My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Elbert West

Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Sticks And Stones’

sticks and stonesTracy’s debut album in 1991 was a solid example of the neotraditional sound which was sweeping country music at the time. Smoothly produced by James Stroud, this album epitomizes the style, mixing traditional country with plenty of fiddle and steel with a radio friendly feel. Tracy was only 23, but had a natural country voice and sounds mature and confident beyond his years.

The title track, written by Elbert West, was the record’s lead single, and perhaps helped by the publicity of Tracy’s shooting, it raced to #1. A sincere and believable vocal sells an excellent song about a man who offers to let his ex take all their material possessions, as nothing matters as much as his broken heart,

The regretful ballad ‘Today’s Lonely Fool’ (written by Kenny Beard and Stan Paul Davis ) reached #3, and is another fine song in classic country style, with the jealous husband learning from his mistakes and begging for a second chance.

The enjoyable up-tempo ‘Runnin’ Behind’ is a young man’s cheerful response to living on the edge, with not enough money or time. It peaked at #4.

It was followed by my favorite of the singles, which approached the same hard times theme from a more mature angle, and became Tracy’s fourth top 10 hit. ‘Somebody Paints The Wall’ had previously been recorded by Curb artist Josh Logan and (as ‘Somebody Always Paints The Wall’) by George Jones, on the album which also contained the original (and best) version of ‘Ol’ Red’. The song is a wry look at living with regular financial disaster, but with a loved one standing by him, the protagonist is going to be okay, even though

The day my ship came in I was waiting for a train

The rival versions are both more downbeat, with George Jones having the most emotional depth and melancholic feel, and Lawrence does come across a little lightweight in comparison, but it is still very good.

Tracy wrote two songs on the album. ‘Dancin’ To Sweet Seventeen’ is a surprisingly convincing song from the viewpoint of a jaded 30-something clinging to dreams of a high school romance. His other composition was a co-write with Elbert West. The protagonist of the fiddle-led lament ‘Froze Over’ bemoans losing his “angel”, who

Swore she’d love me til Hell froze over
Well, Hell just froze over tonight

There are another couple of ballads with appealing melodies. ‘Between Us’ is a pleasant love song, while ‘April’s Fool’ is another sad song about a man hopelessly in love.

The tongue-in-cheek hillbilly ode to ‘Paris, Tennessee’ as a romantic destination is quite entertaining, with banked backing vocals giving the up-tempo romp a breezy feel. It was later recorded by a pre-beach Kenny Chesney on the latter’s All I Need To Know, with a virtually identical arrangement.

In the closing ‘I Hope Heaven Has A Honky Tonk’ , the protagonist is hoping for an afterlife

Like Texas on a Saturday night,

With, of course, some live country music. Bob Wills is said to be present in person, but Hank Williams only on the divine jukebox; one hope this isn’t a comment about the likely destination of the latter.

It is easy to find cheap used copies of this promising debut album, and it’s worthwhile doing so.

Grade: A

Album Review: Tim Culpepper – ‘Pourin’ Whiskey On Pain’

As more traditional styles of country music are increasingly marginalized in the mainstream rush to incorporate pop, rock and even hip-hop sounds, the more I feel impelled to seek out independent artists. If Alabama’s Tim Culpepper had emerged 20 years ago he would have been on track to become a big star. Instead, he is on independent label HonkyTone Records.

The classic country stylings of his fine baritone voice (in the Frizzell/Haggard/Travis tradition) are ideally suited to the heartbreak-themed material here, most of it written by the record’s producer Elbert West, often with Culpepper’s assistance and that of other co-writers. Allied to West’s tasteful and pure country production, the result (recorded in Nashville with some excellent musicians) is a delightful contrast to most mainstream releases these days.

Opener ‘Ghost’ is a great song about dealing with reminders of a lost love. You can see a video for this song on youtube. In ‘Toss And Turn’ the protagonist’s wife has only just left, but the concrete reminders are as poignant:

There’ll be no more nights for me she’ll toss and turn
Cause she has tossed her ring on the table by the door
And took her turn to drive away while I walk the floor
Now I lie awake in the bed I made
On the pillow that once was hers
And between sheets cold as stone
I’ll toss and turn

Just as good, ‘One More For The Road’ bemoans the lot of a man seeking temporary refuge from a family he thinks don’t understand the dreary realities of his working day. Some time drinking in the company of an attractive young woman, with some George Jones on the jukebox, gives him a short respite before he heads home to real life.

The outstanding song on an excellent set is the title track, written by Culpepper and Jeanette Marie (who I think is his wife). A lonesome lament about trying to drinking one’s way out of heartache, and failing to do anything of the kind. Laden with pain, Culpepper’s full-bodied vocal really sells the song:

I got a box set of Hag, a three finger glass and a bottle of dark 90 proof t
To help chase away misery by drowning her memories
But still I can’t outdrink the truth
Cause when I reach the middle of that old black label
She’ll vanish without any trace
I hear the answer to problems are found in the bar room
Just a few swallows away

I’m pourin’ whiskey on pain
Temporarily insane
It’s just a matter of time
Before she’s back on my mind
Cause I know I’m to blame
For the trouble I’m in
I’m drinking doubles again
And it’s the same old routine
Disguising sorrow and shame
Pourin’ whiskey on pain

It might be a sequel to ‘When Misery Finds Company’, a brilliant cheating song:

If misery loves company she’ll find it here tonight
Where broken hearts reside on every sleeve
Somewhere she’s (they’re) doing someone wrong
But for now it feels right
It ain’t love and it’s not meant to be
When misery finds company

The chugging mid-tempo ‘Gettin’ On With Gettin’ Over You’ (the weakest track in the record’s first half) is more mundane lyrically (inevitable when the song deals with being stuck in a boring routine), but is pleasant enough listening. The album falls naturally into two halves. Five of the first half-dozen songs are exceptionally strong and withstand any comparison . The next seven are merely very good.

‘You Can’t Say That Again’ has a couple who have reached the brink of separation, and who know it’s too late to go back now. ‘The Storm’ has the protagonist awaiting the aftermath of a breakup. It feels quite topical at the moment but is not that memorable. In ‘Too Good Of A Day (To Say Goodbye)’, the protagonist bemoans the sunny weather and wryly wishes for rain or snow to properly represent the state of his mind on parting with his sweetheart.

‘Hangin’ On’ is a perky sounding response to having trouble getting completely over someone when,
I’m okay with the fact you’re gone
But your memory keeps hangin’ on

This enjoyable track is my favourite in the second half of the album.

‘His Old Boots’ is a slightly unconvincing and sentimental story song where a young man fails to appreciate the merits of his father, only to learn regret with time.

‘That’s When I’ll Stop’ promises a lover eternal devotion by comparing the chances of his love ending to various other improbable circumstances – not groundbreaking but mildly amusing and pleasant listening, and it was probably a good idea to include something positive amongst all the heartbreak. Similarly, ‘The One’ is a sweet love song about finding true happiness.

This album comes highly recommended for anyone who misses real country music on the radio. It’s widely available digitally, and the CD may be available at some places.

Grade: A

Unexpected places

Les Rochers de Naye, SwitzerlandA week ago I was on top of a mountain in Switzerland. I was startled when in the cafe the music playing in the background turned to Lady Antebellum’s ‘Need You Now’. I was in fact vaguely aware that the single had been released to pop radio in Europe as part of a serious attempt to break the group outside North America, following in the footsteps of Taylor Swift’s international assault on the ears of the tone-deaf. It was still a surprise for me to hear it. On investigation, I find the song is currently rising up the Swiss charts. Many country artists try to break Europe, some with more commitment than others, and success rates vary, but it seems to be working for Lady A, with their AC/melodious pop-influenced sound. The more solidly country rooted Brad Paisley was touring in Europe the same week and actually sold out his first London show before ticket sales were formally announced – I missed out on that due to having already planned the vacation time.

It reminded me of the most unexpected place I ever came across country music (also on vacation). That was in the lovely medieval city of Bruges in Belgium, which I visited a few years ago (probably around 2002 or 2003). On my way to a bus stop I came across a little shop selling country and blues CDs. It was closed at that time, but I took note of the opening hours and returned later, to find it had a pretty left field selection, including some really obscure independent releases. I ended up spending most of my souvenir budget for that trip on a selection of albums, most bought unheard, although in some cases they were ones I had read reviews of previously.

One I remember buying was Real Thing, a 2001 album by songwriter Monty Holmes under the joky band name Monty And The Pythons, for which I had been looking unsuccessfully for some time, having enjoyed Monty’s previous album All I Ever Wanted, released under his own name a few years earlier. It turned out not to be quite as good, but still worth having. I also picked up Rodney Hayden’s debut, coincidentally also entitled The Real Thing (both albums included covers of Chip Taylor’s song of that title), and No Regrets, an early release by the Texan Jamie Richards, whose most recent effort I reviewed recently. These two are both great records I still listen to quite often, and would recommend to anyone who likes real country music.

Others well worth the purchase included Shawn Camp’s Lucky Silver Dollar, and Jason Allen’s Something I Dreamed, plus a highly entertaining, mostly up-tempo album by a young man named Elbert West. From female artists there was a pretty good record by a Hispanic singer named Lydia Miller including early versions of ‘Singing To The Scarecrow’ (later cut by Sara Evans) and ‘Man With A Memory, Woman With A Past’ (subsequently recorded by Joe Nichols), Lisa O’Kane’s rather good, slightly jazzy-country ‘Am I Too Blue’, and a fine record from Leslie Satcher, one of the best songwriters in Nashville showing she has a lovely voice as well.

Although it isn’t one of my favorites from this haul, recent events have led me to return to Living In Your World, an uncompromisingly hard country/Bakersfield style CD by a then-unknown Arizona singer-songwriter named Troy Olsen which was produced in California by James Intveld, and featuring Jay Dee Maness (late of the Desert Rose Band) on steel. This showed some promise, but I didn’t hear of him again until recently; he’s spent a number of years honing his craft and eventually got signed to a major label deal with EMI. His debut single for the label, ‘Summer Thing’, is a generic and frankly boring summertime-themed number, and to be honest it would probably have passed me by altogether if I hadn’t recognised his name. Based on that early record, acquired by chance, I do at least feel confident that here is an artist who is genuinely a country singer rather than a pop singer in a cowboy hat, albeit one without the most distinctive of voices, and hope that the material improves – and that he hasn’t had to make too many compromises for the sake of a major label deal.

Where have you been most surprised to hear a country song played in public, or found a country record on sale?