My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Earl Bud Lee

Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘No Fences’

image1989 was a watershed year for country music when an unusually high number of artists enjoyed their commercial breakthroughs. Garth Brooks initially emerged as a member of the Class of 1989 and although from the beginning he was a solid performer, few would have guessed that he would soon emerge as the biggest star in music, regardless of genre. He began to break away from the pack with “The Dance”, which was the final single released from his debut album. By the time his 1990 sophomore disc No Fences was released, it was obvious that he was on his way to superstardom.

“Friends In Low Places”, written by DeWayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee, was the album’s first single. It took only eight weeks to reach #1, where it remained for four weeks. The delightfully rowdy drinking song went on to become Garth’s best known recording. It won the 1990 Single of the Year award from both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music. It may have been the album’s biggest hit, but it is not my favorite, perhaps partially due to the fact that it was overplayed by radio.

On several of its tracks, No Fences marked a subtle shift towards a softer, more middle-of-the-road sound, as opposed to Garth’s very traditional debut album. The album’s second single, the ballad “Unanswered Prayers” included a string arrangement which, though subtle and tastefully restrained, marked the beginning of a shift away from the ultra-traditional sound that had dominated country music during the last half of the 1980s. “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House”, on the other hand, was very traditional. The more contemporary and controversial “The Thunder Rolls” was the album’s final single. Written by Garth and Pat Alger, it tells the tale of a worried wife waiting during a thunder storm for her cheating husband to come home. It was originally recorded by Tanya Tucker but her version went unreleased until it was included on her 1994 boxed set. Garth’s version omits the final verse, in which the wife takes a gun and plans to kill her philandering spouse, leaving many who only knew Garth’s version to wonder what the controversy was about. Indeed, there really was no controversy at first, until the accompanying video with its graphic scenes of domestic violence, was released. It was the first but certainly not the last controversy of Garth’s career. TNN refused to play the video unless a disclaimer was included. CMT, which had initially played the clip, also pulled it. It nevertheless was awarded the Video of the Year Award by the CMA in 1991.

All of the aforementioned singles were #1 hits. A fifth single was eventually released more than a decade later, when “Wild Horses”, with a re-recorded vocal track was inexplicably sent to radio in between singles from Garth’s then-current Scarecrow album. It only reached #7 and isn’t one of Garth’s best remembered hits today, but it has always been one of my favorites.

Notable among the album cuts is “Victim of the Game”, a Garth co-write with Mark D. Sanders. Garth’s future wife Trisha Yearwood covered the song a year later on her debut album. The album’s most unusual track is Garth’s cover of the 1959 Fleetwoods hit “Mr. Blue”, which had been written by “Friends In Low Places” co-writer DeWayne Blackwell. The twang added to appeal to country fans is overdone and this track has to be considered a misstep on an otherwise very solid album.

While I don’t like No Fences as much as Garth’s first album, it sold more than 17 million copies and established him as an international superstar well beyond the usual confines of country music and for that reason alone it was a landmark album and a game changer. Garth’s rising tide lifted the boat of many other country stars and for a while country music, at least in North America, was outselling every other genre of music. Unfortunately, it set the bar high and none of Garth’s subsequent albums were ever able to match it. Most country fans, if they don’t already own a copy, have probably at least heard the album, but those who somehow managed to miss it won’t have any trouble tracking down a copy.

Grade: A

Advertisements

EP Reviews: ‘Hillbilly Bone’ and ‘All About Tonight’

hillbilly bone2010 saw a departure in Blake’s career, as his label used him as the guinea pig to pioneer their new SixPak idea – EPs with six tracks. It was originally intended that Blake should release three over an 18 month period, but in the event there were just two. Unexpectedly, it was to mark a watershed in Blake’s carer, catapulting him to the very top. None of his singles since 2010 has peaked lower than #1. Generally loud and unsubtle production from Scott Hendricks proved to be exactly tailored for country radio success.

Hillbilly Bone, the first of the two SixPaks, had just one single, the chart topping title track. The duet with Trace Adkins is in many ways annoying with cliche’d lyrics but there is a good humor and charm in the delivery which makes it hard to hate as much as it deserves. It was a genuine smash, selling over half a million downloads, and won Blake CMA and ACM awards for Vocal Event of the Year as well as the coveted CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, the first major awards of his career.

‘Kiss My Country Ass’ is unredeemed crap with no mitigating factors, the epitome of the country pride song with an aggressive edge. A cover of a poorly performing Rhett Akins single written by Akins with regular partner in crime Dallas Davidson and Jon Stone), it is predictably dreadful.

‘You’ll Always Be Beautiful’ is an AC-leaning and sincerely sung romantic ballad about love for a woman even she doesn’t think she’s pretty. It was written by Lee Brice and Jerrod Niemann.

‘Can’t Afford To Love You’ is another Rhett Akins song about a working class guy in love with a high maintenance glamorous girl, which is an undistinguished but okay song buried under too much loud production.

The best track by far on this EP (and the only worthwhile download), Blake’s own song ‘Delilah’ is a rather sensitive song declaring love for a troubled woman who has been unlucky in love elsewhere; the girl’s name, incidentally, was taken from fiancee Miranda Lambert’s dog.

You can’t blame no one but you Delilah
For what you find when you never ever look around
Reach out for the one right here beside ya
And find the one that’s never gonna let you down

Clint Lagerberg and Craig Wiseman’s ‘Almost Alright’ is a well-written song about slowly getting over a relationship, spoiled by the inclusion of Caribbean steel drums which sound tinny.

all about tonightThe title track and lead single from Blake’s second SixPak, ‘All About Tonight’ is a party song written by the Peach Pickers, which, although it’s one of their better efforts, tells you all you need to know. The live ‘Got A Little Country’ which closes proceedings is just as bad and long much the same lines.

‘Who Are You When I’m Not Looking’, the second single, is much, much better, a rather charming love song written by Earl “Bud” Lee and John Wiggins, which had previously been recorded by Joe Nichols. It was another #1 hit for Blake.

‘Draggin’ The River’, written by Jim Beavers and Chris Stapleton, is a playfully performed duet with Miranda Lambert about a Southern rural romance opposed by the girl’s father, which is quite entertaining; the young lovers decide to fake their deaths while they elope. Miranda wrote ‘Suffocating’ with Lady A’s Hillary Scott (who also contributes harmonies), a ballad with rather a bland melody which does not effectively bring the downbeat lyric to life. Uninspired production doesn’t help. ‘That Thing We Do’, written by Jeff Bates and Jason Matthews, is okay but forgettable mid-tempo filler.

A bonus cover of the Dan Seals hit ‘Addicted’ was included for iTunes pre-orders; that track was later included as a bonus on Red River Blue and can be downloaded separately. It’s a shame this didn’t make the main setlist, as it’s a fine version which allows Blake’s incisive voice and sympathetic delivery to shine, and is one of his best recordings, although a stripped down production without the full orchestration which swamps the second half of the song would have made it better still.

Grade: Hillbilly Bone: D; All About Tonight C

Single Review: Blake Shelton – ‘Who Are You When I’m Not Looking?’

Blake Shelton’s latest single (the second from his second Sixpak EP, All About Tonight), is a revival of a song which might so easily have become a hit for one of his rivals. Joe Nichols recorded it a few years a go on his under-rated Real Things set (whose promotion was affected by his treatment for addiction issues), but never released it as a single. Written by Earl Bud Lee with John Wayne Wiggins (briefly a recording artist himself with sister Audrey), this is a sweet love song to a lover the protagonist is not yet completely familiar with, he speculates sweetly how she behaves unobserved. Does she let herself go in relaxation or anger?

There is a sweet fascination with the other which epitomises the early stages of a relationship, where infatuation is just beginning to develop into wanting to know the whole person. In this case she seems to be rather a restrained person in public, and even reserved with her new boyfriend. In the song’s most memorable image, he notes she is someone who will

Hold yourself together like a pair of bookends

She clearly keeps something back from him, and his tenderly expressed desire to know more about her is a promising sign for the longevity of their possible future together.

I think this version is better than Joe Nichols’ original, which was pleasant enough but lacked impact vocally. Here, Blake’s soothingly sultry, seductive vocals on this track bring out the message of the song, with a grainy quality coming out in his voice just once or twice. The lovely scaled-back production gives the languid ballad a very laid back feel which makes it stand out amongst the overwhelmingly up-tempo repertoire of country radio, and a far cry from the power ballads which take the few ballad slots apparently available. I suspect it is only Blake’s current hot hitmaking status that has enabled such a lovely low-key number to be promoted to radio with a genuine chance of becoming a hit.

The newest member of the Opry, Blake is coming off two straight #1 hits, both radio-friendly up-tempo numbers with fairly limited long term appeal. I hope this much quieter, more subtle song can do as well, as it shows a deeper side to him, just as his fiancée Miranda Lambert, famed for her assertive rockers, reached new heights with her summer smash ‘The House That Built Me’. I suspect that his song may possibly hold more appeal for female listeners than his last couple of hits, aimed at a rowdier audience.

Blake is also currently enjoying his first CMA nomination as Male Vocalist of the Year; it was something of a surprise inclusion, and he may be an outside bet for the win next month, but if he continues to produce material in this vein and of this quality, he would be an even more convincing contender for the next round of awards shows, when this song would be considered as part of Blake’s output in the nomination period. I don’t think it is a truly great song, but it is a good one, and the vocal performance is one of Blake’s finest to date.

Grade: B+

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Carrying Your Love With Me’

Carrying Your LoveGeorge Strait’s 1997 album Carrying Your Love With Me came out when he was at the peak of his commercial success. It followed up the triple platinum Blue Clear Sky, released the previous year, and achieved the same status itself (the last of his studio albums to do so to date). It was also the first of his albums to reach the top of the Billboard album charts across all genres.

The last single from Blue Clear Sky, the excellent traditional-sounding ‘King Of The Mountain’, had been a flop by George’s standards, barely squeezing into the top 20, making it only his third single ever not to make the top 10. The label may have been concerned that this was a sign that George’s run at the top was coming to an end, and they made sure that the first two singles from the new album were more radio-friendly. The first, the relaxed and melodic ‘One Night At A Time’, filled the bill well enough to not only go to #1 on the country charts, but to gain some pop airplay as well. Written by Roger Cook, Eddie Kilgallon and Earl Bud Lee, the song seems designed for George’s crooning style, and it’s easy to overlook the fact that the lyric is actually a cheating song, and not one burdened with guilt. It was followed to the top of the chart by the title track, a laid-back love song set to a charming tune written by Jeff Stevens and Steve Bogard. Neither song stands today among Strait’s all-time classics, but George sounds great. In much the same musical style, but rather dull, is Jackson Leap’s ‘She’ll Leave You With A Smile’, a warning to a friend about a heartless woman, which is one of three tracks embellished with a subtle string arrangement.

The third single was a cover of Vern Gosdin’s classic ‘Today My World Slipped Away’, one of the orchestrated numbers, which reached #3 (seven slots higher than the original managed back in 1982). It is a wonderful song, imbued with intense sadness at the end of a marriage, and George gives it a perfectly restrained reading which is almost as good as the original. That he falls just a little short is no criticism of George Strait, but a tribute to the greatness of Gosdin. The third track with strings is Bobby Braddock’s ‘The Nerve’, which I was surprised wasn’t releasd as a single. The story is a little unfocused as it has brief snapshots of the narrator’s love story, that of his parents, and finally a look back several generations to the ancestor who first came to America and fell in love with an Indian girl, with not quite enough of any one of those stories, but it has a sweet feel, a pretty tune and a tender vocal, which should all have worked well on radio.

Read more of this post