My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Duke Ellington

Retro Album Review: Merle Haggard and George Jones – ‘Kickin’ Out The Footlights … Again’ (2006)

kickin out the footlightsBack in the days writing for the 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. We are republishing updated versions of some of those reviews here.

This was the best CD issued this year, a romp through some of the great songs associated with George Jones and Merle Haggard. On this collection, Hag sings five songs that were hits for the Possum (“The Race Is On”, “She Thinks I Still Care”, “Things Have Gone To Pieces”, “I Always Get Lucky With You” and “Window Up Above”), while Jones tackles five Haggard classics (“The Way I Am”, “Strangers”, “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink”, “Sing Me Back Home” and “You Take Me For Granted”). There are also four duets in “Footlights” (a Haggard album cut that should ring true for every veteran musician), “Born With The Blues”, “Sick, Sorry and Sober” (an up-tempo western swing number often associated with Gene Autry’s pal Johnny Bond), and a light-hearted and amusing take on the Duke Ellington number “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”. This latter song features Haggard’s band The Strangers; the rest of the recordings are with a very inspired group of session musicians.

These arrangements are fairly true to the spirit of the original hit recordings. Curiously enough, when Jones sings the songs associated with Haggard, there is never any doubt that Jones is doing the vocalizing; however, when Haggard sings the Jones songs, you sometimes feel that you’re listening to a younger George Jones at work, so accurate and subconscious a mimic is Haggard. I suppose I ought to pick out a few highlights but the truth is I love every, repeat, every track on this album. This is country music at its best.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Tough All Over’

51T5LRAmzsLI first became aware of Shelby Lynne when Reba McEntire predicted that she would be country music’s next big female superstar, during a 1990 appearance on Larry King Live. After hearing Shelby’s music for the first time shortly thereafter, my impression was that she definitely had promise but her material fell considerably short of her talent. Twenty-five years later my musical tastes have evolved so that I can appreciate her material a little more, but my overall assessment remains the same.

1990’s Tough All Over, Shelby’s sophomore release, was meant to be more mainstream than the previous year’s debut album. While it may have been a tiny step in the right direction from a commercial standpoint, it was still significantly out of step with the mainstream country music of its day, which was dominated by New Traditionalism. Produced by Bob Montgomery, the album is built around three singles, none of which reached the Top 20: “I’ll Lie Myself To Sleep” (#26), “Things Are Tough All Over” (#23), and “What About The Love We Made” (#45). It seems odd that three ballads were chosen as singles when an uptempo number might have received a warmer reception from radio. “I’ll Lie Myself To Sleep” is more AC than country, which was at odds with the commercial demands of the day, and “What About The Love We Made” is a power ballad that is marred by Shelby’s over-singing. While it allows her to show off her vocal prowess, the record would have benefited from some restraint.

Among the album cuts, the best are “Baby’s Gone Blues”, which had previously been recorded by Patty Loveless and was later covered by Reba McEntire. Shelby’s version is better than either of them. She also does a nice version of “Don’t Mind If I Do”, a Skip Ewing number which had been recorded by George Strait a few years ago. “Till A Better Memory Comes Along” is the album’s best and most country-sounding track. The rest of the album is an eclectic array of songs ranging from the rockabilly of Charlie Rich’s “Lonely Weekends” and an ill-advised cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, to the jazzy “Dog Day Afternoon” and a cover of Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” which closes out the set.

With the exception of “I Walk The Line”, these songs are all very good but they underscore that Lynne had not yet discovered her musical direction (it could be argued that she still hasn’t) and that Epic had no idea whatsoever how to market her. It’s the sort of album that I wasn’t particularly interested in back in 1990 but it would be a huge improvement if Nashville were to release more in this vein today.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Suzy Bogguss – ‘Swing’

swingAlthough there was a swing revival that lasted for a few years (roughly 1998-2003), swing as a musical genre had its heyday during the period from 1935-1946, the period in which swing was America’s popular music. The economics of trying to keep a large band on the road after World War II led to the great swing bands breaking up and the music scene becoming the domain of smaller musical groups and solo singing stars.

Suzy Bogguss falls into that small group of country artists who comfortably perform in a wide variety of musical genres. Western, folk, country, pop and jazz all are areas which Ms. Bogguss has conquered.

The title of the album, Swing, suggests an album full of classic swing-era music from the Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie era. I would love for Suzy to record such an album, but this one isn’t it, although she does reach into the past for some classic swing numbers.

Swing could be described as Suzy’s tribute to modern day swing/jazz, with five of the twelve songs on the album coming from the pen of April Barrows.  Ms. Barrows, an excellent singer in her own right, composes and sings songs with the feel of swing, but with more modern and introspective lyrics than customarily found in the swing of the big band era.

In order to achieve an authentic feel for this album, Suzy engaged country music’s leading purveyor of swing, Ray Benson and members of Asleep at the Wheel.  Ray Benson plays guitar, Floyd Domino is on piano, David Sanger beats and brushes the drums and Jason Roberts plays fiddle.   Suzy and Ray produced the album.

Swing opens up with the Nat King Cole-Irving Mills composition “Straighten Up and Fly Right”, a major hit for the Nat King Cole Trio during the middle 1940s reaching #1 on the Harlem Hit Parade and spending six weeks at #1 on Billboard’s country chart . The song was based on a folk tale that Cole’s minister father had used as a theme for one of his sermons. In the song, a buzzard who had been taking different animals for joy rides would bounce them off and eat them after they were smashed on the rocks below. The monkey who is riding the buzzard in this humorous song is much too smart to fall for this trick, hanging onto the buzzard’s neck, with the admonition to “straighten up and fly right”.  There are people who swear that Nat King Cole was the best male vocalist ever in any genre of popular music (they may be right). Suzy handles the song effectively, although perhaps not with the quite the humor permeating her vocal that Cole had in his version.

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