treatment of “Danny Boy” during his rock-and-roll days. Crazy In Love is not essential listening, but it is a worthwhile late career effort from a true legend, who truly was the best friend a song ever had.

Grade: B+

Album Review – Sammy Kershaw – ‘Covers The Hits’

Compilation albums have long been the ploy of record companies looking to squeeze that last dollar out of artists who’ve moved on to other pursuits. In 2000 Mercury Nashville wasn’t any different, releasing Covers The Hits a collection of cover tunes Sammy Kershaw recorded throughout his tenure on the label.

Not surprisingly, the album came and went with little notice and there weren’t any singles to push its existence at radio and retail. It also didn’t help matters much that most of these covers weren’t that inspired to begin with and often rank among the worst music in Kershaw’s catalog (namely “Chevy Van” and “Memphis, Tennessee” from Politics, Religion, and Her, although the latter is listenable).

Kershaw’s cover of the Leo Sayer pop hit “More Than I Can Say,” taken from his Maybe Not Tonight is adequate, but really nothing more than a note for note sound-alike performance to the original. He pulls off his Beatles cover (from the 1995 tribute album Come Together: America Salutes The Beatles) vocally, but the muffled arrangement dampens my overall enjoyment of the song.

There are tracks here I actually really like, however. Kershaw is surprisingly in top form on his cover of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” (from Red Hot + Country) and he turns in a version as good as the original. I also adore his fabulously restrained version of The Rolling Stones’ “Angie,” which comes from the equally magnificent Stone Country: Country Artists Perform the Songs of the Rolling Stones from 1998. Kershaw’s contribution is a standout cut from that project, one of my all-time favorite tribute albums. The other favorite cut of mine is the opener, and only radio hit amongst these tracks, his 1994 #2 “Third Rate Romance.”

Kershaw also pulls off a strong version of Dr. Hook’s “Little Bit More,” the only previously unreleased track on the project. I love the traditional production and his strong vocal on the track. Overall, Covers The Hits scores more than it fails, although its slightly below any of Kershaw’s strongest original work. Extremely cheap used copies are available online and individual tracks can be found on YouTube.

Grade: C+

Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Pieces Of The Sky’

Emmylou Harris’s debut for Reprise was an artistic masterpiece which stands up well today. Recorded in LA with Canadian producer Brian Ahern, who Emmylou was to marry a few years later, it brought in the influences of the California country-rock scene in which Emmylou had been immersed during her time with Gram Parsons, fusing them with some very traditional music. The musicians included Herb Pedersen (later a member of the Desert Rose Band) as the principal harmony singer, the Eagles’ Bernie Leadon playing a variety of instruments, soon-to-be Hot Band members James Burton and Glen D Hardin, and Fayssoux Starling, wife of John Starling of the bluegrass group The Seldom Scene as the main female harmony voice. Emmylou herself played acoustic guitar on a number of tracks.

Her first country single was the beautiful lost love ballad ‘Too Far Gone’. Written by Billy Sherrill and given a delicate string arrangement reminiscent of his work with Tammy Wynette (who had also recorded the song), it failed to make any inroads for Emmylou despite an intense yet understated performance imbued with anguish. It was re-released in 1978 to promote the compilation Profile, and then reached #13.

Gram Parsons had introduced Emmylou to the music and perfect harmonies of the Louvin Brothers, and a sparkling reading of their ‘If I Could Only Win Your Love’ was her first big hit, peaking at #4 on Billboard. Pedersen plays banjo here as well as supplying perfect harmonies, making this a true classic recording which stands up to the original.

Emmylou herself wrote just one song, the exquisitely beautiful ‘Boulder To Birmingham’, reflecting on her grief for the death of Gram Parsons. With echoes of gospel in the lyrics and folk in the melody (supplied by co-writer Bill Danoff) and arrangement, Emmylou provides a worthy tribute to her mentor which exudes sorrow. Perhaps in another tribute to their work together, she also covered the Everly Brothers’ ‘Sleepless Nights’ (a Felice and Boudleaux Bryant song most recently revived by Patty Loveless), which she had previously cut with Gram for their second album together, Grievous Angel, but which had been omitted from the final version.

It was still common practice in the 1970s for artists to cover recent hits. Emmylou picked Dolly Parton’s autobiographical ‘Coat Of Many Colors’ (a hit for her in 1971), and this tenderly sung version with its mainly acoustic backing and the angelic harmonies of Fayssoux Starling, is convincing even though her own background was far from the rural poverty which inspired the song. She also sounds beautiful if mournful on the Beatles’ ‘For No One’.

It wasn’t all delicate ballads. The good-tempered mid-tempo wailed drinking song ‘Bluebird Wine’ which opens the album is actually my least favorite track vocally, but gets things off to a sparkling start instrumentally. It is notable as the first ever cut for the then-unknown Rodney Crowell, who Emmylou was soon to ask to join the Hot Band. There are committed honky tonk numbers in a spunky cover of Merle Haggard’s broken hearted ‘Bottle Let Me Down’ with Leadon and Pedersen singing backing, although this doesn’t quite match up to the original. Emmylou also sang the definitive version of Shel Silverstein’s sympathetic (even triumphant) portrait of a faded honky tonk angel he calls the ‘Queen Of The Silver Dollar’ (previously recorded by Dr Hook and a hit for Dave & Sugar in 1976). Linda Ronstadt and Herb Pedersen sang harmony on Emmylou’s version.

Another future Hot Band Member, Ricky Skaggs, guests on fiddle on ‘Queen Of the Silver Dollar’, and fiddle and viola on ‘Before Believing’, a pretty acoustic ballad with a folky feel, written by Danny Flowers. Emmylou’s boyfriend at the time, Tom Guidera, plays bass on these two tracks. The latter provides the album title:

How would you feel if the world was falling apart all around you
Pieces of the sky falling on your neighbor’s yard but not on you

The album sold well, reaching #7 on the country albums chart, and was eventually certified hold. It has been rereleased on CD, both with the original track listing and in 2004 with two additional songs, ‘Hank And Lefty (Raised My Country Soul)’, which had been a minor hit for the African-American country singer Stoney Edwards a few years earlier, and ‘California Cottonfields’ (a Haggard album cut written by Dallas Frazier and Earl Montgomery)). Both are fine songs well performed by Emmylou, and it is well worth seeking out this version for those songs (or downloading them individually if you already have the album).

Grade: A

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