My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Emily Erwin

Album Review: Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces’

It was the recruitment of Natalie Maines as the Chicks’ new lead singer which transformed their fortunes. The band signed to Monument Records, a subsidiary of Sony. Their debut major label album, released in January 1998, was produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley, who were able to meld the group’s organic roots with a commercial sound, showcasing both Natalie’s strikingly distinctive voice and the other women’s accomplished musicianship. With the help of five top 10 singles, it would prove an enormous crossover success, eventually selling 12 million copies.

The first single, the infectious ‘I Can Love You Better’, was written by one of the top Nashville songwriters of the era, Kostas, with Pamela Brown Hayes. A plea to a love interest who is hung up on an ex, it is utterly charming with Natalie’s vocals exuding a mixture of confidence and wistfulness as she offers herself as a better romantic partner than her rival. It was very radio-friendly, and reached #7 on the Billboard country charts.

Follow-up ‘There’s Your Trouble’, written by Mark Selby and Tia Sillers, Is based on a similar theme. The single became their first chart-topper, and also won the girls a Grammy.

The title track made it back-to-back #1s. It was written by Texan singer-songwriter Susan Gibson, who had recorded the song with her alt-country band The Groobees on an album produced by Natalie Maines’ father Lloyd, who then pitched the song to his daughter. An airy melody and bluegrassy instrumentation with sweet harmonies back an optimistic lyric about a young woman leaving home and making her start as an independent adult. It was named the CMA Single of The Year.

The pace slowed for the next single, yet another #1. ‘You Were Mine’ is an exquisitely sad lost love ballad which showed Natalie Maines was capable of subtlety as well as attack. It was the only song on the album to be written by any of the band members, namely Martie and Emily Erwin, and was inspired by the disintegration of their parents’ marriage when they were children:

Sometimes I wake up cryin’ at night
And sometimes I scream out your name
What right does she have to take your heart away
When for so long you were mine

I can give you two good reasons
To show you love’s not blind
He’s two and she’s four and you know they adore you
So how can I tell them you changed your mind?

A rare fifth single, ‘Tonight The Heartache’s on me, is a super honky tonker which had previously been cut by Joy Lynn White in a very similar arrangement. It was not quite as successful as its predecessors, peaking at #6.

Another recent cover was Radney Foster’s ‘Never Say Die’, a nice love song. ‘Let ‘Er Rip’ is a rocker which allows Natalie to let loose vocally. ‘Once You’ve Loved Somebody’ is a wistful ballad about struggling to movie on after a breakup.

One of my favorite tracks is a cover of ‘Loving Arms’, penned by 70s folkie Tom Jans and previously recorded by Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, Elvis Presley, and others. Natalie’s compelling vocal, imbued with intense regret, makes this the best version ever of the song in my opinion.

J D Souther’s ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’ is tender and has another fine vocal. Maria McKee’s ‘Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)’ is a rock ballad, again very well sung, while Bonnie Raitt’s ‘Give It Up Or Let Me Go’ is a raucous blues number.

The album’s eclectic mix of material is all very well sung and played, and although its massive success has been somewhat overshadowed by later events (both greater success and more fractious times) it still stands up very well.

Grade: A

Advertisements

Album Review: Dixie Chicks — ‘Shouldn’t A Told You That’

The departure of Robin Lynn Macy following Little Ol’ Cowgirl left the Dixie Chicks (billed here as “The Dixie Chicks Cowgirl Band”) as a trio when they released their third album, Shouldn’t A Told You That, in November 1993. It would feature the remaining members, The Erwin sisters and Laura Lynch, and stand as their final release before Natalie Maines replaced Lynch in 1995.

The ten-track album features an impressive lineup of songs by some of independent country’s top singer-songwriters. They open with Radney Foster’s co-written “Whistles and Bells,” an excellent traditional shuffle about a woman giving a stern warning to her ex about the woman he’s currently dating:

I see her running round this town in her fancy car
A girl who can’t afford your hopes and dreams
But darlin’ all those pretty toys won’t help your broken heart
When she’s through and sends you packin’ back to me

Whistles and bells won’t ever bring you love and happiness
She’s never gonna give her heart the way that I would give
She’s got you spinning round in circles, I can tell
With her lights, buzzers, whistles, and bells

Austin based singer-songwriter Walter Hyatt wrote the title track, a barnburner driven by Emily’s banjo that nicely foreshadowed their more mainstream sound in the years to come. “Desire,” which is bright, uptempo, and laced with fiddle and dobro, was co-written by Kim Richey. The gorgeous and affecting “There Goes My Dream,” about a woman watching her man walk away, was solely composed by Jamie O’Hara.

The album’s most recognizable song, at least to fans of alternative country, is Jim Lauderdale and John Leventhal’s “Plant of Love,” which was the title track to Lauderdale’s debut album two years earlier. Their version is brilliant, with a sparsity that lets their exquisite harmonies shine. “Planet of Love” is paired with the shot hidden track “Boo Hoo,” which gives their harmonies another pleasing spin. It’s a weird little gem and it sounds me to me like they were playing spoons as their instruments.

Lynch has two writing credits on the album. The first, “I’m Falling Again,” is a beautiful ballad about new love she co-wrote with Martie, Emily, and Matthew Benjamin. The other song, “The Thrill is in the Chase” is mid-tempo and allows Martie’s fiddle work to take center stage.

Benjamin also appears as a co-writer on “One Heart Away,” a mid-tempo ballad anchored by fiddle and dobro. He wrote “I Wasn’t Looking for You,” a mid-paced ballad about falling accidentally in love, solo. “I’ve Only Got Myself To Blame” returns the album back to its uptempo leanings, with a heavy dose of fiddle and banjo.

This is without question the most polished of their independent albums and showcases their move towards a distinctly mainstream sound. The selection of songs, just like with every Dixie Chicks album, remains exquisite. I do disagree with Paul Dennis’ view that Lynch wasn’t a distinctive lead vocalist. Although she isn’t anywhere near the caliber of Maines, and honestly no one is really, if you think about it, she carries this album wonderfully.

While the Dixie Chicks were headed towards a mainstream sound, Shouldn’t A Told You That is still very much alt-country and keeps with the likes of Kelly Willis more than Trisha Yearwood or Pam Tillis. None of that matters in the end, though, as Shouldn’t A Told You That is a fine album on its own.

Grade: A

Album Review: Dixie Chicks — ‘Little Ol’ Cowgirl’

The Dixie Chicks’ second album was Little Ol’ Cowgirl. Released in 1992, the album found the original lineup of Robin Lynn Macy, Laura Lynch, Martie & Emily Erwin working through an assortment of original material and covers.

The album opens up with the title track, a spritely western swing number penned by John Ims. Laura Lynch sings the lead with really nice trio harmonizing by Macy and Emily Erwin. We should note that Martie Lynch mostly plays fiddle on this album but whenever the harmony is a trio, she is not singing.

She’s a little ol’ cowgirl from out Texas way

Countin’ the nights ’til the fiddler plays

Workin’ all week just doin’ her thing

 

She likes punchin’ doggies but she loves to swing

And when she hears that backbeat rhythm driftin’ through the door

She can’t talk, she can’t sit still, she can’t stay off of that floor

Kickin’ her heels up lordy look at her twirl

Everybody wants to boogie on down

With the little ol’ cowgirl

Robin Lynn Macy takes the lead on “A Road Is Just A Road”, a cover of a song written by Mary Chapin Carpenter & John Jennings. The song is a med-tempo with ballad, with trio harmony.

“She’ll Find Better Things To Do” comes from the pen of Bob Millard. Macy takes the lead vocal on this mid-tempo modern country ballad about a relationship that has come unraveled. The songs has quartet harmony.

She don’t see no way around it It

He shows every sign of leavin’ her behind

After three days stayin’ out late

It don’t look like he’ll be comin’ home tonight

She wants to cry but pride won’t let her

She’ll find better things to do

 

Leaves her key inside the mailbox

With a note that tells that cowboy where to go …

This is followed by “An Irish Medley” (comprised of “Handsome Molly”, “Little Beggerman” and “Mist On The Moor”). Macy sings the lead with Lynch on harmony on the first two parts with the last tune being an instrumental . Bruce Singleton guests on penny whistle and bagpipes, with J.D. Brown also on bagpipes and Olga Arseniev on accordion.

“You Send Me” was a #1 Pop & #1 R&B hit in 1957 for its writer the legendary Sam Cooke. The song is a dreamy ballad with Laura Lynch handling the lead vocals with the rest joining in on harmonies. Lloyd Maines plays steel guitar on this number.

Darling, you send me

I know you send me

Darling, you send me

Honest you do, honest you do

Honest you do, whoa

 

You thrill me

I know you, you, you thrill me

Darling, you, you, you, you thrill me

Honest you do

 

At first I thought it was infatuation

But, woo, it’s lasted so long

Now I find myself wanting

To marry you and take you home, whoa

“Just A Bit Like Me” is treated as straight-ahead bluegrass. Written by Robin Lynn Macy, this is a really nice song that deserves to be more widely covered. Robin sings the lead with the others joining in on harmony, Dave Peters plays mandolin on this track.

It’s six o’clock in the morning

The sun was ready to rise

And as she closes his lunchbox

She spies the sun in his eyes

She stays at home with the baby

She’s got a dream in her heart

Somewhere her sister is singing

A night is ready to start

 

One’s choosing, one’s cruising

Down the highway of their dreams

While songs are sung her dream’s begun

And she thinks of what it means

To live through her voice, she made a choice

But neither one is free

Am I a lot like her or is she just a bit like me?

“A Heart That Can” was written by Patti Dixon with Laura Lynch singing lead and the rest on harmony vocals. Lloyd Maines plays steel guitar on this track. This track is performed as contemporary Nashville pop-country. Had the song been released on a major label, it likely would have received considerable airplay.

You say I’ve done a lot of good

You’re glad I found you when I did

But I wonder why you keep

Those questions in your head

Oh I think you’re afraid to fall

Someone went and blew the call

 

All I can say is my heart tries hard

Try as hard as I can

You’ll never find that my love falls short

One day you’ll understand

That I’ve got a heart that can

The next track is a cover of Hal Ketcham’s recent hit “Past The Point of Rescue”. Robin sings the lead with trio harmonies. Olga Arseniev plays the accordion. The song is taken at the same tempo as Ketcham’s hit but with different instrumentation, resulting in a very nice recording.

Martie Erwin and Matthew Benjamin composed the mid-tempo swing instrumental “Beatin’ Around The Bush”. David Peters joins in on mandolin and Matthew Benjamin plays guitar.

“Two Of A Kind” was written by John Ims. Laura Lynch sings the vocal (no vocal harmonies) on this lovely medium -slow ballad. Dave Peters and Lloyd Maines appear on this track.

On the road without a friend

Can make you feel life’s loneliness

In a voice that rides the wind

Streaming ‘cross the airwaves

In a simple country song

The one that you don’t hear

Until the moon is full

It was Texas once again

The one about the good old boy

Who’s caught remembering

Images of childhood

And the places that he’d been

Caught up in his questions

Wondering where it would end

 

Another midnight on the highway

Dallas in the distance

Seems I’m always leaving love behind

Singing along with someone

Who’s soul is on the radio

Sounds like me and the good old boy

Are two of a kind

“Standing By The Bedside was written by I. Tucker with Laura Lynch on lead vocals and the rest doing harmonies. Jeff Hellmer guests on piano. The song is a medium temp western swing number. The lyric is religious in nature about a sister who is at death’s door.

The best song on the album is “Aunt Mattie’s Quilt, co-written by Robin Lynn Macy and Lisa Brandenburg. Robin sings the lead with trio harmonies. The song is more of a folksong story-ballad, but

it fits the album nicely. Larry Seyer guests on piano and Dave Peters is back on mandolin.

Aunt Mattie bent a thousand times down the long black rows

Then battled with the angry weeds so little seeds could grow

Come summer Mattie pulled the snow from cruel and cutting bolls

She was patient pale and slender and was only eight years old

Round and round the spinning wheel beneath Aunt Mattie’s boot

She recalled the soil and cotton seeds and summer’s hopeful shoots

Two winters spun out summer’s threads in rich and creamy folds

And she had a bolt of cotton cloth when she turned ten years old

Many acts, in many different genres, have covered the Ray Charles classic “Hallelejah I Love Him (Her) So”. The Chicks take on the song is novel with bass and drums basically carrying the song instrumentally.

Robin Lynn Macy sings lead with the rest joining in on subdued harmony.

The album closes with a Laura Lynch- Martie Erwin composition titled “Pink Toenails”. Laura Lynch lead vocals with the rest on vocal harmonies. Larry Spencer plays trumpet and Jeff Hellmer tinkles the ivories on the jazzy torch song.

Pink toenails, why don’t I have time to paint pink toenails?

I’ve got my pink foam curlers and my pony-tail

My girlfriends have time for their pink toenails

Come nightfall, you’ll be waltzing through my door

When you hear me call and I love the way you say

“I’m your baby doll” and you’ll find me sitting there

In my pink toenails

This is an outstanding album and I am torn as to whether or not I prefer this album or Thank Heavens For Dale Evans.

I originally purchased both albums on cassette and upgraded to CD after wearing out the cassettes. I would give both albums a solid A. On this album Laura Lynch occasionally plays bass but mostly just sings, Robin Lynn Macy is on guitar, Emily Erwin plays bass, guitjo, banjo and Martie Erwin plays fiddle and viola. The Erwin sisters are the stronger instrumentalists and Martie’s instrumental contributions are outstanding. Tom Van Schalk plays percussion/ drums.

 

Album Review: Dixie Chicks – ‘Thank Heavens For Dale Evans’

The first incarnation of the Dixie Chicks comprised multi-instrumentalist sisters Emily and Martie Erwin, and sweet-voiced singers Laura Lynch and Robin Lee Macy. Their debut album was self-produced and self-released. The rawest of their work, it combines cowboy themes and bluegrass music, with quite a delicate feel.

The album opens with a cover of the joyful ‘The Cowboy Lives Forever’ which had previously been recorded by The Whites. Another delightful cover is of ‘I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart’.

Robin Lee Macy, Martie Erwin and Lisa Brandenburg wrote the title track, a charming tribute to the classic movie cowgirl and rejoicing in life as a musician. The Erwin sisters’ playing on the track is dazzling.

It is one of three songs co-written by Macy. ‘Thunderheads’ (also written with Lisa Brandenburg) is a poetic evocation of a dry Texas summer from the point of view of a farmer’s wife:

Supper’s on the table and there’s promise in the sky
And you’re out there on your ginger mare
You’re not praying so I do
Not so much a prayer for rain
As a desperate prayer for you

Thunderheads blow across the mesa
Like a heartless lover’s lie
Thunderheads across the mountains
As another dream goes by
They go like clouds from heaven
But the devil has to have his way
Thunderheads’ll bring you to your knees
And make you pray for a rainy day

I know you can’t admit it
That you’ve lost and nature’s won
That thunderheads will blow away
Across the dying sun
So don’t try to tell me darlin’
How your heart’s lost to the land
I don’t need your explanations
I just want to hold your hand

‘Storm Out On The Sea’, written by Macy with Mary Neal Northcutt, is equally poetic about a relationship in trouble.

‘West Texas Wind’ is a lovely song written by Jon Ims set to a beautiful melody. ‘Long Roads’ has a pretty tune. The very short ‘Who Will Be The Next One’ is a pretty folky song set to an upbeat tune. ‘This Heart Of Mine’ and ‘Green River’ are also attractive songs.

A couple of well played instrumentals are thrown in.

The album foreshadows their later eclecticism with an interesting arrangement of the soul classic ‘Bring It On Home To Me’. It is almost accappella with a faint percussive and finger-clicking backing to provide rhythm. ‘Rider’ is a traditional blues song given a bluegrass reworking.

This is a very listenable album with much to please lovers of acoustic music.

Grade: A-

Spotlight Artist: Dixie Chicks

It is hard to believe but 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the Dixie Chicks. Originally comprised of Laura Lynch, Robin Lynn Macy and sisters Martie Erwin and Emily Erwin, the Chicks (named after a Little Feat song) started off as a more roots-oriented band than is currently the case (similarly Fleetwood Mac started off as a blues-rock band and devolved into a pop act after personnel changes).

The group initially came together in 1989 when Martie Erwin and Robin Lynn Macy both performed at the Walnut Valley Music Festival, a long-running bluegrass event in Winfield, Kansas. From there the group coalesced with western singer Laura Lynch and Emily Erwin joining the group. The group played bluegrass festivals and busked for tips around the Dallas area. The group adopted the name Dixie Chicks from the song “Dixie Chicken” by the much-revered band Little Feat.

The group created enough of a stir to land a recording contract with the independent label Crystal Clear Sound and issued their debut disc Thank Heavens For Dale Evans in December of 1990. The album, named for legendary western actress Dale Evans, was essentially a straight-ahead bluegrass album, with western themes to some of the numbers. The album sold reasonably well for an independent label album and was available wherever the Texas-based Sound Warehouse chain had locations.

In an attempt to expand their commercial viability the group gravitated to a more commercially viable sound with their second album Little Ol’ Cowgirl released in 1992. While retaining basic bluegrass instrumentation, the album tended more toward ‘Newgrass’ than traditional bluegrass with covers of recent pop-country hits such as “Pat The Point of Rescue” and “Two of A Kind”. At this point, Robin Lynn Macy left the group, preferring to remain with her more roots-oriented bluegrass sounds.

The third album Shouldn’t A Told You That, released in 1993, found the group drifting further toward pop country. The album is competently performed but without Robin Lynn Macy, the group lacked an outstanding lead vocalist.

The group continued performing but without a record deal, although during the period after Macy’s departure the group considered its options. Steel guitar virtuoso Lloyd Maines (who had played on the first two albums) introduced the remaining Chicks to a demo recording from his daughter, Natalie.

Maines thought his daughter would be a good match to replace the departed Macy, and the Erwin sisters agreed, adding Natalie and discarding Laura Lynch (there are varying stories on how friendly a move this was) and changed the style and focus of the group’s sound. Eventually, the new sound of the Chicks came to the attention of Sony Music Entertainment.

The rest is history as the trio found an unprecedented level of success which sustained until an unwise (and unnecessary) public relations error led to a decade of near-exile.

We won’t get into that, but will concentrate on their music for that, after all, should be the focus for our April Spotlight artists