My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Ed Hill

Album Review: Linda Davis – ‘In A Different Light’

Released on Capitol-Nashville in February 1991, In A Different Light was Linda’s first major label album. Released nearly a decade after her moderately successful duets with Skip Eaton as “Skip & Linda”, this album was Linda’s first opportunity to shine as a solo act.

As it happened, the album itself failed to chart and none of the three singles released from the album make much of an impact on the country charts.

By my lights, this is not at all a country album. I think it should have been marketed to the easy listening/middle of the road. Don’t get me wrong, Linda Davis is a fine singer but the singles from this album received virtually no airplay on county stations around Central Florida.

The album opens with “In A Different Light,” an overwrought ballad from the pens of Ed Hill and Jonathan Yudkin. This song was released as the first single and died at #61.

Next up is “Some Kind of Woman” by Annette Cotter and David Leonard. This song was released as the second single from the album, and died only reached #68. I think this gritty up-tempo ballad was the best track on the album – similar to something Brooks & Dunn might have released, but I suspect that country radio was so disgusted with the previous single, that they simply did not give this song a chance

 Well, I guess you’re showing me a thing or two

Loving with a vengeance every night with someone new

And I got this funny feeling, it’s for my benefit

So I’m gonna take it as a kind of compliment

 

Oh, I must be some kinda woman

Look how many women you seem to need

To take the place of one good one

And give you what you had when you had me

Oh, I sure must be some kinda woman

 

Since you need a different girl each night

There must not be a one of them, knows how to do you right

So add them little numbers, try and equal me

Meanwhile I’ll just take it as a form of flattery

Next up is “Three Way Tie” (written by Mary Beth Anderson, Lisa Silver, and Carol Grace Anderson) was the third single released. Another overwrought ballad, this song failed to chart, and frankly, it sounds like something any cocktail lounge singer might tackle.

None of the remaining tracks were released as singles:

“From Him to Here” (Mark D. Sanders, Verlon Thompson) is a pretty good mid-tempo song, that actually sounds like a country song. I think this would have made a decent single

“If Your Greener Grass Turns Blue” (Cindy Greene, Marsha Spears) has a bit of that country cocktail lounge feel to the mid-tempo instrumentation but it is a decent song, that Linda sings well. This would have made a decent single.I had never even been outside the county line

Unless you count the million times I left inside my mind

In my day dreams, I could see

The way the luck would shine on me

When I finally found the wings to fly

As my mama helped me pack my suitcase

She said you know I love you and I’ll say it once more anyway

 

So you’ll know what to do if your greener grass turns blue

If your sunny sky turns gray

Sometimes you gotta run

To see just what you’re running from

Here at home there’ll always be place for you

If your greener grass turns blue

“There’s a Problem at the Office” (Annette Cotter, Kim Tribble) is a bland ballad …

He calls to tell me he’ll be late again

There’s a problem at the office

So don’t wait up for him

And I guess I shouldn’t worry but I do

Cause a woman senses changes

Her man is going through

 

He’s changed the way he’s worn his hair for years

And bought some shirts in colors

I’ve never seen him wear

And when we touch that old time feeling’s gone

There’s a problem at the office

And it’s hitting close to home

… whereas “Knowin’ We’ll Never Know” (Jim Rushing, James Dean Hicks) is a nice ballad of what might have been

What if we’d stayed together
What if we’d really tried
Would we still be in Tennessee
Would I have been your bride
Would we be blessed with children
Lovingly watching them grow
Oh the hardest part of seeing you now
Is knowing we’ll never know

We’ll never know
How much we missed
By not taking love all the way
If we held on just a little bit longer
Where would we be today

“White Collar Man” (Vernon Rust) is a slow semi-acoustic ballad, nicely sung about a husband who places all of his priorities on work and none on family.

“The Crash of 29” (Ron Moore, Billy Henderson) has a very folksy sound to it. The crash of 29 has nothing to do with the great Wall Street Crash of 1929, but rather the self-realization that time is marching on and she is getting bored. This a pretty good album track

“If I Could Only Be Like You” (Kendall Franceschi, Quentin Powers, Reba McEntire) is a slow piano ballad, nicely sung, but ultimately not very interesting.

Linda’s vocals on this album are very reminiscent of Reba McEntire, only not quite as powerful as Reba’s vocals – sort of a Reba-lite. I know Linda Davis can actually sing country music and do it well as I have heard her do it. I don’t dislike this album, but I am not very charged up about it. I regard two of the three singles released as mistakes, with several of the album tracks being more single-worthy.

This album has keyboards, synthesizers and, cello, but no fiddle, steel guitar, mandolin, banjo or anything else to lead you to think of this as a country album.

Grade: C+         

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Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘Live, Laugh, Love’

live laugh loveAs the 90s drew to an end, Clay stopped working with former producer James Stroud. His blandly titled 1999 album was co-produced by the artist with Doug Johnson, and saw the artist moving in a more R&B direction.

Lead single ‘She’s Always Right’ (written by Lonestar’s Richie McDonald with Ed Hill and Phil Barnhart) is a rather bland contemporary ballad about a happy marriage. Clay sings it soulfully, but the song isn’t at all memorable. It reached #16 on the Billboard country chart. The theme is repeated later on the album with the very similar ‘Woman Thing’, written by Larry Boone, Tracy Lawrence and Paul Nelson.

The beachy title track was a little more successful, peaking just outside the top 10. Written by Gary Nicholson and Allen Shamblin, it has Caribbean instrumentation and a syncopated vocal which haven’t worn well.

The album’s biggest hit at #3, ‘The Chain Of Love’, written by Rory Lee Feek and Jonnie Barnett, marked returned to more conventional country territory. The warm hearted story song offers a sweet tale of kindness from strangers.

The self penned big ballad ‘Once In A Lifetime Love’ wasn’t really a country song, and although Clay sings it well, at the turn of the millennium that was still enough to deny it any chart action when it was the album’s last single. Clay and his co-writer Jason Greene also contributed the pleasant but dull ‘Lose Some Sleep Tonight’ and the disastrously ill-judged ‘Cold Hearted’, a feeble attempt at an R&B song which falls completely flat.

‘This Time Love’ is a soul-drenched ballad which is okay on its own terms, but has nothing to do with country music.

‘If A Man Ain’t Thinking (‘Bout His Woman)’, written by Buddy Brock, Debi Cochran and Jerry Kilgore, on the other hand, is a country song, and very good. The mid-paced ‘It Ain’t Called Heartland (For Nothin’)’ is also quite enjoyable.

The best song is a cover of Earl Thomas Conley’s ‘Holding Her And Loving You’. Clay doesn’t bring anything new, but he sings it with emotion.

Clay sings with great commitment and enthusiasm on this album, but not much of it can really be classified as country. Listeners with more eclectic tastes may like this better than I did.

Grade: C-

Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘Rumor Has It’

Clay_Walker_-_Rumor_Has_ItWalker released his fourth album in the spring of 1997. It was his first project since revealing his diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis. For Rumor Has It, Walker’s mission was to be loyal to the fans by recording the best songs he could and putting out hit records.

To that end the title track, a co-write with M. Jason Greene was issued as the lead single. It follows in the footsteps of his brilliant uptempo numbers, but is more slick than raw. His sixth and final number one, it’s among my favorite of his singles.

He followed with what has become his most critically panned single to date, the cloying “One, Two, I Love You.” I always enjoyed the fiddle-laced production but agree that consensus has been reached regarding Ed Hill and Bucky Jones’ lyric. The song peaked at #18.

Walker rebounded into the top 5 with “Watch This,” a slightly cheesy love song that hasn’t aged well in nineteen years. He followed with his most left-of-center single to date, “Then What,” a loose dose of Caribbean Country that rocketed to #2 (I was shocked it didn’t top the charts). Likely his signature song, “Then What” has enjoyed a long life as a recurrent and is probably his best-remembered hit today.

The album features just two more songs Walker had a hand in composing. He solely wrote “Country Boy and City Girl,” a pleasant love song about an opposites attract romance. “That’s Us,” another love song, was co-written with Tim Mensy.

“I’d Say That’s Right” is a brisk fiddle-soaked love song. “Heart Over Head Over Heels” plays up the charm factor yet feels like it’s a leftover from his previous album and not styled with distinct 1997 production (which is far from a bad thing). “You’ll Never Hear The End of It” is yet another uptempo love song. I do love the overall vibe of “I Need A Margarita,” but the lyric is cheesy as hell.

Walker’s comments regarding finding the best songs he could confirmed what I unfortunately know for sure. Those sentiments usually mean we’re going to a generic album dosed with a radio-friendly sheen, which is certainly true in this case.

Walker has opted to go with an album loaded with similar sounding love songs, which comes off as too pleasing. Beyond the title track and “Then What” there just isn’t anything here to set him apart or show any real attempts at artistry. He never truly broke through and its easy to see why – his albums just weren’t at an a-list level.

But he’s still one of my favorite country singers. Rumor Has It isn’t the worst country album I’ve ever heard, far from it, but it does suffer from an overtly commercial sheen that drags it down a few notches.

(By the way, you HAVE TO, check out or reacquaint yourself with the videos for “Rumor Has It” and “Watch This.” If anything, Walker gave us brilliant documents of the late 1990s while trying to be George Strait’s little brother. At least he loosen up with “Then What”).

Grade: B-

Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Martina’

martinaThe four new tracks on Martina McBride’s Greatest Hits album were largely seen as a return to form following 1999’s disappointing Emotion, but unfortunately the regained momentum was quickly lost again with the release of Martina, an album that is consistently mentioned by fans as one of their least favorites in the McBride discography. However, while I wouldn’t rank Martina among McBride’s best work, it does have its bright spots and is a much better album than Emotion or most of the albums that came after it.

Martina once again shared production duties with Paul Worley. The album was released in September 2003, and McBride definitely had one eye on the pop charts this time around. The first single, the somewhat bland female empowerment anthem “This One’s For The Girls”, which featured backing vocals from Faith Hill and Carolyn Dawn Johnson, was not only a #3 country hit, it also reached #1 on the adult contemporary charts. I always thought this song was screaming out to become a Cledus T. Judd parody called “This One’s For The Squirrels.”

Encouraged by the crossover success of “This One’s For The Girls”, RCA selected the very middle-of-the-road piano and string quartet ballad “In My Daughter’s Eyes”, with lyrics by Hallmark, as the album’s next single. A pretty but somewhat saccharine number, it charted at #4 country and #3 adult contemporary. The next single didn’t fare as well, peaking just outside the Top 10 on the country chart, and missing the AC chart altogether, but “How Far”, a Jamie O’Neal co-write with Shaye Smith and Ed Hill, is a much better song than either of its predecessors, despite some oversinging at times. In the vein of “Whatever You Say”, it would have been right at home on the Evolution album.

The album’s biggest misstep is the fourth and final single, “God’s Will”, which tries too hard to tug at the heartstrings and comes off as a crass attempt to manipulate the listener’s emotions. The lyrics seem forced, the melody is plodding and at almost six minutes in length, it is way too long (I assume the radio edit was shorter). Peaking at #16, it marks the beginning of Martina’s chart decline; most of her singles from this point forward would chart outside the Top 10.

Overall, Martina is very mixed bag, but there are some worthwhile tracks among the album cuts, the best of which is the bluegrass-flavored “Reluctant Daughter”, which features backing vocals from Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White, and features Skaggs on mandolin. It’s a nice reprieve from the rest of the tracks, which are mostly pop-leaning. Also quite good is “Wearing White”, a song about a bride who opts for a traditional wedding with all the trimmings, despite an apparently checkered past. Vince Gill contributes harmony vocals to this track, which also features some very nice fiddle playing by Jonathan Yudkin. Not quite as good but still enjoyable was the Celtic-flavored but lyrically fluffy “So Magical”. The Big & Rich written “She’s A Butterfly” has a pretty melody, but there is too much reverb on the vocal track, a problem which also plagues the track “Learning To Fall.”

The album closes with a live in concert rendition of “Over The Rainbow”, which while well done, seems a bit out of place with the rest of the songs on the disc.

Though rarely counted as a favorite by McBride’s country fans, Martina is the artist’s second-best selling album, after Evolution, selling more than two million copies and reaching #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, a feat no doubt achieved by the crossover success of the album’s first two singles. Though not essential listening, it’s worth picking up a cheap copy on Amazon.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Live Like You Were Dying’

2004 saw the release of Tim’s eighth studio album, Live Like You Were Dying.  It proved to be something of a return to form after the disappointing Dancehall Doctors album, thanks to much better material, although Tim kept that production team of himself, band leader Darran Smith and Byron Gallimore, with the Dancehall Doctors again providing backing.  The album’s making was overshadowed by the death of Tim’s father Tug at the beginning of the year, and it can be no coincidence that much of the material here is about contemplating loss and death and the sum of one’s life.  Although Tim did not contribute to any of the songwriting, the overall feel is of a very personal selection of material.

The title track served as the lead single, and it was exceptionally successful, hitting #1 and selling a million copies.  Written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, it tells the story of a 40something man who is spurred by a potentially terminal diagnosis to experience various things on his “bucket list” before it is too late.  The underlying Hallmark card message about living life to the full was obviously inspiring to many listeners, and touchingly it’s about being a good friend and husband as well as just having fun and engaging in dangerous sports (not something most people would actually be able to do if suffering a fatal illness).  The nostalgic but even more cliche’d ‘Back When’ was, surprisingly, the album’s second straight chart topper, although it is the album’s least imaginative song, and one that makes Tim sound like an old man grumbling about changing times and new uses of words.  It’s also rather disconcerting to hear the far-from-traditional McGraw complaining about “pop in my country”.

The much better ‘Drugs Or Jesus’ then faltered just inside the top 15.  It’s an interesting song about being trapped in a small town, where religion and illegal highs offer the only escape:

In my hometown

You’re either lost or found

It was probably too bleak and challenging an approach to be embraced by country radio, too often inclined to the comfortably self congratulatory when examining rural or small-town life.  The protagonist in this case has been fleeing from God, but seems to accept Him at the end.

The sour post-divorce tale of ‘Do You Want Fries With That?’ took him back to the top 5.  It’s an entertaining if slightly cartoonish tale (written by Casey Beathard and Kerry Kurt Philips) of a man financially ruined by the breakup of his marriage and reduced to a second job serving fast food, who encounters and rails against the man who has taken his place in the family home:

Your ketchup’s in the bag
And her check is in the mail
I hope your chicken’s raw inside
And I hope your bun is stale
I’m supposed to tell you
“Please come back!”
But how ‘bout this instead?
I hope you both choke on a pickle
Man, that would tickle me to death

The final single, the reflective ‘My Old Friend’, about an old friend who has died, is quite good, but would have been more appealing given a stripped down production.  It peaked at #6.

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2012 Grammy predictions

The Grammy awards are probably the world’s most prestigious cross-genre awards in the word of music, although within country music the CMA and ACM awards hold greater weight. The significance of the Grammies has been further affected this year with the contraction in the number of categories of interest to country fans. But awards shows offer a way of taking stock once every few months regarding the genre as a whole, particularly the more mainstream end. In a few days, we’ll learn who has won this year’s awards. In the meantime, here are our predictions:

Best Country Solo Performance

This new category combines the former nods to performances by male and female vocalists.

‘Dirt Road Anthem’ – Jason Aldean
‘I’m Gonna Love You Through It’ – Martina McBride
‘Honey Bee’ – Blake Shelton
‘Mean’ – Taylor Swift
‘Mama’s Song’ – Carrie Underwood

Razor X: I can’t remember the last time I came across a more underwhelming list of nominees. “Honey Bee” is the only one on the list that I can tolerate, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of song that usually wins Grammys. I think Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood are the two real contenders here; I’ll predict that Underwood will win.

Occasional Hope: A remarkably uninspiring lineup in this category. I suppose by default my vote (if I had one) would have gone to Blake Shelton. Carrie Underwood’s song is well-meaning but bland; Martina McBride’s is the epitome of emotional manipulation; Jason Aldean’s record is horrible; and Taylor Swift’s song has nice production for once, but the lyric collapses into juvenile namecalling (and I’m afraid I’m still unimpressed by her vocal ability). That leaves Blake Shelton with a slight but not unlistenable song, making it my lukewarm favorite by default. Who will actually win it? The Grammy voting pool is a bit different from the specialist country awards shows, so I’m going to predict Taylor Swift as although Aldean has had a big breakthrough over the past couple of years, I think his lack of cross-genre name recognition will limit his appeal to voters. He, Swift and Blake Shelton all have performance slots on the show (Blake as part of a Glen Campbell tribute and Jason Aldean revisitng his duet with Kelly Clarkson), which could be an indication that the battle is between these three.

Jonathan Pappalardo: It seems as though the Grammy organization can’t win. If they go by artistic merits they’re deemed out of touch with reality. If they go with what’s popular, they’re deemed too mainstream. For my tastes these nominees are awful. There isn’t a song here I can get excited about, apart from Taylor Swift’s “Mean.” If she has to win an award this year, let it be this one.

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Occasional Hope’s Top Ten Singles of 2011

While it wasn’t a great year for country music, there were some definite signs of life, and some very good songs made their way across the airwaves. A few were even hits. Here are my favorite singles this year:

10. ‘Look It Up – Ashton Shepherd’
Ashton comes across like a modern Loretta Lynn in this scornful rejoinder to a cheating spouse. Forgiveness is not an option. Although it was a top 20 hit and just about her biggest to date, I expected more commercial success from this sassy number, written by Pistol Annie Angaleena Presley with Robert Ellis Orrall.

9. ‘Colder Weather’ – Zac Brown Band
The Georgia band is one of the most artistically adventurous acts in country music, and this is one of their finest records. A complex lyric depicts a couple separated by the man’s driving job; she seems keener than he does on their being together. It was inspired by co-writer Wyatt Durrette’s own thwarted romance with a girl who struggled with the travel demanded by a music career. The production neatly marries an understated piano-led first verse with rock elements as the protagonist’s emotions rise. It was another #1 hit for the band.

8. ‘In God’s Time’ – Randy Houser
Rich-voiced singer-songwriter Randy Houser released his finest effort to date this year with this gently understated expression of faith in God, whatever may happen. A gentle piano-led accompaniment provides effective support. This was intended to be the lead single for Houser’s third album for Show Dog Universal, but it did not do as well as hoped, and Houser has now left the label. He has since signed to indie label Broken Bow, so hopefully he will be able to continue releasing mauic of this caliber.

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Album Review: Trace Adkins – ‘Chrome’

Trace Adkins’ first album of the new millennium, released October 2001, was the first to showcase his pivot from ’90s crooner to the eventual second stage of a career now filled with forgettable anthemic singles. To his credit, Adkins had seen little chart success following the neo-traditional format, and while Chrome features flashes of the singer’s past sounds, it is mostly a stepping stone to later testosterone-filled ditties. Trace enlisted the production of Dan Huff and Trey Bruce to separately produce the album’s tracks, and all the single releases come from Huff’s half.  This time out the singles would fare much better than those from his previous album with 2 top 10 hits here and another top 20, and the album would also add to his collection of precious metal with a gold-sales certification.

Lead single “I’m Tryin'”, a first-person account of a man with many problems, a demanding job and more demanding ex-wife not the least of them, is recounted to a soaring 70s rock production, complete with Guitar Hero-worthy licks and layers of percussion. Adkins authoritative voice finds its way through the production and effectively delivers Anthony Smith and Jeffrey Steele’s well-written lyric.  “Help Me Understand” is one of Adkins’ best releases in his career, even if it is marred a bit by Huff’s heavy-handed production. Akin to Tanya Tucker’s gorgeous ballad “(Without You) What Do I With Me”, it clearly captures the hurt, but also the confusion, that comes with the abrupt end of a relationship, and was the only one of the album’s three singles not to reach the top 10, stalling out at #17.

The title track impacted radio as the third and final single, and just 10 seconds in, when the electric guitar begins to moan softly and Adkins’ throaty scatting begins, it becomes apparent this is a song with more groove than goods. And it is. The Chevelle-driving girl whose “favorite color is chrome”, and who will appear repeatedly in future Adkins singles, makes her first one-dimensional appearance here, and provided the singer with another top 10 radio hit.

It’s interesting that two producers independently helmed these tracks since nearly all of them fall into the same medium tempo pace and nearly every one outside the singles have an interchangeable melody.  Some songs break through the shuffle, buoyed by the songwriting or the singer’s commanding performance. “Come Home”, written by Ed Hill, Bob DiPiero and Mark D. Sanders, is a mid-tempo delight in the neo-traditional mold. Trace plays the part of a man full of “I’m sorry’s” trying to put back together a broken relationship. The hackneyed subject matter is elevated by verses full of the narrator’s broken thoughts and a tinkling piano track throughout.  “I’m Paying It For It Now” is another mid-tempo, but with fiddles and a prominent steel guitar built around a fairly weak hook and plotline.

Others are just forgettable. The mid-tempo quasi-rock “Thankful Man” serves as a written thank-you to the narrator’s father for his blue-collar ways, and more thank-you’s to the Lord above that he followed the same path. “Scream” sounds much like the title track and finds the singer longing to “scream at the top of his lungs” in sheer love-fueled delight.  The obligatory country boy out-of-place in the big city tale comes in “I’m Going Back”, wherein our narrator is leaving a world full of “lunatics” (a lady with unconventional hair color and a cross dresser) for one of “windmills and dirt roads and bean fields“.  And so the album goes for the remaining tracks.

I’d be remiss to say these new lecherous-party boy attitudes, the slick guitar work, pounding drums and all aren’t directly responsible for his climb to country music A-lister.  He’d eventually hit much lower lows than this, and there are a handful of great songs to be plucked here, but Chrome was when Trace Adkins jumped completely over the shark and into the deep, dark water of musical nothingness.

Grade: C-

Buy it at amazon.

Single Review: Trace Adkins – ‘Just Fishin”

Trace Adkins’s ‘Brown Chicken, Brown Cow’ (complete with tacky puppet video) was, it seems, a step too far for country radio (even though they happily played ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk’ which I still think is much worse). The single crept onto the top 40, but some stations found the subject matter too risqué, and Trace and his label decided to pull it rather than wasting their energies promoting a song that just wasn’t catching on in more conservative markets. More surprisingly, they have decided to abandon last year’s disappointing Cowboy’s Back In Town altogether, and have picked a song originally recorded for that album, but rejected in favor of such tasteful gems as ‘Ala Freaking Bama’ and ‘Whoop A Man’s Ass’, not to mention the last single. This decision, incidentally, epitomizes my frustration with some of Trace’s artistic decisions. Hopefully reviving the song now is a promising sign for his next album, expected later this year.

With ‘Just Fishin’’, Trace is reverting to something much more family friendly, with an affectionate tale of a fishing trip with a little girl, who sounds about six or so. The picture is charming, as the child prattles about her pet kittens and new ballet shoes, and other such little-girl interests, and enjoys the fishing experience, taking Daddy’s “I love you” for granted. His little girl is just having fun; he knows it’s more significant than that.

It feels rather like a prequel to his last solo #1, ‘You’re Gonna Miss This’ – and perhaps an attempt to recapture the success of that song, but ‘Just Fishin’ is less wistfully conscious of missing out on the opportunities to spend time with a growing child. This time, he’s getting it right and storing up the good memories now. He knows the clock is ticking for times like this, and she’ll grow up, but the mood is relaxed and laid back. The video scenario is obvious.

The song is written by Casey Beathard, Ed Hill and Monty Criswell, but it clearly strikes a chord with the artist, the father of five daughters of his own. The production is a bit busier and louder than I would like, but that is really the only flaw in this single. Trace’s vocal is warm and heartfelt, and this is definitely a step back in the right direction.

Grade: A-

Listen for yourself.

Album Review: Trace Adkins – ‘Cowboy’s Back In Town’

Trace Adkins is one of the most frustrating artists in country music. He has a genuinely great voice, real interpretative ability and (when he chooses to exercise it), a sense of subtlety. When that natural talent is allied to great, or even good, songs, the result is close to sublime. Sadly, his musical taste is questionable, and he has recorded some of the worst songs released in the last ten years. His 2008 release, X, went a long way to restoring my faith in him as an artist, but regrettably, country radio was less enthused than it was for his worst efforts, like ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk’, an execrable song which managed to top the charts.

Everything I heard in advance of this project’s release led me to expect Trace would be back to his worst. Radio’s lack of support for the singles from X, the move from Capitol to Toby Keith’s label. It says a lot for my admiration of Trace at his best that I was prepared to buy this, despite my concerns about the project. The first single, the truly horrible shoutfest ‘Ala-Freakin-Bama’, was a particularly disturbing sign. When Trace announced his departure from Capitol soon after the release of that single, I had hoped it would never re-surface. Unfortunately, Trace secured the rights to the last recordings he made for Capitol, and chose to include it on his debut for Show Dog Universal. Luckily, there is only one other song as bad, aggressively tuneless closing track ‘Whoop A Man’s Ass’, whose title says it all.

The grunt in the preamble to opening track ‘Brown Chicken, Brown Cow’, which is the first we hear from Trace, was not a good start either, although the song itself is not that bad – mediocre rather than awful, albeit too loud, one-note, and repetitive as it tells ths story of a farm couple who abandon their duties for a literal roll in the hay. Mostly, this record leans to the average rather than the overtly bad, with some pretty good songs.

Current single ‘This Ain’t No Love Song’ is quite a nice ballad (if a little repetitive) which was one of the few promising signs before the record’s release. Another alarm signal was raised when I originally saw the tracklisting and saw Trailer Choir were guesting on one song, ‘Don’t Mind If I Don’t’, but this was unfair as the end result is only mildly irritating, with Trailer Choir themselves barely noticeable. The song is boring, but inoffensive.

There are a couple of attempts at humor. Much of ‘Hold My Beer’ is shouted rather than sung but the lyrics (about a drunken wedding party, courtesy of Casey Beathard, Monty Criswell and Ed Hill) are mildly amusing, although I think they will pall with repetition. I can see this as a single complete with over-the-top video. The ironic backseat driver ode ‘Hell I Can Do That’ is rather better in the lighthearted vein, written by Jim Collins, Tony Martin and Lee Miller, with an engaging everyman feel and playful use of instrumentation.

The title track is quite a pleasant midpaced story song about a city woman whose life improves whenever her cowboy boyfriend comes to visit. It is one of Trace’s rare compositions, alongside Jeff Bates and Kenny Beard. Also pretty good is the love song ‘A Little Bit Of Missing You’, written by Mickey Jack Cones (who co-produces this track), Jim McCormick and Tim Johnson. Although it feels a bit over produced, it provides one of the few really melodic moments on the album, and one of the few times Trace’s gravelly bass notes are used to good effect. Most of the songs here could literally be sung by anyone, and Trace’s great voice is simply under utilised.

The highlight is the string laden ‘Still Love You’, a tender ballad co-written by Jeff Bates, where again Trace shows us he really is a fine vocalist with sensitive interpretative ability. The song itself is still only average compared to some of the outstanding ballads Trace has given us in the past.

I also liked ‘Break Her Fall’, a story of a teenage romance between a “long haired country boy” and a rich man’s daughter, written by Monty Criswell and Tim Mensy, with a little too much electric guitar for my taste. It’s a familiar, even clichéd, story, but nicely done with some specific color which makes it convincing and a few memorable lines:

She used me like a razor blade
To cut the ties that bind
Freed herself from Daddy’s world
Got tangled up in mine

This isn’t quite as bad as I was fearing, or Trace’s worst album (a title I would award to Dangerous Man), but it is still a real waste of his talent.

Grade: C

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.

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Album Review: Zona Jones – ‘Prove Me Right’

Prove Me RightThere must be something in the water in Beaumont, Texas. Not only was it the hometown of George Jones, Mark Chesnutt was born there, and the city was once also home to Tracy Byrd. Another Beaumont resident, Zona Jones, put his career as a lawyer on hold a few years ago when he released his excellent first album Harleys & Horses on indie label D Records. I enjoyed that record enough to keep a eye out for his follow-up, which has at last appeared on his friend Tracy Lawrence’s Rocky Comfort Records. Zona is not quite in the same league as the aforementioned sons of Beaumont, but he does have a good voice very much in the George Strait style, which is particularly effective on mellow ballads like the majority of the material on this album. Half the songs were produced by no less than James Stroud, the remainder by Zona himself with Mike Jones, but the overall feel of the album is fairly consistent, and it is solidly country from start to finish.

He opens with a cover of Aaron Tippin’s ‘Could Not Stop Myself From Loving You’, which he delivers nicely enough, but his phrasing is too reminiscent of the original while lacking Tippin’s hypnotic quality. Tippin’s co-writers on that track, Mark Nesler and Tony Martin, also wrote my favorite song on the album, ‘Go Away’. This excellent song feels like a sequel to Steve Earle’s modern classic ‘My Old Friend The Blues’, a link I think is made explicit in the salutation, “my old foul-weather friend”. The protagonist is tired of feeling bad about his loss, and begs:

“Go away, blues don’t hang around
Let me love again somehow
I tried but I could not make her stay
So be like her and go away”

Another really enjoyable number is ‘Drinkin”, a drinking song (obviously) from the pens of John [Scott?] Sherrill and Neal Coty, which sounds cheerful even as the protagonist tries to drown his miseries:

Damn it, I think I drank myself sober
And I still can’t drink myself over you

At least I’m a couple sheets to the wind
With any luck, honey, I’ll forget again
That I don’t know where you are or where I am”

The title track (a Radney Foster/Stephanie Delray composition) is a hopeful look at the prospects for love. Also good is ‘She Showed Me’, written by Troy Olsen and Kerry Kurt Phillips, neatly set around a conversation with an ex. The narrator smugly thinks she’ll be begging for another chance, but as it turns out he could not be more wrong – she is happily married with two children (underlining the guy’s cluelessness given the time that must have elapsed since they were together).

One of the songs which stands out the most is the uptempo jerky rhythm of ‘Never Took My Eyes Off You’, written by Dave Frasier, Ed Hill and Josh Kear, and although this track (alone on the album) feels a little over-produced and the lyric is rather slight, it is still fun with definite singalong potential as the protagonist can’t pay attention to the football game or great view on his dates with his love interest.

Similar but better is ‘Day Off’, a lively paean to relaxation time written by Al Anderson, Bob DiPiero and Leslie Satcher. For such a heavyweight writing team, the lyric verges on the absurd at times – while it is indeed true that we all welcome a check in the mail, few of us are in the need to break out of a Mexican jail. But as fluff goes, this is entertaining fluff, as Zona tells us with a little growl in his voice:

“Everybody needs a little too much fun
Everybody needs a little coming undone
Take a brain vacation, I’m telling you, hoss
Everybody needs a day off”

The love ballad ‘You Should’ve Seen Her This Morning’ is nice enough if not very memorable, as the protagonist boasts the joys of domestic bliss to his bar friends whose heads are turned when his woman walks in, claiming sweetly, “If you’re thinking ‘Wow, she looks beautiful now’, you should’ve seen her this morning.” ‘Two Hearts’, another pleasant love song, is repeated from Harleys & Horses.

The album is rounded out by three more covers, Strait’s ‘Blame it On Mexico’ and ‘When You Love ‘Em Like Crazy’ (recorded as ‘When You Love Her Like Crazy’ by Mark Chesnutt are both sung well but not as ood as the originals. I am not as familiar with the sweetly delivered ‘Bluer Than Blue’, written by Randy Goodrum, which was a big pop and AC hit in 1978 for Michael Johnson, who was to go country in the 80s. This last song (for which there is a video) has a very pretty tune and has grown on me over repeated listens.

I think the songs were a little stronger on Zona’s first album, but nonetheless this is an enjoyable record. It is available on iTunes or from Zona’s website.

Grade: B

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘Rockin’ In The Country’

Daryle SingletaryDaryle Singletary is a man with a genuinely great voice, who might have been one of the best of the neotraditional country singers of the 1990s in terms of sheer vocal ability. Sadly, his chart career was based on fairly mediocre material, and he only had three top 5 hits. I only really got interested in him when he released the excellent Ain’t It The Truth in 1998, which was not a commercial success and proved to be his last on a major label.

This decade, he has released two albums mainly consisting of high-quality covers, but now he is back with an album of original material on E1 Music (the independent label formerly known as Koch).

I was concerned about the likely quality of the material and direction of the album when I heard the title, but I need not have been concerned. The album, produced by Greg Cole, who was responsible for Daryle’s covers sets, with label executive Chuck Rhodes, is pretty solid country throughout, and complements Daryle’s rich, textured voice well. Although the songs are not all instant classics, they are almost all good, with a couple of real highlights.

The title track is indeed as rocking as Daryle gets, which is to say uptempo country with a very faint southern rock flavor, the latter mainly courtesy of Charlie Daniels’ sizzling fiddle solo and occasional vocal interjections. The song itself is a fun number written by Paul Overstreet and Sonny Tillis about a farmer who forestalls foreclosure on his land by giving up the actual farm (selling the cows to a neighbor and building a stage in place of the barn), and putting on weekly country music shows there instead. It pays off for our hero big time – “they say the old coot’s got a million stashed”.

The most unusual track, and one which seems to be made for a video, is ‘She Sure Looks Good In Black’, written by Dale Dodson and Billy Lawson. This opens with an old country preacher (played by Christian music artist and Nashville session musician Gordon Mote) speaking at what turns out to be the funeral of the narrator, and telling us that the lady in the front row broke up with the deceased just a few weeks earlier; then we get a couple of lines from ‘Amazing Grace’ sung acapella in the voice of an elderly choir member (performed by Glen Duncan), before Daryle starts singing in the persona of the corpse. This may be my favorite track, as Daryle’s classic country voice tells us to a suitably mournful tune (with Rhonda Vincent on harmonies),

“My mama hates her, my daddy blames her,
My sister swears it’s all an act
But if she had wore [sic] red
She could have raised the dead
But my Lord, that woman sure looks good in black”

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