My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dwight Yoakam

Week ending 10/13/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Bird Dog / Devoted To You — Everly Brothers (Cadence)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Harper Valley P.T.A. — Jeannie C. Riley (Plantation)

1978: Heartbreaker — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1988: Streets of Bakersfield — Dwight Yoakam & Buck Owens (Reprise)

1998: Where The Green Grass Grows — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2008: Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It — Darius Rucker (Capitol Nashville)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Blue Tacoma — Russell Dickerson (Triple Tigers)

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Album Review: Jim Lauderdale — ‘Country Super Hits, Vol. 1’

Released in 2006, Country Super Hits, Vol. 1 is an oddly titled collection, as it sounds like a greatest hits or tribute record when indeed all the tracks are original. But Jim Lauderdale does perform the album in a traditional style, which is a nice change of pace.

Lauderdale co-wrote eleven of the album’s thirteen songs with Odie Blackmon, who is perhaps best known as the writer behind Lee Ann Womack’s “I May Hate Myself In The Morning,” which came out a year prior to this album. The pair kicks the album off with “Honky Tonk Mood Again,” a mid-tempo shuffle about a guy following his woman since she undoubtedly knows where the party is at.

“Playing On My Heart Strings” is a Dwight Yoakam-esque ballad. “Too More Wishes” is a steel-drenched uptempo number about a man who feels luck is on his side. Lauderdale shines on the spellbinding “Cautious,” about a man who’s jumping into his new relationship slowly and surely. A fiddle plays a prominent role on “If You’ve Never Seen Her Smile,” which is as striking as the woman Lauderdale and Blackmon are describing in the lyric. “Right Where You Want Me” is country rock and not to my taste at all and “Are You Okay” is a modernized shuffle.

“Single Standard Time” is reminiscent of Buck Owens and is one of the album’s strongest tracks. “That’s Why We’re Here” is slow and sparse, with Lauderdale exaggerating his twang. The album rebounds with “Change,” which has a wonderful melodic structure and an ear-catching sonic makeup. “You Can’t Stop Her,” about a guy who realizes his girl isn’t ever coming back, is firmly within the 1990s country style and would’ve worked brilliantly in George Strait’s hands during that era.

The album also features two non-Blackmon tracks. Lauderdale teamed with Leslie Satcher for “I Met Jesus In A Bar” and Shawn Camp for “She’s Got Some Magic Going On.” The former is much strong than its title would indicate while the latter has an interesting and engaging melody.

Both songs are very good, as is the album, which owes more to Americana than country, despite the abundance of traditional instrumentation. I highly recommend checking this one out. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A- 

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale – ‘Pretty Close To The Truth’

Released in 1994, Pretty Close To The Truth was Jim’s second album and the first of two albums to be released on Atlantic. I cannot exactly describe the album as country as it runs the gamut of roots influences from country to Americana, roots rock, blues and classic soul.

My copy of the album is on audio cassette so I am missing much of the peripheral information, so I will operate on the assumption that the songs were all written or co-written by Jim Lauderdale.

The album opens with “This Is The Big Time”, a clever song that compares a entertainment career with the ups and downs of a romantic relationship. In terms of sound, the arrangement reminds me of “Honky Tonk Song”, a 1957 hit for Webb Pierce. Some seem to think that this would have made a good song for Dwight Yoakam to record and I can’t say that I disagree.

Everybody makes mistakes sometimes seems like I live one
When they’re handing out the second tries I hope they save me some
Cause I’m gonna play for keeps this time
Don’t even think of lettin’ go
Cause this is the big time this is the big time
Don’t you run off don’t you get lost this is the big time

I never knew a social grace until I met one
The bells went off inside my head and all that other stuff
There’s gonna be a lot of people callin’ out your name
And saying I’m a lucky guy
Cause this is the big time…

Next up is “I’m On Your Side”, a song that has hints of Buck Owens and early Beatles without being a clone of either and with more blues influence than either.

People tell you what you need is a lesson in defeat
Got you bothered got you down not so sure you want me around
Baby I’m on your side you don’t even have to read my mind
I’m on your side we’ll talk about it more back home
Those who’d come to your defense would not laugh at your expense
Don’t waste time and bear a grudge towards the ones who should not judge
Baby I’m on your side…

“Why Do I Love You” is a slow ballad with a 70s soul vibe that I could hear Al Green or perhaps Sam Moore wrapping their vocal cords around. Lauderdale isn’t as soulful as either Green or Moore but acquits himself well. There is a fair amount of steel guitar as background shading.

Why do I love you why do I love you
Oh I give myself away I give myself away
I had it coming for holding on to nothing
Oh knowing you won’t change you’ll never feel the same

Oh but I’m so weak I’ve lost my strength
To fight such a liar that’s filled me with desire
Why do I miss you I’m dying just to kiss you
I give myself away I don’t want to give myself away

The arrangement on “Divide and Conquer” reminds me of Terry Stafford’s “Suspicion, ”and is similarly paranoid. Danni Leigh had a nice recording of this song

Divide and conquer that’s what he’s gonna do
Getting nearer everytime he gets close to you
Crying on his shoulder you say he’s just your friend
Why’s he standing in the wings waiting for us to end

You don’t have to be afraid while I’m away
Don’t go crying wolf or one’s gonna stake his claim
Divide and conquer tearing us apart
Hitting me where it hurts taking you by the heart yeah

“Grace’s Song” is a mid-tempo ballad thematically similar to the David Wills song “Song On The Jukebox” in that it tells of that special song that individuals or couples associate with themselves.

Yes we’ve been waiting to hear celebrating
For time to stand still and see us all shine some
Yes it gets better dust has to settle
Shook my head out on the sound long enough to look around
Grace’s song is playing…

“Run Like You” is a gentle ballad with a semi-acoustic arrangement

Rome wasn’t built in just one day you better tie those shoes
How do you expect to find your way till daylight’s breaking loose
Good things come to those who wait I won’t be hard to find
If you stop through and hesitate hope that you’re still kind
Get moving you’re proving things to us all
You’re teaching we’re reaching out before we fall
I want to run like you right beside what’s true
I want to run like you no telling what we’d find

The next song, “Can’t Find Mary” picks up the tempo, again with a strongly acoustic feel to it and some very nice guitar picking on the breaks. I don’t know if this would have made a hit single for anyone but I really like the lyrics

When he just appeared and those two first met
I knew there’d be some trouble that we never would forget
She’s just a precious thing such a fragile kind
She didn’t need nobody leaving messing with her mind
Can’t find Mary where’d she go
With the stranger but I don’t think that she knows
Where’s she headed lost somewhere
She just sits there and I don’t think that she cares
When she left our world it was a sudden thing
I lost my only sister waitin’ there in so much pain
And the only shame the only one disgrace

She doesn’t feel the cold rain runnin’ down from off her face
Can’t find Mary where’d she go…
How long how long how long till she’s going to come back home
How long how long how long till she’s going to come back home

“Don’t Trust Me” is a jog-along ballad sung to a girl advising her to be cautious around him

“Three Way Conversation” is an interesting song that sounds much like a modern folk effort mixed with some Buddy Holly guitar licks and an early rock feel.

“Pretty Close To The Truth” is about as close to singing the blues that Lauderdale gets. I could imagine the Rolling Stones singing the song but I don’t regard the song as anything special

Well I just need a little more time I’m begging you to give me
It’s just not right to carry on this way with you
A big boy that oughta act like a man someday
Yeah that’s pretty close to the truth

The album closes with “When The Devil Starts Crying”, a folk blues number that starts rockin’ midway through. Truth be told, I’m not much of a fan of the blues and the last two tracks somewhat spoiled my enjoyment of the album. I would still give the album something in the B to B+ but there are many Jim Lauderdale albums I like better than this album.

While I don’t have a list of the musicians playing on any given track, the following musicians do appear on the album:

Buddy Miller – electric & acoustic guitar, harmony vocals
Gurf Morlix – steel guitar, mandolin, various other guitars
Dusty Wakeman – bass
Tammy Rogers – mandolin, harmony vocals
Greg Leisz – electric & steel guitar, dobro
Donald Lindley – drums, percussion, tambourine

Album Review: Bobbie Cryner – ‘Bobbie Cryner’

The early 1990s saw all the major country labels scrambling to find new talent, and a number of fine artists got lost in the mix. Among them was Bobbie Cryner, a singer songwriter in her early 30s with a velvety voice and a bluesy edge, who was signed to Epic Records in 1993. Sadly, none of her three singles for the label peaked higher than the 60s on Billboard.

Her debut single, the self-written ‘Daddy Laid The Blues On Me’, was perhaps a little too bluesy for the neotraditional sounds in vogue, but it is a great record. The pacy tune, possibly autobiographical, relates the tale of a teenage lover turned walkaway father and the effects on his child:

Way back in their younger days, when they were running wild,
My Daddy had a dream, and Mama had a child
He said: “Girl you can’t be tying me down, I’m only
seventeen
And a man’s gotta get around, if you know what I
mean.”
Then my Mama said: “Go on” as she stood and cried
And my Daddy said:”I’m gone, I gotta live my life”

And I was born one summer night,
When the world loved Patsy Cline.
I was raised by the tracks
In a tar-paper shack
On the Georgia Alabama line
Mama taught me how to play and sing
And we headed up to Tennessee
Mama sold my soul on country, rock and roll
But Daddy laid the blues on me.

Well I signed that dotted line
I climbed my way to being a star
When I ran across my Daddy in a downtown Tallahassee bar
He said “Girl there ain’t no life on the road
You’d better come with me.”
I said “Dad, I gotta get around if you know what I
mean”
Well my Daddy said “Come on” with a tear in his eye
I said: “Sorry Daddy, I’m gone
I gotta live my life”

Some great piano and harmonica backs Bobbie’s strong vocals.

The follow up, ‘He Feels Guilty’ is a sultry mid-paced ballad written by Verlon Thompson and Tommy Polk about a relationship growing cold, and foundering under suspicion of infidelity.
The last single, my favorite of the three, is ‘You Could Steal Me’, an exquisitely beautiful ballad which Bobbie wrote with Jesse Hunter. A subtle cello backs Bobbie’s unhappy trophy wife longing for love.

She cowrote ‘I’m Through Waitin’ On You’ with Tim Nichols and Zack Turner, in which her character displays more agency and attitude telling an unsatisfactory spouse he needs to do his share:

We both work hard bringin’ home the bacon
You want me to cook it whileyou sit there waitin’
Well, those days are over
Round here things are gonna change
I still love you but I didn’t take you to raise

I’ve waited tables till I ain’t able
I’ve taken orders till I’ve turned blue
From now on baby
You can make your own gravy
Cause I’m through waitin’ on you

Give you an inch and you think you’re a ruler
My feet are hurtin’ and I won’t stand for what you’re doing

The other songs written by Bobbie are solo compositions. My favorite is the devastating ballad ‘I Think It’s Over Now’, in which she gently but firmly calls the bluff of the man who is juggling two loves:

You don’t have you say you love me
If you think there’s any doubt
But if you have to think it over
Well, I think it’s over now

Also excellent is the downbeat ‘Leavin’ Houston Blues’, a closely observed about a woman packing up her things and planning on leaving town post-divorce, with some lovely fiddle. A simple acoustic guitar leads into ‘This Heart Speaks For Itself’, a gently delivered ballad about heartbreak which betrays itself.

‘Too Many Tears Too Late’, written by Carl Jackson and Jim Weatherly, is a lovely sad country ballad in which the man who broke her heart is back again, but

There’s no way we can turn back time
I don’t want to hear you say how much you love me
Now that I’ve cried all my love for you away

Here is some gorgeous fiddle and steel on this.

Another outstanding traditional country ballad is ‘The One I Love The Most’, an agonised cheating song written by Gene Dobbins, Michael Huffman and Bob Morrison. The protagonist is torn between loyalty and passion, and we are left to wonder what her final choice will be:

There’s a letter in my pocket I don’t know where to send
Telling someone that I love I won’t be back again
But who will I address it to
Who’ll read these lines I wrote?
The one I’ve loved the longest
Or the one I love the most?

One has stood beside me in the good times and the bad
One has brought out feelings I never knew I had

One’s a burning ember, the other’s fire and smoke
One I’ve loved the longest and the one I love the most

You can’t stand at a crossroads
You’ve got to move along
I know either way I turn I’ll do someone wrong
So who do I hold on to and who do I let go?
The one I’ve loved the longest or the one I love the most?

Dwight Yoakam duets with Bobbie on a wonderfully authentic Bakersfield style cover of the Buck Owens classic ‘I Don’t Care’.

Beautiful vocals, excellent songwriting and tasteful production combine to make this a favorite album of mine, which I have loved for years. It is available on iTunes, and I highly recommend it.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘That’s Why I Sing This Way’

By the end of the 90s, Daryle’s hits had dried up at radio as the industry moved away from his pure country sound, and Giant decided to drop him from the label. He moved to independent label Koch Records, and released Now And Again, an album which mixed his Giant hits with a handful of new songs (including two of his own co-writes, the title track and ‘I’ve Thought Of Everything’, a very good mournful ballad which is worth downloading).

2002 saw Daryle pay tribute to his roots with a set of mainly classic country covers. Not everyone likes this kind of project, but if nothing else it proves definitively that Daryle was a great country singer who would have been an enormous star had he been born a few decades earlier.

Two singles were released, both peaking in the 40s. The title track was the album’s sole new song, and was written by the great Max D Barnes. Set to a cheerful mid-tempo, the tongue-in-cheek song recalls a childhood devotion to country music:

My mama used to tell me
“Son, you better get your work done
Your Daddy’s coming home at five
And if you ain’t all through with the chores you gotta do
Boy, I’m gonna tan you alive”

I was glued to the radio, listening to my hero
Singing them sad old songs
Singing them sadder than a one car funeral
Nobody sings like Jones

I’d take that old kitchen broom up to my room
And I’d play it like an old guitar
Or sit out on the porch tryin’ to sing like George
Dreaming of becoming a star

Well, things I never did when I was just a kid
Made me what I am today
You see, Mama used to whoop me with a George Jones album
That’s why I sing this way

‘I’d Love To Lay You Down’, Daryle’s last ever charting single, is a sensual love song to a wife, which is a cover of a Conway Twitty hit.

George Jones, namechecked in the title track, also receives tribute in the form of a cover of, not one of his heartbreak classics, but his trustingly romantic ‘Walk Through This World With Me’, a hit in 1967. The arrangement is gorgeous, with piano, steel and fiddle prominent, and Jones himself sings harmony.

Merle Haggard makes a guest appearance on his ‘Make Up And Faded Blue Jeans’, in the form of a couple of lines near the end. Johnny Paycheck provides a similar cameo on one of the highlights, an intense version of ‘Old Violin’; the fiddle on this is suitably beautiful.

John Wesley Ryles is one of the most ubiquitous of backing singers in Nashville, but he started out as an artist in his own right, with the song ‘Kay’, a top 10 hit in 1968, when he was only 17 years old. Daryle’s version of this fine song about the man left behind to a life driving a cab, when his sweetheart makes it big in country music is excellent, and Ryles adds harmonies.

Rhonda Vincent joins Daryle on a superb version of one of my favorite classic country duets, ‘After The Fire Is Gone’. The final guest, Dwight Yoakam, plays the part of Don Rich on the Buck Owens classic ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here Again’. Daryle also covers Buck’s Hank-Cochran-penned hit ‘A-11’ in authentic style. I think Darrin Vincent may be among the backing vocalists here.

A measured version of ‘Long Black Veil’, a mournful ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’ and ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)’ are all also highlights.

Grade: A

This album set the tone for the remainder of Daryle’s career, focussing on great traditional style country music. We have reviewed all his subsequent albums.

Album Review: Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis – ‘Come See Me and Come Lonely’

Come See Me and Come Lonely, Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis’ second collaborative album, is strictly a covers record with their version of twelve classic country songs ranging from the familiar to the slightly obscure. I didn’t even have an inkling this record was in the works, so count me among the pleased, and surprised when news broke about the impending release this past summer.

The album was produced by Richard Landis, who has handled the majority of Morgan’s production duties for more than 25 years. While he maintains the essence of each song, he updates the arraignments just enough to give the album a contemporary flair that allows the album to feel modern and not note-for-note recreations of the classic recordings from which these compositions are most known.

His choices result in a very good album that unfortunately begins with K.T. Oslin’s romantic ballad “Do Ya” sung as a duel-lead duet. The results are ridiculous but Tillis does bring vigor to an otherwise lifeless song. I had no idea what to expect from another seemingly random choice, Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs.” They handled the song with ease, as though it was born from a Nashville honky-tonk.

Skeeter Davis’ version of “The End of the World” has always been too schmaltzy and slightly comedic for my twenty-first-century ears. Morgan and Tillis’ interpretation is gorgeous and brings the underlying heartbreak in the lyrics to the forefront. “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” is similarly excellent and a brilliant nod to Tillis’ sound and style from the early 1990s.

The title track is brilliant and actually improves upon the version Dottie West released in 1978. I like their rendition of “Walk Right Back” and love how the emulate the Everly Brothers with their close-knit harmonies.

Morgan all but knocks Sammi Smith’s “Saunders Ferry Lane” out of the park, but I’ll always wonder how it would’ve sounded without so much age on her voice. “Rose In Paradise” is a southern gothic beauty, anchored masterfully by Tillis. My favorite track on the album is “Summer Wine,” presented as a duet with Darryl Worley and an almost unrecognizable Joe Diffie.

Tackling anything written and sung by Roy Orbison is a feat and Morgan and Tillis fall short on “It’s Over,” which just isn’t to my tastes at all. An acoustic take on “Blanket On The Ground” would’ve allowed Morgan and Tillis’ harmonies to shine, whereas the version they gave us drowns them out with obtrusive clutter.

Come See Me and Come Lonely isn’t a perfect album but there are some stunning performances throughout. Morgan and Tillis are on top of their artistic game even if the arrangements are too loud on occasion. I highly recommend checking this one out.

Grade: A- 

Album Review: Conway Twitty Sings

Conway Twitty’s first country album was released by Decca in 1966. It shared its title with his first rock-and-roll album that had come out seven years earlier. Unlike other rock-and-roll artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, none of Conway’s rock records had crossed over to the country charts. Although he had grown up listening to country and professed that it was his first musical love, he was initially viewed by many in the country music community with skepticism and suspicion. Later in his career he would introduce influences from pop and R&B into his music, but at this early stage he and producer Owen Bradley bent over backwards to establish his country credibility. This is a hardcore, steel guitar drenched country album from start to finish, that largely eschews the Nashville Sound trappings that were prevalent in the 60s. The vocal choruses are kept to a minimum. Stylistically, the album reminds me of the music that Connie Smith and Charley Pride were making at the time over at RCA.

Conway Twitty Sings contains Conway’s first charted country hit, “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, written by Liz Anderson. A mid tempo number with a rich melody and plenty of pedal steel, this would probably have been a bigger hit had it been released a few years later. It charted at a modest #18, but that was enough to give Conway a toehold on the country market. There were no further singles released from the album and it would be another two years and five more singles before Conway reached the Top 20 again (with 1968’s “The Image of Me”, which would peak at #5).

The rest of the album follows the standard 1960s practice of covering other artists’ recent hits. The Gordon Lightfoot-penned “Ribbon of Darkness” had been a #1 hit a year earlier for Marty Robbins — and would be a hit again in 1969 for Connie Smith. Twitty’s version is too reminiscent of the original Robbins recording; even some of Conway’s enunciations sound like he was channeling Marty. I was a little disappointed in this one; nor did I care for his take on the Johnny Horton (and 20 years later, Dwight Yoakam) hit “Honky Tonk Man”. One would think that this rockabilly number — the only one of its kind on the album — would be tailor-made for Conway Twitty, but this version just doesn’t work.

The rest of the album, however, is stellar and his versions of these songs are all at least equal to the original artists’ renditions — from the Curly Putman-penned Porter Wagoner hit “Green, Green Grass of Home” and Bill Anderson’s “Tip of My Fingers” to “Truck Driven’ Man” which had been a hit for Terry Fell in 1954. A young Buck Owens had sung harmony on the Fell recording and Buck later went on to record “Together Forever”, which Conway also covers on this album.

My favorite track is the country weeper “I’ll Have Another Cup of Coffee (Then I’ll Go)”, in which the protagonist is trying to prolong a visit with his soon to be ex-wife and children. I wasn’t previously familiar with the one but it was a Top 5 hit for Claude Gray in 1961.

Conway Twitty Sings is not one Twitty’s best remembered works, nor is it essential listening. It provides only a glimpse of what Conway would go on to become, but the material is exceptionally strong and it’s always interesting to look back at a legend at the very beginning of his or her career. It is available on a 2-for-1 CD along with his next Decca LP Look Into My Teardrops. These sound like needle-drop recordings; the original masters may have been destroyed in the infamous Universal fire, but the sound quality, while not stellar, is quite adequate.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Dwight Yoakam and Patty Loveless – ‘Send A Message To My Heart’

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”.

 

Classic Rewind: Emmylou Harris and Dwight Yoakam cover ‘Golden Ring’

Album Review: Flatt Lonesome – ‘Runaway Train’

runaway-trainThis is Flatt Lonesome’s third album and each has been a slight improvement on the album before, a difficult task since the debut and second albums were indeed excellent. On my list of favorite albums of 2016, I had Runaway Train at number two on my list and I gave serious thought to placing it at #1.

Flatt Lonesome hails from Callahan Florida, a town just big enough to avoid jokes about the entering and leaving signs being on the same signpost. They have become huge favorites at the bluegrass festivals for the simplest of reasons – they sing well, are very proficient on their instruments, and select great songs to record. The group is essentially a family band with sisters Kelsi Robertson Harrigill and Charli Robertson joining brother Buddy Robertson in handling most of the vocals. Kelli plays mandolin, Charli plays fiddle and Buddy plays guitar. Paul Harrigill, who entered the family by marrying Kelsi, plays banjo and other instruments as needed. Non-family members Michael Stockton (dobro & lap steel) and Dominick Illingworth (bass) round out the team.

The album opens with a tune written by Danny Roberts (of the Grascals) and Paul Harrigill titled “You’ll Pay”. Buddy takes the lead vocals with his sisters adding harmony vocals on this song about retribution.

Next up is “Still Feeling Blue”, a song by Gram Parsons, a would-be country artist of the 1960s. Kelli takes the lead vocals with her siblings providing the harmony vocals. Parsons was greatly influenced by the Louvin Brothers and it definitely shows on this composition. This really is a good song and the trio vocal work just shines on this song.

Time can pass and time can heal
But it don’t ever pass the way I feel
You went away a long time ago
And why you left I never knew
The lonely days and lonely nights
Guess the world knows I ain’t feelin’ right
And when you’re gone the hours pass so slow
And now I’m still feeling blue

Dwight Yoakam would seem to be an odd choice for a bluegrass group to cover, but “You’re The One” really is a great vehicle for Charli’s lead vocals and the harmony trios. This song, a slow ballad, was a huge hit on bluegrass radio.

Kelsi penned “In The Heat of The Fire” and takes the lead vocals on a fine religiously themed mid-temp ballad. Michael Stockton takes a nice dobro break and Charli does likewise on a fiddle break.

If you’re like Jonah
In the belly of the whale
Running so far
And headed for hell
Cry out to him
He’ll hear your voice
And answer your prayer

He’s in the valley
He’s in the storm
He’ll be your shelter
He’ll keep you warm
He is your solid rock
In the midst of the mire
You can still hear his voice
In the heat of the fire

The Bluegrass Cardinals wrote and recorded many fine songs during their two plus decade run. “Don’t Come Running” by the father and son team of Don and Dave Parmley is just one of the many fine songs, Buddy takes the lead on this song.

Well you tell me today you were going far away
You tell me you wanna be free
But if your new friend breaks your heart in the end
Don’t you come running back to me

Oh my darling go and stay if you want it that way
You don’t love me and that is plain to see
If your new love turns you down, I won’t be hangin’ round
So don’t you come running back to me

Kelsi penned “In The Morning”, a nice religious ballad. This time sister Charli takes the lead vocals.

“Road To Nottingham” is an instrumental written by Paul Harrigill and Brayden McMahon. The song gives the entire band an opportunity to shine.

Dolton Robertson II is the father of Charli, Kelsi and Buddy but it turns out that he is a pretty good songwriter as “New Lease On Life” attests. Charli sings the lead vocal and Kelsi takes the harmony vocals.

“Casting All Your Care On Him” was a husband and wife collaboration between Paul and Kelsi, with Kelsi taking the lead vocals and her siblings taking the harmony on this up-tempo religious song.

When I first heard “Mixed Up Mess of A Heart” on XM Radio I was floored that a group this young could unearth an old Tommy Collins-Merle Haggard classic from the mid 60s. The song first saw the light of day in 1966 on Collins’ first Columbia album The Dynamic Tommy Collins. Haggard recorded the song in 1967 on his I’m A Lonesome Fugitive album. It probably isn’t fair to compare Buddy Robertson to either Collins or Haggard, I would say that he acquits himself well, and manages to imbue the spirit of Tommy Collins into his vocals. It should be noted that both Collins and Haggard used the title “Poor Broke Mixed Up Mess of A Heart”.

Paul & Kelsi collaborated on “Letting Go”, a downer of a song that asks if love ever really existed.

The album closes with “Runaway Train”, written by Australian artist Kasey Chambers . This song isn’t even remotely a bluegrass song, but is the mark of a group’s excellence that they can take left field material such as this and make it fit in the context of a bluegrass album.

I’m gonna take you down to the railway line
I’m gonna take you down to the railway line
I’m gonna take ya where your heart won’t break ya
And the water tastes like wine
I’m gonna take you down to the railway line

We won’t take money, we won’t take the long way round
We won’t take money, we won’t take the long way round
We won’t take money, we’ll live off honey
When the train goes underground
We won’t take money, we won’t take the long way round

Flatt Lonesome won the IBMA’s Vocal Group of the Year, the first of many such awards that will be forthcoming for this talented group. In terms of trio harmony, they have few peers. This is a group will continue to grow in stature. I can hardly wait for their next album.

Paul W. Dennis’s favorite albums of 2016

real-country-musicBeing the old man of the blog, I suppose it is inevitable that my favorite albums would differ from those of Razor X and Occasional Hope. There is some overlap, however, and where overlap exists I will not comment on the album

(#) on Razor X’s list / ($) on Occasional Hope’s list

15) Tracy Byrd – All American Texan (#)

14) Mark Chesnutt – Tradition Lives (#) ($)

13) Rhonda Vincent – All The Rage, Volume One

Alison Krauss fans notwithstanding, Rhonda is the Queen of Bluegrass music and is also adept at country and western swing numbers. Rhonda has a great band and all of the members are featured. Her guitar player, Josh Williams, is on a par with any acoustic player currently going.

12) Balsam Range – Mountain Voodoo

Balsam Range has been around for about a decade, winning the 2014 IBPA “Entertainer of The Year” and Vocal Group of The Year” awards. Their newest album was nominated for several awards. This band is renowned for their vocal harmonies. Their current single “Blue Collar Dreams” is being played on Bluegrass Junction on XM Radio – it’s a goodie and indicative of their material.

11) John Prine – For Better Or Worse ($)

the-life-and-songs-of-emmylou-harris10) Various Artists – Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris
I suspect that Emmylou Harris is the most highly revered female country singer, particularly for younger country fans and pop music fans. The epitome of elegance and grace, Emmylou has also been a champion of traditional country music. This album contains nineteen tracks with a vast array of admirers who gathered at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC on January 10, 2015 to pay tribute. Emmy sings on a few of the tracks but mostly the guests sing songs at least loosely associated with Emmylou. Guests include Sheryl Crow, Alison Krauss, Buddy Miller, Rodney Crowell and others.

09) Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show – Sho Nuff Country

Although focusing on bluegrass, this veteran outfit has a strong propensity to record country music of the period before 1980, and they perform it well. For me the highlights are “Six Pack To Go” and “Why Baby Why”, but I really enjoyed the whole album.

08) Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (& guests) – Circling Back: Celebrating 50 Years
Knowing that this ban has been around for fifty years is making me feel old, since I purchased several of their early albums when they originally came out. This album was recorded live at the Ryman on September 14, 2015 and features the current membership (Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, Bob Carpenter and John McEuen) augmented by friends Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Byron House. The guest vocalists include former band members Jimmy Ibbotson and Jackson Browne with John Prine, Alison Krauss, Rodney Crowell and Jerry Jeff Walker also making appearances. Highlights include Alison Krauss singing “Catfish John” , Vince Gill singing “Tennessee Stud” and Sam Bush and Vince Gill teaming up on “Nine Pound Hammer”.

07) Willie Nelson – For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price (#) ($)

06) Time Jumpers – Kid Sister (#)

05) Dallas Wayne – Songs The Jukebox Taught Me ($)

things-we-do-for-dreams04) Trinity River Band – Things I Do For Dreams
I find it odd that Callahan, Florida, a town of about 2000 people, has produced two of my favorite new bluegrass bands in Trinity River Band and Flatt Lonesome. Trinity River Band was nominated for the Emerging Artist award at the recent International Bluegrass Music Association award a few months ago. They play well, sing well and present an effective stage show.

03) Dale Watson – Under The Influence
Had he been born in the 1930s or 1940s, Dale Watson would have been a huge mainstream country star. This album finds Dale tackling a wide array of country and rockabilly classics from bygone years. My favorites from this disc include Dale’s take on the Eddie Rabbitt classic “Pure Love” and his take on the Phil Harris song from the 1940s “That’s What I Like About The South”.

02) Flatt Lonesome – Runaway Train
Flatt Lonesome won the IBMA Vocal Group of The Year award for 2016. They are just flat[t] out good. Their take on Dwight Yoakam’s “You’re The One” has to be heard to be believed, but my favorite track is their cover of the Tommy Collins tune “Mixed Up Mess of A Heart”.

01) Gene Watson – Real. Country. Music ($)
Okay, so I lied, but I cannot let the #1 album go by without the comment that I consider Gene Watson to be the best country male vocalist alive today and that I pray that 2017 sees another new release from Gene.

50th CMA Awards: Grading the Twenty Performances

Instead of the typical CMA Awards prediction post, I thought it might be fun to rank the twenty performances, all of which brought something special to the evening. Here they are, in ascending order, with commentary:

20.

imrs-phpBeyoncé Feat. Dixie Chicks – Daddy’s Lessons

The most debated moment of the night was the worst performance in recent CMA history, an embarrassment to country music and the fifty years of the organization. Beyoncé was the antithesis of our genre with her staged antics and complete lack of authenticity. If Dixie Chicks had performed this song alone, like they did on tour, it would’ve been a slam-dunk. They were never the problem. Beyoncé is to blame for this mess.

Grade: F

19.

Kelsea Ballerini – Peter Pan

I feel bad for her. It seems Ballerini never got the memo that this was the CMA Awards and not a sideshow at Magic Kingdom. Everything about this was wrong – the visuals, wind machine and, most of all, the dancers. Once I saw the harness in plain sight, I knew it was over.

Grade: F 

 18.

362x204-q100_121d9e867599857df2132b3b6c77e0c8Luke Bryan – Move

Nashville is perennially behind the trends as evidenced by Bryan’s completely out of place performance. One of only two I purposefully fast forwarded through.

Grade: F 

 17.

Florida Georgia Line feat. Tim McGraw – May We All 

Stood out like a sore thumb, for all the wrong reasons. Not even McGraw could redeem this disaster.

Grade: F  

16.

gettyimages-620669440-43407842-8b2a-437b-a6e4-f643a1b5b104Carrie Underwood – Dirty Laundry

The newly minted Female Vocalist of the Year gave the third weakest performance of this year’s nominees. I commend her use of an all-female band, but disliked everything else from the visuals to Underwood’s dancing. It all starts with the song and this one is among her worst.

Grade: D+

15.

Thomas Rhett – Die A Happy Man

The biggest hit of the year gave Thomas Rhett a moment his other radio singles proves he doesn’t deserve. He remained gracious throughout the night, proving he can turn it on when it counts. I just wish it wasn’t an act.

Grade: B- 

14.

362x204-q100_b63432d74b677e29d35917efd7490170Keith Urban – Blue Ain’t Your Color

A perfectly serviceable performance of an above average song. He did nothing to stand out from the pack neither adding to nor distracting from the night’s more significant moments.

Grade: B

13.

Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – Different for Girls 

At least Bentley wasn’t showcasing the rowdier side of Black. He and King didn’t do anything to stand out and the whole thing was more middle of the road than anything else.

Grade: B

 12.

landscape-1478192054-gettyimages-620693852Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Jennifer Nettles and Carrie Underwood – Dolly Parton Tribute 

I have nothing against Parton nor do I deny her incredible legacy as a pioneer in the genre. But it’s time to honor someone else. Parton has been lauded and it’s so old at this point, it’s unspectacular. That’s not to say this wasn’t a great medley, it was. I just wish it had been for someone different, like say, Tanya Tucker.

Grade: B

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Classic Rewind: Asleep At the Wheel ft Dwight Yoakam – ‘San Antonio Rose’

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars’

swimmin-poolsDwight Yoakam may be best known for his Bakersfield Sound and California country rock influences, but he was born in Kentucky. Bluegrass influences have occasionally been revealed in odd tracks over the years, but on this first bluegrass album, Dwight revisits a generally fairly obscure selection of his older material and makes it over, with the help of producers Gary Paczosa and Jon Randall. This is not a politely acoustic ‘pretty’ bluegrass set, or a self-consciously traditional one, but a punchy rough-edged one with drive and attitude. The harmonies and backing vocals are actually sometimes a bit rough, but always intense and with a live feel.

The doomladen murder-threatening ‘What I Don’t Know’ (originally from Dwight’s 1988 masterpiece Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room) works really well done bluegrass, with an intensely wailing vocal reminding us of the protagonist’s pain and anger. This track is outstanding. Also excellent is the best known song to get the bluegrass treatment, ‘Guitars, Cadillacs’, while the other one-time hit ‘Please Please Baby’ is lively and entertaining.

The pained ‘Two Doors Down’ (from This Time in 1993) is not vastly different from the original, which is a good thing. Also very good is the delicately melancholic ‘Home For Sale’, featuring a booming bass harmony vocal behind Dwight’s lead.

‘These Arms’ was one of the best songs on 1998’s A Long Way Home, and it works much better here with the bluegrass arrangement and an intense vocal. ‘I Wouldn’t Put It Past Me’, from the same era, is twangier than the original, and ‘Listen’ is brighter; both are improvements.

I quite enjoyed ‘Sad, Sad Music’, but in this case I prefer the fiddle led waltz-time original (on If There Was A Way in 1991) to the speeded up version here, which detracts from the melancholic emotion of the lyric.

I disliked the instrumentation on the original version of ‘Free To Go’ (on 2000’s Tomorrow’s Sounds Today), so the bluegrass version was an automatic improvement, but it’s a relatively uninteresting song. ‘Gone (That’ll Be Me)’ is just okay.

The most eccentric choice is the only non-Yoakam original to be included: a cover of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’. The melody is not a bluegrass or country one, and it all feels bizarrely out of place, although Dwight sings it with feeling and it may appeal to those with adventurous tastes.

This is an interesting album rather than an essential one, but it is worth hearing for yourself.

Grade: A-

Single Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ b/w ‘High on a Mountain of Love’

51bARUV4GWLDwight Yoakam’s latest effort comes to us courtesy of Third Man Records, a niche label specializing in vinyl releases that was founded by Jack White in 2001. The 7″ single was released last week, with White himself producing. Both the A and B sides of the record are remakes of songs whose origins are from outside of country music. Written by Tommy Boyce and Steve Venet, ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ was originally a 1966 album cut for The Monkees. I’d never heard it before but it works reasonably well as a rockabilly number and is not all that different from a lot of Yoakam’s other rock-tinged offerings. It’s a decent song, but probably not one I would have chosen to resurrect for a single release. I prefer the B side of the record, ‘High on a Mountain of Love’, which was recorded by a number of pop acts in the 1960s. It was also a #1 country hit for Charley Pride in 1981. I remember listening to and greatly enjoying that version when I was growing up.

Both songs are pleasant enough and well performed by Dwight, but Jack White is not my favorite producer and his choices here had tremendous negative impact on my ability to enjoy either song. The arrangements on ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ are cluttered and busy. ‘High on a Mountain of Love’ is better in that respect, but one has to almost strain in order to hear Dwight’s vocals over the music. This is also true, to a somewhat lesser extent on the A side of the record. Both recordings have a very tinny low fidelity sound, which I suspect was deliberate and probably a way to tie into the “vinyl is cool” mentality. They sound like they were recorded in a garage. I didn’t like that production approach when White used it with Loretta Lynn and I don’t like it now. Both of these tracks would have been a whole lot better if they had been recorded in a more conventional manner.

Grade: B-

Single/song review: Sunny Sweeney and Brennen Leigh – ‘But You Like Country Music’

but-you-like-country-musicI’m a fan of both Sunny Sweeney and Brennen Leigh, so I was intrigued to hear their new duet. Although it’s not a formal radio single, it’s available now as an iTunes download, and it is well worth hearing.

A closely observed (if comically exaggerated) and witty debate between two women with very different outlooks on life who share a deep love of country music, the song wraps up a serious message about diversity and tolerance in a set of funny putdowns.

Brennen plays the environmentally aware hippie, and Sunny her ultra-conservative neighbour. they disdain and ignore one another until they discover a shared love, criticising one another’s choice of cars, garden layout and clothing, and swapping insults.

Sunny opens with:

I saw you pull up next door in your Subaru
I bet that thing runs on veggie oil…
I bet you’re probably growing marijuana
In that big organic garden in your yard
You walk around in sandals and pyjamas
Was getting dressed really all that hard?

Brennen responds,

I’m surprised you even saw me where you’re sitting
Behind that 747 in your drive
That’s the greenest grass I think I’ve ever seen
It’s probably from all the dangerous pesticides

They add in some political gibes, before they find common ground:

I was gonna keep my distance
‘Cause we are so different
Til one day I heard you cranking up the Hag

You like country music do ya?

What if I do, what’s it to ya?

Well, if you like country music
Then I guess you’re not so bad

They conclude,

It’s true that we’ve got nothing in common
But a love of country music conquers all

This is highly entertaining. The production is very traditional – no wonder, when their respective record collections,

cover all the bases
From Kitty Wells all the way to Dwight

Generally, a delight. <a href="http://“>Watch them performing it live.

Grade: A+

Razor X’s Top 10 Albums of 2015

As I’ve mentioned before, I generally find it easier to compile a list of any given year’s top albums, as opposed to a list of top singles, since I don’t listen to country radio. This year I had a more difficult time than I expected putting together my albums list; surprisingly, I didn’t listen to a whole lot of new music this year. So, here is my list, along with a resolution to do a better job keeping up with current music in 2016:

81qQyIJ7gjL._SX522_10. Sammy Kershaw — I Won’t Back Down

I was somewhat underwhelmed with this album when it was first release, and my initial feelings haven’t changed. It’s included simply because I was having trouble finding a tenth album that I didn’t intensely dislike to put on my list.

814d6MygkiL._SX522_9. Daryle Singletary — There’s a Little Country Left

Released this past summer, this independent release is a good example of what I wish contemporary mainstream country music sounded like — the type of music we’d likely be getting if hick-hop, R&B and the bros hadn’t completely hijacked the genre. The track “Too Late to Save the World” says it all: “It might be too late to save the world, but can’t we still save country music?” I sure hope so.

61TTBEi0Q3L8. Dwight Yoakam — Second Hand Heart

This collection is infinitely better than 2012’s disappointing 3 Pears. It’s a throwback to Dwight’s polished 90s country-rock-pop hybrid music. It was very enjoyable but I’d have preferred something more traditional, in the vein of Guitars, Cadillacs, Buenos Noches from a Lonely Room, and his other great 80s music.

711Wx-StaxL._SX522_7. Clint Black — On Purpose

Clint Black’s first full-length album in seven years was a solid, but play-it-safe collection. There are no surprises or artistic stretches, but it sure was good to hear from him again.

the blade6. Ashley Monroe — The Blade

Country radio in recent years has not been welcoming to female artists, particularly traditional-leaning ones. Ashley Monroe is one of the best of today’s crop of artists, though she has yet to garner much attention for her solo work. I keep hoping that her big breakthrough is right around the corner.

81BsXZt8UsL._SX522_5. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell — The Traveling Kind

The second collaboration between Harris and Crowell is not quite as good as its predecessor, but topping 2013’s Old Yellow Moon would be no mean feat. The fact that it doesn’t in no way diminishes its enjoyment. This is one of the few albums released in 2015 that I kept coming back to.

images4. Chris Stapleton — Traveller

The former SteelDrivers’ lead singer’s solo debut album turned out to be the year’s biggest commercial surprise. Although his soulful, rough-edged voice isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, Traveller is just what is needed in a genre that has become stale. Whether or not its success is a one-off or the beginning of a trend remains to be seen.

cold beer conversation3. George Strait — Cold Beer Conversation

George Strait’s retirement from the road seems to have had a positive effect on his recording career, at least from an artistic standpoint. Cold Beer Conversation, his first collection produced by Chuck Ainlay is his best effort in quite some time, even if radio is no longer paying attention.

angels and alcohol2. Alan Jackson — Angels and Alcohol

Like Clint Black’s latest offering, Angels and Alcohol doesn’t offer much in the way of anything new or different, but it’s vintage Alan Jackson and that is more than good enough.

cass county1. Don Henley — Cass County

If Chris Stapleton’s Traveller was the year’s biggest commercial surprise, then Cass County is the year’s biggest artistic surprise. Country music is notoriously suspicious of artists who “visit” from other genres, with some justification. But Henley got his tribute to country music right — putting together a collection of solid songs and guest artists. Those who call the genre home would be well advised to follow his example. I hope a second volume is in the works.

The best reissues of 2015

As is always the case, most of the best reissues of American Country Music come from Europe. There are several reasons for this:

1 – Until recently, European copyrights on recordings were only good for 50 years. This changed recently to 70 years, but the change was not retroactive. What this means is that all recordings made before 1963 have lost their copyright protection in Europe.

2 – The European customer for country music is more traditionally oriented than American audiences. This holds true for many forms of music including rockabilly, rock & roll, rhythm & blues, pop standards, you name it. European audiences, unlike their American counterparts, have not discarded the past.

3 – American Record labels simply don’t care – I’d elaborate, but there’s no point to it.

It should be noted that some of these albums may have been issued before 2015 but became generally available during 2015 through various markets.

We’ll start off with two box sets from the gold standard of reissue labels, Bear Family:

chuck wagon gang1. THE CHUCK WAGON GANG – THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS (1936-1955)

Released in late 2014, but not generally available until this year, this Bear Family five disc set compiles the gospel recordings of Dad Carter’s family gospel group. Marty Stuart wrote the forward to the accompanying book.

This Carter Family is NOT related to the Carter Family clan associated with A.P., Sara, Mother Maybelle, and June Carter, but was a successful gospel group that was with Columbia Records from 1936 to 1975, selling thirty-nine million records in the process. Consisting of D.P. (Dad) Carter and son Jim (Ernest) and daughters Rose (Lola) and Anna (Effie), this group was formed in 1935 in Lubbock, Texas, and became one of the most popular gospel groups of its time, performing a very traditional form of country gospel music. They were the first group to record Albert Brumley’s “I’ll Fly Away”.

The group continues to this day, although all of the original members have since passed away. This set won’t be to everyone’s taste in gospel music so I’d suggest that you listen to a few tracks before purchasing the set. The humble sincerity and beauty of the singing will likely have you reconsidering your idea of gospel music.

singing fisherman2. JOHNNY HORTON – THE SINGING FISHERMAN: THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS OF JOHNNY HORTON
Also released in late 2014, this nine disc set chronicles the recording career of one of the brightest stars of the Louisiana Hayride, whose life was cut short in 1960 when he was killed in an automobile accident. Some may recall that Johnny Cash was one of his best friends and some may remember that his widow was also the widow of Hank Williams Sr.

To the extent that Johnny Horton is remembered today, it is for the recordings he made with Columbia Records starting in 1956 with “Honky Tonk Man” and “I’m A One Woman Man”, songs thirty years later covered for hits later by Dwight Yoakam and George Jones.
Johnny’s biggest hit was “The Battle of New Orleans” which reached #1 on both the pop (six weeks) and country charts (ten weeks)in 1959. He had two other #1 records in “When It’s Springtime In Alaska” (1959) and “North to Alaska” released ten days after his death.

Those great Columbia Recordings are all here, but Johnny was an active recording artist from 1952 forward, recording with Abbott Records and Mercury Records, as well as some smaller labels. The Abbott Recordings were pretty pedestrian but Johnny cut some real treasures for Mercury, some of which were regional hits. Those long-lost earlier recordings are here as well, sounding as good as they will ever sound. These recordings encompass Johnny singing straight country , western, rockabilly and historical saga songs. The set comes with two hardcover books.

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Album Review: Buck Owens Live In San Francisco 1989

Probably no one was more disappointed than I was when Buck Owens recordings disappeared from the marketplace during the period from 1978-1988. Not only were no new recordings to be found, but even the older recordings disappeared completely. The fault for this, of course, rests with Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens, whose final contract with Capitol reverted ownership of the master recordings back to Buck. During this period Owens rarely licensed out his recordings in the US.

The story is well known how in September 1987, Dwight Yoakam rousted Buck out of his comfortable retirement to perform with him on stage. This led to Buck reactivating his career with Capitol Records, releasing three albums of new recordings over the next four years.

None of these albums were huge hits although five minor chart hits were generated from the first two albums Hot Dog and Act Naturally. Still, it was nice to have new Buck Owens recordings. Moreover, James Austin at Rhino Records convinced Buck to allow Rhino to put out a boxed set of his past recordings, the fabulous Buck Owens Collection 1959-1990. Eventually more collections were released and Sundazed Records reissued many of the individual albums on CD.

Although Buck Owens released many live albums during his life, Buck Owens Live In San Francisco 1989 was not released until 2015 when Rock Beat issued the two CD set, a ninety minute set of Buck performing thirty-three songs with his Buckaroos, comprised at this time of Jim Shaw (bandleader & keyboards), Terry Christofferson (lead guitar & pedal steel), Doyle Curtsinger (bass) and Jim McCarty (drums). Buck plays rhythm guitar and sings the lead.

Recorded January 15, 1989 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco, this is a very tight and cohesive group of Buckaroos that compares favorably with the classic Buckaroo lineups. I must admit that no one could ever quite duplicate the vocal harmony blend that Buck had with Don Rich, but Jim Shaw acquits himself well.

During his peak years Buck took some criticism for the amount of vocal banter in his live shows and his tendency to perform many of his hits in medley form. This album keeps the chatter to a minimum and finds Buck singing the songs in their entirety. Included are songs from all phases of his career – twenty classic singles, some songs from his then-comeback (“Hot Dog”, “The Key’s In The Mailbox” and “Somebody Put A Quarter In The Jukebox”), songs that were part of his stage repertoire although never singles for Buck (“A-11”, “Truck Drivin’ Man”, Hello Trouble’), one instrumental (“Buckaroo”), a solo version of his recent #1 duet with Dwight Yoakam (“Streets of Bakersfield”) and some other fine songs.

Great sound, great songs, great musicians , an appreciative audience – what more could you want ? My only criticism of the album is that it should have been released twenty years ago so that I could have been enjoying it during all those years

A most definite A+

Track list
Disc One
01 Introduction
02 Act Naturally
03 Together Again
04 My Heart Skips A Beat
05 Under Your Spell Again
06 Truck Drivin’ Man
07 Cryin’ Time Again
08 Hot Dog
09 Don’t Let Her Know
10 The Key’s In The Mailbox
11 Memphis
12 Close Up The Honky Tonks
13 Foolin’ Around
14 Somebody Put A Quarter In The Jukebox
15 Love’s Gonna Live Here
16 A-11
17 Tall Dark Stranger
18 Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got A Heartache)

Disc 2
01 Sam’s Place
02 Above & Beyond
03 Hello Trouble
04 I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me)
05 Swinging Doors
06 Arms Full Of Empty
07 Sawmill
08 Buckaroo
09 Out There Chasing Rainbows
10 Nobody’s Fool But Yours
11 I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail
12 Streets Of Bakersfield
13 Johnny B. Goode
14 Big In Vegas
15 Gonna Have Love
16 Johnny B. Goode (reprise)