My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Elton John

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘Cage The Songbird’

cage-the-songbirdThe mid-1980s found Crystal Gayle shifting record labels yet again. Elektra shuttered in 1982 during the chart reign of True Love, which Razor X reviewed earlier this week. Another significant shift was the addition of Jimmy Bowen, who shared a producer credit with Allen Reynolds.

By the time Cage The Songbird came along in October 1983, Gayle was recording for Warner Bros. exclusively with Bowen, who had officially taken over for Reynolds after ten albums. The resulting record was squarely within the trends of the era, following the likes of Rosanne Cash and Emmylou Harris by featuring a Rodney Crowell song, which by this time had become one of the hottest songwriters in Nashville. The album also featured cuts by Elton John and Hugh Prestwood among others, and while it maintained a glossy sheen, Cage The Songbird was loaded with well-chosen material.

The Prestwood cut, which opened the album, was issued as the lead single. “The Sound of Goodbye” is an excellent and bright uptempo contemporary number that ranks among my favorites of hers. It hit #1, as did the album’s third single, Tim Krekel’s lightweight rocker “Turning Away.” Gayle just missed the top spot with “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love,” an adult contemporary-leaning piano ballad by Joey Carbone. The fourth and final single, “Me Against The Night,” a nice mid-tempo ballad, peaked at #4.

Crowell, who was Gayle’s labelmate at the time, contributed “Victim or a Fool,” a ballad he recorded on his eponymous album two years earlier. Gayle brought an urgency to her version, courtesy of the electric guitars and driving tempo, that contrasted with the sadness Crowell highlighted with his interpretation. Both recordings are interesting although you can’t ignore Gayle’s commercial sheen – the lyric is all but buried beneath the noise.

John supplied the title track, a ballad he wrote with Bernie Taupin and Davey Johnstone. The lyric, which recounts a celebrity’s tragic life and death, was a reimagining of Édith Piaf’s passing as if she had committed suicide. The tone may be grim, but Gayle delivers a gorgeous performance of a spectacular song.

“Take Me Home” was lifted from the soundtrack of a Francis Ford Coppola movie of the same name. The album consisted of duets and solo performances by Gayle and Tom Waits, who composed the songs himself. The ballad is stunning and excused from not being country at all, thanks to its origin.

Norman Saleet, another composer far outside the country realm, shows up on Cage The Songbird with “On Our Way To Love,” a ballad outside of my tastes. Saleet is best known for writing Air Supply’s “Here I Am (Just When I Thought I Was Over You)” and you can hear that influence in the melody here as well.

Of the prominent producers in country music through the years, I probably like Bowen’s work the least. He’s not distasteful to his artists, but his bland tendencies have marred his work significantly. His choices aren’t in the least bit country, either, which probably aids in my overall dissatisfaction. To that end, I really wanted to enjoy Cage The Songbird and I do find many of the album’s tracks, especially “The Sound of Goodbye” very appealing. But while I can mostly appreciate the crossover aspects, the majority of the ballads just don’t hold my attention.

Grade: B

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Fellow Travelers: Neil Diamond

neil-diamond-01Neil Diamond has had an almost continuous presence on the various Billboard charts since 1965. Possessed of an excellent voice that covers the entire tenor-baritone continuum, Neil has been a titan of the pop and adult contemporary charts with some scattered play on jazz, R&B and country stations along the way.

Who Was He?

Neil Diamond started out as a songwriter, part of the legendary ‘Brill Building’ cadre of songwriters. Success for Neil came slowly until November 1965, when “Sunday and Me,” became a #18 hit for Jay and The Americans. Shortly thereafter the producers for the pre-fab four (a/k/a the Monkees) took interest in Neil’s music, recording several of his tunes including “I’m a Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You,” “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” and “Love to Love “. The radio and television exposure generated by the Monkees did wonders for Neil’s checkbook. “I’m A Believer” spent seven weeks at #1 and sold over 10 million copies for the Monkees.

Neil’s own hits started soon thereafter, with “Solitary Man” becoming a modest success in 1966 (but a top ten record in several regional markets. The next single “Cherry, Cherry” sealed the deal reaching #6 on the pop charts. While not every subsequent single would become a top ten record, for the next twenty five years nearly every single charted on one of Billboard’s charts, and many charted globally. He ranks behind only Sir Elton John and Barbra Streisand on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts.

What Was His Connection to Country Music?

The first Neil Diamond single I can recall hearing was “Kentucky Woman”, a #22 pop hit in 1967. At the time I heard the song, I thought it was a country song, and that Neil should be performing country music. Indeed, Neil’s record received some airplay on WCMS-AM and WTID-AM in Norfolk, VA and it wasn’t long before some of his songs were being covered on country albums.

Waylon Jennings had a great terrific version of “Kentucky Woman” on his Only The Greatest album area, Roy Drusky had a top twenty county hit in 1972 with “Red Red Wine”, and T.G. Sheppard had a top 15 country hit in 1976 with “Solitary Man”. “I’m A Believer” showed up as an album track on many country albums.

In 1978-1979 Neil had a pair of songs chart in the lower reaches of the country charts in “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (billed as Neil & Barbra) and “Forever In Blue Jeans”. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” was , of course, a huge pop hit but Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius covered it in the country market for a #1 record.

In 1996 Neil targeted the album Tennessee Moon at the country market and it reached #3 on the Billboard Country albums chart, although it generated no hit singles for the fifty-five year old Diamond. The album featured duets with Raul Malo , Hal Ketcham and Waylon Jennings. This would be the only time that Neil Diamond would target an album at the country music market, although many of his albums featured songs that would fit easily into the county format at the time the album was recorded.

Neil Diamond Today

Neil is still alive and recording, his most recent album being the 2014 release Melody Road. His website does not show any current tour dates, but he has not announced his retirement from touring, and he toured in 2015 so I presume he will be back touring shortly.

Album Review: Toby Keith – ‘Pull My Chain’

pull my chainFor the most part, Pull My Chain is a very upbeat album of fun songs, although some songs are a little light on substance.

The album opens up with “I’m Just Talking About Tonight”, a song Toby co-wrote with frequent collaborator Scotty Emerick. The song reached #1 the week of the infamous 9/11 incident and also reached #27 on Billboard’s pop chart. The song is about a no commitments barroom perhaps pickup:

Well, I’m not talkin’ ’bout lockin’ down forever, baby
That would be too demanding
I’m just talkin’ ’bout two lonely people
Who might reach a little understanding

I’m not talkin’ ’bout knockin’ out heaven
With whether we’re wrong or we’re right
I’m not talkin’ ’bout hookin’ up and hangin’ out
I’m just talkin’ ’bout tonight

You were sittin’ on your bar stool
And talkin’ to some fool who didn’t have a clue
I guess he couldn’t see you were lookin’ right at me
‘Cause I was lookin’ at you too

Then it’s, “Do you wanna dance, have we ever met”
You said, “Hold your horses boy, I ain’t that easy to get”

Next up is “I Wanna Talk About Me” about a guy, having been steamrolled in a relationship, finally insisting upon focusing the attention on his needs wants and desires. There was a terrific music video that accompanied the single, that shows a patient (and bored) Keith in a number of roles as a bored listener as the girl goes on and on about different things. The song was written by Bobby Braddock and sailed to #1 where it spent five weeks at #1 in late 2001.

Yeah yeah
That’s right
We talk about your work how your boss is a jerk
We talk about your church and your head when it hurts
We talk about the troubles you’ve been having with your brother
About your daddy and your mother and your crazy ex-lover
We talk about your friends and the places that you’ve been
We talk about your skin and the dimples on your chin
The polish on your toes and the run in your hose
And God knows we’re gonna talk about your clothes
You know talking about you makes me smile
But every once in awhile

I want to talk about me
Want to talk about I
Want to talk about number one
Oh my me my
What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
I like talking about you, you, you, you usually, but occasionally
I want to talk about me
I want to talk about me

“I Can’t Take You Anywhere”, another Keith-Emerick co-write follows the same beat, but isn’t singles quality material.

Next up is the slow ballad “You Leave Me Weak”, another Keith-Emerick co-write that was easily one of the best country love songs of the period. I don’t know if consideration was given to releasing this as a single, but it would have made a very good one.

I’m the one who gets that look in your eye
I’m the one who feels you tremble inside
I’m the one who steals those kisses from your breath
But sometimes it’s so good at night it scares me to death

Thinkin’ what would I do if I didn’t have you
I’m as strong, strong as I can be
Oooh ooh ooh, baby you leave me weak

Put my hands upon your skin and it warms me to the touch
All that I can think about while we’re makin’ love
I’m the only one who knows how passionate you get
About all of our deepest little secrets that we’ve kept

As the night grows longer, girl you just get stronger
And you pour yourself all over me
Ooh ooh ooh, baby you leave me weak

“Tryin’ To Matter”, yet another Keith-Emerick co-write is about trying to make a relationship work. It is a good song but it is nothing more than an album track.

“Pull My Chain”, with Toby co-wrote with Chuck Cannon is one of the highlights of the album, a funny and witty look at love. Although I think it could have made a decent single, there is a danger in releasing too many novelty songs as singles.

Got me on a short leash, tied to your screen door
I used to run with the big dogs ’til I stretched out on your front porch
I used to be a hound dog, chased a lot of fast cars
Now I don’t even bark when the kitty cats stroll through the back yard

I used to howl at the moon, yeah I’ve been known to roam
Then I caught her trail one day, followed this girl home
I ain’t the same, she knows how to pull my chain

“The Sha La La Song”, also a Keith-Cannon endeavor, is a good album track.

Do you remember, well I remember
Every kiss, bittersweet and tender
Every promise, every vow
Every time you said forever baby, even now
Even though you left me, for another
I’m a big boy, I will recover and

Sha la la la la la la la la la la la la
I’ll get over you
Sha la la la la la la la la la
Just one more lonely night or two

Dave Loggins wrote a number of classic songs during his career , but “Pick ‘Em Up and Lay ‘Em Down”, isn’t one of them although I can see it as a song that would clog the dance floors.

“Forever Hasn’t Got Here Yet” finds Keith co-writing with Jim Femino. The song sounds very ‘radio friendly’ but it wasn’t picked as a single.

“Yesterday’s Rain” is a very poignant song about how real love never fades away, even when your lover leaves you . The song was a Keith-Emerick co-write.

Somebody told you that my broken heart started mending
I’m getting by, but the truth is that I’m still standing
Knee deep in yesterday’s rain

Well, I ain’t high and dry, I ain’t got a big boat
But I got a new umbrella and an overcoat
And if the good Lord’s willin’ and the sun breaks through
That’ll be one more day, that I made it without you
That I made it without you

“My List”, written by Tim James and Rand Bishop, spent five weeks at #1 (and reached #26 pop), and is a reminder of how we often let important things get away from us in the hustle of everyday life and the importance of not letting that happen. The song came with a music video that was shot shortly after 9/11. News footage of the attack is shown at the beginning of the video as a married couple watch the news. The video ends by revealing that the husband in the video is a fireman, shown suiting up to go fight a fire. Toby appears in the video as a fire fighter. The song also was used in an episode of the television show Touched By An Angel.

“You Didn’t Have As Much To Lose” is another Keith-Cannon collaboration, this time an emotional ballad about a love gone wrong love-gone bad ballad. Not singles material but a nice album track.

The album closes with “Gimme 8 Seconds”. I am not sure that it would have been possible tor Toby to find a more famous co-writer to collaborate with than Bernie Taupin. Taupin has collaborated with Elton John on at least thirty albums and wrote or co-wrote many of Sir Elton’s most famous songs. “Gimme 8 Seconds” is more of a rock number than a county song but the subject matter – the eight seconds a bull rider needs to stay on the bull – is definitely a country topic.

Pull My Chain was released in August 2001 and kicked off a period (2001-2011) in which nine of his ten albums reached #1 (the other reaching #2) on Billboard’s Country Album charts, with four reaching #1 on the all genres album charts. Pull My Chain reached #9 on the all genres chart and sold double platinum. Bigger successes would follow.

I’d give this album a solid A.

Album Review: Suzy Bogguss & Chet Atkins – ‘Simpatico’

simpaticoChet Atkins’ contributions to country music are immeasurable; he was arguably the genre’s greatest guitarist ever, and as a producer and label executive at RCA, he paved the way for such legendary artists as Waylon Jennings, Jerry Reed, Don Gibson, Skeeter Davis, Dolly Parton, Connie Smith, and many more. He was also an early champion of Suzy Bogguss, as anyone who has read the liner notes to her debut album can attest, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when the two of them decided to release an album together. Simpatico, which was released in 1994, was one of the last albums in the Atkins’ discography and his last entry into the Billboard Country Albums chart.

The album was also a turning point in Bogguss’ career; she’d parted ways with longtime producer Jimmy Bowen, and produced Simpatico with John Guess. Interestingly, Atkins didn’t share production credits at all on this project. The project also marked the beginning of Suzy’s chart decline; it may be simply because her star was beginning to fade, or it could have been because the album was released at a time when Liberty Records was neglecting any artist on its roster not named Garth. However, it seems fairly certain that this is one album that not made with one eye on the charts; instead it is a labor of love that that is largely indifferent to commercial concerns.

As one might expect from a man who helped develop the Nashville Sound, and whose tastes ran from country to pop and jazz, Simpatico is not a collection of traditional country tunes. Instead it encompasses a variety of sounds, influenced by both country and pop, and occasionally including some Spanish and Latin influences. Chet’s trademark picking is heard prominently throughout the album. He does chime in vocally on occasion, but Chet was never much of a singer, so Suzy does the heavy lifting as far as the vocal duties are concerned.

Two singles were released; neither of which charted. The first was the uptempo “One More For The Road”, written by Atkins and Bogguss, along with Suzy’s husband Doug Crider. The second was a surprisingly good cover of Elton John’s “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.” A better choice might have been “Forget About It”, one of the album’s more contemporary numbers. It is more in the vein of what country radio was looking for at the time, but given Liberty’s half-hearted support, it probably would not have been any more successful.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album from beginning to end, without any missteps. my particular favorites are the covers of Jimmie Rodgers’ “In The Jailhouse Now”, which opens the album, and a stunning version of Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone”. I also quite like the whimsical “Wives Don’t Like Old Girlfriends.” At first glance “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” seems to be a little out of place, but the tasteful production, complete with a restrained string section, and the excellent singing and picking, makes the record work. Though it would probably never held much appeal for country radio, in another era it might have been an adult contemporary hit, but AC radio in the 90s was too R&B influenced to embrace a recording like this or “When She Smiled At Him”, which also sounds like a holdover from 1970s Top 40 AM radio. “Two Shades of Blue” is a lovely Spanish-sounding number written by Deborah Allen, Bobby Braddock and Rafe VanHoy.

Nearly two decades after its release, Simpatico holds up well. Bogguss and Atkins succeeded in making an evergreen record, which does not sound dated at all. My only criticism is its brevity, but country albums rarely exceeded ten tracks in the nineties. Such a non-commercial album would probably not even be released by a major label today. Given its lack of chart success, a fair number of fans might have missed this album. Those who did miss it can pick it up from Amazon. Unlike a lot of older albums, expect to pay full price for this one, but it is worth every penny.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Catherine Britt and Jerry Salley – ‘Where We Both Say Goodbye’

When Australian country singer Catherine Britt was trying to make it in the US, her record label, RCA, released this song as her debuit single. It was a duet with pop star Elton John, who had brought her to their attention. Here she sings it with the songwriter Jerry Salley:

Album Review: ‘Tim McGraw & The Dancehall Doctors’

Nearly a decade into his recording career, Tim McGraw broke with the usual Music City practice of using studio musicians for his eighth album. Instead, he opted to get of town and took his road band to a studio in upstate New York where Tim McGraw & The Dancehall Doctors was created. On the relatively rare occasions when country artists do use their road bands in the studio, it usually results in a reasonable replication of how the artist and musicians sound in concert. In this case, however, the production on most tracks is very layered and wall-of-sound-like, making it difficult to assess the actual contributions of the Dancehall Doctors. There’s nothing really distinctive about their sound or style of playing, so I’m not really sure what the purpose of using them was, except as a marketing tool or perhaps a vanity indulgence on Tim’s part.

Tim and co–producers Byron Gallimore and Darran Smith use the album as an occasion to branch out a bit stylistically, opting for a more soft-rock or AC rather than country sound for the most part, a move that I suspect was prompted by the tremendous success his wife Faith Hill was having on the pop charts at the time. While he deserves credit for his willingness to try something different, the experiment largely falls flat and serves to highlight his shortcomings as a vocalist, rather than present him as a versatile artist. To be fair, this isn’t a 100% pop album, as Tim does make a number of concessions to his country fans.

The first single to be sent to radio was one of the more country-sounding numbers, “Red Rag Top”, a song that I have never been able to enjoy partially because because I find the subject matter to be repugnant, but mostly because of the dismissive attitude of the narrator in the aftermath of the termination of his girlfriend’s unwanted pregnancy. It was a gutsy move to release a song about abortion to conservative country radio. I don’t recall much of a backlash at the time, but enough stations refused to play it that it broke McGraw’s string of consecutive #1 hits. Still, it peaked at a very respectable #5.
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Random playlist

I’ve been listening to different songs lately. We’ve all got our evergreen favorites that we always come back to. These are not them.  They’re also not new releases or recent discoveries. These are just 8 songs that have been giving me a lot of satisfaction lately. So I wanted to share them.

Mark Chesnutt – ‘Thank God For Believers’ … This is one of my favorites from our June Spotlight Artist.  Years into a rocky relationship, this guy is still making mistakes, but he’s sure grateful for his good-hearted woman who just ‘wipes her tears away and puts the coffee on’.

Wynonna – ‘Sometimes I Feel Like Elvis’ … Pressures build up and even the best of us feel a little overwhelmed sometimes.  This ‘song about having everything and nothing at all’ features a pair of smart, revealing verses that give way to a soaring chorus.

Reba McEntire – ‘Never Had a Reason To’ … The closing track on Reba’s acclaimed What If It’s You album finds the narrator chasing her own dreams, having never been tied down to any one person, place, or thing – until now, that is.  The bass-line intro, which frames much of the song, recalls classic country songs like George Jones’ ‘Her Name Is…’

Dixie Chicks -‘If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me’ … Natalie Maines rips into this track with a funky vibe in her timbre, complimented by strange but pleasant harmonies throughout the song by her band mates.  She’s on the edge of falling in, but not letting go of his hand.  Nobody wants to be the only one in love.

Reba – ‘Have I Got a Deal For You’ … This is just a fun song, with Reba in full New Traditionalist mode – this time with a western swing number as good as any George Strait has given us.  Reba talks about her heart like it’s a used car, hinting at a bit of wear and tear, but quickly pointing out that ‘it’s a one time only offer’ and she’s letting this one-of-a-kind, life-time guaranteed heart go at basement prices.

Linda Ronstadt – ‘Tracks Of My Tears’ … The Miracles had the first hit with this oft-covered gem.  Ronstadt’s California Rock-inspired recording of the Motown classic went top 5 in 1976 on the pop charts, and just missed the country top 10.

Elton John – ‘Turn The Lights Out When You Leave’ … In 2004, Elton John released Peachtree Road, an album of songs he had recorded in Atlanta.  While it wasn’t billed as a country album, nor should it be, much of the press surrounding it called it country, and an appearance with Dolly Parton on the CMA Awards that year helped cement that classification.  The CMA performance of this song lead me to buy the CD, and I still find myself spinning the lead single – which doesn’t feature Dolly’s magnificent harmonies – quite often.

Patty Loveless – ‘When The Fallen Angels Fly’ … The (almost) title track to Patty’s CMA Album of the Year features one of the singer’s finest vocals, set to a pure country backdrop, while lines like ‘I near drowned myself in freedom, just to feed my foolish pride’ elevate it from other similar-themed songs like Patty’s own ‘Lonely Too Long’ and Trisha Yearwood’s ‘Like We Never Had a Broken Heart’.

What’s new in heavy rotation in your library these days?